Franco Gagliano and Legends of His Mason Jar Surface for One Last(?) Show
Two phrases that Franco Gagliano tends to say a lot nowadays are "I don't want to offend anyone" and "I'm not gonna lie to you." When Franco ruled supreme as owner of The Mason Jar, one of Phoenix's longest-enduring rock clubs from the early '80s into the early Aughts, you more likely heard him say, "You guys didn't bring any people."
It's a mellower but still ageless Franco who finds himself slightly uncomfortable about showing up and offering 75-cent Kamikazes at an event taking place at the former location of The Mason Jar (now The Anvil, a gay bar). It's being called "Legends of the Mason Jar — One More Time." He's afraid the other legendary bands that played the Jar will feel snubbed by their omission.
Glen De Jongh, who jumpstarted the event by reuniting his band The Urge (and the local musician Franco credits as "having more talent than any rock star I've ever known"), already regrets the name, and recently said on Facebook that he wished he'd told the promoter to name it something else.
"The reason we're doing a 'Legends of the Mason Jar,' and not a 'Mason Jar Reunion,' is I have to be fair — like, why are you doing this band or that band? When I do a Mason Jar reunion," Gagliano says, "I don't want to leave anybody out," leaving the door open to future Mason Jar-related events.
But no one could be offended by calling Franco Gagliano the legend of the Mason Jar, the guy who navigated the club from cover bands to art rock to hardcore punk to hair metal to grunge and finally to rap before letting go of the reins completely in 2005.
"Legends of The Mason Jar" offers any ex-Jar patron from any era a chance to walk into that landmark building again.
But to get the full Mason Jar experience, you'd have to stand in the office of Gagliano's condo, where all the artifacts that hung on the club's wall until they became a liability to hipness still hang proudly. The Toto gold record. Franco in his white hat posing with every hair metal band imaginable. Did I mention the Toto gold record?
"I got that from a guy who worked for Danny Zelisko. One of the guys from Toto — I don't remember who — played at the Mason Jar."
As for the Wall of Fame photos, they feature Franco posing with world-renowned rock stars, forgotten legends, former Jar patrons, old employees — all snapshots equal in size and stature, indiscriminately laid side by side and encased in large glass frames. Franco with Joan Jett. Franco with a former bartender. Franco with John Entwhistle. Franco with the guys who did the Cops theme. He doesn't remember their names, so why should you? Franco and some blond chicks. Franco with The Fabulous Thunderbirds, maybe on the way up, maybe on the way down. It hardly matters, because he got them coming and going.
But this also happens a lot. Franco will point to a snapshot that looks like him and the cast of Saved by the Bell. And then he tells you it's a very young and hungry Pearl Jam.
"Pearl Jam played here, but I Love You headlined. Do you remember I Love You?" asks Franco. I don't. Google explains they were a band Geffen signed in 1991 who never quite broke. Franco laughs, but it's clear he has a soft spot for any band that gave him a couple of good Saturday nights.
"If you're a musician, you're like a Gypsy. There's a lot of sacrifice. The band that made me realize was Fishbone. Nine guys crammed in a van. How do you guys do this for a lousy 250 dollars?"
Buying the Jar from original owner Clyde Shields in 1980 almost didn't happen. "It was me and my partner, Joe Tomaselli, that bought it," says Gagliano. He and Tomaselli almost bought the old Chez Nous, but their offer was refused. Then their realtor told them they should check out a place called The Mason Jar.
"They had this punk band the Urge playing there, and the kids are smashing their heads against the poles. So I'm going, 'What the fuck is that?' And they go, 'Oh, that's moshing.' And the place was packed. The only thing I was watching was the register ringing. I didn't know anything about the rock 'n' roll scene at this point, but I knew that every place else on a Sunday was dead."
Back in the early '80s, bands were contracted to play for a whole week, during which they wold rotate with resident bands from other clubs like Merlin's or Mr. Lucky's. Top-drawing acts at the time included The Urge, Schoolboys, Raven Payne, and Blue Shoes, who actually sued Gagliano for breaking a contract when their band wasn't drawing so well that week. "It went to arbitration and we had to pay them their 8 or 900 dollars for the week."
Franco learned his lesson. After that: No contracts! This period saw the rise of hair metal, which Franco wholeheartedly endorsed by stocking the Jar's ladies and men's rooms with Aqua Net. If they teased their hair, they played the Jar. Poison. LA Guns. Warrant. Great White. Cinderella. Stryper . . . yes, they threw Bibles in the Mason Jar. A bunch of times.
"I remember in the '90s, Tom LaPenna, who has the Marquee now, said, 'No grunge bands want to play your club because you got all these hair metal bands hanging on the wall.' My favorite of all times, if I had to choose a period. The hair bands drew the coolest crowds — the hottest chicks — and they were easier to deal with. And, I don't want to offend anybody, but it lasted longer."
When Franco sold the Mason Jar business to his stockbroker, Michael Manfredi, but remained the club's landlord, he could already see the writing on the wall — and it didn't read Jackyl or Megadeth.
"I knew that rap was going to take over. You book a metal show, it would sell 30 or 40 tickets. But you book a rap show and it would sell out in a heartbeat. We did rap shows two times a week. Eminem, Biggie, Tupac, Lil Wayne — I booked all those early rap guys. You used to stop at a red light and hear Metallica, Scorpions, or KUPD. After that, you didn't hear it so much. Every third car was playing rap," Gagliano says, giving a brief imitation of a boom car.
At that point, Gagliano realized he needed a life, and being a landlord of apartments, rather than a patron of fledgling bands, afforded him one.
"For me to do the business right, I had to be there all the time. There was no weekends, no Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Christmas, or New Year's. Now I can just pack my suitcase and go to Italy whenever I feel like."
Despite all the aggravations and occasionally losing his Hawaiian shirt over a poorly attended show by a band with more name recognition than followers, doesn't he ever miss being overlord of a crazy rock club?
"Fuck, yeah, I miss it. Of course, I miss it."
Did the thought of ever coming back to do it again ever appeal to him?
"Who knows? What do you think? You're the expert on the music business."
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