Part 38: When Riley Shepard was Riley Cooper in Minneapolis.
Today is Saturday, August 15, 2020. Yesterday was my wedding anniversary. I've been married for 27 years, and I've lived in the same city, in the same neighborhood since 1989.
In the news, Joe Biden chose Kamala (pronounced comma-la) Harris to be his running mate. The current president and his wife, Melania, have both applied for mail-in ballots, but the administration is telling the public that mail-in voting is rife with fraud (not true), and then the president said... in his outside voice....that he opposed relief for the cash-strapped United States Postal Service because he wanted to stop mail-in voting. We are still in the middle of a pandemic that shows no signs of letting up, and many would rather mail in a ballot than go to a polling place and stand in line with other people.
Maybe the 27th wedding anniversary is the postage stamp anniversary, where we buy thousands of postage stamps to support the beleaguered Post Office.
Ok. Back to Riley. The photograph, above, is the one I gave to "Hidden Brain" for the podcast, except they digitally altered the image. The articles I sent them are a part of the background. I wonder what staff member did this work? Someone deserves artistic credit.
Many of the photographs I have of my father, he's looking off to the side like this. Having worked with photographers and models for 30 years as a make-up artist, I have a feeling the photographer knew that Riley's eyes were too intense looking straight on. We'd often say to models, "Ok, look over here" to try to get a good expression. However, in this shot, Dad still looks a little intense.
I finished the book "Me, the Mob, and the Music" and it helped me understand what a scary dude Morris Levy was, Riley's last employer in New York. People often talk about how crooked the music business is, but the book goes into detail about how Levy would put his own name on songs and took advantage of artists, and not just on the sly, but violently intimidating them, and sometimes having artists beaten or killed. Not just Levy, (although he was by far the most dangerous and powerful one) but other devious people found creative ways to rip off writers and musicians. I used to think maybe my father was one of the victims, that he was the one ripped off. Maybe he was at some point, who knows.
Dad worked for Roulette under the name Dickson Hall as their Artist & Repertoire,(A & R) director for country records. I wish I knew exactly what happened at Roulette.To refresh, Riley's contact and friend at a radio station was found in an alley, with his throat cut from ear to ear. He lived, but Riley was terrified. Morris Levy, the most mobbed up guy in the music world, would lose his temper if radio stations didn't play Roulette's artists. Maybe Riley's friend didn't do as he was told.
While the A & R man for Roulette, Riley wrote songs under the name Dickson Hall with Gary Romero. My father and Romero stayed friends, they were thick as thieves.
Here's an album the two worked on called "The Faith of Lincoln." I think at some point my dad realized he might make money from earnest consumers, and religious, patriotic types by making albums like this. Dad always had an angle. If he and Gary Romero did make money, I have no idea what happened to it all.
According to Riley's journal, in 1963 he was living (with my mother and sister, Lisa) in Chicago at 609 Drummond Street. In the next entry he writes:
Age: 46 in Oct, 1964:
Left Chicago with Jan, Lisa & Dog on the train. Went to Minneapolis. Stayed in Hotel. I found apt at 1809 Lasalle Ave. #17.
Sept 15: signed with AFL for radio show.
Sept 22: radio show written up in Variety.
Jan got pregnant in May. (Hey, that's me! My father never told my mother he was sterile. She knew he had two children with Jo. Riley pleaded with my mother to have a baby with him, which is so hard to understand after he'd left so many other babies behind. But here I am, and glad to be here.)
I have the Variety Show write up, (below) but only from a copy in my dad's promotional booklet. I'll post it here, but it's a copy of the original.
I found another article about the venture online, below.
Dad, using the name Riley Cooper, produced a live radio show called "Hootenanny Jamboree" from the Flame Cafe in Minneapolis. My mother's entire family lived in Wisconsin, not that far from the Twin Cities, but she kept her promise to Riley. She didn't contact her family, or anyone else from her past, and she wouldn't for nine years.
As I mentioned, something happened to the payroll for this venture with KXRA radio. The money vanished, and no one was paid. Recently, I spoke to my mother about this. She told the story as if the lost money was a big surprise, as if Riley was also caught off guard. That's also how she speaks about her lost art and her stuff in those trunks, that the trunks simply got lost and it was all a big misunderstanding. I feel pretty sure that Riley was behind all of it.
Going through his life, all these strange things happen with money, and there's always one person in the middle of it. When I was a kid there was always something like this happening, he said the index to his "Encyclopedia of Folk Music" was burned, before that his writing partner took off to England with all the advance money, and of course all the checks lost in the mail.
Riley wrote up something about leaving Minneapolis, not in the secret journal, but in a manuscript about his career that he sent me in the late 1980s. It's interesting to see how my father spins things. Especially since he doesn't mention all the money that was somehow lost, stating that the whole thing was a "commercial success." Uh...if no one was paid, can we still call it that? His words are in italics and bold.
One I proved such a thing could be done, and the show was a commercial success, my interest waned. So I turned the entire operation over to Ed Fari, packed my bags, bought a plane ticket and flew away.
Huh. How'd he pay for those plane tickets?