The Story of Getting Conned by a Fake Rock Star
Randy Meisner imposter stories have been swirling around Las Vegas for quite some time now.
Off and on during the past 15 years, a clever con man who’s real name is Lewis Peter “Buddy” Morgan has been impersonating the former bass player who once played in the rock band, the Eagles. The real Randy Meisner was even one of the co-founders of the group, way back in 1971.
The imposter certainly did his homework. First, he picked a band sure to be well-known by most of the people he targets. Just about everyone has at least heard of the Eagles. Second, he impersonates the least-known member of the band, who left the group in the late 1970s. Few people would be so bold (or stupid) as to steal the identities of his more widely-known bandmates — such as Don Henley, Joe Walsh, or Glenn Frey. By contrast, Meisner is relatively easy to impersonate. Third, other than old photos taken way back when the Eagles were together and churning out hit records, virtually no one knows what the real Randy Meisner looks like (especially now). Finally, the imposter knows just enough about the group and its members to carry on a convincing conversation about what it was like to once be a “rock star.”
Meisner is certainly no Mick Jagger. He’s not even a Bill Wyman. But the real Randy Meisner did co-write a catalogue of classic hits, some of which are still familiar to this day. He also sang lead vocals on several songs which made the pop charts. Far more interesting however, are the behind-the-scenes stories that only someone of Meisner’s stature and level of access would know and be able to recall with credibility. Indeed, if Meisner were to talk about what the Hotel California recording sessions were like, that would interesting to many people, including myself. I mean, how often do you get to hear a firsthand account about how one of the most successful albums in rock history was created?
That’s the hook.
The 2006 World Series of Poker epitomized the height of the poker boom. That year is largely remembered for hosting the largest Main Event ever in history — a door-smashing 8,773 players for a single poker event. But what happened outside the boundaries of the poker room and in the shadows of the tournament spotlight was often just as memorable, if not more so. [See Footnote 1]
One afternoon, I received an excited phone call from a freind, who I’ll call “Hank.” His name has been changed because he doesn’t want his identity revealed. Hank told me to rush over to the PokerStars suite — immediately.
That year, all the major poker sites rented out “hospitality suites” at the Rio. Each site rolled out the red carpet for what became thousands of guests. They gave away prizes and essentially did just about everything possible to gain an edge over the competition.
Hank explained on the phone that the former bass player for the Eagles was mingling around inside the PokerStars hospitality suite. He’d apparently been caught up in the frenzy of poker’s popularity during the boom period and was here at the WSOP hanging out. Even more interesting, one of the band members from Pearl Jam was also inside the room checking things out. Plausible, it seemed.
Well, I had to go check this out for myself.
Once inside the PokerStars suite, an older fellow introduced himself as “Randy Meisner.” Next, he made quite a scene.
PokerStars had a brightly-colored guitar on display inside the suite that had been signed by a few poker players, including former world champions Chris Moneymaker, Greg Raymer, and Joe Hashem (if I remember correctly). I know, I was thinking the same thing back then as you’re thinking right now. What the fuck is a poker player doing signing a guitar?
But I digress.
Meisner took one look at the guitar and basically called it a piece of shit.
Next, he boasted to everyone around that he could make “one phone call” to a guitar manufacturer and get it replaced immediately with something that was much nicer and far more expensive. No one knew what to say. Who’s going to argue with the guy who created the Eagles and wrote “Take It to the Limit?”
Hank, who had gone to all the trouble to actually purchase a guitar and get it autographed by the poker celebrities, wasn’t pleased. But he just stood there and took the absue. After all, what could he do? The former bass player for the Eagles was essentially standing in the middle of the PokerStars suite going on and on about his revulsion for the display, offering to send over a better guitar. What does one say to that?
“Thank you, Mr. Meisner,” would be my guess. “May I please have another insult, Sir?”
Well, the story really took off from there. The other “rock star” was a considerably younger man. Like most people, I knew Pearl Jam. At least I knew some of their music. But I couldn’t name any of the band members, nor could I identify them. Some skinny guy around 28-years-old with long brown hair who looked like he could be a rock singer claimed to be a member of the band. Well, since he was standing there and Randy Meisner was vouching for him, he had to be the real deal. Right?
