The Promoter

Frankie Anobile

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Frankie Anobile is a nightlife legend who started DJing in New York City at age 14. He moved to Las Vegas the next year and spent the next 30 years building the nightlife scene here as a DJ, music promoter, club entrepreneur and producer, and developing clubs such as Studio 54 and Tabu Ultra Lounge. As a 16-year-old with a fake ID, he was a DJ at the Brewery on Paradise Road, relatively new to the scene and about to meet the pop-culture nightclub icon of the era: John Travolta, sans white polyester Saturday Night Fever suit, but with (almost) all the disco moves.

Saturday Night Fever had just come out, and the Brewery was the No. 1 dance club in Las Vegas. Any star who was in town would end up there. I had the early DJ shift that night, and I came in just before 9 p.m. I was walking across the empty dance floor toward the kitchen to check in, and I looked to my left, and I saw people in this booth. I thought it was strange they were here so early—then I said, Wait a minute, that looks like John Travolta.

I stopped dead in my tracks. I turned around, and it actually was John Travolta, with Muhammad Ali and [actor/sportscaster] Jayne Kennedy and her husband [Leon Isaac Kennedy]. I walked over to them and said, “What are you guys doing here?!”

Travolta answered, “Well, we heard this is the place to be, and we just finished eating, and we’re waiting for the party to start.”

I said, “OK, well I’m the guy who starts the party. I’m the DJ. … I’ll be right back!”

I couldn’t believe it. I ran into the kitchen thinking, Oh this great, I gotta get on the phone and tell people John Travolta is here. But every phone was taken already. There were no cellphones then, and everybody who worked there was already on the phone telling people that John Travolta was here. I waited there about two minutes for a phone, but I was so excited that they were out there that I ran back out to the dance floor and started opening up my record drawers. I screamed right over the DJ booth down to them, “Hey, if there’s anything you want to hear, just let me know.”

And Travolta walks up to the booth and says, “Do you know this one song—I don’t know the name of it, but it has this saxophone, and it goes like this: ba dum ba dum, ba dum …

And I knew it right away. It was a song everybody liked at the time, called “Everybody’s on the Beat” by the Brooklyn Bronx & Queens Band. I put it on the earphones and let him hear it and he said, “Yeah, that’s it, that’s it.”

So anyway, I started playing music, and he got out there and danced. He was wearing a suit—not white, though—and he took his jacket off really early. They made all kinds of requests, and I played them all. And I promise you, within an hour that place was packed like it was midnight. He danced all night—danced literally with two girls at a time in each arm, turning them around this way, turning them around that way. Everybody was taking pictures, everybody was screaming—just a big, energetic vibe.

So I thought I’d play that song, the song he danced solo to in Saturday Night Fever, “You Should Be Dancing.” The DJ in the booth with me said, “You’re not going to do that, are you?” and I said, “Yeah, it’ll be fun,” and he said, “I wouldn’t do that.”

So I put it on, and you hear the beat start and everybody recognized the song and screamed. They backed up to give him room to do the dance, and he stopped dead in his tracks. He turned around and looked at me like, I can’t believe you just did that to me, and he shook his head.

See, the thing is, that’s actually a complicated dance, and in the movie, it probably took like 30 takes to do it. And I think he forgot the steps. He was having a really good time otherwise, and I think he thought about trying it for a second, but he walked off the floor in disappointment. People were a little disappointed, too, and there were some awwws but no boos. They left him alone because he had been so nice dancing with everybody.

As soon as that song was over, he comes up to me and goes, “How could you do that to me, brothah?” and I said I was sorry, and we laughed. He asked me for another song and I played it, and he got right back out there and kept on dancing.

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