Behind The Stars: The Craziest Managers In Music
From fighting off cannibals in the Amazon to hanging people out of buildings, it's all in a day's work for rock n' roll's craziest managers. We take a look back at some of the weird, wacky and downright crazy people behind musical greats like Elvis Presley, Ozzy Osbourne, and The Clash.
It's hard to know what to believe when it comes to Joe Jackson, father and manager of the late and great king of pop, but the abounding stories are not so much crazy as they are sad. Despite managing Michael and his siblings to superstardom, Joe's reputation was trashed after the media reported the former boxer was heavily abusive to his children. Allegations include that he would often push his male children into walls to show his dominance and that Jackson forced his children to call him Joseph rather than Dad.
Best known as the head of Creation Records, McGee spent the 80s and 90s in a crazy haze of drugs, drink and excess. The eccentric Scot discovered Oasis and managed the Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream and The Libertines. To celebrate Oasis' success in the mid 90s, McGee bought Noel Gallagher a Rolls Royce despite the fact the guitarist couldn't legally drive and the record label was nearly bankrupt. Other McGee antics include diving headfirst into a cocaine bender after checking him self out of hospital after a drug overdose. McGee also admits that during the 90s he thought he was up there with Beethoven in creating "metaphysical history".
Having made his name as a television presenter, Wilson became famous for putting Manchester on the musical map. As head of Factory Records, Wilson managed bands such as indie favourites A Certain Ratio and The Durutti Column. Factory was also home to Joy Division and Wilson signed the band's record contract in his own blood after a demand from Joy Division frontman, the late Ian Curtis. In 1983 with Factory already struggling financially, Wilson OK'd the cover for New Order's "Blue Monday". The inventive sleeve, designed as a floppy disk, cost so much to make that Factory still lost money with every sale. To make matters worse, it became the fastest selling 12 inch of all-time.
With an almost unmatched CV that includes founding Interview Magazine and inventing pop art, Warhol also dipped his toes in the music business, trying valiantly to give The Velvet Underground their "fifteen minutes of fame". Warhol's eccentricities are almost mythical, such as his adult phobia of hospitals doctors, his foot fetish and his penchant for collecting wigs. In fact, when a girl snatched off his wig in 1985, Warhol wrote in diary, "I don't know what held me back from pushing her over the balcony."
Although he was a member of influential Aussie rock band The Masters Apprentices, the average punter knows Glenn Wheatley as the manager of John Farnham. Apart from overseeing countless John Farnham farewell tours, Wheatley also looked after the Little River Band and more recently, Delta Goodrem. In 2007, the successful manager and promoter became embroiled in a tax evasion scandal, which saw him facing 16 years jail. Wheatley served 15 months after he was found guilty of channelling more than $650,000 through tax fraud schemes. But the craziest thing of all? Wheatley has no formal agreement with Farnham, their entire careers are based on a gentleman's handshake.
A performer, impresario and band manager, Malcolm McLaren was an ideas man. He had good ideas and bad ideas but almost all were downright outrageous. In his time with the Sex Pistols and the New York Dolls, McLaren became the king of the publicity stunt. It was he who organised the Pistols infamous performance of "God Save The Queen" down the Thames. McLaren was arrested for the stunt, only delighting him further. He was also interested in fashion, as the New York Dolls discovered when he ordered they perform in provocative leather costumes that he had designed.
Best known as the manager of the Who, before he masterminded the musical adventure that is Tommy he was involved in an adventure of the more literal kind, following a remote tributary of the Amazon deep into the wilderness for no apparent reason. His companion was speared by tribesmen, and for a while Lambert was suspected of the murder. Failing to learn from this brush with the law, he was later arrested for drug offenses in Venice and signed his life away to the courts in a little-used (because it is completely batshit insane) defence, whereby the Official Solicitor would take charge of his money and affairs in exchange for Lambert avoiding jail time, which is pretty much a fancy way of saying he did a deal with the devil and sold his soul. Yep, apparently that’s actually possible. He died in 1981 during a night of heavy drinking at a popular London nightclub, after living a life of insanity truly befitting the manager of one of the greatest rock bands of all time.
Aussie export Robert Stigwood was undeniably a man who made a lot of smart business decisions. He was one of Britain’s first independent record producers, responsible for instigating the formation of Cream and bringing the hit musical Hair to England, among many other achievements. One aspect where his instincts failed him however, was when it came to his completely loopy promoting tactics when he had a new act to push. The flamboyant Stigwood was fond of expensive, low-success gimmicks such as sending out plaster busts of a client to industry professionals.
