Spotlight on Dave Leiken by Kirk Anderson

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Spotlight on Dave Leiken

Spotlight on Dave Leiken

by Kirk Anderson

Hey, let me talk to you about this band …

Fifty years ago, 1972 produced many events that still shake us. Arab terrorists murdered 11 people at the Summer Olympic Games in Munich. President Nixon visited China claiming China was a rising world power. The Los Angeles Lakers became the NBA champions, USC went undefeated in college football, the Boston Bruins took the Stanley Cup, the Dallas Cowboys beat the Miami Dolphins to win the Super Bowl, the Oakland A’s took the World Series and Jack Nicklaus took the U.S. Open.

The most popular movies of 1972 were “The Godfather,” “Diamonds Are Forever,” “Dirty Harry,” “Clockwork Orange” and “Everything You Wanted to Know about Sex.” There were only three major television networks (ABC, CBS and NBC) back then and Home Box Office (HBO) was launched in 1972. Yeah, no cable … no streaming. Everything outside of the newly launched HBO was television using off-air antennae.  The most popular television shows were “All in the Family,” “Sanford and Son,” “Hawaii Five-O,” “Mary Tyler Moore” and “The NBC Sunday Mystery Movie.” Some of the best fiction books of 1972 were “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” “The Odessa File” and Herman Wouk’s “The Winds of War” with top nonfiction books being “The Living Bible,” “I’m OK, You’re OK” and “Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution.”

Music topping the charts was Don McLean’s “American Pie,” “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green, Nilsson’s “Without You,” “I’ll Take You There” by The Staple Singers and “Heart of Gold” by Neil Young. The best blues rock albums of 1972 were “Eat a Peach” by the Allman Brothers Band, Little Feat’s “Sailin’ Shoes” and Bonnie Raitt’s  second album, “Give It up.”

Nineteen seventy-two was also the year that Dave Leiken started his life in music promoting.  After losing money trying to promote 1970s artist B.J. Thomas (best known for “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” from 1969’s “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” movie with Robert Redford and Paul Newman) in Canada and Seattle, Dave was wondering if he made the right decision to leave his father’s business and strike out on his own.

Turns out that Irwin Harris, director of public events at Oregon State University, at that same time wanted to bring BJ Thomas to Corvallis. The show was a success and Dave followed his gut and spoke with BJ’s manager.  He booked other shows on the spot. “The survivor” survived his first brush with professional death.

KVAN DJ Bob Archeta remembers this time frame as a time when he received a call from a young Dave Leiken wanting to promote the Tower of Power’s “Bump City” LP.  Both men were in the early throws of lifelong careers helping to cultivate the music scene in Portland and the Pacific Northwest. In my interview with Bob, he mentioned several times that in later years Dave and his concert promotions company, Double Tee, was willing to stick his ear and neck out for new musical acts that needed some early help in reaching their audiences.

With Bonnie Raitt receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2022 Grammy Awards in the coming year, it’s appropriate to mention that before her career took off, Dave had found ways to get Bonnie onstage around the Portland area.  He had connections in the media and used them to elevate the visibility of an artist he knew had talent. It seems he knew that if he could get people to hear her, they would gravitate to her vocals, bluesy guitar prowess and infectious smile.

KINK radio’s “The Portland 50” podcast sheds light on the top 50 people from all professions that dreamt, built and championed the innovation, growth and uniqueness of Portland. In 2018 Peggy LaPointe interviewed Dave Leiken. As Peggy was talking about the many bands that Dave supported early in their careers, Dave also talked about Jimmy Buffet’s early career.

After Buffet graduated college, he worked for Billboard Magazine and then as a first mate on a yacht in the Key West area. The area’s vibe helped introduce Caribbean rhythms to Buffet’s laid-back rock ‘n’ roll style.  Buffet had been playing mostly around Florida when he made one of his first forays out of the area, with Dave and Double Tee booking two shows at Euphoria Tavern in east Portland. Ticket sales started slow, but Dave faithfully plied his trade.  Dave relates that he came back into the office on Monday morning to find out that his hard work was paying off as both shows had sold out. Two more shows were added and they both sold out, jump-starting Jimmy’s confidence and helping to propel the viability of his recording reach.

If you’re in the Oregon music scene, it’s nearly impossible not to know, or know of, Dave Leiken. I first talked to Dave when I was exploring the music scene around my article on the Allman Betts Band playing at Roseland Theater in September of 2021. As one of the many pieces of the business puzzle that Dave has put together over the past 50 years, he is also owner of the Roseland Ballroom. With all of the pain that music venues have felt during the COVID-19 pandemic, I wanted readers to understand how music venues play a part not only in the shows, but in helping create and feed the music community, allowing for these concerts.

