Years ago I read several articles in various newspapers and pop culture magazines about Mafia or ‘Syndicate’ influence in the music industry (as with Hollywood and other entertainment platforms) into the 80s and 90s. I know for a fact that the Mafias (and I don’t just mean the Sicilian one) owned various night clubs and concert venues (and not just in the US).Though Mafia influence seems to have waned some I suspect they still have a say in the entertainment businesses, including record labels.
Note: the part about involvement with evil New Age guru Swami Negran, as stated in the previous post, will appear next week in Part Three.
The following snippet is from Chapter Two of the original version of The Prodigal Band, self-published by OmegaBooks in 2018, © Deborah Lagarde. The then-five band members (minus bassist Keith who would rejoin the band later) are sitting with then-manager Billy Prestin, Keith’s dad Sean Mullock and new road manager Billy Hallsip, eating spaghetti, the night before the band Sound Unltd would embark on their contest-winning national tour.
The evening of June 5, 1986, at Billy Prestin’s kitchen table
“Okay, let’s celebrate.” Billy plunked a heavy bowl of spaghetti with sauce and sausage in the middle of his checkered kitchen tablecloth.
“Yeh,” seventeen-year-old Jack yelled, “the end of your slave driving!”
Prestin dumped a large cooking pot into the sink and quickly turned to Jack. “Is that what you call me teaching you guitar and song writing, adopting you and getting you away from that dad o’ yours who beat you over the head with a Bible?”
He walked over to the dirty blond youth with side-shaved head, iron-cross left earring and star-studded black leather jacket and poked him in his right shoulder. “And managing this band of yours almost to London? And getting you your new manager–”
“Road manager, eh?” a brawny, porcine-faced Billy Hallslip said with a slight Cockney accent.
“Your new road manager, with some serious connections? He’ll be getting you a record contract inside of a year. If you boys behave yourselves.”
“Two years at the most. Maybe.” Hallslip continued to scarf spaghetti. “Bloody good food, eh?
“But, that’s okay, Jackie boy.” Prestin leaned over laying a guilt trip into Lubin’s ear. “You don’t have to thank me.”
Tom, dressed similarly to Jack, asked, though he’d been told the answer many times before, “Why can’t you come with us, Billy?”
Prestin then sat down next to Jack. “I’ve told you all a million times. I got other bands, and other boys, to look out for. Like your little brother, Tom, who followed in your footsteps and is going to school. If I leave, I guarantee you the authorities will send him back to your indentured father.”
The drummer nodded and sighed, then looked at Hallslip across the table. “So just who do you know?”
“Colin Hedgely of EpiGram, for one, and he owes my dad.”
“Who managed the Pedestrians.”
“Yeah. My dad Gordie was a backer when Colin was setting it up ten years ago.
Hallslip then got up to address the group. “You want to know why my dad, and me too, by the way, gave him half-a-million pounds to start EpiGram?” That high money figure startled the five band members. “Because either honest folks like us did, or the syndicates would. Or worse, the crowned heads of Europe and the cartel bankers.”
Sean Mullock, who believed in a monied conspiracy to destroy any independent spirit left in rock music, suddenly blurted out, “That bloody Baron Torquay, no doubt, and his lot. I’ve told Keith about them–” he looked at Erik sitting next to him– “and I know you want him back eh”–then looked at the others and continued. “And I’ll tell you this. You better work for an independent. If you get a record contract with the conglomerates, they’ll eat you alive.”
Hallslip broke in. “What you mean, Sean, saying ‘I know you want him back’?”
“Because last fall, Keith’s girlfriend said she got pregnant and we all thought the father was Keith. But she either miscarried or wasn’t really pregnant after all. We can’t get a straight story out of her, but now we think her father raped her. So when Keith thought she was pregnant, he felt duty-bound to support her. He was flunking school because he spent all his free time playing bass and not studying, so he quit the band so he could graduate and get a job at Warwicke’s Ship Works. He’ll be a riveter, eh? Yet when he found out she wasn’t pregnant, it was too late to rejoin the band. Mick here had already replaced him.”
“But he’s coming back,” Erik, in jeans and t-shirt, cut in loudly. “When we make it.”
Hallslip sighed, “Great, eh? Two bass players.”
“Actually,” skinny, beak-nosed, ringlet-haired Mick, clad in denim, said in a high-pitched voice, “bass is not my first instrument. I play guitar, and twelve-string. I’m also interested in record production.”
Hallslip laughed. “Yeah, you even look like a producer.”
“What does that mean?”
