"The Deep Freeze Story"
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WE ARE UPDATING THE DEEP FREEZE STORY NOW..
Muscle Beach, Real Estate and Rock and Roll
There are still so many details regarding this project that I
am not privy to, because of all the twists and turns the story
has taken, but perhaps if Denny Cordell were still alive he
Here is what I know about the history of the “Deep Freeze”
tape before it was dropped into my lap.
Once upon a time there was a body builder turned real estate
developer named Gilman Fera. Old Gil was an irascible sort but
he had a flair for the new and different.
This Rock and Roll thing had to be a goldmine. One day he was
approached by a group of his friends and business associates
who wanted some venture capital to produce a long form rock
concert for distribution in theatres.
The Woodstock festival had been a bust, but the movie had been
a very profitable thing indeed, and a "new" talent named Leon
Russell had made quite a lasting impression in a new rock film
called "Mad Dogs and Englishmen".
Some even say that Leon stole the show, and so it was time that
Leon Russell, a rising star in his own right, got his own movie.
It was an idea whose time had come.
In the early nineteen seventies, if you wanted to shoot a long
form documentary in a remote location you used motion picture
film. Videotape was a very delicate medium, reserved more for
the laboratory-style atmosphere of a television studio.
Mobile video vehicles, known as remote trucks could provide
live television pictures some distance from a TV station with
some prodding, but a full fledged remote videotape truck was
something still in the testing and development stage and was
mostly the province of major network sports.
But if you know anything about Leon Russell, you know that he
has always had an affinity for anything on the cutting edge,
and film was an expensive medium and these folks had been
exploring the idea of shooting the concerts on videotape and
then transferring the videotape masters to film.
Yes, I know that it’s usually the other way around.
Shooting on film and transferring to video is an everyday
thing, but this new “Image Transform” process looked hopeful
and besides, videotape editing as we know it today simply did
In fact, the AMPEX 2-inch Quad reel to reel video decks were
even more evil than “Uncle Gil”.
They had a nasty reputation for munching on tapes even when
they were brand new, and videotape editing was accomplished
with iron particle developer and a blade, not a dependable
process at all. Up to now, portable video cameras of broadcast
quality also did not exist, like I said, up to now.
Enter Philips and Norelco (yes, NORELCO).
And You Thought They Only Made Electric Razors
Philips-Norelco had recently trotted out a 75 pound, two piece
monstrosity to which they had given the dubious title,
A minicam was nothing more than a gigantic studio camera
chopped up into two pieces. The optics were in front, hung on a
metal body frame worn by the camera operator, and the rest of
the electronic circuitry was simply strapped to his back in a
separate box, and the entire affair was connected to the remote
videotape truck via a large and unwieldy "umbilical cable"
which snaked from the front of the stage to the outside of the
PHOTO CREDIT - eyesofageneration.com
Jefferson Productions, out of South Carolina, was given the
beta testing honors for two of these behemoths and Jefferson
was drafted for the production chores by one irascible Gil
Fera, of Venice, California, for a series of Leon Russell
concerts to be taped in Long Beach, Anaheim and The Charlotte
Even with this new and supposedly cheaper technology, it was
going to be a costly venture, and Fera ponied up to the tune of
nearly 500 thousand dollars for the ride. Having Leon do a live
concert film almost guaranteed the expectation
that the movie
would enjoy a lucrative release in theaters and maybe eventual
broadcast on television.
Now we all know that 1972 really was, in the minds of most
people, still The Sixties and to the cast and crew of Jefferson
Productions, apparently this was no exception.
Robert Stone Jordan had connived his way into the director's chair.
Leon's really lucky that he got any video at all, because as it turns
out, Robert Stone Jordan's chief vocation was being a master con man.
His usual modus operandi was to get a large deposit from his victims,
change his identity and run off into the hinterlands, buy a bunch
of dope and party with his friends.
known to his colleagues and peers as
“Stoney”, was a genius,
but apparently he was an evil genius.
But the only reason he actually did step up and do an actual production
instead of skipping town was because he idolized Leon Russell, and
it was his dream to actually do a concert film with the Master of Space
But Jordan ran a rather loose ship and things got real bad real
fast on the technical end and nobody seemed to notice until
viewing day some weeks later.
Vertical and Horizontal synch were a phantom-like thing that
drifted in an out of the camera originals like a bad dream, and
hardly a minute went by on the tapes without a giant glitch of
some sort. Imagine a really expensive VHS tape that had been crinkled
in a defective VCR, only it's a "VCR" that costs 200 thousand dollars
and the tape weighs twenty pounds. It was just that simple.
Somewhere, somebody in charge on the technical side had failed, and
the tapes were a disaster.
It's often been said that Leon Russell is a man who posesses a
mind so sharp that he really ought to be teaching math or
at M.I.T. and with such a mind often goes a certain amount of
Once Leon the perfectionist got a glimpse of the
crippled and glitch laden master tapes, he simply washed his
hands of the whole idea and walked away from the project.
He just wasn't interested anymore, and the Leon Russell
concert film project was dead in the water.
