Introduction: The person behind the celebrity who either makes or breaks the career of the big bands, the manager. Good ones are worth their weight in gold, bad ones just cost that much. Billy explores the history of one of the more reviled positions in the rock industry.
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Article by: Billy Parker
During the band's heyday, Peter Grant, Led Zeppelin's ingenious, often times ruthless, self-imposing manager, found himself at an A-list party in Los Angeles. Spying Bob Dylan, Grant took the opportunity to introduce himself to the legend. In complete protocol with such an affair, Grant extended his hand and graciously stated, "Hello, I'm Peter Grant, manager of Led Zeppelin." To which Dylan replied, "I don't come to you with my problems, do I?"
Given the bands well-deserved reputation for indulgent debauchery the comment was hardly without merit. After all, Grant himself paid for the hotel damages with crisp, brand new $500 bills upon checkout.
Part-time father figure, full-time babysitter, never-ending negotiator and unfortunately, all to often, flat out opportunistic crooks, Rock & Roll managers are an intricate part of the music landscape.
Peter Grant, Brian Ebstein, Colonel Tom Parker, the list goes on and on to cover almost every musical act that made the big time. Everybody's got one. But nobody ever said it was easy. We're not talking about being a den mother.
Sure it's easy to fend off media frenzies when the latest platinum album put pinstripes on your new Jaguar S-type. Who can feel sorry for a job that requires learning the phrase, "Listen (fill in any Rock Stars name) I'm tired of the commercial airline fiasco's, so I've just chartered a Lear for the last leg of the tour." Fact of the matter is most of these guys are on board before the band hits the big time.
When Black Crowes manager Peter Angelus first met the brothers Robinson, they picked him up at the airport in Atlanta to discuss him possibly (before they made it) representing them. Fifteen minutes later, in the car to the gig, they erupted into one of their well-known sibling arguments over which way was faster, by-pass or interstate.
Looking beyond the sandbox antics, coupled with a belief of commercial potential, is a common denominator among the job's most successful candidates.
Bill Aucoin, KISS's brilliant, promotional genius during their formative, early glory days practically funded the entire "Dressed to Kill" album tour on his American Express card. Receiving a phone call from the financial giant, they expressed their concern over his mounting purchases. "Mr. Aucoin, we noticed, that instead of the usual nominal amount, your balance is now over (remember this is 1975) $25,000! Do you expect to pay this?" "Of cource, absolutely!" He told them in complete confidence. Hanging up the phone, "Yeah, right!"
The next album was do or die financially, ALIVE was a smash hit and the rest is history. Vision? Perhaps, but I'm checking the dictionary for the correct spelling of "Gonads."
Win Win situations, should be the goal of any business arrangement, but unfortunately showbiz doesn't play by any rules. Young, creative, musical genius, are words that rarely proceed the title--Financial Planner.
"It's all taken care of. You don't have to worry about a thing!" The Rock & Roll managers equivalent to "The check is in the mail." Countless stories fit this classic line.
Billy Joel entrusted his brother-in-law Frank Weber with his finances. Tens of millions of dollars later, the lawsuits hit overdrive.
Badfinger's manager Stan Polley was trusted with vast sums of the band's money. Eventually it became apparent what had been happening. In his suicide note Pete Ham declared, "Stan Polley is a soulless bastard. I will take him with me."
Sometimes the financial rape is completely in the open. Colonel Tom Parker at one point received 50% of Elvis's income. He remained his manager till the end.
Often times the business relationship ends up in a rancorous split. Grand Funk Railroad was in litigation for years with their manager Terry Knight. Springsteen's break-up with Mike Apel has been well documented through the years. There are enough backroom business shenanigans in the industry, both past and present, to give law firms and entertainment journalist a lifetime of employment.
Still, often times less publicized are the strong careers these behind the scene personalities have brought to their respective musicians. At Zeppelin's very first meeting with Grant, John Bonham asked if he could drive the equipment truck to pick up a little extra cash. He didn't need to. Solely because of Grant's financial arrangement, in the next 18 months alone, John bought and sold 28 cars. Kit Lambert was instrumental with The Who's initial rise during the Tommy glory years. Chas Chandler was bass player for The Animals, but is best remembered for bringing Jimi Hendrix to the Rock & Roll spotlight.
At times managing a great career is only a stepping stone to bigger things. Dreamworks co-founder and self-made billionaire (that's with a B) media mogul David Geffen was manager for The Eagles and Joni Mitchell, among others.
Sadly though, sometimes a manager can do everything within his power and extraneous forces sideline a great career. That "other" Colonel had his man moving up the charts fast in the sixties. HI-FI (real name Fred Flintstone) was destined to hit the big time. Next thing you know a vicious false rumor (long believed started by his wife) began circulating that he really was a "Square!" Kids bought into it and he was back shoveling rocks quicker than you can say "Yaba-daba-doo."
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