Tom jibed him. “It means you look queer.” Laugh.
“Shut up, Tom!” Prestin yelled.
“As I was saying,” Hallslip continued, “me, my dad, and a few others put up the money. We didn’t want it connected to the Mafia or the power elites. We struggled a bit, but then the Marauders got us going real good. Since the Marauders are from Walltown, I bet Colin’ll take a chance on you boys.”
“Because we’re from Walltown?”
“Yeah. Colin has funny reasons for listening to demo CDs, eh? And besides, he’s already seen the five of you play, and he’s impressed enough. And he likes northern bands. Simple, metallic and loud.” Just behave yourselves, eh?
“So what’s that about the Mafia?” Bry, also wearing jeans and t-shirt, said with concern. “I had heard the syndicates ran the music business, but I never believed it.”
“Okay,” Hallsip said, “this is how it works. First you need connections. If you don’t have a dad in the business or an impresario, you get one.”
“Right,” Jack said. “Tell us something we don’t know.”
“And what you don’t know is they come to you. Or, actually, they come to me. And they will come to me. They know me. They are called handlers. Some are agents, managers, impresarios, A&R men. Whatever you call him, he is the connection you must have to get your foot into the door of the record companies. And that ain’t me. I’m just the guy who keeps the wolves away. But I know these people, and they know me. Colin Hedgely knows me very well, eh? But the guy you need to be connected to is Mike D’Arcy, an in-house producer. He’s very good, you know? He’s got a few Grammys under his belt–”
“The Marauders.” Erik chimed in.
“Yeah, with ‘Legend of the Prophesied Band’ in 1982. In fact, Mike doubles as A&R man. He’s got as much of a right to say what goes on a recording as Hedgely does, but Hedgely is CEO/A&R man, officially.”
Bryan cut in, “But you said they weren’t Mafia. Where does the Mafia come in?”
“The syndicates, Mafia, whatever, own the night clubs and concert halls, and they control the concert promoters, talent agents, and ticket agents. Ever wonder why the cops that patrol these concert halls don’t do anything about all that reefer in the air? Or check for drugs?”
Several in the band nodded their understanding.
“Tell ’em about the drugs, Billy,” Mullock said.
“Yeah,” Hallslip said seriously, lowering his voice, “that’s the biggest part. Since the mid-sixties, you know, the hippie days, that’s one of the biggest ways the Mafia gets their damned drugs out into the public. You can actually see their mules–dealers, eh?–walking up and down the aisles selling–hell, giving away–reefer, cocaine, even smack, you know, powdered heroin. Cops and security just watch ’em do it. They’ve already been paid off. Why do you think cops stay cops? They don’t make much money. But all that graft, eh? They can’t pass it up.” He paused, ate some more spaghetti. “And just who do you think gets the drugs from concert to concert?”
Hallslip waited a minute, having more spaghetti.
The band members looked at each other, clueless.
“The performers, of course.” Smile. “You see, the Mafia people can’t get inside the hall without the cops on the outside getting involved. So the band members and their roadies do it. Actually, it’s the roadies and hired security that do it under the band’s cover.”
“And the authorities don’t know that?” Tom asked.
“They do know it! That’s the thing. They know everything that goes on at rock concerts, but they’re not about to stop it. They don’t give a damned if people get beat up and killed–
“Altamont,” Jack said.
“–or stampeded in the ticket lines or at the doors. The authorities do what the power elites want them to do. It’s as if rock music has become evil by design.”
“Evil?” Tom snorted. “You mean all that head banger-satanic stuff?”
Prestin coughed loudly. “That’s the tip of the iceberg. What he means is music and songs praising violence and death and chaos. Shock rock.”
“You don’t play that kinda rubbish, do you?” Hallslip sneered for effect, cocking his head.
“Absolutely not.” Bry replied. “We’re musicians, not some blokes you put in front of a microphone and play the same chord over and over.”
“And I ain’t about to waste me voice screaming that crap!” Erik stood up vehemently. “I won’t waste me time with amateurs.”
Hallslip faced Erik. “I heard you were classically trained. Now that’s a rarity.”
“Me, Bry and Mick. And so is Keith, you know, the guy we bringing back in when we make it.”
He then turned back to Erik again. “On the other hand, classically trained lead singers aren’t exactly what rock audiences look for. I’d hate to see you ruin your voice over it.”
“You ain’t seen his antics,” Prestin broke in. “They won’t really worry about his voice.”
“But we are a gang though,” Jack blurted. “Well, me, Tom and Erik.”
“And Keith,” Erik reminded him.
