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Wednesday, September 26,2012

Exile on Michigan Ave.

Bombastic business owner may lose his multi-purpose venue

by Rich Tupica

This story was corrected Sept. 26 to correctly spell Winona Ryder's name.

If you’re plugged into the Lansing music scene, you may have noticed a flurry of bitter posts in your Facebook newsfeed last month from the Zeppelin’s Music Hall page. The posts were mostly directed at City Pulse’s local music coverage, specifically wondering why we weren’t covering Zeppelin’s events. 

The club’s owner, Michael Malott, 49, openly vented to his 200 followers about his shows being ignored by local media. He even scrawled a message in childish handwriting on the venue’s picture window facing Michigan Avenue: “Live Music Despite the Lack of Support By the Local Arts Media.” 

Following his demand for press, City Pulse decided to look into this and see what the fuss was about. Turns out he’s fighting the City Clerk’s Office on whether he needs a cabaret license to operate: He says he doesn’t (and hasn’t obtained one), the city disagrees. After we contacted him for an interview, the handwritten message disappeared from the window and things cooled off online.  

“People rave about how great the music scene is in Lansing,” he says. “I want to ask them, ‘Have you been out of Lansing?’ Because it’s not as great as it could be.” 

Zeppelin’s, 2010 E. Michigan Ave., has been trying to avoid a Hindenburg-style crash-and-burn since it opened in April. 

Prior to delving into the local music scene, Malott’s efforts in the medical marijuana field were his focus. In fact, the Zeppelin’s building, owned by Ingham County Drain Commissioner Pat Lindemann, was previously Safe Harbor Alternative Medicine, a medical marijuana dispensary Mal co-owned during the summer of 2011. A few months after the dispensary closed, Malott opened Zeppelin’s. 

Malott said low attendance is the primary cause for financial troubles, despite his trying to reach out to a wide range of music genres, including punk, metal, industrial and hip-hop.

“It’s not going to survive the way it’s going,” said Malott. “I think we’re going to close at the end of October, unless things change around.” 

Malott’s long r'sum' is cluttered with oddball titles. From medical marijuana activist, stand-up comedian and nonprofit organizer to organic catnip salesman and lesbian erotica author — under the penname Gabrielle Diego — it’s difficult to tell where his heart really lies. He’s dabbled in film, pop art, record production, charities, and just this month he launched the “talent management” Malott Agency. He also claims he earned Juris Doctor, legal assistant and criminolgy degrees from “non-accredited law schools" and online academies, and that he’s published around 30 books about varied topics, including a series of children’s books written by his son Zachary.

“I’m the most famous broke person you’ll ever meet,” he says. 

Zepplin’s itself is hard to nail down to a particular function. Besides live music, the venue has hosted film screenings, online radio programs and live comedy and boasts an art section featuring “original Warhols.” Malott said the multiple functions should exclude him from having to purchase a cabaret license. However, the City Clerk’s office disagrees with that, saying he is operating without the proper license, which costs $500. Malott said they contacted him about the matter, but he plans to fight it. 

“We fall into the loophole where we don’t need a cabaret license,” he said. “If a band comes in and wants to record an album, we fall back on that defense, saying, ‘We’re not a cabaret — technically we just became a recording studio.’ We’re whatever we need to be to conform to the law.” 

After high school, Malott said he began traveling across the country working as a roadie for rock bands from the ‘80s into the 2000s. Malott talked about his life on the road, which he says included stints with Nine Inch Nails, Aerosmith and Michael Jackson. He also said he worked the Rolling Stones’ “Voodoo Lounge” tour where he says he befriended Keith Richards. While some of the stories may be hard to swallow, Malott insists he’s chums with "Keef."  

“He’s a member of the Rolling Stones, but take that away and he’s Keith Richards the laid-back guy,” Malott said. “I have the utmost respect for him, not because he’s in the Rolling Stones, but because he’s a friend. He supported my Instruments for the Youth Charity.” 

Oh wait, add that to the list — charity organizer. 

And the A-list name-dropping doesn’t stop there. Last month Malott began planning an auction of items donated by celebrities in an effort to raise funds to start a nonprofit Lansing music and arts magazine. Since then he has been posting Facebook updates about his list of musician contributors. While he said Richards was “among the first” to contribute, the legendary guitarist’s management confirmed via e-mail on Sept. 20 that nothing had been gifted:

“Thanks for getting in touch. We have confirmed with management that nothing has been donated,” a letter signed by “Aaron” at keithrichards.com says.

One of Malott’s other contributors is John Kay, lead singer of Steppenwolf. We contacted Ryan Jones at Ron Rainey Management, who represents Kay. He says they donate multiple times per week to valid nonprofit causes, but has no specific memory of Malott.

“I have interns send out CDs and autographed posters multiple times per week,” said Jones. “It’s really common.” 

Some of the other renowned names on Malott’s list include Eric Clapton, Sting and Rod Stewart. He said many of the donations were wrangled up through past industry contacts. 

“I don’t really worry about (people who doubt my connections) because I can back it up,” he said. “I’ve never had anyone say, ‘Prove this or prove that.’ I know a lot of celebrities, but for the most part, they’re just people.”

Zeppelin’s black walls are plastered with the backstage and V.I.P. concert passes Malott has acquired over the years. (“That’s my hanging r'sum',” he says.) He also has business cards from Mick Jagger and David Bowie on display. Who even knew rock gods gave out business cards? 

“Those are reprints, and I’m considering taking them out,” he admitted. “But that’s the only thing here that’s not authentic.”

Malott says that, in his early 20s, he was also the temporary road manager for Van Halen “when David Lee Roth was with the band.” And that frilly pair of panties framed on the wall? He says they belonged to Courtney Love, which he got while working on her band Hole’s 1999 tour. “Everyone thinks I slept with her,” he said, “But I didn’t.” 

Well, maybe not her, but he does have a photo of himself with Winona Ryder from the late ‘80s in a California gossip rag that links the two romantically. The guy gets around.

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