After all, Randy Meisner wouldn’t lie.
According to the two “rock stars,” Pearl Jam was scheduled to play an upcoming concert in Las Vegas. Hank expressed interest in going, and out of nowhere the Pearl Jam guy announced he could land as many seats as might be needed. “Just name it,” he said. The number didn’t matter — 20 front row seats, it could all be arranged. Free of charge.
Meanwhile, Meisner was working on his own con. He tried to steer the conversation towards the PokerStars management team who was hanging around watching the scene. Meisner expressed interest in playing in some WSOP events. Sponsorship deals and logo arrangements between poker sites and players were quite common back then. Sometimes, high-profile players or bona fide celebrities were paid tens of thousands of dollars, just to wear patches. Meisner essentially wanted to play some tournaments and in exchange for the buy-in, he’d wear PokerStars’ gear. Perhaps he thought someone from the company would fork over several thousand dollars on the spot. Who knows?
Someone brought out a camera and Meizner happily posed for photos with everyone, while decked out in a PokerStars hat. Meanwhile, the Pearl Jam guy was considerably more reluctant. In fact, when one of the PokerStars reps tried to put a hat on the “rock star,” he calmly explained promotional pictures and advertisements simply weren’t allowed. That actually enhanced his credibility. Seemed reasonable, if he really was part of Pearl Jam. Meanwhile, Meisner didn’t have those restrictions. He shamelessly did all the photos, signed autographs, and hung out with everyone, even going so far to tell some old stories from his days with the Eagles.
Everyone was eating out of their hand, with no idea they should have been choking on lies.
Later, I found out the Pearl Jam guy had supposedly made arrangements for 23 front row seats at the upcoming concert in Las Vegas. That’s how fast the word had spread. Everybody wanted to go to the show and Hank was making the arrangements. Pretty amazing.
They were free, except for a service charge and the sales tax on the tickets, which apparently couldn’t be comped by a band member. That amounted to several hundred dollars, not really much of an expense considering where these tickets must have been priced originally at face value.
Hank was prepared to rush over to another hotel and the pay the extras on the spot. The 23 tickets would be left at “Will Call” outside the arena on the night of the show. That way, everyone could go together and see one of the most popular bands in the world. However, it did seem a little strange the guy from Pearl Jam had to collect the money personally, which was supposed to take place in a hotel lobby.
I don’t recall what happened next, exactly. Someone close to Hank apparently went online and noticed there were no announcements about Pearl Jam playing in Las Vegas anytime in the next year. Something seemed wrong.
A bit more searching revealed that on the night of the show, Pearl Jam would be on tour in Australia. That wasn’t a good sign.
Hank finally woke up from his coma, came back to reality and managed to catch on to the scam, just in the nick of time. Fortunately, he wasn’t out any money.
So, what did all this mean for Randy Meisner? Did he know the Pearl Jam guy was an imposter? Maybe he was a victim, too. Someone even suggested we needed to find Randy Meisner immediately so he wouldn’t be conned by the fraudulent guy claiming to be from Pearl Jam. We had to protect Randy Meisner.
Then eventually, the mental bulbs started warming up and everyone started wondering — were those two in on the act together?
Hank and I would eventually come to find out the answer for ourselves during the following night, when we agreed to take “Randy Meisner” out to dinner. We made reservations. I couldn’t wait.
According to multiple reports, the Randy Meisner imposter traveled around Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Reno during the period 1988 through as recently as 2012 claiming to be someone he was not. What was his motive in all this? Why go to so much trouble to make such a small amount of money, or get a few tournament buy-ins?
Most sources, including reports that have been published in the time since then, paint the sad portrait of a delusional man with no real life who uses his faux-fame to get three things — free dinners and comped show tickets, special access to closed events, and (bingo!) girls. Apparently, even in his 60s, just claming to be a former band member of a rock group most people know is enough to bed a few impressionable groupies.