Gil Fera ended up taking a bath for all the front money and
ended up losing two valuable pieces of Malibu real estate as a
This made Gil real mad.
In true Italian fashion he immediately sued Jordan and
Jefferson productions for treble damages and full rights and
custody of the thirteen hours of master footage. He was awarded
the tapes and about 400 thousand dollars. Thoroughly disgusted
and at a loss for what to do, he simply went home, dragging the
huge reels with him,
(no small feat for a now 72 year old man)
drilled a hinge on
the front of an old non-working Norge
deep freezer in his
basement, threw in the tapes
and padlocked the whole magilla.
There they sat for a number of years until one day, Gil decided
His nephew, Alan Pacella was there to help.
“Gil, the Norge has got to go….”
Grunting and sweating, Alan asked, “Just what exactly is in
this damn freezer anyway?”
Gil walked over with a crowbar and wrenched off the padlock,
threw open the cover and said,
“Some GODAMN tapes of some GODAMN dope smoking hippies, that’s
what !! Throw ‘em out!”
Pacella peered in and turned white and said,
“Holy shit! Leon Russell?”
Alan convinced Gil that not only were the tapes worth saving,
but that he would personally see to it that something good came
of the whole affair. Gil wasted no time in taking Alan down to
his attorney and having the rights and ownership transferred to
his nephew Alan and Alan, for reasons I will never know, threw
them in the trunk of his Mercedes. (Why is that so bad? Read
For the next three years, Alan traveled to every post-
production house in L.A.
This was a good thing. The bad part was the fact that he would
leave them in the trunk of his car in between visits to the
post production facilities.
Not exactly climate controlled storage.
Reels Into Ashtrays, and a chance meeting mixup
No matter where Alan went, whether it was Premore, Complete
Post, Compact Video or Modern Videofilm, (there was a total of
about fifteen)the result was the same.
The editors would put the giant reels up on one of their few
remaining 2-inchers and say,
“Mr. Pacella, you may as well take these 2-inch reels home and
make ashtrays out of them. There isn’t an editor in the world
who will touch these tapes, sorry.”
Meeting Alan Pacella
I met Alan through a mutual acquaintance. Shawn Casey O’Brien
was much more than that. Shawn had cerebral palsy and yet, he
was not only a gorgeous looking man, he also had the soul, wit
and voice of a true Rock and Roller. Crutches and all, he
fronted an L.A. area punk band called The Cripples, and was
something of a cult phenomenon on the club circuit.
said Shawn was possessed of a spirit.
He liked to say, "That boy has a presence."
Duff of The L.A. Guns said Shawn was like Lou Reed, only better.
I got wind of this Leon thing because Shawn was constantly
telling me about "his friend with the Leon Russell project".
I heard about it every day for nearly a year and finally told
Shawn to get me a meeting with Pacella.
A few days later I got a call from Alan, who wasn’t sure of the
exact time he could meet.
As I was courting my now ex-wife, I gave him my home address,
being careful to add that if he decided to come that night, I
might be at her place, but I wanted him to call me at home
first. Alan called back and I told him I would be glad to meet
him right away.
Three hours later, still waiting, I got a call from Linda (the
girlfriend now turned ex-wife) who wanted to know why I "hadn't
shown up for the Leon Russell meeting."
I asked her how she knew about it and she told me that a
gentleman named Alan had shown up at her place and she said and
she had been keeping him entertained and, well, somehow, she
had gotten me the job.
The phone call went like this:
"Oh damn, he was supposed to call me first and got the addresses
mixed up. I'm jumping in the car right now."
"Oh he left already."
"Don't worry about it, I got you the job."
"You wh...oh my God...how..."
"Just come over."
When I got down to her pad, she answered the door in go-go
boots, a black bustier, a pink vinyl miniskirt and fishnet
She looked like the Barbie doll that the neighbor kids had
playing with for too long.
Her girlfriend Vanessa told me that Linda opened the door and,
upon hearing that Alan was here for a meeting about a Leon
Russell project, Linda grabbed him by the arm and THREW him
into an easy chair and proceeded to walk back and forth
ranting and raving for about an
hour until a very frightened
little man suddenly pulled out his
checkbook and asked if he should leave the tapes with her.
After picking my jaw off the floor I noticed that sure enough,
in the corner of Linnie’s living room was a stack of 2-inch
video reels with a coating of dust on them like they had been
wrestled from some ancient crypt.
The first thing that needed to be done was to get these much
maligned tapes converted to a format that didn’t date back to
the days of The Honeymooners or something.
1-inch Type “C” format seemed like a good idea,
but the tapes weren’t
going to cooperate.
That Sinking Feeling
The moment I put up Reel Number One over at Dubs, Incorporated,
I heard a sound that reminded me of a lawn mower on LSD.
Quarter inch size bits of tape rained on the floor like a
ticker tape parade. What followed was two months of heat
treating, running the tapes over a blade and cleaning, an inch
at a time, followed by prayers as we again tried running the
We still suffered massive casualties. Those of you who attended
the Charlotte concert will remember that Nitzinger was one of
the opening acts. It seems that during the early 1970’s 3M had
been experimenting with a cork lining for the inside of the
metal reels on certain tapes to minimize lateral tape travel
during fast forward and rewind cycles. Three years in the
trunk of a Mercedes had rendered the adhesive for this cork
liner a sticky mass of waxy goop that very nearly destroyed the
heads on a two hundred thousand dollar AMPEX 2-inch Quad VTR,
and the master reel for Nitzinger was so hopelessly entangled
upon itself that even disassembling the metal reels caused
further damage to the tape.
