20 Years with Townes Van Zandt

by Harold F. Eggers, Jr.

William Kevin Eggers Tribute

Feb 9, 1943 - May 20, 2020

My brother William Kevin Eggers accomplished so much in his life. He was a renowned Music Producer & Publisher, Film Producer, owner of three Record Labels, Broadway Play Producer, Book Publisher, and an Arts Innovator of the highest degree.

His career in music began when he was eighteen years old and living in Los Angeles. Lee Hazelwood, renowned producer and singer/songwriter, who wrote such hits as "These Boots Are Made For Walking" for Nancy Sinatra, and "Going Back To Houston" for Dean Martin, hired Kevin to run his LHI Record Label. Kevin became friends with Fred Astaire and Clint Eastwood.

During this time Kevin was good friends with Ricky Nelson who introduced him to Elvis and Lamar Fike at a football scrimmage in Beverly Hills, California. Lamar was the closest friend and confidant to Elvis and worked with Elvis as part of the "Memphis Mafia '' from 1956 'til Elvis death in 1977. Lamar is the only Memphis Mafia member to live at Graceland. Marty Lacker from the Memphis Mafia said of Lamar, " Lamar Fike was Elvis' mother's favorite of all those around Elvis, and that connected him and Elvis forever". Lamar was at Elvis' side from 1956 'til 1977 when Elvis passed away. Lamar and Kevin Eggers were the best of friends, working together on many music related projects over the years until Lamar passed away January 21, 2011. Lamar introduced Kevin personally to all the music artists and music business movers and shakers that he got to know while working with Elvis.

Kevin moved back to New York City when he was twenty to become an agent at General Artist Corporation (GAC), where he met and began working with agent Sid Bernstein. In time, Kevin began co-producing live shows with Sid Bernstein with many of the greatest artists of the time including; James Brown, Ray Charles, Nina Simone, Tony Bennett, Doc Watson, Dick Gregory and Lightnin' Hopkins. And the list goes on and on. He worked in so many different genres of music and booked artists at the premier theaters in New York City and throughout America, including, among others; Carnegie Hall, The Apollo and The Paramount. Kevin was a member of the renowned Friars Club in New York City and additionally booked artists at Clubs such as The Coca Cabana and The Bottom Line etc. Many shows were "package shows" (5 to 10 artists on each), hosting the greatest artists in Rock & Roll, Blues, Folk, Country Jazz, and more.

During this period, Kevin lived in Greenwich Village. His apartment was up the street from Washington Square and the Cafe Wha. At this time Kevin was working as an agent at the biggest booking agency General Artists Corporation (GAC) in New York City. He knew most of the great artists personally, a full range of the music greats in all genres of music. After their shows were over, people like Jimmy Hendrix, Nina Simone, Tony Bennett, Dave Von Ronk and many more, would regularly wind up at 3 in the morning hanging out at Kevin's apartment, playing music 'til dawn.

Sid Bernstein and Kevin were the first to bring the Beatles and Rolling Stones to America, booking their initial shows at Carnegie Hall and The Ed Sullivan Show, followed by the first USA tour for both bands. Kevin was at the side of the Beatles and Rolling Stones the whole time, from when they arrived at Kennedy Airport in New York City, throughout their USA tour dates and their performances at Carnegie Hall, the Ed Sullivan Show, the Murray The K radio show NYC, and extensive press and media interviews throughout America, to when the Beatles and Rolling Stones flew back to London. Sid and Kevin proceeded to continue to book the great London based bands who toured in the USA during what became known as "The British Invasion".

In 1967 Kevin opened an office on Music Row in Nashville. His office was on the second floor of a two story building, where, on the first floor, his friend Lamar Fike ran Elvis Presley's music publishing company "Hill & Range'', the most prestigious Music Publishing Company in Nashville. Elvis would come to Lamar's office in the late night, and listen to songs 'til early morning. Lamar picked songs for Elvis to potentially record. Kevin would hang out with Elvis and Lamar listening to songs into the early hours of the morning and Kevin often stayed at Graceland with Elvis and Lamar. Kevin became an honorary member of the Memphis Mafia.

