Celebrity Meltdown Onstage – 40 Years Ago Today

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized

If it wasn’t exactly 40 years ago today, well, so be it. Unlike a post from four years ago where I told about a bad celebrity encounter, but didn’t name him until he died a year or so later (it was Adam West), this former Rock Star is still alive amazingly. The woman we’re talking about is Grace Slick, the only member of that whole franchise of bands to sing on hits by all three of the main bands, Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship, and just plain Starship.

So how did I wind up not only in the same building with this woman, but on the same stage? It was around this time that our act Rick & Ruby was getting known not only for our act that combined music and comedy, but for our more theatrical shows with casts of other eccentric performers who were willing to experiment. Back then, we were doing our own versions of “Gong Show” inspired variety shows that did well enough that the producers of the real “Gong Show” eventually sent us a “cease and desist” order. The publicity this show from late January, 1978 got was the main reason for the order.

The venue was San Francisco’s original Boarding House on Bush Street, a popular venue for acts on their way up. In previous years, I had seen such acts as George Carlin, Bette Midler, The Pointer Sisters, and Steve Martin perform in this 500-seat venue while they were becoming household names. This was our first week there as headliners, and with management’s OK, on Thursday of that week, we put together a Gong Show with local celebrity panelists, as well as an array of Bay Area sillies we knew (and some we didn’t) to help make for an outrageous show. For our celebrity panelists, our manager the late Bob Lacey managed to corral the comic actor Dick Shawn (“It’s A Mad….World,” “The Producers”), Joe McDonald (leader of psychedelic band Country Joe & The Fish, who played Woodstock), Terri Garthwaite (half of 70’s Bay Area folk band Joy Of Cooking), and Grace Slick.

Things looked great until Grace showed up, clearly drunk and not knowing why she was there. We tried to explain before the show started, but it wasn’t connecting, so we finally just said, “Well, just have fun out there.” Her idea of fun was not ours, nor anyone else’s. Before we even came out on stage, she had already seized a mic and was talking nonsense to the audience. We managed to get her to sit down, but that only lasted until the first act came up, a female singer friend, with whom Grace tried to sing along. After she finished her song, and we were asking the panel’s opinions, Country Joe said “I couldn’t really hear her over White Rabbit over here, but it sounded fine I guess.” Grace meanwhile, was still singing!

This continued for the next half hour, and though there was one duo of transvestites who managed to get the audience’s focus and get great response, for everyone else it was a struggle. Grace at one point decided to grab microphones and slam them on the stage floor. She was now getting booed, but the audience was at the same time goading her to see just how outrageous this was going to get. I lost it at one point, screaming at this woman I’d admired 10 years before, “Why don’t you just sit the fuck down and let us do our fucking show!”

It was not going to get better, and Ruby and I feared there would be an all-out riot if we didn’t do something soon. Our answer came in the form of three men coming from offstage concealing their faces, with the one objective of getting her not just off the stage, but out of the building. Fair enough, as one of her final insults to the crowd booing her was, “You all have little dicks.” Not exactly a great heckler comeback, but as she was being bodily ejected from the room, her parting words were “Where’s my road crew?” One pill may make you larger, but anything after that, yikes!

The bad night didn’t end for her at the Boarding House. Later that same night, driving back to her Marin County home, she was stopped and cited for drunk driving. A few months later, she was fired from the Jefferson Starship after a drunken incident during a concert in Germany. I saw footage of that same show 20 years later on the VH-1 series “Behind The Music,” and damned if she didn’t say some of the same things I was hearing her say on our show. Not the little dick comment though. It was after her firing that she cleaned up her act.

In the aftermath, the press was very kind to us for showing a certain amount of diplomacy and calm, and for not decking her, which several people that were there said they would have done. The Rock press wanted a statement, but we thought about possible defamation of character lawsuits and left it alone. The incident did get us our only mention by name in Rolling Stone magazine. The late Paul Kantner, who was not only the co-founder of Jefferson Airplane but the father of Grace’s daughter China, said to us a few weeks after, “I wish you’d told me you’d invited her, and I’d have told you not to.”

Things worked out for her, and I guess that’s why I don’t think identifying her at this stage is going to harm her in any way. She managed to not only clean up her act, but continue having commercial pop music success for another decade after. When we met her, she was 38 and looked awful

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