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The Road To Success: Larry Shaeffer’s Legacy

Author: C. L. Harmon
Category: People
Date Published: March 15, 2018
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The Road To Success: Larry Shaeffer’s Legacy

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Some make his­to­ry while oth­ers pre­serve it. It is rare to find an indi­vid­ual that does both. It takes one who mar­ries the past to the future and forms a union which intro­duces igno­rance to wis­dom, wrong to right, arro­gance to humil­i­ty and fear to hope to tru­ly under­stand that every­one can own a part of his­to­ry if only will­ing to make their own while sav­ing the his­to­ry of oth­ers. Lar­ry Sha­ef­fer is such a man.
The skin­ny kid from the Lake Key­stone area now had a band to pro­mote with Black Oak Arkansas. Lar­ry was about to make his debut per­for­mance into the music busi­ness with his then part­ner David Miller and their com­pa­ny Lit­tle Wing Pro­duc­tions, a name that comes from the Jimi Hen­drix song of the same name. He knew that he had a lot rid­ing on this. In those days, Black Oak wasn’t a sold-out show band and so he had to become cre­ative in order to sell enough tick­ets to make the show suc­cess­ful.
Although he did have his first show on the books, he had no idea what to expect or how to even sell a show.

There was no road map or set of instruc­tions on how to do this,” Lar­ry said.  Park­ing cars for a liv­ing mak­ing $44 per week with the occa­sion­al quar­ter as a tip, Lar­ry had a lot of hopes on this first show if he was ever going to go from park­ing cars to dri­ving ones oth­ers would park.  Always being one who can spot an oppor­tu­ni­ty, he took advan­tage of the state fair in Tul­sa and was on the look­out for any hip­pie that reeked of weed and/or rock n’ roll.

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Using $3,000 bor­rowed from his local bank which he secured as col­lat­er­al with his 1965 Volk­swa­gen and 1950 Harley-David­son motor­cy­cle, he bought a radio ad from a Tul­sa sta­tion, rent­ed out the Tul­sa Munic­i­pal The­atre (Now the Brady The­atre) and print­ed out mini-posters which he hand­ed out at the fair to those hip­pies for its dura­tion of ten days. It turns out that his efforts paid off. The show sold out. (For a fun anec­dote about the day of the show, tune into the pod­cast with Lar­ry which will be released soon.)

It’s Raining Money!

By his own admis­sion, Lar­ry says that he was not astute enough to know if he was going to make any mon­ey from the show. But he was final­ly in the music business…and a con­cert pro­mot­er no less.

I made enough mon­ey that evening to pay the band and the bank and still put $4,000 in my pock­et! I had a bag of cash at set­tle­ment. One of my favorite mem­o­ries is get­ting back to my apart­ment in down­town Tul­sa after the show, open­ing that bag of cash and sling­ing it in the bath­room floor, liv­ing room floor, on the couch, in the kitchen, on the TV and every­where else. It looked like it was rain­ing mon­ey,” Lar­ry remem­bered as he grinned from across his desk.

This was his first redemp­tion as he called it that he was on the right track. Lit­tle did he know back then that all shows aren’t that suc­cess­ful. How­ev­er, his tenac­i­ty and bold­ness would once again strike gold before he would even­tu­al­ly con­ceive the thought that gold mines have shafts. His next move would cer­tain­ly be bold and show how com­mit­ted he was to his endeav­or.

I was pumped! So the next day, after pick­ing up the mon­ey, I had it in the back of my head that Mer­le Hag­gard was going to be a big star. I don’t know why but that was the name I came up with,” Lar­ry said. After some quick research, he learned that Hag­gard had played Tul­sa the year before when he had been drunk and “played a half-ass show”. How­ev­er, he still believed that Hag­gard would be a hit.

