Before there was Chris Fritz, Jeff Fortier, AEG, Live Nation, whatever, an ex-shoe dog from NYC put our town on the rock and roll map and made this a cool place to live.
He’s gone now: Stan Plesser, club owner, band manager and KC’s first rock and roll impresario died Friday. They don’t make em like Stan anymore.
My first impression of the man was listening to his spots on KUDL or WHB in the 60s. Plugging his Vanguard Coffeehouse, Stan did his own voice-overs, hawking in that nasal Broadway accent his roster of talent. Danny Cox, Brewer & Shipley, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Steve Martin— they all played the Vanguard. It was THE place to go to impress a date.
But first, you had to wait in line on Main Street, then pay Stan the cover charge at the door. He emceed the shows and, if memory serves, even mixed the rudimentary sound system himself. That brick wall upstage and the blenders whirring in the kitchen off to the left were the backdrop for some memorable live music; thanks for those memories, Stan.
The Vanguard spawned Stan’s management company, Good Karma, which handled Danny, Mike and Tom, the Tubes and a few other acts, including some scruffy kids he found down in Springfield and dubbed the "Ozark Mountain Daredevils." In no particular order, he produced the first Arrowhead Stadium concerts, opened and ran Cowtown Ballroom and irritated a whole bunch of our not-to-be-distrubed citizenry with a free concert in Loose Park– Brewer and Shipley playing "One Toke Over the Line," the biggest laugh KC ever had on the nation (and our one and only Number One Hit).
All thanks to Stan.
Like quite a few show biz wannabees, I used to hang out at Good Karma, hoping to get a whiff of what made Stan work. Yeah, it probably had something to do with the beautiful Bambi, Stan’s receptionist, smiling and keeping us all at bay. I remember one surreal afternoon, getting high with Danny and a friend on the top floor of the GK office– the company’s "crash pad."
While passing around the second or third fat doobie, we got transfixed on this idea that A&P could make another million dollars a year sticking an unseen can of lima beans into everybody’s grocery bag and adding it to their cash register tapes. Let’s see, thirty-five cents per can times fifteen cash registers per store times ten customers an hour times ten hours they were open times two thousand five hundred sixty-two stores (we actually called the grocery chain in our bong-induced bliss).
No wonder CNO opened nearby a few years later.
Stan was our very own Bill Graham— feisty, sticking up for our music when our parents (his generation, almost) put it down, but still there to turn a buck. He could have gone Hollywood– he had some of the biggest recording acts of the day. But, as he once told me, Stan liked flying out to LA, doing the music business, then getting on that plane and coming back home.
Imagine Stan the Blitzkreig, homeward bound after waging the music biz wars, kicking back in a split level ranch in Prairie Village. Now, try to imagine AEG or Live Nation running their corporate mega-music business that way.
Like I said, they don’t make em like Stan anymore.