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Jerry Heller

I had the privileged of being born the cousin of Jerry Heller.  Jerry’s dad and my mom were brother and sister.  When I was in high school in Columbus Ohio going into my senior year, I spent a couple of weeks staying with Jerry on Palm Drive right off the Sunset Strip. He was the talent agent at that time for The Animals, Guess Who, Grass Roots, Marvin Gaye, Pink Floyd and he booked Elton John for his first US date at The Troubadour on Santa Monica Blvd.

He took me to the Whiskey a Go Go as it was called then and I was sitting in a booth with Jerry, Eric Burden and Hilton Valentine, the singer &  guitarist in the Animals.  Poco was on stage and it Blew My Mind! I was never the same and knew eventually I would come out to California to live.  In Columbus I was already playing guitar and performing in Jr. High and High School  California Dreaming, California Girls and all the west coast music.

In the mid 70’s I was performing at a big three story night club called Zachariah’s Red Eye Saloon on the Ohio State Campus. Country Rock was very big back then and this place rocked.  300 capacity and packed all the time, even lined out of the door.  I was a solo artist and the band that ruled central Ohio was McGuffey Lane.

I called Jerry from Columbus and told him how great they were and he flew in from LA to Columbus to check them out.  He loved the group , they were our Central Ohio Eagles and a few weeks later he flew the lead singer Bobby Jean McNalley to Los Angeles to try to secure them a record deal. This was the first time Bobby had ever been on an airplane, he was very “country” and the trip blew his mind.  Jerry took him around to all the major labels but the deal never happened, until a year later when the group signed with Atco Records, a subsidiary of Atlantic Records.  McGuffey Lane is still a big draw in Ohio but three of the band members, Bobby Jean, Tebes & Dickie Smith all died way to young, but those are stories for another Blog.

Years later after I moved out to Los Angeles in the mid 80’s and Jerry was managing the most dangerous group in the world led by Rap Icon Eric “Eazy E” Wright and that group was “NWA.”  I was managing my first act, a heavy metal band at the time called Hurricane and Jerry would bring over cassettes of “Straight Outta Compton, Fuck Tha Police & Boyz-in-Da-Hood” before they were pressed up.   I thought he was crazy, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and I told him you can’t say “Fuck The Police” on record and no DJ will play it and 4 or 5 other reasons why it wont work.  He said calmly “This group is going to be the biggest rap group in the world”.  These are the Rolling Stones of the new generation, This will take over Rock & Roll, and I saw the whole thing happen.

Well Hurricane was the first band I ever managed. I got them a record deal, publishing deal, talent agent and I got two of my friends who happened to be two of the biggest producers in the world to produce their second album for a fraction of their rate. Mike Clink just got done producing Guns & Roses ‘Appetite For Destruction” and Bob Ezrin produced Alice Cooper, Kiss, Lou Reed and  The Wall for Pink Floyd. We were touring all over the U.S, selling albums, lot’s of MTV views, it was all going great.   As the group was ascending and every thing was going great the band fired me and went with Rod Stewart’s managers.

I was so pissed I called Jerry and he said fuck those guys, come work for me and help us co ordinate the first Eazy E/ NWA  American  Tour. I had had 10 years of road experience at that time and I needed a job so I jumped on board.  I was not into rap, especially West Coast Gangsta Rap. I was and still am a 60’s Beatles, Eagles, Motown classic rock kind of guy.

Jerry wanted me to meet the group. Eazy had some ideas of staging, lighting & sound and he wanted me to put it all together.  He told me to meet them at Factors Famous Deli on Pico. Lot’s of our meetings were at deli’s.  Well I got there first, not sure what to expect. In walks some of the scariest looking guys I had ever seen.  Eazy E, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren, DJ Yella and the entourage, Laylaw, Big Ron, Charles Wiley,Mark “Big Man” Rucker & a couple other  gigantic bodyguards.

I met all the guys and told them a little about myself, my road & production experience and then Eazy grabs a napkin and magic marker and proceeds’ to  draw exactly what he wanted……..police tape across the front of the stage, 2 garbage cans with fire coming out of them, chain link fence with graffiti behind them, two 12′ risers for two go-go girls, and white chalk outline of dead bodies on the floor. He knew exactly what he wanted. And I knew what I wanted, to go to work for Jerry & Eazy, this was some brand new cutting edge shit, and I got thrown right in the middle of it.

That day at Factors Deli changed my life. For the next six years I worked for Jerry and Eazy E as production manager/stage manager on tour and once the tour was over, I helped set up the office and became Jerry’s assistant at Ruthless Records. I had 10 years of touring experience before the N.W.A tour so I knew what I was doing on the road and being with heavy metal bands used to crazy, but NWA,  this was a whole different kind of crazy.

Being on tour with Eazy E, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, DJ Yella, MC Ren and a slew of big bad bodyguards as well as our production team was challenging, scary at times and other times lots of fun. None of these guys had ever been on the road before and trying to keep things organized had its moments. Jerry brought in a great road manager in Atron Gregory, who was the manager of Digital Underground and Tupac Shakur until Tupac died.  Luckily for me, Atron handled the group on the road and I handled all the production.

I talked to Jerry pretty much every day on tour, he was in LA and did not come to very many gigs. Most of the cities we came in everybody hated us except for the fans, which was predominantly white and incredibly supportive of the group. We played gigs from 2000- 20,000 people including selling out the Oakland Coliseum, the Spectrum in Philadelphia, Joe Louis Arena in Detroit and most of our other shows.