He began call­ing Haggard’s office in Bak­ers­field, Cal­i­for­nia hop­ing to talk with his man­ag­er Tex Whit­son. As had been his luck for most of the pre­vi­ous year, no one called back. The recep­tion­ist would take his mes­sages but the phone on his end wasn’t ring­ing.  He need­ed an in…and it soon came when final­ly a dif­fer­ent recep­tion­ist answered the phone. As impos­si­ble as it may seem today, She non-cha­lant­ly told Lar­ry that Hag­gard was in Nashville at the annu­al DJ Con­ven­tion. She then went fur­ther and pro­ceed­ed to tell him that Hag­gard and Whit­son were stay­ing at the King of the Road Hotel. That was what all that he need­ed to hear.

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Flying High On Stand-By

My father worked for Amer­i­can Air­lines back then and so fam­i­ly could fly stand-by for free. The very next day I am fly­ing to Nashville. As soon as I land, I take a cab to the King of the Road Hotel, walk in and ask what room Hag­gard was in.” And with­out any hes­i­ta­tion from the desk clerk, he was giv­en the room num­ber. (Oh the times of innocence…how they have fad­ed.) That knock on the door in the King of the Road Hotel would open to the oppor­tu­ni­ty of which he had so dreamed.

I knock on the door and a man named Fuzzy Owen answers. These guys stay up late and it’s obvi­ous that they are just wak­ing up. I see Mer­le through the door­way rub­bing his eyes. I looked like this ane­mic blond guy who was too young to be talk­ing to them. (Or so he thought that’s what they thought.) Fuzzy was very gra­cious as I told him why I had come there. He then told me to go down to the lob­by and he would join him in 45 min­utes.”  Sure enough Owen came down and asked what he want­ed. Lar­ry informed him that he is the con­cert pro­mot­er in Tul­sa and that he believed they could do huge tick­et sales with Mer­le. After an hour of dis­cus­sion, Owen agreed.

I went up to the check-in desk and asked for two pieces of King of the Road Hotel sta­tion­ary. We wrote up the deal, I signed it and Fuzzy signed it. It was a big win! I flew home as soon as I found a cab. Upon his arrival back home, he went to the then “pow­er­house” Coun­try music radio sta­tion in Tul­sa, KVOO. He need­ed them on his side and so pro­ceeds to tell the man­ag­er who he has booked. That expe­ri­ence would be his first les­son that the music busi­ness is not always a nice place.

I knock on the door and a man named Fuzzy Owen answers…”

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“The man­ag­er at KVOO goes bal­lis­tic! Because all of the sud­den, this nobody, me, had the Mer­le Hag­gard show. There is some hos­til­i­ty that comes out of that. He actu­al­ly calls Fuzzy Owen and Tex Whit­son and tells them that KVOO needs to bring this show and not some nobody.”  Owen tells the man­ag­er that the sta­tion isn’t get­ting the show. He then informs him that Lar­ry is the one who took the ini­tia­tive to fly out to Nashville and ask for the show and there­fore deserves the show. This gives Lar­ry much need­ed clout with the sta­tion. He then decid­ed to bring KVOO in as a media spon­sor. Now he has the show and free pub­lic­i­ty to pro­mote it!

Lar­ry booked the show in the Fair­grounds Pavil­ion which held 8,000 seats. He pro­mot­ed the con­cert with all the tenac­i­ty he is known for includ­ing con­vinc­ing Hag­gard to call in and do radio inter­views. He actu­al­ly over­sold the show putting the largest crowd that has ever been put into the Pavil­ion. Lar­ry walks away from the show with $40,000 in 1972. In today’s mar­ket, that equals right under $240,000.

I was cocky! I had two sell­outs for my first two shows. The worst thing that can hap­pen to a pro­mot­er is to make mon­ey on the first show. It’s bet­ter that he los­es his ass so he can go to sell­ing life insur­ance or park­ing cars,” Lar­ry quips with a hearty laugh. His sar­casm is not with­out mer­it as you will soon dis­cov­er.

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The next thing I did was go out and lose all that mon­ey on more shows…as quick­ly as I could,” he quipped. On a roll or so he thought, he placed his mon­ey on Coun­try music singer Mel Tillis in Kansas.

