Bob Barnett is a frequent guest and co-host of the 6:05 Superpodcast, known for his love of lucha libre, John Tolos, and his frequent stories about his relationship wading through the absurd misadventures and stories of the former "wrestling dentist" Dr. Mike Lano. Bob was a preeminent figure in tape-trading in the '80's and 90's, known for his massive Lucha Libre and Japanese (All Japan Women, All Japan) supercuts.
Episode 28 - Transcript (Interview)
Joining us today here on the show is a long-time friend of mine – a longtime friend of Bix’s - , legendary tape trader and scenester – I guess I can say (laughing) – around professional wrestling, maybe best known as the American president of the Dump Matsumoto Fan Club: Bob Barnett. Bob, how are you today?
Bob: I’m just wonderful… I just ate a great pizza from a new place – just fabulous.
(laughing) That’s exactly what our listeners wanna hear!
Let me ask you this before we get going on other things: you were actually one of the people who got me really into Dump Matsumoto and Chigusa Nagayo and that era of All Japan Women. When did you first start watching that stuff and what was your first impression of it?
Bob: I started watching it in the early 90's – it was just before I met Vampiro, and I had an early big screen. When I saw some of these women on a big screen, I’m just like “What is going on here?” I was sorta just getting back into wrestling in the early 90's – I’d been out of it for about 15 years after the L.A. scene just, you know, went in the doghouse. I just never saw anything like it; hadn’t a clue. Then, when Meltzer started writing for The National, that really got me into it again, because I’d never heard of a guy writing about wrestling like that and also giving these hints, and then I realized I was living right down the street from 4 Japanese video stores, so, you know, I just charged right into it.
Yeah, that was one of the things I guess you were best known for in the 90's when it came to tape trading and tape selling was your Japanese wrestling compilations, and you had great quality and I guess now we know exactly where you were getting it: you had all these video stores right there. If I remember right, your big thing was besides loving old All Japan Women, you were a big All Japan guy – more than New Japan, you were into All Japan. Is that correct?
Bob: Yeah. I couldn’t believe that stuff when I started seeing it – I mean, the way they were killing each other; it was just crazy. I hadn’t seen Hansen in years. I think I’d gone to an AWA show in the 80's that came to the Olympic Auditorium and, you know, he did the yelling and screaming and killed a few guys, but I had no idea what he was doing in Japan. Then, to see Tsuruta – it took me a while to get into Tsuruta because all my friends that were already into Japanese wrestling said “You gotta see Tsuruta” and I didn’t get it for a while, and then I started to get it and you couldn’t take your eyes off the guy. I mean, he knew how to control the ring, and then there’s always other guys like Kawata and Kobashi, and even the jobbers like Kikuchi who took the WORST bumps; they just got the shit beat out of ‘em a hundred times a match. I don’t know how they can eat food anymore, but, there was just so much great stuff – then Misawa: I bumped into Misawa in Pennsylvania in the early 90's at a show and then I met him at Goodhart’s last show. He just had this charisma about him – I just thought “these guys are too much.”
Well, let’s take a step back before we get to all that – I definitely want to talk to you about a story I remember you having about being around Goodhart shows – but what are your earliest memories of wrestling and what were the angles or matches or feuds or wrestlers that first got you interested in it?
Bob: I started watching it in ’59, because in New York on Tuesday nights was Sunnyside Gardens, Wednesday was Bridgeport, CT; Thursday was Washington, D.C.; and then Saturday night was from Boston – that was the studio show with Sam Menacker and June Byers was on every show, ‘cause he was married to her then, and that’s where I saw Killer Kowalski and Don Leo Jonathan, and I can’t remember too many other guys on that show, but I loved the look of the show because you’re right on top of these guys. I’d never seen wrestling like that – plus, the New York shows were all job matches, but you’d wait to see the great guy: you didn’t care if he killed the guy but you wanted to see the stars you kept hearing about. You know, I was lucky enough to get great tickets for great shows when I was a little kid. Boy, you get into it; you just get into it.
I remember that one picture you used to have of – and I’m sure you probably still have it – but you and Bowzer from Sha Na Na as children at, was it Sunnyside?
Bob: Uh, that was probably at Island Gardens. We went to Sunnyside a little bit – my mom would take me to Sunnyside. I went to Island Gardens with him and his dad. Bowzer was my best friend in elementary and junior high school – a major wrestling fan. His father would just take us – his father was just the greatest guy, and my dad’s law office partner was the head of the New York State Athletic Commission, so Vince Sr. would come in in there probably every week and make the pay-offs, dump a bunch of tickets – nobody wanted the tickets, so I always got ‘em. They told me I couldn’t go to Madison Square Garden unless I went in to a certain door because there was a 14 year old age limit then. So we’d go to a certain door, the guy would give a wink at us, we’d get in, and we were the only kids in the whole place. God – it was just crazy, because that was Rocca and Perez and the Grahams and early Bruno. Your head would spin coming out of a place like that, and plus, it was always packed. I can’t remember a show I went in to that the place wasn’t packed. The old garden would hold, I think it was 19,000, and you were on top of each other and it was just loud; just so loud. It was so great.
So the ban of 14 year olds happens in November of ’57 – that famous riot that took place at the Garden when it was Rocca and Carpentier against Dick the Bruiser and Dr. Jerry Graham, who was filling in for Killer Kowalski that night. So it’s a few years later, and at this point when you start going to shows there, what was it like seeing Rocca and how into him – how crazy was the crowd for Rocca? And also, what were the Graham Brothers like live?
Bob: Yeah, well, Rocca was SO over, you know. He was the first big ethnic hero in New York wrestling. He would be on the front page of the New York Daily News or The Post or the Telegram just walking down the street smoking a cigar – he was THAT mainstream at the time. When he – you know, he’s always main event, and when he’d come out, the place would just go berserk. Plus, his partner was Miguel Perez from Puerto Rico, and so that pretty much covered the whole thing. A lot of people I think thought Rocca was Italian, so he had everybody: he had all the minorities. You couldn’t go into the ring with him and not get heat – I mean, he was really great for a kid. I mean now, when you look at his matches, they’re pretty staged, but he got height and he knew how to do head scissors; that was pretty cool stuff back in ’69-60-61. That was pretty great, but yeah: I was way more into the Grahams. I mean, Dr. Jerry – he and Johnny Valentine as heels were god. They were just so amazing – we’d sit – sometimes we’d sit front row at Island Gardens and I remember a couple of times when I saw the Grahams against Curtis and Lewin, and I was a big Curtis and Lewin fan and I thought they were gonna die. I mean, even though (laughing) I sorta knew what was going on, I just thought they were gonna die. I mean, Jerry would come off the top rope with his knee; there’d be so much blood. Lewin and Curtis just sold like they were on their way to the mortuary; it was just really good stuff. Even if you knew what was going on, you still believed because these guys were all about getting heat and selling, you know. There weren’t many high spots back then, and then in the semi most nights at Island Gardens was Johnny Valentine. He was just a spectacular heel – he didn’t have to do anything but give you that look. He just looked like a dead man, and he was real scary. I don’t remember the guys he wrestled – he would just kill him. He’d give them the elbow and they’d bleed all over the place, he’d kill ‘em, and he’d just stare at everybody in the front rows – “OK. I’d buy it.” It was really good stuff, but the best guy was the first match I ever saw live in my life was The Sheik. We were sitting in the front row of the bleachers – about halfway back of the arena – and this guy comes walking down the aisle and they announce him as Abe Jacobs “the Jewish Champion” and I remembered seeing him on TV – he was like Arnold Skaaland; he was nothing at the time. He gets about halfway down the aisle right in front of us. All of a sudden, this guy jumps him with a pencil and starts stabbing him in the head – it’s the first match! He didn’t even get to the ring, he’s bleeding like a pig all over the floor right in front of us, and then the guy that’s stabbing the hell out of him runs into the ring and starts doing a prayer ceremony and that was The Sheik. They stretchered out Jacobs right out of the aisle, and all The Sheik (laughing) – the prayer ceremony, and of course, the crowd was almost all Jewish, and I just thought “How do you beat this stuff?”
(Was Sheik all pencil and shtick at this point, because I know in the 50’s he was still doing some more, like, straight wrestling, so to speak. Had he completely-)
Bob: He didn’t wrestle very much in New York – that’s why I was really shocked. I’d heard about him – I got that dollar book that had all the wrestlers from all over the country: most of them you’d just dream about seeing. But, I had no idea, you know, how these guys that didn’t come to New York how they wrestled and what was their shtick. All I did was see him that night just beat the hell out of the guy and that was it. It was just like Mark Madden – I mean, The Sheik was the guy he just believed in; totally. I didn’t see him about for about 13 years until I saw him in Honolulu, but even though by then I was completely smartened up, he was still the guy who could scare the hell out of you no matter how smart you were.
(Who was scarier: him or Valentine?)
Bob: Well, Valentine was scarier to me because I would sit close when Valentine was at Island Gardens and Valentine could give you that stare. Valentine didn’t have to do anything – you’re just scared because he was near you. Once he started beating the hell out of a guy - that got really scary. But with The Sheik, you knew as a 12 year old, I didn’t know how to take the guy just stabbing a guy in the head (laughing) and the crowd going berserk. I didn’t even put two-and-two together realizing he was doing it for a Jewish crowd to a Jewish wrestler, and then doing a Muslin prayer ceremony in the ring. I mean, I just thought “What a show” – you realize later he didn’t have to do anything. I mean, he just picked the right crowd and did what he did.
(With Valentine, since there’s so little tape of him, who would be the best comparison for him of someone that there is a lot of tape on? Because I know Greg, at least, has a similar – to the best of my knowledge – has a similar, in terms of moves and the strikes he’d do was similar, but as far as I know, he didn’t have his Dad’s aura. So, who’d be the closest that me and Brian would have seen tape of to Johnny Valentine?)
Bob: God. I don’t know anybody that was like him, because he was real tall and he wasn’t real graceful, and he just never lost the look on his face. I really can’t think anybody that was like him except maybe Kowalski because Kowalski was great with the look. I mean, when he had his real hair and he was killing guys – mostly on tapes and especially in Boston, the wrestling from Boston – he was another guy that just kept that ‘look’, you know? You just weren’t going to break him in; you had to hate him or you had to be scared of him. He only really had one hold, and that was – Valentine was pretty much all the Elbow, but Johnny was a lot taller than Greg, and he’s a lot thinner so he looked even taller. So, when he hit guys with the elbow, it looked like he was coming down from 7 or 8 feet. I can’t think of any other guys who could compare to him – I can’t say anybody is really quite like him.
Certainly, like you said, Killer Kowalski was quite scary – at least until he got his wig, and then it kinda took the fear factor away. (laughing)
Bob: Yeah, and when I met him at Lano’s show and he had the full blown wig on him, I was just like “Oh, my hero…what happened?” (laughing) Man, once a guy goes through a toupee, all bets are off.
You know, you talk about the Grahams, you talk about Valentine – I remember years ago I got from you a tape – and I wanna say you got it from Bobby Davis, the famous manager of Buddy Rogers who had it on Kinescope – and that was one of the very few existing films around of both the Grahams and Valentine. I think it’s Valentine’s debut interview for New York!
Bob: I think it was Ray Morgan that did both the interviews that night, and he interviewed Lewin and Curtis who had just come in. I hadn’t even seen them yet, and Lewin and Curtis were acting real heelish. It was odd when I saw it, because when I was in New York, they were just giant faces. I mean, just gigantic – Lewin was Jewish, and they were clean-cut. They took a beating and you couldn’t get a bigger face than those guys, but on the interview with Ray Morgan, Lewin is still doing heel; he hasn’t figured out how to go completely face yet. That’s a great, great, tape – I mean, there’s some great Bobby Davis stuff. You think about all the guys that did the strut in Memphis: Davis was doing it in the late 50’s.
Yeah. You know, you mentioned Bruno – Bruno obviously gets the championship a couple years later, a few years later, but he first comes into New York in ’59, I wanna say-
How did the crowds take to him at first, because you did still have Rocca on top and Rocca was THE attraction – the ethnic attraction as you said – for years.
Bob: I don’t remember Bruno being on TV and I remember being at Madison Square Garden one night, and this guy comes out and he was the widest human being I’ve ever seen in my life. Even from upstairs, this guy – he looked like The Road Warriors from the first time I saw him. He was just SO wide, and he gets in the ring and the place is going berserk and I had no idea what was going on until they said his name and it was ‘Oh yeah – he’s Italian.’ He squashed some guy; probably put him in a bear hug. I don’t know – I never thought he was a great wrestler or anything but as soon as he came out, he was probably in the 3rd match, and he was over; the place was going berserk. I hadn’t a clue who he was – if you didn’t see the guys on TV, you just didn’t know who they were. If you hadn’t that Dollar Book, you’d never have heard about them.
You mentioned that your father – and correct me if I’m wrong – your father shared an office with the head of the New York State Athletic Commission?
Bob: Yeah, and they loved Vince – they loved Vince because at that time, Boxing was completely fixed and Boxing wasn’t drawing because there weren’t a lot of knockout guys, so the boxing promoters depended on Vince and the East Coast wrestling guys to keep the arenas open so they could fix the Boxing matches. So, Vince was a real necessary and a real popular guy. He made pretty good payoffs to the Boxing / Wrestling commission because he drew! The Garden was just, you know, huge; I don’t know other arenas in the country at that time that were drawing full houses and that kind of money.
At that time, Vince was partners with Toots Mondt, and also Jack Pfeffer was involved with New York wrestling still at that time – at that late time – did you hear any stories about them, you know, being involved?
Bob: My dad would not talk (laughing) about Boxing. I think he knew that, you know, what was going on. That was before – I think that was just after the Commission when Jake LaMotta admitted to fixing a fight. Things were pretty nasty and he tried to stay out of it, so I never knew really about those other guys. I just knew that they really liked Vince Sr. when he showed up at the office. I was there one day when he showed up and he showed up with his son, and all we talked about was dropping Cherry Bombs in toilets and Dr. Jerry driving around New York – I think it was in a Pink Cadillac convertible. So, we were sorta, you know: we were ok for about the 10 minutes we were talking. We definitely had a commonality – we were the same age and everything. I loved Cherry Bombs in toilets, so we got along fine.
(laughing) And they say that Vince McMahon Jr’s favorite wrestler was Dr. Jerry Graham: he bleached his hair, he used to drive around in his convertible with him!
Bob: Jerry used to drive him around. I didn’t know he drove him around, but he told me about the car. Yeah, he thought Jerry was just the shit – I mean, Jerry was a smart aleck, and you’re having Kurt on or you had Kurt on about Jerry-
Soon. He’ll be on soon.
Bob: Kurt met Jerry later on in life: I mean by that point, Jerry couldn’t move. But, Jerry was such a character. He’d say stuff when he was in the ring – you’d hear him drop smartass remarks if you were sitting ringside, you know, he’d drop little nasty jokes all over the place. He was something else.
So here you are, you grow up watching wrestling in New York and there’s a lot of wrestling on TV as you said: there’s wrestling coming in-
Bob: 4 nights a week.
