Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The San Diego Chargers' Owners Don't Care About You, But it's Nothing Personal, it's Just Business

Chargers CEO Dean Spanos (right) and his liar-for-hire Mark Fabiani
I'm done with the Spanos family, owners of the San Diego Chargers, and their liar-for-hire, attorney Mark Fabiani. And they are clearly done with me. These guys keep insisting that they remain firmly committed to keeping this football team in San Diego. But just about everyone now knows that's BS. The gall of Fabiani and Chargers CEO and President Dean Spanos is both staggering and sad. It's obvious they are over San Diego and can't wait to move this franchise a couple of hours north to the crummy confines of Carson, or Inglewood. Yes, greed has trumped loyalty, and sanity.

I've defended the Spanos gang several times over the years because they are what they are: Businessmen. Nothing more, but nothing less. They're not philanthropists (though they have given quite a bit to local charities). But I'm through defending them. Because, you see, while business is business, a professional sports franchise is a different animal. A pro sports team doesn't make widgets. It makes memories. It is often woven deep into the fabric of a community in a way that most regular-ole companies aren't. There is a unique bond that typically develops between a professional sports team and its city over the years, and that should be honored, not tarnished, by the owners of these insanely profitable operations.

I've somehow managed to separate my love for this football team and its players and coaches from my distrust of and increasing disdain for its owners. But after the events that unfolded this week, that's almost impossible. Shortly after team leaders met with city leaders on Tuesday to continue discussing a possible new stadium here, those local pols held a press conference at which they were almost giddy. They were obviously under the impression that the meeting went well and that they had made real progress toward a stadium solution in San Diego. Or at least they wanted us to think that was their impression.

But before the smiles even left most Charger fans' faces, including mine, Fabiani released a contradictorily dire and final-sounding statement that made it appear as if the Charger brass had attended an entirely different meeting. The Charger owners' conclusion after the Tuesday meeting was that there is no way to place a stadium ballot measure before San Diego voters before the end of this year because of potential legal obstacles. And that all but kills any chance of the Bolts staying in San Diego because of other imposed deadlines.

That was the last straw for me. If Dean Spanos really wanted to keep this team in this town, he would have had an entirely different take on Tuesday's meeting. He would have said that he'd try like hell to avoid and even fight the potential legal pitfalls and work to get this deal done for the fans who have supported this team for the last six decades.

So, it's over for me. I still love this football team, but the Spanos family's name is mud. At this point, I'd prefer that these phony-baloney owners release a statement like the one below and just stop playing games:
Dear San Diego Charger fans, 
We know this city has been the home of the Chargers for the last 54 years. We know many of you, especially Jamie Reno, will be heartbroken if we move this team out of San Diego. But we just want the money. 
We are not willing to make a little bit less money (but still make a killing) and be looked upon as heroes by keeping the team here for the next 50 years. Instead, we want to destroy our legacy in the sports world and move to Los Angeles because a stadium deal there will cost us less money and potentially make us more money. 
The thing is, folks, we really don't care about you. But it's nothing personal. It's just business.
Yours Most Insincerely, 
The Spanos Family and Our Lapdog Mark 

At least they could sleep better at night if they released such an honest statement for a change. Given the mounting evidence that this family now desperately wants to bug out, I say to my fellow longtime and loyal Charger fans: Don't buy any more tickets to Charger games! Don't support this family any longer, because they don't give a crap about you! Yeah, I know my take here will be interpreted by some as a slam of the players and coaches, who have nothing to do with all these decisions. That is not my intent at all. But at some point you have to take a stand.

Was this really the team's goodbye to San Diego?

Assuming the Charger owners can get the stadium deal they covet up north, and I think they can because they've got the NFL and elected officials up there behind them, this was essentially the team's first real goodbye to San Diego. Officially, no. But unofficially? Yeah. The team's ownership has been jerking us around long enough. I will still root for the Bolts. But no more of my money will go to anyone named Spanos.

This is the horse manure that Fabiani dumped on all of us this afternoon: “On behalf of our entire organization, the Chargers thank the City of San Diego’s negotiating team for working with us to try to find a way, at this late date, to place a stadium ballot measure before voters in December 2015 while complying fully with the California Environmental Quality Act and election law requirements."

