Politics makes strange rock programs, but none seemed more preposterous than the four-hour fund raiser singer Eddie Money just headlined in his home base of Berkeley, Calif. The beneficiary of the estimated $10,000 proceeds was Municipal Judge Mario Barsotti, who was this week defending himself in a bitter recall election. Barsotti is the same judge who, back in 1969, sentenced Money to four weekends in jail for swiping a club soda from a 7-Eleven store.
It sounds like a put-on, but Eddie was genuinely determined to keep his old adversary on the bench. “He’s a fair man,” explains Eddie. “I wouldn’t want to see him lose his pension after all these years of hard work.” Money, 31, is the son, grandson and brother of policemen and was briefly a New York City police trainee himself before dropping out and joining SDS and the Berkeley street scene. He had already been busted on a marijuana rap before Barsotti taught him, Eddie says gratefully, “a hard lesson: If you play, you pay.” After talking to the judge, Money “cleaned up my act” and got started on the career that since 1978 has produced two platinum LP albums, three gold singles (Hold On, Two Tickets to Paradise and Maybe I’m a Fool) and no more arrests.
Meanwhile Judge Barsotti, 56, had been adjudicating a lengthy legal battle involving the refusal of a Berkeley radical group, the White Panther Party, to pay $1,800 in apartment rent. When he finally upheld an order evicting the six White Panthers, they retaliated by gathering the necessary 8,500 signatures to place Barsotti’s name up for recall. “I’m not doing this because I’m anti-Panther,” Eddie insists. “I used to hang out with those guys.” Even though the Panthers have attacked Money’s support of the judge, Eddie has stuck to his stand. One consideration may have been that two of Judge Barsotti’s sons work for Eddie’s manager-mentor, Bill Graham. Besides, Eddie declares, “I don’t see why the judge should lose his job just because he evicted somebody. I’ve been evicted myself lots of times.”
His strict Irish Catholic family back in Brooklyn came close to throwing him out. Born Eddie Mahoney, he was the rebel, in a family of solid citizens (three of his four siblings are civil servants), who used to fake report cards to conceal his truancy from parochial school. His father moved the family to more genteel Levittown, Long Island, but “soon I was fighting again,” recalls Eddie. Though hostile to rock, his dad bought Eddie a record player and soon called it “my big mistake.” Eddie and some pals formed a band, the Grapes of Wrath, until “our parents broke us up because we were wearing long hair.” Eddie’s father prodded him into a special police training program in which Eddie wound up a clerk. “I was an undercover typist,” he cracks. “It was not like Starsky and Hutch. I hated every minute of it.” When a carbon of a threatening gag letter he wrote a friend on official NYPD stationery was discovered, Eddie left.
“Everything was coming down on me,” he remembers. “I didn’t want to grow old like my father and grandfather, walking a beat, calling to see whether the old lady wants you to bring home a loaf of bread.” So in 1968 he took off for L.A. and Berkeley, where he organized a hunger strike because “I thought we were going to change the world. I was known as Freddie Food-stamps because I didn’t have a dime. I changed my name to Money as a joke.” He did support himself in part with what he discreetly calls “an import-export business,” but in 1969 he was arrested for having 300 marijuana plants in his apartment (they were his roommate’s, and anyway, he says, they were dead). Money ended three weeks in jail just in time to be caught with the club soda (“I was drunk,” goes his alibi, “and I thought it was gin”).
After his busts, Eddie took on Streisand’s and Sinatra’s onetime voice coach, Judy Davis, and formed a band called the Rockets that slowly built a local rep. Then in 1975 rock impresario Bill Graham caught him at an amateur night and changed his luck. Eddie has since abandoned his funky East Bay pad for a sprawling 10-room house in the Oakland hills with girlfriend Mary Buchanan and traded in his 10-speed for a brown Mercedes. He tours 10 months a year but manages to surf, jog and follow the Oakland A’s. Money admits to drinking vodka after performing but says “I don’t take white-powder drugs because they make me nervous.” He’s also been known to fire musicians who come to work stoned (“I won’t have someone make an ass of me”).
Eddie has big hopes for his 50-city summer tour and his third album, Playing for Keeps, due next month. And by now, even his parents are getting used to his career. Money and his dad are close again after a mostly frosty decade. “They think they’re hip now,” Eddie reports, “but they’re still bugging me to get married and straighten up my closet.”