4 nights a week and it was coming in from 3 different towns in the area, and then of course, out of Boston as well-
Bob: Plus down the Washington show, they advertised 6-8 man matches that would never occur in New York. I used to just slobber over when they’d give you the big Washington shows coming up because we were never going to see stuff like that.
So, when did you first move to California, and what kind of transition was that for you as a wrestling fan? Did you right away find wrestling from the Olympic Auditorium?
Bob: No. (laughing) We moved in the summer of ’61 when Mantle and Maris were going at it, and to complicate matters, we had front row seats behind the Yankee dugout and my dad takes us out of New York; all while this is going on. I just wanted to kill him; I just wanted to run away. I mean, that was ABSOLUTE child abuse: to have to leave New York while Mantle and Maris were going crazy. That was the best summer in New York, and I get to L.A. and I remember: McMahon never had Mexicans on his shows. I don’t know if the Torres brothers had ever wrestled in the Northeast. I can’t remember any Latinos except Rocca and Perez wrestling, so when I got to L.A. and all I read about was ‘Torres, Torres, Torres, Torres’ – it just didn’t hit me. At the time, I didn’t read about the big stars coming in, so I didn’t get real interested. I didn’t get back into it until Tolos/Blassie back in – what was it, ’68-69, after I was getting out of college – ’70. Once I saw Tolos, that sucked me right back in.
What was it? What was it about Tolos and that feud with Blassie that got you so interested?
Bob: I remembered Tolos from New York – he was on New York TV a lot.
With his brother.
Bob: With his brother, and I liked him because they were just cavemen. I mean, they didn’t do anything except get a guy in the corner and beat the hell out of him. They would do it for 45 minutes: sometimes there’d be 2 or 3 commercial breaks. They’d still just have the guy in the corner beating the hell out of him (laughing). He did nothing – he did absolutely nothing and the place would go crazy! So, I always loved him because they walked like cavemen and they acted like cavemen. You know, all of a sudden, here he is again! I thought “Jeez – 6 years later, what the hell’s he doing?” and I start watching on TV and his interviews are just pure caveman; he was so great. He got his point across real quick, he would make Dick Lane go berserk – and Dick Lane was half the show – because you had to get Dick Lane to react. So, you know, the interviews were just great, and then there was Blassie and then there was the Monsel’s Powder and all that crap that was going on. I always thought L.A. had a real thin core of wrestlers – I hated the jobbers: Tony Rocco and Raul Mata and Jose Lothario. I just thought those guys just blew chunks, but you get to the semis and they had Gordman & Goliath and Shibuya & Saito. Gordman and Goliath was as good as any tag team I’ve ever seen in my life, and then on top, you got Tolos pulling sneak attacks on Blassie all the time, Don Carson would come in, and Mascaras – who I never really liked – but Tolos just kept the heat for so long. Plus, Tolos (laughing) lived right near me in Santa Monica. I would go into the Vaughn’s market sometimes and I’d go to the meat section, and there would be Tolos buying tons of meat, getting the fat trimmed all off – I would just be star struck (laughing). I mean, I just watched Tolos ordering meat. I mean, here’s my hero and he’s ordering meat! I mean, how great is that? Then, I lived on the beach and he’d run by my house every morning: he and Jack Armstrong and a couple other wrestlers, but Tolos by himself every morning would run 5 or 10 miles. Tolos was in the best shape of probably any wrestler ever, so he was just part of my life. Plus, then one night (laughing) we were driving home from the Olympic and we were pretty stoned, and another great night, and (laughing) we pull off alongside a car on the freeway and we see Red Shoes Dugan driving the car and we look a little further and Tolos was sitting shotgun and that just totally blew kayfabe. I mean, (laughing) be on the Santa Monica freeway at 11:30 at night and here’s the face ref driving the big heel home. It’s just – and in fact, that was the same night we saw the Popemobile on the freeway too, so that was a very, very, good night.
Which was a bigger highlight: the Popemobile, or Tolos and the babyface ref? (laughing)
Bob: Tolos and Red Shoes just blew me away: you’re not supposed to see that stuff back then! I mean (laughing), but, you know, Red Shoes lived there and Jimmy Lennon lived there too. I’d have loved to see Jimmy Lennon driving with Tolos.
I’m curious to know what the Olympic was like. Here you are – you grow up in New York as a child and you go to wrestling shows there, and now, you know, you’re at the age where society’s changing. Like you said, you were stoned, there were drugs in the picture – what was it like at that time in your life to go to the Olympic Auditorium? What was the scene like there, who were you hanging out with? Was it a party at those shows? What was going on?
Bob: Yeah. Well, the Mexicans made it a party – that place was nuts. Out of 10,000 people in the building, 8,000 would be really drunk Mexicans. If you’re cool with them, everything was cool – plus, I knew the guys in the Ticket Office from early on, and so I always got front row balcony: the close side hanging over the ring, which I always thought was the best seat in the world for any sporting event. You know, you’d come in wasted (laughing), you’d see 8,000 people wasted, and everybody’s having a good time and there’s Mexican food trucks up and down the street. I could get home in 15 minutes from the Olympic – there was a freeway right there – and it was just perfect! It was just the greatest way to spend the night, and I was lucky. I had a girlfriend at the time who really got into Tolos (laughing) and she was really hot – she was a redhead, and she had this friend who was really hot – who was a blonde – and I took them to the Olympic the night that Tolos came out with the snake, and he had the dog collar on. That night, it was especially berserk – I think they’d sold out a closed-circuit down the street too. But, my girlfriend told me she had at least 8 or 10 hands up her ass before she got to her seat – the crowd was just nuts! Then, the blonde girl – who I’m still friends with – she thought it was one of the most memorable nights of her life; she couldn’t stop looking around. She’s sort of an artist, and you were just in awe – the crowd was so crazy. Such a good time, all the bathrooms were overflowing by 7:30, the food was horrible inside: it just all made sense coming together like that. Plus, the building was – I think I was built in ’22; not sure. I think they originally built it for the ’32 Olympics but they starting planning it in ’22, so it just had this great quality about it, and the balconies all were at a really steep angle looking downstairs. So you had this amazing unblocked view, and man – what a place. I mean, I went there for at least probably 10 years; I went to almost every major boxing match and I had those same seats. There was nothing like it – it got to the point where we were taking 20-30 people, because people would sit in that front row at the Olympic and just go ‘Whoa – I gotta come back.’ In fact, that’s where I used to go with Richard Meltzer; the writer.
The famous rock writer? He wrote a lot of songs for the Blue Oyster Cult?
Bob: Yeah, and Dictators. He was a monstrous boxing fan – he was a big wrestling fan too, but he started getting out of it, but while he was still in L.A. – later on he got cancer – while he was still healthy, he loved the fights. We’d all go down there probably every other Friday and sit in those seats. (laughing) What was crazy about Meltzer, besides him just being really acerbic and nasty about shit, he was at ringside when Emil Griffith killed Benny Paret at Madison Square Garden.
Bob: And he still had his shirt with Paret’s blood on it.
Bob: (laughing) Yeah! So, I mean, we went – the craziest night I’ve ever spent in a boxing/wrestling arena, I was with Meltzer, John Doe was there from X, and a bunch of other people. We’d gotten a whole ton of seats and it was Lupe Pintor against this guy from Wales – Johnny Owen. Johnny Owen looked just like Alfred E. Neuman and he was bone thin. We get there – this takes a little while – but we get there, place is packed, everybody is nuts, and we notice a big section of about 100/200 seats right by ringside that were empty when we got there. We couldn’t figure out what was going on there. Right before the show starts, all the Welsh fans come marching down the aisle wearing the Welsh flag shirts, and just come marching down the aisle like they were gonna own the place. You can’t do that in front of 8 or 10,000 Mexicans that are shitfaced, and all hell broke loose: there was more beer flying in the air. It looked like a rainstorm was moving through the arena. I mean, it was so much liquid in the air – you couldn’t even see to the other balconies. So they, you know, they all sit down – they got in a few fights – but their guys took ‘em in there and said “Don’t fight; you can’t win it.” So that’s the first great moment. Then, the craziest moment is, I think it was 10th round, Pintor was just beating up Owen – Owen had no punch – and he knocked out Owen and as soon as Owen started going down, Meltzer goes “He’s dead,” and the guy died! I mean, he just fuckin’ died in front of us (laughing) and as they carried him out of the ring – all his handlers – he wasn’t officially dead then, but, you know: he was DEAD. They all got pickpocketed by the Mexicans as they were going through the crowd with Owen on the stretcher, so when they got to the hospital, no one had credit cards or ID’s. I guess that just turned into a complete fiasco, but having Meltzer and in that place with all that going on, and then the guy drops dead and Meltzer tells me ‘He’s dead’ after copying about the Paret/Griffith fight, I was like ‘Whoa.’ You can’t go to an event that’s more intense than something like that. Then, of course, when all the Welsh fans are screaming out and they’re just sad sacks and they look like hell – they can’t believe the Mexican just let loose everything they still had in their hands. There’s still, you know, thousands of gallons of beer to be dumped on them and everything; it was just nuts. It was a nutty, nutty arena. You couldn’t beat it. I think they’re gonna open it again – supposedly, um, what’s the guy’s name-
I thought it was a church now.
Bob: It’s been a church for years. For a while, they didn’t paint it over and screw it up too much – that’s when XPW was in there; when the church still owned it. For a while, Bob Behrens tried to make a go of it – he put a million bucks into it for De La Hoya, and he didn’t know how to book Mexican fights. That went longer, then the Koreans took over, then XPW was in there for a while and there was some- there was a lot of concerts in there for years and years, and then the Koreans painted the place – I think it’s grey now – and all the signs are down. From what I understand, they couldn’t make a go of it and they couldn’t change it because it’s a landmark in L.A. They just can’t do anything to it, so from what I understand, De La Hoya’s in negotiations to get the place back and fix it up again.
Wow. That would be something. I gotta ask you – before we move forward here, on the topic of Richard Meltzer, last time you and I got together – with Ron Skoler actually with us too – we went to Manitoba’s. I took you to Manitoba’s in the Lower East Side – I guess that would be the East Village, technically – of Manhattan and we went to Dick Manitoba’s – the former lead singer of The Dictators - bar and you actually asked him, ‘cause he’d been friends with Richard Meltzer: “Hey, I haven’t heard from Richard in a while. Do you have any way I could get in touch with him?” Have you been able to reconnect with Richard Meltzer?
Bob: He – when I talked to him then, that was the last time he’d talked to Meltzer! I talked to him within the last year or so – Manitoba – and he said they stopped communicating and he doesn’t know what he’s doing. The last I heard – and I’m pretty sure it’s correct – Meltzer is living in Portland. He beat cancer and he plays the Saxophone now; he plays Jazz. I’m trying to think – Mike Watt of the Minutemen – Punk icons from L.A.-
Oh yeah. Great.
Bob: He was up there and we were visiting my girlfriend’s daughter, and they went to see Mike Watt but they didn’t have extra tickets for me, and I know Meltzer had a go that night because Meltzer is a big friend of Mike Watt’s, so I coulda hooked up with him if they’d gotten me seats, but that was the closest I’ve gotten to see Meltzer in years now.
And of course, no relation to Dave Meltzer, correct?
Bob: (laughing) Have you heard there was a story that he was his uncle or something crazy?
Yeah. There’s a story – it’s on Wikipedia – that he’s related to Richard Meltzer.
Bob: Richard was one of the most amazing Rock and Roll writers of all time, and he wrote great wrestling stories; just great wrestling stories.
So back to the Olympic at that time, a couple questions I got for you: One is, again, it’s the psychedelic era. Were there ever psychedelic drugs around at those shows, and you mentioned Mil Mascaras and he never really did it for you, but how would you compare how over Mil Mascaras was with that audience to, let’s say, Antonino Rocca was to the New York audience in ’59?
Bob: Oh, now – Rocca could inspire craziness with chaos around ringside. Mascaras was real big, but I don’t think anybody, you know, idolized him as they did Rocca. Rocca was mainstream! He wore expensive suits, walked around the city, and had his picture taken all the time. Mascaras couldn’t – (laughing) the first time I saw Mascaras and I thought he was a complete goof was when I was driving down (laughing) Hollywood boulevard and Mascaras pulls up next to me in a big black Cadillac wearing his mask. I’m like “Come on.” (laughing) Jesus Christ! You know? That was just such a goof, I thought “Aw man. The guy just believes his press too much.” He was like Santo, because I remember when we were following a van up to – I think it was San Bernardino or Fresno once – Santo and a whole group of really good wrestlers were going up there to work. It was Martin Marin’s show and we followed them up there, and every time I passed the van, Santo had his mask on. For 300 miles, he’s driving around with his mask on! I mean what the fuck was he thinking about? I mean, who would know him if he didn’t have the mask on?
(Oh wait, is that the show you shot for ‘Lucha Loonies 7’?)
Bob: There was a video of a bull with really huge balls? That was the show.
(In the middle of nowhere in San Bernardino with the floor covered in shit outside the ring-)
Bob: Yeah, aw. Just gross.
(That match though was amazing!)
Bob: There was GREAT matches! Those guys were great workers – all those guys: Silver King, and Wagner and everybody. You know, when you got to know ‘em, they were pretty funny. I mean, you couldn’t understand half of what they said, but they liked to goof around because they had to drive so much and travel so long, and Martin knew all those guys. Martin threw some pretty big shows. When he used to throw shows at the Anaheim marketplace, it was a couple of shows where he got 6-7-800 people: that’s a lot of people to jam into a parking lot!
Yeah…So I gotta ask you, Bob: you mentioned briefly earlier when we talked about The Sheik that they next time you saw him was in Honolulu. So what’s the story – how did you end up in Hawaii to see wrestling, and any adventures that weekend? Anything you have that’s memorable?
Bob: Um, I ended up in Hawaii because I was supposed to get a job as a writer for the L.A. Times, but I was too radical left. The only types of Republican paper in ’69, and that was at a school that was heavily into the Vietnam War demonstrations, so when I took my interview at the Times, they would only let me write Classified Ads because they didn’t trust me to write Music. I said “Thanks a lot, seeya later.” I screwed around for a couple years – I worked for an Auto Club and a big law office and I just decided I gotta go surfing, so I moved over to Hawaii. There was a pretty big wrestling scene there, and every Saturday I’d see really big stars on the show. I’d never seen these guys before: Rhodes and Murdoch, Funk, and AWA guys; just all sorts of guys. It was, you know – Lord Blears and Ed Francis would be the talkers, and there’s just a lot of people. I mean, Muraco was right out of high school – he went to high school with my ex-wife – he was just a big Face when he showed up. There was just a lot of talent there and the shows were loaded because guys just wanted to pick up a couple of bucks while they’re in-between the mainland and Japan, and I think I posted today on your site where the shows were so crazy that here you’d have Billy Graham against Verne in the main event, in the Semi you’d have The Sheik and Terry Funk – which wasn’t AWA at all – and then on the beach that morning, I bumped into Bruno! So I mean, everybody would be there sometimes when the tours were over in Japan and the town would just be loaded with talent. So they had really good shows, and so that night – it was during the gas crisis, I think – I had a front row seat for the main event. I didn’t know if Funk and The Sheik were gonna be on the show, and it just was a bloodbath. I mean, Sheik just came out and carved up Terry and his head was out of the ring right over me, and I was still wearing my swim trunks; I’d come right from surfing. He’d just got blood all over me – I was just covered in blood. I told him that years later that he still owed me a pair of trunks – he was just bleeding like a pig. I’d never saw a guy bleed that much in front of me; it was just crazy. Here it is, The Sheik again.
