Back in the fall of 1969, any rock’n’roll fan so unfortunate as to be living in Dallas drooled with envy when anyone mentioned New York City’s legendary rock houses. In a two-week period that fall, the Fillmore East alone played host to the Grateful Dead, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Country Joe & the Fish, Sha-Na-Na, Joe Cocker, Fleet wood Mac, King Crimson, and the Who. Those were just the big shows, and it wasn’t an unusual two weeks. Not for New York.
During the same two weeks in Dallas, rock’n’rollers had their choice of Simon & Gar-funkel at Memorial Auditorium or Eartha Kitt at the Venetian Room.
The musical mainstream just didn’t flow through Dallas, Texas. It stayed where it thrived, on the coasts. And certainly Dallas had nothing like the Fillmore, with high-level rock acts almost every night. How nice that would be, deprived Dallas rockers thought to themselves despondently. Why, they moaned, couldn’t it happen here in Dallas?
It took a decade, but something of the sort finally happened. Dallas has its musical palace: The Palladium. Dallas rock’n’rollers are happier now.’ And grateful. They owe their thanks to Danny Eaton and Jimmy Page, the Palladium’s masterminds. They took a gamble and made it pay off and Dallas music is much the wealthier for it.
The Palladium isn’t an isolated success story. Over the past decade, the pop/rock music scene in Dallas-Fort Worth has been transformed from meaningless to major. For a variety of reasons (not the least of which is the emergence of Jack Calmes’ Showco as one of the premiere concert production outfits in the world), Dallas-Fort Worth has become a key stop on the rock’n’roll road. This market has become a testing ground, a kind of whatdo – they-think-away-from-the-coasts sounding board. New acts are tried here, old acts are revived here, big acts always stop here. The end result is that the area now sports a goodly number of recording studios and production companies, two top-flight rock radio stations (KTXQ and KZEW), and a highly active concert calendar. Still, until Danny Eaton and Jimmy Page stepped in, there was a missing element: a small, sophisticated, night-club-style concert hall. It had been tried, but had never worked.
Danny Eaton and Jimmy Page, both 32, are seasoned veterans of the music business. The Palladium is the realization of a shared vision. They love it like a baby.
Danny Eaton began earning his musical stripes in high school at the Gibraltar Hotel in his home town of Paris, Texas, and then carried on as social chairman of the Kappa Sigma fraternity at UT-Austin. He spent several years learning the trade, with stints as a concert promoter for Mark Lee in Dallas, as manager of Marc Benno, as a concert promoter in California, as manager of the legendary Vulcan Gas Company club in Austin, as co-founder of Calico Productions in Dallas, and as publicity and tour director of ZZ Top. Jimmy Page, a native of Yale, Oklahoma, got his feet wet in high school as a band manager, then, as manager for bands in New Mexico and California, as a promoter for Concerts West in Texas, and then as vice-president for sales and promotions for Showco in Dallas.
In 1972, while performing different chores in the production of a Kris Kristofferson-Rita Coolidge concert in Ama-rillo, Eaton and Page struck up a friendship but remained professional competitors, working in music production around Texas. In April of 1978, they decided they’d been battling each other long enough and the corporation of Eaton-Page Productions was formed. On the night of April 7, the new partners produced simultaneous shows in Dallas (a band called Sea Level) and Beaumont (Grover Washington). It was an inauspicious debut: Each show lost $5000 for a one-night, $10,000 bath.
But the pair plugged away, intent on producing small- and middle-range acts, staying away from the big concert halls. The concert-hall-booking game was a racket that had worn them down for years and they talked wistfully of finding their own small hall, a showcase where they could produce consistently. Ideally it would be in their adopted home of Dallas.
Last summer, Eaton and Page got a call from the managers of the Whiskey River club on Greenville Avenue, who had worked out an arrangement to get up some concerts in a building on Northwest Highway at Abrams that had housed the now-defunct Windmill Dinner Theater. The place, they were told, had possibilities. It had been a theater-in-the-round, but could easily be reconstructed into a traditional proscenium setup. It could seat about 900 people, the acoustics were good, and the general stage accouterments were there. The Whiskey River people wanted Eaton and Page to do some bookings for the place and invited them over to take a look. Eaton and Page knew it was the place they’d always wanted as soon as they saw it.
The Palladium (a name suggested to the new managers by Eaton and Page) went into operation that summer, with Eaton-Page doing some of the bookings. But things didn’t work out. The emphasis was on country music and it wasn’t selling; there were promotional problems and advertising shortcomings. Before long, the Palladium went out of business.
But Eaton and Page were convinced the place could work. The building was still under the ownership of Perry Cloud, who also owns the successful Granny’s Dinner Playhouse. They approached Cloud with a proposal: He could retain ownership, but they wanted a lease agreement with an exclusive management contract for Eaton-Page. They would sell the tickets, run the bar, buy the advertising, and provide all the music. The deal was cut.
On October 21 and 22, 1978, the new Palladium opened with Todd Rundgren. Both shows sold out, over 900 tickets each night. The act got good reviews and the Palladium got better ones. The sound was great, there truly wasn’t a bad seat in the house, and the added attractions of a full bar and table seating provided a sophisticated level of concert-going that was new, and long overdue, in Dallas. The Palladium was a hit.
