More than any of the performing arts, rock ‘n’ roll seems to have brought to the surface the most outlandish of performers and impresarios. In thinking about performers, who can ever forget Elton John performing in Central Park wearing a Donald Duck outfit? Or can we ever see enough of Ozzie biting off the head of a live dove? Or how about John and Yoko spending a week in bed, "trying to get us some peace?"
I recently read the book, In My Life (great title) by Debbie Geller. The author takes you through the life of Brian Epstein, the manager behind the Beatles. While I wouldn’t call the book a literary masterpiece, it gives you an inside look at Epstein’s life. His loyalty and devotion was unique as he often put the groups’ interests before his own. While reading the book, I couldn’t help but think of some of the other rock impresarios whose fame and fortunes were tied to their clients. While the bands were performing, these guys were supposed to be looking after the affairs of the group. Sometimes they did and some times they didn’t.
Andrew Loog Oldham, the early manager of the Rolling Stones, literally lived with Mick and Keith while the group was struggling to make a name for themselves. In the book, Stone Alone Bill Wyman describes how Andrew, Mick and Keith lived together in virtual poverty planning the future of the band.
Perhaps the most chilling description of a rock manager can be found in the book written by rock impresario Bill Graham and author Robert Greenfield in Bill Graham Presents: My Life Inside Rock and Out. Here Graham speaks of Led Zeppelin’s manager, Peter Grant in less than glowing terms. Perhaps Peter was good for the group, but Graham describes his business dealings with him in shocking detail. Clearly Graham and Grant were not about to go out to the movies together for a pleasant night out.
However, in terms of the true entrepreneurial grit, Terry Knight stands alone as a guy who really made something out of nothing and then watched it all go away in just a few short years. After working as a DJ in the Flint, Michigan area in the middle 60’s he formed a group called The Pack. In the late 60’s the group had a few regional hits. Once they covered the Ben E. King tune, "I, Who Have Nothing" they scored a national hit. In 1967, Terry and rest of the Pack split up with Terry trying to pursue a solo career. In 1968, Terry abandoned his solo career to become a manager. He convinced two of his ex-Pack mates, Don Brewer and Mark Farner to join Mel Schacher who was with ? & The Mysterians to form a power trio called Grand Funk Railroad.
Terry managed and produced the group beginning in 1968. His greatest triumph for the group was arranging to have a billboard of Grand Funk Railroad be placed in Times Square, New York. It was a brilliant piece of advertising and helped propel the group to quick fame and fortune.
As many in the music business have learned, fame and fortune often give way to debt and misfortune. By 1972, only four short years from their formation, the group split from Knight amidst a virtual mountain of lawsuits.
Undaunted, Knight began his own label, Brown Bag Records. He recorded a group called "Bloodrock" which met with no success. He followed up with another group called "Mom’s Apple Pie" in which the cover of the album depicts a very private part body part. Today that cover would probably get no more than a passing glance, but in the 70’s it caused quite a stir. Ultimately, whether the cover was in good taste or not, the bottom line was that the songs contained within the album were not very good. As was the case with all the artists on Brown Bag, success was not to be had.
The ironic part was that once the group split from Knight, they came into their own producing some really great albums. Among the producers they used were Frank Zappa and Todd Rundgren. Knight, on the other hand faded away. He became just another manager who was at the right place at the right time and rode the rocket ship for as far as it would take him and then unceremoniously crashed to earth.