TAMPA — As a former fashion designer with clients spanning musician Jimi Hendrix to professional wrestler “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Michael Braun has tales to tell.
“Let me make a long story short,” Braun says before he tells a story. He is true to his word, but also includes minute details.
How did Hendrix eat the first time they met? Slumped way back in a chair, spooning soup to his mouth without leaning forward.
In early July, Braun’s storytelling prowess was on full display.
The 8,000-square-foot mansion at 6409 Bayshore Blvd. that until 2001 doubled as his home and clothing factory is for sale for $5.9 million.
The current owners let Braun take what may be a final walk down memory lane through the seven-bedroom, 6 ½-bathroom red brick structure.
“I knew a little about what went on here,” current owner Rominca Diaco said. “It’s fascinating to hear detail.”
You’re not just buying a mansion, Realtor Toni Everett said. “You’re also buying history.”
Said Braun, “It’s all about pants. Let me make a long story short.”
Born and raised in New York, Braun, now 77, arrived in St. Petersburg in 1967 to captain a yacht in a series of races. But he dislocated his shoulder before he could compete.
He then met a woman, Toni Ackerman, who did not want to comment for this story.
“She’s shy,” said Braun, today a digital abstract artist. They dated briefly but decided to be friends instead.
“Don’t forget to mention the four topless dancers,” Braun told the Tampa Bay Times with a laugh. He initially lived with those dancers in St. Petersburg.
Ackerman lived in St. Petersburg with her young son. She had a 15-year-old babysitter willing to steal from anyone.
Braun said the babysitter stole a sewing machine for him from Goodwill.
Braun and Ackerman moved in together as friends and, just for fun, began making clothes for themselves with that sewing machine. They designed colorful, flowery shirts and bell bottoms with buttons along the side and flares embroidered with flowers cut from Mexican shawls.
“We are going to clubs and people are freaking out asking where I got them from,” Braun said. “So, I sell five shirts to a local band for $18 apiece, cash money. I show it to Toni and say, ‘We’re rich.’”
Their big break came via the band Vanilla Fudge, perhaps best known for the song You Keep Me Hangin’ On.
“Let me make a long story short,” Braun said. The band was performing in St. Petersburg.
“We are living in a $100-a-month rental at the time,” Braun said. “I tell Toni, like a male ego moron, ‘Clean the house. I’m bringing back Vanilla Fudge.’”
Braun walked backstage at the concert, showed the band the clothes he was wearing and invited them home to see more. They purchased every pair of pants that fit.
“They wore them on Ed Sullivan,” Braun said. “It was magical. Now let me tell you how we met Jimi Hendrix. It’s a long story short.”
Hendrix was performing in Tampa in 1968 and Braun again took fate into his own hands.
He called friend Phil Gernhard, who was producing the concert, and asked to be introduced.
Braun and Ackerman carried dozens of options to a hotel room at the downtown Tampa Sheraton.
“Jimi is barefooted, wearing pink, 13-button English Navy pants and a flowered shirt,” Braun said. “He is slumped back and eating. B.B. King is playing on a portable record player. Football is on the TV and he reacts to every big tackle.”
He also reacted to the bell bottoms flared back to front and all the way to the toes, rather than side to side.
“Nobody was doing that,” Braun said. “Nobody. He loved them.”
And that’s how they started making clothes for Hendrix, including his Woodstock outfit with the tassel-sleeved jacket.
“But you want to know how I ended in this house?” Braun said. “Let me make a long story short.”
It was 1972 and Braun and Ackerman were still in that $100-a-month rental where they kept their money under a mattress.
“I told Toni, ‘What we need is privacy and a proper place to make and sell clothes,’” Braun said. “And if we’re going to buy a house, it needed to look like the type of house where the people who made clothes for Jimi Hendrix would live.”
Braun called the then-owner of the Bayshore mansion from a bar and arranged a tour.
“I show up with my friend Daddy Lee, a real tall Black guy and one of the toughest men in all of St. Pete,” Braun said. “And here I am with my own big Afro. The owner was a little old lady with a gray wig pulled on her head. And she treats us like we are wearing suits.”
Braun and Ackerman bought the house for $53,000. They converted the three-car garage topped with a guest house into a fashion factory where four employees helped make clothes for a list of clients that included the Temptations, Sly and the Family Stone, Gregg Allman, Sonny and Cher, Aerosmith and Bob Seger.
“So how did we meet Macho Man?” Braun said. “It’s a long story short.”
Braun had been making clothes for Tampa native Hulk Hogan since the professional wrestler was a teenage bass player performing under his birth name, Terry Bollea.
“I get a call one day, and this guy says, ‘Hey, this is Macho Man. Hulkster says you can make me clothes,’” Braun said.
Savage, real name Randy Poffo, brought Braun a pair of Speedo-like pink wrestling trunks that read “‘Macho Man’ on the tush in 2-inch letters and have nothing else but three stars on them,” Braun said. “I told him, ‘Dude, I don’t do shorts. I need real estate from the floor to your head.’ But he is not listening, so we move on.”
Savage returned a few months later, Braun recalled, with his “head down” and said, “You can make me anything.”
With a laugh, Braun said, “That is the kiss of death to say to anyone creative. Make anything? That’s what I did.”
And that is how Savage’s colorful, full-body signature look — spandex shirts and pants, tie-dye cowboy hats and sunglasses — was born, Braun said.
“We made all that in my bedroom,” Braun said. “Mostly everything else we made in the garage. Ever hear of the band Chicago? They’ve been in the garage. Let me make a long story short.”
Robert Lamm, the keyboardist and vocalist for Chicago, asked for a ride to the airport after purchasing clothes.
“So, Sam Miller, who works with me as a cutter, has a Ford Falcon we can use to take Bobby,” Braun said. “The car is a piece of junk. The whole backseat is filled with soda cans and leftover food. So, the three of us cram into the front. At one point, Sam pulls off the shifter and hands it to Bobby. That’s how bad the car is.”
Braun wondered if he would ever hear from the band again. But Lamm called a day later. He lost his wallet and asked if it was in the garage.
“I go and find it,” Braun said. “I tell him I will only send it back if he sings me part of a song. And he did — Saturday in the Park.”
That was Braun’s final story the day of the tour.
“Why end it on that?” asked Braun, who retired from the fashion industry after selling the mansion in 2001. “To show that Lamm and everyone I made clothes for were just humans who everyone happens to know.
“The same goes for me. I just happened to have a teeny bit of talent that allowed me to make some clothes for interesting people, like Gladys Knight & the Pips, and I have a good story to tell you next time about them. I’ll make the long story short.”