Colorado local legends © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
The Barry Fey Story:
Part 1 of 2
By Jerry Roys
Published: November 13, 2010
The following is part one of a two part story on the life and conquests of legendary
concert promoter Barry Fey.
Barry Fey was the fat Jewish kid who was always getting kicked around, but it sure didn’t stay that way.
Barry was born in Manhattan, New York, and his family moved to East Orange, New Jersey when he was still a toddler. Barry says of his birth place, "New York is a strange place. Everyone should see it at least once and then get the hell out."
Barry’s family unit was small and he had only one other sibling, his sister, Sheila, who was 8 years older. Living in East Orange, New Jersey in the 1940s Barry had a normal upbringing, growing up in a mixed diverse neighborhood where everyone got along. He said if there was racism there, he never saw it. "The best times in America, there were problems, but we didn’t see it. "
Barry also grew up in a time when parents were strict and had little tolerance for disobedience and corporal punishment was the norm. "My dad was a tough guy." he says, "He bought me a red snow suit once and I told him, 'Dad I really don’t want to wear the snow suit.' Barry said his father made him wear it, but when he got outside he rolled around in the mud and snow with it on and got it filthy. His father had been watching him from the 9th floor that they lived on. "He came down in his bathrobe and kicked my butt, embarrassed me in front of my friends." As a child Barry got hit by not only his father, but also a truck. When he was about nine years old he was hit by a truck during the Thanksgiving Day Holiday school break. A fireman witnessed the accident and took him to the hospital. He then tried to negotiate with the doctor not to tell his parents.
Barry also had an upside to his childhood. His father would take him to see the New York Yankees. Barry was always into sports and he loved baseball as a child. When he was 11-years-old he was elected the head of his class and he was a very good baseball player on a very good team. He says these were the happiest days of his life.
"People think my world was bliss when I was working with major rock acts, but it was when I was 11-years-old. I was so happy with everything, girls meant nothing, and my baseball team made it to the city championship."
Barry was the best player on the team and the team gave him the nick name, "Balou." In honor of him, his team was named, "Balou’s Hellcats." The team made it to the city championship and he remembers that
championship game as if it were yesterday. "We were winning eight to nothing," Barry said,
"two outs in the last inning. I was playing 3rd base and the ball was hit to me. I held on to the ball.
To me I was involved in something I didn’t want to end. I didn’t throw the ball, and the batter got to first,
I didn’t want the game to end." They won the game and Barry said two weeks later his father informed
the family they were moving to Pittsburg. The family moved into a nice big house and he attended
a Hebrew school. He said there were bullies and he ended up in a few fights and won some. The
family lived in Pittsburg for a year and half. After his Bar Mitzvah they moved to Chicago when
Barry was 13-years-old.His family moved to Chicago during the second half of his 8th grade
school year. The school he attended in Pittsburg was nothing like the public schooling in Chicago. "What a shock, I was dressed in a nice shirt, and slacks. I look around, there are guys slouched in the seats wearing jeans, leather jackets and DA haircuts. This parent enters the room, Lee Aaronfeld’s mother, and wants to see the boys who have been beating up her son every day, and taking his money. So I make up my mind, I’m going to be under the radar."
Barry said he went home and told his mother that he was not going back to school. His mother told him he had to go to school and that it would be that school because he had no choice. It was in the boundaries of where they lived. Barry told his mother of the situation and she replied with a, ’We’ll talk with your dad, listen to your mother.’
"I had a wonderful mother," Barry said. "She took me to buy new clothes, shoes from Thom McCann, T-Shirts, A leather jacket, with a fur collar and Levis. I had never had a pair of Levis in my life. "The school was broke up into gangs and he had to make a choice of who he was going to be with. "There were the Jews, eight of us," Barry said, "and then there were the hoods. One of my great pleasures in life was not getting beat up. The Jewish kids tried to put a guilt trip on me, but I can’t take beatings and living my life walking a line. "When he was growing up in his North Side Chicago neighborhood there were three major gangs, the Delta gang, the Beta’s and the Ravens. They all had their territories and local hang outs. Barry said he wasn’t about to join any of these gangs. The big gang was the Clariton A.C.
