By Ray Chelstowski
Every major rock act has known for years that if you want to play Pittsburgh, you have to go through Rich Engler. Once of rock’s most renowned and beloved promoters, Engler for years operated from the legendary Stanley Theater where he promoted acts like The Rolling Stones, The Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Bon Jovi, Fleetwood Mac, The Beach Boys, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Madonna, Aerosmith and Genesis. His lifetime of experience was captured in the page-turner of an autobiography Behind the Stage Door: A Promoter’s Life Behind the Scenes. The kinds of stories Engler can share are best represented by one that involves Duane Allman when he was a member of Engler’s band for one day back in 1967. He shared this exclusively with Goldmine:
In 1967, before the Allman Brothers were born, my band left Pittsburgh because we were playing Lake Geneva one night and it was freezing cold. They told me that “unless we can go south we’re breaking up.” I convinced them to get in our van and head to Miami. We never did make it to Miami. We’d heard that if you made it to Daytona you could drive your vehicle on the beach. So we arrive in Daytona, open the side door of the van, and my guys started playing guitar and we began to attract all kinds of people. One was a girl who told us that if we wanted to stay she could fix us up with some rooms and a place to rehearse called the Martinique, which was the number one night club at that time in Daytona Beach. So that next day we set up at the Martinique and the owner came right over and asked us if we wanted to play that night and the next one. He didn’t have anyone lined up. As we were rehearsing we were trying to learn a song, I think it was “It ain’t something yet.” It started with this really hard guitar thing that my guys just couldn’t get down. They were trying over and over again and all of a sudden a guy pops up in the back of the club. He had been watching us ad comes up and says, “Hey man, I can show you how to play that lick”. So he picked up our guitar and played something like I’d never heard before. I said “That was really fantastic!” I asked him if he wanted to sit in and practice with us and he said, “Let me go get my guitar!” He gets his guitar and starts playing with us and I ask him if he wants to play with our band at the gig that night. He said, “Sure, I don’t have anything going on.” I asked him what his name was and he said: “Duane.” Duane knew every one of the songs we were playing except of course our originals. It was beyond fabulous. I can’t even explain the quality of his guitar playing at that time. So we played that night and people just went crazy. Any time he had the lead he just killed it. After the gig we are sitting around having some beers backstage and I say, “Duane why don’t you join our band. We have a lot of gigs. “He said that would be great. Then he tells me that he was from Macon, Georgia, and that he and his brother had a little thing going called “The Allman Joys.” He told me that his brother had said something to him that hurt his feelings and that he just laid in and punched him in the face and said: ”We’re done. I never want to see you again.” So I said “Wow, why don’t you stay with us then?” He asked: “Well, where are you guys from anyway?” I told him that we were from Pittsburgh. He looked at me and said “Pittsburgh?! I like you and would love to be in your band but there’s no way I’m going up north! I’m a southern boy, man! As much as I had that fight with my brother, I still love him and I’m sure that we’re gonna get together and do something. I really appreciate the opportunity, Rich, and I hope you all make it.” Fast forward to not too long before Gregg passed away. I had him play at the Byham in Pittsburgh and I told him this story and he got very emotional and said, “Man, I’m so glad you told me that story.”
The book has been turned into a star-studded documentary and is available now across a number of streaming services. Through the film trailer alone, you get a taste of how remarkable a life he has led, and how beloved he remains among rock's best-known acts. The stories, like the one above, are of a time and place that rock has long left. But none of them have lost any of their edge and as they are told, they continue to fill the viewer with a sense of wonder about why rock and roll ruled for so long.
For more on the film: https://richengler.com
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