The statement noted that both groups have spent many hours examining possible options at three formal meetings and during numerous informal conversations. "Based on all of this work and discussion, the Chargers have concluded that it is not possible to place a ballot measure before voters in December 2015 in a legally defensible manner given the requirements of the State’s election law and the California Environmental Quality Act," said the statement, which went on to say that the various options the team has explored with the City all lead to the same result: "Significant time-consuming litigation founded on multiple legal challenges, followed by a high risk of eventual defeat in the courts."

The statement concluded that the team remains "committed to maintaining an open line of communication with the City’s negotiators as we move through the summer and leading up to the special August meeting of National Football League owners. That meeting may provide important information about what is likely to occur during the remainder of 2015.”

That last jaw-droppingly insincere graf really makes me wanna hurl. This ownership obviously has zero interest in the stadium plan presented by San Diego leaders last month. They're going through the PR motions. They just don't want any trouble. They want to continue to sell tickets for this upcoming season and act as if they're still doing everything they can to keep this team here, while they work their asses off to nail down a stadium deal in Los Angeles. 

All you Charger fans out there who keep believing, please stop. Save yourself. I know it isn't easy. I'm a diehard fan who has not missed a single game in 31 years. I had season tix for two decades and even went to the games while I was fighting cancer. I love this team. I hate the thought of the Bolts leaving. But I have grown to resent these owners. Yes, you can love a team and hate the ownership. Yes, yes, yes yes.

The mayor doesn't really give a crap, either

Personally, I don't think San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer has any great desire to keep the team here, either. I think he's just interested in optics. Saving face. He's not a bad guy at all, but he's just concerned with making it look like he did everything he could to keep the team here. No mayor wants to lose, on his or her watch, a local sports franchise that has been loved by so many for more than half a century.

Faulconer hoped to speed up the process of a public vote by putting the proposal on the ballot this year. Anything later would have been too late to meet deadlines. He and other city leaders said Tuesday that they would in fact be able to negotiate a new stadium deal that is exempt from the treacherous California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process, which represented a potential huge roadblock.

The Chargers disagree, of course. Fabiani and the rest insist that the “categorically exempt” declaration the city cited opens the new stadium project up to lawsuits that could keep the project tied up in court for years, as well as cause the Chargers to lose ground in their possible relocation to Los Angeles.

After the Chargers destroyed any optimism generated by the city's presser, the city released a subsequent statement insisting that a new stadium here still is possible if the Chargers want it. “We are still at the table. We have all the ingredients for success in San Diego if the Chargers work with us. We can get this done if the Chargers want to get it done,” the statement said.

This all happened on Tuesday. It was bloody. And now more than ever Dean Spanos looks like the West Coast version of Art Modell, the defiant owner of the Cleveland Browns who took that team out of Cleveland despite still having local stadium options. For the rest of his life, Modell was a pariah in Cleveland. He could not set foot in that city without being harassed. Make no mistake: the same thing will happen to Spanos and Fabiani.

Any chance at this point that the Bolts will not bolt?

Essentially three teams -- the Chargers, the Oakland Raiders and the St. Louis Rams -- are vying for probably two spots in L.A. San Diego is most likely going. But if the Chargers do remain here it won't be because of any genuine effort by the owners. And sadly, the relationship between the Bolts and its fans has already been permanently damaged. 

While we keep hearing Fabiani tout the 14 years of dedication by this ownership to getting a new stadium in San Diego, it's hollow praise. When the rubber hit the road, when the city actually came up with a real and viable proposal, the team bailed. Ultimately, Dean and Mark will likely be remembered as the two guys who were most responsible for taking this beloved football team, with its history of great players from Lance Alworth to Dan Fouts to Junior Seau to Ladainian Tomlinson to Philip Rivers, to a city that doesn't really give a rat's backside about pro football. 

The Rams, despite their storied legacy and legendary players such as Merlin Olsen, Roman Gabriel, Jack Youngblood and Eric Dickerson, couldn't make it up there and moved on to St. Louis. The Raiders, with their gang-infested fan base but undeniably impressive on-the-field legacy, couldn't make it work up there, either, and returned to Oakland. 

