Confessions of A Hard Head: Manager’s Corner with Gov’t Mule’s Stefani Scamardo
Stefani Scamardo is the founder of Hard Head Management in New York City. She is also the wife and manager of Warren Haynes and Gov’t Mule. She recently took time out her extremely busy schedule to talk with Jambands.com about the chaotic world of the music business, the tragic loss of Allen Woody and new beginnings for Gov’t Mule.
JW: Why don’t we start with your background and how you got into the music business.
SS: I graduated from George Washington University in 1988 with a degree in psychology and sociology and a minor in philosophy. I moved to New York and I had no idea what I wanted to do. What I thought I wanted to do was to become some sort of psychologist or something that utilized my major; working with teenagers or problem children. The problem was, I came to New York and I didn’t know anyone. All of the jobs were just horrendous, you know what I mean? I would get this great offer for good money to run a halfway house or something like that, but it would be in some crazy area. So, nothing ever felt right. There were all these crazy jobs and I wasn’t quite sure what to do and it was my father actually who said ‘listen, why don’t you go and get a job and try to work on finding something in what you’ve always wanted to do’ and I was like ‘well, what do you mean, like music?’ I was so ignorant that I never even thought about the fact that there was a business behind this thing that I just loved, you know? There was a business behind all of these shows I went to and the albums I bought. I was ignorant I guess. I was a kid from Virginia and I had spent my whole life playing music. I had played the drums and electric guitar and was in some bands in high school. When I went to college I played NCAA Division I soccer for the George Washington Colonials and it took a lot of time. For six hours a day I ran, worked out, practiced and all that as well as maintaining a full schedule at school so it was hard to play music then, but I continued to be a fan. I was a big Deadhead. I pretty much spent all of my time divided between the East Coast and West Coast doin’ the Dead tours and stuff, even during school.
So I was here in New York and my dad kind of gave me some insight and so I got an advertising gig at a media house, just a starting position making like eighteen grand a year and I went to audio engineering school at the Mann School of Music. It’s part of the New School for Social Research and I figured I’d start with the basics ‘how do you make a record?’ I really didn’t have a clue, you know? It was a really interesting class. It was at a studio. I had never been in a recording studio, so I really, really loved it. On the first day of class we were all sitting in a circle and the teacher asked us each why we were there. So we went around the circle and I said, ‘I want to be in the music business. I want to make records and work on tours and be creative and find talent and market talent.’ I didn’t really know exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to be involved and I wanted to be a part of everything really. Another woman in the class was an A & R executive at Island Records and wanted to learn more about recording since she oversaw all of the recording at Island. So I said to myself ‘you know what? This is my girl right here.’ I worked it. I spent the next couple weeks basically pleading to get a gig at Island Records and a few weeks into it, they offered me an internship. I quit my job to go be an intern in the A & R department, which at the time was exactly what I thought I wanted to do: to scout new talent and oversee the recording. It was great. It was the best decision I ever made in my entire life. I was there for just a couple of months and then got hired as the A & R assistant.
Through the next few years I worked my way up through the ranks of the A & R department. I was the national A & R coordinator. I oversaw all the recording. I also oversaw all remixes and did all of the negotiations and helped find the producers, the remixers and the talent. I worked on both creative and administrative sides of the A & R department, which was a really great experience for me. Towards the end, I wanted to sign my own bands. I was really good at working with all of these A & R people and their projects. All I wanted to do was sign bands and make my own records and there wasn’t a position open for that, so what I did was I started a management company out of the extra bedroom in mine and Warren’s apartment. I’d have this kid show up at like 9:45 every morning and I’d give him a list of things to do that day and then I’d go to Island and work. During lunch, I’d call the kid and check in on him and comment on all of the things that he had been working on. Then he’d wait for me to get home and we’d go over stuff and send some packages out.