You always hear stories – did you ever run into other wrestlers on the beach?
Bob: Um, that day, I think Murdoch was on the beach, and there were a whole bunch of guys. Yeah, I just sorta tended to leave them alone. You know, I mean, if I was real close to ‘em and I was talking to ‘em, I’d talk to ‘em, but I was was always taught if you’re not in the business, don’t get involved. That was pretty much it – I pretty much stayed away from getting real tight with guys until probably Eddie Gilbert and Vampiro.
Before we leave Hawaii, a couple more things – I don’t know if Bix has something here – but let me ask you: I sign off our show each week by saying “Tally Ho!” so that, of course, makes you think of Lord James Blears. Did you ever get to run into him?
Bob: Blears was the one guy I knew – the first day I was ever surfing in Hawaii, I was in Mākaha and he was out there with a couple of people. I just sorta heard about him and he introduced himself out in the water and he was a great guy. The ultimate gentleman – he’d tell you anything you needed to know, he turned me into a guy who made my first board in Hawaii. He was sitting there when this guy came surfing in on a giant outside wave, and it was this guy named Buffalo Keaulana – one of the legends of Hawaii. He came surfing in on this wave holding a string of fish and lobsters, and I was just sitting there open mouthed, and Blears just said “He could do it on every wave if he wants to.” He just goes out there, catches fish, and surfs in. So he was a guy who really first got me acclimated to the Hawaii surf scene – just a great guy; never talked about wrestling. We just never got around to it. He told me about escaping from the Japanese troop ships – I think he escaped twice.
(If I remember correctly, it was, like, he dove off the ship and then he had to hide underwater while they were shooting at him. Something like that.)
Bob: And then I think another ship picked him or the same ship but it got lost in translation. Everybody there though had just the greatest respect for him, because there weren’t many guys who escaped from the Japs and lived to tell about it during that war.
(Was King Curtis around in Hawaii when you were living there, or was he around working other territories by that point?)
Bob: I never saw him. The only Hawaiian guy, well, besides Muraco, I’d see Sammy Steamboat a lot. I thought he was a horrible worker but he worked as a beach boy on the beach, so he was a nice guy and he would rent out – he would captain outriggers, rent it – outrigger rides. I can’t really think of any of the other guys that were there. After I left, that’s when Lars Anderson went over and I can’t remember the blonde guy – he went over to Hawaii and outed himself. The first outed gay wrestler.
Bob: Yes! Ripper. That was it. Yeah. ‘Cause Hawaii was a real safe place for gay – they didn’t care. They didn’t care in the early 70’s. I mean, there was huge parts of Honolulu that were totally gay.
So you leave Hawaii, you go back to Los Angeles, I presume?
Did you get back into the Olympic at all? I mean, because that would have been-
Bob: I started going – I had a couple of friends that were still going. The crowds had gone in the toilet – I remember there weren’t too many memorable shows. I think the last match Blassie had with Tolos, which Blassie was ancient by then – all he could do was bite Tolos’ head, and Tolos wasn’t going to hurt him because they were good friends; it was horrible. Then, the only other thing I remember at the shows, they advertised the Graham Brothers, and I didn’t know about Billy Graham yet. So we’re waiting at the door at the dressing room door and Dr. Jerry comes out and he’s just – just so gigantic. I mean, he was twice the size of when I saw him in New York, and then I see this guy come down the hallway and he took up the whole hallway. I mean, I thought Bruno was big, but this guy was Bruno’s size but, like, 6’3, 6’5. I don’t know what he was then. I just couldn’t believe the size of him. I don’t think he was famous yet – he did a few tag team matches at the Olympic and then I think he might have went to Verne or something. I don’t know – Meltzer would probably know more about that – but that was amazing: just to see Billy work one of his earliest matches. Plus, that was before Hawaii, because in Hawaii, I saw him work the match against Verne and he was a lot more accomplished. Right before I went to Hawaii, I went to the Olympic a few times and that’s when I saw – Mark Lewin was there, and I thought “Oh, that’s great.” He came out and he tried to attack all the fans and I’m like “Whoa, what happened to him?” I mean (laughing) I was expecting a Face, and he comes out and he was doing Maniac already. So, I guess he’d been battling The Sheik so he picked up all his stuff. But then afterwards when I got back – it just wasn’t as good. The only thing we’d go – the AWA came in for one show. I saw that. The NWA came in for a show but that was probably about early ‘80s, because I remember it was Flair and Baby Doll and everybody, so that’d be ’85-
Probably ‘86/’87. Yeah.
Bob: Yeah. Then every year, we would take a bus to the Battle Royale, because that’s when it’d always bring in a bunch of guys, and Andre. That was always a big deal, and I remember one night, we took a bus load of people down there and everybody on the bus had taken Quaaludes, and at the time (laughing) I was still technically married but I also had a girlfriend, and so my wife and my girlfriend were together and they were both pretty outrageous. I mean, both look real good. We were sitting in the front row, and Andre spotted ‘em and he dragged ‘em both in the ring before the match.
Bob: So that was pretty cool! (laughing) So, you know. We had a few good laughs there but that pretty much stopped – I didn’t go back there until Vampiro started wrestling for XPW, and that was just- that was just bizarre; just odd.
(You mentioned Lewin, and I wanted to ask you about him quickly before we move on a little more: Mark Lewin is a guy I’m big on for the Observer Hall of Fame, because I feel like – very big star in a lot of places over a few long period of time. As someone who saw him live in New York when he was very young and then later doing the Maniac thing, what do you think? I mean, do you think he’s a Hall of Fame level guy?)
Bob: He’s a pretty big star – I mean, he was the ultimate Face in New York. You had to be a big deal to be the ultimate Face in New York with crowds like they were getting. The Maniac thing, pre-Maniac when he was working The Sheik, I don’t know how big he was then. I don’t think The Sheik was drawing that much, but I mean, it was a whole ‘nother style of wrestling, and I thought the Maniac stuff was just hilarious. I mean, the guy definitely had a sense of humor to cross over from being a Face to having his eyes roll up in his head and taking LSD with Kevin Sullivan (laughing) and he STILL got over! I don’t think we know how big wrestling was in Australia – it was pretty god damn big – and they packed the place and their ratings were through the roof. So, it’s hard to say: he had a really long career, he didn’t suffer major injuries – which is odd because he was on the juice for a long time – and I don’t know. I mean, as far as a tag team, Lewin and Curtis should definitely be in if you know about old time New York. They were one of the mainstays when the scene was just exploding in the late 50’s/early 60’s.
So did you miss the entire Piper era in the late ‘70’s there?
Bob: No. I saw it, but I wasn’t a big Chavo fan at that time, and that was pretty much the big feud. Piper was – he was entertaining, but you had to watch the Mexicans face him and they’d do those co-language interviews – one guy would do English – and there was just nothing else on the show, so it was really hard to stay week after week. I mean, the only regular was the women with the chicken head at ringside. I mean, there just wasn’t much talent there – just a lot of junk came through. I remember I really liked Buddy Roberts and Jerry Brown. They didn’t last long – I would love Jerry Brown because he was the ugliest guy I’d ever seen wrestle. I mean, I just loved Jerry Brown.
I’ve always thought the EXACT same thing!
Bob: He was ugly and odd, and the blonde hair really made him odd. I mean, he was like the last guy in the world that should have had blonde hair, and he had that goofy look. So those guys were pretty good, and Tolos was still doing interviews once in a while – he’d come in and out – but he couldn’t go like he did. I mean, god knows how old he was by then. He’d already gone through every gimmick in the world. I mean, he’d done the New Golden Greek in the early 70’s or so, and just stuff. There was nothing left for him to do, especially the guys they were working with: too many bums coming in and out of there – Al Madril and Mata was still around, Rocco; just a lot of jobbers that lived by the beach. I guess they’d put on a credible show, but you wouldn’t pay money to see ‘em.
I’ll definitely have to post some pictures of Jerry Brown after this episode goes up so the listeners could check him out but I completely agree with you.
Bob: My only great memory of – wow, Dodgers beat the Cubs – unbelievable. 5 nothing. My only great memory of any of those guys was Tony Rocco. Years ago, I used to do 5 miles every day on the beach in Santa Monica, and Rocco would lay out in the sun like he was cooking himself for dinner. He was the darkest white man I ever saw in my life – he was ABSOLUTELY weird black. I always used to say hello to him and “How you doin?” “Your tan’s looking good,” and he looked like a freak. “Oh, thank you!” Man, from what I understand I think he’s still alive and I still think he’s tanning. Not sure – I’ve never seen anything like that, though.
(Did he ever get skin cancer?)
Bob: If he didn’t, nobody will. I can’t tell you how dark – think of the darkest tanned person you’ve ever seen, and then double it: that was Tony Rocco.
(He was the pretzel to Hulk Hogan’s hot dog.)
Bob: From head to toe, he’d just be out there all day sitting at a table in the sun for 7 hours. It was crazy.
Man. Well, you know, you’re not really attending Olympic Auditorium shows at this time or really following it closely. The next thing that I could think of that you would have been involved in or attended that was wrestling related would have been – was it the premiere of ‘Breakfast with Blassie’, the Andy Kaufman film?
Bob: Yeah. That was, ugh. Man. That was a bizarre, bizarre night. We were sitting right behind Kaufman and we couldn’t figure out why he was so thin. You know, and then he got the Mohawk hairdo for the thing, and I didn’t know Johnny Legend yet and I met a bunch of people around Kaufman and nobody would tell me anything. I was just a huge Kaufman fan. I first saw Kaufman open for Rodney Dangerfield in about ’77, and I, you know, he’s just a genius. He had the announcer at the comedy club – this was before going on before Rodney. Rodney hadn’t been in L.A. in years – this was one of the biggest nights in comedy in L.A – and the announcer over the PA goes – and it’s Tony Clifton – “Mr. Clifton requests that there be no smoking during his performance,” and he said it about 3 times, really loud. Everybody put out their cigarettes and Clifton comes out on the stage smoking. It’s just like (laughing) right away he was the biggest heel in the whole world. Later in the show, he was selling Xerox photos of himself for 25 cents, and he charged us a dime to autograph it. My wife – I didn’t know it was Kaufman because of the make-up – my wife goes out there and she gets the picture and autograph and she comes back and goes “That’s Andy Kaufman.” I go “No,” and we both go out there and she goes up to him and she figured he’d blow it because she was pretty hot looking and goes “You’re Andy Kaufman.” “I’m not that creep!” and he started going off on us and he cut a big heel promo on us and walked away! (laughing) So, you know. I was a big fan, and then seeing him in person again right before he died, it was just…ugh. He had so much left in him.
(One of my favorite stories that you’ve told over the years was about the show you went to at the Olympic Auditorium – I think it was around ’86 – that was promoted by Lia Maivia’s Polynesian Pacific Pro Wrestling, especially the various things that happened during Jerry Lawler’s match. From there, I will let you take over.)
Bob: (laughing) Uh, yeah. I don’t even know why we went, except I think we knew it was gonna suck, and if the show’s gonna suck that bad, that was good. So I went with my friend Stan who used to work for – oh god; who wrote…Roger Ebert? No. Ebert and -
(Um, why am I forgetting his name?)
Bob: …Hello…Russ Meyer! He worked for Russ Meyer, he was a road guy on Beyond the Valley of Dolls, he exposed himself on Supervixens; he got it, you know? He’s real into wrestling so we went down there, and we show up (laughing) at the front of the Olympic and there’s nobody there! You know, we go up to the box office and we go “Is there wrestling tonight?” and the guy I knew goes “Uh, yeah?” (Laughing) “Well, where is everybody?” and he goes “Hmm. God if I know.” So we go inside – there was I think, we’re guessing 40 or 50 people in the audience in a 10,000 seat arena, and I think most of them were the Maivia’s relatives. I remember, they brought in a lot of people – Lars Anderson was on the show, and Sting and Helwig were on the show before they’d even started touring. I mean, they could barely move. But, um, during Lawler’s match, the two great things were people were calling out moves for him to do! Basically (laughing) the dozen paying fans booked the match. “Do this on him now!” I don’t even remember who he was wrestling, but I mean eventually he couldn’t have cared less and go “Ok. What else you wanna see?” and then boom boom boom. But, the best thing was: some kid had hid under the ring for the whole show, and then he comes flying out from under the ring and jumps into the ring! Lawler just looks at him like “Yeah – that figures. I mean, the way the nights been goin’ – yeah! It’s fine!” So the kid starts talking to him and shaking his hand right in the middle of Lawler’s match! That was, just, that was just great. That was one of the best in-ring comedy bits I’d ever seen since, well, along with Muraco eating a sandwich. You know, when- that was a great night. I mean, there was nobody there! I’ve never seen anything like that. They must have lost their ass on that one. I mean, nobody knew who Lawler was in L.A. – it was just crazy. Seeing Sting and the Warrior in there as these big, you know, juiced-up goofballs was like “Oh god. Where’re they going?” and they become big stars.
(The way I remember you telling it on newsgroups and messages boards back in the day, I remember there being one other detail, which was that the kid ran out from under the ring after, like, the first bump or something; that he got startled.)
Bob: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think Lawler, he just threw the guy into the mat – Bang – and it was a really loud ring. Bang, and that’s when the kid came flying out from under the ring. It was like (laughing) “Whoa.” Like, why would you hide under the ring? There was nobody in the place! I don’t know – that was a great moment. I really love really bad wrestling shows. I can only remember a few like that – one was at Lano’s Muchnick convention in St. Louis-
Well, I definitely want to talk about the Muchnick- the Sam Muchnick Roast, which was of course, was not attended by Sam Muchnick (laughing) but before we get there, we began this interview – this conversation, Bob – talking about how you got into wrestling again in the early ‘90s: how you got into Japanese wrestling specifically. So what led to you attending a Goodhart show in Philadelphia at that time?
Bob: It just seemed like it would be a party, and I can’t remember who was – there was a bunch of my friends that had gone back there but I can’t remember who. I don’t think it was Lano, but I remember showing up at the hotel early in the day and it was just a party. I mean, the whole place was – it was just a party. It was just the greatest, and you knew who was gonna be there. Oh, Jeff Osborne was there – that’s who I met. I had been talking to him, and he showed up that night. So we were hanging around, I don’t know – we ended up meeting a million people, and either we drove to the place, there was a big crowd; about 1600 people for that show. I just remember just flying back to L.A. thinking “This is the future,” I mean, it was just chaos. It had Sheik and Abby but it turned into everybody fighting all over the place in the arena, and it was the first time I’d seen Bam Bam Bigelow live and he was beating guys up and wearing his clothes. God, I can’t even remember everybody else: Eddie Gilbert was in a Cactus Jack match with Luna and Madusa, I think. I don’t know – there was so much going on. Every match was great. There was chaos, there was blood – Abby took one of the road crew and threw him headfirst into a wall, and it was a cement wall. The guy just went down like a sack of potatoes – he legit knocked him out, and you had to follow everybody around, and I went back there – I had a broken foot – and I just took a pain pill and ran all over the arena to follow what was going on, because Abby wasn’t even close to the ring. Abby was behind the bleachers almost during the whole match throwing guys against walls and stuff. God, it was just great, and that was the first time I’d been to Philadelphia since I was a little kid, so I just had a great time.
