The first thing you notice as you trundle your way up the stairs is the collection of autographed record albums on the walls. “To Jay, the Best, Pops Staples”; “To JB Ross and Co. From the Chi-Lites, All the Best.” Signatures are scrawled across albums by Charlie Musselwhite, Albert King, and Ricky Nelson; there’s even a “To Big Jay” from Jello Biafra.
The next thing you notice is the noise. The tap tap tap of the computer printers, the music thumpity thumpiting through the speakers, the tintinnabulation of the telephone. Especially the telephone. It never stops ringing. Brrrrring. Warner Brothers is on line one. Brrrrring. It’s that magazine about the interview. Beeeeep. A nasal voice bursts through the intercom. “Jay. Farley’s on line two.”
“Take a message.”
“And you’ve got Marty still holding.”
“Take a message.”
Jay B. Ross scratches his sideburns absentmindedly with a white plastic fork as he talks on the phone. This caller is a member of the new white rap band he has signed on to manage.
“Hello, kid, are you famous?” he asks. “Hey, I am telling you, you’re going to be one of the biggest deals signed out of Chicago. We anticipate getting you a couple hundred thousand in a month or so.”
He takes another call. “Hello? Oh, you’re the photographer. Your stuff is fabulous. Absolutely fabulous. I can rent you some office space. How much do you need?”
“Jay? Bert’s on the telephone from California.”
“Tell him to hold on a second.”
“I am on pins and needles these days,” Ross says when he finally hangs up. “I get the feeling that this one deal I’m working on is right about to break. Hold on one second.”
“Brittany?” he calls to his secretary through the intercom. “Are the letters done?”
“Well, hustle in here.”
Rap music pulsates in the front room. Jazz music wafts from the recording studio upstairs. Prince’s “1999” blares from a boom box out on the street. The voice over the intercom sounds like a rap record. “Beeeep. Take a mes–, take a mes–, take a take a take a message.”
“I don’t understand it,” Ross says. “I deal with some of the biggest names in the music industry. Maybe you can explain to me why I’m always broke.”
Jay B. Ross, probably Chicago’s biggest entertainment-industry attorney, is also always busy. Aside from his law practice focusing on entertainment, he has a few sidelines. In 1988 and ’89 he was president of the Chicago branch of NARAS, the organization that awards the Grammys. He hosts his own cable-TV talk show about the entertainment business. He did a series of five-minute segments about entertainment law on Z95. He’s trying to start up a comedy hall of fame. (If you ever call up his office and are put on hold–as undoubtedly you will be–you’ll hear no piped-in music. Instead you will be greeted by the sounds of a Tom Dreesen comedy album.) Ross also works as a kind of free-lance record promoter, shopping artists and records in LA and New York. A couple times a week he goes out to clubs looking for new talent to back. “Sometimes I don’t get into work until 11 because I’ve been out until 3 the night before. I need my eight hours. Sometimes people call the office in the morning and ask where I am. They always say, ‘He’s in court.’ Sometimes it’s true. Sometimes it’s just that I’m home because I have to sleep.” Ross is licensed to practice law in New York, California, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C. Anyone can reach him from any part of the country by calling 800-3-ENTLAW.
Sometimes Ross fantasizes that he will become a famous movie actor. He auditioned recently for a part in a new sitcom starring his client Judy Tenuta. He sees himself as a character actor in the tradition of Charles Coburn. Still, he says, “I’m smart enough to know that picture actors are selected when they’re very young.”
Ross has called himself the Lawyer of the Blues. He was Muddy Waters’s lawyer and the one who got Waters signed with William Morris. He’s represented Pinetop Perkins and Willie Dixon. He’s listed as Sugar Blue’s business manager, Gene Chandler’s manager. He’s helping Jerry Butler on a matter concerning recording royalties. He represents numerous performers and producers of the local house scene. His latest pet project is this all-white rap group. Called 4 PM (Four Pale Males), the group is now working under a “development deal” with Warner Brothers. Ross says they’ll be as big as New Kids on the Block. “They sing, they dance, they walk, they talk, they’re beautiful,” Ross says. If this venture takes off–and Ross gives you every indication that it will–it could land him in the big time.