Here’s one account from years earlier about a California woman who “slept with a man she thought was Randy Meisner, fell in love, and over the course of two weeks paid his way as they traveled all over Southern California and Las Vegas, running up nearly $3,000 in charges on her American Express card. Then, she was dumped cold. It’s a pathetic tale that is all the more so because it has been repeated, with slight variations, so many times since.” [See Footnote 2]
Come to find out, the fake Meisner hustled quite a bit to make money along the way, such as offering to play in some WSOP events in exchange for wearing a hat. He also reportedly hung out inside many poker rooms over the years, mostly in Callifornia. Worse, he’s stolen tens of thousands of dollars worth of musical instruments (in turn, pawning them for cash), from companies eager to associate their brand with someone who was significant part of music history. [See Footnote 3]
Imposter. Impersonator. Fraud. Con-man. Grifter.
All these words and phrases describe the pathetic man we were about to take out to dinner.
Hank and I showed up at the back of Buzio’s restaurant, which is within walking distance of the vast WSOP tournament room at the Rio. By this time, we were on to “Randy Meisner.” Check: Make that “98 percent sure.”
Neither of us were fully prepared to confront the imposter directly. We had no game plan. Lookng back now, I think it was just a morbid sense of curiousity, really. We wanted to see how far someone would take the lie. How far would they go? And once trapped, what would the imposter do? Sort of like watching a grizzly bear about to step into the jaws of a steel trap. There’s a certain fascination to watching a beast become helpless.
Moreover, there still was the off chance that we were wrong, and he actually was Meisner. It’s all very easy to see the clear picture now. But back then, it wasn’t.
We took our seats at a square table and for the next hour or so it was just the three of us. As dinner went along, Meisner talked non-stop about his days with the Eagles, conversation which seemed way too forced. Anyone who knows artists is aware that most creative people don’t constantly reminisce about nor live in the past. They talk about their current and future projects. But Meisner went on and on non-stop about albums he played on, songs he wrote, concerts he remembered, and essentially fell into a talking head for what might have made a decent film documentary — except that it was all bullshit.
With every word, we became more and more convinced the man sitting across from us was a complete fraud. As our attention waned, the ersatz rock star became increasingly desperate for attention. He began telling us horrible things about Don Henley, arguably the most talented of the Eagles who went on to a successful solo career.
“Don Henley’s an asshole!” phoney Meisner said, more than once. “Don Henley stole my songs!”
By this time, the conversation went from pathetic to belligerent. I was still in awe of the balls on this guy. I mean, this guy had cantaloupes. Did he really think he was fooling anyone by this time will all that talk? I began laughing openly to his face, even though what he was saying wasn’t funny. I just lost complete control of myself.
Hank was even more rude and dismissive. While “Meisner” would be in mid-sentence recalling what the recording session was like during his the making of Desperado, Hank would just blurt out, “What’s the score of the Cardinals-Dodgers game? Anyone know?”
Hank must have done that at least half a dozen times, asking some random question straight from outer space while we were in the presense of a musical genius bullshitting us both down memory lane. Meanwhile, I just laughed my ass off until I was drenched in tears, while Meisner recounted particular difficulty with the bass line on what became yet another number one pop hit of his. To anyone around who was even casually observing or evesdropping in on the bizarre conversation at our dinner table, it must have resembled a looney bin. Hank asking about imaginary baseball scores, Meisner still rambling about the recording studio back in 1973, and me practically bent over crying into a dinner napkin from laughing so hard. [See Footnote 4]
Indeed, the final verse from Desperado seems to say it all:
Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses?
Come down from your fences, open the gate.
It may be rainin’, but there’s a rainbow above you.
You better let somebody love you, before it’s too late.
Footnote 1: Two excellent books that I highly recommend on this era with lots of behind-the-scenes stories about the WSOP are as follows — Lost Vegas, by Paul McGuire (a.k.a. “Dr. Pauly”), and Take Me to the River, by Peter Alson.
Footnote 2: The most detailed account of the imposter comes from the following — “Fake it to the Limit” in the SF Weekly by Jack Boulware.
Footnote 3: Another excellent account of Meisner trying to con his way at the WSOP can be read at the PokerStars blog entry written by Brad Willis, which appeared three years after the incident, in 2009.
Footnote 4: I don’t remember all the specifics on how the dinner ended. However, I believe Hank and I made an excuse about needing to step away from a moment, and left “Randy Meisner” to pick up the tab. A big rock star like him could certainly afford it.