Clear Career Path

Backstage, near the dressing rooms, at a very, very large Philadelphia venue. Bunches of people cling in clusters. Some are smoking and draped over folding chairs, others are seemingly permanently parked in front of the buffet they have no business picking food from.

This was at a time when there was less insulation for rock stars – though it would be hard to call either performer such. Far less security, and fewer hangers-on around than there are today.

In the early 1970s, one could find movie, TV and recording stars just by looking in the phone book. No kidding. Dustin Hoffman, for instance. Or Harry Chapin. And, less well-known, David Bromberg. All in the Manhattan directory. Complete with street address.

The show’s headliner was keyboardist Billy Preston, best-known, if that’s the right term, as a (and not “the”) Fifth Beatle. A session musician, he had also appeared as part of the house band on TV’s Shindig! He also had a H-U-G-E Afro. Billboard-sized. (That, as it turned out, was a wig.)

He scored number 1 hits in 1972 (“Will It Go Round in Circles”) and ’74 (“Nothing from Nothing”). Wiki-know-it-all has more.

Merry Clayton, the opening act, was who I was interested in hearing. Notably, she performed a duet with Mick Jagger on the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.”

I had gotten backstage passes from a record (as in 45 and 33 rpm records) company. And, so, I was likewise clustering, draped and parked.

There might have been a girlfriend as a companion; the kind that likes the backstage status more than the guy who brought her to backstage. “Love me, love my concert tickets.” I don’t recall with precision.

And there was another college kid there. Some guy with long hair, though not as long as my own. Maybe from Rutgers. Or some other  college.

We got to talking.

And some point, probably after I announced my intention to become program director at the nation’s premier progressive rock FM radio station (thereby replacing that nobody, Scott Muni), the other college kid said he wanted to become a writer for Rolling Stone.

And so he did. Ever since. Today, David Fricke is listed as one of three Senior Writers on the magazine’s masthead. He’s been on their masthead for four decades.

Billy Preston didn’t go on to become much more than he already was at that moment.

Sadly, Merry Clayton never achieved sales chart success with her solo albums. Last we heard from her was in an appearance in 2013’s excellent documentary, 20 Feet From Stardom, a movie about backup singers.

As for me, and unlike Fricke, my own career path deviated somewhat drastically from that which was charted in the 1970s. As did my hair. While it’s all still there, for the most part, it is also drastically shorter; Fricke’s remains long.

However, I remain a lifetime Rolling Stone subscriber and reader.

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