Backstage in South Florida: Birthday Boys

Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman shares stories of memorable rock 'n' roll encounters that took place in our local environs. This week, it wasn't my party, but I can still sigh if I want to!

Birthdays are always momentous occasions, but being the celebrity junkie that I am -- through happenstance as much as anything else -- it's always kind of cool when I can share these events with persons possessing a special notoriety. There are two such celebrations that I remember in particular... and they weren't even my own.

I'll begin with a Rolling Stone -- bassist Bill Wyman, to be precise. Wyman left the band in 1994, but up until that point, he was more or less the group's elder statesman, six years the senior of both Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and four years older than the next eldest member of the group, drummer Charlie Watts. On tour, in October 24, 1980, he turned 44 during their brief stopover in Orlando. He was also touting a solo single, "(Si, Si) Je Suis un Rock Star," a rare solo release from any member of that ensemble. Consequently, a small reception was arranged in Wyman's hotel suite to which members of the press and local radio representatives were invited to meet the bassist and exchange pleasantries.

As a promo guy for Capitol Records at the time, I had been summoned as a

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courtesy, thanks to my pal Richard Pachter, who represented Wyman's

label, A&M. I had encountered the other Stones some years during

their '72 jaunt and a layover in my native Virgin Islands (an episode

detailed in an earlier column), but Wyman had taken a separate respite

at the time -- in Arizona -- and had been the only member

absent. So it was a real treat to be able to finally meet him belatedly.

He was a true gentleman, as gracious as could be, and while there was

an ulterior motive at play -- specifically, a bid for airplay -- it was

easy to see that he was as genuinely down-to-Earth as any Rolling Stone

could be, especially considering the band's wicked reputation. When a

member of the radio contingent joked, "So Bill, what's it feel like to

be 29," he laughed good-naturedly and didn't offer any hint he was the

least bit self-conscious about being what was then considered

extraordinarily ancient for a still-active rock 'n' roller. Nowadays,

his former bandmates remain active well into their 60s. At that

time however, the 60s described a generation and certainly not the

lifespan of its membership.

As a footnote to this meeting, I'll mention that I did see the Stones

perform at that Orlando stop, and although that was 30 years ago, I

remember thinking that they looked ancient even back then. Rolling

Stones may gather no moss, but wrinkles, gray hair, and other afflictions

of aging seemed to accumulate well before midlife.

A bit closer to home and world away from the jet-setting circles Bill

Wyman traveled in, in January 1996, I had occasion to attend a 45th

birthday celebration for Harry Wayne Casey -- AKA KC of KC & the

Sunshine Band fame. It took place at his Miami Lakes home in 1996, and

at the time, I was working for Susan Brustman & Associates, a

prominent South Florida Public Relations firm that counted KC as a

client.

KC had fallen on hard times a few years before, but a savvy

business manager, the late Mel Haber, had helped turn his fortunes

around and gotten him a number of lucrative deals that involved

licensing his music for films and commercials. The benefits of those

negotiations continue to this day. As a result, the group's career was

totally resuscitated, and it once again returned to the road with more

bookings than ever. In fact, after I left Susan Brustman's employ, I went

to work for Hard Rock Café and booked the band for the opening

festivities for Hard Rock Café's new locale on Duval Street in Key West.

It was a spectacular free street show that took the city by storm.

Suffice it to say, KC was a terrific guy -- a devoted homeboy and totally

down-to-Earth. The party was spectacular, thanks in no small part to

the spacious setting, the good eats, the friendly company, and the fact

that KC himself oversaw every detail in its planning. KC's family was

there too, further proof of the fact that despite his standing as a

superstar, he hadn't lost his humility and homespun values. He was

always very approachable; when one of his "handlers" tried to exclude me

from the VIP area, he immediately corrected the guy. "He's good," he

insisted. "This is my PR guy!"

One more note as far as his humble personality was concerned. Although a

stage had been constructed over his pool, KC declined to perform. "It's

my birthday party," he maintained. "No one wants me to entertain at my

own party!" Eventually he and his backup singers were coerced into

doing a quick set, and despite his reluctance, he was, as always, the

consummate professional.

What a wonderful party it was... the next best thing to having a celebration of my own.


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