They hung out at an athletic center, and this was the gang Barry chose to hang out with."I didn’t
have to join anyone because I hung out with the Clariton A.C.," Barry said. "Because of my
association no one fucked with me. Eventually I was accepted into the gang. "However, running
with the hoods did not always protect him. He was walking home from school one day when a big
teenager turned and punched him square in the mouth. His name was Garland Henley, he told
Barry he did it just to let him know that they were around. Barry had to still put up with thugs. He said one of these thugs who picked on him all the time was a person by the name of Danny Gore, who Barry said was a 19-year-old 8th grader.
"I went down to Maxwell Street and bought my first push-button knife (Switch blade). It was recess and I was showing off the knife. Danny sees this and says, ’What are you doing Fey, protecting yourself from me.’ Then he took it. "I made
up my mind I wasn’t going to take it anymore. The next day we were at recess and I picked up a bat and went over and
hit him in the head. He crumpled to the ground. The teacher came over and told me to get out of there. "Barry said Gore had a concussion and he knew if Gore returned to school he was going to be in a whole lot of trouble. Barry got the phone number to Gore’s household and called Gore’s mother stating that if she wanted her son to live he would not return to that school. Danny Gore never went back to that school. In his adolescent life there was always more than one thug to deal with. Barry making his choice to run with the bigger group had to deal with the demands from the higher ups. To check his loyalty to the group they would have him collect money from time to time.
Barry also found himself collecting money for other tough kids his age who were not associated with the Clariton AC. One such person was a tough Black teen named James, "Bozo" Barton. Barry recalled one such incident. "Fey that guy owes me money," Barry said, referring to Barton’s request for him to collect. "He hasn’t paid me for a week, go get my money. So I go over to the guy and say, ’Bozo wants his money.’ He gives me the money and then goes to the principal and squeals on me." Barry said the principal sent him to see a councilor who referred him to the disciplinary action of probation after he refused to "squeal." Barry said he went on probation and had to report to his probation officer at least one Saturday a month with at least one parent. "To stay out of trouble I can be manipulative," Barry said. "I’m 13 or 14 years old at the time. I find this tough guy, Sam, "Sonny," Denardo. He’s 22, but looks old. I pay him to show up as my dad. Fear caused me to do it. "Barry says he doesn’t know how, but it worked. He had to report for three
months and his parents never found out about it.
The love for playing sports never left Barry. He went out for football and did well as a place kicker.
Barry says though he was liked by his teachers, his football coach was another story. His football
coach was Harry Capp Layton who was a local legend. Barry says he was the better kicker on the team.
Layton told him he should quit going to practice. Barry asked him why and Layton said, 'I’m not going to have a fat pig like
you represent our school.’ Along with growing up in a tough place, it was incidences like this that made life even tougher for him. He would eventually go to a private school. "I ended up going to a private school in my senior year, Harris School for Boys and Girls," Barry said. "I became a big bully and I didn’t get along with anyone."
Barry had a real hard time with his history teacher. He said a few days before finals he went in to his classroom and stuck two knifes in the teachers desk and told him to take his pick. Barry ended up with a blank diploma. The school said he would have to take the history test in order to earn his high school diploma. He had applied for three colleges and had been accepted into two of them, the University of Texas, and Yale. Stanford had denied his application. He later heard that at that time Stanford had a quota system on how many Jewish students were allowed for enrollment. Though Barry may have been planning for college, life would turn on him again. His father died and the family soon found out they were broke. It seemed Barry’s father had signed everything over to his partner. This was at the time of his graduation. Barry had to observe Shiva, the week long Jewish tradition of mourning. This would cause him to miss his senior play,"The Monkeys Paw," and not attend his prom. Times got tough and Barry and his mother had to make do with very little. Barry couldn’t afford to go to college. So he took it upon himself to enlist in the Marine Corp. "A week after I turned 17, I was in the Marines," Barry said. "It was 1956, we were broke, I couldn’t go to college, I was 237 pounds, and I felt worthless."
It was a two year plan and he figured he would be out by the time he was 19, so on paper and in
his mind it seem like what he needed. "I was so unhappy and miserable," Barry said. "They beat
the shit out of me for the 16 weeks I was there. One night I crawled to the wash yards to make a
call. I called my mom and told her they’re going to kill me, get me out of here. All she said was,
'It’ll be alright, stick with it.' Barry said no one was like his mother and he didn’t find out until years
later that his mother had received a form letter in the mail that was sent out to all the parents of new recruits stating their sons had arrived. After his call to her his mother, she corresponded with numerous letters checking on how Barry was doing without his knowledge.
