The Mob Got Our Gear Back!
Organized Crime in Kansas City has been well-documented, both in pop culture as well as historically. If you're interested you could start with the Wikipedia article. You might also check out the Mob Rule webpage, especially the section entitled, THE 1970S: RIVER QUAY AND THE DOWNFALL OF NICK CIVELLA.
Also, check out this preview:
That environment is what myself and many of my musical peers lived and worked in - although I was living elsewhere when the culminating spate of bombings and murders happened in '77. I watched it unfold on the national news shows. The story I'm about to tell is not unusual; any of my working musician friends could tell similar or more extreme stories - shoot, I could tell more extreme stories!
In spite of the fact that all this is well-documented, I'm changing all names and disguising the characters; many are still around and I know that some of the musicians involved will read this!
The aftermath of the 70's River Quay Mob war lasted up to the early '90's, I'd say. Since then I haven't run into the same level of Mob activity. Throughout the eighties there was still a lot; in my experience it involved dealing cocaine using nightclubs as legitimate-business fronts.
In the early '80's there was a circuit of clubs I was playing. They involved 4 to 6 nights a week of gigging, usually for a week, then on to the next club. After 6 or 8 weeks you would come back around to the first club and start the circuit over. So, if you were able to break into this circuit you could stay busy locally and not have to tour so much. This was how I was able to work as a player and at the same time build up my student load to the point where I didn't have to gig every night.
Most of these clubs were owned by Italian-Americans, who were all related in some way; brothers, cousins, in-laws. The bands were paid in cash, there were no 1099's. As a bandleader, many times on Saturday night after the gig, while getting paid, I sat in front of the owner's desk in the back room, on which were piles of cash, lines of coke, and a .45 within easy reach. If the club had had a good week, sometimes
the band would get a bonus.
In spite of the general depravity of the situation, most of the mob guys were pleasant enough and treated the musicians and bands with respect. As a matter of fact, now that I think about it, the club owners that were not related to the mob disrespected the bands more than the mob guys did. Anyway, it was definitely advantageous to have the mob guys on your side, as the following story will illustrate;
The club was large, I would guess capacity was around 500, maybe more. It was pretty rough; there was a sign that said all motorcycle helmets and chains were to be checked at the door - not allowed in the club. It was common for people to be patted down before being let in. The band was instructed to play a ballad as the last song of the night. That way there would be less trouble in the parking lot after closing.
On this particular night, the band showed up to play and, sometime since the previous night, all of the small stuff had been stolen - microphones, guitar pedals and whatnot.
The place was packed. The bandleader got into the DJ booth, grabbed the mic and announced,
"Well, the band's not going to play tonight 'cause some asshole stole all of our microphones!"
Immediately there was a not-so-good vibe coming from the crowd; exclamations of disappointment, booing and so on.
The club owner, who I'll call "Louie," came running up saying,
"Don't do that! Don't do that! Don't do that!" (I distinctly remember he said it 3 times.) "Tell 'em you'll play!"
"We have no microphones, we can't play!"
Louie went into explicit beg-mode;
"Please say you'll stay and play! We'll find something for you. Please, you gotta trust me on this! I'll do right by ya! I'm beggin' ya - please say you'll stay!"