On A Col­li­sion Course

CL HARMON

 

It’s as though one is stand­ing inside his mem­o­ries while gaz­ing at the walls of his office. Rem­nants of almost 50 years aboard a metaphor­i­cal train that has sped through the years on a mys­tery track lead­ing him on a jour­ney that most only dream of. As the con­duc­tor, this man chose to trav­el through melod­ic scenery as well as the dark­est recess­es to dis­cov­ery for the des­ti­na­tions only avail­able to those who believe in them enough to board a train to nowhere in hopes of find­ing every­where.

GETTING OFF THE GRAVY TRAIN

When we left off last, Lar­ry Sha­ef­fer had decid­ed it was time to return home to Tul­sa after hav­ing spent sev­er­al years on the road with Hank Williams Jr., pro­mot­ing his shows. Now a fam­i­ly man with his wife and one-year-old son Jake, it was time for him to eval­u­ate his pri­or­i­ties. As he would soon dis­cov­er, act­ing upon those desires would be much more dif­fi­cult than he ini­tial­ly believed.

Hav­ing been in the midst of the fast lane lifestyle since the ear­ly 1970s with the sex, drugs and rock n’ roll asso­ci­at­ed with that scene, becom­ing fam­i­ly a man was a lifestyle that was on the oppo­site side of the tracks for Lar­ry. Being in the music busi­ness had been all he had known since those ear­ly days of flip­ping cars and sell­ing fire­works and t‑shirts to make a few bucks. Even with a degree from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Tul­sa, he still only had his music busi­ness expe­ri­ence and the desire to keep the music play­ing in Okla­homa. For­tu­nate­ly, though, he still owned Cain’s Ball­room and had a hefty bank account from his suc­cess­ful pro­mot­ing ven­tures. He believed at that point that there would be “no more big mon­ey” but he was okay with that sit­u­a­tion.

Lar­ry with Van Halen

One of the rea­sons I came back to Tul­sa was that I thought I had enough mon­ey to last for­ev­er. I had done very well finan­cial­ly and I had proven to myself that I could do some big­ger things than what I had been doing…but, then I got into a mar­riage that did not last forever…and it took a lot of mon­ey,” Lar­ry said. He also felt that he had not real­ly put the effort into Cain’s that he should have and it was time to rem­e­dy that.
By his own admis­sion, his best years were 1975 to 1995. His focus on Cain’s was pay­ing off and it became a mec­ca for live music in Tul­sa. Yet, even as a fam­i­ly man, he still could not stop chas­ing the big mon­ey and was “scratch­ing and claw­ing” with the com­pe­ti­tion to bring in are­na shows. His efforts were able to bring Prince, Judas Priest, Tina Turn­er, Van Halen, Willie Nel­son, Kiss, Aero­smith, Metal­li­ca, Ozzy Osbourne and even the great Frank Sina­tra among oth­ers in this attempt and desire to con­tin­ue grow­ing in the busi­ness.

He was ini­tial­ly hap­py to be home and enjoy­ing the absence of trav­el. But in many ways, he was in unchart­ed ter­ri­to­ry. He admits lov­ing the lifestyle and the women who were involved in the music scene as well the wild side of the busi­ness. He had nev­er seen him­self as mar­ried with a nor­mal home life, but there he was, just that. The love for his sons and daugh­ters inspired him to learn how to be a good father, but this alone was not enough for him to keep from drag­ging the chaos sur­round­ing him into his mar­riage and home life. It would soon become obvi­ous to him that the train was on a col­li­sion course. Yet, he still con­tin­ued gain­ing steam to feed what he believed to be chas­ing the Amer­i­can dream.

OBSTACLES ON THE TRACKS

He admits that the stress of his home life cou­pled with the chaos of the busi­ness pushed him fur­ther into drugs and alco­hol.

