Concert promoter's book shares 40 years of music memories, celeb antics
By Rex Rutkoski
Published: Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
Pittsburgh's pioneering concert promoter Rich Engler says people have been asking him for years to reveal the backstage story.
Engler, who partnered with Pat DiCesare to form DiCesare-Engler Productions, does just that in his first book.
The Sewickley Heights resident and Creighton, East Deer, native, has published “Behind the Stage Door: A Promoter's Life Behind the Scenes,” in which he relates 80 such memories from his 40-plus years of bringing some of the biggest names in music to local stages.
“The goal was to have readers and fans reminisce with some of the shows/concerts that are mentioned and to give a little insight to what really goes on backstage,” he says. “For the countless thousands upon thousands of fans who have attended our shows, it's somewhat of a glimpse of the history of those concerts.”
Engler, 67, will be the inaugural inductee into the Pittsburgh Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in a celebration on Jan. 23 at the Hard Rock Cafe, Station Square.
“I am humbled but very proud that my peers chose me to be the first inductee. It is pretty exciting, and I understand that all of the proceeds go to a terrific cause, the Cancer Caring Center,” he says.
It was an emotional rush to finally hold his book, Engler says. “I put my heart and soul into it,” he says. He began the research for it five years ago. “It's kind of like producing a big concert. Now it's time to hit the stage and hope the readers and fans enjoy it,” he says.
It was his mission early on to create “a very different type of book.”
The book has more than 300 color and black-and-white photographs (including early shots of Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, James Taylor, Paul Simon and many others), tickets, advertisements and more.
He started his own publishing company, Music Workz, to release the book. “I was thinking that perhaps some other musicians might want to put out a book. It's kind of like starting a record company,” he says.
Engler hopes that in “Behind the Stage Door,” young people will find inspiration in “how I got started with nothing” as a musician, playing local and late-night clubs and eventually displaying a talent for booking his own gigs and negotiating fees. “It proves dreams do come true if you want something badly enough,” he says.
He believes that business professionals also might be able to learn something about “risk/reward” by looking at his career.
He hopes readers find many of the stories funny, fascinating, engaging and are prompted to ask, “Really? Wow! I can't believe that happened.”
And they really did take place, from Gene Simmons of Kiss hitting on Engler's wife, prompting an angry Engler to order him to keep his hands off, to a Pittsburgh restaurant owner initially refusing Bruce Springsteen service because he felt he was dressed too sloppily. Engler had to try to calm Billy Joel down before he took the stage with Elton John at Three Rivers Stadium, because Joel felt the duo had been disrespected in a Pittsburgh publication, and he helped a “feeling no pain” Eric Clapton walk to the stage for his stadium concert. Bob Dylan's manager asked Engler to give the folk star a pep talk before his I.C. Light Amphitheatre concert, and Engler blocked Chuck Berry's car in the parking lot when he threatened to leave before his contracted performance after a Pirates game. Engler also recounts his experiences as an opening act for the Beach Boys, Yard Birds, Yes and many others.
Engler believes many of the stories will surprise people, including Axl Rose requesting a “Greek orgy” birthday party with 30 crates of fresh grapes from the Strip District — to roll around in — in the Steelers weight room at Three Rivers Stadium after a Guns'n' Roses concert. Some time later, Steelers officials still weren't smiling, Engler writes. “Supposedly, fruit flies last for years.”
Engler's favorite recollections include bringing Springsteen to Three Rivers Stadium for the “Born in the USA” tour, and some of the Boss' band members not hearing the call to the stage until after Springsteen started his opening number, and meeting, promoting and socializing with Paul and Linda McCartney.
There were poignant moments, too, such as being one of the few promoters given the opportunity to book John Lennon for shows at the Syria Mosque in Oakland, being told to keep the shows a secret until a news conference was held about the limited-engagement tour, and then hearing of the former Beatle's murder. “It was a devastating blow for music and the world, and one of the saddest days of my life,” he says.
Engler, who began promoting again selectively this spring, has booked a Feb. 19 concert at the Byham Theater celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Beatles coming to the United States and appearing on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
“I am proud that I was able to be part of a business that I believed in with all of my heart and started out in 1969 — when the live touring business just really started to catch fire — to change the world through music,” Engler says. “We were writing the rules and not really knowing it. Most of those rules still apply today.
“Hopefully the concerts and events will have touched some fans in a positive way,” he says, “and brought enjoyment to their lives.”
Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4664 or email@example.com.
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