“That’s a minus,” the road manager said. “Not for me. For you. The syndicates will find a way to use that against you. They love dealing with gangsters–”
Sean Mullock stood up. “They didn’t use that against us, Billy, so don’t go assuming our boys’ll get mixed up with it!” Then he sat down, having made his point.
“Yeah,” Hallslip shot back, “but the Pedestrians didn’t make it that big. I’m assuming Sound Unltd will want to go as high as possible.”
“We do,” Jack admitted.
“So, you will have to cow-tow to the syndicates. This is today, not the mid-sixties, when you could still get by without running much into the Mafia. They’re almost unavoidable today, thanks to their damned drugs.”
Thank God Keith isn’t getting involved with this! Mullock thought. Then he looked at Billy Prestin. “Speaking of drugs, should we tell them, Billy? Or have you done that already?”
“Tell us what?” Jack asked, sucking up spaghetti strands.
“Tell them what?” Billy replied, splattering sauce on his food and his shirt. He quickly patted the red spots.
“About the Pedestrian days. That deal with Davis, remember? In 1967.”
Prestin had gotten up to try to moisten the stains so they wouldn’t set. “You mean that drug deal? We never did it. Why should you bring that up?”
“Because our boys need to know what they’re in for.”
“Yeh, Billy, how come you never talk about those days?” Jack turned to the others. “Do you know the Pedestrians were supposed to play Monterey Pop with Jimi Hendrix?”
“Then how come they didn’t?” Erik asked.
“Because,” he sneered at Prestin, got up and jive-walked, “the Pedestrians were, like, totally out by then.”
Prestin shouted back as he returned to the table. “Right! So how come we were asked in the first place?”
He grabbed a nearby roll of paper towels and whopped Jack upside the head. “Knucklehead! What I meant was we didn’t go because we refused to mule their damned drugs for them! We were going on tour and Monterey was part of it. We’d make a few hundred dollars, and get a chance to sell more records Stateside. But all they were using us for was carting drugs. They said if we wanted to play with the big boys we had to do it.”
“Yeh,” Sean Mullock concurred, “they said we weren’t big enough to deserve to be there otherwise.”
Well, Sound Unltd isn’t going to have that problem! Jack thought. Nor did the pitfalls of drug dealing seem to bother him. “So why the hell didn’t you just cart the drugs around? You said before the cops didn’t care.”
Prestin almost whopped him again. “I can’t believe you’ve lived with me for nine years.” Sigh. “Why didn’t we deal drugs? Because drugs are dangerous, you know? They’re addictive and can kill you. And because making it in show business by dealing drugs is,” shouted in Jack’s ear, “it’s wrong!”
Hallslip interjected, “Wrong? Maybe. Stupid? Definitely. The Mafia will own you for life if you do it. And if you start refusing?” He slyly cocked his head. “If dead rock stars could talk, eh?”
But that went over the band’s collective heads. They were young and idealistic, and, with their drive and talent, felt invincible.
Mullock tried to up the ante. “And how would you feel if you knew the drugs you were smuggling killed one of your fans?”
Erik, sitting next to Keith’s father, sneered with smugness and thought. You just want to keep Keith from rejoining us. To hell with your talk. No one’s gonna convince me not to go for all that loot! When you’re a bloody zillionaire, the Mafia can’t touch you. And that’s what I intend to be!
But Tom answered him. “Are you saying if we smuggled drugs we would be responsible if a fan I never even met and never told to use drugs, dies from drugs I never told him to use?” Short laugh. “That’s his problem.”
Four others sounded agreement.
Billy Prestin and Sean Mullock looked at each other and shook their heads in disbelief. “It’s the times we’re in, eh?”
Billy Hallslip ate one last bit of spaghetti.
Bry, who agreed with Prestin in principle but knew reality dictated that Sound Unltd would do what they had to do to make it, had enough of uncalled for advice. “I have to go home and pack for the tour. It’s getting late.” He was quickly on his Harley motorcycle toward home.
The other four got up to leave.
“Be right here tomorrow morning, 9 a.m.” road manager Hallslip said. “We’ll load the van, then off to Leeds.”
“Yeh, yeh, we’ll be here.” Jack said as they walked out of the kitchen, then out to the dark steps leading up to the back alley.
One by one their work-booted feet pounded up the concrete steps.
Once all made the top, Jack turned around and faced the others. “Anyone who wants to bug out now, speak up.”
“What the hell you mean,” Erik complained, “bugging out? No one’s bugging out. Are you saying we can’t handle it?”