“Having done this for 20 years, one gets a broader overview of what it takes to be successful,” Ross says. “Not that anyone can say, ‘I know what it takes to make a star,’ but you see certain themes and variations on those themes. Image is always very important. We had a fellow who came into our office about seven years ago. He was a very unusually dressed man who wanted us to change his name. He had a very unusual image with his jewelry and the way his hair was cut. He said he wanted us to change his name from Lawrence Tero to Mr. T. So we did.”
When you talk to Ross, he tends to drift off in the middle of a sentence, then forget where he was. He always looks exhausted and pauses often to wipe his forehead or his eyes. His 20 years in the business seem to have taken their toll.
It’s like a Greyhound station here at his office, in a building he owns on Grand just west of Halsted. Strange characters straggle in and out at all hours of the day bearing demo cassettes, seeking legal advice, looking for a handout.
Among Ross’s employees are two other lawyers, a secretary, a paralegal, and assorted people trying to break into the music business. There is office space for rent on the ground floor and a music studio on the third floor. Ross works in between. His classic show-biz bathroom has a phone next to the commode and a collection of toiletries filched from hotels: soap from the Midland, a sewing kit from the Marriott Marquis, more soap from the Fairmont. Ross’s private office is a shambles. There are knickknacks all over the place, spiderlike chairs the same blue as Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster, tumbling stacks of cassettes, a Bugs Bunny glass, a broken clock made out of a Motown record, a collage of photos of Albert Einstein framed on the wall, stacked cardboard boxes, and papers on the floor. On the bookshelves, legal tomes hold their place alongside volumes about the history of rock and roll. There’s nothing at all in the trash can.
On Ross’s desk is a pile of old record albums he just bought at an auction. He proudly shows them off: Milton Berle’s Songs My Mother Loved, Zero Mostel’s Songs My Mother Never Sang, Al Capp on Campus, The Best of Marcel Marceau, and others by Dick Shawn, John Carradine, and Judy Holliday.
Ross sits at his desk wearing a blue blazer and a salmon-colored shirt with a matching handkerchief. No tie. On his lapel is a commemorative pin from NARAS. His hand is covered with scrawled phone numbers. His silver hair isn’t combed and now he’s using a giant paper clip to scratch a sideburn. He takes a swig from a bottle of pineapple soda. “Did I forget to shave today?” he asks.
He laboriously begins to sift through the papers on his desk. “All right,” he says, “who can I sue?” He pulls one file. “This one,” he mutters, “definitely this one.” He pats the papers on his desk like a blind man and finds his glasses, a designer pair he had made by a specialty shop in LA. “I wonder where that check went,” he says; “I could use $650. Maybe I should call and find out where it went.”
He picks up his book of telephone numbers, a comically dog-eared yellow volume with pages falling out of it. “Where did that page go?” He finds it and dials a number. He pauses and hangs up disgustedly.
“Disconnected,” he says. “In this business, the lawyer’s always the last guy who gets paid. . . . How can I expect to get paid when people can’t afford phones? The people who we deal with are the most creative people, but they’re destitute. So they have a choice of either paying me or getting into the studio for their shot, and I’m sympathetic. And sometimes, if they’re successful, I do get paid.
“You know what I do?” Ross asks. “I always try to get everybody’s next-door neighbor’s number. My clients tend to be very mobile.”
“Yes?” Ross picks up a call. “No, no, no. Listen sir, I don’t know what you’re asking. I’m an attorney. People hire me to do legal work. I do contracts. I earn a living doing contracts for people. I charge $150 an hour to people who are just starting out. Well, sir, if it’s just you going into the studio, that’s no problem. You don’t have to draw up a contract. You don’t have to worry about you suing yourself.”