I had bor­rowed my mom and dad’s Lin­coln Con­ti­nen­tal to dri­ve up there and I drove home sad. I had lost it all. I still hate Kansas because of those Mel Tillis shows,” he said in a com­i­cal tone. So now he began to regroup and a nation­al cri­sis would help him do it. At his time, his part­ner Dave Miller decides he is out. Miller felt like it was a good time to get out before suf­fer­ing anoth­er loss. Lar­ry, how­ev­er, felt it was time to delve in even deep­er. But first, he would need to regroup.

Little Wing Begins To Soar

In 1972 what would become known as the gas crunch hit the US and gas prices dou­bled. Peo­ple began imme­di­ate­ly sell­ing off their big cars with big block engines and look­ing to buy Volk­swa­gens to save on fuel costs. Broke now, Lar­ry saw this as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to make some cash that would allow him to book more shows and get back into the game. Once again he bor­rowed $3,000 from the bank and began buy­ing cheap Volk­swa­gens, fix­ing them up and sell­ing them. This and a few oth­er small ven­tures such as sell­ing fire­works allowed him to con­tin­ue fol­low­ing his dream. (For a com­i­cal sto­ry on one of those ven­ture which end­ed in cease and desists let­ters, check out the upcom­ing pod­cast.)

These ven­tures kept him afloat and gave him enough mon­ey to begin mak­ing offers again to agents. He had two suc­cess­ful shows to give him cred­i­bil­i­ty and by 1974 things had begun to move for him.  He was able to bring sev­er­al shows through­out the course of the year and was build­ing Lit­tle Wing into a rep­utable busi­ness that could deliv­er the goods to music fans.

Step­ping into 1975, things con­tin­ued gain­ing momen­tum. A phone call from Bill Elson, the man who had sold him his first show with Black Oak Arkansas, would become a call that would solid­i­fy Lit­tle Wing and pro­pel Lar­ry into Oklahoma’s pro­mot­er.  Elson pro­vides him with a tip and tells him to book a large venue for June of 1976. He explains to Lar­ry that although he may not under­stand what was hap­pen­ing, he need­ed to trust him. The biggest thing is music was com­ing and he want­ed Lar­ry to be in on it.

Lar­ry took the advice and “Show Me The Way” as it were would be the way into a new endeav­or for him. In Jan­u­ary of 1976, what would become the largest sell­ing album of that year with over eight mil­lion sales was released. Peter Frampton’s album Framp­ton Comes Alive, would go to num­ber one and become album of the year. The Framp­ton show sold over 30,000 tick­ets. But more than that, it was a tick­et into the past that would become Larry’s future.

Swingin’ Into Cain’s

That past would be an old build­ing that opened its ‘swing­ing’ doors in 1924; a place of his­to­ry and ghosts of the past who spoke to Lar­ry as though invit­ing him to come and take part in mak­ing his­to­ry. With his prof­its from the Framp­ton show, he pur­chased the decay­ing prop­er­ty from its own­er Marie Mey­ers. He owned a piece of his­to­ry where Bob Wills and many oth­er great per­form­ers had enter­tained crowds of Oklahomans…he owned the Carnegie Hall of West­ern Swing. But now that he had the ‘House That Bob Built’ as it is often dubbed, what was he going to do with it. That loca­tion had become part of Tul­sa that peo­ple were mov­ing away from. Even the city wouldn’t come down to sweep the streets or change street lights, Lar­ry said. Per­haps, those ghosts from the pasts such as Bob Wills and his Texas Play­boys, Ernest Tubb, Hank Williams, John­nie Lee Wills, Tex Rit­ter and Ten­nessee Ernie Ford were ask­ing him to save their Tul­sa spir­i­tu­al pres­ence from being lost.  He oblig­ed.