This went on for a few months. The band I was working with at the time was a band called Xanax 25. I had taken this band from pretty much unknown status to the point where we made some demos, they started gigging, their tours were doing good, we had gotten them the H.O.R.D.E. tour opening for Blues Traveler and finally when they were making some money. I said, ‘hey, you know what? I could do this full time.’ So I quit my gig at Island and ran my management company. I signed a series of bands, a lot of cool New York talent, one band was Cherokee Sex Workshop, who became Walkin’ Bird. I was really successful with the Xanax 25 project. They eventually wound up having a lot of internal and personal problems, but I had kind of proven myself at that point with that project. Enough so that about a year or so after I started the company in ’96 Allen Woody and Matt Abts asked Warren if it was OK to ask me to manage their band. That’s what I was doing at the time, working with a lot of younger bands because I was kind of an unknown manager, so I had to sign the bands at a young level and just kind of create the momentum. So it was good to see people recognizing that and being at a larger status and wanting me to work with them. It was very exciting. I came in the summer of ’96 and immediately put a lot into action with Gov’t Mule. We put out the “Live at Roseland” record and we booked them three months on the Black Crowes national tour at the time, so it was kind of a great way to up the ante on what I was doing. We then signed them to Capricorn Records. We made the record “Dose” and pretty much hit the road hard-core and started all the grassroots marketing and fanbase development that we’re seeing now.
JW: I want to back up for a second. You briefly mentioned the apartment that you and Warren shared. You graduated in ’88. When did you meet Warren?
SS: It’s kind of an infamous story. Warren and I came together very much through fate. I was a big Deadhead. My best friend and I had just graduated college in ’88 and in the summer of ’89 the Allman Brothers were doing their first tour in, I don’t even know how many years. It was their big reunion and Warren of course was in the band and my best friend Amy and myself went to go see the Dead do their final show at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. It was the last show before they shut it down. It was a big deal. So the next day we really didn’t have any plans and we were in Philadelphia. We woke up and we were like, ‘what are we gonna do today?’ This was back in the days when there were no worries. I’m from the Washington DC-area and I said ‘you know, the Allman Brothers have reunited and are playing at Merriweather Post in Baltimore’ and she was like ‘Oh my God, let’s go, lets go’ and I told her ‘dude, that’s show’s been sold out for months’ and she said ‘no, you gotta call, you gotta call.’ So, I called up Merriweather Post. I didn’t even call Ticketmaster. Someone in the box office answered and I was like ‘Hey, can I get any tickets for the Allman Brothers tonight?’ The woman told me ‘man, you’re not going to believe this. The show’s been sold out for like two months, but the band just gave us two tickets that they didn’t use and there’re about four hundred people out here waiting to get tickets, but because I answered the phone, you have the right to these tickets. Do you want them? I need to know right now.’ I was like ‘I’ll take them.’
So I gave her my credit card number and never looked back. We never even found out what time the show was. We took a shower, grabbed some hoagies, grabbed some beer and we were on our way to Baltimore. So we got there and had missed the whole first set. The show started at like 6:00 and we got there at 7:30. Because we had those house seats that the band had given back to the promoter, we were sitting in the midst of all of the band’s and the promoter’s friends. We had twelfth row seats. They were the best seats I had ever had for any concert, you know? During that setbreak and the second set my friend and I were having a good time with everyone, enjoying ourselves and everybody was like ‘you guys are great.’ The Allman Brothers are having a party after the show. Do you guys want to come?’ I was 22 or 23 years old and had never been backstage in my life. So we went backstage and we met Warren and he’s just like the nicest guy in the world. We immediately just kind of gravitated towards him and Woody. They were obviously very young, open and friendly and talkative, more so than say, Dickey (Betts) and Gregg (Allman). They were a little bit more accessible. So we had a great time. Back then the band used to leave at three in the morning. I think it was to kind of to control the elements. People could do whatever they wanted, but at three they were getting on the bus and going to the next show. That way nobody could get into too much trouble. So we had no place to stay. We had just driven down there from Philly. So they gave us their hotel rooms, invited us to come to Philadelphia the next week and said they’d leave tickets for us at the box office. We were totally ecstatic.