Another call comes in. “No, here’s what we do,” Ross explains exasperatedly. “We shop tapes and if we feel we can place it, we charge a fee and we’ll go out there and try to place it. . . . There’s no charge unless I have to listen to it and it’s on my business time when I have to make a living and I have to charge a fee. I can’t give free legal consultations during my business time. I have to make a living.”
Brrring, brrrrrrring! “Oh, Theodore Bikel is coming in town?” He puts a hand over the mouthpiece. “I’m trying to shop his record for him.” Then, into the phone, “Oh, do I get in free or do I have to pay? Ooooh, you are a sweetheart. I’m going to call up my mother and see if she wants to go with her friends.”
Ring, ringgg. “Really? Island Records? Well, that’s great. If you need some contracts negotiated, talk to me.” He hangs up the phone. “Here’s a guy calling me from London to tell me not to cash his check because it’ll bounce.”
Ring, ring, ring. “Yes? She’s appearing at Legends? Well, let her pay her bill and then I’ll get excited about her performing at Legends.”
Ring, ring. “Yeah, well you tell this bum he has an obligation to write me if he can’t reach me by phone. Yeah, I know, we’ll never see a penny. I’ll mark it as a bad debt and not even bother sending them a bill.” He hangs up. “It hurts,” he says and sighs loudly. “I’m getting sick and tired of not getting paid for the work that I do.”
Another call comes in. “Take a message,” he shouts. “Another deadbeat,” he grunts. “I’ve never seen such a rich poor business. I hope I don’t get indigestion today.”
Jay B. Ross was born Bernard Ross in 1942 in Rockford, the only son of Russian Jewish immigrants. His parents died when he was two and he was adopted by his aunt and uncle. He was one of the only Jewish kids growing up in his neighborhood. “I cried when I found out we couldn’t have a Christmas tree. So I used to spend Christmas over at our Greek neighbors’,” he says. At the University of Wisconsin in Madison he drank alcohol for the last time: “I had my fill of throwing up in college.” He promoted bands during his college years and went on to study law at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
As soon as he got his law degree, he changed his name. He feared being called Bernie the attorney. “It doesn’t sound dignified,” he says. “Anything ending with an e sounds childish except maybe in the south, where Billy Bob is all right. And Bernard is just as bad. I cringed at it. It’s not a happenin’ name.”
A couple has come up from the suburbs to meet with Ross. They’re acquainted with a woman who is doing a musical history of the blues and they want to know how they can acquire the publishing rights to the music.
“Well, are they original songs written for the show?” Ross asks.
“A few are,” the man responds, tapping his deck shoe lightly against the leg of Ross’s desk. “See, I’m a musician and I’ve heard that music publishing is a good field to get into.”
“Sure it is,” Ross replies. “It’s one of the most lucrative aspects of the business there is. It’s a great field to get into for your retirement.” He pauses. “Do you have a list of the songs that you’re using in the show?”
“Here it is,” the man says and hands over a list.
“See, a lot of these songs are quite well known,” Ross says. “And the problem you’re going to run into is that most of these songs already have publishers.”
“Oh,” the man says dejectedly.
After the couple leaves, the next client comes in, a short man in a faded, wide-collared yellow shirt and brown pants. “I’ve got a proposal for you, Mr. Ross,” he says, and sits down in one of the blue spider chairs.
“Yes, what can I do for you?”
“Well, I’m interested in renting some office space from you,” the man says, his words slurring slightly. “Now, I don’t have much money, but I have some good ideas like I always do. I’m interested in opening up an employment agency and I’d like to use some of your office space.”
“Are you going to pay rent? How much can you give me in advance?”
“Well, I can’t give you anything in advance, but I’ll split 50-50 with you on everything I make in a day.”
“Split the daily take? Well, what would be the minimum I would get?”
