The Metro St. Louis Live Music
Ernie Cummings far left, son Steve next to him with Sam the Sham at the Batcave.
Here is a chapter of Ernie's book about his time as an Agent/Promoter:
In 1956 after my racing career was over, I returned to having a job in the car business. I worked at a new car dealership until 1964. That was the year I began to do more than car sales.
My family and I attended a wedding reception. I noticed my son, Steven, sat on the edge of the bandstand all evening watching the drummer. On the way home that evening Steve said, "Dad, I know what I want for Christmas — a set of drums." I said "I'll tell Santa and he will bring you what you want:' He was nine years old at the time.
By the age of 11, he was leading his own group of 15- and 16-year-old musicians. At 13 he became the youngest member of the American Federation of Musicians union (A.F.M.). He worked studios, such as ABC Dunhill in Los Angeles and Scepter Records in New York City. He also recorded in Nashville, Memphis, and St. Louis, besides road tours. He became one of the best drummers around. I mention this because it opened up another opportunity for me to get involved in a new line of work. He needed a manager, both personal and road management. I had him playing at all the Playboy clubs, arenas, the Mike Douglas TV show in Philadelphia, the Hiltons in St. Louis, and everywhere else you can name.
Since I booked all groups who had a hit record at that time, Steve and his group were busy opening for the stars: entertainers such as Sonny and Cher, Neil Diamond, James Brown, and many more at Kiel Auditorium and the Arena in St. Louis.
In 1968 I booked my son's group in Buffalo, New York and beyond for two weeks. I have never seen so much snow, piled that high, in my life. In some places it was 20 feet deep. The stores had to dig tunnels into the parking areas for their customers. After the engagement at Gilligan's, the group was going to New Jersey, then down the East coast to Florida. Since I always had the contracts sent to my office in St. Louis, and I was returning home, Steve reminded me that the group had 10-plus days left on the tour, and that they would be short of cash. Well, that's one mistake I made, but never again. I gave him my American Express card, just in case. When the statement from American Express arrived a few weeks later, it was over $3,800. Everything they ate or did was charged to my card.
I also began to branch out. I became a business partner with a
local disc jockey in St. Louis by the radio name of Johnny Rabbitt, of KXOK Radio. Our first major task was bringing the Beatles to Busch Stadium for a night in 1965. When we met them at the Chase Hotel at Kingshighway and Lindell, I had a difficult time understanding their accent. Their show was that night, and I looked forward to it, but Mother Nature intervened. It rained, but the show went on anyway in the center of the infield. The group had a covered stage, but all I could think of was the audience. We needed 47,000 yelling and screaming young people to break even, and we lost, can you say, $10,000?
I booked about everyone in the 1960s that had a record, such as Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Tommy James and the Shondells, The Turtles, and the Jackson 5 featuring Michael Jackson. For the next five years we were on easy street. If you had a hit record, Johnny Rabbitt would play it on the air to make it a bigger hit and the artist a success. I would then book the group into the St. Louis area, so it was a win-win situation for everyone.
In 1966 we opened a nightclub in St. Louis called Bruno's Bat Cave (the club had a Batman theme). It was a smash hit from the first night we opened. Bruno's Bat Cave was truly different. The nightclub was a remodeled and rebuilt bowling alley.
To enter the club, you descended a spiral staircase to one floor below ground level. I had removed the last lanes of the bowling alley to make a 65-foot covered tunnel into the club. I painted it black, added five red light bulbs, and hung strings from the ceiling of the tunnel so it felt like spider webs hitting you in the face. That was really far out then. When you entered the club itself, it was beautiful:
Opening night we had Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs. Maybe some of the younger readers are thinking "Who?" Their biggest selling record was "Wooly Bully."
The First Edition had just come off the Andy Williams TV show when we booked them into a club called Ruggles. Their record at the time was "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)." Later, the bass player started singing more leads and the group became known as "Kenny Rogers and the First Edition." The list of entertainers I booked into the St. Louis Arena, Kiel Auditorium, and the clubs goes on and on.