I had been warned that drugs and alco­hol don’t mix with mon­ey. But I just wasn’t lis­ten­ing. So I made a lot of tac­ti­cal errors. This is where my demise starts,” Lar­ry said. On a more philo­soph­i­cal note and one of ret­ro­spect, he explains that when asked if he would do it over dif­fer­ent­ly, the answer is a resound­ing YES! Per­haps, the best way to describe his response as it relates to this sto­ry is look­ing back at the tracks from where a speed­ing train had just been. Review­ing what had been on the tracks and dec­i­mat­ed by its sheer force and the real­iza­tion that what had been so close was now gone for­ev­er in the dis­tance.

Maybe there were regrets. Maybe even life lessons. What­ev­er they may have been, it was most cer­tain­ly a real­iza­tion that he was destroy­ing what he had so hoped to build by com­ing back to Tul­sa. There would be oth­er obsta­cles on the track in the near future as well such as a rape accu­sa­tion and tri­al before a jury. But those obsta­cles would be just what he need­ed to slow down. He would be cleared of the rape charge, but the dam­age to his rep­u­ta­tion and the con­tin­u­ing spi­ral into drugs and alco­hol were enough to almost derail him.

 

It’s been one hel­lu­va par­ty, hasn’t it?”  ~ Lar­ry Sha­ef­fer

TRAVELING IN THE DARKNESS

I became my own envi­ron­ment. I woke up in the morn­ing being me and doing the same things I did the day before and hoped that it would work,” Lar­ry said. “I also nev­er thought that the flow of mon­ey would quit com­ing. It was so easy to get. This thought process, along with the sub­stance abuse, would ush­er in con­se­quences detri­men­tal to his pro­mot­ing enter­prise. He admits that there were show set­tle­ments that he closed while high that was not han­dled as well as they should have been and this caused riffs between he and the artists. Many of these would have long-last­ing effects.

The show may have sold out and we all made good mon­ey. But I did not make a good impres­sion with the artists I was work­ing with.  There were sev­er­al instances when I nuked myself because of the drugs and alco­hol.” Lar­ry said. One exam­ple of this behav­ior was casu­al­ly offer­ing Garth Brooks’ man­ag­er Bob Doyle cocaine after a show. Doyle was so insult­ed that he informed Brooks, who then refused to work with Lit­tle Wing again. He kept true to his word and has nev­er worked with Lar­ry since.

Some mis­takes you make, you nev­er get through pay­ing for,” Lar­ry said about the Brooks’ inci­dent. He went on to explain that though there were not a large num­ber of those types of mis­takes, there were enough to crip­ple his posi­tion in the busi­ness. He admits that at the time, he had no idea as to how much dam­age to his career he was inflict­ing upon him­self. Inter­est­ing­ly though, he knew to some degree that he was going to derail if things didn’t change, but had no clue as to how to get off the speed­ing train or to stop it.

RUNNING OFF THE RAILS

Dur­ing this peri­od, he had been arrest­ed on mul­ti­ple occa­sions for what he refers to as alco­hol offens­es and his par­ty lifestyle. To add some per­spec­tive about where he was at this point in his life, it should be not­ed that it was not ego that had land­ed Lar­ry into this myr­i­ad of issues he was bat­tling. In fact, it was quite the oppo­site.

This lev­el of fatigue had set in and I had man­aged to keep three balls in the air for many years and I didn’t know how much longer I could do that.  I nev­er real­ly thought I was equipped or even qual­i­fied to be in the busi­ness I was in.  I kind of thought I was pulling off a fast one here,” Lar­ry said.

I also had the false illu­sion that suc­cess was mea­sured by mon­ey. I think that is one of the flaws in the Amer­i­can dream…that we all get mea­sured by how much mon­ey we make,”. When asked if he had giv­en any thought at this stage of his life as to how much joy and how many mem­o­ries he had giv­en to music lovers over the years by his efforts, he replied, “absolute­ly not, I nev­er thought about it”. He felt good about how far he had been able to build Lit­tle Wing. But on the sim­ple lev­el of how he had touched so many lives or that what he was doing had sig­nif­i­cant his­tor­i­cal val­ue, he was obliv­i­ous. “I am real­iz­ing it now, final­ly” he quipped.