I was on the road to cover another concert when Jason from Double Tee called me back for an interview about the venue. As we talked, he understood how I wanted to make Roseland part of the article and Dave took time out to help. I had already written an article several years back about seminal Atlanta music promoter Alex Cooley, and the more I spoke with Dave, the more I realized his part in helping make the Portland and Pacific Northwest music scene what it is today. He was kind with his time, but he also was really direct when the information in my question wasn’t completely clear. Quintessential Dave Leiken.

In my research, I saw a Nov. 9, 2009, article by Michael Mannheimer in Willamette Week in which Dave’s quote pegs who he is to a T. “We’ll never be the darling of the people. It’s probably not in my nature,” Leiken says. “I’ve never marched with the crowd, and I think it’s one of the reasons I’ve been successful. The crowd doesn’t work very hard. I go to work every day. The crowd sits around telling each other how cool they are.” I think he has a point.

Dave Leiken is the President of Double Tee Concerts (the name derives from a play on the spelling from Dave’s enjoyment of golf with the double T’s standing for Top Talent — Top Talent=TT=Double Tee. Started 30 years ago in 1992, Double Tee Concerts is Oregon’s oldest and largest concert company. Dave estimates conservatively that Double Tee has done 150-175 shows per year and when it used to make sense did about 15 arena shows per year. Are you doing the math yet? Just listing all of the artists he has promoted at multiple venues across Portland and the Pacific Northwest takes multiple pages, double columned and ranges across the genres of music and entertainment.

Terry Currier is the president and owner of Music Millennium, Burnside Records and Burnside Distribution. Music Millennium is recognized as one of the top 10 record stores in the United States. As the Oregon Music Hall of Fame website notes, Terry is also “… respected and revered locally and nationally for his unflagging support of the Pacific Northwest’s music industry and for innovation in the music retail industry.” Very much cut from similar cloth as Dave Leiken.

There are already several articles about the facts of Dave’s past 50 years in the music industry. Although the extensive and varied chronology of the events through the past 50 years is overwhelming and important, I was especially interested in what other people in Portland’s and the Pacific Northwest’s musical scene thought about Dave professionally and how he affected music in the area. Everyone I reached out to for this article was very generous with their time in sharing their thoughts about Dave and his part in the music scene. Only a small portion of these interviews made it here due to space limitations.

Terry shared several thoughts that supported Dave’s quote from the 2009 Willamette Week article quoted above. Terry related that Dave never tried to dominate the local music scene as so many other majority business promoters across the country did. Dave always paid the artists whereas the history of live music is full of stories of artists playing and then being double-talked or threatened out of their due pay.

Promoting longer than anyone else in the area, Dave didn’t always take the whole pie. Many times he chose to promote acts that met the guidelines his ears laid down and left other parts of the pie for other promoters. Terry said Dave seemed to take pride in being independent. He turned down offers from national companies to buy out Double Tee and the Roseland Theater. Dave being true to himself, true to the music scene and the ideals of the region protected the local scene from this corporate raiding, giving all of us the chance to feel a more organic and varied music scene.

Terry remembers as Dave was starting his own ticketing platform, FastTix, that Dave would often hand-deliver tickets to Music Millennium and other stores to sell. Do you remember when there were hard copy, pre-printed tickets and having to go to a record store to buy them? Dave was the guy delivering them.

Dave continued to build the platform through the iterations we are now familiar with.  It had to be the best thing in town as national competitors started pushing their way in and Dave decided that this was not a fight he wanted to fight. During a particularly aggressive national growth strategy campaign by his contemporaries, Dave sold FastTix.

Terry went on to talk about how Dave did not only ply his professional trade, but also took a genuine interest in the music scene by selecting local acts deserving of exposure for opening slots for nationally headlining acts. He provided the Roseland Theater to other regional acts to give them the chance headline and to get their music out while teaching them how to grow the art of their business. For most of his life, he went out to see live music every chance he could. He wanted to hear the bands, yes, but he also wanted to see the audience as they left the show. Were they smiling? Were the excited?

Dave’s devotion to the music community saw him hosting the early Oregon Music Hall of Fame ceremonies at the Roseland Theater. Dave also has worked with the Oregon Music Coalition, recognizing the legacy of all stages of music in the state of Oregon. During the pandemic, Dave also came out to join other luminaries in the Oregon music community to raise money for the local venues and artists hardest hit by the pandemic shut down and its aftermath.