“Five hundred dollars.”
“So, I would be making at least 500.”
“That’s pretty stiff rent,” Ross says. “That’s 15,000 a month. I’ll tell you what. I’ll make it 5,000 a month.”
“Well, I couldn’t afford that,” the man says.
“You can afford 500 a day, but you can’t afford 5,000 a month?”
The man takes a very deep breath. “Mr. Ross,” he asks, “do you suppose you could lend me $50?”
“I think I figured out why I never have money,” Ross says after the man leaves. “I’d estimate a third of my time is given to giving out free consultations because I’m such a nice guy. It makes it hard to make a living.”
Ross takes time out to talk on the phone with a reporter from Memories, a nostalgia magazine. “Hello? I absolutely love your magazine–what I do is I make collages out of pictures for therapy and your magazine has some of the greatest photos, so I’m cutting up issues constantly.”
The magazine is doing a story about black artists from the 50s and 60s, and it’s clear that Ross knows a lot more about the subject than his interviewer. “Well, do you have Gene Chandler’s number?” A pause. “OK, well how about Dee Clark? He sang ‘Raindrops.'” Then, “Here’s a number for the Spaniels.” And, “Let me get you Betty Everett’s number.” And then, “How about LaWanda Page? She used to play Aunt Esther on Sanford and Son.”
He gives a series of phone numbers, then hangs up and opens some mail. There’s a letter from the Chicago Academy of Performing Arts, the private high school. “Look at all Chicago has given the world. Jack Benny, George Kirby, Edgar Bergen, Dick Gregory, and we can’t even support a performing-arts school. It’s sad.”
A doorbell rings downstairs and Ross leaps to his feet. “Is that Willie Dixon down there?” he asks. “If that’s Willie, tell him to wait downstairs and I’ll come down. I don’t want him to have to walk upstairs with his cane.”
There’s a knock on the door and Willie Dixon’s daughter Shirley enters, saying, “Daddy will be over in an hour or so.” She notices a pile of Dixon’s albums on Ross’s desk. “I bet you brought those for Daddy to autograph,” she says. “He says he’s going to sign every one of his albums three times because he knows how much you love autographs.”
“Do you know how much those cost me at the record store?” Ross asks. “And I bet your dad never gets a dime from the royalties.
“Everyone I know who was on [he names a record label] has yet to be paid,” says Ross. “And we have a similar problem with [he names another]. I’m talking about the Dells, the El Dorados, the Spaniels, Betty Everett, Jerry Butler, and Gene Chandler. . . . There’s a lot of abuse. A lot of people got into the business when they were kids. There weren’t a lot of entertainment attorneys in Chicago to protect them, and they got taken advantage of. . . . The same thing is happening today with house music.”
Ross says a “fellow from New York” bought up the publishing rights to lots of songs by Chicago artists, including Gene Chandler’s “Duke of Earl.” Ross and Chandler applied for copyright renewal last year after this fellow forgot to renew, and now Chandler owns full rights to his songs. According to Ross, this is a coup worth an amount in the low six figures.
“That’s one of the happy stories,” Ross says. “But it doesn’t usually work out that nicely. Illinois is one of those states that believe if you’re 18 years old and you sign something, you have to hold to it. A lot of these people are impoverished and not college graduates and they sign.
“I had one 15-year-old girl who had been offered the opportunity to sing on a record,” he says. “She wrote the words to the song and the company was going to give her $100. They said there would be no publishing money and no artist royalties, and she was dying to do it because she thought it was her big chance. Her mother wouldn’t let her do it; she wanted some more money. So the company found someone else to do it.
“There have been times where kids have been given an opportunity and no one else has given them an opportunity. So with full knowledge that they are going to be taken advantage of, I have let them sign a deal with the devil. I’ve warned them, but if there’s nobody else around to give them the opportunity to be heard and attract the attention of other people, sometimes it’s the only way to make it. Sometimes you have to be abused first. I’ve let people do that, but I’ve let people know first what they were getting into. Sometimes it’s worked well. They can get some notoriety and move into another company.”