We went to the show the next week at the Spectrum in Philly and had a great time. It was the same situation. Hung out with the guys after the show, they got on the bus to leave and we got their hotel rooms. It was great, you know?
JW: It’s a pretty good gig, yeah.
SS: Pretty good gig (laughs). Anyway, Warren had given me his number and at this point there wasn’t anything between us except we just thought he was the coolest, nicest guy who was obviously very talented and just very fun to hang out with. He had given me his number and he said ‘look, call me sometime. I’d love to see you guys when I’m in New York or whatever.’ So I didn’t think much about it and a month or so went by and we heard on the radio that the Allman Brothers were playing five nights at the Beacon Theater in New York City. So the next day I called Warren in Nashville and Warren was like ‘man, I cannot believe that you caught me at home. How did you know I was here? I’m here two days between the West Coast and East Coast tour. I can’t believe you caught me here.’ I told him that I had just heard about the Beacon shows and was calling to see if I could come. He said it was fine and put us on the list for all of the nights. That was when we really kind of hooked up because he spent the whole week in New York and we hung out, went to dinner, went to shows and really had a great time and that’s when I realized what a great person he was. As crazy as it all seems, we were able to really develop a relationship in a good kind of pure way because he lived in Nashville and I lived in New York so we’d talk on the phone every night. So we really got to know each other. By the time we became very serious, it was kind of done the right way, you know? Even though we didn’t get to date all the time, he’d come and visit me and I’d go and visit him. We spent a lot of time talking. It was a really cool way to develop a relationship actually. He’s such a great person, that once we got together, we were together and we’ve never been apart since. We’ve been together since ’89.
JW: So he moved to New York eventually?
SS: Very shortly actually, Probably in ’90 and ’91.
JW: What year did you make the transition to form Hard Head Management?
SS: I think that started in ’93.
JW: Is there a meaning behind the name?
SS: (laughs) Warren thought it up. He just thinks I’m a hard head and he thinks that’s a good thing. I’m very aggressive and have a strong personality. He thought it was just catchy. He calls me Hard Head all the time so he thought it would be a catchy name and I did too. We had a lot of cool names and I ran it by a lot of people and everyone agreed that that was it.
JW: In ’97 Gov’t Mule became a full time thing. When did you actually start managing the band?
SS: In the fall of 1996.
JW: Was there any concern about you managing Warren and mixing business and pleasure?
SS: Well Warren was the only one who was concerned. It was his two band members that came to him and said that they wanted me to manage them. So Warren’s only concern was that he didn’t want to hear any shit down the line about any conflicts. In a lot of circumstances, it might not work. I happen to be a very professional manager and he is probably one of the most professional artists out there and so is Matt and so was Woody. It actually was never a problem. I think they feel good because they feel like no one else would look after the band more than I would. I mean, who would care more about the success of the band? It has a direct impact on not only my professional life, but my personal life as well. So, it was actually a really big responsibility and sometimes I feel like I’m under even more pressure than a normal manager would be, you know what I mean? A normal manager would be able to separate. He would be able to go home at night and say ‘you know if I screwed that up, than I screwed it up.’ But for me if I screw up, it screws things up for Warren and Matt and Woody. It’s so personal and I actually think it makes my job harder. I think it allows the band to have this piece of mind knowing that I’m the one person that’s reliable, whereas for me it kind of stresses me out a lot, you know?
JW: Yeah I can relate to that. I live with the band that I manage. There’s no escaping the business aspect sometimes.
SS: Yeah, it’s very hard. Warren’s very busy, so sometimes we’ll be home at night and he’ll ask me about something at like one in the morning. If I didn’t work for him, he wouldn’t be asking me those questions. We’d be talking about like ‘what’s your mom up to?’