So again, attending wrestling in the 50’s – The Sheik; Attending wrestling in Honolulu – The Sheik; and here once again (laughing) is The Sheik. Did you ever actually get a chance to run into him or meet him?
Bob: Um, I got close to meeting him. Before the show, I met Sabu. Sabu wasn’t a star at all then – nobody knew who he was – but he got involved in all the stuff that night. I was in my hotel room, the door was open, there’s a bunch of us in there and Sabu must have known somebody. He comes over and says “Who’s driving?” and I said “I am.” He goes “How do you get to the arena?” and I go “I don’t know.” He goes “Well, I’m driving The Sheik, and we’re gonna follow you (laughing) and if we get lost, The Sheik is gonna cut you.” (laughing) I go “Wait a second?!” (laughing) I had to, I got really good directions, but I got lost on the way there! I saw The Sheik’s car – we lost The Sheik’s car because I could see it in the rearview mirror and I’m like “I’m fucked. I can’t sit at ringside tonight.” He definitely will, you know, do something. Yeah – that was about close I got to him. I would love to have had a conversation with that guy. I know he never would have broken Kayfabe but could you imagine the stories he could have had?
Oh, absolutely. So speaking of stories – we kinda prefaced it here – let me say this, Bob: several of the last few episodes, the name Dr. Mike Lano has come up-
Bob: About god damn time, too!
Well, you and I know him – you and I have been around him. I certainly don’t know him as well as you would know him, but you know, I knew him back in the day and I always got along with him, but I admit: he has some lunatic tendencies. I was always amazed when we started doing this show – Bix and I would hear from people saying “Hey, can you talk about Dr. Mike Lano?” and it wouldn’t be someone I knew or Bix knew! It would be just, some listener. I’m thinking “I can’t believe the legend of this man has grown to the point where people who have no idea who he is just wanna hear about him.” Then, John Arezzi came on and had a very memorable conversation with us.
Bob: Oh! OH!
(laughing) Telling some stories about the early days – the origins – of a pre-medical school Mike Lano.
Bob: But Lano was pulling main event stuff on Arezzi that early on – that’s what’s so amazing!
Well, he’s a life-long main eventer, that’s exactly why!
Bob: He never jobbed, he came right out shooting, yeah.
And Jim Cornette was on the show and Jim Cornette also had some stories about Dr. Mike Lano, and while this is going on, people are saying “We want more,” and also, there is a group of our listeners who kept saying “When are you gonna have Bob Barnett on to talk about Dr. Mike Lano?” because it’s kind of like the Hatfields and the McCoys (laughing) in some sense is you and Lano! So before we go too far with it, how did you first meet him, and can you tell us the story of the Sam Muchnick Roast in 1993?
Bob: (sigh) Man. Well, I first met him at an early Cauliflower Alley dinner in the early 90's. It was the one where he and Meltzer had just come back from Japan – that’s where he screwed Meltzer with Mrs. Baba. Do you know that story?
We’ve heard it – what do you know of that story?
Bob: From (laughing) all the accounts I’ve heard, is that there was a bunch of American fans there and they were having trouble getting tickets or something, and Lano sent them outside and Lano says “I’ll take care of it!” which is the last thing you’d want to hear. He went to Mrs. Baba and he used Dave’s name, and she flipped out and from that night on, she made sure Dave had a ticket. She really was on his case and that was the trip right when I met him – they’d just come home. Plus, he pulled a few more stunts: I think he was trying to bang Debbie Malenko while she was there-
Bob: And I think – no. At the time, Debbie was back in the U.S., and so he called Debbie Malenko (laughing) from Japan and he said “Hey Debbie, Dave Meltzer wants to talk to you!” and, you know, Debbie’s thinking “Oh that’s great – a little push!” because she wasn’t really known at all except for over in Japan, and she gets on the phone with Meltzer and Meltzer had no idea what that was about. He didn’t want to talk to her – he didn’t even know she was even on the phone! That was Lano trying to get himself over with Debbie Malenko (laughing) so I mean, he’s done that a million times with other people. So, you know, I had just met him when he’d come back from that, but I didn’t know that had happened yet. I didn’t know Dave yet, and I didn’t talk to Dave that night, so as far as I knew that night at the Cauliflower Alley, Lano was normal. That was the last time I thought that Dr. Mike Lano was normal. So this has gotta be almost 25 years ago (laughing). He didn’t do anything that night to make me think he was whacked. He was getting himself over, but I figured “Ok, it’s not the worse thing in the world,” and that was about it. Then, he just started showing up everywhere and doing odd things. He’s done so many odd things over the years, it’s hard to remember ‘em all. Two of ‘em occurred at Cauliflower Alley’s again – there was one night when he got thrown off the board of Cauliflower Alley. He had decided, you know, Lano loves making trophies for people (laughing) and honoring people for nothing! Just out of the blue – “Hey, want a trophy?” and he’d go buy these cheap trophies. So he had talked some wrestler into accepting some honor that Cauliflower Alley Club had NO idea about, and he told the guy he’d fly ‘em in – the club would fly him in. Well, the Club, when they heard about that, they went apeshit. I remember Sheldon Goldberg was on the board that night and he was just giving me a play-by-play, coming out and telling me. Lano was sweating bullets and everything and they threw him off the board. I think he was off for a year or so, but they’re really pissed at him but you don’t know what to do with him because he basically starts crying when you do shit like that – he doesn’t actually ‘cry’, but he starts making up lies so quickly – he’s so great at lying – and he lies so fast. He’s like Trump – you think one of ‘em might be true and you might give him some credibility for one of his lies, so he just pounds you with lies.
So, I think he was only off for about a year, but then there was another Cauliflower Alley – I was there with Kim Collins, who you know, and Brittany Brown and a friend of Brittany’s who she used to wrestle with. We were all just schnockered and we knew (laughing) that Lano was gonna be there – we’d been there all day and we were just planning what we could do with Lano. I mean, we really wanted to have a party with Lano, and Lano knew – somebody had spilled the beans – we were looking for him, so he was trying to take pictures that night but we were trying to take pictures of him taking pictures before he could finish taking his pictures. We chased him all over the place and finally ran out the door. He just screamed at us “You guys – I’m gonna have you thrown out!” and he just ran through the door. I don’t know, we were dying that night – that was a great dinner because that was the night that Mando Guerrero and Don Muraco just got HAMMERED and they were talking in the back throughout the ceremony and a bunch of old ladies asked them to please quiet down (laughing) and Muraco just told them to suck his cock and everything else you could think of! They’re doing this in full volume! Mando was really good when he got drunk at that stuff – aw man. It was a real X-Rated comedy routine going on that night (laughing); that’s just the early parts of Lanomania. But, things got really crazy – and I’m just looking at the picture I have of Lano and Jenna Jameson.
(You meant the picture that Mike concocted of Mike Lano and Jenna Jameson.)
Bob: Worst photoshop ever even though it was early Photoshop. I’m looking at it now – Lano’s facing forward and Jenna’s sorta leaning back, and somebody basically put the pictures together. You can see the straight line right down the middle of the picture, and Lano originally said this is him and Jenna at some convention or something and he was gonna take her out to dinner that night. Of course, later on when someone finally got a reaction of Jenna, she goes “I don’t know who the fuck that is and I certainly wouldn’t go to dinner with the guy!” Lano spent YEARS, you know, going back and forth: it was real, it wasn’t real. I mean, everybody knew it wasn’t real – you could see the Photoshop right down the middle of the photo! I love this picture. I’m just looking at the color version right now (laughing), and his head is about 50% bigger than hers too. So either she’s the result of Zika virus, or I don’t know what was going on.
Well, there’s obviously a whole long story that eventually we’ll get to – maybe not today though – about the whole Mike Lano / Jenna Jameson fiasco. But: as I said before, I’m dying to know about the 1993 Sam Muchnick Roast, which was a debacle from all I heard. I remember there being letters in the Observer – people saying it was a sham, and then other people that, I think there was a letter with 15 signatures saying that Mike Lano did a good thing. So, what are your memories? You were there – you were in St. Louis.
Bob: He definitely tried but with Lano, that’s not enough. (laughing) I mean, he just doesn’t have the skills to put something together and he doesn’t have the pull to put the right things together. So I remember getting there and everything was still sorta chaotic. I thought “I don’t think Lano’s got this thing too well organized.” So that night, everybody was at the bar getting pretty wasted, and luckily the bar was dark so a lot of people didn’t know what was going on. That’s when I met Steve Minnari. Steve Minnari was a very big tape collecter in the 80s and 90s – he knew Bruiser Brody, he knew Cactus Jack. He had more tapes than any human being alive and he was obsessed as Mike Lano was with writing hundred thousand word tomes about nothing. So Lano was running around crazy and getting himself over and Minnari went over to Lou Thesz and snuck out Lou Thesz unedited copy of his autobiography and gave it to me – I could read it in the coffee shop before they knew what was going on. It was pretty crazy. So the next morning I wake up and I’m thinking “There’s going to be thousands of people here and lots of stars,” and I walk in and it’s just a friggin’ ghost town: there’s a ring set up with about 2 or 300 seats around it in an atrium, and the room where everybody’s selling gimmicks, there were more people selling gimmicks than buying gimmicks. That’s when I saw Kowalski’s toupee up close and that just scared the hell out of me. It was just a friggin’ disaster! I mean, nothing was happening. Ivan Koloff was there and he wanted to give me an interview but he had nothing to say. It was just all these bizarre things – nobody knew what they were there for. Later that day, there was a WWF show in town and a whole bunch of them came over and they were just standing around for about an hour. Ted DiBiase was just looking at everything and thinking, reading their faces, “What the fuck is this?” You know. They’d just come from real wrestling and they’d shown up at Lano wrestling.
Then, Lano was putting on a wrestling show that night and about half the guys didn’t show up, so guys – everybody was putting themselves over, guys that were no longer involved in wrestling were managing; all sorts of stuff was going on with nothing happening. Kim and I were just sick laughing the whole night. I mean, just nothing was working. Then, Lano promised that Sabu was gonna wrestle – Sabu was real hot right then and Sabu didn’t wrestle. So by this point, everyone just left. The next day, of course, the trophies – well, no. It was the dinner,.(sigh) The dinner – I remember the food being terrible and I think Muchnick was on the phone. I mean, he lives a couple miles away and he was on the phone for his own dinner! It was supposed to be a roast, but you can’t roast Muchnick because he was 1000 years old, so it was just bizarre. He kept promising more Sabu, he wrestled the next morning and that didn’t happen – Sabu, Sabu, Sabu, Sabu. He just kept using names and the morning everybody was supposed to leave, he had another awards breakfast and he must have brought boxes of trophies and shit. He must have gotten a deal – I don’t know where he got all these trophies from but he’s giving everybody a trophy. I think DiBiase came back and got a trophy. I mean, if you showed up, you got a trophy. I was sorta pissed off I didn’t get a trophy, but, I mean, (laughing) It was just one of those things! If you laugh – I remember I was leaving and Kim was just leaving and I just thought “What happened?” (laughing) “What did we just do for the last 2 or 3 days?” Things just – I don’t know. If he’s involved, you just gotta have alternate plans prepared.
(So, there’s something I gotta ask you about – about 2 years ago, I was on a conference call with Hulk Hogan when I was working at Bleacher Report. I think they were promoting the annual WrestleMania music video special they used to do on NBC. I’m listening, I think I may have gone by that point, and eventually I posted this on YouTube – who calls up to talk to Hulk Hogan but Mike Lano “of CBC Radio.”)
Bob: Yeah. (laughing)
(I saw that on the YouTube video I posted, YOU posted that he is now legally barred from saying he works for CBS Radio!)
Bob: And he’s done it again recently.
(Oh, what, the local – whatchamacallit – Epic Times story?)
Bob: He works for some freebie paid for in the Bay Area up there and he did an entertainment article that was pure Lano, and he said CBS byline or something – he definitely made sure you thought he was associated with CBS Radio or CBS Entertainment or something; he makes things up. I don’t – yeah. He did it again.
(But anyway, what do you know about him now being legally barred from being able to say he’s part of CBS Radio?)
Bob: I don’t know if they spent the money to legally bar for anything – I’m sure somebody sent him a letter and I’m sure he forgot about the letter. If you get involved with Lano and legalities, then you’re really – that’s a whole new ball game. I mean, I dealt with him with that crap and he hasn’t a clue. He claims his brother’s an attorney – I’ve never seen his brother, I have no idea if he has a brother or if the guy’s an attorney – but Lano seems to not have a clue about anything legally.
(You know what my favorite part of all that is, though: that he just says “CBS Radio” – it’s like he’s Stuttering John trying to hide the fact that he works for Howard Stern.)
Bob: (laughing) He’s the greatest! I mean, he can pull a stunt at a seconds notice. He just can’t be normal – it’s not pos- and if he tries to be normal, something abnormal happens. Like, when we were at the XPW Press conference for Onita – god, who was he going to wrestle? – Sabu.
(Yeah, that was Sabu I think.)
Bob: Yeah. So we went to the press conference at a hotel in the San Fernando Valley-
(Or wait – was that one Sandman?)
Bob: No, it was Sabu. It was Sabu because they were both there – in fact, I just pulled out the article somewhere. That was a whole long story but it’s just the greatest press conference I’ve ever gone to: less than 8 minutes and I was laughing so hard I almost threw up. But, in the middle of it, somebody throws a worker into the audience and who does it hit? Mike Lano. I mean, just took him out. It was just, he just can’t get out of the way. I mean, wherever he is, he’s the target. It’s just amazing. You know, if he’s not getting over, he’ll take it, you know. He’ll take not getting over as second place to getting over.
Well, Bob, this has been a great conversation and we definitely want to have you back on again real soon because there’s a lot of things we haven’t been able to touch today, like the AAA / IWC shows in California, one of my favorite matches you ever filmed which was Terry Funk – excuse me – Al Snow vs. Sabu where Terry Funk had a surprise run-in, your relationships with Eddie Gilbert, your relationship with Vampiro – but before we leave, let’s leave on a high note: What’s the story of Louie Spicolli’s funeral and Mike Lano’s involvement?