So good luck, Dean. Good luck, Mark. Be careful what you wish for. Enjoy those four-hour traffic jams in Los Angeles and the fan indifference to your team, whose name, if they leave, should be changed from the Los Angeles Chargers to something more Los Angeles-appropriate. Like, say, the Los Angeles Plastic Surgeons. Or maybe the Los Angeles Waiters-Who-Are-All-Really-Actors

Whatever you choose to call this "new" team, Dean and Mark, just don't call us. If and when you do abandon this great city, please don't be in any hurry to come back. You won't be greeted warmly.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Hank Easton, San Diego's Finest Guitarist, Debuts Monday Night at the New Croce's Park West in Banker's Hill

Hank Easton at work
I've had the rare and humbling privilege of performing and recording my songs with many truly great musicians, including some world-class lead guitarists. I've been fortunate to have worked with such skillful six-stringers as Peter Frampton, Dickey Betts (Allman Brothers), Jeff "Skunk" Baxter (Steely Dan, Doobie Brothers), Jerry Donahue (Hellecasters, Fairport Convention), David Beldock (Bordertown), Claudio Martin, Steve Langdon, and Hank Easton. While all these guys are great artists, and good people, Easton (pictured above) is second to none. He's the best of the bunch. 

Hank's been wowing San Diego music audiences for almost 30 years. He has a musical IQ and versatility that are nonpareil. In the studio and on stage, he rises to every occasion and consistently hits it out of the park, regardless of how many musical curve balls you throw him. He just loves to play guitar, as you'll see and hear if you join me at Hank's debut on Monday evening (June 15) at Croce's Park West. That's Ingrid Croce's new restaurant and music venue on 5th Avenue in San Diego's burgeoning Banker's Hill neighborhood. It's a casual but classy joint just west of Balboa Park, between Downtown and Hillcrest. 

Hank is one of the most laid back, easy going musicians I've met. He's easy to work with, a devoted family man, and a kind and centered soul. But his mellow nature belies a deep passion that is revealed in his music. This guy can rock, he can play the blues, he's got a ton of soul and he loves jazz. And he's always offering up creative ideas. 

When we entered the studio to record "Favorite One (Oh, George)," my musical au revoir to ex-Beatle George Harrison, who sadly died of cancer in 2001, Hank suggested we do a slide guitar part in the chorus. This of course was totally appropriate given George's love and gift for slide, and the sublime result enhanced the song immeasurably.

Hank (right) and yours truly at my CD release concert
I was equally pleased when Hank agreed to play in my band at our CD release party concert (right) several years ago for my "All American Music" album on 33rd Street Records. Not long after that show, which I was proud to say was standing room only, I was able to pair Hank up with Peter Frampton, one of the great rock guitarists on the planet. Hank hung with him, and then some.

Here's how it happened: After I wrote "Survivors' Song," my rocking anthem for cancer survivors, I convinced Frampton, who was my guitar hero when I was in high school, to play lead guitar on the tune. Peter generously gave me a kick-ass lead guitar solo that included his famous "wah" sound. 

But Hank, who like Frampton is a talented lead vocalist and songwriter as well as a killer guitarist, also kicked ass on "Survivors' Song." I don't think many people realize that Hank played the second solo break on that song, and it complements Peter's solo perfectly. Frampton is of course more famous than Hank, but these two major league musicians hit back-to-back homers on my record. I was happy just to be a part of it!

Then on my ethereal ballad "Away," which I recorded with the Beach Boys' family (Carl Wilson's son, Justyn, and Dennis Wilson's son, Carl), Hank delivered another memorable guitar solo. I asked him while we were recording at Josquin Des Pres' venerable Track Star Studios to please give the song, which also features Chicago co-founder Robert Lamm on keyboards, a bit of a Carlos Santana vibe but still with that trademark Easton melodic touch. I felt that would work well given the song's emotional nature. And again, Hank nailed it.

Hank Easton, Business Major

Although his cool demeanor suggests he is a Southern California native, Hank was actually born in Mt. Vernon, New York. Learning his first guitar chords at age five, he studied classical guitar, jazz and music theory at The Cleveland Institute of Music from early childhood until age 17. He graduated with a B.S. in Business from The Ohio State University in 1985.