Unfortunately, Nitzinger died on the cutting room floor. The
same nearly happened to the reel for The Freddie King Blues
Band, but somehow we managed to save that one by tossing the
entire reel into the heating unit and leaving it on low setting
until we could carefully wrangle the tape from the reel.
Then we slowly wound it onto a fresh, unused metal reel and
cleaned it inch by inch. While doing the transfer to 1-inch
Type “C”, we also made duplicate sub-masters on ¾ inch SP U-
Matic cassette for viewing and off-line editing.
I first observed the massive video glitches that plagued the
concerts and started to have the same sinking feeling that all
the previous editors in La La Land had experienced when it
occurred to me that, except for an occasional hat change, the
concerts were very nearly identical, both in costume and song
sets. Why not grab the best soundtrack of a particular song and
try to synch up matching video from whichever one of the three
concerts would yield some stable footage?
A simple enough affair, if there is synched playback during the
original taping. But this was a live concert, and I had to pray
that Leon did not take liberties with the stylings from night
Suddenly it was no longer all that simple.
No time code, just me and my trusty eyeballs, and Leon.
It turned out that Leon is quite dependable when it comes to
timing and for the most part, the songs were a good match from
venue to venue. All I had to do was log thirteen hours of
footage and shuttle back and forth between three separate
concerts and then blend the result into what would hopefully
appear to be a single concert.
I was at the mercy of “Stoney” and his crazed crew of
technicians, and whatever legacy they had left intact on tape,
a few seconds here, a minute there. I would lay down song
footage from one night and then, piece by piece, shot by shot,
cover a multitude of electronic sins, using my eye to lip synch
I wondered who had the idea to dress those girls in plaid
bellbottoms but somehow it seemed appropriate, plaid on stage…
It was, after all, still The Sixties.
I just prayed I wouldn’t end up with square eyeballs when it
was all over from sitting two inches from the video monitors.
I became very familiar with Leon’s stage presence and
mannerisms during the next months. I also marveled whenever a
glimpse of those humungous “Minicams” came into view. The
fellows operating those monsters looked like Hell’s Angels and
they still wobbled under the crushing weight of the electronics
strapped to their torsos. They were like Video Visigoths
wrestling some gigantic electric Hydra with two heads. On
stage were three refrigerator sized studio cameras on big
studio pedestals. This being 1972, the end result of all this
effort was a riotous attack of light trails and smearing color,
set down in what I could only describe as the opposite of
Steadicam. I called it “Shuddercam”, but I can’t even imagine
what my own shots would have looked like after an hour with nearly
a hundred pounds on my back. I probably would have ended up
on the floor, trampled by Leon Lifers.
As the months went by I kept Alan Pacella informed of the
progress I was making, and of course I also kept him informed
of the expenses, which were starting to stack up to a
prodigious bill. But Alan Pacella was a rather magnanimous
type, almost like a sawed off Aristotle Onassis, and I was told
to spare nothing and no expense to get the job done.
Eventually I had a finished rough cut and when I presented Alan
with the bill he nearly fainted. After regaining his composure
he told me that he was going to have some difficulty raising
that much money and he wanted to know if we could work out a
deal, with a portion of the money up front and the rest on "the
back end" after the concert was in the distribution pipeline.
Since Linda, "the girlfriend soon-to-be-ex-wife", had been previously
married to a rather well known Hollywood screenwriter, I was
already being peppered with some good advice, namely the evils
of the phrase "net profit", which translated roughly to
I finally settled with Alan signing me on as a partner in the
authorship of the work and a deal memo was signed to that
effect and I was also entitled to ten percent of the gross and
five percent of the "nyet", but for the purposes of this story
the important part is that Alan made me a partner in the
of the project, a signatory.
Meeting the M.O.S.A.T.
(Master Of Space and Time)
We screened the rough cut and pronounced it ready for online
editing, the final step in producing an edited master ready for
duplication. But Alan Pacella knew that the key to the success
of this project would be having Leon Russell on board.
Unfortunately this would prove to be Alan's eventual undoing.
We tried for several weeks to get a meeting set up, but going
through "Leon's people" was a vivid re-enactment of dealing
with Elvis Presley's crew of Flying Yes Men.
Getting a read on Leon's business manager at the time was about
like reading wallpaper.
With nothing forthcoming and impossible to pin down we were
flummoxed by an office staff that just did not understand what
It was difficult explaining that we "had the lost Leon Live
video reels from 1972". They just didn't get what we were
trying to put across.
Leon was going to be playing in the Long Beach area and we
decided it would be smart to get a copy of the rough cut to
Leon in the hopes of getting a meeting with The Master of Space
and Time and perhaps a few minutes of interview footage.
