Father of modern rock n roll
Richard Nader, more than a wardrobe of turtlenecks
Most entertainers would kill without a second thought to have their names appear with top billing on a marquee. So why do the biggest names in rock & roll happily step aside for a bouncing bundle of energy who doesn’t sing, dance or play an instrument, allowing his name to occupy the top spot?
Simple! Most would give their right arm (except the drummers, of course) to appear in a show produced by Richard Nader.
The effervescent Nader, who garners more stage time than any of the acts in his productions, is probably the world’s greatest doo-wop junkie.
When his Rock n Roll Revival Show heads for its annual performance at the Continental Arena in East Rutherford, NJ on June 19, fans begin to arrive nearly the equivalent of a full work day before the first act is slated to blast its way on stage at 7 pm. The parking lot is filled with tailgaters there to relax with a brew and burger, see the antique car show and get a jump on the performance with a host of acappella singers on an outdoor stage.
Sprinkled throughout the area are pictures of Kenny Vance and the Planotones, Johnny Maestro and the Brooklyn Bridge, Gary Puckett and the Teenagers (long since removed from their fresh faced hey day) and all of whom owe their current careers to Richard Nader.
Anyone who has ever put together a bar mitzvah or wedding reception might be able to appreciate what Nader has gone through to get these acts on stage. He doesn’t have to worry about seating Aunt Bessie next to Uncle Miltie because they haven’t spoken to each other in twenty years, but serious egos are involved in determining who opens the show, who appears in the middle of it and, most important, who gets to close. These are major considerations when dealing with fragile show business types.
Nader has not only soothed the entertainers, but has them thanking him for placing their gig in the less desirable middle of his show. Amazingly, each of the acts he brings forward were once headliners on their own, accustomed to all the perks of carrying a show.
In contrast to his flashy, bouncy public demeanor, Nader has facilitated an aura of calm and persuasion in dealing with these show biz types and cajoling them into fitting the program bill exactly where he feels they will do the most good. His political negotiating skills are so finely honed here he could probably have talked Saddam Hussein into leaving Iraq without a shot being fired.
The small town Pennsylvania boy, he was born in Masontown, is arguably the most prolific music impresario in the country today. At age 63 and with a touch of Parkinson’s disease, Nader defies the wear and tear of age and health as he puts together some 30 to 40 shows a year. And that doesn’t include the Rock n Roll cruises he has floated on the high seas in recent years.
“I’m a fan. I love rock and roll and I love the people, the classic groups who perform it,” Nader says in a quiet, relaxed voice that belies his animated stage persona.
From his Masontown roots, he has lived and worked in Beverley Hills, Manhattan and then for many years in Manhasset, Long Island. Four years ago he took his brand new bride, Deborah, and moved his operation to Florida’s central Gulf Coast. From there Richard maintains contact with virtually every rock and roll performer of any note and oversees productions in venues throughout the United States.
His love for Rock n Roll didn’t develop overnight, but was a lifelong obsession. He “escaped” from Masontown by serving in the U.S. Army. He was stationed in Korea on a radio station aimed at American troops and provided them with their regular RnR fixes.
After his tour in the military ended Richard went to work as a talent agent for the Premier Talent Agency, representing such acts as The Who and Herman’s Hermits.
But over time he was disheartened to see the old stars and music falling by the wayside as new talent and music came onto the scene. He missed the classics and thought others did as well.
While the idea of a rock and roll concert bounced around his crowded mind for years, he didn’t begin to actually formulate it into a cohesive form until about 1965, years after the down slope of the genre.
It took four years of cajoling, pushing and convincing others that such a show had a chance of success. After being turned down by the likes of Dick Clark, the perennial teenager whose artificially colored locks belied his age and others, Richard determined to produce the show on his own. Four years later everything finally came together like a clap of thunder on October 18, 1969.
With the faith and fervor of a true believer, Richard rented Madison Square Garden’s Felt Forum for two shows and then scrambled out of the way as the crowds literally poured into the theater, the smaller of the venues at The Garden.
Nader wasn’t even important enough to open his own show and was introduced by radio DJ Scott Muni in an effort to validate him. Scott who?
Today the unassuming Nader epitomizes the old joke about the man who claims everyone knows him. A friend bets that isn’t true and they go to St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican where he appears on a balcony with the Pope, who is dressed in a flowing white cassock.
The punch line could easily be said about Richardthe story goes that a young boy standing in the crowd looks at the friend and asks: “Signore, who is that man on the balcony with Richard Nader?”
People flock to the Meadowlands and other arenas simply because the top of the marquee says “Richard Nader Presents,” knowing full well that with that promise there will be a host of classic rock and rollers belting out their classic songs far into the night.
Of course the concertgoers are there to see the likes of Vance, Jay Black and the Americans, the Shirelles and so many others. But the heart of the show is Nader.
The audience roars as he comes up the steps onto a raised stage, two steps at a time, to the thunderous applause of tens of thousands of people filling the arena.
The audience is an eclectic mix of people. There is the usual quota of ladies with blue hair who were just about beyond rock n roll when it was starting out. But, as well, there are thousands of people who range in age from their teens to the sixties. And to them Nader has become as much a celebrity as the acts he is about to introduce.
