Thursday, 4 August 2011

News, Views and Music Issue 108 (Top Ten): AAA Managers

They come in all shapes and sizes and from all walks of life. They can make your life a misery, they can make your life easy, but live with them or live without them, all AAA musicians need a little someone to help them along in life. So here’s our tribute to the best, worst and (most commonly) mixed fortunes of the managers who brought talent into the world:

1)    Murray Wilson (manager of The Beach Boys 1961-64): Ah, Murray ‘Dad’ Wilson (as he signed his autographs) – pushy parent, musical soulmate or obnoxious windbag, he’s been painted as all things by all Beach Boys chroniclers down the years. On the plus side, Murray recognised his eldest son Brian’s musical gifts early and encouraging the early musical get-togethers of his three sons, nephew and neighbour, perhaps because he too had been a struggling songwriter before their birth. On the other, there’ve been hundreds of horror stories about how Murray pushed his three sons way past the point of breaking, even to the point of beating Brian up according to his son’s autobiography. He also struggled to show much comfort, support or love, perhaps because as a struggling songwriter he was jealous of the band’s talent and success. On the one hand the Beach Boys might never have got started without Murray there to push them, making all the phone-calls and interviews on their behalf (much to the chagrin of record label Capitol, who were embarrassed by his outbursts according to some). The last straw came when Murray tried to tell the ‘Boys’ what to record in the studio, interrupting take after take with ‘advice’ the band just ignored and forcing Capitol to build in a ‘dummy’ engineering console especially for Murray to work on (so he could ‘think’ he was working on the mixes when actually all his work was null and void). Best moment: Writing ‘Break Away’ with son Brian, the only time the two collaborated on a song at the time in the late 1960s when Brian needed support the most; recognising that the band’s then-contemporary surfing sound was one worth pursuing. Worst moment: fiddling the band’s publishing accounts so that he ‘bought’ Brian Wilson and Mike Love’s ‘Sea Of Tune’ catalogue of songs up to 1968 and selling it at a low price behind their backs.

2)    Brian Epstein (manager of The Beatles 1961-1967) Ask any Beatles fan who knows their stuff and they will tell you that Brian Epstein wasn’t just ‘helpful’ to The Beatles, he was essential. Back when r and b and rock was only played by African-americans, when bands were ‘out’ and music was only a hobby rather than a career, few people older than 30 would have heard anything of note in the Beatles’ music. The fact that ‘Eppy’ thought that the band would be ‘bigger than Elvis’ from the moment he first heard them is nothing short of extraordinary. When The Beatles had seemingly auditioned for every record label going in Britain it was Epstein who refused to give up, persevering with his requests and essential to getting the fab four their audition at EMI Parlophone (after the mainstream EMI label had already turned them down). Much has been made of Epstein’s high social standing – his parents were the head of NEMS enterprises and owned chains of just about anything across the North (Brian himself first heard about the band that was to change his life while manager at the families’ record shop in Liverpool). But Brian was also a misfit who never felt he fitted in with his family and was desperate to break out from them and find something of his own to his credit. Sure Brian made some pretty awful mistakes and signed away far more of The Beatles’ rights and royalty rates than he should have done, to Paul McCartney’s chagrin in particular, but then like The Beatles Brian was a truly gifted amateur who was learning the job as he went along and had no experience managing anybody (he hadn’t even managed himself that well). But even though faults came to light later, Brian was exactly what the Beatles needed in 1962-63, someone outside ‘their’ world who ‘got’ the band and their raw, powerful music but with a clean image and a background just posh enough to entice the record companies to give them a go. The Beatles would never have made it out of Merseyside without his belief and conviction, but equally it was inevitable that the sheer level of their growth meant they would outgrow their need for him, particularly when The Beatles stopped touring in 1966. Brian’s suicide/overdose (no one is quite sure which) seems to be the sad ending this story was always going to have at one time or another, partly because Brian couldn’t see a role for himself in the new-look Beatles empire and partly because he himself didn’t realise quite how special he was in The Beatles’ story. Best moment: Hearing what the world would hear in five years’ time, long before anybody else outside the band did. Worst moment: Naive business sense that saw Brian receive mere pennies for Beatles merchandise that could have earned the band and himself millions; a pretty bum deal with EMI that saw record royalty rates at a penny per single – far less than almost every other band of the day.