In 1967 Kevin was looking for artists to be on his new record label (Poppy Records). Lamar Fike introduced Kevin to renowned Nashville producer Jack Clement who was previously the renowned engineer at the famous Memphis, TN. Sun Records, and in Nashville had produced such artists as Don Williams, Waylon Jennings, etc. Jack played Kevin a Townes Van Zandt demo recording of "Tecumseh Valley". Upon hearing this, Kevin immediately said "I want Townes to be the first one on my new label". Kevin met with Townes, and a record deal was secured. The recording of the Townes album titled "For The Sake Of The Song" was produced by Jack Clement and released in 1968. In 1969 Kevin produced Townes greatest studio album "My Mother The Mountain". From then on Poppy Records released one new Townes studio album a year through 1972. In 1973 on Poppy Records Kevin produced the album "Then and Now" with father-and-son team, Doc Watson and Merle Watson. The album won the Grammy Award for Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording in 1974.

Kevin put some of the greatest artists on his first Record Label (Poppy Records), including Country artist Townes Van Zandt, Blues artist Albert King, Folk artist Doc Watson, and many other renowned music genre artists. Townes Van Zandt was the first artist to be on the label. Kevin personally introduced Townes and his music to all the great recording artists and music industry contacts he had worked with in the past at the renowned booking agency General Artist Corporation (GAC) and who he was working with now. At that time Kevin and Townes put a music publishing company together (Columbine Music). Many of Townes greatest songs, such as "Pancho & Lefty" a #1 hit for Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard, and "If I Needed You" a #1 hit for Emmy Lou Harris & Don Williams, were on Columbine Music.

In 1974 Kevin formed his second Record Label (Utopia Records), with several renowned international artists on the Utopia Label, such as France's "Magma". Kevin and Georgio Gomelski co-produced four of their albums.

In 1977 Kevin founded his third record label (Tomato Records) with major artists; Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, Albert King, Al Di Meola, Jerry Lee Lewis and Townes Van Zandt, Dick Gregory (comedian/activist), John Lee Hooker (box set), Brownie McGee, Robert Cray, John Cage, Harry Patch, Phillip Glass, Dave Brubeck, Jorge Santana, Ziggy Marley, Melanie, Don Randi, Chris Smither, as well as many Blues greats, Clifton Chenier, Lightnin' Hopkins, Mance Lipscomb, Juke Boy Bonner, Big Mama Thornton, Fred McDowell, Dave Von Ronk, etc., as well as a Tribute To Leadbelly, A Tribute to Monk & Bird (box set), a Bach/Martins (box set), and a two album set with Bukka White. Also on Kevin's Tomato Records Label was Townes 1977 new album "Flying Shoes" release, a new Townes live two album set titled "Live at the Old Quarter", and the reissues of all the other artists and Townes albums on Kevin's previous Poppy Records Label. Those are just a few of the great artists albums released on Tomato Records.

Renowned Producer Bob Johnston ran Columbia Records in Nashville. He worked together with Kevin on many music projects over the years. Bob said, "Tomato Records is one of the best Blues Record Labels ever." Bob produced seven of Bob Dylan's albums, Leonard Cohen, Simon & Garfunkel, Aretha Franklin, Louis Armstrong, Willie Nelson, The Byrds, Marty Robbins, Earl Scruggs, Billy Joe Shaver, Arcade Fire, Michael Martin Murphy and so many other great international artists.

Milton Glaser was a renowned graphic artist who coined the phrase "I ❤️ New York" and was also commissioned by CBS records to design a special profile poster of Dylan that was packaged with the album "Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits". Milton designed all of Kevin's record label album covers & artwork (Poppy, Utopia, & Tomato) and also artwork for posters promoting artists on the three labels, such as: Townes Van Zandt, Dick Gregory & Mandrake Memorial at Carnegie Hall in NYC, etc. Milton continued to do all of this ongoing work with Kevin from 1968 up until Milton's passing in 2020. Both Kevin and Milton were planning on doing an art book together of all the album covers, posters, and artwork Milton did for Kevin over four decades for all three of Kevin's Record Labels (Poppy, Utopia, & Tomato).

In 1990 Kevin produced a Townes Van Zandt "Newology" duets project, recording updated versions of sixty one (61) Townes songs at the Fire Station Studio in San Marcos, Texas. Townes vocals and all music tracks were completed. Each song was to become a duet with Townes and individual major International Recording Artists. An album titled "Texas Rain" of duets with such artists as Willie Nelson, Freddy Fender, Jerry Jeff Walker, Doug Sahm, Emmy Lou Harris, etc. came out on Kevin's Tomato Records in 2001. Fifty remaining duets to be produced by Kevin were in the works, to be done with major International artists. This was a massive recording project Kevin wanted to complete. It would have taken Townes and his music to the world, reaching a wider audience than he had ever reached before.

