Courtesy of Alec Wightman
Cover art for Alec Wightman's new memoir.
Alec Wightman, who chronicles his life experiences as a music promoter and fan in his new memoir, Music In My Life: Notes From a Longtime Fan
, will appear at the Rock Hall on Wednesday, July 28, for an Author Series event. Rock Hall President and CEO Greg Harris will interview Wightman, and a book signing will follow.
Tickets to Alec Wightman's appearance at the Rock Hall
are free, but registration is required. Doors open at 6:30p, and books will be available for purchase then. Since the event starts after the Rock Hall is closed, no other exhibits will be open.
Original Post 6/18/2021:
When he wasn't listening to Indians games on his transistor radio while growing up in Northeast Ohio in the 1950s and 1960s, young Alec Wightman tuned into stations that played rock 'n' roll. At the age of 10, he fell in love with the music when he heard Dion sing “The Wanderer” and has been an avid fan ever since.
Wightman, who currently lives in Columbus, books singer-songwriter acts through his own concert production company and serves as a member and chair of the board of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame while maintaining his day job as a corporate lawyer.
He chronicles his life experiences in his new memoir, Music In My Life: Notes From a Longtime Fan
, a book that recounts seeing numerous Neil Young concerts in the ’70s and discovering singer-songwriter favorites like John Stewart, Jesse Winchester, Tom Russell, Chuck Prophet, Rosie Flores and Dave Alvin.
Sitting in the home office in Columbus, Wightman spoke about the self-published book during a recent phone interview.
This book chronicles just about concert you attended and every interaction you had with musicians, including people like Bruce Springsteen and Art Garfunkel. How do you remember so many details?
Let me give credit where credit is due. When I started thinking about writing the book, something people have suggested for many years because I do have a pretty good memory and would tell a lot of stories, I started taking notes on index cards. I wrote down concerts and stories. I had a pretty big stack of them. I organized them in outline fashion and when I settled on the structure of a book — at the time I didn’t know it would be a book — I proceeded to do it chronologically with flash forwards. If I remembered seeing Rod Stewart and Faces, I could find what date it was, and the set list is there [on the internet]. Much of the specificity comes from internet research to help not so much trigger my memories but to clarify them. A couple of people mentioned that the specificity with which I wrote has an unintended consequence of triggering other people’s memories.
I like how, for you, meeting Springsteen gets as much ink as meeting someone like Chuck Prophet.
I have resisted over the years as I have become heavily involved in the music scene promoting national acts who are under the radar trying to understand why some people aren’t bigger stars. There’s no real reason for that in the art. But there’s a couple that even I can’t resist. One is Kelly Willis. She had major label deals and big ad campaigns behind her and was positioned just like Faith Hill back in 1994 or whatever year that would have been. Why Faith Hill and not her? And Chuck. You’ve seen Chuck. They don’t come any better.
Why Tom Petty and not Chuck Prophet?
They even have a physical resemblance. That’s not be disparaging of Tom Petty. Personally, until I saw Tom Petty, I just liked his music. He was a great live performer but so is Chuck Prophet.
In the book, you talk about how listening to Dion sent you down this path. Talk a bit about that moment.
I was 10 years old. I remember the moment. I had a transistor radio for a couple of years. I used to listen to Cleveland Indians games. I can’t recall how I found rock ’n’ roll on the radio. But somehow I did. I do remember the first song that impacted me. It was “The Wanderer.” It just really did. That was December of 1961.
How crazy that you then got to meet Dion at a Rock Hall event.
You have to know what that meant to me. Thank goodness my wife was with me as a witness, or I wouldn’t believe the story. I invested in his musical and all of that is unbelievable. I am just a kid from Euclid. To have him pull up a folding chair and sit down next to me [was amazing].
You have plenty of references to concerts in Cleveland. Talk about what it was like to go to a concert here in the 1960s and 1970s when the city was establishing its reputation as a rock ’n’ roll town.