3)    Allen Klein (manager of The Rolling Stones 1965-68, The Beatles 1969-1970)– Allen Klein worked with many bands in the 60s – including two AAA ones – and they all seem to have the same pattern. The first few months of an artist’s career Klein is the band’s saviour, finding loopholes in contracts that enable bands to get more money, many of which they genuinely were diddled out of by crafty record company executives. Even Klein’s biggest enemies will admit that they never made anything like as much money as they did in the short time Klein was working for them. And yet, Klein would take it too far, to the point where it was scary and on the edge of legal (Klein did in fact serve a prison term for embezzlement in the late 1970s). He was also a manager well known for pitting members of groups against each other – for instance, he charmed John Lennon enough to win him, George and Ringo over but never succeeded in persuading Paul to back him. It took Lennon three years of being, well, ‘groomed’ by Klein (who knew his work and crucially Yoko’s too off by heart and praised them at all times) and various court cases before Lennon humbly admitted in private that Paul was ‘right’ to be wary of him. However, even though Klein has the reputation of being a bully and a criminal, it’s worth remembering that many of his business decisions were perfectly lawful and indeed just, bringing money to the artists themselves rather than the record companies trying to keep it all for themselves. Best moment: Depending who you ask, it’s either saving The Beatles from bankruptcy or closing down many of the lesser parts of the Beatles’ sprawling Apple empire (although, admittedly, many of the best parts went as well!); Worst moment: Putting Lennon under so much pressure to sign as the band’s new ‘manager’ (a position that had been unfulfilled for two years without any major dilemmas) that his appointment effectively broke up The Beatles.

4)    Jim Dickson (manager of The Byrds 1963-66) In many ways Jim Dickson was perfect for The Byrds. About a decade older than the rest of the band, he’d had a surprisingly eclectic time in music management for the times, starting out on Lord Buckley’s comedy records and working his way through folk, jazz and bluegrass – along with rock and country the cornerstones of The Byrds’ sound. He also noticed the promise in ‘The JetSet’ (as they were first called as a trio) when no other managers would go near them. Alas, Dickson was happier working with music than musicians – during his short time with The Byrds he managed to annoy Chris Hillman (punching the bassist for failing to turn up to a publicity event), producer Terry Melcher (for recording ‘It’s All Over Now Baby Blue’ without his knowledge after disagreements over what the third Byrds single should be) and most famously David Crosby (the two famously ended up fighting on the floor at one photography session in the band’s early days and butted heads continually throughout their time together).  Best moment: seeing a ‘gap in the market’ between Peter Paul and Mary and The Beatles (Dylan came later!) and encouraging the band to fill it; also getting The Byrds what was for the time a very reasonable record deal with one album a year (not four like The Beach Boys). Worst moment: The infamous ‘beach fight’ when the band were meant to be filming a video for the song ‘Set You Free This Time’, which soon degenerated into a band brawl involving Crosby, Dickson and Michael Clarke; rejecting second single and second biggest hit ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ on the grounds that it was ‘too preachy’ for The Byrds!

5)    Robert Wace and Granville Collins (managers of The Kinks 1964-65)– In 1995 Ray Davies promoted his autobiography ‘X-Ray’ with a ‘storytelling’ tour, combining songs with extracts from the book. The passage that inevitably won the biggest laughs of the night was ray’s impression of his dapper upper class managers Robert Wace and Granville Collins, the inspiration behind both ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’ and ‘Well Respected Man’. The pair have become synonymous in Kinks fans minds with being a good joke who got lucky– after all, Robert originally hired the band (then called ‘The Bo-Weevils’) to back his own singing, thinking their own attempts were clumsy. Ray also had more than enough reason to get angry after the pair’s botched attempts at business made even Brian Epstein look savvy and contributed to his breakdown in 1967 (when Ray attacked his music publisher with an axe). But, to be fair to the pair, they coped well with what was even by 1960s standards a very wayward chaotic band, soothing ruffled feathers when the band had yet another no-show and getting the band back together again after Mick Avory really did try to kill Dave Davies on-stage with his cymbal. They also saw in The Kinks something big when few other people did – yes Granville and Collins only hired The Kinks for their own ends originally, but they still backed the band after Ray started taking the lead vocals and singing his own songs – and there aren’t many managers around who’d have stood for that. The pair were, though, possibly the least swinging 60s types of managers on this list, in the business for the kicks rather than any great feel for the genre. Best moment: Giving The Kinks their name. Sure the band had mixed feelings but, as they said, the name really stood out on posters (it was shorter than anything else around at the time) and gave them a distinctive image (even if it was the wrong one!) Would the band have got as far as ‘The Ray Davies Quartet’ ‘The Ravens’ or ‘The Boll-Weevils’ one wonders? Worst moment: Hiring all the people that would rub Ray Davies up the wrong way – publisher and early producer Larry Page was completely the wrong era for The Kinks and wound Ray up by putting down his music; producer Shel Talmy wasn’t much better, suing The Kinks (and The Who)after they tried to leave his perfectionist grasp.