Kevin also produced for Atlantic Records the following two album sets; Professor Longhair, "The Last Mardi Gras", Albert King, "Masterworks", and The Coasters, "Young Blood". Kevin worked extensively with Ahnet M. Ertgun, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Atlantic Records. Ahmet founded Atlantic Records in 1947.

Kevin was working on a Musical based on the book he published under joint imprint titled "Elvis" with Albert Goldman as a McGraw Hill Publishing and Kevin Eggers book. It was an international best seller, viewed as the most consequential and compelling biography of Elvis. It was the biggest selling book at the time of its release in 1981 and was on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine.

Kevin did a book with A.E. Hotchner about the sixties in England titled "Blown Away: The Rolling Stones And The Death Of The Sixties".

For NBC-TV's Operation Peacock, Kevin was producer and scriptwriter for two prime time specials in partnership with Dick Clark. They co-produced the television documentary titled "Rock & Roll Dreams" and also "My Father the Circus King" starring Gunther Gabel Williams. Kevin and the film crew traveled with Ringling Brothers Circus to make this film.

Kevin produced a Broadway play "Legends" starring Carol Channing and Mary Martin.

The last few years of Kevin's life he was working on his memoirs. He planned a three book collection: The books would be; first the 1960's, second the 1970's, and third, the 1980's, 1990's, & 2000's. He asked me to locate all the massive amount of photographs that were taken of him with Sid Bernstein, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Milton Glaser, James Brown, Tony Bennett, Count Basie, Ray Charles, Carol Channing, Mary Martin, and all the other music greats he worked with over the years of his career in music and the arts. Kevin intended to write a piece with each photograph, telling the story of what was going on at that time. He wanted to do the book with me. I was very excited about doing this project with my brother Kevin but he passed away unexpectedly, and we never got to do this project. I can only imagine all the wonderful photographs of Kevin with the great artists he worked alongside and what stories Kevin would have told about those days of music magic and wonderful projects he personally worked on and experienced throughout his career in the arts.

The following paragraph is an excerpt from Kevin's obituary from the May 28, 2020 edition of The East Hampton Star Newspaper:

“Without a formal education, he was a polymath, a genius in the worlds of music and the arts,” his friend Gladys Justin Carr, a poet and publisher, wrote, Mr. Eggers was an idea man — forever bringing creative minds together to collaborate on fascinating projects. Even in his later, quieter years — living a simpler life in East Hampton, eating vegetarian, doting on his dog and his grandchildren — he still brimmed with ideas and great dreams and plans: helping a dear friend edit a collection of poems, penning his own memoirs. Born in Brooklyn on Feb. 9, 1943, to Harold Eggers and the former Elizabeth Morgan, he was of Irish descent, and had what is sometimes called the “gift of gab.” The way his longtime friend Amanda Tree put it, “Kevin was a raconteur. He could spellbind you in a minute.” Touch football with Elvis, caddying for Fred Astaire, the time backstage with the Beatles when they sang “Happy Birthday” to his date; the great stories will live on even though he is gone, friends and family said. Mr. Eggers was a beloved and devoted friend, husband, brother, father, and grandfather. He was a gardener, a birder, a writer, and a rascal, his family said. “He was quick-witted, and eternally optimistic. He loved being alive. He had a kind of unmatched excitement for the magic of each moment, and this enthusiasm was infectious. When you spent time with him, life felt more animated — as if light was shining on it, or emanating from within it,” his family wrote. “Warm, funny, devoted, a great and generous heart, he will be missed beyond measure. A brightest light has gone out,” Ms. Carr wrote."

Over the years my brother Kevin and I often talked on the phone. He had such a magical and creative spirit. His laughter was infectious to me and all who encountered him. Each and every day he was always filled with the wonder of life, new ongoing projects, and what each new day would bring. The endless amazing stories of his life in music and the arts consumed me with each new phone call. Every time we spoke on the phone, he would say that his biggest achievement in his life was his family, always stating how much he loved his wife Anne, his daughters Mary, Emily, Elizabeth, and all the grandchildren. All that I have mentioned of my brother Kevin's life in music and the arts is only the tip of the iceberg of his life achievements. I sure do miss him and his magical ways.

I love you Kevin.

Your brother,
Harold Jr.