An abbreviated look at some of the top managers in music.
Brian Epstein – Beatles
With no experience, he took the rough young Beatles and made them bigger than Elvis. That was considered impossible before he did it. No one from England ever made it in America…he would change all of that. Some people complained that he cleaned the Beatles up too much but that is the only way they would have been accepted in America.
They opened the doors for all the other British acts to follow. Brian cared about the Beatles and it wasn’t all about the money. He made a few bad deals but he was in uncharted territory. I would take Brian over anyone in this list.
Peter Grant – Led Zeppelin
Peter was big, impressive, and intimidating. He was a former wrestler who would resort to violence if necessary. He changed the business of touring to favor the artist. He demanded 90% of the gate money which that was unheard of at the time.
He fiercely protected their music. Going to record stores and demanding if any bootleg albums or merchandise was there to hand it over. At concerts, he would douse water over recording equipment of bootleggers. Peter was loyal to Led Zeppelin and that cannot be denied.
Albert Grossman – Bob Dylan – The Band – Janis Joplin
He was not liked in the folk community. He was all about commercial success for his artists and the folk fans called him Breadhead…Only in it for the money. Albert protected Bob and helped him to succeed. After Bob, he went on to manage the Band and Janis Joplin.
He built a mini-empire in Bearsville, NY. A recording studio, restaurants, and houses.
This is what Bob Dylan said about his first meeting with Grossman.
“He looked like Sydney Greenstreet from the film The Maltese Falcon, had an enormous presence, always dressed in a conventional suit and tie, and he sat at his corner table. Usually when he talked, his voice was loud like the booming of war drums. He didn’t talk so much as growl.”
Colonel Tom Parker – Elvis
The Colonel previously worked at carnivals and described Elvis as his “attraction.” He took an incredible 50% of Elvis’s earnings during his career and after his death. Elvis never toured internationally and some say it was because Parker was an illegal immigrant in the U.S. from the Netherlands, lacked a passport and never became a naturalized U.S. citizen.
No one can say that the Colonel didn’t make Elvis money but he controlled everything in Elvis’s life. He planned the Army induction, movies, and then the comeback in Las Vegas. In the end, he kept an unhealthy Elvis working while he accumulated huge gambling debts.
Kit Lambert – The Who
A flamboyant man with partner Chris Stamp managed the Who until the early seventies. Kit help shape their sound and image. Pete Townshend relied on him as an idea person. He helped Pete form the Tommy album as a rock opera and produced it as well.
Townshend has always maintained how important Kit was in his early songwriting. Lambert and Stamp were not great managers but they worked outside the box which is what the Who needed at the time.
Allen Klein – The Stones and Beatles
Allen was a master at negotiating contracts. He had the two biggest bands in the world and wanted the Who in the 70s…but Pete Townshend knew his reputation and dodged his control. He negotiated the Stones and Beatles huge record deals but also ended up owning the rights to the Stones early catalog.
Later with the Beatles John, George and Ringo wanted Klein as their manager but Paul wanted his father in law Lee Eastman. The rest thought he would be biased on toward Paul. The other Beatles signed with Klein but Paul wisely did not sign.
John, George, and Ringo eventually soured on Allen Klein after many questionable actions by Klein. It took years to untangle the mess he made.
Quote from George on Allen Klein.
“Because we were all from Liverpool, we favored people who were street people,” he said. “Lee Eastman was more like a class-conscious type of person. As John was going with Klein, it was much easier if we went with him too.” But he also noted that “years later, we formed a different opinion.”