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‘Club MTV’ Hits the Road and It’s Live

On paper, it looked like a smash: Take the popular “Club MTV” TV dance show and put it on the road, with performances by such chart-topping artists as Tone Loc, Paula Abdul, Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam and Milli Vanilli.

But early ticket sales on several dates of the Club MTV tour--which got under way last Tuesday in Mobile, Ala.--have been surprisingly sluggish.

The main problem? Fans don’t seem to understand the concept of the tour, and may even think it’s an on-the-road taping of the TV show.

“The biggest question we get is, ‘Is this is a TV show or is this a concert?’ ” said Abbey Konowitch, MTV’s vice president of programming. “Until they’ve seen the TV show come alive in concert, there’s bound to be confusion in the consumer’s mind.”

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The concerts are hosted by MTV veejay Julie Brown, and feature the Club MTV Dancers and 30- to 40-minute performances by each of the acts. The show is set to play the Forum on Aug. 12 and is expected to play the Pacific Amphitheatre on Aug. 13., with Information Society and Was (Not Was) substituting for Lisa Lisa.

The tour promoter, concert industry veteran Louis Messina, said that puzzled fans keep asking, “Is it live or is it Memorex?”

“They see ‘Club MTV’ and think the artists will be singing to pre-recorded instrumental tracks,” Messina said. “It’s hurting us. We need to get across the idea that this is a real show with real live bands.”

Another possible problem: The shows feature several hot artists but no superstars--a collection of supporting acts in search of a headliner.

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“We’re trying not to ride upon one mega-star,” said Messina. “We’re selling a concept. We knew it wasn’t going to be an automatic, that we’d have to go out and market this thing. But once people realize what we’re bringing, I think they’ll respond.”

MTV’s Konowitch added that keeping the spotlight on the event as opposed to the performers is one of the themes of the tour, as it was on last year’s tour built around the cable channel’s popular metal show “Headbangers’ Ball.”

“One of our philosophies with these tours is taking artists who can’t normally headline themselves and putting packages together,” Konowitch said. “On the Headbangers tour we took Anthrax, who never headlined, and put them with Helloween and Exodus and sold out arenas they couldn’t otherwise have played.”

Messina said that the early ticket sales have been up and down. He acknowledged that sales were spotty in Mobile and are also lagging in Little Rock, but said that the show sold out in one day in Milwaukee and is also doing well in New York.

“There will be certain markets where it does stronger than other markets,” said Bob Friedman, MTV’s senior vice president of marketing and promotion. “But we’re looking at this as an annuity: We want to repeat this every year. We want to use it as an umbrella to package a whole bunch of acts, take them on the road and have the party come every summer.”

BIG BASS MAN: It’s a natural idea for a musician’s biography--a book packaged with tapes so you can hear excerpts of the music you’re reading about.

But Allan Slutsky, who combined the two components for a critically hailed biography of influential Motown bass player James Jamerson, said that he backed into the innovation.

“It was out of necessity,” said Slutsky, who used the pen name Dr. Licks on the project, “Standing in the Shadows of Motown: The Life and Music of Legendary Bassist James Jamerson.”

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“I’m not a writer by profession,” continued Slutsky, 37. “I’m a musician. If I had just written a straight bio about James Jamerson, it would have been a flop. My strength in getting his story across is in the music.”

James Jamerson Jr. narrates the tape, which proceeds from lighthearted anecdotes about his father’s early days at Motown to more serious recollections of his drinking problems. The tape ends with Stevie Wonder’s eulogy at Jamerson’s 1983 funeral. (Jamerson died of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 47.)

Slutsky, whose previous books are guitar instruction manuals, said that he started investigating Jamerson’s bass parts and became “obsessed” with him: “I realized there was much more than just a bass line. There was an incredible story. I wound up talking to 200 people, and including 25 on the tape.”

The book and cassettes, shrink-wrapped together, retail for $29.95. The book is sold in music equipment and sheet music stores, but Slutsky hopes to get it in mass-market book stores.

And now? “I want to go back to doing what I do,” said the 37-year-old Philadelphia native. “This was a two-year sidetrack to my musical career where I just got obsessed with something.”

NEWS NOTES: Debbie Harry is finishing work on her first album for Sire Records, “Deaf, Dumb & Blonde.” The LP is being produced by Mike Chapman, who supervised most of Harry’s big hits with Blondie, and will include three collaborations with the Thompson Twins. The album--due in August--will also include “Bright Side,” which Harry sang in character as Diana Price on the recent music-biz episodes of CBS-TV’s “Wiseguy.” Harry took a break from the sessions to join the Tom Tom Club on stage at the final show of their three-week stand at the Second Coming club in Hollywood. Harry sang three songs with the group, including the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” and the Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale.”

Michael Jackson’s former manager, Frank Dileo, has beat his one-time client to the punch in landing a meaty film role. Dileo, who was dismissed by Jackson four months ago, is making his acting debut as a Mafia underboss in director Martin Scorsese’s “Good Fellas,” which stars Robert DeNiro. . . . Both lyrics and guitar chords will be printed on all configurations of Jules Shear’s upcoming album, “The Third Party,” due July 24. . . . Comedian and rock groupie Sam Kinison introduced metal band Warrant at recent show at Gazzarri’s. Members of Whitesnake, Ratt and Kingdom Come joined Kinison and Warrant on a finale of “Wild Thing.” . . . Cliff Martinez, drummer for the Dickies, composed and performed the score for the critically lauded film, “sex, lies . . . and videotape.” Martinez’s only previous scoring assignment was one segment of “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.”

FINALLY: Here’s a concept album that could give you the shakes: Robert Kraft’s new “Quake City” features 10 songs woven around the story of a Hollywood game-show entrepreneur whose life is drastically altered by the Big One. The album features appearances by Bruce Willis (Kraft produced Willis’ “The Return of Bruno” album) and Janis Siegel of Manhattan Transfer. . . . Van Dyke Parks has also chosen an rather unlikely topic for a concept album--the history of U.S./Japanese relations. Parks’ “Tokyo Rose,” his first album in five years, is due next month.

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