Barry said boot camp back then was not like it is today. They were in isolation while in boot camp and he didn’t even know who was running for president. Barry refers to his Marine Corp boot camp experience as, "16 weeks of mental and physical abuse." Drill instructors were allowed to beat you. He remembered two fellow recruits from Tennessee. They had never even worn shoes. They could not adjust to their new surroundings and one ended up hanging himself and the other got kicked out. "It’s a miracle I got through boot camp." Barry said he had five drill instructors and some of them were sent to the brig for cruelty and taking money. Barry said one of his drill instructors, Sergeant Kawoski, was the cruelest of all five. He was an ex-boxer and tormented Barry. Kawoski would have Barry stand at attention and punch him in the stomach, taking turns with his right and left hand. "He would punch me hard and ask how his left hand is doing. I would answer, 'Sir, Private Fey thinks the left had is fine today sir,' Barry said, "and he would beat me until I collapsed."
Another one of his drill instructors would take his car on marches and charge them for gas. Barry said even the drill instructor they considered nice was mean. He did get through boot camp, though his toughest time was finishing the obstacle course. Barry said he was to fat to run and complete the course.
He would get so far and by a certain point he would lose all of his strength, especially in his arms. The drill instructors would keep him on the course all day. After all his weight loss Barry was able to complete the obstacle course and the whole battalion watched and cheered him on. "I was legendary for the punches I took," Barry said. He didn’t know it at the time, but one of those in attendance was Shelly Bauer, someone he knew from the Clariton AC gang. Barry left boot camp weighing 165 pounds. In 1958 he was out of the Marines and entering college. "I had no where to go but up when I got out," he said. Barry was 19-years-old when he got out of the Marines and had applied for a scholarship to University of Pennsylvania. However, he still needed to take the history test to get his High School diploma, which he did. He ended up at Houston Hall at the University of Pennsylvania. "The Marines ruined me for college," Barry said. "I got out with a huge chip on my shoulder." Barry said at first he tried hard to fit in, he even bought a freshmen beanie.
He said jocks ran the orientation and one remarked to him that he had to wear the beanie on his
head. Barry said he flipped the hat at him and five minutes later had knocked the student out.
Barry admits he had a hard time adjusting to his new surroundings. He also ended up assaulting
his roommate. He was then transferred to another dorm, where his roommate was Maury Povich.
Barry said he got along with him great. "I tried to get a hold of him once, but I never got a response." Barry said. "I don’t even know if he got the message." Barry said it wasn’t all bad and that he had fun times in pulling pranks. By 1960 he would walk out on his scholarship.
"From 60 through 64 my whole life was a series of lies, and troubled times. I would walk from downtown Chicago broke.
I didn’t even have money for bus fare." On his way home Barry said he would stop at one of his hang outs, Jr. Milanos Restaurant on Rush Street, and visit his friends and they would feed him. "As bad as things were, I always assumed everything was going to be alright." Barry said there is nothing he is proud of during those years; he was just a bum and
a con man. After his dreadful experience of boot camp there was not a whole lot life could throw at him. He worked various jobs. He worked as a long-shore-man on the Chicago docks. He was also the only white man working that shift. Barry said there is not a prejudice bone in his body and he got a long well with everyone. He had many black friends, and they would take him into their neighborhoods. Barry worked the docks until it got cold. At one point he got an Arlington Race Track uniform vest so he could lie to his mother about working at the track. Barry said she wouldn’t approve of anything he was doing at the time. In 1964 he went to work for Robert Hull Clothes. He began his management training program as a salesman in one of their clothing stores and within two weeks was an assistant manager.
Barry excelled in his department. He was offered a sales manager position in Rockford, Illinois. Barry said at this time he also almost had an affair with a married woman, but his morals prevented him from doing so. "I just couldn’t do it with
a married woman. I couldn’t do that to a man. I’m a very moral person," he said, "I didn’t say a good person, but a moral person." Barry said he was a great salesman, but he hated stocking. He helped other employees with the stocking and after they were done they would sit around and listen to him tell stories. There was nothing
to do in Rockford. "The Rumpus Room was the only place nearby that occasionally had a
live band," he said. Barry got the idea to throw a dance in Rockford. He used to go to a club
in Chicago called the Thumbs Up and had made friends with Jim Ramey, AKA, Baby Huey,
who had a Black R & B band, Baby Huey and the Baby Sitters. Barry said it was a very good
band with a large set list of songs. Barry knew he could hire the band for the dance, he just
needed a place. Barry and his roommate Marshall Hector put together a show and rented the American Legion Hall on Easter Sunday of 1965 and brought in Baby Huey and the Baby Sitters to perform.