6)    Bert Schenider and Bob Rafelson (creators and managers of The Monkees 1966-68)–When Bert and Bob posted their advert for a new television series with the words ‘wanted – four insane boys...’, they could not have picked a better time. Younger than pretty much any other television producers around at the time, they wanted to see if they could find a new ‘Beatles’, taking ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ as their starting point and creating a radical multi-media campaign the likes of which had never been seen before. Loose enough to be different to everything else around at the time, but tight enough to keep the ‘stars’ on their toes and coping with a heavy workload that would have shut down lesser men, from 1966 to mid 1967 Bert and Bob succeeded beyond their expectations, with The Monkees briefly outstripping The Beatles in popularity. They even did admirably well in mid-1967, coping with the media snowstorm about the band ‘not playing on their own records’ by sacking the disloyal musical director Don Kirshner (who was working on and releasing records without the band’s knowledge)and backing the four Monkees up to the hilt, a very dangerous situation for such a huge cash cow that might have flopped badly. Alas when The Monkees did finally fall the pair were less honourable, destroying The Monkees image with the film ‘Head’ that on the positive side poked fun at the music and film industries and the TV series itself and, less charitably, at the four Monkees themselves. But after a money dispute that saw three members of the band out on strike and the cancellation of the TV series the two men just walked away, distancing themselves from the whole enterprise and re-launching their television careers without a second glance.     Best moment: putting equally unsure newbies Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart in charge of making the band’s records, creating a great TV staff, encouraging all of The Monkees to improvise their way around their ‘scripts’ and finally backing them in the great 1967 ‘revolution’! Worst moment: Their portrayals of The Monkees in the script for ‘Head’ which they co-wrote with Jack Nicholson – Mike is ‘a con man’, Davy is ‘a Manchester midget greenie’, Micky is a ‘blithering space case’ and Peter is ‘a wise man’s mouthpiece who doesn’t know what he is doing’. So much for loyalty after two years of superstardom and support!

7)    Andrew Loog Oldham (manager of The Rolling Stones 1962-67) –Blimey Andy Loog Oldham can talk. There are two volumes of his autobiography out at present and each is like a lengthy conversation that just keeps going, in real time more often than not. That’s quite apt for a manager who primed himself on being about image and style, able to convince anybody anything about the bands under his charge. He certainly managed to interest the press in the Rolling Stones – after a so-so first three singles he practically changed the way you do business with the music press with a series of articles about how the band were mad, bad and dangerous to know (after all, would you let your grandmother go out with a Rolling Stone, even now?) Of course, most of it was rubbish – Mick Jagger was so posh he had a business degree, Bill Wyman was a respectable gentleman who’d been in the army and Brian Jones might well be the richest-at-birth of all the AAA members (with Byrd Gram Parsons his only rival)- but people bought into the Loog Oldham ‘image’ and believe it even now. By 1967, though, things have gone weird – Oldham, always a dramatic personality, thinks he’s bigger than the band and knows more than they do. After a turbulent year involving prison sentences, drug busts, various wife and girlfriend troubles and increasing differences of opinion between Oldham and the band, Andrew quits. Or was fired. Like all things with Oldham, it depends who you ask what really happened. Less hands on that Epstein, less money-minded than Klein but just as pushy as Murray Wilson and Jim Dickson combined, Loog Oldham is the character most people think of when they talk about 1960s ‘managers’ – whether that’s a good thing or not is up to you. Best moment: That headline! After all, who could resist angering their parents by buying records with a group their parents weren’t meant to like? After the ‘would you let...’ article was in all the music papers, the Stones suddenly leapt from being a top 20 band to being a top ten one and I’ll lay odds this article was the key to that. Worst moment: That famous 1967 drugs bust. Worried his own drug and pill abuse might be documented, he kept quiet about it to the press – much to the band’s chagrin, especially with that ‘nice Mr Klein’ working so hard to get them out of trouble (little did they know...see above)