God, were we naive or what. Little did we know that Leon
reserves a special place in hell for people who want to talk
business on the road and, pikers that we were, we had no idea
what we were getting ourselves into.
We arrived at the bar in Long Beach, a rather pleasant little
dive with a small stage and a large dance floor. We learned
that there were two shows that night and as we settled down at
our table I dragged my professional video camera and video deck
and all my gear and gathered it around our little enclave.
Leon's road manager approached us and warned that we were not
to shoot any of the night's performance and I quickly informed
him that what I really wanted was a few moment's sit-down where
I could ask Leon a few questions about the Leon Live album tour.
I showed "Glen", the road manager, the VHS copy of the rough
cut and told him that this was the movie of the tour that was
1972 and that Leon might find it interesting.
Glen took the tape and said that he would pass it along and
have Leon take a look at it between shows.
Then the lights went down and the Master of Space and Time took
the stage, with Edgar Winter as special guest.
It was a magical show, but Leon seemed tired from a long
stretch on the road, the West Coast being at the far end of
something that had started out in Nashville, and it was
understandable, but we could see that Leon clearly enjoyed
playing with his saxophone
soulmate, and the band was tight and ready to rock.
Leon said nothing to the crowd but went straight to his work,
handily ripping out renditions of his classics and before we
it the show was over, and Glen approached us again a few
What followed still puzzles me to this day.
Glen strolled over and told us that Leon had looked at some of
the tape and that he wanted to talk to us, and then he said some
things that I found unsettling:
"Listen, I have to tell you a couple of important things.
First, I can only let two of you on the bus...Leon doesn't see
people when he is on the road. You two will be the first people
he has invited on the bus in five years. And I dont want you to
get your hopes up either.
What we're dealing with is a forty-eight year old man who
probably doesn't remember all the way back to 1972, he's not in
good health and he is not beyond shooting himself in the foot
over a principle."
I thought that was sort of a cheap shot at a man who had been
routinely disrespected by every major record label on the
I didnt think that Leon needed another Judas in his midst but
who was I to say what's right and what's wrong.
I chalked it up to "The Flying Yes Men Effect" and my soon to
be ex-wife and I headed toward the bus with Alan frantically
gesticulating and haranguing Glen in the background.
I knew that bringing a crazed Alan with me would get us
jettisoned faster than I could say "Doda koo panga
Ma doda koo kala".
The bus was a mixture of Bohemian delights and carney mystery,
with oriental tapestries and large comfy loungers on one side
and a couple of booths on the other. We were seated in one of
the booths and Leon appeared from the rear of the machine,
still sweating. He looked like he had a headache and he was
wiping his nose, which turned out to be an ongoing problem
which would eventually lead to brain surgery. Leon's headaches
were a constant source of misery and his nose was leaking
cerebro-spinal fluid from his cranial cavity, but all in all he
was pleasant and charming as he greeted us and sat down.
He told us that he had watched some of the tape and looked over
all the court papers and contracts, and in his opinion we were
holding on to a bootleg videotape and he believed the documents
were a forgery.
Naturally this was impossible, because forging court papers was
surely a felony, and anyone stupid enough to cobble together
a court document with a docket number and a judge's signature
would be facing a pretty severe stretch in solitary, and also
because it was impossible to shoot a bootleg video in 1972 with
three cameras on stage and two in the crowd, but I stayed
silent as he finished his thought.
I asked him what he thought of the performance and he smiled
and said it was a crazy energy back in those days, and I
this crazy energy was some of the finest Leon Russell rock and
roll out there and that his fans wanted to see it.
I told him that whatever else, whatever other issues were
standing in the way, that I wanted to work those issues out
so that this video could receive the right kind of promotion
and the right kind of distribution.
I told him that I believed it would be good for all of us to
put our heads together and work out the problems and obstacles
so that we could all benefit from it on a mutual basis.
And Leon said: "Well I wont rule out that possibility."
He thanked us for our time and we were escorted off the bus and
as we were leaving, a very thin and energetic Edgar Winter
climbed on board and shook our hands, and spent a long time
admiring my soon-to-be-ex-wife's chest.
And then we were back on the outside. A blue Ford Pinto pulled
up with two ladies who wanted desperately for us to pass along
some fudge brownies and cookies that they had made for Leon.
They believed that we somehow had the magic to get back on that
bus to pass them along to The Master of Space and Time....
Ahhhh, future Leon Lifer Ladies in the making...
But I knew that the distance between my soon-to-be-ex-wife and
I, and that bus was more Space and Time than could be traveled
in a light-year, even though we were only a foot and a half
from the door.
Now, you remember I told you that the first show was tight, and
entertaining, but that Leon said nothing to the crowd and he
seemed a little tired.
None of us were prepared for what happened next.
Leon didnt take the stage, he LEAPED AND BOUNDED out onto the
stage, and then proceeded to burn the house down to the ground.
From the first note he followed with a series of screams and
"wooooo---hoooooo's" and he may as well have lit the keyboard
on fire and launched a depth charge at the dance floor.
We turned to each other in unison and Alan said
"Whoa, do ya THINK HE LIKED THE TAPE??"