Bob: OK. I pick him up in the morning at Los Angeles airport – which was my mistake – and when he got in the car, I said “I’m gonna search you.” (laughing) I knew he was gonna pull a stunt. So I searched him – he showed me his bags, he didn’t have that goofy camera that he carries around. I was sure he didn’t have a camera (laughing) – oops. So we get to the church, for some reason there was no traffic that day so we got there really early. I was in the back of the – the room in the back of the church, just walking around. We had an hour to go before the funeral – I’m walking around and I turn around and there’s Louie in his coffin looking up at me! That’s where they put the coffin, and I just about shit. I mean (laughing), you know, first guy I see in the morning is Louie, but you know, Louie wasn’t talkin’. So, I paid my respect, I walked out of there and everybody goes “What happened?” It probably looked like I’d just seen a ghost, and I said “Well, Louie’s back there and the coffin’s open and he’s just laying there all by himself.” Well, Lano was gone in a second. “Where’s Lano?” and he’s gone for about 10 or 15 minutes and he comes back, and I said “Did you take photos?” and he goes “No! I don’t have a camera!” “Ehhhh…okay.” Dumb me, I actually believe something that came out of his mouth. So the funeral’s normal and everything’s normal and he’d been talking to Sabu and Van Dam at the funeral. So we drove over to the burial site with them, and I drove over by myself and I was talking to guys like Stephen deLeone, and I don’t remember everybody else that was there, but I’ll never forget Stephen deLeone because I was standing far back when they were about to lower the body and a guy comes running up to me and goes “Mike Lano’s shooting photos of his coffin at the grave.” I just thought “How do you do that?” I went over there and deLeone was about to kill him, and Lano just started making all sorts of excuses – “Oh, I wasn’t shooting! No! It’s just for the family! They’re not for Japanese magazines!” and he starts making the excuses that nobody had even accused him of yet! Everybody was so mortified – deLeone just wanted to kill him. I saw deLeone a year before he died at a luncheon we had and he said “I hate the guy; I just want to kill him. If he shows up right now, I’ll kill him.” So later on, I got Lano off to the side and I said “Where’d you get the camera from?” and he says “I put it in my sock – it’s an instamatic.” I go “You’re out of your fucking mind!” He goes “Well, I didn’t think anybody would mind – I was being respectful for the family!” OK (laughing). So at that point I’m like “You know what? Find your own way home,” and I left. I got home and the first thing I did was call Meltzer – I said “You’re not gonna believe what I just saw.” Meltzer always used to talk about the most disgusting things in wrestling and I told him I just beat it. I said this is the most disgusting thing in wrestling; told him the whole story. Then, Lano started, you know, flipping out, claiming he wasn’t doing it – even though there was at least probably 50 people that saw him shooting at the gravesite – right at the hole. If Lano could have jumped in with Louie and got it all the way down to 6 feet, he would have taken a ride. Then, what a great guy he was – for weeks on end, he told me he would send me the negatives; like that would mean anything after he already made the pictures. He said “I’ll send you the negatives and they’ll never be published – never ever ever!” He sends me a roll of film that’s totally black – he’d just taken a roll of film (laughing) and exposed; you couldn’t tell what it was! He says “You got em?” That was, like, that was pretty much the end of that, but people just – oh man. People wanted to kill him after that. That was an amazing, amazing, day. I mean, who else would think of sneaking a camera into their sock for a funeral?
(I remember his excuse too was “Well, come on! I mean, look: the Japanese magazines do it, the Mexican magazines do it…”)
Bob: Yeah but then when he got caught – “I wasn’t gonna sell to the Japanese magazines!” This is before anyone even accused him! (laughing)
The story he gave us in Philadelphia – which was right after that – was that he was shooting flowers outside the funeral.
Bob: Yeah. Oh yeah – he’s a noted nature photographer. Yeah… (laughing) God. He’s so – listen: when you have your other guest who wants to talk about him on, I’d love to just be on the phone listening maybe and chime in a little bit. I got a whole bunch of stuff, including a 10 page thread that was in the Southern California Uncensored Board in 2003 where people just went bananas on Lano. We could go word by word – it’ll take up two of your shows!
(That was one of the greatest threads in the history of the internet.)
Bob: Yeah, yeah. So, anyway – next time.
(I do need to ask you one last question about the Spicolli funeral thing though, because I think it’s something I mentioned in the past and Brian had not heard it before, so let’s settle this, since you were there: You mentioned how upset Stephen deLeone was. Was it true that Sabu had to physically restrain him from attacking Lano?)
Bob: I didn’t see it because I – when somebody came over and told me, I just walked to the back of the crowd. I was so disgusted; I was so angry. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sabu told him not to do anything at the funeral, but I know somebody grabbed - I don’t think it was me – but someone grabbed Lano and threw him right out of the crowd to get him out of there. From what, I mean, this was years later – about 2004 or so – when I had lunch with him – deLeone – he was still steaming. As soon as I brought it up, you know, he remembered the funeral and he was just steaming. He just wanted to kill him.
Episode 34 - Transcript (Interview - on Eddie Gilbert, Lucha, Terry Funk, and Dr. Mike Lano)
A few weeks back here on the show, Bob Barnett joined us for a really fun segment that everyone got a kick out of, and unfortunately, due to time constraints, we were only able to hit on some topics and not everything we wanted to talk about with Bob that day, so back with us on the Superpodcast today - Bob Barnett. Bob, say hello to everyone.
Bob: Hello to everyone.
Hello to everyone! So, you know, one of the things we briefly-
Bob: Well, no, not everyone. There’s a bunch of assholes out there somewhere; no. Hello to most people
(laughing) Hello to mos- our audience - our listeners - are usually the good ones out there. The good assholes.
You know, one of the things we mentioned in passing and we didn't really get to touch on was your Eddie Gilbert shoot interview and the fascinating story behind it, and, of course, its place in history, because I believe it was the first commercial shoot interview released. I want to say you made it in early ‘94. So, why don't we talk a little bit about that - what led you to want to do something about Eddie Gilbert?
Bob: Well, I kept watching all those angles in- besides being great at angles, he just made me laugh. I just thought that he was the best comedian in wrestling. I mean, he had a real sick sense of humor and I had a friend, Kim Collins, who lived down in Kentucky and Tennessee at the time, and she knew Eddie. She went to all the shows at Nashville, and she was real good friends, and she called me up and’d tell me how to how to smuggle him out of the arena in trunks of cars when there's too much heat, or how you'd be swinging from the ceiling, and he do anything to get heat. It just sounded so good. So I asked her to arrange an interview and he initially said yes, and then his father got wind of it and his father didn't want him to do it. His father's, you know, real old school - didn't want to break kayfabe – and he called me and he wanted to do it, but he, you know, he's worried about his dad. Finally he says “Okay, we'll do it.” So I flew down there, and I got in to – god, was it Nashville, or Memphis? I don't even remember. I think I flew to Nashville, and there’d been a giant ice storm the night before, and almost- the power was out all over town, and I was lucky to get a hotel that was still open that had power, and he was going to come into town, but the show got canceled that night because of the ice storm. So, we were talking on the phone all day and he finally met me at a Ramada Inn in Jackson, Tennessee. So we had to drive through the tail end of the ice storm that night to get there, which is just freaking me out, ‘cause I had just flown in and hadn't a clue where I was, and we go to the desk (laughing) and they told me “Eddie Gilbert’s in the back - you got to go around the back of the hotel,” and he had sent his brother and somebody else out because he didn't want them in the interview to tell, in case they told his dad, and he was in the room with John Gillam and I walked in and there was Eddie and there was one light on. Most of the power in that hotel had gone out, but they had enough just for, like, a light in the room. That's how, you know: that's what happened. That's how we started, and he was just ready to go as soon as he walked in. I mean, he was such a pro.
I mean, so he knew you want to do a shoot interview. He knew there was no kayfabe and Eddie was cool with that, and what were you surprised-
Bob: Well, wasn't asked - I didn't really, you know, dive into him. I mean, I let him - it just came out. I mean, once he started to talk story, you know, he just talked story and he didn't have a real capacity to lie if he wasn’t on camera, so he just started telling stuff and, you know, we were in there until I ran out tape and I ran out of batteries because I couldn't recharge because most of the power was still off.
You hear a lot of stories about Eddie about, you know, paranoia at times, about manic activity at times -What was he like that day?
Bob: Back then, he was- he was great. He's so smart. He was so personable. I mean, after I was in the room with him for two hours, I felt like I was best friend. He's just such a good guy. He wasn't putting on the airs, his ego wasn't outsized at all. I mean, he’s just a real, real, good guy and he had John Gillam in there, and for people who aren't familiar with John Gillam: he did a hellacious angle with him in Continental where he dropped Gillam on his head a bunch of times on TV in a switcheroo in the ring, and he did it for Gillam because Gillam was such a good friend of his. Gillem had some problems – he was a little slow - but, you know, Eddie treated like the greatest guy in the world, which was really great to see. So he had Gillam there for the interview, and Gilliam actually would fill in parts of Eddie's memory. So, you know, that's how we got started on it and it was just - Eddie was a great guy. I mean, until very end, when he showed up at Smoky Mountain and he was, you know, whacked. He was always a great guy. I used to talk to him on the phone all the time since he was in Puerto Rico and he didn't even talk about wrestling much if he was out of Nashville. He used to watch CNN all the time and he used to like to talk about the news.
Well, I was gonna say: this is around the time Eddie tried to get involved in local politics in Tennessee. He ran for county clerk, I want to say. Did you talk to him about politics?
Bob: Yeah. I told him he was nuts because he didn't have the money. He thought maybe the TV, you know, being on TV would get him over, but I told him it wasn't wrestling. Even though wrestling was big back there, most of the people still didn't know, you know, Eddie Gilbert. It was pretty much Lawler to the non-wrestling fan. But, you know, he did it straight, you know - wore glasses in the posters and all sorts of stuff, but I think he got pretty much slaughtered in the election. He was real serious about it, yeah.
And you kept in touch with him regularly from that point until you said he was in Puerto Rico, so that's right before he passed away.
Bob: I talked to him, right, you know, wasn’t a week or two of him dying, and I've never bought the, you know “accidental death” crap because he owed money. He owed big money to somebody, and he tried to borrow it from me. So, something was going on, you know. He was real desperate to get money while he was down there.
Wow. So, you're saying - you know a lot of people say he maybe accidentally OD’d or, you know, obviously, heart attacks, another thing people said - you're saying you don't believe any of that.
Bob: Well, I mean, it was too much crap going on the side. I mean, he was really desperate – tried to borrow $10,000 from me right before he died. You know, I never heard him like that, and I called Dutch Mantel and I go “What would you do if Eddie Gilbert called you desperate for $10,000?” and Dutch hung the phone up. So, um, you know, there was something going on. I mean, why would he- you know, why was he so desperate? I mean, he was down there making money. It just didn't make any sense. He offered to give me his cars, you know, as collateral, but that wasn't gonna do me any good.
You know one of the things in that shoot interview - ‘Looking For Mr. Gilbert’ I believe you titled it - is he takes the high road when talking about Paul E. and everything that happened with ECW. It's something we've talked about here on the show a bunch and we've asked different people who may have a perspective of the ordeal that took place. So, let me ask you: off camera or during your conversations, did Eddie ever talk to you about the falling out with Paul E and exactly what happened?
Bob: He never ripped people. I mean, he gave Paul E lots of credit, he wouldn't rip him. He wouldn’t rip Lawler, which really shocked me. I mean, he would say nice- he was very diplomatic. He knew what to say what not to say. I mean, you know - if you're looking at him, he knew what he meant. But he just wouldn't - he never ripped Lawler that I know of. I mean, he just never did.
Hmm. So Eddie dies early ‘95 and that's a short while after Art Barr passed away, and I wanted to talk to you a little bit about Art Barr, because not only did you get to go to all those IWC AAA shows in Los Angeles and see the scene and see all those great shows - and I want to talk about those shows - but you actually recorded the last interview with Art Barr - right before he passed away - in the locker room the night of the When Worlds Collide pay per view in November of 1994. Before we talk about Art and your thoughts on Art, what was it like to see Los Gringos Locos live at that time?
Bob: Well, they was the best tag team in the world. I mean, there was no doubt about it. Even before the show, he was real coked up. I mean, he was just flying and all he wanted to talk about was “What do you think this is going to get us? Where are we going to go from here? We really want to go to ECW,” and I don't know if he talked to Paul at that time or talked to him a few days later, but that's all he was dreaming about: was him and Eddy going into ECW. He - for sure, he thought that, you know, they just take the company by storm. He was real excited and he was real excited about his career and where everything was going and it was just - it was a crazy night. I mean, I used to have to go out and count the house for him because he would get paid on a percentage. Skoler – and he goes “I really like Ron Skoler, but can you count house for me?” and, you know, that's what I did - especially on When Worlds Collide. Unfortunately for him, that show didn't sell out, so he didn't make as much money as he thought he was going to make that night.
Well, before we go any further with talk about Art and Los Gringos Locos – his tag team with Eddy Guerrero - you were at all those shows. What's your theory as to why the Pay Per View didn't sell out?
Bob: Um, it was sort of the end of that AAA run and they weren’t running the normal feuds that they’d been running in L.A., so that could of has something to do with it. And, it was a mishmash show, and probably only the hardcore’s would have known who else was coming in like Benoit, you know, a couple guys like that. That's all I can think of, and it started early, and the Mexicans were big Saturday night fans and that show was on a Sunday afternoon and Mexicans aren’t used to going the wrestling shows on a Sunday afternoon, and I don't think a lot of the feuds in there were as big here as they were down there. Especially Konnan and Perro - I don't think that you did build built up enough. I mean, if Konnan would have killed him on TV for a couple weeks in a row, then, you know; they could have done something.
Now, you mentioned now him and- he wanted to go to ECW. He thought him and Eddie Guerrero - who would go to ECW in 1995 - would have torn things up. One of the things in that interview that you did in the locker room after the show, an interview, by the way: it's you and I believe Dr. Mike Lano was there with you.
Bob: That’s right! (laughing)
(laughing) But one of the things you asked him, he mentions in passing that he wants to wrestle Public Enemy. I think he pounds his fist and he says “Public Enemy,” and you ask him, you go, “Would you like to work with Public Enemy?” and he says, “I'd like to wrestle ‘em,” and that clip would end up on ECW TV shortly thereafter. You're an attorney, and, you know, you certainly guard your footage. Did you give Paul E. permission to air that footage on his show?
Bob: No. I have a feeling that Feinstein stole the tape and gave it to Paul E. You know, I asked Paul E. about it, but Paul E.’s such a regrettable liar. I mean, he’s the worst liar I’ve ever met that he wouldn't tell me. It was okay because, you know, at the time, it was for Art and Eddy - I mean, I believed those guys. I thought they were going to be the big deal, and I was going to fly back with ‘em on the plane and do an interview on the plane, you know, going in, the whole thing about building them up and getting excited, being there and you know, their first match and everything, and you know - never happened.
How were you informed that Art passed away?
Bob: I can't remember. I know he was in his house in Oregon - I think he passed away in his sleep from an overdose? I don't remember, but uh, I remember Vampiro call me up like within hours, because he, and Ian were best friends, and Ian was just flipping out; I mean, he was just losing it. That was the first time one of his friends had died in the business. Since then, it's like one a week, but back then, he was really young and he was just- it just freaked them out.
Well, we'll get into Vampiro in a second, but, you know, again, let me go back to this: you saw Art Barr and Los Gringos Locos live many times. You got to watch the TV shows they were on. You know, considering what would happen in the wrestling industry in the ‘90's with the rise of the ECW, with the WWE Attitude Era – or WWF at the time – with, you know, things still hot in Japan - where do you think Art Barr would have gone if he had lived?