8)    Tito Burns (manager of The Searchers 1963-65) –Unlike every single other manager on this list, Tito had been a successful musician before he turned his eye to managing others. You’d expect him to be a benevolent father figure, then, one who recognises how hard musicians work and how badly they need a helping hand. From the reports given by the bands he managed nothing could be further from the truth – Tito pushed his acts past the point of breaking and then, when the inevitable collapse happened, he dropped them without a second glance. That’s what happened to The Searchers at least, who remember him with a mixture of loving and loathing even today – and fellow Burns actThe Zomblies who were, the band remembers, ‘like zombies most of the time’. To be fair to him, though, Tito was in his 40s when he took on The Searchers and had also been a jazz musician, tradityionally sneering at pop and rock stars –two very big reasons why Tito should have ignored the band and Merseybeat in general. And yet his love for The Searchers and their kind of music was very genuine indeed, quite remarkable for a man at least 20 years older than his peers. Best moment: Giving The Searchers their big break in 1963, before even The Beatles had reached their sales peak and right on their coat-tails. Worst moment: spreading himself so thinly – as well as The Searchers and Zombies, Tito also worked with the Stones for a time, helped discover Dusty Springfield and became head of variety at London Weekend Television, all in the space of five years. No wonder he lost track of what was happening to whom with all that going on!

9)    Kit Lambert (manager of The Who 1965-72) –Kit Lambert was another upper class toff looking to manage a band more as a hobby than anything else and actually approached The Who to be the subject of a film he was making at first, but to his credit he ‘got’ the band straight away and what they could become. Nobody else involved with ‘The High Numbers’ (as they were first known) thought much of them at all, back in the days when they only did covers, but Kit did. It was he who encouraged Pete Townshend first in his composing and then in the art of guitar smashing, allowing The Who to rack up equipment bills that would have crushed lesser men. Above all, he got two important things – firstly that the band didn’t centre around the toughman singer but the sensitive guitarist, turning Pete onto classical music and encouraging him to write longer, more involved pieces of work. He also got the theatricality of The Who’s work straight away, at a time when drawing attention to yourself on stage was out of fashion and long before The Troggs, The Move and Jimi Hendrix got into the equipment smashing mood. It all went wrong after ‘Tommy’, however, when Pete fell apart creating a follow-up and badly needed Kit’s guidance – only to find his friend and father figure was on a pilled and booze-filled collapse of his own. Lambert saw the band reject his own drug-addled script for a ‘Tommy’ film and became destructive rather than supportive, driving Townshend to suicide at one point when the guitarist overheard the words ‘he has blocked me at every turn’ (it was the fact his friend couldn’t even speak his name that hurt Townshend the most). The guiding light behind The Who? Certainly? The person who tried to end it prematurely when things got tough? Possibly that too. Best moment: Unquestionably ‘Tommy’. While I don’t think its The Who’s best album by any means, it did open a whole new avenue to the band after two years of flop singles and was very much Lambert’s baby, with Kit nurturing Townshend to create a ‘rock opera’ from bits and pieces at a time when most managers would have run for the hills. Worst moment: What happened from ‘Lifehouse’ onwards; unlike most fans I do think Pete could have finished his second magnus opus if only he’d had someone to talk to about it as he did through the making of ‘Tommy’ – with only a puzzled band and bored engineer to discuss things with, its no wonder Pete got cold feet over a project more esoteric and allegorical than anything written up to that time.

10) Eliott Roberts (manager of Neil Young 1969-date) –Considering we’ve learnt everything else we could ever possibly wish to know about Neil Young (his family, his Canadian background, his influences, his guitars, his train business, etc) I’m shocked that I can find so little material about the man whose been steering him forwards ever since the dying days of the Buffalo Springfield. Things didn’t get off to a good start – Neil fired Eliot from the Springfield days before leaving the band because he was out on the golf course instead of attending to his needs – but as the in-depth biography ‘Shakey’ implies, Neil only did that because he knew he was going solo and wanted to keep Eliott for himself. Certainly, the two have been close ever since as its usually Eliott (along with sometime producer David Briggs) who does all the ‘donkey work’, tidying up the mess of whichever band Neil has left to get on with his muse and making music. Less of a manager than the other nine here and more of a friend, Eliott is the main reason why Neil’s been allowed to get away with as much stuff as he has, from genre bending to breaking up bands left right and centre. However, as some have noted, has Eliott allowed Neil to get away with too much, allowing him to cancel projects at the last minute too often for his own good? Best moment: Allowing the ‘Doom Trilogy’ to go ahead, despite knowing it would wreck Neil Young’s commercial clout in the wake of ‘Harvest’ and ‘After The Goldrush’. Worst moment: 1991’s CSN box set is pretty darn near perfect. But it could have been even better – Graham Nash phoned up Neil directly to ask for his input and a couple of legendary CSNY tracks for use in the set. Neil said yes, then hesitated and got Eliott to get him out of the deal so that he could keep the songs for himself (he still hasn’t released them himself yet either, 20 years on). This has happened so many times down the years I could cite more, but the CSN box is in my view the big one.

Well, that’s it for another issue. My manager says I have to go and have a lie down now, so its goodbye till next week! Keep rocking! 8>)   

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