It was fabulous. The Belkin brothers deserve a lot of that credit. They knew how to get it done. They knew how to treat the artists. They knew how to work the finances. They were able to bring all the great acts to Cleveland. Public Auditorium in its day was a wonderful concert venue. That big floor had folding chairs, and people would end up standing and standing on them. Six thousand people would be upstairs. It was an intimate setting for a major concert before the days of big arena shows. The town had a buzz for rock ’n’ roll. Still does. My singer-songwriter friends will joke that Cleveland has been a tough market for the singer-songwriters. But it’s always supported its straight-up rock ’n’ roll.
Early on, you listened to a bit of everything, but mostly rock ’n’ roll. Over time, you gravitated more toward singer-songwriters and Americana. How exactly did that happen?
I don’t know. I say in the book that I always respected a great singer and a great guitar player. From the beginning, what always moved me were great songs. That singer-songwriter movement of the early ’70s with James Taylor and Carole King and Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne, those songs were wonderful. The words were meaningful. The music spoke to me. You could also find music that spoke for
you. I did get into that whole explosion [of singer-songwriters] in the early and mid-’70s. In the ’80s, there wasn’t that much music that spoke to me, and I gravitated to country music. When I started doing shows, it was all I could afford too. It was cheaper to bring in a singer-songwriter than a five- or six-piece band.
I believe you started booking shows in Columbus in 1995. What was that experience like?
It was unbelievably rewarding. From the fun of doing it and standing on the sidelines and looking at the look on people’s faces and knowing you had something to do with making them happy. Even when I became executive partner at Baker & Hostetler, I might not have become involved with the Rock Hall but for the fact that I was promoting those shows. It was a real distinguishing feature. It’s been a big, big part of my life. I never took a huge financial risk. I didn’t bring the Rolling Stones to the arena, so the financial risk was never great. [It started when] I answered a mailer for Tom Russell. On the back, it said if you know a venue in your town that would be appropriate for Tom, call this number. I called and the guys who booked him ran Village Records in Shawnee, KS. They were his friends. Tom called me and they had told him about this guy in Columbus, OH. He wanted to play at my house. I said, “Some other time.” When I told my wife, she said that I had to do it, so I did. Tom’s smart and quick witted and customizes every show. The audience was all lawyers and clients at the time. When he was done, it was so much fun that I said, “Let’s keep doing this.” I had one here on Saturday night with [Cleveland’s] Cory Grinder and the Playboy Scouts.
As a Rock Hall board member, you’ve been to numerous induction ceremonies. Do you prefer the event now that it’s open to the public?
Oh, definitely. I have been to every induction since 2005. At that first one in 2009 that was open to the public, the energy in the room was so different. In 2010 and 2011, they went back to behind closed doors. It came back to Cleveland in 2012. The energy level was so high [in 2009] when Metallica was inducted. Can you imagine what it would’ve been like if it was behind closed doors in front of a bunch of people in tuxedos? It’ll never be behind closed doors again, I’m pretty sure.
Given that last year’s inductions were virtual and that we’re coming out of the pandemic, what do you imagine this year’s event will be like?
Well, I think it’s going to be tremendous. Let’s knock on wood that nothing reverses. This year’s class is tremendous. The performances by the living performers will be great. And the presenters too. I’m confident that it will be very, very cool. Like so many businesses, the pandemic accelerated trends. We’ve learned to do things differently. The reaction to last year’s virtual induction, which was all prerecorded and featured historical footage, was really strong. This year, the ceremony will be more of a concert with fewer speeches and much of that pre-recorded and edited and taped, presumably to be shown at the ceremony. I think it’ll be the best of all worlds and shorter and tighter than some of the ones we’ve had in the past.
What do you hope people take away from your book?
I hope it triggers their own memories of what music and rock ’n’ roll has meant to them over the years [and remind them] what a wonderful vehicle it is for making connections with other people. The music really does connect you with other people.
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