Bob: You know, I just think the tag team would have lasted a while because they were really good friends and they really knew how to work each other. I mean, they were just so in coordinated with each other, and they could have wrestled anybody because they wrestled a big style, but there was all those, you know, smaller guys coming up, and, I mean, they had opponents for years there that they could have used. They coulda wrestled the Mexican’s in ECW, they could have done a whole bunch of stuff. They, you know, for sure would have gone back to WCW or something. I think they were, you know, lightyears ahead of, and WWF wasn't hiring guys that small. I don't know. They would have been great! I mean, Art’s interviews were all over the place and, you know, Eddy was just starting to get real smart to the business, and I mean, he knew how to talk. So, I'm not sure what would have happened.
What were those shows like - those AAA IWC Los Angeles shows? Starting in ’93, you could say that, you know, ‘94 - the pay per view in November ‘94 - was really the end of it, although there was, I think, one more show on early ‘95 and then Ron Skoler did a show with CMLL in the summer of ‘95 and that was it. Describe those shows for the listeners who obviously weren't there - what was the heat like, what was the feeling like in the arena, how crazy was it - what were those shows like, Bob?
Bob: It was so crazy, but nobody thought anything was gonna happen. I remember that night - the first show - I knew a lot of people that were gonna go, but nobody really had advanced tickets. I did, but nobody else has advanced tickets. I just knew the guys at the ticket window; it's only reason I got ‘em. We got down there early in the afternoon and I went to the Cinemax theater - whatever it is, the Omnimax theater - next door at the California Museum and I went in with my girlfriend at the time and we saw this movie, and there was nobody around the Sports Arena. We get out of the movie two hours later and streets were packed: they called the state alert on the freeway, the cars were backed up for two miles, there were mob scenes in front of all the doors, I saw people that couldn't get in, I saw Johnny Legend - he was desperate for a ticket. All these people that normally could just walk in couldn't get tickets and I had no idea was going to be like that. We got in there about a half hour / 40 minutes early and the place was already packed, and I saw Arezzi in the purple suit, and it was, you know - you just knew something crazy was going to happen that night because everybody was there. I didn't know Meltzer was going to be there, I didn't know a lot of people going to be there that night, but everybody who was really smart to the business (laughing) was there that night, because they all knew it was the biggest Lucha show in years in L.A, and the first Lucha show, I think, at the sports arena. So, that was crazy, and then, you know - once it started, it was just heat, heat, heat. Spicolli was on that show; he was a prelim guy. Kurt Brown, who you guys have had on, right?
Bob: Vandal Drummond; yeah. I mean, he was there. I think he might have wrestled that night with his pal. There's all sorts of people that, you know, became famous on that show that were way on the bottom, and it was just a hot show. Plus, Skoler was paying everybody a lot of dough – he paid Cheryl Russo, like, 900 bucks just ‘cause she looked hot.
Bob: (laughing) Yeah! I mean, she was real happy. I said “What are you so happy about?” and she says “He paid me 900 dollars.” “What the fuck?!” but that was 20 years ago. But - everybody worked their ass off; the heat was, you know, off the charts; the Mexicans were throwing beer and pee everywhere, and it was just, you know, one of those nights where you were just lit up. I mean, just - you know, you couldn’t go to the bathroom, you didn’t go to the booth to get food - you just stay there because you didn't know what was going to happen; it was just so much heat. I don't even remember much about that first show. I mean, the most famous thing that I remember looking at was Arezzi and there were Mexicans throwing giant cups of beer and pee right over his head and I don't think he ever knew it.
(How would you compare those AAA Los Angeles shows - whether it's quality, atmosphere, whatever - to some of the previous Los Angeles Lucha shows you had been to? Like, I know you went to the FMW combined show in ’92-)
Bob: FMW was the show that really showed that the town would support that kind of stuff, I mean, ‘cause that was the same kind of thing. I went there real early with my friend and his girlfriend and Reggie Bennett – (laughing) Reggie Bennett was my date that night and I had never met her before, which was just odd - and we had no clue, and we got there early and it wasn't that crowded. We sat down in about the 5th or the 6th row, and all of a sudden, it just keeps getting more crowded and more crowded. That was the first night I used my camera at a show, and remember - I went upstairs and the head of security was there, and he was going nuts, like, “What's the problem?” and he says “Well, we got, like, 35,000 people trying to get on to the college and we're going to have to declare a SIG Alert and block up the campus,” and I just thought “This is crazy.” I can't remember what that place held – I think it was about 8,000 - but it got crowded and it got really hot. I mean, I couldn't imagine how the place would get that hot for Onita, but you know, Santo and Casas were both there. The show wasn't that loaded, except for, you know, Onita’s guys and most of the people there did hadn't a clue Onita was, but for some reason, Santo and Casas against, you know, crazy Japanese guys was enough to do it. After that, that's I think when Lauer started running there. I think he ran that show, but it was insane that night because we expected nothing. We just went to see these guys; we had nothing to do. You could tell that was the beginning of everything - I mean, it was just crazy.
(That main event is not just one of my favorite things that you ever shot, but also just one of my favorite matches ever because there's just nothing else like it. There's nothing just remotely like it, but the way it starts: we're in the ring. You have Santo and Casas doing the most beautiful Lucha Libra exchanges you'll ever see. Like that- their exchanges in that match are possibly the best things I've ever seen them do with each other, and then, throughout the whole gym, it's just craziness with Onita and Goto beating up Horace Boulder and, I always forget: Tim Patterson or Rick Patterson. Tim Patterson right?)
Bob: Was that Patterson in the main event? I don't remember, because he was also, I think, in the semi under the mask – him and Spicolli?
(Oh – was La Migra? Or whatever it was?)
Bob: Yeah – no. It wasn’t La Migra, it was something else. I think Spicolli was- Jesse Hernandez was under one of the masks. I don't know who the other guy was, but I mean, those guys had never appeared in a big Lucha show before in LA, and it got so much heat that that gimmick just always got heat no matter who was doing it and on what show. That was the semi, and boy - I mean, the show was just so great. It's so full of heat, because I remember all the American marks sitting there in the audience after the show was over, we're just sitting there - everybody staring at each other - like we you know we just seen God. I mean Meltzer and everybody was just sitting there for a good half hour / an hour talking about it.
(Now, the match is online on YouTube, but that's the version that FMW shot, which doesn't really do it justice because they're constantly having to cut back and forth, whereas you, being up in the bleachers, you were just able to get the whole scope of it and I feel it makes the match better. Not having been there, I think it's more of a live type of feel to it than the version of FMW put out.)
Bob: Well, I'm lucky, because I went down to the dressing room earlier and Onita was down there and there was a translator and I said “What are you going to do tonight?” and he says “We’re going everywhere.” So, I thought “I better go upstairs and stand in the corner and get a good view of the whole place,” and, you know, not shoot it at ringside, and I was lucky. I mean, if you shot that at ringside, you would have missed 2/3rds of the match.
You mentioned Meltzer being there, you mentioned Meltzer being at the AAA IWC shows: how often was he coming down to Los Angeles or South California for wrestling shows?
Bob: I don't remember him at any more than the shows at Cal State, and I remember him at one other show at the gym. He might have been in another one. I just remember one night where he brought some girl down there and I think she split on him (laughing) ‘cause they know the show was too long or he’d taken too much time with the wrestling, and she just disappeared.
(laughing) Now, you know, all this Lucha is going around in South California - were you going down to Mexico already at this point?
Bob: No. I started going after Konnan’s Christmas - I think it was ’95 - show when Psicosis was nailed to the wall: they did a crucifixion angle at the auditorium in Tiajuana and Ron Rivera shot it and when he got home, he says “You gotta see this,” and when I saw that, I was “Oh Jesus. This is crazy,” and I had started to know Konnan from AAA shows. He was a Howard Stern fan so I brought him tapes and crap when we became sort of friends back then, and that's when I started shooting. When I saw that show, I thought “I gotta go down there,” and I just thought I could shoot it better because Ron and some other guys were shooting from upstairs and I wanted to go to ringside, and I just had to figure out how to get to ringside, because, you know, I didn't know anybody in Mexico. But, eventually, I figured it out: in Mexico, you have to act like you know what you're doing, and then they think you know what you're doing. (laughing) So, they assumed that I should be at ringside, and so that's how I started going down there shooting at ringside.
(laughing) We'll get back to that in a second, but it makes me remember that during the AAA IWC When Worlds Collide Pay Per View - produced by WCW in November of ’94 - you know, a professional crew is there filming it for television. Next thing I know, you're at ringside shooting on your video camera! (laughing) How did THAT happen?
Bob: I don't know. I don't think WCW arranged for security that night and Skoler could have cared less. I had already talked Art and Eddy about, you know, “Give me some shots,” you know. I mean, at one point on my tape, I think you might see Art flying out of the ring and he says something right to my camera, you know. He knew I was there, so, um, I don't know, you know? I just did it. I would do stuff until they told me I couldn't do stuff (laughing) so that was it. Plus, I knew in the cage, I had to get the camera at the cage when Perro and Konnan were fighting, so I mean, I just wasn't going to go anywhere. Once you start doing it, they leave you alone.
Yeah, I guess if Lano can shoot ringside, why not anybody? (laughing) I guess that’s kind of the philosophy.
Bob: Yeah - I think he was right next to me that night.
(laughing) Well, you know, you told us a little bit about what the Los Angeles shows were like: what were the Tijuana shows like?
Bob: Um, the TJ shows were great: there's the cockfighting ring, and there was the auditorio. The first big shows they went down there - I think it was January and March or something, I don't know, I have it on one of my tapes, - and that place was a real hot arena; they used it for cockfighting. The showers didn't work, I don't know if the bathrooms worked, ‘cause I stayed at a hotel across the street. If I had to go, I just left the arena because place was so gross, but, you know, it was great heat. There wasn't much room around ringside - you're right on top of the wrestlers - and it was just a, you know, it was a great atmosphere. Plus, you know, the talent there at that point was just loaded. I mean, you know - Konnan had a crew of about 15 to 20 peak guys that could outwork almost anybody in the world, so it was a great place to see wrestling.
Yeah, and you shot a lot of those matches with Rey Mysterio and Psicosis and Juventud - which one of those three was your favorite to shoot?
Bob: Well, I was hoping it was going to be Santo and Rey Jr., but Konnan overbooked the damn thing and ruined it, ‘cause that was a big night. Everybody was looking forward to it: they had never wrestled a singles match, and of course Konnan booked a run-in after run-in after run-in, and he had to get his face on camera, and it really ruined the match, but that was the one I was most looking forward to shooting. I think my favorite match ever was at the auditorio with La Parka against Psicosis in a singles match, and they went all over the arena and they just beat the crap out of each other - they were diving off of doorways and, you know, the second deck into the first deck. I mean, they didn't leave anything on the floor that night: they just beat each other's brains out. Now, that was a great night, and the place was hot. I mean, those two in their prime could get that place just crazy; crazy. I mean Psic was such a great heel and Parka - it didn't matter if he was heel or face, he would get the same reaction every time.
Well, you mentioned you got along with Konnan at that time - which wouldn't always be the case - and you also were friendly with Vampiro, so what was that dynamic like? When did things turn for you and Konnan, and how much of that was because of your close relationship - and your friendship - with Vampiro?
Bob: Well (laughing) you know, Konnan used to always tease me about that and give me shit. I mean, one night at 2 in the morning, he came to the hotel to pick up some friends of mine - they were going to get tattoos - and he starts yelling up: he says “You’d better get out of Barnett’s room – he’s gonna start indoctrinating you.” (laughing) He’s yelling this from the parking lot at the hotel up to the room at 2 in the morning. I mean, we never not got along, but he got real pissed off at me. Like, once, he called me, threatened to kill me, and have me buried outside the desert, and we ended up talking for three hours about booking. So, you know, Carlos was all over the place. I mean, he was a real interesting guy and he could talk wrestling forever and he had some real interesting ideas, and, you know – I like the guy, but the last time I saw him, he just looked horrible. I saw him at Lucha Underground last year and it was scary looking. I just thought, “Oh man, this is- this is really bad. I hope he can cure himself of whatever happened,” but he just looked bad at that time. He was just yellow, and he’d lost weight, and he was on a cane and I didn't know what was going on. I only saw him for a couple minutes and I tried to talk to him, but his eyes were all over the place.
How did your friendship with Vampiro develop?
Bob: (laughing) Here we go to Lano again…this is, like ’92, and I had a really big screen, and Lano and Sheldon Goldberg told me they were coming over. I said “Okay,” you know, and they come over and I was watching tapes of All Japan Women from the late ‘80s – the great stuff – and we're just watching it, and then he – Lano - tells me “Oh by the way, Vampiro’s coming over here,” and I go “Wait a second.” He says “We’re going to do an interview so we thought we'd meet him here.” Of course, Lano didn’t tell me that, and I thought Vampiro was about the worst wrestler I've ever seen in my life. I mean, I'd been watching CMLL and all he did was come out to, you know, ‘Welcome To The Jungle’ and he’d get the shit kicked out of him and somehow he’d win. I just thought “The guy can't wrestle. I don't care if he comes over.” So he comes over and he walks in, and he sees this Japanese women's match - and he’d never seen a Japanese match before - and it just, like, changed his life right in front of me. He just sat down goes “What IS this?” and this was at a time when not everybody was getting Japanese tapes yet. So, we became real good friends because they – well, Lano started doing an interview and it was a typical Lano interview (laughing) which was just so stupid and off the wall, and asking questions like a fan club magazine or something would ask. Finally, I said “How many 13 year olds did you fuck?” because, I mean, down there, you know, he had this whole teen idol thing going on and teenage girls were just rushing the ring ,and you know they're crawling all over him and they were out in the street waiting for him at the dressing room and all this stuff, and Lano of course is ignoring the whole thing. (laughing) So - nobody wants to hear about this crap! They wanna hear about the benefits of being a superstar back then. So, um, you know, I sort of took over the interview. I don't know whatever happened to that interview, but Lano probably didn't put it out because I ended up taking over, but then we became good friends and I started getting him all this Japanese stuff that he couldn't get Mexico. Then, I would see him when he came up and he would stay at my house or- I mean, one Thanksgiving he and his wife had dinner at my next door ex wife's house, and you know, we just became real good friends. I just saw him the other night again. I mean, you know, we've known each other now for, like, 24 years.
That's crazy. (laughing) I remember: didn't he even mention your name during the Promo Azteca press conference to announce the development of the promotion?
Bob: I think he did. That whole thing was nuts because I’d gotten a call from the owner of Promo Azteca - who I never met and didn't even know who he was - and he wanted me to find out from WCW why nothing was getting done, because Konnan was supposed to be the link to Promo Azteca and WCW, and he’s supposed to get something done; I don’t know why. So I ended up calling Sharon Sidello, I think was her name? She was Ole’s girlfriend at the time, and I asked her “So, you know this guy from Promo asked me why nothing's happening.” She goes “Well, what should happen? We've never had any contact,” and I go “Well, he says that Konnan is supposed to be setting up something between the two companies.” She's said “Well, Konnan never talked to me.” Oh boy. So it turned out that Konnan just hadn't done anything, and that was when Konnan started getting real pissed off at me, but I didn't know what I was getting into. So we went down to Tijuana a couple weeks later and the owner had lunch with me and Ian, and I realized the owner was a complete moron. He didn't know who Hulk Hogan was, he didn't know how wrestling worked in the States, he didn't know anything about TV deals. He had a lot of money, he made B Movies, and he'd let Konnan book these giant shows after he'd already stolen a bunch of CMLL guys - including Vampiro - but then he loaded the company up with all of Konnan’s guys, but he didn’t know how to book, so Konnan would book eight-man matches to get everybody on the show and everybody would get paid. Finally, the guy just ran- he went out of business because he didn't know what to do. He wanted to set up TV but he had nobody to set up TV for him down there.