The second show was like watching a man posessed. Leon was on
fire and he knew it, lashing out with that rock and roll tent
revival, and doing that little talking thing he does in between
songs, giving the band just enough seconds to catch their
breath in between.
The audience was rode hard and put up wet, and we left knowing
that we had made an impression on the man.
But what to do next?
First Screening, and a Sudden Departure
We knew we had a hot property on our hands and it was time to
finish it and get it to the duplicators, but we wanted to see
an audience reaction.
We spent three days in the online edit facility and emerged
with a market ready product and a handful of screening tapes on
3/4 inch Umatic and 1-inch Type C.
Alan scheduled a release party for our little gang at
"Rebecca's" in Venice and then we were off to the Market Street
Screening Room with four dozen very lucky people.
The audience was dancing in the aisles before Leon even took
his seat at the piano, and the screaming didnt stop until it
was all over.
It was our first exposure to a live "artificially induced
We had "the holy grail" of Leon Russell videos in our hot
little mitts and it was time to start the presses.
A month later we had thousands of VHS tapes and a couple
hundred contracts with Mom and Pop video rental stores all over
the country and we started shipping. Soon we got on board with
Tower and a few other chains and things moved a little faster,
but we still couldn't get next to Leon. Here it was, 1989, and
seventeen years of bad blood and lawsuits kept Alan from
getting what he wanted more than anything else in the world,
Leon's blessing for a job well done in rescuing something that
everyone thought was lost forever.
It was almost as if the plucky little concert video was
radioactive in Leon's eyes, and perhaps I couldn't blame the
legendary songwriter for seeing it that way. He had signed over
everything, expecting to see a finished movie in the theaters,
a concert movie that would rock the crowds the way the live
All he had gotten on the other end was glitches, broken dreams
and a disappearing act. It was truly a "Carney" moment, only he
was probably feeling like a mark.
But all of that is conjecture. The fact is, the more the VHS
sold, the more bad blood and mystery started to surround it.
We kept trying to get another meeting with Leon but it was not
going to happen. Alan got more and more depressed, and one day
he came over to my apartment, sat us down and said he was
checking out, burning the last of the big plastic and checking
We thought he was kidding, he had a flair for being
magnanimous, a quick temper and a streak of drama, all behind a
set of gold framed Onassis style eyeglasses.
This was a guy who would grab us on a whim and fly us to
for lunch in his private plane, using only a few hundred feet
to take off and even less to land, a guy who could lose his
temper in a second flat and announce that the whole project was
off because he didnt like the ending credits, and five minutes
later he was apologizing and handing out hundred dollar bills
as peace offerings.
Alan lived large, but he died small, lonely and alone, and we
didnt know about it until a few weeks later, when we were told
that he had committed suicide.
Everything ground to a halt, Alan's friends and family
disappeared and my soon to be ex wife and I were left with the
paperwork and a set of sub-master tapes and no idea what had
We went to the storage facility only to find that the 2-inch tapes had
disappeared, and so had the 1-inch online master.
All that was left was a small stack of 3/4 inch U-Matic sub-masters,
some with time code burned in and some for screenings.
We had no idea what had happened to all the assets.
This project had so much surrounding it that it was hard to
Promises, fame, fortune, broken promises, love, romance,
marriages, births, divorces and deaths and all the bad blood
swirling around it but I could not let go of it.
Did the earth move for you too dear?
Then the 1994 Northridge Earthquake struck and I lost
everything I owned, nearly three hundred thousand dollars worth
of videotape editing equipment. I also lost my marriage to the
woman who had
gotten me the meeting, by proxy, with the dead man who put me
face to face with the Master of Space and Time.
Soon I was facing my own divorce and soon afterward I parted
ways with Los Angeles and all the heartaches I had encountered.
I got sober, fell in love again, and moved away to be with a
lady I had fallen in love with many years before, one who had
gotten away, and whom God saw fit to drop in my lap, just like
he had dropped so many jewels in my lap before.
I was determined not to waste this one away to nothing. I was
determined to hang on to this jewel that I felt I hardly
Karen was that jewel.
Moving to Jonesboro, Arkansas from an eighteen year career in
the Los Angeles production scene was culture shock, but I did
it. I had nothing left from my eighteen years that hadn't been
destroyed in the 1994 Northridge earthquake...
nothing that didnt fit in a few cardboard boxes.
My boxes and I moved to Arkansas, and I worked at the pallet
factory, worked at a machine shop, worked at the local college,
but not before I first made a stab at keeping something of the
video world I had built over nearly twenty years.
I first came to Arkansas because of love, but I figured it was
worth trying to take my career with me.
I applied at the local ABC-TV affiliate for a part time weekend
position as a camera operator.
They were very very impressed with all my experience and my
resume, and then they told me that they could only pay their
camera operators five-fifteen an hour to start and that the pay
went all the way up to eight dollars an hour after ninety days.
I think I remember going back to the pallet factory, or
something like that, it was all a blur. I laid brick in West
Memphis for eight months and made some better money.
Then one day Karen decided we should buy a computer.