FINDING THE BRAKES

I final­ly had an epiphany that my val­ues were wrong and had been for decades. I want­ed to get away from it,” he said. And the cost to own such an awak­en­ing? Every­thing I owned. “I had to lose every­thing! I filed for bank­rupt­cy in 2001 with noth­ing left. I sim­ply walked away from Cain’s Ball­room.  It was not a big sale where I gar­nered any mon­ey. But I final­ly learned that you can’t buy hap­pi­ness at all. I had just bought into the idea that too much is nev­er enough,” he said. He went on to say that if los­ing his wife, every­thing he owned and almost his chil­dren wasn’t enough to wake him up, then he was in a lot more trou­ble than even he thought pos­si­ble.

But it was enough. For the first time in his adult life, he had become avail­able to those he loved and cared about. In this action rests the wis­dom of how impor­tant it is to be there for oth­ers dur­ing this jour­ney through life. It took the bat­ter­ing of obsta­cles to final­ly bring the slow­ing down of the speed­ing train he was on. He final­ly under­stood what was most impor­tant in life had been pass­ing him by while he had been roar­ing that speed­ing train through the sta­tions with­out so much as a thought to see what beau­ty was around him.

 

There was a time after the bot­tom had fall­en out that I had no inten­tion of book­ing even one more show. I just had no direc­tion at that point. I was done with the busi­ness and it was done with me. I was drift­ing and won­der­ing what my next move was.” Lar­ry said. That next move would come a short time lat­er. An agent in Cal­i­for­nia called him and offered him an oppor­tu­ni­ty. Know­ing that Lar­ry was on a bad roll, he told him point blank that he may as well take the oppor­tu­ni­ty since he didn’t have any­thing else bet­ter to do. Lar­ry accept­ed. He began book­ing shows for Willie Nel­son. With­in a year, he was mak­ing mon­ey again and back on the upswing.

 A NEW TRAIN OF THOUGHT

He loved it! There were no more big shows to scram­ble for and no more drugs and alco­hol. He was a “handy­man” as he calls him­self, book­ing shows for Willie Nel­son in the “B mar­kets” between his big are­na shows in the larg­er cities. This led him into doing the same for oth­ers such as George Jones, Mer­le Hag­gard, Ray Price, Don Williams, Gor­don Light­foot and B.B. King.  He had found zeal again and was able to work with only those whom he con­sid­ered to be pro­fes­sion­al and easy to work with artists. He had found a niche that worked and made him hap­py. And he was sober to boot.

For the bet­ter part of the last 17 years, Lar­ry has main­tained his busi­ness with these “elder states­men” of the music busi­ness. In recent years though, many of those great per­form­ers have passed on and now near­ing 70 years of age, he has no desire to add any more per­form­ers. He is hap­py with pro­mot­ing shows for Willie Nel­son and Gor­don Light­foot while enjoy­ing time with his fam­i­ly,  11  stray dogs and a 1961 Cadil­lac which is often as tem­pera­men­tal as any dif­fi­cult artist on a bad day.

 

The days of the speed­ing train may be over but he is more than okay with this fact. He has final­ly learned that it’s not about how fast he gets some­where or the num­ber of cars he has attached behind him; it’s about enjoy­ing the scenery with­in this world he has cre­at­ed for him­self and for count­less music fans.

It’s been one hel­lu­va par­ty, hasn’t it?”  ~ Lar­ry Sha­ef­fer

Com­ing soon is the release of a pod­cast con­tain­ing the inter­views I have con­duct­ed with Lar­ry for these series of sto­ries. These record­ings are col­or­ful and enter­tain­ing, giv­ing insight into the man and his career. They con­tain amus­ing anec­dotes about inter­ac­tions with artists and shows as well as per­son­al infor­ma­tion not includ­ed in the writ­ten sto­ries. We at Unique­la­homa tru­ly appre­ci­ate Larry’s can­dor and will­ing­ness to open up about events in his life that are very per­son­al. It is nev­er easy for some­one to open up to the pub­lic about the choic­es made dur­ing life and any sub­se­quent neg­a­tiv­i­ty result­ing from them. It has been our great plea­sure and hon­or to have been cho­sen by Lar­ry to con­vey so many details about his per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al life.

Thanks for Read­ing!

 

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