Bathrobes and Duffle Bags Part of Belkin's Music History in 'Rock This Town'
A stylish shirt for Tina Turner, a bathrobe for the Who and a hoodie for Bruce Springsteen are all part of a collection of swag that documents a heady time in the American music industry.
Who robe 1989 [image / Fran Belkin]
When Jules and Mike Belkin moved from the clothing business to concert promotion over 50 years ago, they used their haberdashery skills to create specialized gifts for visiting performers. Many of these items are on display in a new book, “Rock This Town,” by Jules’ wife, Fran.
[image / Fran Belkin]
At first, Fran Belkin watched from the sidelines as her husband and brother-in-law built their Cleveland-based music industry empire without much of a game plan. The initial Belkin Productions concert featured the Four Freshmen and the New Christy Minstrels for two February shows in 1966. Although those shows lost money, the brothers kept at it, booking 13 shows the following year, 43 shows in 1968 and 86 shows in 26 cities in 1969.
Despite this growing success, Jules says they hung onto the family clothing business until 1974. Fran said she wasn’t happy about the long hours her husband was putting in to keep the promotion company going. She ended up joining Belkin Productions to keep tabs on him.
“My pediatrician said to me, ‘Fran, get a sitter, not a divorce,'” she said. “And that’s exactly what I did.”
Jules and Fran Belkin [Dave DeOreo / ideastream]
One of her jobs was helping coordinate the creation and distribution of the special gifts that Belkin Productions custom made for the artists.
“Our business was predicated on relationships,” Fran said. “You had a relationship with the band, with the agent, with the manager. When they would come to town, and you would present them with a gift, this reinforced this friendship, this reinforced your respect for the band.”
There were many interested in having that same sort of relationship, according to Jules.
“It was extremely competitive amongst the different promoters in the country,” he said. “If we were doing something in Detroit, and somebody else decided to do something, we tried, in a nice way, to somehow sabotage them.”
Over the years, some critics have charged that the Belkins favored such tactics in order to dominate the regional concert market. Fran put a softer spin on the Belkin path to power.
“Once … the band knew that the promoter would do exactly what they needed, that everything would be right, that was why Belkin got the show,” she said. “It wasn’t because of a monopoly, like people say. They knew when they came to Cleveland, Detroit, Buffalo – whatever our cities were – everything would be exactly right.”
Jules surrounded by Twisted Sister in 1986 [image / Anastasia Pantsios]
As Mike and Jules Belkin were building their concert promotion empire, they helped inject a little life into some then-abandoned theaters in Cleveland’s Playhouse Square. In the early 1970s, Belkin Productions ran a series of concerts that helped keep the district viable. Local music fans got an early taste of such groups as Roxy Music, ZZ Top, Genesis, Patti Smith and Bruce Springsteen. Jules said the decrepit state of the Allen Theater, at the time, actually made the venue more appealing.
“Music Hall was a beautiful hall, but I think the kids walked in there and they felt somewhat intimidated by the surroundings,” he said. “The Allen Theater was available because they were ready to close these places down.”
Belkin said the raggedy venue wasn’t dangerous, but sometimes there were more than concertgoers in attendance. “There used to be more rats than people,” he said.
As the demands for concert tickets grew in Northeast Ohio, the Belkins moved their shows to larger venues, including the Akron Rubber Bowl and Cleveland Municipal stadium, which played host to the Rolling Stones and over 82,000 fans in 1978.
[image / Fran Belkin]
All the time, Fran Belkin’s collection of artist swag was quietly growing. A few years ago, she stumbled upon it.
“I went in the attic looking for something else and I see this box marked ‘Tee shirts’,” Belkin said.
Though Phil Collins appreciated this sheet cake, Fran Belkin says he had a slight criticism of his personalized bowling shirt: "Fran, I hate to break it to you, but Brits don't bowl." [image / Fran Belkin]
She started pulling out a Phil Collins bowling shirt, a Steely Dan sweater, a Barenaked Ladies jacket, and even a huge Pink Floyd duffle bag. All those shows. All those years.
“I realized, my gosh, this tells the whole story,” she said. “This is history.”
[image / Fran Belkin]