Ross also finds himself advising people on their careers. Sometimes he has to tell people to get out of Chicago and move to New York, Los Angeles, or London. “I’ve sent many people away,” he says. “I can’t lie to people.
“I had a couple of years ago a kid who was an absolutely unbelievable modern dancer, and he did everything that could be done here including forming his own dance company, and he couldn’t make a living. He would ask me if he could do odd jobs around my house. So I bought him a one-way ticket to LA.”
We walk from Ross’s office down the block to the Como Inn to look for a cab to take us to lunch. The valet, thinking we’ve just eaten, offers to take us downtown in a courtesy van. The valet helps the burly Ross up into the van and we head east, Ross talking all the way.
He tells how the Eagles got the attention of their record company by playing their music on a tape recorder in a bathroom where an important record exec was sitting. Then there was the time when Don Rickles met Frank Sinatra.
“You see,” Ross says, as if he’s a guest on the Tonight Show, “Rickles was eating with his agent and he saw Sinatra go into the bathroom. So Rickles goes to the bathroom and he says to Sinatra, ‘Look, I’m sitting at a table with my agent. If you could just wave to me and say “Hi Don” to me when you come out of the bathroom, you could make a young guy’s career.’
“So Sinatra comes out of the bathroom and he doesn’t wave–he slaps Rickles on the back and says, ‘How ya doin’, Don?’ and Rickles turns to him and says, ‘Frank, how many times have I told you not to interrupt me when I’m eating.'” Ross laughs broadly at the joke as if it were his own. “Sinatra’s a powerful guy,” he says. “If he likes you and you compliment him on his watch, he’ll take it off of his wrist and give it to you.”
Jay B. Ross has never met Sinatra, but he says he can anytime he wants to because he’s buddies with Tom Dreesen, who opens for Sinatra. His biggest thrill, he says, was meeting Sammy Davis Jr. “I’d seen him when I was a kid, and 20 years later here I was talking to him on the phone about my idea for a comedy hall of fame.
“It’s fun,” Ross says, the summer breeze sending his hair all over his scalp. “I mean, one time I was sitting at the Improv with Tom Dreesen, and Rodney Dangerfield sits down next to me and starts engaging me in conversation. And then Jay Leno sits down and he’s trying to talk Rodney into coming on the Tonight Show and Rodney doesn’t want to go on and Jay brings me into the conversation saying, ‘Don’t you think he should be on the Tonight Show?’ Here is Jay Ross from Chicago involved in this big-time conversation. It’s fun. I don’t know if anybody could say that that isn’t fun.
“Representing legends like Willie and Muddy is fun, but the more you get to know people, the more you realize that they’re just human beings. It’s nice to represent Willie and realize he is a legend and wrote all these great songs. But when you find out he’s also a warm wonderful person who’s really out to help his fellow man, that’s exciting.”
We get out of the courtesy van, and Ross slips the driver a bill. We walk into Bice and the hostess gives us one of those “From what hole did you slither?” looks and tells us to wait at the bar while they get our table ready. We are here to meet a young music promoter and protege of Ross’s named Scott, who wants to introduce Ross to Dougie Thompson, a big shot in the music-publishing business who was the bassist in Supertramp.
Thompson is wearing what looks like an Italian designer shirt, top button buttoned, and Scott is wearing an immaculate copper T-shirt that sets off his Jesus-length curly red hair. Ross is still dressed in his rumpled blue suit. “I dress conservatively because I have a flamboyant personality,” he explains.
No specific business is discussed at first. Ross isn’t eating much, he’s trying to watch his weight, so he’s doing most of the talking. “How did you meet?” Thompson asks Scott and Ross.