In 1969 we branched out with another nightclub called Cloud Nine. This one duplicated Bruno's Bat Cave, and it too was a smash hit from the beginning. American Breed was our opening act. Their hit record was "Bend Me, Shape Me" Since the name was Cloud Nine, we gave cotton candy to the girls to duplicate the clouds. I had skydiving films projected onto screens throughout the club. To top it all off, along the side wall with the band was a white screen. Behind the screen was a go-go dancer in a leotard, with a reverse projector behind her. The audience saw on the screen the image in black of a young lady dancing to the music of the band. She was "Miss Heavenly Bod," and no one knew who she was. That was far out back then. We also had the first strobe light in St. Louis. Another idea came to me in the 1960s: drive-in theaters were the big thing. I contacted the owners with my idea, and they loved it. I rotated theaters each Sunday. Since my partner Johnny Rabbitt had access to thousands of records, we would give them away to all in attendance. My son's band entertained during an hour long show prior to the movie. I sold sponsorship to Volkswagen who, by the way, gave me a new "bug." My garage was filled with 7UP from the 7UP Bottling Company. Osage Mobil Home provided funds.
We promoted the revue as a SUN-DIG, SUN for always on Sunday and DIG short for SHINDIG. Ahh — those were the days.
I've owned nightclubs and I've booked all the top entertainers of the time. I gave Tommy James and the Shondells their first booking after they recorded "My Baby Does The Hanky Panky." My partner and I had them at a "Wet and Wild" pool party at the Chain of Rocks Park in St. Louis. One of the groups at the time was the Ike Turner Revue, featuring Tina Turner. Johnny Rabbitt had the power to make any record into a hit, and that's when we exposed them to the public.
That was a very enjoyable time in my life.
I've always thought of ideas that no one else has done. Having an all-day musical review of the popular bands of the time, 12 groups in all at the St. Louis Arena, comes to my mind. We started at 9 a.m. on a Saturday and went nonstop for the next 12 hours. We set up two stages, one on each end of the arena, and when one group finished their performance another would start. If you had a hit record out, you were on our show. The arena held 18,000 screaming young fans and it was a sellout.
Before we started, I had a meeting with the performers to lay down the ground rules. There was a heavy discussion about who was going to finish as the last one and the "star" of the show. The group known as The Turtles won out.
When Johnny Rabbitt announced an event on his radio show, we always had wall-to-wall fans show up. When he would say he was going to be at a downtown St. Louis department store at a particular time, it was inundated with teenagers. He was that popular. He would broadcast his show from there and give out records. I was there also because he had an imaginary alter ego on the air that no one ever saw, Bruno J. Grunion, plus me. He always referred to me as "Uncle Ern."
In the 1960s when groups had a hit record, I made sure I booked them into the St. Louis area. I remember booking The Righteous Brothers into the Starlight Ballroom, a very popular place, with my son's band onstage. The girl singer with Steve's band was Gayle McCormick. That had to be one of her many career highlights — to be on stage with Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield. Gayle had a million-seller hit record during that time, "Baby It's You," which was produced by me.
Speaking of Bill Medley, who's still going strong, Paul Revere and the Raiders come to mind because he performed with the Raiders. I once booked the Raiders at venues around St. Louis and Alton, Illinois. I arranged a night my daughter Susan will never forget: I let her go in the limo to the "gig" with Paul Revere and the Raiders. She was 16 years old at the time.
One day when Sam the Sham (of the Pharaohs) was with me, he noticed that I did not have the same hand pattern as everyone else. He was so impressed, he flew me to New York to meet his palm reader, who had never seen a palm like mine. In fact, no one has ever seen a palm like mine. I have no "M's" in the palms of my hands ("M"-shaped diagonal lines). I have checked many hands all over the world, from my Navy days through today. Everyone has an "M" in their palms except me. My line goes straight across. Look at your hand and you will see the "M."
If anyone has more info or photos of Ernie, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
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