Hail, Caesar

Page 4 of 6

"Sammy rolls up his pants leg, and he's got this garter on his black sock. He pulls a joint out of his sock. He lights it and hands it to Bobby. He hands it to me. I'm not going to say no. I inhaled! They inhaled! We all inhaled! Great fuckin' pot. Sammy says, 'Bobby, you're going to love this stuff, it's really dynamite shit!'

"I'm wasted, and Senator Kennedy gets on the phone to the chauffeur and tells him to pull over so he can open the door and air out the car. Finally, he says, 'All right, let's go pick up Irving Berlin's daughter.' She looks exactly like her father, short and ugly. She gets in, and she's in between Bobby and Sammy. These are the three skinniest people I've ever seen in my life.

"All of a sudden, she says, 'Bobby, you've really got to do something about this limo.' He says, 'Why?' She says, 'It smells terrible! I didn't want to say anything, but there's really something wrong.' So he says to the chauffeur, 'Henry, when you get the car back to the garage, have it checked out. Miss Berlin says it smells back here, and I can't tell 'cause we've been driving around for so long.'

"Sammy starts to crack up, he's slapping his knee, it's very infectious, and Bobby's giggling. I'm trying to hold it in, I'm almost splitting my sides. I wanted to pee! But I'll never forget that."

Vic and Cheri decided it was time for a new town. They got in the car, destination Vegas or Phoenix. Cheri nixed Vegas. Upon arrival in the Best Run City in the World, Vic nailed gigs at the Executive House in Scottsdale and the Colony Steakhouse on North Central and released two albums over the next couple years, Vic Caesar (recorded in "groovy stereo") and Vic Caesar Sings, now available at the more exclusive thrift shops.

In case you're wondering, this is no kitsch joke; the records are monsters. Vic throws his bodacious, Tom Jones-cum-Sinatra tenor into truly impressive versions of "The Joker," "Going Out of My Head" and a swaggering take of "Norwegian Wood" that simply must be heard to be believed. All backed by a power-packed, 15-piece band that burns, Charley.

In fact, Dick Van Dyke saw Vic and company at the steak house, loved him and ended up writing the liner notes to Vic's second release: "After listening to this album, you'll know why I'm such a fan."

In '66, Vic took a gig in Vegas opening a new joint called Caesars Palace, warming up for Andy Williams and the Ritz Brothers among others on the bill.

"My God, it was like being in Hollywood, four spotlights hit me. It was August 6, 1966. My wife's birthday. They had a fountain going in front of the stage, so I walk out and say, 'Hold it, cut the band.' I say, 'Would you mind turning off the water, I gotta go pee!' So that cracked the audience up and broke the ice."

Two years later, Vic became a partner in Caesar's Forum in downtown Phoenix. Though the place was short-lived, Vic says it swung.

"There was a ten-day wait for a table reservation. I brought in Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Wes Montgomery, Cannonball Adderley, Louis Jordan; all fantastic acts."

It was a great ride for a year or so, but then the backhand of history struck the nation. And when the backhand of history strikes the nation, it strikes Vic Caesar.

"We were doing fine until the Tet Offensive," Vic explains in somber tones. "In '68-'69, something happened. They were bringing them home in body bags in droves. The convention in Chicago went bananas. They burned down Watts. Nobody wanted to go out anymore." Vic took more random bookings in Phoenix, more in Vegas, and, of course, with them come more stories. Here's a short one:

"I met Elvis in Vegas. A dynamite guy, a little overweight. We went up to his room and watched a James Bond movie."

In April of '68, the Forum was in its death throes, and Vic's "chief counsel" was one Richard Kleindienst, future attorney general under Nixon. Kleindienst told Vic that Dick was coming to Phoenix to throw his hat in the ring, and invited him to perform at the event. He also revealed that Nixon's campaign slogan was "Nixon's the One."

The rest, as Vic will tell you, is history.
Setting aside his staunch Democratic loyalties, Vic wrote the simple, seven-word tune in 20 minutes, and when Nixon heard it at the rally (after some idiot came on before Vic and sang "The Impossible Dream"), he loved it. Life went on, Nixon won, and just days before the Inaugural, Vic got a telegram demanding his performing presence at an Inaugural ball. A Nehru-jacketed Vic and band made the scene, drove the crowd wild with "NTO." And then:

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Peter Gilstrap
Contact: Peter Gilstrap