Franco Gagliano Talks Legends of The Mason Jar, Past and Present

On his Facebook "About" page his education reads Università DI Napoli "Federico II." Under work it reads "Music Production" and that he is the President at "Salf Enploy," which is how it would sound phonetically when Franco Gagliano says it.

When the "Legends of the Mason Jar" show which reunites bands who played the club in the early Eighties (Lucy LaMode from Killer Pussy is flying in for it!) was announced, we were thrilled that Franco's rare public appearance as an MC of the show afforded us an opportunity to talk with him for a feature, probably the first time ever that New Times interviewed him beyond getting his reactions for a news story about the club.

Legends of the Mason Jar is scheduled for Friday, September 20 at Anvil (the former Mason Jar.)

We talked for about an hour about a lot of stuff that didn't make the print feature, stuff we thought you might enjoy reading in the context of a personal rambling conversation between old colleagues. Yes I worked for him, what musician in Arizona with gray hairs hasn't? But I've also been a writer for New Times during those years, and that relationship played out a little differently than that of a lot of other Mason Jar "employees."

If New Times wrote something snarky about the club or an act he was bringing to his place regardless of who wrote it, I'd get treated like the public face of the paper and have to endure a little good-natured abuse from him in his office. Like when my band didn't bring in a lot of tickets, which happened more often than not. But Franco continued booking me and a lot of other bands that were still figuring out what they wanted to do on-stage, and few other club owners would roll those dice year after year. The man is a true hero and a legend.

It's amazing how immediately we fell into our comfortable roles after 15 dormant years.

Your home office reminds me a lot of your little room at The Mason Jar where you'd have to go to get paid at the end of the night. Whaaat? You never got paid! [Laughs]

I know I never got paid! Easy now!

You would say, "You guys didn't bring any people. Here's six dollars." No, what six dollars? "Here's 20 dollars!"[Laughs]

Yeah, I'm just kidding. I think it was always 12 or something that you could easily divide between four people. You were considerate like that! Those were the days.

Do you ever miss it? Fuck yeah I miss it. Of course I miss it.

Did you ever think of going back and doing it? Who knows? What do you think? You're the expert on the music business?

I don't know. It's a tough business. Hard to say why a beloved place like Hollywood Alley doesn't stay open. Ross is such a nice guy--I love that guy so much. It's not easy business. They had a number six-license food and wine. It was never easy. I closed down in February 2000. I used to give a lot of chances to young kids. Then you get one guy from this band and another guy from that band from four or five bands, and you get one decent band.

Even when you closed, I never remember seeing The Mason Jar not crowded, not doing well. It's not a matter of doing well, I learned when I was a kid [that] if you want to do something, jump in and do it right. If you don't do it right, I'm not even going to think about it. If you make a mess, sooner or later you can cover it up, but you have to go back to clean up the mess.

So for me to do the business right, I had to be there all the time. I loved it, but I had to have some kind of a life. There was no weekends, no Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Christmas, or New Years. I had to be there all the time. Now I can just pack my suitcase; I got good tenants in the apartments, if something is happens, something's broken, I can call someone and pay the fee to have someone come and fix it.

When did you buy the Mason Jar? Was it called that originally? It was August 1980. It was me and my partner Joe Tomasselli. It was the Mason Jar before. It was owned by a guy named Clyde Shields.

When I first came here for my cousin's wedding, we were going to open a restaurant. We got a hold of this realtor guy and we looked everywhere. There was a restaurant called Chez Nous, we were going to buy that. We were real close. Then they refused our offer, and then it was a Sunday, and Steve the realtor says. "You wanna check out this place called The Mason Jar?" So we go there all dressed up in tuxedos--

You went straight from the wedding? No I always dress up when I go out. They had this band, the Urge. First punk band [I saw] I guess. They're playing there, and they're 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 is the register ringing.

I didn't know anything about the rock and roll scene at this point, but I know that every place else on a Sunday night was dead. So we made them an offer, and they accepted. I had this girlfriend at the time, and told her, "I just bought this punk bar."

She said, "Are you crazy? Do you know what you're getting into?" I said, "No, the only thing I know is that it's making money."

The reason we're doing a Legends of the Mason Jar [show], and not a Mason Jar Reunion, is I have to be fair--like, [I don't want to hear] why are you doing this band or that band. When I do a Mason Jar reunion I don't want to leave anybody out. I'll show up, introduce the bands, give away 75-cent Kamikazes.

So the bands you'll be introducing, they predate you at the Mason Jar. There was The Urge--we used to book them for two weeks, Monday through Saturday, The Schoolboys and The Urge. Then they take a day off. When they take the Sunday off they play The Whiskey River, Edsel's Attic. And Mr. Lucky's; we used to rotate bands and everybody drew fine. The Urge was the first punk band in Phoenix. They used to be called The Spiff. The Schoolboys were the bomb--they used to draw great. Great rock band; they got signed to Capitol.