You know, a lot can be said about the positive influence of ECW on wrestling, but a lot can also be said about the negative impact it had all over the place, really, and I'm wondering what you think the negatives of ECW were in terms of Mexico, ‘cause it's well known that Konnan basically tried to copy everything he saw on ECW and take it down there, and that was very, very, very, different than anything that Lucha fans were used to.
Bob: Yeah, I don't think his booking worked all over the country but it worked in Tijuana, and I don't know why, but the Tijuana fans got used to craziness. He drew some real big houses for a while down there and it was a real hot company, and there was a couple of promoters and they were all being backed by the drug cartels, so they had tons of dough and the wrestlers got paid tons of money, and the shows were loaded, and there was a lot of heat, and there's a ton of blood, and there's a lot of barbed wire baseball bats and all that other shit. I mean, eventually, it got burned out and a lot of the guys got hurt, but, you know, that's the bad influence ECW - guys try to be ECW without Paul E. I mean, Paul E. knew how to book, and most these guys didn't know how to book: all they saw was, you know, the barbed wire and everything. So, you know, Paul E. made him, sort of, you know, relevant to the match, and they didn't know how to make anything relevant to the match. It was just lots of guys were running around and, you know, hitting each other with stuff.
You hear a lot about dangerous Mexico is, and, I mean, look: there were even wrestlers getting kidnapped (laughing) every now and then. I believe Vampiro may have been kidnapped or hijacked at some point.
Bob: Yeah. He had his Hummer stolen.
Yeah. I mean, there you go. What was there a point where things got too dangerous that you didn't feel comfortable going down there, or did you just stop going because the wrestling wasn't as good?
Bob: Yeah, no, it was about 2003 or 2005 was the last time I was down there, but the wrestling was still pretty good. They fixed up the Auditorio, which was great. I mean, the place used to be the biggest dump and then they finally put an air conditioning and a glass roof and they cleaned it up and I was really looking forward to going down there. But, then one night - the auditorio was on the east side of town and one night - you can hear gunshots. I just said “Ehhh, I don't know about this,” and then the cops started getting even more crooked. One night, me and Vampiro were driving back to the hotel – it was a Holiday Inn down there where all the wrestlers used to stay in the good place - and we were on our way back and the cops pulled me over, I didn't do anything, and they, you know, they start talking to me in Spanish. I had no clue, and Vamp said “Uh, you know, just give ‘em 20 bucks and they'll walk away,” but then they noticed Vampiro. So, I gave them the 20 bucks, and then they wanted to give us an escort to the hotel, so they put a car in front of us and a car back of us, turned on the lights, and took us to the Holiday Inn, after they, you know, taking my money. The city was just getting a little too nuts at that point. I was just like “Get me out of here.”
(laughing) Yeah, it sounds like it! I wouldn't want to go there for that.
Bob: Yeah, I mean, that was about the time that the Cardinal got shot down, at, what was it, (inaudible) at the airport or something.
Yeah. Yeah. Well, you know, going back to the AAA shows, you mentioned about how much heat there was in the sports arena for those shows. You know, I remember, you know, for the most part, I think the smart fans were pretty respectful and the fans that were there - the actual Mexican fans - cheered the good guys and booed the heels, but there was always one fan in the crowd standing up and cheering for the heels with a sign that said ‘100% Rudos’-
Bob: Yeah. Roy Lucier.
Yeah! Roy Lucier! Did he, I mean, did anyone ever try to get to him? Any the fans try to, like, throw things at him or attack him?
Bob: I don't think he ever got attacked. He got a lot of heat. I mean, they threw him out of one show because he got too much heat before the show. It was maybe a half hour before the show – he always used to wear a white shirt, and you know, that really makes you stand out in a crowd of 15,000 Mexicans. So he's wearing a white shirt and he just says, “Well, I'm going to have some fun,” and I’m like “Ohhhh…” you know. So I see him come down, he goes up, and then he comes down the next aisle and he's doing something and throwing signs around, and the Mexicans are screaming and yelling, and they’re throwing mustard and throwing food at him and, you know, probably throwing pee at him, and then he goes back up and then he comes down the NEXT aisle, and he does this all the way around the sports arena. I don't know, there must have been 20 tunnels: he goes up and down. At each tunnel he goes down, they’re waiting for him, and you know, now they're all wise to him. So, you know, each time is getting a bigger reception, you know, and, you know, towards the end, I mean his shirt was absolutely covered in mustard, his hair was soaking wet with what, and then (laughing) he comes back down the aisle where I am and he tries to sit down next to me, and I go “Oh, no you don’t!” (laughing) So he moves a little ways away and then the cops said “That’s enough,” and they took him out. I mean, he never got to see the show that day.
(laughing) That’s all before the show.
Bob: Yeah, he got thrown out before the show. Yeah. Yeah, he just had no rules; he was great. I mean, he was in the front row at When Worlds Collide, I think.
He was definitely close to the ring. I don’t know if it was front row, but you would know better than me (laughing) because you were, you know, by ringside.
Bob: I wasn't really taking a look at him that night, but I remember when I saw all the tapes of the show, it was Lucier in every scene.
(laughing) Bix brought up that FMW show you filmed in ‘92, which, you know, was a major success and like Bix said, is a really great show. My favorite thing you ever filmed was a match - you have to tell us where exactly it was - between Sabu and Al Snow.
Bob: Oh, okay. That was at, like, an American Legion out in Pomona. Yeah, that was a horrible day ‘cause my cat of 19 years, he started bleeding that day and a week later, he was dead, and I had to leave the cat with my girlfriend ‘cause I was going out to shoot that thing, and yeah: Terry Funk did the run-in and Hawk and somebody were in the pre-; anyway. We didn't know - another one of those shows where you don’t know what's going to happen. You get to this place; it's packed. It's crazy, and I'd seen Terry Funk earlier and I go “What are you going to do?” and he goes “I'm going to do anything,” and he was involved on the show. If Funk’s on a show and he tells you he’s not going to do anything, you know that’s the biggest load of bullshit that's ever, ever, going to happen. So, you know, I did ringside and there's a bunch of guys shooting, and they're doing all this stuff and I knew Sabu’s spots, so I was getting some pretty good video, and then Funk does his run-in. I remember that at that match, he made all the photographers scatter. I mean, he used to always attack the photographers and they’d fly, Funk’s too smart - he's not going to actually attack ya; he's just going to get in your face and threaten you. But, these guys were, you know, they're all running off. Well, I just stood there and let him keep threatening me, and that's when I thought I got the best close-up I've ever got shooting. He’s just bitching and moaning and he's cursing me under his breath and everything but I wasn't gonna sell for him. I just wanted that shot because I had him right in his face. That was a great show. Damien was in that too - Damien seconded Sabu in that match.
That's right, and there's a few memorable things about that for me. One is, you may have seen Terry Funk before the show, but no one else did. So, the idea that the small indie show in California that Terry Funk, of all people, would be there doing an unannounced run-in was a big deal, and the place went crazy. The second is: as you said, you get this close up of Terry Funk as he's mouthing how he's going to kill you, and he's coming after you, and you just hear someone behind you yell “Hey Barnett! Get out of there! Barnett!” Then the third thing is this show happened during- it was still daylight outside.
Bob: Oh yeah. It was middle of the afternoon.
It was the middle of the day, and the closing shot of the video is this wild brawl happens, Terry Funk, unannounced, comes in, attacks Sabu; Al Snow’s involved too. Before you know it, it's outdoors, and Terry Funk is hiding under a car in the parking lot!
Bob: Yeah, and he’s telling this woman to get away, like, he was selling for this housewife. “Get this woman away from me! Get her away!” He could have walked down the street, but he just decided – Funk just knows how to use props better than anybody that’s ever been in the business. I mean, if there's a space under a car, he gets under the car. So that’s what he did, and he’s yelling at this woman. Finally, I’m following (laughing) him down the street as he's going to the house three houses down to where they were using as a dressing room, and I start to follow (laughing) him and this time, I could tell he was getting pissed. “Come on, get out of here!”
(laughing) Well, you know, talking about Terry Funk: one of the most fun times I've ever had around wrestling was in September of ’97, where it was me, you, our friend the late, great, Harry White, and friend of the show Scott Cornish - we all went down to Amarillo and we just had the best weekend ever avoiding Mike Lano and going to wrestling-
Bob: Intentionally avoiding Mike Lano in front of Mike Lano - that's what made it great. I mean, anybody can avoid Mike Lano, but to do it right in front of him – just, “Sorry, there's no room in the car,” when he looks in the car and there's room. (laughing) “What the fuck are you talkin’ about? There’s no room in this car!”
(laughing) There's a few things I remember from that weekend. I mean, I remember a lot, but you know: of course, we all went to the Big Texas Steakhouse - which was a great experience - but I remember after the show, there was an after party that Terry invited us to at some small Amarillo bar.
Bob: Yeah; hardcore bar.
Yeah, it was - it was a real deal bar, and we go in there and everyone's drinking and having a good time, and before you know it, you kind of said “Hey, let's get out of here and let’s go back to the hotel.” All four of us, you know, Harry and Scott also were ready, and as we're leaving: all these tough, hardened, legitimate cowboys are slow dancing with the Japanese fans - the men! The male Japanese fans! (laughing) It's one of those lasting images I'll never get out of my head.
Bob: Yeah, that was a great weekend. It really was spectacular.
You know, one of the worst things I ever did to another fan, I did to Harry White that weekend, and I love Harry - I wish Harry was still with us. You know, we didn't just avoid Mike Lano - there was another fan we avoided, and if he is a listener, I hope you're not offended; I'm just telling the truth about this ordeal. There was a fan from Canada named Andy, and I don't know if you remember this, Bob: everywhere he went, he had 3 photo albums with everything Bret Hart ever did - just pictures and newspaper articles - and he carried it everywhere. To the point when we went to the Waffle House, all of a sudden, here's Andy with all his photo catalogs, and he had a little bit of an odor. I realized he had the seat next to mine at the show and I switched tickets with Harry White, and Harry got stuck next to him. The smell wasn't the problem: the problem was the entire show - not just Bret Hart's match, the entire show – Andy held up a Canadian flag, and it blocked part of Harry's view and I apologized to Harry afterwards. He actually thought it was funny that, you know, this whole thing had happened.
Bob: That was a great wrestling show too, especially the Buh Buh Ray against Shane Douglas match. I don't think I'd ever seen Buh Buh Ray in a singles match, and I think Shane was still a face in ECW then. I can’t remember.
I don’t think so, but not sure.
Bob: I don’t know. All I remember is he went over to the side of the ring and he hocked a big loogie on a bunch of Texans in the second row and they were ready to come at him. I mean, Shane just got a shitload of heat that night, and Buh Buh Ray was great. I mean, Buh Buh Ray was just wrestling real big that night and that was a great match. I mean, where were we? We were at second row or something for that thing.
Second row – we had second row; they were great seats. We had a great time. I remember right before we went into the arena, you and I were standing there, and was just one of the most beautiful skies we'd ever seen - this Texas sky, it was amazing – and we turn around, and all of a sudden, Dave Meltzer’s standing there.
Bob: That's right. Yeah. We're sitting at a picnic table and all of a sudden, he walks by. (laughing) Like, what are you doing here?
(laughing) Out of nowhere! It's like “Wait, who's that curly haired guy Harry's talking to? Oh shit! It's Meltzer!” (laughing)
Bob: “What are you doing in Amarillo?” Yeah, and that arena was real old. It was a great arena - I mean it had probably been there for 40 years. The place was packed, and the fans were real-deal fans. I mean, there weren't too many smart aleck’s at that show.
And we'll talk more about Mike Lano shortly. I don't want this to start any sort of tirade (laughing). I'll just say this: the most unprofessional thing I've ever seen a photographer at ringside do. So we're in the second row - we have a clear shot of everything - and Lano, who - and I’m not putting him down by saying this and you can tell me if I'm wrong - was, both in terms of height and weight, the biggest photographer I'd ever seen at ringside. He’s not a little guy who can hide: he has a giant ass-
Bob: And he never ducks.
And he leans over the apron - yeah! He never ducks! So, he would block- you would hear, like, cowboys yelling at him, which was hysterical because they didn't even know who he was, and he did the most unprofessional thing I've ever seen. He had a giant extra-large styrofoam cup of soda that he was drinking from - it was hot in there. I mean it was, I'm not gonna deny it was hot.
Bob: Yeah, it was brutal.
But: Lano’s drinking from this, and he would leave it on the apron of the ring while a match was going on.
Bob: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
(laughing) It’s like – how the hell could you do that?! You’re supposed to be shooting ringside since 1966 - you have to know that you're not allowed to do this.
Bob: You know, (sigh) he doesn't act like a normal person ever. I mean, we went to dinner with him one night, and he was sort of acting normal, and then he didn't offer to pay for any of it, so that was about as normal as he got. But, everything else, he's always been just a cheapskate, and a wacko, and sticks people with bills right and left. Yeah; he's the king.
I remember when we went to the Double Cross Ranch - Terry's house - for the barbecue the next day, that was when Lano was like “Hey, can I get a ride with you guys?” and you said – before anyone had a chance to answer – “Nope; car’s full,” and the car was clearly not full. (laughing)
Bob: Yeah, there was four of us. It was a six passenger car – I rented a big car that day.
(laughing) We get there, and I don't know how it happened: we turn around and there is. He somehow found a way there; it was amazing.
Bob: He probably talked his way in with the ECW guys ‘cause they had so many guys down there. They had the whole company down there.
Yeah - it was mostly an ECW crew. It was Terry Funk, you had the Romero's – or The Youngbloods - were on the show.
Yeah, but other than that, it was all ECW guys. I mean, Bret Hart was obviously there from the WWF, but other than that, it was all these ECW guys.
Bob: Yeah, and Terry booked the whole show.
Yeah. Yeah, and it was-
Bob: It didn’t get stupid, and nobody was taking the heat away from the main event.
No, and it was a great show, and that match - Terry Funk against Bret Hart – is, to me, one of the greatest matches I ever saw live, and you know, Bret Hart went over, which surprised a lot of people there. It did kind of take the air out of the building to end the show with Terry losing to Bret, and then Terry got on the mic and he said something about “No regrets” or anything, but it was a great match; a great night. It was a great weekend.
Bob: Yeah. Everybody was happy to be there, including the wrestlers. That was a great barbecue too, except when it was Terry’s daughter who told me to stop filming. I was like “What? You don’t want me to film a barbecue? Okay...” Then Paul E. started working me, and I just thought “Okay – I think we've been here long enough.”