Legitimate crazy person and father of Sharon Osbourne Don Arden seemed to frequently get the music industry confused with a dramatic mafia movie. In one famous incident, he suspected fellow placeholder on this list Robert Stigwood of trying to steal one of his clients, the Small Faces (the consensus was that Stigwood was, in fact, trying to do no such thing). Arden reacted by dangling his competitor out a window, threatening to drop him if he continued hunting bands under Arden’s control. This tactic was clearly a favourite of the manager of the Animals and Black Sabbath, who similarly threatened a piano player of another one of his bands, the Nashville Teens. His insanity also extended to his conception of his own influence, evidenced by the title of his autobiography, “Mr. Big – Ozzy, Sharon and My Life as the Godfather of Rock.”
In a piece of old-school badassery, Grant and his biggest band, Led Zeppelin, reportedly agreed to join forces with nothing more official than a “gentlemen’s agreement.” And so a lightning bolt shot down to Earth by the Gods of Rock, probably. He promptly drove the foursome to achieve massive success; partly through his intimidating presence and complete faith he had in the band.
Colonel Tom Parker
The infamous manager of the king of rock n roll, the Colonel was actually born in the Netherlands, his real name being Andreas Cornelius van Kuijk. The reason Elvis never toured outside the US was because Parker was an illegal immigrant and would be refused entry if he left the country. Parker most certainly shafted Elvis with his demand of a 50% commission. To give you an example of how much he cared for his successful client, straight after Elvis’ funeral in Memphis, Parker flew straight to New York to negotiate merchandise deals on memorabilia.
Once declaring himself the inventor of punk, Bernie Rhodes was manager for seminal punk band The Clash. He also claimed he was responsibly for getting Johnny Rotten to audition for the Sex Pistols. Not only did Rhodes convince Joe Strummer of kicking Mick Jones out of The Clash, before the release of Combat Rock in 1982 Rhodes suggested Strummer disappear as a publicity stunt to help sell concert tickets and actually go into hiding with a friend of Rhodes, however Strummer took it a step further and went to Paris without telling anyone else.
Everyone could probably agree that trying to organise and manage Ozzy Osbourne would be one hell of a task. Thankfully Mrs Osbourne learnt the ropes from her father Don Arden, previously mentioned as manager for Black Sabbath. When Ozzy was fired from Black Sabbath she took over his management and ultimately played a large hand in his now successful solo career despite the fact that no one can understand him. It’s reported she once kneed a promoter in the baby maker to get results. She’s not one to mess with.
This father-daughter combo was most definitely a formidable force. Having managed Destiny’s Child into becoming one of the world’s biggest pop acts he continued as manager for each member of the group, obviously taking particular advantage of his daughter’s talents. Mathew Knowles did everything he could to ensure the success of Beyonce. Unfortunately for Mr Knowles they decided to end the business relationship in March 2011. Apparently the decision was mutual and to allow Mr. Knowles to focus on his gospel label, although the illegitimate love child he’s just had may have been a factor as well.
The father of Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson, Murry Wilson encouraged his sons to become involved in music. Originally starting a machine business, after The Beach Boys initial success he became their full time manager. Apparently the relationships between father and sons were a little bit complicated and possibly quite violent. One particular alleged incident was the occasion where Murry hit Brian Wilson in the head a 2x4 piece of wood causing permanent loss of hearing in his right ear. Jeez thanks dad.
Easily New Zealand’s most well known music manager, Murray Hewitt showed passion and professionalism for his famous duo Flight of the Conchords, however lacked serious ability in the application of these traits. A brief stint at the top managing Crazy Dogggz didn’t last long with their hit a rip off of an early Polish song, further highlighting Hewitt’s incompetence. While he can’t be faulted for his disciplined note-taking during band meetings, one of his more noticeable errors was informing the band he had booked a gig for Central Park in New York only for the band to find out the gig was in a central park in Newark.
This CEO of Black Kapital Records and former CEO of Death Row Records is not someone you would want on your bad side. Implicated in the murders of both Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls, he was accused of the former by none other than one of his former clients, Snoop Lion (nee Dogg.) He also went to jail for various lengths of time in 1997, 2003 and February of this year, where he remains to date. His name has been associated in everything from the $170, 000 robbery of Akon’s producer to a shooting at Kanye’s pre-VMA party in 2008. His label has such a violent reputation in fact, that Dr. Dre, left it for that very reason.
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