David Leiken has never been shy. Now 62, the owner of the Roseland Theater, president of Double Tee Concerts and founder of FastTix started booking shows in Portland two years before Willamette Week published its first issue. And 37 years deep, he's still unafraid to speak his mind.
"The consolidation of radio has ruined our business," Leiken says, his face solemn. "In Portland in the early '70s, music was supposed to be fun—it was a celebration kind of thing. I don't hear that on the radio anymore. I compare indie rock with someone like the Grateful Dead, and it's hard to fathom what it is that they are doing."
Leiken began booking shows almost by accident. With the help of a friend's L.A. connections and money from stock he purchased at age 14, Leiken put on a three-day run with B.J. Thomas (of "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" fame), making money in Portland only after "losing his shirt" in Vancouver, B.C., and Seattle. Suddenly he was a promoter in an up-and-coming music city. Many Portland artists in the late '70s and '80s—Nu Shooz, Shock, and Pleasure, the soul-jazz fusion group Leiken also managed—were signed to national labels.
Portland also boasted a thriving club scene. "Shock used to be able to play the west suburbs for two nights, downtown for two nights, and over on 82nd for two nights and pack 'em in and make good money," Leiken says. "I don't know a band in town that could do that now."
Portland's music scene in the mid-'70s wasn't nearly as niche-oriented as today, says Leiken. He followed the lead of rock impresario Bill Graham, who booked incongruous acts like heavy rockers Deep Purple and jazz legend Miles Davis on the same bill without fear of alienating unadventurous audiences. Leiken, like Graham, believed that good music is always good music, a principle that's informed his life and career.
Leiken has what he calls a keen ear for hits. It's Leiken's taste—for Seattle hard rock band Heart or the smooth jazz of Jeff Lorber—that's kept him afloat for nearly four decades. Today, the Roseland Theater, which he purchased with his father in 1994, often books acts that run against the trends of the moment. Leiken wouldn't think of doing it any other way.
"We'll never be the darling of the people. It's probably not in my nature," Leiken says. "I've never marched with the crowd, and I think it's one of the reasons I've been successful. The crowd doesn't work very hard. I go to work every day. The crowd sits around telling each other how cool they are."