Sunday, February 12, 2017

Gateway Interview - Tony Schiavone (Part 3)

Previously in PART TWO of our interview, David and Tony talked about how Tony got his job with Frances Crockett and the Charlotte O's,how he first got noticed on the wrestling side of the Crockett family business, his earliest assignments doing local promos with "Big" Bill Ward, and continued to talk about some of the wrestlers he remembered most in those days.

Be sure to check out PART 1 and PART 2 if you missed them. Our discussion continues in Part 3 below.

A reminder that the timeline covered in our interview with Tony runs up to the very early days of his work with the wrestling side Jim Crockett Promotions in 1983. Tony's career beyond that will be part of the ongoing discussion on his new podcast on the MLW Radio Network called "What Happened When" (WHW Monday) where fans and listeners vote each week on WHW Monday's Twitter page for the following week's topic from Jim Crockett Promotions in the 1980s and WCW in the 1990s.  -D. Bourne

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David Chappell: Do you recall the first time you were a TV commentator for Crockett? 

Tony Schiavone: The first show I did, I think the first time I did commentary; we were in Shelby, North Carolina.

Chappell: Lots of TV tapings were done in Shelby.

Schiavone: I think they stuck me on with Tully Blanchard; I think that was in ’84.

Chappell: Right, Tully came into the Mid-Atlantic area in February of ’84.

Schiavone: I remember to this day, Tully and I did the commentary…it was the first show I did the commentary on.

Chappell: How did you graduate from doing TV interviews to doing actual commentary?

Schiavone: I don’t know if David couldn’t do it, and I can’t remember if that was the beginning of me working World Wide [Wrestling] regularly. I just remember Tully and I doing that show.

Chappell: How did you do in your first commentary shot?

Schiavone: I remember walking in the back after we did the show, and Ricky Steamboat said to me, ‘Boy, you are tremendous! Your voice, and the way you talked and the way you put things over made me want to listen!’

Chappell: High praise from one of the greats!

Schiavone: My wife says I have a defeatist attitude, but I think what I have is a very realistic attitude. I was very appreciative of what Ricky said, but I remember thinking in my mind, ‘No, Ricky, I’m not really that good…I’m just new.’ You know, I was a new voice.

Chappell: Yes, something different.

Schiavone: Something different. So in my mind I was thinking, ‘I appreciate that but I’m not so sure I’m as good as you think I am…I just think I’m something different.’ And of course, David and I started doing World Wide regularly at some point.

Tony Schiavone and David Crockett
World Championship Wrestling on WTBS (1986)
Chappell: You’ve mentioned David Crockett several times, and I would be curious to hear your thoughts about David as an announcer. He was certainly the excitable one, and Bob Caudle and later yourself were the ones that sort of kept the announcing on an even keel.

Schiavone: I loved David. We named our last son after David…

Chappell: Wow, that pretty much answers that question! Have you seen David recently?

Schiavone: (laughs) It’s funny, David came upstairs to the [broadcast] booth when they had a day at the Charlotte baseball ballpark where they recognized the Crocketts. And I was kind of the master of ceremonies there.

Chappell: Oh, I didn’t realize you were part of that.

L-R: Jim Crockett, Jr., Frances Crockett, Tony
Schiavone, and Jackie Crockett at BB&T Ballpark
in Charlotte
Schiavone: Yeah, and David came up to the booth and did a couple of innings with me. And I told him, I said, ‘Our last son, which is Timothy David, the David is named after you.’ And he said, ‘Really?!’ When I told him yes he said, ‘Are you telling me the truth or are you just blowing smoke up my ass?’

Chappell: (laughs)

Schiavone: I said, ‘No, it’s true!’ Lois and I wanted to buy a house because we had been renting for so long. We wanted to buy a house, and we went to David and asked for a loan from the family to be able to afford a down payment. And they gave me a loan. It was a loan, around $5,000 or something like that, and they just took money out of my paycheck every week, and it was an interest free loan, to be able to put a down payment on a house.

Chappell: No question that would have made an impact on you.

Schiavone: They were so nice to me, and David was always so nice to me and he and I looked forward to working with each other all the time.

You know, David wasn’t an announcer per se; that wasn’t what he studied to be. That’s what I studied to be…that’s what I wanted to be. David was just kind of put in that role.

Chappell: David certainly got fired up at the announcer’s desk!

Schiavone: I always thought David’s enthusiasm was genuine.

Chappell: It certainly came off that way to me.

Schiavone: Yes! And as over-the-top as it was and maybe as crazy as it sounded sometimes, I knew that it was David’s money on the line…

Chappell: (laughs) If anybody should be enthusiastic, it ought to be a Crockett!

Schiavone: Damn right! When it’s your money, you take it up a level.

Chappell: No doubt!

Schiavone: To me David, that’s the backbone of why Vince [McMahon] succeeded and Turner didn’t, because it was always Vince’s money and it was never Eric Bischoff’s money and it wasn’t Jim Herd’s money and it wasn’t Kip Frey’s money.

Chappell: Very true…that’s a great way to look at it.

When talking about David Crockett, I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you about David’s announce partner for many years, the great Bob Caudle.

Schiavone: I can remember first working with Bob, I’m thinking it was in Spartanburg, and we were standing there holding those long microphones and just kind of talking, and I just marked out on him!

Chappell: (laughs) I understand that…I mark out for Bob every time I see him or hear his voice!