“I’ll tell ya,” Ross says, “I took him to LA to teach him to shop a record. His father owns the hardware store right next to my office. So, that’s how we met. Hey Scott, do your folks know Theodore Bikel is in town? You should take your parents to see him. They would absolutely love it.”
“Who’s that?” Scott asks.
“You don’t know who Theodore Bikel is?” he asks incredulously. “Your parents never told you about Theodore Bikel? Ask your parents; they’ll know.”
All three periodically wave across the restaurant at people they know. Everybody knows somebody here. A woman comes up to Scott. She recognizes him from a party. “She recognizes the hair,” Ross cracks. Another woman greets Ross with a kiss on the cheek. “I represented her in a divorce case,” he says. “I don’t do divorce cases anymore. They turned me off of marriage.” Ross himself has never married.
“I was out in LA last week,” Thompson says.
“You spend a lot of time out there?” Ross asks.
“Sure, I get to New York and LA once a month. You?”
“I try to get there as much as I can,” Ross says. “I’ll probably be spending a lot more time out there soon. I signed on to manage this hot new white rap group.”
“They’re called 4 PM.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard of them.”
“Really? We’re supposed to be keeping it quiet. Where did you hear of them?”
“On the coast last week.”
They talk about a new TV show that Ross is trying to book acts for. He says it will be to Star Search what Arsenio Hall is to Johnny Carson.
“I’ve got this one kid,” Ross says. “You should see the list of people who want to work with him. I tell you, he’s the next Quincy Jones out of Chicago. They have this contract. It’s criminal what they’re making him agree to. First of all, they’re making him split everything 50-50,” Ross says.
“Fifty-fifty?” Thompson asks with a chuckle. “These days, everything should be 75-25. That’s quite antiquated.”
“Well, that’s what they’re making him agree to.”
“Because he’s broke.”
“I’d like to have a look at that contract,” Thompson says. “I think it might be rather amusing.”
“Sure, I’d like you to have a look at it.”
“If this guy’s as good as you say he is, then why don’t you get me a tape? I have someone coming from LA this Friday, so maybe we could work something out if we like him.”
“Sure,” Ross says. “Man, would I love to spit in those people’s eye. I’ll send a tape around.”
As we leave, Ross turns to me. “Won’t make a penny of a difference to me, but I’d hate to see that kid get taken advantage of. I’ll probably wind up losing my finder’s fee.”
Back at the office Ross picks up the phone. “Hey kid, guess what? I think I might have a deal for you.” He cups his hand over the phone. “So talented,” he says. “So broke.”
Bam! Bam! Bam! The knocks on the door sound like rifle reports and in stomps Farley “Jackmaster” Funk. It says so on his T-shirt. He’s wearing shades and a lot of rings. Farley, a Chicago house legend, is producing 4 PM and has written all their music. He’s also been acting as the group’s unofficial chaperone.
“4 PM is coming right over,” Farley says. “I want you to take a look over the deal.”
He leaves, and Ross turns to his computer. “I’m the fastest typist in this place,” he says.
“Once they sign the contract, I’ll be happy,” he says as he types. “Because once they get in LA, we’re going to try and hide them, but every sleazebag from under a rock is going to try and steal them away from me.”
Ross finishes his typing and in walk three of the Four Pale Males, good-looking moppets of about 18 or 19. They wouldn’t look out of place on the corner of Clark and Belmont with skateboards under their arms.
“Do you remember when we first came in here?” one asks. “He made us wait outside for like an hour.” Not anymore.
Ross’s paralegal asks them if he can get them food or pop from across the street. Ross checks that they are OK for money. If these kids are going to be famous, they’re also going to be responsible for the fame of Jay B. Ross and Associates, and they’re treated with appropriate reverence. The kids don’t treat the adults with much reverence in return. One of them is sticking pieces of Scotch tape all over Ross’s desk and another is playing with a big seashell ashtray. There is a little tension in the air, and the kids look worried.