On a hot June afternoon, Danny Eaton and Jimmy Page sit on a plush leather couch in the cool, dark confines of the “press room” backstage at the Palladium, sipping Perrier and ruminating on the eight-month life of their club. They defy the stereotype of the concert promoter – the super-slick, too-cool, heavy-hype hustler. Nor do they fit the rock’n’roll image of long hair, rainbow threads, abundant jewelry. As they lounge easily in their jeans and T-shirts, they reveal their profession only in their enthusiasm for it. Today they’re excited, and somewhat drained, by continuing frantic negotiations for a huge Cotton Bowl extravaganza they’re trying to put together for late August. “Today,” says Jimmy with no remorse, “is one of those days that fries your brain.”
They’re used to it. The Palladium has been no bed of roses. There have been bombshell successes mixed with plain old bombs. Some evenings the coffers overflow, but, says Page, “It’s just as easy to lose $4000 in a night. It’s been a guessing game. We’ve been learning as we go.” Mostly they’ve guessed right, but their successes – and failures – haven’t always been the expected ones. “Sometimes you just can’t predict it,” says Eaton. “We’ve been real frustrated, for example, with mainline jazz – artists like Pat Metheny, Flora Purim, Phil Woods just didn’t get any support. It’s a shame. But on the other hand, we’ve been surprisingly successful with New Wave stuff – Talking Heads, Police, Fabulous Poodles. Hard-core country acts haven’t worked out well at all, but hard-core blues – Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Johnny Winter, Taj Mahal – has done real well. We expected a big response to England Dan and John Ford Coley and got nothing; we didn’t expect much for Jay Ferguson and he filled the room. And we’ve gotten surprises with solo acts – Tom Waits, John Prine, Leon Redbone. It’s a gambling game.”
As in any gambling game, it’s the long shots that pay off the biggest. “It’s tough to throw the dice in June for a December show,” says Page, “but you have to.” Twice in particular those longshots have paid off handsomely, once with Dire Straits (“best buy we ever made”) and once with Toto. Both were contracted as virtual unknowns; by the time they arrived at the Palladium, they were cresting with hit albums. Winners like that go a long way toward boosting the bottom line.
It is, after all, a bottom-line business and a fairly cut-and-dried one. An act is signed at a certain price and ticket prices are scaled accordingly (a $1000 act gets a $3-5 price tag, $1500-2500 gets $5-7, $3500-5000 gets $7-8.50, $5000 and up gets $10 a ticket). Ticket sales are gauged so that the gate covers overhead (the Eaton-Page phone bill alone is over $1500 a month); the bar provides the profit. On a two-show sellout night, the bar can take in as much as $8000; an average night nets $2000-3000. But if the gate is small, the Palladium suffers on both counts. Disaster is never far away.
The game is getting easier, though, because the Palladium is establishing a solid national reputation. “Word has gotten around,” says Eaton. “All the major record companies are aware of us now and the reputation is that it’s a great place to play. The acts love this place, the intimacy of it, the nightclub feeling. It’s the place they always wanted to play when they were coming up. They’re always saying things like ’This has been our best gig on the tour’ and ’This is the best we’ve played in months.’ That really plays on our egos, makes it all worthwhile. Because, yeah, it’s a cutthroat business, ruthless, dog-eat-dog, all that. No worse than General Motors or Gulf Oil, but it appears that way because show business is so highly emotional. You have to establish your position in this business and ours is the Palladium. It’s a unique place and it earns us a certain respect.”
Eaton-Page also handles shows in larger halls around Texas and the Southwest, but the Palladium remains their baby. “Oh sure,” says Page, “it’s a great feeling to pack up your briefcase and walk out of the Tarrant County Convention Center after a sellout show for E.L.O. But it’s no better than hearing Bugs Henderson right here playing his guitar better than he’s ever played. There are different satisfactions.”
Eaton and Page don’t intend to limit the Palladium to a musical showplace. “We’ve just scratched the surface with this place,” says Eaton. “There’s really not enough music available to fill this place every night. We have to keep it active, keep it alive. We’ve got big-screen video for films and Cowboy games, we do private listening parties for record companies, we’re thinking about some stage-play productions, even trying to set up some boxing matches. Hell, we’ll do anything.”
Music will remain the mainstay, and, with several big acts negotiating bookings for the fall, it would appear that the Palladium’s life is secure. “Nothing in this business is for sure,” says Eaton. “We could go out of business yet. But for now, as an overall concept, it’s working.”
The phone rings. It’s Johnny Winter’smanager. There’s a problem with the Cotton Bowl date. Winter may need a LearJet to get him in from New York. Whatcan be arranged? Eaton sighs. “Yeah, Iget tired. But I don’t get tired of the business. It’s fascinating. It’s like getting upevery morning and trying to ride a wildhorse. You get beat up a lot. People thinkthis is a real glamour business, easymoney. No way. Selling real estate wouldbe a hell of a lot easier than this. It’s atough son of a bitch. This place can beatyou into submission.” He stops, grins,and gazes around their domain. “But welove it.”