The first thing I did after turning it on and logging in to the
internet, almost as a joke, was type in "LEON RUSSELL" on a
I wound up at MergeOp's Leon Russell page and found myself
staring at a picture of "The Best of the Leon Russell Festivals"
on VHS, and MergeOp wrote about it, saying that it was an
extremely rare collectors item that occasionally showed up on
I went to eBay and found a copy selling for almost three
hundred dollars. The blood was leaving my head as I heard my
wife tell me that perhaps I should try selling the video again.
After all, I was now the only living signatory, and the sole
rights now belonged to me.
I was a recovering analog videotape dinosaur and I needed to
learn all I could about digital remastering and editing in a
very short period of time, and my wife had a tiny Gateway
computer we had bought on credit, and we lived in a town that
was as far removed from music as could be imaginable.
As great a musical heritage as can be hoped for is to be found
in Arkansas, and Memphis is just across the Mississippi River.
Strange as it may seem, I managed to live in the one town in
the entire state that felt duty bound to disavow itself from
every connection to that rich musical heritage.
Musically and culturally speaking, Jonesboro Arkansas was a
ghost town, even though it was only seventy miles West of
It may as well have been another country, a country that hated
It only took two more years before I finally realized that I
wasnt going to survive there, and I convinced Karen that we
needed to pack up and get out while the getting was good.
We moved to Dallas in short order and it took another two years
to save up and build a computer that would handle the digital
WELCOME TO 2009 and HDTV, A RUDE AWAKENING
The 2005 DVD was resplendent in better color and soundscapes,
at least in comparison to the 1989 version on VHS.
I managed to ship two thousand copies in short order.
I pressed those discs the same way a Hollywood studio presses
a feature film, from glass masters and nickel stampers.
These were not burned discs, they were legitimate retail
commercially manufactured DVD's.
And they looked good on the typical 25 to 32 inch analog
standard definition TV set of the era.
But when 2009 came along, America moved to the digital
HDTV era and large flat screen high definition TV sets quickly
became the norm. Naturally Karen and I wasted no time getting
ourselves a 50 inch model and of course, the first thing I
wanted to do was watch my Leon masterpiece on the big screen.
I was appalled.
Noise and artifacts that didn't show up on analog were very
much present in high definition, courtesy of not only
our new big screen TV set but also the DVD player itself,
a brand new model that faithfully UP-CONVERTED images to
high definiton even though DVD is a standard def format.
Pixels the size of golf balls, artifacts that looked like
cigars, smeary, cheesy looking block noise, mosquito
artifacts around every curved surface, and an ever present
noise background all made themselves clear on my large piece
of high definition real estate.
There was no way on Earth I could ever make another pressing
and sell the 2005 version and feel good about it.
The 1972 Leon HAD to make the transition to the 21st
and look good doing it. I knew Leon himself, a perfectionist
and devoted fan of cutting edge technology, would demand
it himself if he'd had an interest.
It was time to figure out how, but here is where the
mystery of Alan Pacella takes another turn down yet another
As I mentioned before, Alan was never a television guy.
He was a real estate guy and this was a lark, and he thought
It was an exciting adventure, and an investment that would
not only pay off but help establish his credentials as a
Naturally, he got into trouble with his real estate business
because he was devoting way too much time micro-managing the
project, as if he actually knew something about production.
Alan finally went bankrupt for what turned out to be the third
time and had to turn to atypical sources to stay afloat.
One such source was a neighbor a mile or so down the road
in Malibu. Alan had been talking
up his adventures in
the rock world and the day came when
appeared hat in hand,
and in need of five thousand dollars
cash as quick as possible.
He offered his stack of original AMPEX 2-inch videotape master
reels as collateral. And the neighbor accepted them.
The neighbor never knew how to spell Alan's name correctly and
wasn't even aware that Alan had committed suicide, and
apparently had no luck tracking him down, so he gave up, and
hung onto the tape, wondering if the opportunity would
ever present itself for him to do something with them.
And then came the day when the neighbor stumbled upon
this story. I had not yet shared the fact that my ex-wife and
I were puzzled as to the whereabouts of Alan's master tapes.
All that remained in his storage were some 3/4 inch Umatic
offline submasters. That is the material I had to use
when I put together the 2005 DVD.
We had no earthly idea what had happened to the original reels.
We thought the worst, that Alan had tossed them in the dumpster
in one of his epic fits of rage.
A PHONE RINGS IN TEXAS - A REVELATION - BURIED TREASURE
Alan's mysterious neighbor put two and two together
and one day
I got a phone call at my home in Texas.
I found myself talking to a guy who sounded almost like
at least to my uncouth and untrained ear.
I would soon learn that this cultured gentleman was a
real actual genuine bonafide European playboy, art critic, filmmaker,
musician and blues aficionado
who had spent his formative
years hanging out with Brian Jones, splitting
his time between a mystical seaside haunt in Malibu
and an actual castle
And as it turns out, his father was one of the
most celebrated painters
of the early 20th century second only to Picasso.
But at the moment, the voice that thrummed over the wires made me think of
the breakfast cereal Dracula likes to eat.
I mean, it's Texas...what the Hell do I know about castle dwelling
European playboys anyway?
