Friday, February 11, 2011

Rich Engler

Rich Engler from Whirl Magazine

Rich Engler, a Creighton native, discovered the joys of music while a student at Deer Lakes HS. He was the drummer for the garage band Grains of Sand (Engler was also said to be the session drummer on the Vogue's "Five O'Clock World.") He started banging the kit as a junior, and hey - Engler brought home $25 a gig. Life couldn't get better.

The group eventually became a popular act - Hermie Granati of the Granati Brothers/G-Force was a member - and started getting more offers (and money, we'd hope) than they had nights to play, riding the area auditorium/college circuit. So Engler started up a sideline booking/management company and doled out dates to other bands, while getting his boys gigs as the opening act for some of the bigger area shows.

A Yes show in Erie was the tipping point. The GOS was the warm up act, and the agent for Yes was looking all over the sold-out Erie Civic Center for the promoter, no doubt to gripe about something or other. The house people told him he'd have to cool his heels a bit; the promoter, Engler, was on stage with the band. The storm blew over, but...

An agent friend from New York City called and told Engler that the two hats he was wearing was one too many, and from that day on, he was solely a promoter. Engler called his now full-time agency Go Attractions.

He brought in acts like David Bowie and Velvet Underground, but his Pittsburgh options were somewhat limited. Engler could only book his shows at the Stanley. The 800-pound gorilla in Pittsburgh bookings, Pat DiCesare, had exclusivity clauses in the other major City venues.

Go Attractions used the ol' end run, aggressively working the region's secondary markets in Johnstown, Erie, Altoona, and Hagerstown. And it paid off in spades over the long haul.

Engler had caught DiCesare's eye as an up-and-comer, and in 1973 he got a call to combine forces. Both recognized that the other was his main competition, and turned their energy into synergy. The pair decided to let Engler focus on bookings and DiCesare the other opportunities, split the profits 50-50, and then launched the rock era in Pittsburgh. In 1974, DiCesare-Engler was born, destined to become a top twenty concert promoter in terms of gross in the US.

It quickly became renown as a promoter of rock and pop concerts at the Civic Arena, Duquesne's Palumbo Center, the Amphitheater at Station Square, Star Lake Theatre, Three Rivers Stadium, the Benedum Center/Stanley, Soldiers and Sailors Hall, the Syria Mosque and Metropol. They also booked shows in the regional outliers, where Engler had hung his hat, and opened venues in Wilkes-Barre and Vegas.

DiCesare-Engler brought in acts from Judy Collins to Metallica, Aerosmith to Al Jarreau, Courtney Love to KISS, Elton John to Billy Joel, Springsteen to the Stones, Led Zeppelin to Bon Jovi...well, you get the picture.

Engler has bands he personally likes; after all, he was a rock drummer. But what he liked best was a successful show, from an artistic, financial and market standpoint. So he would book Red Skelton, Johnny Mathis, Andy Williams, Bolshoi Ballet or a Broadway show if there was an audience. Heck, he even got acts for the Regatta.

DiCesare-Engler managed that for a couple of years after it had broken down among internal accusations and over a half mil in debt. In two years, it was back on its feet.

The acts weren't all musical. Dicesare-Engler put together ethnic festivals, seasonal happenings like the Hartwood Acres Celebration of Lights and Station Square fright nights. They were even considering getting into real show biz - the movies. It wasn't to be, though.

When the partnership of Pat DiCesare and Rich Engler marked its 20th anniversary in 1994, it was big news, rating a nice sized article in Variety. But there wouldn't be a 25th to celebrate.

SFX Entertainment bought DiCesare-Engler Productions in July of 1998. Engler stayed on to act as president and CEO, as well as executive director of the I.C. Light Amphitheatre; DiCesare, a decade older, walked away from the new agency. In 2004, Engler joined him, for undisclosed reasons.

Like his old partner Pat DiCesare, he too is out of the biz, making his living as the VP of Targe Energy and serving as a repository of Pittsburgh's rock beginnings. He and his wife Cindy still meet weekly with DiCesare, his wife Kathy, and some other industry old timers in the Strip for that great yinzer pastime, coffee and BS.

He has terrific yarns to spin, too. There's the time his better half doubled as the limo driver and KISS tried to kiss up to her, Motley Crue running blue films on the stage during their set, Madonna insisting that everyone turn their backs when she entered the arena for her sound check, Stephen Stills and David Crosby arguing on stage, Van Halen returning some of its guarantee after the "Monsters of Rock" show bombed...there was never a dull moment.

The couple even hosted an "Urban Garden Party" at the Warhol, a museum fund raising event, where the draw was the dish on the bands as only Rich and Cindy could deliver.

As DiCesare will be remembered for partnering with Tim Tormey to bring in the Beatles in 1964, Engler may end up forever linked with Bob Marley's last concert, which he booked for September 23rd, 1980 at the Stanley Theatre.

The day before the concert, Engler was told that Marley was ill and might not be able to perform in Pittsburgh. But Marley soldiered on and played the sold-out house, because, as he told Engler, his band mates needed the money.

In truth, he was so sick before the show that his wife, Rita, called his mother from the dressing room, begging her to help dissuade her son from performing. A few months later, on May 11th, 1981, Marley died from skin cancer. The Pittsburgh performance was his final set.

His estate has just released a 2-CD album titled “Bob Marley & The Wailers - Live Forever” from that show to commemorate the 30th anniversary of his death. They also staged a Marley memorial concert at the Stanley last year, which was the brainchild of old DiCesare-Engler partner and current Point Park prof Ed Traversari and promoted by Engler.

His other show memory is the one that got away, and just like the old fisherman's tale, it was a big one. Engler was dotting the i's and crossing the t's to have John Lennon and Yoko Ono include Pittsburgh as a stop on their proposed 1981 "Double Fantasy" tour when the former Beatle was assassinated in NYC in 1980.

"It would have been my dream to see the Syria Mosque" Engler told the Post Gazette's Scott Mervis.

But one thing Engler will never have problems with is forgetting the old days. He's amassed a huge collection of rock memorabilia from his days in the biz, transforming his modern Sewickley Heights home into Pittsburgh's version of the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. One of his prized possessions is an autographed guitar from Sir Paul McCartney.

A white '57 T-Bird is parked near the entrance of the Engler's crib; Engler got the car when he swapped his '52 MG TD roadster with Sha Na Na for it. Almost every piece in the Engler home has a great story behind it. Rich and Cindy used to host after-concert parties there, and boy, if those Sewickley walls could talk...

1 comment:

Poobah Jim said...

Rich Engler was the manager of psychedelic rock band POOBAH ,who Rolling Stone magazine chose for Top 10 of the year last year !He parted ways with Poobah ,and his other bands, when he joined Pat DiCesare. Poobah now has 12 albums out worldwide.