Federal Tax on Entertainment

People really didn’t dance much in the clubs in the early 50’s.  Ballroom dancing was fading out along with the sounds from the Big Bands. “New dancing” didn’t start until Elvis Presley came along.  Songs like Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” would fill dance floors.

Back then, the dance floors were closed in with walls or drapes because nobody wanted to see people dance, nor, if you were dancing, would you want to be seen.  At Red’s, I had drapes.  Of course today, everybody is an exhibitionist and people want to watch dancing.

People don’t realize this, but when I opened Reds, I had to pay 20% of my gross, which is unheard of, in Federal Taxes for entertainment because I allowed people to dance and sing in the club.  I was the only one in the area doing it, so I had no competition.  Later, the Federal Government knocked it down to 10% and more clubs opened.  Eventually, the tax was eliminated all together.

Piano bars were very popular at the time.  You could have a piano player and not pay tax, but if he sang, it was considered “entertainment”.  I started off with a jukebox, and if people started to dance in the aisles, I would be fined.

I remember Yanco’s, a restaurant here in Akron, where waiters would sing “Happy Birthday” to you.  They were fined for that too.  They were singing, so it was considered entertainment.  So that was how ridiculous that was.

The DJ is now taking your disco requests

Since I grew up at Red’s, I was not intimidated when it came to my first night as an employee. I knew all my co-workers. Some of them, Lillian and Patty in particular, had practically raised me.  I was still in high school and started working weekends, my first job was collecting the one dollar cover charge at the door.  Of course, most of the customers did not pay.  Not because they were cheap, but because my dad would not let them pay. It took me a few weeks to know who these people were, but that was easy, it was almost everyone.

When the band was on a break, I also had another duty which was to play the jukebox, that was located by the front door.  Being eighteen years old, I would play what I wanted to hear, stuff like Led Zepplin or Rush.  That didn’t last very long. Dad put an end to that.  Next thing I know the construction began. A DJ booth, with top-notch equipment, was being built. It was put into the wall above the lower bar. When it was done, Red’s had the best audio system in the state.

I remember its first operational night was a Friday. I asked my dad who the DJ was going to be and he said, “you.” I had never done anything like that. I was not a disco boy and knew nothing about the music, so I had to take a crash course in dance music.  I tried to bring my own stuff in, but believe it or not, nobody would dance to Frank Zappa! One of the guys in Flavour (that was before they added the La) handed me a copy of Billboard magazine. “Just play the top 40 from the dance list” he said.

So, I went to Grapevine records on West Market Street and bought everything on the list. That was some great music:

  • Good Times by Chic
  • Funky Town by Lipps
  • MacArthur Park by Donna Summer
  • Y.M.C.A. by the Village People
  • Shake Your Groove Thing by Peaches and Herb
  • You Should Be Dancing by The Bee Gees

It was painful. But overtime, I got used to it and actually had a “good time” when people where dancing. That dance floor would overflow sometimes. It was amazing to sit up in my little booth and watch.

Another thing, I was probably the only DJ that had a microphone and never said a word. I’ve never been one to be the center of attention.  The only time I would talk was when Jimmy would hand me a little piece of paper and I would do the occasional “licence plate number WSF 642 your lights are on.”

Story by Mark Shapiro