This morning, the Rock Hall dedicates the Leo M. Mintz Gallery, belatedly honoring one of the men who gave Cleveland its place at the root of rock history. Leo Mintz (pictured, at right), owner of Record Rendezvous on Prospect Avenue, was Alan Freed’s partner. Mintz was the guy who convinced legendary DJ Freed to play rhythm and blues on Cleveland’s WJW-AM. He was the guy who lent Freed the music. And Mintz and Freed co-organized the first rock concert, the Moondog Coronation Ball in 1952.
Mintz’s family will reciprocate the Rock Hall’s honor by donating one of the only known tickets to the Moondog Coronation Ball (right). It’s a step in their quest to get Mintz greater acclaim as a founding father of rock ’n’ roll -- a journey Mintz’s grandson, local writer Doug Trattner, described in his April 2007 Cleveland Magazine essay, “Schoolhouse Rock.”
“As a family, we kind of came to realize that official induction into the Rock Hall was never going to happen,” Trattner says. “It’s like pro sports halls of fame -- very few non-athletes ever get inducted. Rock and roll’s the same way. If you’re not Alan Freed or a small number of people, and you’re not a musician, you’re not getting inducted.”
Trattner’s essay for us begins boldly, with the declaration, “My grandfather coined the phrase ‘rock ’n’ roll.’” The Rock Hall wouldn’t go that far -- it defines the original term as “African American slang dating back to the early 20th Century” (politely leaving out the fact that it was slang for dancing and sex). Mintz's breakthrough thought was to use it as a new name for '50s R&B.
From Trattner's essay:
In the early ’50s, the phrase “rhythm and blues” had, at least within the white community, about as much cachet as a case of the clap. To avoid the racial stigma that went along with the name, Freed and Mintz agreed they desperately needed a catchier label. One evening, my grandfather described to Freed how the kids at his store were “rocking and rolling to the music” — I always pictured him wriggling his lanky 6-foot-4-inch frame in the process. Why not use that on the radio? he asked Freed.
The Rock Hall inducted Freed and looks at him as a godfather, the reason the museum is in Cleveland. Mintz got only a quick mention on a museum display panel until today.
In the '90s, members of Trattner’s family approached the Rock Hall about getting Mintz inducted – to no avail. So Trattner didn’t expect much when he interviewed Rock Hall CEO Terry Stewart several years ago. But when he brought up his grandfather, Stewart got excited.
“Without [Mintz], I think Cleveland would have had an incredibly difficult time making the case historically that the hall should be here,” Stewart told Trattner for the essay. “And I doubt there would have been the impetus to even try.”
The donated ticket comes with an explanation for why the first rock concert ended in chaos.
The 7,500 tickets to the concert at the Cleveland Arena “sold out really fast,” Trattner says. “My Uncle Milt, on his own, decided to set up a second night and print up a second batch of tickets. Unfortunately, the second batch was the same date as the first batch.” So 15,000 ticket-holders plus walkups showed up at an arena that couldn’t admit them all.
“That’s why there was a riot and the concert was ultimately stopped: All the tickets had the same date.”
The Mintz gallery, part of the second-floor Architects of Rock and Roll exhibit, hosts displays on the history of recorded sound. The new name will make its official public debut Friday night at the Rock Hall Ball, the museum’s 15th anniversary party. Trattner and all of his relatives get in for free.
“It’s certainly a pit stop on the road to really getting him the recognition he deserves,” Trattner says. “Induction is permanent — you can never take that away. It’s still a dream of ours and of mine.”