We had a band called Blue Shoes, and they were drawing decent, but not like Schoolboys or Raven Payne, so they were playing at Mr. Lucky's. So I asked Raven Payne to play Mason Jar the rest of the week, even though I had a contract with Blue Shoes. [Laughs] So Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday they play, but they're not bringing anybody, so I told them I was canceling their week and they said, "We still have a contract! We're gonna sue you." We went to arbitration; in those days we paid eight or 900 for the week.

The Jetzons never wanted to play at Mason Jar. They just wanted to play Merlin's. But me--I was persistent. I never give up. They used to make like $1000 at Merlin's for a week. So I said, dude, I'll give you double. So Larry Davison, their manager, said, "Yeah right, you never pay the fucking bands."

I said if you want I'll give you the money right now--just play for a week. I never signed a contract, maybe because of the Blue Shoes incident. So they ended up playing The Mason Jar, and we used to rotate Mason Jar and Merlin's. I used to give bonuses to them and The Schoolboys.

Meat Puppets used to play Merlin's, also. The Jetzons only wanted to play one set a night, and they wanted only one band. That's when I started to book two or three bands.

When did you become the sole owner? My partner Joe got cancer and passed away two years after we bought the club. To make a long story short, between hard times and easy times I had to take the place myself.

We were supposed to pay Clyde in ten years; we paid him off in five. We did a lot of cleanup. I had to take care of the bathroom, 'cause when I have to go to the bathroom, I have to be able to go. I don't know what magazine it was that named us "Cleanest Bathroom, even cleaner than the Biltmore." I remember in those days, in the ladies room, we had Aqua Net.

Are you sure it wasn't in the men's room too? We had it in the men's room too because the guys had long hair and they'd spray it, blow-dry it. We kept it pretty clean. I did a lot of cleanup, and I remember Andy Van De Voorde from New Times wrote about how smoky the Mason Jar was. I had to get the smoke-sucker.

The smoking laws hurt a lot of clubs' draw. But you were smart to keep those matinee shows on Sunday going because you always had a crowd in waiting when the previous crowd got more domesticated and moved on. We were the first club in Phoenix to give a chance to the kids with the matinee shows on Sundays. Eight, ten and twelve-year-old kids.

Did any of those bands play the rest of the week when they got older? Lots of them. Chronic Future. I used to book three bands in the afternoon. Doug Hopkins' band before the Gin Blossoms. Steve Larson used to play the matinee. Flotsam and Jetsam, they used to be called The Dogs, they played The Matinee. They were so loud the neighbors complained.

Do you remember the dressing room?

Near the old north-side entrance? Yeah, it had all those names on there. I never should have painted it. Pearl Jam played there, I Love You headlined. They were a band from Hollywood Geffen signed in 1991. One of those bands [where] either Nirvana or Pearl Jam said, somewhere, "I wish we someday could be as big as I Love You."

What other national acts got an early break at the Jar? In 1986, we went to New York Music Seminar. We saw a band playing on the side stage--Red Hot Chili Peppers and Fishbone--and no one knew who the fuck they were. I told the singers of both bands, "If someday you go to LA, call, you could play the Mason Jar."

The Chili Peppers called saying they were going to LA, they might get signed, they asked, "Can you book us for a couple of hundred dollars?" I gave them 250 and paid for their hotel. Same thing with Fishbone. I think they both got signed at the same time.

You had some established legends at the Jar as well. John Entwhistle, Johnny Lee Hooker, Screaming Jay Hawkins, Ko Ko Taylor, and the first time I paid over $2000 for a band was Ko Ko Taylor. The first snow in 100 fucking years we had in Phoenix, it was that night.

The marquee outside was full of snow. We sold maybe 30, 40 tickets. I lost my pants on that. We had Jon Anderson and Chris Squire, separately, when they were doing solo tours

I remember a night you had The Bay City Rollers! Or what was left of them. There was nobody there! There was almost a riot there. They were terrible. When I booked a band like The Coasters and it's only one guy from the band, [or] Buffalo Springfield but it was just the drummer. They were supposed to play an outdoor show in Scottsdale, but it was raining like crazy so the show got cancelled.

So in the morning I got a call. How much do they want? "We'll play for a bottle of whiskey and $500." So what do I say, no? They were just super-drunk, and I had to get them hotel rooms.

I get a call from agencies that heard I was a softie. I'll never forget Bo Diddley--two shows. That's the only way I could pay him that kind of money they were asking. He had never played in Phoenix before that. We had JJ Walker. Somebody told me, "What are you doing, digging graves?" [Laughs]

I remember opening a show for Jonathan Richman. Jonathan Richman--he rocked. He speaks Italian very well, He can write a song in two minutes. He says to me, "Franco, I got a special song for you and your girlfriend." And he sang it in Italian. He stayed here at my house. Do you remember when the Beat Angels opened for Tiny Tim?

