A piece of rock & roll history began a half-century ago at YSU

Anyone who grew up in the Pittsburgh area in the ’70s, ’80s or ’90s and listened to rock ’n’ roll has the phrase “A DiCesare- Engler production” permanently burned into their psyche.

It certainly has been burned into mine.

The concert-promotion company ruled the Steel City, and its ads were ubiquitous on rock-radio monster WDVE-102.5 FM. Each concert radio spot ended with that familiar tagline.

DiCesare-Engler brought every major concert to Pittsburgh for the better part of three decades, selling millions of tickets to the old Civic Arena, the Syria Mosque, the Stanley Theater and I.C. Light Amphitheater.

The arena was razed this year, the Syria Mosque in 1991. The Stanley has long since been transformed into elegant Benedum Center, a theater venue. The amphitheater closed last year.

And DiCesare-Engler Productions also exists only in history. The company was sold in 1998 and soon wound up as just another part of national entertainment juggernaut Live Nation.

But it was a glorious run.

And it all began in Youngstown exactly 50 years ago.

Pat DiCesare, of Trafford, Pa., was a student at Youngstown State University in the early 1960s. Disgruntled over the fact that students got only YSU football and basketball tickets for their $35 activity fee, he went to the administration and asked if he could offer a pop concert as another option.

To his surprise, they said yes. DiCesare booked The Four Freshman at Stambaugh Auditorium on May 8, 1962. He paid the band $1,500 and wound up losing $900 that night. But he caught the promotion bug from the experience and never looked back.

DiCesare’s career highlights are too numerous to count, but the biggest has to be booking The Beatles at the Civic Arena in 1964. It was the only performance by the Fab Four in Pittsburgh.

DiCesare partnered with Rich Engler in 1973 to form DiCesare-Engler Productions. The company made Pittsburgh a must-play city for bands.

DiCesare left the promotion business after the 1998 sale of his company. He still lives in western Pennsylvania and has become something of a professor emeritus of rock history, frequently called upon by music writers and industry insiders.

It’s easy to see why. In a phone conversation, he reeled off an insightful overview of rock history.

DiCesare started early in the music biz, promoting records to radio stations, jukebox operators and stores. He also produced Bobby Vinton’s first record.

Back then, records were the main source of music revenue.

Then came the 1960s, the Beatles and edgier music that spoke to a new generation.

In the ’50s, live music was the bastion of nightclubs that held maybe 700 to 1,000 people.

But because rock ’n’ roll touched a nerve like never before, it suddenly was possible to sell thousands of tickets to a show. The visionary DiCesare saw it coming and led the charge.

The Civic Arena was built in 1961 with 13,000 seats. It also presented DiCesare with the driver’s seat in the new world of massive concerts.

“They said it was too big, but people came,” said DiCesare. “I sold so many tickets that I could afford to pay artists much more money.”

The big rock show became the demise of the nightclub. And they were more than just concerts. They were a happening, a new type of festival, and the throngs were part of the fun.

In 1972, DiCesare booked the first show at old Three Rivers Stadium: Alice Cooper, Uriah Heep and Humble Pie.

“The Pirates were vehemently opposed to it,” said DiCesare. “They didn’t want me to drive anything into the ground.”

A roof had to be constructed over the stage, in case of rain. “I never thought it would rain,” recalled DiCesare. “But it started raining two days before the show and never stopped.”

It was Hurricane Agnes. The rivers spilled their banks, and flood waters covered the stadium’s infield and submerged the power room. DiCesare was undeterred.He postponed the show until July 11 and sold out the stadium.

DiCesare — who likely is the only promoter to have booked The Beatles, Paul McCartney and George Harrison in separate concerts — would go on to do many concerts at Three Rivers, including a 1985 Bruce Springsteen concert that drew 60,000.

As the dean of the Pittsburgh concert industry, DiCesare has collected a million backstage tales. He’ll share some of those memories in a book he’s writing, “Hard Days, Hard Nights,” which will be released later this year.

Who made THE greatest CLEVELAND POP album?

The Cleveland scene has produced an impressive list of great bands.

There are the hipsters, such as The Pretenders, Nine Inch Nails, Devo, Pere Ubu and, now, The Black Keys. Pop geniuses such as Eric Carmen and Raspberries. Metal heads Mushroomhead. Heartland rockers Michael Stanley Band and the James Gang. R&B acts The O’Jays and Gerald Levert. Hip-hoppers Kid Cudi and Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony.

Throw in Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Robert Lockwood Jr., Meatloaf and Tracy Chapman.

So who made the greatest album with Cleveland roots?

In its April edition, Cleveland Magazine answers that question with its list of the 25 Ultimate Cleveland Albums.

Topping the list — surprisingly — is the Dead Boys’ gritty 1977 debut “Young Loud and Snotty.”

The punk-rock band was led by the late Stiv Bators, who hailed from Youngstown.

Youngstown’s Glass Harp also made the list, finishing in 15th place for its self-titled 1970 album.

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