He said that he'd been following my story with great interest and wanted
to know more about my DVD project.
Since I didn't know much about him, I just started
out with the general details
about being hired by Alan Pacella
...and that's when he stopped me.
He said that he had something I might be interested in,
and would I be interested
in joining him for lunch in Malibu.
And that's when I told him I was in
And that's when he assured me that it was something that was worth
coming out to California for.
He wanted to know if I might be in California anytime in the coming summer.
Well, having Mom and family out there means I already did have plans
to visit anyway, so I penciled in lunch with the mysterious stranger, who
cordially told me to bring "your lovely Karen" that he had read about.
"Your story, your story about the Deep Freeze is very fascinating, so
please bring your lovely wife who inspired you. Are you still married?"
So it was a lunch date for three...some time in the next couple of months.
Over lunch he continued to dangle at the nature of his find
but was more interested
in my relationship with Alan.
By this time I figure he deserves to know.
I was the hired help, I presented an invoice but he was unable to pay, he made
me 50% partner after my ex brilliantly insisted on
avoiding "nyet profit" and when
he died, that left
me as the only surviving officer of the company,
rights reverted to me.
Back at the Malibu hideaway, he opened a reinforced cedar lined closet,
I spied shelves full of reel to reel audio, everything from simple 1/4 inch to
2-inch 24 track, and then he brought out a stack of AMPEX 2-inch Quad videotapes.
I immediately recognized what they were and nearly fainted.
He stood, fascinated as I told him exactly what was on each reel.
What was he doing with them?
"Your boss borrowed five thousand dollars from me, you may have the tapes back
it will cost you five thousand dollars."
I finally realized that I was stuck cleaning up the
last of Alan Pacella's messes.
I nearly fainted again, and so did Karen.
This was the first time she had been face to face with the
She'd heard of them but she never understood why I hadn't searched high and low
and scoured the world to find them again, until I explained
to her that years of
dead ends and hangups from distant relatives
who hated Alan had left me
empty handed and confused.
They had "stumped the band".
And now we were face to face with the reels,
only this is where the mystery deepens
They WERE the original AMPEX 2-inch Quad videotape reels,
only they were a second set that Alan had never talked about.
As far as Alan was concerned, if the labels say the same thing then they must be
duplicates. I'd never been to his storage before, not till after he died, so when
El Linda and I stood there staring at a small pile of Umatic cassettes, we assumed
that Alan's family didn't know what the original 2-inch videotapes were, and threw
them out, and that
they were all now sitting buried in some landfill somewhere.
And Alan, in his supreme ignorance, had ME transferring a screwed up set of reels
when all along he had a second set, and if I'd KNOWN about them I would have
tried the second set.
Why WAS there even a second set of tapes anyway, you might ask?
Simple, each reel was 60 minutes in length, the show was several hours long
and a total of TWO (or perhaps even THREE) AMPEX 2-inch videotape recorders
were used in the mobile truck. The engineers would start one machine, then as
that reel neared completion, they would start the second machine, load a fresh
tape on the first machine and do this over and over in order to have continuous
If they didn't, Leon would have to pause the show periodically while tape reels
were changed, which would have broken the rhythm of the live recording.
It is even more likely that three machines were used so that TWO MACHINES were
always running. And that is why a second set of tapes existed, and indeed,
everything on this second set is offset by approximately twenty to forty minutes
from the original masters that I had worked with in 1988.
Alan Pacella, not being a video engineer, or any kind of a production person,
never gave that any thought!
So he not only didn't know or understand,
he didn't even
know that he didn't know, so he never mentioned them.
So now here I was, face to face with a mystery revealed, an Indiana Jones
style Ark of the Covenant, a Maltese Falcon. The tapes were property
of MSC Video Services but they were, for all practical purposes, held in
hock because they were collateral for an old debt incurred by a dead man,
my former boss turned partner. I could have this buried
Treasure of the Sierra Madre but in order to do my Walter Huston
Happy Dance it was going to cost me five large...and I didn't have it,
but I was determined somehow to raise that sum without being indebted
to anyone else.
SUNDAYS OPTIONAL, SATURDAYS REQUIRED
Saving up the money needed to get this second set of tapes out of
hock was a tricky proposition, not only because it took so long, but
also because, aside from verbal reassurances by my newfound friend that they were
in good shape, I had nothing else to go on. Therefore, it was impossible
to just launch a funding campaign a la Kickstarter.
What would I say in my campaign pitch, that I had a verbal assurance that
the tapes were viable, but no technical proof to back the claim up?
As it turned out, his claims were only partially true anyway, because
while the glitches on the first set might have been absent, the tapes were
not in any condition to work right out of the box.
They, like the companion set of tapes I had worked with, were also now
nearly fifty years old, so they had a lot of the same problems, oxide shedding,
oxide deterioration, weak RF signal strength.
I would not know for sure until I plunked the money down and took my chances.
For the next three years I spent almost every Saturday morning
shooting and editing low budget local cable ad spots to
add a few ducats to my meager
income, extra money to set aside
for the tapes.
In the end it didn't amount to much, but it was better than nothing.
