Vinnie Birbiglia Recalls the Halcyon Days of J. B. Scott’s
Vinnie Birbiglia booked John Mellencamp into J.B. Scott’s on Central Ave. in Albany when he was called Johnny Cougar and nobody showed up. The first time U2 played there, they performed “11 O’Clock Tick Tock” twice because they didn’t have enough material. And Vinnie remembers taking Stevie Ray Vaughan to see a Mike Tyson fight at the Colonie Coliseum. Did Stevie like it? “He didn’t say much. He was a little out of it.”
From April 1979 to July 1982, J. B. Scott’s was THE hottest venue in the area for everything from punk rock to jazz. Many of my favorite shows of all time happened in that nightclub, a converted S&H Green Stamp store at 321 Central Ave.
Vinnie recalls the second time The Pretenders played J.B. Scott’s. “Chrissie Hynde came into Albany a day ahead of the show. I had a date with me at the club, and she expected me to just drop what I was doing and to go hang out with her, and I said, ‘I can’t do that.’ That was the last time the Pretenders ever played Albany.”
The first time they played J.B. Scott’s it was in a terrible snow storm. “I was surprised they made it to the club, and I was also surprised that there were a lot of fans there, and I remember Chrissie walking Sheba, my Afghan, on Central Ave. in the middle of the street because the street was closed down because of the snow. That picture made the front page of the Times Union. I remember taking Chrissie back to the hotel for drinks, and that was a story that got blown out of proportion. She had a fight with her road manager because she said, ‘I’m not going with you.’”
My all-time favorite guitarist Roy Buchanan did a memorable show at J. B. Scott’s. Backstage he was asking if anyone had drugs – any kind of drugs – but when he took the stage, it was like flipping a switch as he took his fans to heaven.
Vinnie put my sons up in the light booth for a Halloween dress up concert by the B52s that blew their young minds.
And I’ll never forget the Saturday morning Vinnie called me to invite me to a Stones concert in New Jersey that same day. And when I needed money for Christmas, Vinnie got me a seasonal job at Record Town where I walked the floor giving parents ideas on product to buy for their offspring.
Vinnie went on to work for Trans World Music after J. B. Scott’s burned down as a singles buyer for their more than 1000 stores and retired at age 60 to Las Vegas 14 years ago, fed up with the direction of the music industry.
“Billboard magazine changed the way they construct the Hot 100 Chart,” he explains today. “That was the downfall of the music industry, and the bullshit of the radio play vs. actual retail sales as a percentage to rate the position on the chart was not for me. They ended up eliminating the kids coming into the retail stores with five bucks in hand.
“In order to make the chart, they started bringing out vinyl again, and vinyl in the music industry was a nonreturnable item, and with Trans World having 1000 stores at that time I believe there was no way I could get behind vinyl as the buyer to put the product in all those stores. When you don’t have individuals who know the product in the stores, they just keep re-ordering, and they don’t know when to stop, and then you end up eating it. So, that was the downfall.”
To bolster hard copy record sales, Vinnie worked in Trans World to tie record sales into meet and greet concert ticket sales. “I was the guy who started the meet and greets on the big tours. We’d have 10, 15 different bands doing meet and greets provided you purchased the product, and I didn’t rip people off by raising the price at the shows. They went into a Trans World (Record Town) store, and the price of the CD was 10 bucks. It was 10 bucks at the show, and we sold a shitload of product and started a revolution with the new artists who were able to get the opportunity for the fans who really weren’t that familiar to meet them and get their product up on the chart. Because of the way I handled it, we had our local stores do the selling and got put into a different category. It became a retail sale vs. concert sale. So, there was more credence given to the sales that we did.”
Today, artists get a tiny fraction of the royalties they enjoyed in the heyday of hard copy sales. “You’ve got to put the blame on the greed of the labels because when Napster first came out, instead of going after Napster, they went after the kids who were doing free downloading, and once something became free, the valve was open. There was no way they were ever going to shut it down. I feel very bad for (the artists) on Pandora or Spotify. They don’t get paid for it. It’s really terrible.”
What does Vinnie see as the future of music post-pandemic? “In my opinion, it’s going to be very difficult for concerts to come back as long as the pandemic is even reduced to the point of the yearly flu, I don’t see live concerts. What I do see is a way for concerts to be virtual. When they do a virtual concert, they’re going to have to have a way to have some razzle-dazzle to them, meaning that it needs to be surround sound. They need to have great visuals that will be able to come across a normal size screen.”