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Veteran Concert Promoter Ron Delsener Dishes on His Milestone-Packed Career Booking David Bowie, The Beatles and More

The recipient of Billboard's Golden Circle Award discusses his milestone-packed 50-year career as a concert promoter.

What are some of the memorable shows you’ve booked?

Ron Delsener: There are thousands of them: the Halloween celebrations that Frank Zappa did at the Palladium; David Bowie’s debut concert at Carnegie Hall on the Ziggy Stardust Tour in 1972. I had a hard job getting him in there because they said, “You can’t put a transvestite on the stage.” Bob Dylan when he went electric at Forest Hills Stadium; The Beatles at Forest Hills, before Shea Stadium.

What’s the act that got away?

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Ella Fitzgerald, because her manager Norman Granz was a pain in the ass. He wanted $75,000 for her to play Central Park. I was paying $2,500 to $5,000 an act because I was only charging $1 for tickets. Norman Granz died a billionaire. He made so much money buying Picassos and Matisse. He took all his money that he made from Ella and he bought paintings. And he’s been dead 20 years.

What’s the hardest part about promoting today?

Working for a big corporation like Live Nation — everybody here is trying to book the same act.

How has Barclays Center changed the live business in New York?

For two years, everybody wanted to play Barclays first, and now it’s back to the same old, same old. It’s the Garden, the Garden, the Garden. I think [MSG chief] Jim Dolan knew there would be a honeymoon period.

50 years — what does that mean to you in terms of your illustrious career?

That’s a difficult question. What does it mean? Well it means that I missed life. I devoted it to this shit. I devoted it to being a babysitter… not for my children. Not for my children, but the agents, the managers, the venue operators and the artists.

They’re not going to leave my will to the artists, the managers. I’m not going to leave it to my kids either. I’m going to leave it to cats and dogs and animals.

An edited version of this article first appeared in the Nov. 22 issue of Billboard.