Yeah, I have an autographed flyer he signed for me. While he was in your office getting paid. Tiny Tim, he stayed here in my house.

Did you have to make special provisions for him? He was quite a clean freak. Lots of hand sanitizer, tissues... Yeah, well, that's confidential.

Watching the Beat Angels playing behind Tiny Tim was surreal. Do you remember that one time you and Brian Smith had an argument from the stage? Never. Never.

Yeah, they didn't set foot in the Jar for a few months. I never remember an argument with anyone. They were all my buddies.

We were like a wife and a husband and the little kids. Maybe Brian--we probably butted heads. They did me a favor one time, playing a benefit, and when I put them on no one was there, so he got mad about that.

They used to play every other week. When they first came from Tucson, I found them a place. They were coming back and forth from Tucson a lot. I ran a full-page ad for them in New Times; cost me 180 bucks. And they were playing three sets a night when they were the Pills.

A lot of the agencies, they knew that Phoenix was a pit stop. Stone Temple Pilots, nobody knew them. Nobody, nobody, nobody. I had them booked at The Mason Jar; they were coming through Phoenix from El Paso. They weren't signed.

Either them or another band, 3 Doors Down--they got stuck because their van broke down. I said, "You've got to be kidding." So I get on the phone. "Put on the mechanic and I'll give him my credit card number. The show must go on." So it was like $800 to fix the van; they barely made it at 11:30.

A few bands would say, "We're on the way!" and [then] never show up. What am I gonna do? I have to give people back their money or a rain check.

El Duce didn't show up a few times. The Minotaur. There were quite a few, just never showed up. There were a lot of shows that were last minute cancellations. So I'd say, "Anybody who has a ticket, I'll give you guys 75-cent Kamikazes all night." So many I can't tell you.

Who were the biggest national draws? Bo Diddley, Two nights. Then the Metallica boys, Stone Temple Pilots, Jane's Addiction. When It sells out, it sells out. I think Jane's Addiction did two shows. Red Hot Chili Peppers too, they did a matinee at 7:00 and 9:00.

In the Nineties, there were rival rock clubs opening in your zip code, weren't there? The Library on Indian School, which didn't last too long. There was so many clubs right across the street that tried to book some of my bands. They were like Impulse. I remember one day this guy came in here with a tape measure, took measurements of the stage, took a measurement of the PA. Then a few months after, this guy opens a club next to the Chinese restaurant.

And the owner turned out to be the guy with the tape measure. Late '80s. Then the Roxy on Highland, they tried to take a lot of shows.

The Roxy closed on amount of a shooting at a rap show. Did the Jar book a lot of famous rappers? I booked all those early rap guys. When the rock and roll scene was dying, because of the rap. You used to stop at a red light and hear Metallica, Scorpions, or KUPD. After that you didn't gear it so much. Every third car was playing rap. [Imitates beat car sounds.] Every single one started at the Mason Jar.

Eminem, Biggie. Tupac. I had a little knowledge of what was coming up and what was coming down, and 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.

Musically, the transition from punk to hair metal to grunge wasn't as drastic as the transition from grunge to rap. I remember in the Nineties, 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 [era], if I had to choose. The hair bands drew the coolest crowds [and] the hottest chicks, and they were easier to deal with.

And, I don't want to offend anybody, but it lasted longer.

The hair bands were easier because they were more career oriented than punk and grunge. You don't hear any of those bands say that I didn't pay--if I did, word would've spread out so quickly, like a fire on wild seed. None of those bands would've played here if I fucked even one of them, ever. The Mason Jar was a pit stop for people showcasing in LA. I'd get then a hotel, feed them and wine and dine them. The Mason Jar had the best PA. And everyone was happy.

The worst complaint was Yngwie Malmsteen, but then after a few drinks he was hugging me--I have a picture. He was yelling like a little kid, screaming, "You guys are terrible!" We had to drag him from the bar to get him onstage. The coolest one was Frank Black. He was really, really cool guy.

You build a name. Agencies and bands knew--if you get stuck, call Franco. You don't know how many bands I flew out here. [Being a musician] is not easy; you're like a gypsy. You have to get along with somebody... there's a lot of sacrifice you guys go through. I used to see a lot of those bands crammed into a bus.

The band that made me realize was Fishbone. Nine guys crammed in a van. How do you guys do this for a lousy $250? The only money they made was from me, since in LA you had to pay to play. I've not seen one national band say I never paid them. The first thing, as soon as they get out of the bus, cold water, beer, and food. They don't even have to ask for that. Then pasta and a nice salad.

So you kinda did a little restaurant business, in a way. 90 percent of the local band ate at my place. Sacred Reich Beat Angels, School Boys they used to love my clam sauce. Lucy LaMonte. Killer Pussy came and ate here.

"Killer Pussy came and ate here." You don't get many last sentences better than that!

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Serene Dominic
Contact: Serene Dominic