Janeen Rundle, co-founder of the Oregon Music Hall of Fame, is the organization’s director of music programs and scholarships. She coordinates music education opportunities through Oregon Music Hall of Fame workshops, assemblies and scholarship opportunities to those pursuing musical studies.

Her memories of Dave are that he has always had a keen ear and eye over many genres of music that she feels stem from his musical soul. An incredible comment that shines a light not only on his professional prowess but how he never forgets to stay true to the gifts that music has given to him.

Janeen also shared and echoed similar comments in other interviews for this article that Dave saw talent that needed an extra push in the Portland market and did something positive about it. Although having to listen to the sometimes out-of-the-norm ideas from a band’s management, Dave would work with Janeen and other music community leaders to dial in cross-promotions with entities such as Music Millennium, Tower Records, KUFO, KINK, KGON, etc., to execute exciting promotions in record stores, over the airwaves and on site at the Roseland to increase attendance.

In understanding that live music isn’t just about the coliseum, theater or even club gigs, Janeen relates that from the beginning Dave would personally attend the College Scholarship Performance and Awards, which used to be held at Jimmy Mak’s and now is at Tony Starlight’s. This demonstrated his support for helping others become more excited and giving them the opportunity to get a rounded education in music without Dave ever coming out and making it about himself. He always showed his support in ways more tangible than just attending.

Marc Baker also goes back more than 30 years with Dave.  Marc is an industry insider, host of the long-running “Church of NW Music” show on KBOO and president of the Portland insurance firm Elliott, Powell, Baden & Baker, which measures as one of the top three independent insurance firms as rated by the Portland Business Journal.

Marc promoted several shows and formed a concert company at Oregon State University in his younger days. Moving back to Portland, Marc worked radio primarily in Oregon, when he began to manage the local band Crazy 8’s. An acquaintance in the business called Marc regarding needing an opening act for a headliner he had just booked and Crazy 8’s was a natural. The show was booked and next came promoting. This is where Marc reached out to Double Tee, which he had already worked with to promote local shows. Marc was also on the board of directors of the Oregon Music Hall of Fame for eight years that again crossed paths with Dave.

He made one comment that stuck with me. In describing how he viewed Dave’s influence on music in the community he said that if the Pacific Northwest music scene was a large pond, and if you were to take a large rock and throw it into the middle of the pond, you’d see the ripples move out in all directions, affecting everything in that pond.

He describes Dave as a survivor as a promoter, venue owner, label owner, publisher.  Dave is a supporter of the blues, rhythm and blues, all genres of music and the musicians behind them — often when no one else in town had the horsepower to do good. Marc followed that comment saying that Dave has the passion that others lack.

Double Tee sold more entertainment tickets in Oregon than any other promoter and stayed intact and relevant during the great promoter consolidations of the early 2000s. Dave and everyone interviewed had long lists of accomplishments that showed Dave’s commitment to the community, to music and his own feeling of the best way to conduct business. Below are but a few.

  • Pollstar rates the Roseland Theater as one of the top-10-20 venues of its size in the world. The Roseland was originally built in 1922 as the Apostolic Faith Church until the building was converted into a music venue named Starry Night in 1982. In the early 1990s an unfortunate turn of events for Starry Night turned out to be the start of good fortune for Dave when Double Tee optioned control of the operations in 1994 and purchased Roseland in 1996. Keeping the faith that he was in the right place at the right time, in 1997-98, Dave started a $2 million-plus renovation of the facility, upgrading the sound system, façade and layout into the Roseland Theater of today. Performers regularly compliment the facility and staff for the quality of its sound.

He also created a smaller venue downstairs from the main performance theater called Peter’s Room. This can serve as a smaller capacity venue for bands on the way up or as an extra gathering place streaming the performances from the main stage above.

  • 1994 Autzen Stadium in Eugene. One of several Grateful Dead shows Dave co-promoted with Bill Graham Presents. This one sold 102,000 tickets, making it the largest concert gathering in Oregon.
  • Prince on Aril 30, 2002, at the 2,800-seat Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. The show lasted three hours and was followed by an after-party show at the Roseland Theater lasting until 3 a.m. Both Bob Dylan and Pearl Jam, to name a few, also played shows at larger venues in town and then came over to Roseland to play more intimate after-show parties.
  • Early U2 at the Foghorn.

“To stay relevant, you have to care, you have to be involved in the minutia to stay on top.”

Dave Leiken

Sept. 7, 2021