They’re worried because they’ve heard that another white rap group, called Outlaw Posse, might make it out to record stores before they do.
“I wouldn’t worry about that,” Ross says. “Do you know who was the first British group to make it in America?”
“The Beatles,” one of them says.
“No, it wasn’t the Beatles; it was the Dave Clark Five.”
“Who?” they ask.
“You see?” Ross says. “It doesn’t matter if you’re first or second or third. It matters if you’re the best.”
“Yeah, well we’re going to be the best,” one of them says. “You know how our future’s goin’?” He points to the sky with his two fingers. “Up, up.”
Farley busts in and skin is slapped all around.
“I don’t like this revision you made in the contract,” Ross says.
“The one that says I’m their exclusive manager and nobody else’s.”
“Well, first of all, I’m already Gene Chandler’s manager, so I can’t just tell him I have to drop him. That’s not very fair. Plus, what if we want to sign an opening act? We want to be responsible for them too.”
“All right,” Farley says, drawing a finger across his neck. “Cut it. Cut it.” He exits again.
“I’ve been thinking,” one member of the group says. “I think we should forget about having that girl singer in our group.” Apparently, a woman had been enlisted to sing background behind the boys’ raps.
“Well, can any of you sing?” Ross asks.
“I don’t know; I’ve never tried,” another says.
“All right, I’ll tell you what. I’ll sign you up for singing lessons.” He reaches for his dog-eared phone book. “Here’s a number of a lady who can teach anybody how to sing. She taught Natalie Cole to sing. She told me she could teach even me how to sing, so she’s great. When do you want to go? Weekends? Saturdays?”
He dials the number. “Hello? This is Jay B. Ross. I was wondering if you could do me a favor. I’ve got a white rap group in my office and they’d like to learn how to sing too. There’s no money in it now, but they’re going to be big so there’ll be money in it later.” He closes the deal with the singing teacher and turns to the boys. “You should appreciate what I’m doing for you,” he says. “And another thing, when you get in there, don’t call her by her first name. She’s ‘Mrs.'” Since it seems unlikely that the boys will learn to sing overnight, Ross is planning to change 4 PM to 5 PM by bringing in a professional singer.
“Now, we won’t be getting money for at least a month,” Ross tells his group. “So we’re going to have to sit tight. And even when we do, we’re going to put you on allowances. We won’t get the big fancy cars yet. We’ll get you a nice sensible car. And, the first thing we’re going to get is a place to live. We’ll start looking around for a house.”
“Where at?” one asks.
“Somewhere in the city.”
“I hate Chicago,” one says.
“Well, you’re not going to be here much. You’re going to be out on the road. Besides, it’s going to be a lot different from the way it is now. I mean, you know Chicago one way, but if you’re living on the top floor of the Hancock building, you might like it a lot better. Besides, I don’t want you guys living in LA. There are too many sleazebags out there. And, living in Chicago makes you different from everybody else.”
“Yeah,” one says. “That gives us a gimmick.”
“I can’t let them live in Los Angeles at first,” Ross says. “The music scene in LA is very sick. There are suicides and overdoses and everything else. Those kids will be exposed to that, and I’m not a parent but they’re very impressionable. They have a chance to make it out of Chicago, so why take the risk of putting them into a situation where there’ll be beautiful girls who will seduce them into that culture? Here, they’re much less likely to get involved in that.
“You’re gonna hear a lot more about those kids,” Ross says after they have signed the contract and left. “I go out a lot and I listen to a lot and I know that history has a way of repeating itself. Thirty years ago, Pat Boone started singing Little Richard and Elvis started singing Big Mama Thornton and the same thing’s going to start happening with these kids. The rap is already speaking to the white kids, and they’re going to continue that. And they’re going to be a big thing out of Chicago, and that’s going to be special.”
And if this rockets Jay B. Ross to national prominence? Says Ross, “If the opportunity presents itself, I’m willing to become a star.”
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Loren Santow.