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How a rock legend got his start in Cleveland

Music manager David Spero looks back at 60 years in music
Posted at 4:05 PM, Jun 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-15 19:25:05-04

CLEVELAND — David Spero’s office is filled with the reminders of a life in music, "A Life in the Wings" if you will, each carrying with it a memory of a life spent on the road.

"And when I come home I'm always telling stories 'oh this happened with Ringo’ or ‘this happened with Joe Walsh’ or ‘this happened with Dickie Betts or Cat Stevens’, whatever it is," said Spero. "For like 15 years now people have been telling me, 'You've got to write a book, you really should write a book.'"

However, Spero thought to himself that he wasn't a natural writer. However, he didn't consider he was an avid reader, which helps pass the time when traveling.

“Every time I go to an airport I like to buy books from the local authors and I had been reading this guy Kim Zonneville's books for years," he said. "You know he's written a half dozen books, I've read them all and I really liked the way that he presented stories.”

So, Spero decided to reach out to him about collaborating with him only to be met with a surprise.

“I got in touch with him only to find out I’ve known this guy for 40, 50 years. He has a stage name of Charlie Weiner. He’s a comedian and also a folk singer. I never knew the two were the same person. He never talked about it but his real name is Kim Zonneville,” said Spero.

"We started working on it right around the time that COVID started and we'd meet up at Jack's Deli up at the corner once a week. I'd tell him stories and he'd send me chapters back and it really seemed to work,” he said.

The end result, “A Life in the Wings; My 60 Year Love Affair with Rock and Roll,” is out now. “The book isn't chronological, but we go back and start with the 'Upbeat' days,” he said.

Spero’s father, Herman, was the producer of the legendary music show with Don Webster that originated from the News 5 Studios and was seen over a good portion of the country.

The Upbeat TV show legacy 1964-1971

"Obviously for me that's where everything started, holding the cue cards for Don Webster," he said. "Meeting people like Otis Redding, Tommy James, The Rolling Stones and everybody that came through the Channel 5 studio. That was a huge part of my life growing up from 13 to 18 years old when I worked on the show."

Otis Redding's last television performance before dying in a plane crash in 1967 was on "Upbeat." Redding spent the night before the TV appearance playing cards at the Spero house famously losing the money he was to earn for his appearance, signing the check over to Spero’s father. Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member Benjamin Orr of The Cars was in an "Upbeat" house band that played at young Spero's bar mitzvah. As was another future Rock Hall member who Spero would get to know, Joe Walsh.

“I first met Joe Walsh, once again we have to go back to 'Upbeat', actually, 'The Big 5 Show' before it was 'Upbeat', and Joe was in a band called the Measles, and we used to do shows outside of the station every now and then," he said.

"We were down at Chippewa Lake Park and the Measles became the backup band for Leslie Gore and Bobby Goldsboro, whoever happened to be on the show that day. Joe was in that band and we were talking about music and The Beatles... it was like, 'Oh, I got this new Beatles album that hasn't come out yet, my dad got it.’ Next thing I know we're best friends," said Spero.

When he befriended Joe Walsh, Spero recalls being invited to shows and following along on tours, especially when he was involved with WMMS radio. "He always invited me along for tours or for shows or whatever, and when I was on WMMS he used to hang around the radio station a lot. He really enjoyed radio,” said Spero.

At one point Walsh asked him, "You're not going to be doing radio when you're 25 right?” Then 19-year-old Spero hadn’t really thought about it. “I said no why what are you thinking?” recalled Spero. “He [Walsh] said, ‘Well, I think you should start managing artists, I think you have what it takes to do that.'"

Walsh responded with, "‘I have an artist for you.’” The artist was a young Michael Stanley. “He had just played on Michael’s first album. They were about to do the second one, and he said ‘I think you should manage him,’” said Spero.

“So Joe brought me out to L.A. I lived out there for a while and followed his manager, Irving Azoff, who was the top guy in our business," he recalled. "he pretty much taught me what I needed to do, what I didn't need to do. You know I learned an awful lot from him. And Joe introduced me to Michael and said ‘this is going to be your manager.’”

The two would forge a bond that would last the entirety of their careers, Stanley's death last year was a loss Spero says he took hard.

“Michael and I had lunch every Friday both of us were in town for probably 50 years. It was just something we did, and I was fortunate enough to spend some time with him literally a day or two before he passed away,” said Spero. “It was that experience managing Michael that really gave me the taste for the business.”

As we head into Father's Day, Spero thinks of his dad as he reflects on both his life in the wings and the lessons he learned under his father's wing.

"It started me in so many ways,” he said. “He taught me so many lessons. He taught me how to do what I do."

And continues to do with still more chapters in this career to be written.