Yeah (laughing) that's exactly right. That may have been the night we went to the Waffle House (laughing) – I’m not sure – after the barbecue.But, you know, you were known in the tape trading world for your Japan wrestling compilations, and I'm just curious, because you loved Japanese wrestling: you loved All Japan, I mean, New Japan had great stuff too. When did you burn out on it? When did you just not enjoy Japanese wrestling anymore?
Bob: Uh, probably a little ways after Baba died, the company started going a little downhill, and those guys got beat to hell and then, you know – when Misawa died, that was it. I mean, you just knew things had gone as far as they can go. There were so many- I mean, the ‘90s and early 2000’s were just so loaded. I mean, even the prelims – those shows were an hour. The first match would be better than any main event in the US - it was a pace that nobody could keep up. I mean, I can’t imagine how brain damaged some of those guys must be right now that are still alive.
Do you regret not going over there for any of those shows?
Bob: Um, there was one time I was supposed to go over and I don't know what happened. I spent all my money going to Mexico and surfing and/or going surfing and shooting at the same time. I just, I like Mexico a lot more, and I like going to the beach. I didn’t like 14 hour flights. I used to go to Australia a lot and I went there about five times, and after those 14 hour flights, I just got – ugh. That's enough of that. Mexico was always just easier and I could see shows, and, you know. I knew how to act around the Mexicans so I'd always be able to shoot. I remember – god, I’m trying to remember the city - but Vamp’s father-in-law was running for Agriculture Commissioner and it was in the heart of the drug land, and we went there and the show was great, and his father brought me a case of eggplant for the plane when I was leaving. I had to give it to the pilots because, you know, I couldn't get in the country, but, just all these great things would happen. I'd have dinner with all the wrestlers and they, you know, they'll be bitchin’ and moaning or asking me questions about American wrestling and stuff; it was just a real nice experience. I didn't think I was gonna have the same experience in Japan - just seemed like it was too crowded in Japan.
Yeah, I don't know if you and Mrs. Baba would have gotten along. I have a sneaky suspicion you may not have. (laughing)
Bob: Yeah, yeah. “Hi, I’m a friend of Mike Lano-“ *Boom.*
(laughing) We're going to talk a little about Mike Lano now. Obviously, we have our in-house legal expert David Bixenspan - the Dan Abrams of 6:05 - here to chime in a little bit about this, because this is the legal area. So, obviously: when you were previously on the show, we talked a little bit about Dr. Mike Lano and his shenanigans at Louie Spicolli’s funeral. We didn't even get into the time he shoplifted a Snickers bar and got caught in Las Vegas, that I believe I heard from - Mike Tenay was the one telling people that story, I believe.
Bob: (laughing) It could have been; yeah.
(laughing) Yeah. I mean Vegas is his territory, but we talked a little bit about the shenanigans at Spicolli’s funeral, we heard John Arezzi on the show, and Kurt Brown on the show, and - depending on when we use this segment - Don Laible on the show talking about (laughing) what kind of guy Dr. Mike Lano is. A few things I wanna point out before we go forward: when you hear these stories about what a lunatic he is, I think it's easy to think he's, like, some frothing-at-the-mouth madman and it's the exact opposite. He seems like he has a good heart, and sometimes he acts-
Bob: He probably does have a good heart, but he can't act on it.
Right! That's exactly right, and he seems very normal until he doesn't, and you were someone who was friends with him for a while, and you always got the joke. I mean, look - you like Andy Kaufman. If you like Andy Kaufman, you certainly get the joke of Dr. Mike Lano and being around him, because it's like this amazing performance art that he just doesn't realize is a performance, or if he does, he doesn’t realize the hilarity of his performance. You were also-
Bob: And then he fights back, which increases the performance and he doesn't realize it.
(laughing) Exactly. Well, like I said: you were friends with Dr. Mike Lano and you always got the joke, and then at some point, you sued him and there was this whole case. So let's go over this: what are the origins- how did this happen? How did you first have a friendship with him, and what led to the initial “I'm going to sue you” moment?
Bob: I first met him - I believe it was in ‘91 at the Cauliflower Alley dinner, and that's when he got back from his famous trip to Japan with Meltzer. (laughing) So, I had met him that night and I wasn't aware of what had happened, and I wasn't aware of anything about him yet. I just - we'd been contacting each other and we thought we'd hook up at the dinner. So I met him, and we exchanged numbers and, like, he appeared to be very normal. His wife lived- she lived down here in Southern California now, actually; her parents live real close. So, we became friends and, you know, I knew he was weird and I knew he would lie, and you know – I’d call him on it we would still be friends. I remember things started getting testy around the time when Vampiro got married. I'm trying to- I don't even know when that is anymore. It's probably 20 years ago, maybe, and he posted online that he was going to Vampiro’s wedding. So, I talked to Ian and I go “Wow, I didn't know you were inviting Mike Lano to your wedding,” (laughing) and he goes “What?!” (laughing) He goes “He’s not coming NEAR my wedding!” I go “Oh, really?” So a couple of weeks later, Vampiro was down in Tijuana for a show, and we walk in, and sure enough - there's the dentist, and Vamp just read them the riot act. I mean, Lano tried everything he could to argue his way out of it: he didn’t mean it and it was a joke and it wasn’t a joke, and he wasn't really going to come down to the wedding, and you just it was one of those nights where you just had to stare at Lano because he got Lanofied. That's when things started getting a little itchy, because he felt, because he introduced - he and Sheldon introduced - me to Vampiro that HE should be Vampiro’s friend; not me. That was just weird.
I mean, that was just weird. So, things went up and down, up and down, and in the ‘90's with the AOL wars and the Prodigy wars and everything, Lano would post stuff and everybody knew he was full of shit, but then: he posted the picture of him and Jenna Jameson. That was the beginning of the greatest period on the internet that I've ever seen. I mean, everybody was involved in that - Mike Johnson and all these guys from Southern California, and wrestlers under assumed names, and everybody wanted to know just how crazy Mike Lano was, because he had put a photoshopped picture of him and Jenna Jameson up there and swore he was going to go on a dinner date with her. They weren't even in the same room. That picture became legendary - I tried to explain it. I've got a whole bunch of copies of different explanations of that and he blames the Mitchell brothers; he blames everybody. He says it happened, it didn't happen; it's just a bunch of crap. So, things for a few years there got really weird.
Then, he was talking to me again, and he had a tape collection from a guy named Les Puskas in Northern California who had a TON of San Francisco tapes, and the quality was gorgeous; they were Betamax. It was absolutely gorgeous. They look almost like HD and I’d got a couple of ‘em, and I kept bugging him. I said “Will you bring those goddamn things down so we can copy them? People want to see ‘em,” and I didn't know they were Puskas’ tapes. I thought they were Lano’s tapes, but Lano had taken ‘em from Puskas and never given ‘em back. It got to a point where Lano wanted to sue everybody for everything: he was the “savior” of Northern California wrestling. Some promoter had stiffed a whole bunch of people and put on a bunch of crummy shows, and Lano wanted all this information on how to sue the guy and what to do, and I said “Well that’s great. I'll give you all this information. In exchange: you're giving me those goddamn tapes. I mean, I've been waiting for years for these tapes, and knowing you, you probably lost half of ‘em and the rest of ‘em are rotting somewhere.” So, that was the deal - and then I gave him all the information, told him how to sue the guy - I don't know if he ever sued him or not - and then he didn't give me the tapes.
So I just decided “Ah, screw it. This time, I'm going to sue him.” I took him to Small Claims here in Orange County. He shows up in court: he's got the suit on, he dyed his hair black. He’s in court and he's complaining about his back and everything but the issue, and the judge sends us out for Mediation. So, the mediation deal was: I would drop the suit as soon as Lano gave me the tapes - he had to give me the tapes within 30 days. “Okay,” and then he tells me “Okay. I'll send them to you next week,” Well, after two weeks, they didn’t come, so I go “Where's the tapes?” and he didn't say anything. Then, Sheldon heard from somebody that he wasn't going to give me the tapes, so I filed a motion in court to compel payment or, you know, see what's going on, because he had signed this agreement. I mean, it wasn't written by me: it was written by the court. So - there's no defense. Once you sign a mediation agreement, you’re cooked. And we get back to court and I walked in, and he walks in, and he had filed the countersuit against me but he filed it all wrong ‘cause he's Lano, and he sits down and the judge says “What do you have to say for yourself, Mr. Lano?” and goes on this classic Lano tirade: must have been 20 minutes about his bad back, and he’s got MS, and he had to drive all the way down here, I've got complaints against me with all these people for stealing videotapes and I'm going to be indicted and the WWF- and the Judge is looking at him like he's a madman. I never said a word, and the Judge just stops him and he yells to the Marshall “Go over to Mr. Lano and take the check out of his pocket.”
He had to bring the check, that, you know, it's like $1100 and something with cost, and the Marshall just comes over and opens his jacket, pulls out the check, brings it over to me; Judge goes “Case dismissed. Get out.” He says this right to Lano – “Get out,” and I'm already walking out of the courtroom, just laughing, and Lano starts arguing again with the judge, and the judge was starting to get really mad, and he goes “Mr. Lano, leave the courtroom right now.” Finally, they got him out of the court, but he didn't want to stop talking. But I already have check and I didn’t care – it was a Cashier’s Check - and then he said he was going to sue me; he says his brother's an attorney. That could be a big story. I don't even know if he has a brother, and I said, “Please do, and I'm going to drag you to court and I'm going to own everything that you currently own,” and that finally stopped him, because I was fed up with him at that point. I would have gone after his house. I didn't care, and I knew his grandmother left him a million dollars so I’d go after that, too, and, you know; that was it. Then, things got real nasty on the internet. You know, you saw some of the stuff from the old days, but I think now you'll have to tell your fans about the request record or an answer that Mike Lano filed the day showed up in court when you have given me the check, because this will make no sense, otherwise.
Well, before we get there, obviously this is the first known case I could think of a tape trade ending up in court. But, Bix - before we get there, Bix - you were around the AOL scene or the message board scene back then. I wasn't. You know, outside of the actual court case, what were people saying? What was the general thought about Dr. Mike Lano at this time, and what did you guys know about Bob suing him for the San Francisco wrestling tapes of Les Puskas?
(Well, Bob was keeping us all apprised at the time, but there's a lot of stuff - some of the Bob has archived on one of his old message boards, some of it he doesn't. The big thing that really introduced me to the idea of Lano being Lano was in ’98, when Wally Yamaguchi was on WWE TV managing Kai-En-Tai, and how they did the whole angle where Val Venus seduces his wife - who was played by an under-age model, but that's a whole ‘nother conversation - and Lano starts posting on the AOL Grandstand forums, which were the non WWE wrestling forums, about how ”Yeah, that’s really his wife, blah blah, blah – we met many times when I would be in Japan or whatever,” and then John Williams and other people are like, “No… that's not his wife. I know his wife. She looks nothing like her. His wife is much older than that,” and it just went back and forth, back and forth. So, Lano was already on thin ice, and then the Jenna Jameson thing leads him losing his forum. So then, as this is going on - I mean Lano really wouldn’t trade tapes with anyone, but Bob would always keep people updated. There was the whole thing with- there was just a thing with this thread and Bob has it archived somewhere - we can link it you know in the description - a thread at the old So Cal Uncensored forums where it's just Lano getting grilled on everything and Bob saved the emails that Lano was sitting in the middle-)
Bob: And then that brought up the Spicolli Funeral on So Cal; yeah.
(Right, right. Around this time, the big detail I remember that I forget if there still any, like, extras going on at this point, or if it's after this has all been adjudicated, but all sorts of tape traders start getting these emails from Mike Lano saying that he's the “legal representative” of, like, every surviving family member of every wrestling promoter – the Owen’s, the Boesch’s,-)
Bob: Mrs. Ray Stevens.
(Yeah, and “WWE’s Jerry McDevitt is going to get you in a legal heartbeat,” was that was the key phrase I remember?)
Bob: Boy, that’s a quote I forgot – “Legal Heartbeat,” yeah. Uh-huh…
(And just sending these, like, threatening- I think there was a sticky at one of the forums from Bob that was like, “Don't worry, this guy's not a lawyer. He doesn't represent anyone - don't worry about it,” because you have to remember: people were scared, because I want to say it was maybe, what, two years before this when WWE started kind of sending their people after tape traders and trying to do the RIAA kind of extorted settlements on them? So, there were people who were legitimately scared for that reason because, stuff like that had happened. But, yeah - he pulled that for a while, and I want to say that he did go quiet for a while after that, didn’t he, for at least a couple years?)
Bob: I think so. I mean, once he started doing, that it brought everything back for a while, ‘cause there was just a lot of people that really hated him and finally, like, gave their real names. There was somebody - I remember there was somebody on So Cal Uncensored that said everything about what he did at the funeral and Lano challenges the guy to not use a phony name, so the guy used his real name – he even said the exact same thing – and then Lano didn’t know what to do.
*siren noise in the background*
Uh-oh. I hear sirens. It could be Lano.
(Also worth pointing out with the Les Puskas tapes when Bob talking about Lano not giving them back, this was, like - he had borrowed them, what, like 10 years earlier? More?)
Bob: At least. I mean, these are tapes from the late ‘70’s.
(Right! So, I mean, this is-)
Bob: I mean, when I asked Puskas about it, he says “I don't even want to talk about it – it makes me so sick.” He said I lend-
Bob: Excuse me? Go ahead.
(No – I was just gonna say, I remember getting more angry when mutual friend of ours Charles Warburton found a copy of and sent me Les Puskas’ old tape list. So, I'm looking at it and I think it was in the middle of all this, I was like, “God damn it, Lano.” (laughing))
Bob: And really great stuff. I mean, there was a lot of late John Tolos, but he was still doing great promos. I don't think Moondog Mayne was there, but there was early Muraco. I think there was some Patterson?
I think there was Moondog Mayne, actually, on those tapes.
Bob: I don't remember when Moondog died. He might have died earlier, I don't know, but there was a lot of great stuff. But, the best part about it was the quality was fabulous and Hank Renner was still the announcer, with the checkered coats, and I mean, you couldn't beat it for, you know, for cheesy tapings. These were the best tapes.
(Right, and that that was also when in San Francisco, they were also dubbing in crowd noise at a studio taping.)
Bob: Yeah, so I heard.
(Which was – think about, like a mid-90’s WCW Saturday Night. Now, imagine them doing that with louder dubbed crowd noise, in front of, what, 50 people?)
Bob: 50 people; yeah.
Around this time, he sent me a tape, and it always frustrated me because it was so good in its best of moments. It was a tape of 1980 Florida and ICW, which both aired in San Francisco as Roy Shire was shutting down, and it was perfect quality. It was clearly off Beta, because it was – you could kind of tell when you see something from that era if it was recorded on VHS or Beta. It was clearly taped off Beta, and it was beautiful, and then as the tape went on, it got snowy, and then it rewound itself, and then it started from the beginning. I mean, Cornette pointed it out years ago: there are things that would happen when you get tapes from Mike Lano that didn’t happen when you got tapes from anyone else, and it didn’t make any sense.
Bob: Yeah; no – at all. You didn’t know what was going on. You’d go “Huh?” and then you’d just finally have to throw the tape away, because nothing Lano ever sent worked.