Lloyd Price was at the Belvedere Hotel in Manhattan this week to tape an interview for a PBS documentary about Muhammad Ali that will air in early-2015.
Price, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, met Cassius Clay in Louisville in 1958. Stagger Lee, which Price recorded, had just become the first rock-and-roll song sung by a black recording artist to reach #1 on the Billboard charts.
“I was on tour,” Price told me years ago, when I was researching Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times. “Ali was sixteen years old, sitting outside the Top Hat Lounge because he was underage and they wouldn’t let him in. When I got to the lounge, this crazy kid rushed over, saying, ‘Mr. Price, I’m Cassius Marcellus Clay; I’m the Golden Gloves Champion of Louisville, Kentucky; someday I’m gonna be heavyweight champion of the world; I love your music; and I’m gonna be famous like you.’ I just looked at him, and said, ‘Kid, you’re dreaming.’ But what happened was, we got along. You couldn’t help but like him. The Top Hat Lounge was a popular place, and each time I played there, I saw him. After a while, I started looking for him and bringing him in with me. He had all sorts of questions – about music and traveling, but mostly he wanted to know about girls. There were a lot of things he didn’t know, and he asked me how to make out with girls. He was very sincere about it. I told him, ‘Just be yourself, and the girls will like you.’ Although as part of the lesson, I gave him a couple of dollars and said, ‘Always have some money. That’s the beginning of hanging out with the foxes.’”
Price is 81 years old now and thinner than he was before. At the Belvedere Hotel, he was walking with a cane. But his voice was clear; there was a gleam in his eye; and his contagious laugh filled the room. The taping lasted just under an hour and the memories flowed.
“I took a real liking to Cassius. I was number one then, and he’d ask me, ‘What does it feel like to be a big star’ . . . You have to remember what America was like at that time. In parts of the country, I’m being booked into white clubs. I’m being booked to do white dances. But I can’t stay at the white hotel, and I have to go around to the back door if I want a sandwich . . . I went to some [Nation of Islam] meetings with Ali. For the first time in my life – as a grown man who was a star who had sold millions of records – I heard somebody saying, ‘You are somebody.’ The language gave you such a lift. You left feeling good about yourself. In the end, it wasn’t my thing. But I can understand how Ali got hooked . . . Ali’s heart is pure. He was always true to himself.”
And perhaps most important –
“Ali had no problem with being a black man.”
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Floyd Mayweather prides himself on his defense. But as of late, “Money” has taken some hits outside the ring.
During a “satellite tour” two days before Mayweather-Maidana II, Floyd was interviewed by Rachel Nichols on CNN. Nichols ground him to pieces over the issue of domestic violence and Mayweather’s multiple convictions for what she called his “brutal history” of physically abusing women .
Floyd tried to deflect the issue, saying, “Everything has been allegations. Nothing has been proven.”
But unlike the enablers who have approved, sanctioned, and televised Mayweather’s fights in recent years, Nichols engaged, noting, “In the incident you went to jail for, the mother of your three children did show some bruising [and] a concussion when she went to the hospital. It was your own kids who called the police, gave them a detailed description of the abuse. There has been documentation.”
“Umm,” Floyd responded. “Once again . . . Ahh . . . No pictures; just hearsay and allegations, and I signed a plea bargain. So once again, not true.”
Then Nichols landed another power punch.
“But the website Deadspin recently detailed seven separate physical assaults on five different women that resulted in arrest or citation. Are we really supposed to believe all these women are lying, including the incidents when there were witnesses like your own kids?”
“Everybody actually . . . Ummm . . . Everybody is entitled to their own opinion. You know, when it’s all said and done, only God can judge me.”
Mayweather’s fumbling of the ball again on the issue of domestic violence followed another embarrassment – a series of exchanges with Curtis Jackson a/k/a 50 Cent.
Last month, the rapper offered to donate $750,000 to a charity of Mayweather’s choosing if Floyd could read a full page from a Harry Potter book without a flub. Later, 50 Cent amended the offer to Mayweather, saying, “I got a phone call from my man, Jimmy Kimmel. Jimmy said he’ll put it on the actual show. We don’t want to put pressure on you. We know you can’t pronounce those words in the Harry Potter book, so we’re going to let you read Cat in the Hat.”
Soon after, a tape of Floyd reading a promo for The Breakfast Club off a teleprompter surfaced. He did not do well.
That leads to the question of whether or not Mayweather’s archrival, Manny Pacquiao, can read Harry Potter. After all, Pacquiao grew up in abject poverty, living at times on the streets in the Philippines.
A telephone call to publicist Fred Sternburg (who has spent years with Pacquiao) seemed in order.
“Not only can Manny read Harry Potter,” Sternburg informed this writer. “He can read Harry Potter in English and Tagalog.
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FROM AND ABOUT PROMOTERS
David Greisman (on Roc Nation and 50 Cent): Boxers who want to waste their money start rap labels. Rappers who want to waste their money start boxing promotional companies.
Bob Arum: Promoters talk all the time about competitive match-ups. And most of the time, they’re not telling the truth. They’re just doing their job.
Gary Shaw (when asked to “be honest” regarding the difficulties in finalizing a deal for a “Super Six” fight between Andre Ward and Andre Dirrell): I can’t be honest. I’m a promoter.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His most recent book (Thomas Hauser on Boxing: Another Year Inside the Sweet Science) will be published shortly by the University of Arkansas Press.