After the tour, Jerry and I worked out of an office in an industrial complex in Canoga Park that his brother Kenny had, he was a distributor for the Los Angeles Times. It was grimy and the office was tiny, and we had one little shitty dirty telephone to start creating Ruthless Records.

The group started selling millions of records and after a few months we moved into some beautiful offices in Woodland Hills, hired some secretaries and got serious. I was always Jerry’s assistant and it was usually hell working for him. First cousin or not, he was a ball buster, would never  admit he was wrong, but brilliant at business and always made sure that we acted professional and took care of every one of Eazy E’s desires.

Jerry and Eazy were quite a duo, Jerry being about 6 foot 3 an Eazy being about 5 foot 2.  A lot of people thought that Jerry was calling the shots, but Eazy would always listen to what Jerry had to say but made the final decisions. In the early stages of Ruthless Records Eazy  wanted to be 50/50 partners  with Jerry, but Jerry decided against that and said he would rather have E  own the company, like Berry Gordy and Motown, and Jerry would manage Eric, NWA & Ruthless Records.

I could write a book about my experience with Jerry & Eazy, which I probably will do at some time in the future. A lot of it was in the “Straight Outta Compton” movie.  The company was doing really well, we signed multi-platinum Bone Thugs n Harmony, and we were living the good life, making lots of money, throwing big expensive parties, traveling, and then Suge Knight came into the picture and everything changed.

Suge was one of our bodyguards at the beginning but he worked his way into Dr. Dre’s ear and convinced him to leave Ruthless and start their own company, welcome Death Row Records. Those were the scariest times in my life. Suge and his gang of Bloods would come by our offices and threaten us.  Sometimes we would work out of my house in Sherman Oaks. Jerry brought an Israeli security expert to deal with Shug. Let me just say that once Mike Kline came into the picture there were no more threats against us. 

Jerry liked his vodka and cocaine and guns and wild women, and I was getting worried about him.  At one of my shows at Pickwick’s Pub in 1996 I met a girl I thought world be perfect for Jerry.  

We met her the next day at Jerry’s Deli, and they fell in love and they eventually got married. Gayle Steiner was a beautiful blonde who sometimes was in a bikini on the series Baywatch. I always thought she was very sweet, and she loved animals like Jerry did.  They had lots of dogs and cats, all rescues. Gayle helped Jerry go through some real stressful times with Eazy, Suge and his future.

Eventually one of Eric’s girlfriends, Tomica Woods started turning Eric against Jerry. Mike Klein also moved from Head of Security to Head of Business Affairs and started spending more time with Eric.  Pretty soon Eazy was not talking to Jerry anymore. I turned into the go-between, Jerry and Eric, Jerry was still running the company but Eazy and Mike Klein were spending a lot of time together. If Jerry had documents to review, contracts or checks to sign I would take him to Eric and Mike Kline for review and Eric would sign whatever he wanted to do.

Jerry was heartbroken, he got NWA signed, when no one would touch them, they built a multimillion-dollar rap label with a bright future together and now he was getting pushed out. The next thing you know we get a call from our bodyguards in Norwalk telling us that Eazy can’t breathe and they had to call 911.  He goes to the hospital and a couple of weeks later he’s dead from HIV/AIDS.

On March 26, 1995 we were all devastated, and Jerry felt like he lost the son he never had. Neither of us could go up to the hospital to see him as he was dying. We were in shock. Eventually we were all fired from Ruthless Records and Tomica Woods took it over, and eventually ran it into the ground.

There is a lot more to the NWA/Eazy E story. I have been in two documentaries about those crazy days, “Death Row Chronicles” & “Facing Suge Knight.”  I did a couple of interviews for a new Eazy E documentary coming out next year that should be a lot more accurate than the Straight Outta Compton movie. 

For the next five years Jerry was a consultant, managed some acts and in 2000 Jerry and his friend Pablito Vasquez launched a Latin Hip Hop label called Street Life Records and eventually added Hit-a Lick Records.  They had some of the premiere Latin Artists including Kid Frost, Mellow Man Ace, Slow Pain & Nino Brown.

In 2005 he brought me on as a consultant to help him write his autobiographical book “Ruthless” which came out in 2006.  It’s a great read and available on Amazon.

In 2008 Jerry asked me to go on the road as a road manager/production manager/soundman and merchandising manager with one of his client’s Erika Jayne.  I have another Erika Jayne Blog on my web site if you want the info on that. That gig lasted 3 years and eventually Erka’s husband and Jerry had a little disagreement and that was the end of that gig for both of us.

At that point Jerry semi-retired until 2015 when the movie Straight Outta Compton came out. After seeing the movie, he was devastated. Since it was produced by Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Tomica Woods, three people who hated Jerry, it did not portray him very well. There was a lot of lies and bullshit in that movie. Jerry sued the Universal Pictures, Dre, Cube & Tomica for 116 million dollars.

The lawsuit took its toll on Jerry.  His reputation was tarnished, it was incredibly stressful for him and he started getting sick.  The saving grace was that as powerful as the Universal attorneys were against him, the judge did not throw out the case, he had valid claims against the producers.

Marilou & I helped him move out of his mansion in Calabasas to a nice townhouse in Westlake Village. He didn’t need the big overhead and he was alone.  Marilou & I would stop by and bring him gallons of Kangen Water, which he loved.

On September 2, 2016 while driving his car, he had a heart attack.  I got a call from his nephew Terry to meet him at the hospital, he didn’t last the night.

I helped his brother Kenny and Terry with the funeral which was packed. I was asked to do a eulogy along with Irving Azoff, Google that name.   I put my Eulogy & my Gravesite Performance on you tube which you can watch if you so desire.  Jerry was a huge influence on my and I miss him a lot. RIP Cuz