Tony reunites with Jim Ross and Bob Caudle
at the NWA Legends Fanfest in Charlotte 2016
Schiavone: (laughs) I said, ‘You don’t know how big a moment this is for me Bob, to be standing here with you, getting ready to announce with you, when I watched you all these years. This is one of the great moments of my life.’ And he was such a gentleman and so nice about it.

Chappell: I’m sure he downplayed that it was anything you should have been so excited about!

Schiavone: He sure did! But I can remember standing there with him thinking, ‘What the hell…I’m standing here with BOB CAUDLE!’ You know, the guy I watched all these years.

Chappell: I know, that must have been a surreal moment for you. As a fan, did you ever go to the Mid-Atlantic TV tapings that Bob did in the WRAL studios in Raleigh?

Schiavone: No, we would only go to the house shows. They would really sell us on the house shows.

Chappell: The Mid-Atlantic arena shows were tremendous, and you’ve already talked about traveling to the biggest venue in the territory, the Greensboro Coliseum. Do you have any thoughts about any of the other towns you took in Crockett house shows at as a fan?

Schiavone: I think the first event I went to was at the Augusta Expo…

Chappell: That makes sense; it was certainly the closest venue to you.

Schiavone: And when I was in college I started working for a radio station part-time, which became my full-time job as soon as I graduated from college. And I remember a guy I worked with at the radio station, we went to the Augusta Expo together and we talked to Peter Apostolou…

Chappell: The Crockett promoter in the Roanoke, Virginia area.

Schiavone: Yes, and I brought a tape recorder and interviewed some of the wrestlers, and he was very nice to me. And I remember telling Peter, ‘I would love to do this! Who do I talk to?’ He didn’t give me anybody’s name, but he told me that I just needed to work hard and get to know the right people and sooner or later it would happen.

Chappell: Sage advice! Who were you able to interview that night at the Expo?

Schiavone: I remember we interviewed Ricky Steamboat. I think I interviewed Tommy Young. So, I went to the Augusta Expo a couple of times. While I was in college, I was going to James Madison, JMU, and they had wrestling at the Harrisonburg High School Gymnasium.

Chappell: They had some great cards there, Tony. I remember some of those match promos aired on WTVR in Richmond.

Schiavone: I gathered up money from my relatives, because they all wanted to go, and I walked from JMU to the high school athletic office and when tickets went on sale I talked to the athletic director and asked for 15 ringside tickets! And he said, ‘FIFTEEN?’

Chappell: (laughs)

Schiavone: He said, ‘You want FIFTEEN ringside tickets?’ I think he sold me the entire front row or something like that of ringside!

My Uncle John, who I used to watch wrestling with all those years, and he was very old and had arthritis and he had two canes that he would wrap around the arms, you know those?

Chappell: Yes, right.

Schiavone: Okay, he sat down at the other end of the row from me and my cousin Butchie. It was Ric Flair and Greg Valentine against Johnny Weaver and somebody…maybe Paul Jones. But I remember Johnny was definitely in it. (laughing) So, they spilled out of the ring, and this one guy jumped out of his chair at ringside and jumped on the back of Flair!

Chappell: Uh oh, not a good move by the fan!

Schiavone: No, so the s#*t was on then!

Chappell: (laughs) I bet! As J.R. would say, business was about to pick up!

Schiavone: (laughing) Exactly! This was the first time I’d witnessed something like this. All of a sudden I realized that this was a real fight. Okay, and they beat the s#*t out of this guy! They beat him mercilessly.

Chappell: You got an extra match, Tony!

Schiavone: (laughs) All of a sudden, [the fan] is trying to get away now, and they are pounding on him! Valentine is hitting him with those sledge-hammer blows he used to use. So the guy finally gets away, and Valentine wheels around and my Uncle John, God bless him, picked up one of those steel canes and cracked Valentine over the head with it!

Chappell: (laughing) Oh my God!!

Schiavone: BAM! Valentine wheeled around and could see it was Uncle John, an old man, so he didn’t hit him…

Chappell: Thank God!

Schiavone: So they finally got away from us. Now remember, I was at the other end of the row from Uncle John. We called my Uncle John “Baby” back then…his name was Baby. My cousin Butchie said, ‘Tony, did you see what Baby did?!? HE JUST HIT GREG VALENTINE WITH A CANE!!’

Chappell: (laughing)

Schiavone: So that was the main event, so the show was over. And my Aunt Frances called me over to come help Baby out because he’s all fired up!

Chappell: (laughs) No joke!

Schiavone: (laughs) He was shaking and everything, so Butchie and I helped Uncle John out of the arena…what a night!

Chappell: Whew! A lot of those Mid-Atlantic spot shows didn’t have much security, and things could pretty easily get out of hand…glad the Schiavone clan made it out in one piece!

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Check out PART FOUR of our ongoing interview with Tony Schiavone. And don't miss Tony's podcast this Monday with co-host Conrad Thompson. It's "What Happened When" (WHW Monday) and it drops every Monday on the MLW Radio Network and everywhere you get your podcasts.

See also:
Memories of Pro Wrestling That Will Never Grow Old by Tony Schiavone
Conrad Thompson Announces New Podcast with Tony Schiavone by Dick Bourne
Wrestling: The Gospel to its Fans (Article about the Harrisonburg show Tony mentions)

Follow Tony Schiavone at @tonyschiavone24
Follow Conrad Thompson at @heyheyitsconrad
Follow the MLW Radio Network at @MWL
Follow Tony's podcast at @WHWMonday

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