The dance was very successful and after paying everyone, Barry and Hector each earned $92.50, more than he made
in a week working as a salesman. He eventually quit his job to start his own concert promoting company, Thumbs Up Productions. Word got around about his Baby Huey concert and soon he had an agent call him about booking the Beau Brummels, which he did. The concert took place in a gymnasium and everyone had to remove their shoes so as not to scar the gym floor. Barry said there were 1550 pairs of shoes on the gym floor. He soon began booking concerts at Rockford College. "Then I booked the Byrds, who just had put out the hits. ’Turn, Turn, Turn,’ and ’My Tambourine,’ I made 5000 dollars on my end and I was still working with Marshall." Barry said he then booked the Kingsmen, who had the hit "Louie, Louie." Things were looking up for him when in July of 1965 he began getting headaches and ended up in the hospital. "One day I got out of bed and fell flat on my face, and progressively had trouble talking," Barry said. "It gets worse. I can’t walk, talk or eat. Every time I eat, I vomit. No leukemia, no brain tumor. Every day the docs would come in thinking I had a different illness, they had never seen a case like this. They thought it might be psychosomatic."
Barry said it was finally determined it was Labyrinthitis, which is an inner ear disorder that involves irritation and swelling of the inner ear. There was no treatment for this in 1965. He was taken back to Chicago in an ambulance, and had to stay with his mom and was bed-ridden for a while. "I slowly came back," Barry said. "I walked holding on to the walls, I had to learn to walk again. I remember the first time I went out, I went up to the roof and I started to cry. I was able to leave the house in October of 1965. It had been four months and I weighed 130 pounds." Barry recovered from the illness and soon was out and about again. He also had gotten a girl friend, Cindy, who would become his first wife. Barry said one of the places he used to hang around in was a place called the Pickle Barrel. He was in there one day when a girl walks in and recognized him. Her name was Pat Cole and she walked right up to him and asked if he was who she thought he was. She had remembered him from the rock-n-roll shows he had put on in Rockford. Barry said she introduced him to her boyfriend who was attending the University of Denver and they were looking for an act to book.
"I went to see TB Skarning and Associate Booking in Chicago. I told him about my situation. He said, ’I got this new act I can sell you, but I can’t send them to Denver only to do one show.’ I asked the fraternity if they had other colleges I could book. I booked three schools, CU, DU and the University of Montana in Missoula Montana. The band was The Association, and a month after I booked them they take off with the hit "Cherish." Barry said he did very well with the DU Student Union who sold 2500 tickets and wanted to work with him on bringing in another act.
Then in October of 1966 he ended up marrying Cindy. Barry said they kept the marriage a
secret from both parents. Though they were married they lived apart. "My mom was from
England, very proper, and she always loved me," Barry said. "When I told her I got into the
Rock-n-Roll business she was appalled. She told her friends I was lost at sea. When I got
somewhat famous, I was rescued." Barry told Cindy that they were moving to Denver. He
went to Denver, but left her behind because he couldn’t afford to take her with him. In January of 1967 Cindy became pregnant and her parents found out. Barry went back to Chicago by train to see her during a huge snow storm. Cindy would eventually move to Denver in March of that year and they would get a place on Albion Street. Up until that time Barry lived in a frat house one block east of Denver University.
In late January of 1967 he started to work with Ed Weimer Productions. Barry had made a deal with Weimer that they would get 25 percent of each others’ take on what-ever acts they brought in. Barry brought in Eric Burton and the Animals and did well and gave Weimer his 25 percent. In May of 1967 they got Paul Revere and the Raiders to play the Denver Auditorium. Barry set up the venue and sold tickets. He had to go to the venue because though they could book the acts, they had to work with a company that produced the tickets. Barry said at the time Hugh Hicks had the market on producing the tickets for upcoming concerts. This was a hold Weimer wanted to break from Hicks. The show sold out. After the show Weimer told Barry that he was partners with Dick Clark -of American Bandstand fame- on the Paul Revere and the Raiders show and couldn’t pay him the 25 percent. Barry immediately started packing up. "If you leave me you’ll be a shlock, working out of your kitchen the rest of your life he told me," Barry said. "When I earn money I get it. I picked up my Bill Board Magazine and went home."