Hank at home
Since moving to San Diego in 1986, Hank's enjoyed a successful and varied music career. His repertoire now covers everything from classic rock, pop and electric guitar classics to modern blues, classical and jazz. He's gigged all over Southern California and across the nation as a solo artist and as a standout in such bands as The Heroes and, perhaps most notably, The Steely Damned, the nation's most acclaimed Steely Dan tribute band. 

In The Steely Damned, which is fronted by Bob Tedde, who also leads the hugely popular 60's and 70's classic rock band Rockola, Hank has the heady, unenviable task of duplicating the guitar solos of the many great guitarists who've played on Steely Dan records over the years: "Skunk" Baxter, Elliott Randall, Jay Graydon, Larry Carlton, Denny Dias, Dean Parks, Rick Derringer, Mark Knopfler, and of course Steely Dan co-founder Walter Becker.

I can only imagine the amount of time it takes to master the brainy charts and parts from Steely Dan's many celebrated ax men. But Hank loves the challenge. He's clearly still having fun making music and has left that business major far behind -- though I'm sure it comes in handy when he's negotiating gigs.

And speaking of gigs, he's played some pretty cool ones over the years. His favorite? "Playing with The Steely Damned in New York City was up there, " he says. "Bernard Purdee sat in on drums. He played on many of Steely Dan's hits."

This video shows Hank jamming in New York with Purdee on the Steely Dan hit "Kid Charlemagne." Just go to the 4:25 mark, turn up the volume and marvel at Hank's musicianship. 
In fact, sometimes he's been a little too good for his own good. After his jazz fusion band opened for Acoustic Alchemy at The Bacchanal, the once-popular but long-defunct club in Kearny Mesa, Hank recalls, "We got a standing ovation, and never was asked to open again!"

Just recently Hank signed on to make his debut at Croce's Park West, which carries on Ingrid Croce's tradition of presenting the best food and live music in town. Ingrid's former club, Croce's Restaurant & Jazz Club, was a staple in the Gaslamp District for more than 30 years, but I like the new digs even more. Ingrid, a gifted restaurateur whose late husband is of course legendary singer-songwriter Jim Croce, is clearly an Easton fan. 

“After listening to the newest Hank Easton tracks, 'Snapshots,' that feature 12 tracks, I wanted to hear more," Ingrid says. "So I listened to 'Nylon and Steel” and then to '11'. Wow, what a gifted artist he is. I was intrigued by his unusual vocals and amazing guitar playing and I had the feeling he might be channeling Jim Croce’s accompanist, Maury Muehleisen. I can’t wait for him to come to Croce’s Park West to have the pleasure of meeting and hearing Hank Easton in person!” 

Hank Still Loves to Play 

Hank, whose favorite guitarists include Jeff Beck, George Benson, all the Steely Dan guys, and Steve Howe from Yes, tells me the highlights of his career are his original recordings. "Although not as monetarily rewarding as I wish, I have a lot of pride in my compositions," he says.

That's pretty common for a musician who also happens to be a songwriter. The personal stuff means the most. But he still loves performing live. "I like to share my talents with other people and make them happy," says Hank, whose appearances include songs that most musicians would never even try. "Of course, I do perform songs that are also not hugely challenging, because they are songs that connect with me," he says. "I have really found my niche with my present solo act."

On stage, Hank does everything from classical and Spanish guitar to Hendrix, Steely Dan, Jeff Beck, Allman Brothers and James Taylor. He'll also throw in tunes from such artists as Norah Jones and Michael Buble'. 
"I have no limits as to what I'll perform," he explains. "If I like it and I can do a great version I play it. This is great for me as I have a love for many different styles of music. I wrap it all into one show."

Hank likes to engage with his audiences. But you might not want to ask him what his favorite song or style is. He, uh, gets that a lot.

"I tell people that it's like asking what's your favorite food: It's not going to be the same answer every day," he says. "One day I might really want lobster, one day I might want a Philly Cheesesteak and fries or a cherry pie. Sure, there are songs that I enjoy playing more than others some days, but it's not the same for me every time I pick up a guitar. It changes with whatever mood I'm in at the time."

Join me for a smorgasbord of great live music and delicious food when Hank jams at Croce's Park West on Monday night, June 15. The music starts at 6:00 p.m. Call 619-233-4355 or email for more information and reservations.