Race to the bottom economics was sweeping the country in the aftermath of 2008
and the South was feeling it first and feeling it the most.
Debt was going up, wages were going down.
There was also the fact that the time had come for us to finally leave Texas behind.
The hot humid weather had always made my darling Karen a virtual prisoner in
the house half the year, and now with the progression of her multiple sclerosis
symptoms, the heat was posing an outright threat to her quality of life.
Simply put, it was a combination of factors that led to our decision to
move back to Southern California, because Texas was "no country for old men", or
old ladies either, at least not when faced with declining health and a need to
secure old age benefits and mild weather.
We had both lived in Southern California before, so we knew what we were
California has its own disadvantages just like Texas, but it was a known quantity
whereas Texas was undergoing economic and social changes.
We decided that we needed to trade the blazing heat and hardcore political shifts
for the mild climate and silly liberalism of the Left Coast.
But it was not an easy decision to make. Ten years in the Lone Star and we
had grown to love the many warm and wonderful friends we had made, and it was
a heartbreaking decision no matter how we chose to look at it.
I flew Karen out there with our son but my daughter and I took the vehicles
on a two thousand mile drive West with the animals.
I had tears in my eyes as Texas receded in the rear view mirror, to be sure.
I was going to miss a lot of things about the Lone Star State, especially
And it was a massive expense too, another obstacle in my efforts
up the money to get the tapes back.
And all the while I kept hoping that someday I would be able to once again
approach Leon with a final appeal to get behind this project despite his
prior experiences with Robert Stone Jordan.
A few recent breakthroughs on "A Poem Is A Naked Person",
another long dormant film project led me to believe
that there might be an eventual thaw.
This rockumentary film that Leon had put the kibosh on
finally got the go ahead
from the Master of Space and Time.
photo credit Geo Geller
Leon confessed that he didn't even really remember all the reasons he had said
"NO" to "Poem" and he had come to the conclusion that he was just
"saying NO to say NO" and
that the overwhelming
audience desire to see it was more important.
"Poem" was a great big hippie love letter to Leon Russell, and that is exactly
how the audience saw it. It made Leon all the more accessible,
all the more approachable,
all the more warm and heartfelt.
Sure enough, seeing Leon at the premiere, smiling and asking if people really
did like it buoyed my hopes. He was genuinely surprised to hear that the film
was seen as a love letter to him. It was an incredible change from his decades of
adamant refusals. The audience reaction touched him, you could see it in his eyes.
He was also very warm and gracious to my wife and I when he saw us, which surprised
me too. What a thrill it was when his lovely wife jumped up and hugged us both
and Leon extended his hand and asked how I was doing.
I wasn't going to annoy him with talk of the project right then and there at
the after-party but I got a sense that the time to press forward with an appeal
to his heart might be now or never, so it was time to finally get those tapes
and finish the project once again and make it look and sound worthy of the man
and his enormous talent.
Les Blank, the man who had produced that other wonderful
long dormant Leon Russell film had
long since departed our world
but his son Harrod, another great documentary
in his own right, managed to make it through the window and reach out to Leon.
At the L.A. premiere, Harrod asked if I'd approached Leon one more time about
the Deep Freeze show.
I said that I'd been planning to once I had a finished product once again.
Those hazel-green eyes focused on me from under the big brimmed preacher hat
he was wearing.
"I can't say for sure but I get the feeling he might finally
say yes to you, but don't wait too long."
There was no way he could have known that I'd been pushing that boulder up that hill
for almost thirty years and wasn't about to stop now. But I'll never forget the gravity
of his words.
Leon was in his emeritus years, Elton John had made an effort to elevate this quiet
and shy genius and his work to the level which it deserved, and it touched him
to his core. We all watched with a lump in our throats as he accepted the accolades
which were so long overdue, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a new
collaborative album with The Rocket Man and a star studded cast, a grand tour
on the big stages and arenas, and then the big hippie love fest documentary about his
Then fate stepped in.
Leon suffered a heart attack and millions of his fans put their hearts and hands
together and prayed. There were moments where we were encouraged. He wanted Cheerios
for breakfast, his precious family was all around him,
he put in the time
toward rehab and his beautiful wife and children shared news of his recovery.
He talked of getting back to the road, maybe in the spring of 2017.
And then, in the space of a few moments on a November morning in 2016, the
The keys touched by those incredible hands fell silent, space and time as we knew it
the man who had provided the soundtrack to our lives.
And Deep Freeze was now Pompeii, buried under tears and volcanic ash.
TO BE CONTINUED - STAY TUNED
There's one hundred and ninety-seven thousand frames of video
in the Leon Russell "Deep Freeze" DVD and I know each one by
heart, almost like an old oil painting.
I feel like this DVD is part of my heart and soul. It's my
baby, and I hope that you can share in the totality of musical
spirit that embodies Leon's rock and roll tent revival.
So gather a few friends and invite them over, take the phone
off the hook, turn down the lights and start the machine.
It is a live concert
You're going to feel totally drained after it's over but you
will feel like you've been to the river and drank deeply.
Leon will fill you up.
Jeffery Haas - Whittier, California
ORDER YOUR COPY OF THE DVD HERE!