The mirror buckled like an airless fighter punched in the midsection when the bottle hit it. Ronnie Van Sant had missed me.
I had just started working as the tour accountant for The Who and Pete Rudge. Rudge, (“A Star is Born”) was the tour manager/manager for The Rolling Stones and The Who in North America. He was also the manager of Lynyrd Skynyrd. He was a significant player in rock across the U.S at the time. I was the tour manager for Genesis which had broken up, and working for him was substantial for me.
He taught me how to do the show settlements for The Who. I ran his New York office while he traveled from band to band being what he was, extravagant. We booked tours for The Stones and waited for Jagger to cancel them.
One morning I was thrown into a limo, and we headed out to the airport to meet Ronnie Van Sant, the lead singer for Lynyrd Skynyrd. Rudge dreamed I would get along with him, so I could pretend I was him when he needed cover to pay attention to his other bands.
On the tarmac where his small jet had landed, Van Zant got off in his black hat and a bottle of Jack Daniels. Rudge muttered to me, “Welcome to Country Rock.” Noon was not just around the corner.
He gave Rudge a “country hug.” A regional embrace that is not gay.
He ignored me, didn’t shake hands, and staggered off to the car drinking as he went, we followed like eager toadies behind him.
I am large, and I know how people react to that.
Van Zant had decided, despite near panic-stricken denials from Rudge, that I was his bodyguard. He didn’t like it at all. I figured I had missed some country code just by being bigger than him.
We wind up in Pete’s fabulously posh apartment on Fifth Ave. Ronnie was now twenty more sheets to the wind and sitting on a sofa across from me watching me like I am an armed Ulysses S. Grant.
Even Rudge was now ignoring me as a lost cause while he chattered on about Lynryd Skynryd’s next album. I just sat there stupidly, sinking into unsmiling black humor.
From my point of view, this performer was mining impulses from Jupiter solely to fuck over what little career I now had left. I began returning his shit eye, wiring him the message that I, for one, was pleased with the Confederacy getting the shit kick out of it.
On top of this aggravation, I had spent two days memorizing the band member names and their instruments as I listened to their albums. The closest I had ever come to country rock music was Neil Young, who they, of course, loathed.
Well, without so much as a “come and get it,” he stands up and throws the bottle at me.
But he quickly then makes a few vital battle misjudgments. The first being that he misses me and hits the mirror. The second was his comic miscalculation that the glass coffee table that separated us would hold his weight when he stepped on it to get at me.
It didn’t even try, and his foot went straight through trapping him awkwardly. A drunk music legend wedged in a coffee table is reliably defenseless, but I prize the first rule of show business, “Never hit the act.”
So, from out of his kitchen Rudge comes flying through the air, shouldering into Ronnie’s chest, driving him backward over the sofa, overturning it and freeing his boots from the table and glass by sheer momentum.
Rudge screams at him five inches from his face. “Regis is with me, and he is on your side, you dumb fuck!”
Ronnie Van Zant, now pretty much a severe physical mess, stands up, walks around the frightened coffee table to me and gives me a hard, no balls hug, and says, “Sorry, man,” and that was that. I was in.
After Ronnie had left and while Rudge was trying to find his maid on the phone, he put his hand over the receiver and said to me, “You still want this job?” I told him that I did.
Ronnie proved to be what everyone else but me knew, a genius. And a good guy but a genuine tough. Kind of a country gangster. We got close enough but never friends. I left a few months before his plane went down and he died.
Reports said he had a bottle in his hand and was walking around as the plane headed for the ground. There can be no doubt.