by Regis Boff
The mirror buckled like an airless fighter punched in the midsection as the bottle hit it. Ronnie Van Zant had missed me. It was around the middle 1970s.
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. 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, and 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 Zant, the lead singer for Lynyrd Skynyrd. Rudge hallucinated 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. We followed like eager toadies.
I am large, and I know how people react to that.
Van Zant had decided, notwithstanding near panic-stricken denials from Rudge, that I was his bodyguard. He didn’t like it at all. I figured I had bungled some country code just by being bigger than him.
We wind up in Pete’s fabulously posh apartment on Fifth Ave. Ronnie sat on a sofa across from me, glaring at me like I was an armed Ulysses S. Grant.
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 minor 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. He promptly makes a few vital battle misjudgments. The first is that he misses me and hits the mirror. The second was his drunken and 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. Anyone wedged in a coffee table is reliably helpless, but I appreciate 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. “He is with me, and he is on your side, you dumb fuck!”
Ronnie, now pretty much a severe mess, stands up, and gives me a solid, 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 did.