“No!” Jack barked in his face. “I mean Billy and Sean are right, man. Whether we make it or not, we have to deal with the syndicates and the suits. Get use to it.”
“Oh,” Erik mumbled. “But we can handle it. We tough enough.”
“Well,” Tom interjected, “most of us are.”
Then he rolled his eyes at Mick. Pordengreau was used to it. “I’ll take care of myself, thank you!” he said to Tom’s face. “I ain’t afraid of the Mafia.”
“But it won’t be the Mafia all over your skinny little ass.” Tom smarted back. “It’s the drag queens you have to worry about.” Laugh.
Mick had enough of Tom’s accusations of queerness. So much that he got up the nerve to land a right uppercut on Cornsby’s cheek, knocking him down more in surprise than by force.
Tom was sheepish. “Holy– I don’t believe this.”
“You deserved it,” Jack said. “And I don’t want to hear any more crap out of you about Mick, queer or not. We’ll never make it if we’re fighting amongst ourselves.”
“No one I know is quitting,” Mick said. “And, quite frankly, I really don’t care if the music business is run by the Mafia, the power elites, the Satanists. Hey, I just don’t care, you know? I just want to get the hell out of Walltown. I just want to get somewhere that I can be my own person and not have to be all uptight and working-class and ordinary the way you have to be here.”
Erik, as if on cue, took out of his leather jacket a small flask of whiskey, unscrewed the cap, and put it to his mouth. “I’ll drink to that.”
“You’d drink to anything,” Jack snorted.
“But he’s right,” the singer continued. “None of us belongs here. None of us wants to grow old living routine, boring, work-a-day lives. I’d hate to think we’d have to spend the rest of our days stuck in Walltown. And I know Keith feels the same way.”
Jack walked toward the street and changed the subject. “And I’m glad it’ll be Hallslip with us. Billy’s been driving me nuts over his talk about the syndicates making us run drugs, play in their nightclubs and ripping us off. Well,” he turned to the others who were just starting to walk his way, “we won’t let it happen to us. And besides, Billy Hallslip looks like the kind of bloke who won’t put up with their nonsense anyway. He knows the score. Billy won’t run and won’t leave us to take all the heat.”
When Erik caught up to Jack he said, “It’ll probably only last until we make it really big, super big, and Keith is back with us. When we one of the top bands in the world, they won’t touch us. They won’t even be allowed to touch us.”
“And we will make it that big. I know we will.”
Billy Prestin had walked out the basement door half a minute before and heard what Jack and Erik were saying. So I’m driving you nuts? You ain’t heard nothing yet!
He proceeded to grab Jack’s ear as soon as the guitarist strolled through the basement door. “Did I mention–” Prestin held his right index finger upright.
Jack went limp with annoyance. “Right, Billy!”
“Did I mention a guy named Davis, Rodney Davis?”
The young man rolled his eyes. “Yeh, yeh, somebody did.” Stood there peeved.
“Rodney Davis is the guy who tried to get us to run the drugs. We refused, and got kicked off the tour, not just Monterey. Then,” Billy continued seriously, walking right up to Jack’s face, “we were told we had sixty days to return forty-percent of the money the record company laid out for us to get started. You know, instruments, clothes, tour vans, amps, the works. One hundred thousand pounds.”
Jack’s eyes nearly popped out. “W-w-what?” Made a nervous, jerking body movement. “You had to return the money? I always thought–” Speechless.
“You always thought the money the record company lays out on developing you is your money?” Smile and short laugh. “Wrong!” he yelled. “It’s an investment. It belongs to whoever lays it out for you. Davis, you see, was the enforcer for the record label. Real syndicate bloke. He put up the money, and threatened to do us in if we didn’t return the money in sixty days.” Aside, Billy said, “Took us about a year.” Then turned back to Jack. “But Davis got his money back. And then Sean quit. He was already upset he didn’t get to see Keith born. And a short time later, Danny, our drummer, right, was found on Warwicke’s dry-dock six hanging by his neck, dead. They called it suicide.” Stood aside Jack and whispered in his right ear. “But it wasn’t. Danny was depressed, but not enough to do that.”
Jack turned swiftly, desperately, to Prestin. “You saying the syndicates did it?”
“Yeh. You see, I said aside before we didn’t get it back to Davis in sixty days. It took us a year. So, after we did pay it back, they figured it was time to avenge our not getting it back in sixty days.” Screwed his eyes on Lubin. “When the crime syndicates say sixty days, they mean sixty days. It’s like Hallslip said, ‘If dead rock stars could talk’.”
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