Barry did not drive and got around the city on the bus. As he was riding home that day he read the magazine and at the bottom of the front page was an ad from Family Dog Productions looking for original bands to start a record label. Barry said most of the bands in the metro area were cover bands. But he knew of one original Denver based band, Eighth Penny Matter. He called the production company and told them he had a band. They asked him to fly up to San Francisco the first week of June 1967 to meet with Chet Helms the founder of Family Dog Productions. "I remember what I was wearing when I met him," Barry said, "a blue blazer, blue Oxford shirt, gray slacks, penny loafers with no socks and a blue and pumpkin tie. This guy had on the strangest clothes I’d ever seen." Barry said when he walked into Chet Helms’ scarcely furnished office, Helms was sitting in the middle of the floor sitting in the Lotus position. Barry, still being in shape sat down on the floor with him to talk. Barry gave him the tape and Helms liked it and wanted others to listen to it. Helms and Bob Cohen invited Barry and his wife Cindy to stick around and see San Francisco.
They went to the Avalon Ball Room, Haight- Ashbury, and Golden Gate Park. Barry was amazed at what he saw: people getting high in public, bands playing, and groups like the "Diggers," doing community service work by feeding people. This was the height of the Hippie Movement and the "Summer of Love. "I buy a pair of Jesus sandals," Barry said. "I get blisters, but I didn’t care. Went back to the hotel and dressed down. We went to the Avalon Ball Room and I believe it was Chuck Berry who was playing. Strobe lights came on, and I had never seen anything
like that at the time. This is a week before Monterey Pop. I was way out of my element." Barry
said he returned to Denver and bought the Scott McKenzie 45 record, "If You’re Going o San
Francisco," and played it over and over. This is a ritual he would later begin to repeat throughout
his career. He told Cindy that he had to find a way to bring what he saw in San Francisco to
Denver. It was around this time that Barry received a call from his friend Joe Neddo. He told Barry
that a teen club called The Bird, located on Evans Street, had recently closed and the owner of the
building, Francis Salazar, wanted to talk to Barry about bringing in some acts and keeping the venue going. 'He asked what I could do," Barry said. "I told him what I had done and what I saw in San Francisco. I called Bob Cohen and told him about the building. Bob knew Denver. He flew out the next day, met with Salazar and made a deal and decided to open a Family Dog in Denver."
In the mean time Barry had a pregnant wife to deal with and had a show, "The Peach Festival," on the Western Slope to work. Barry made enough money on that show to pay the hospital bill for the birth of his son Alan, born on August 16, 1967. Barry said there was always anxiety to deal with. On Sept 8th of 1967, The Family Dog opened. The deal Barry had with Helms and Cohen was that he would take care of anything local and that Helms and Cohen would bring in the national acts. The first show opened with Big Brother and the Holding Company, with none other than Janis Joplin on vocals. Also on that bill were Blue Cheer and the local Denver band, Eighth Penny Matter as the opening act.
In May of 1967 prior to Barry’s going to San Francisco and meeting with Helms and Cohen he had booked a college fraternity show for late September of that year. "I called up Bill Graham. I knew he was the manager of the Jefferson Airplane. He told me, ’Sonny, I only manage the group in California, Todd Schiffman, manages them outside of California."
Graham gave Barry the contact information to Schiffman who was an APA agent. Barry called Schiffman and told him that he wanted to book the Jefferson Airplane for a two night show in Denver. Schiffman asked Barry how much money he had. Barry told him $7500. Schiffman said that was what the Jefferson Airplane got per performance. However, he told Barry that he had a band on the rise that he could get him for that amount. Barry, being leery of agents trying to pedal their unproven bands was hesitant. Schiffman told Barry the band had a single out, "Light My Fire," that was becoming quite popular and for him to go get the record and check it out. Barry made a deal with Schiffman to get The Doors for two nights for $7500.
Barry was obligated to provide The Doors to the fraternity only for one night. Helms told him he should book The Doors into the Family Dog for the second night. The dates were set for September 29 and 30. Barry decided to advertise the event and purchased ad slots with the then popular AM radio station KIMN. Barry wanted his production company associated with The Family Dog, so he named the company Feline Productions, a dog/cat connection. He sent the copy of the ad to the station and when the sales rep for KIMN who had sold Barry the slots saw the copy, he assumed since Barry’s last name was Fey, someone had left out the Y. The ad announcement came out as, "Feyline Presents." Barry said he is superstitious and just left it alone.