Resplendent in a suit and a white turtleneck Nader comes onto the stage like a modern day Rocky in the square circle. He grabs the microphone and brings the crowd to a fever pitch with his welcome. After the brief requisite credits the first act bursts onto the stage and it’s not unusual to see members of the audience jump up and begin dancing in the aisles, much as many of them did eons ago at Murray the K’s concerts at the Brooklyn Paramount. The years haven’t dulled them and while they might be a bit long in the tooth, winded and sweating at the end of a set, they’re ready to go again as the next act appears. And the acts keep on coming, sometimes until well after midnight.
In the meantime Richard has gone backstage and changes his turtleneck for one of a different color.
“I have about 38 of them in all different colors and have used them for years.”
Of course! He never uses them long enough for the shirt to wear out. There’s a different turtleneck under his jacket for the introduction of each and every act. If there is a physical hitch to Richard Nader’s movements, no one in the audience is ever aware of it. He may move a bit slower, but so does everyone else except, perhaps the entertainers he brings to the stage.
That first show at the Felt Forum in 1969 lasted two hours and those of us who were there remember the excitement of seeing that our teenage musical heroes were not only able to still carry a tune or strum a guitar, but to play a full set and sound they way they did in their hey day.
Richard was no longer confined to the Felt Forum and subsequent shows just about filled Madison Square Garden itself. From there he moved to the Brendan Byrne (Today’s Continental) Arena and spread like a musical virus throughout the country.
Richard has been part promoter, part detective and part missing persons bureau. Acts that broke up and disappeared into the woodwork of history weren’t easy to find and convince that they should climb back up on stage.
Many of them had created new lives for themselves; some had split from groups in unfriendly circumstances; and others had simply drifted from show business into comfortable jobs providing comfortable incomes that were hard to give up for a chancy effort at regaining old fans and stardom once again.
But the silver-tongued Richard Nader sold the Eskimos ice in the winter. He found some and others tracked him down. His relentless detective work brought together Bill Haley and the Comets, Shep and the Limelights, the Capris, Johnnie and Joe, the Mellow Kings, the Penguins, Jackie Wilson, Gary U.S. Bonds and his own personal favorite RnR group, the Five Satins.
The Satins had long ago settled into non-show biz jobs and were leading comfortable lives. Then Nader appeared on the scene and convinced them to get up on the boards one more time. Following the second sellout performance Nader said goodbye to small venues and the Five Satins said goodbye to their day jobs. They were all back in show business and with Nader reached the nadir.
Names from the past, Rock n Roll historical figures, miraculously began to materialize for Richard. The Drifters, Cleftones, Danny and the Juniors, Chiffons and scores of others. Television viewers suddenly found Little Richard appearing on Johnny Carson while the Shirelles were on a host of other talk shows facing a public once again familiar with their names and songs.
Richard’s efforts were a goldmine to others who began cashing in on his dream and his efforts. Clubs throughout the country were hosting Rock n Roll nights, books on the history of the genre were suddenly on shelves as were magazines devoted to the classics.
Even the venerable Dick Clark who had dissed Richard in his initial effort to stage a show, suddenly had the idea that rock n roll was a great avenue to get involved in once again. Clark headed for Las Vegas with the likes of Bo Diddley and others for a protracted series of concerts.
But this wasn’t a rags-to-riches-to-rags story with a bursting balloon conclusion for Nader. He was to smart and too much on top of things to let peripheral individuals get in his way. He continued on, staging his shows across the country and drawing crowds that numbered in the millions.
While the concerts have obviously filled his coffers you get the feeling that Richard would have happily continued promoting shows simply because he liked the music and the performers so much.
Even Hollywood jumped on the bandwagon with such flicks as “American Graffiti” and “Mean Streets.” Of course the movies spawned the requisite albums that sold by the ton making rock n roll once again a very viable and profitable venture.
So complex has producing the shows become that Richard has actually given in a bit and permitted some assistance to make life a bit easier and the shows run more smoothly. He has a production crew that arrives at each venue several days in advance of the concert and begins the major project of putting it all together.
That may be an understatement because it involves not only arrangements for each of the multitude of acts in the show, but most of them also have either their own music directors or their own accompaniment.
All of this means making sure there is an easy transition of musicians from the time one set is completed and Richard bounds on the stage to introduce the next act and the time that act is ready to sing and dance.
Often Richard gets the “stretch it out” sign” from the stage manager because something isn’t set to go yet. Then it’s up to him to entertain the audience. He doesn’t sing, dance or play any instrument, what he does with ease is to begin a journey into memory lane as he reminisces about either the coming group or some other classic group. With his font of knowledge about the famed entertainers, he’s never at a loss for words and could probably put on a talk show all by himself.
For information about Richard Nader and his upcoming projects, go to www.Richardnader.com
Richard has three sons from a previous marriage and he remains close with them. As for Deborah:
“She’s my guardian angel in addition to being my wife.”
And today he will need that support more than ever. Richard has been laid low by severe Parkinson’s Disease that has robbed him of his famed vitality and Deborah has taken over the running of the enterprise.