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Cain’s became Lit­tle Wing head­quar­ters and a spring board for ideas as to how he could make the ball­room prof­itable. Again Lar­ry reit­er­at­ed that he had no one to show him how. And yet again Lar­ry saw anoth­er oppor­tu­ni­ty. He began book­ing any­thing and every­thing he could get to play Cain’s. The oppor­tu­ni­ty arose a short time lat­er when record com­pa­nies, then in a sign­ing fren­zy for new artists, need­ed venues for these artists to per­form. These new musi­cians weren’t pop­u­lar enough to sell large venues, but would fit nice­ly into Cain’s. Lar­ry had been in a good rota­tion for a while and was on agents’ radar. This cou­pled with Tul­sa geo­graph­i­cal­ly in the mid­dle of the US placed Lar­ry on the front row of the suc­cess show.

It’s late 70’s and ear­ly 80’s by this time and Lar­ry was pack­ing the ball­room with acts that were not pop­u­lar yet but did have fol­low­ings and were on their way to the top. Some of those acts include Hank Williams Jr., Pure Prairie League, Van Halen, Moun­tain, The Pre­tenders, Bon Jovi, Annie Lennox, The Police and U2. Lar­ry was fed these “baby bands” by agents to help show­case them to the pub­lic. It kept the music going and the mon­ey flow­ing. It also cre­at­ed loy­al­ty between him and the bands. This meant that they were his in Okla­homa no mat­ter how suc­cess­ful they became. He was also still doing are­na shows in Tul­sa and Okla­homa City for the more pop­u­lar musi­cians.

One of those Cain’s shows would spark a 12 year friend­ship and oppor­tu­ni­ty that would grow into a very lucra­tive rela­tion­ship for Lar­ry. In 1978, he brought in Hank Williams Jr. At this time, Williams was still in his father’s shad­ow and des­per­ate­ly want­i­ng to find his own voice. The atmos­phere of coun­try kids at heart with rock n’ roll in their souls par­ty­ing at Cain’s would be the rev­e­la­tion he need­ed to find his voice.  In 1981, Lar­ry gets a call from Hank Jr.’s agent telling him that Hank Jr. was going to be the next big thing in music.

The agent then told him that Hank Jr. want­ed him to pro­mote his shows all across the US. Still involved with Cain’s and some­what strug­gling with that endeav­or, he didn’t have the mon­ey to fund Hank Jr. all the deposit mon­ey need­ed for a full tour. But Hank Jr. want­ed him bad­ly enough to accept Larry’s counter pro­pos­al to pro­mote week­end shows. He prof­it­ed $90,000 the first week­end and knew that Hank was def­i­nite­ly the next biggest thing in coun­try music.

Still young at this time and approach­ing mil­lion­aire sta­tus, he knew Hank Jr. shows was a ride he just couldn’t get off. His suc­cess was grow­ing and oth­er enter­tain­ers such as George Strait and Reba McEn­tire began approach­ing him to pro­mote them. Not to men­tion that he was still bring­ing big shows to Okla­homa. By 1990,  now perched high upon the mon­ey tree and hav­ing a one year-old son, he felt it was time to exit the Hank Jr. gravy train and come back home to Tul­sa. Hank did not take it well, Lar­ry said. Finan­cial­ly, he admits that it was stu­pid to end that rela­tion­ship. But he had enough and decid­ed it was time to go back home and make a lot less mon­ey but a lot more his­to­ry in Okla­homa.

Please check out the third and final segment

C. L. Har­mon

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Lead Author

C.L. Har­mon a jour­nal­ist and author.

He Has worked for sev­er­al news­pa­pers as a reporter and was the man­ag­ing edi­tor for a dai­ly before start­ing his own paper, The Man­n­ford Reporter in Man­n­ford, Okla­homa. 

The Man­n­ford Reporter came with many life lessons and expe­ri­ences that I may share one day. For now my focus and my love is Unique­la­homa!

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C.L. Harmon is a journalist and author of "In The Midst Of Reality". He has worked for several newspapers as a reporter and was the managing editor for a daily before publishing his own paper, The Mannford Reporter in Mannford, OKlahoma. In addition, he has worked as a freelance writer for various magazines writing feature stories on people and events.
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