This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: David Fishof, founder, Rock ’n’ Roll Fantasy Camp.
David Fishof is in the fantasy business.
Founded by Fishof in 1997, Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp takes place six times annually in different locations, and ranges from three to six days.
For each session, some 60 attendees pay up to $10,000 for six days to live out their dreams—to play, write, and record with musical celebrities, culminating in a “Battle of the Bands” stage presentation.
Rock counselors/instructors have included Roger Daltrey, Brian Wilson, Steven Tyler, Slash, Vince Neil, Joe Walsh, Bret Michaels, Mark Hudson, Lita Ford, Matt Sorum, Jack Bruce, Duff McKagan, Glenn Hughes, and Elliot Easton.
In 1997, Fishof launched his original Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp in Miami, Florida. Despite counselors like Mike Love, and Lou Gramm teaching and sharing their stories and professional tips with attendees, the ill-attended event flopped and Fishof shelved the concept until 2000 when he did a camp in Los Angeles and it was quite successful.
Since then, Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camps have been held in locations as far-flung as Las Vegas, and London, where campers and their rock star counselors have recorded in the Abbey Road Studios.
This hasn’t gone unnoticed.
In the "How I Spent My Strummer Vacation" episode of The Simpsons' 14th season, broadcast on Nov. 10, 2002, Homer Simpson attends Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp along with Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Elvis Costello, Lenny Kravitz, Tom Petty, and Brian Setzer. For its mock rock concert, Homer is the lead guitarist and singer of his group.
Four years ago, Fishof launched a corporate Rock ’n’ Roll Fantasy Camp, with seminars, and programs of up to five days.
Born in New York City, Fishof began his career representing comics and singers' acts in the Catskills’ Borscht Belt.
He went on to be a noted sports agent, representing such NFL greats as Phil Simms, Mark Bavaro, Vince Ferragamo, and Jack Reynolds as well as such baseball stars as Lou Piniella, Dave Magadan and Randy Myers.
Fishof, however, wanted to be in the music business.
He began representing the veteran musical group the Association. In 1984, Fishof produced "The Happy Together Tour" for the Association which also included the Turtles, Gary Puckett, and Spanky and Our Gang. The following year "Happy Together" toured national again with the Turtles, Gary Lewis, the Grass Roots, the Buckinghams, and Tommy James and the Shondells.
In 1986, Fishof turned many heads in the live music business by producing the Monkees’ 20th Anniversary Reunion Tour.
In 1988, he successfully produced the "Dirty Dancing Live Tour" which toured the U.S., Europe and Australia.
In 1991, Fishof, with Kenneth Feld, co-produced "The American Gladiators Live Tour" which was followed by his "Mortal Kombat Live Tour" in 1995.
By then Fishof, had created and produced "Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band. From 1989 to 2003, he produced a total of eight separate "Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band" tours.
In 1999, Fishof developed British Rock Symphony, an elaborate touring show that featured classic rock hits with a gospel choir, a full orchestra, and vocalists including Roger Daltrey, Darlene Love, Nikki Lamborn, Alice Cooper, Paul Young, Simon Townshend and Gary Brooker performing symphonic renditions of music by the Beatles, Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and the Who.
People argue that there’s no money in the music business, but you continually find ways of shaking money out of the industry.
That’s a good way of looking at it. I am having more fun than I have ever had in my entire career because I am getting to change peoples’ lives—individuals that come to my camp—and I am changing corporate America with my corporate Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camps.
How lucrative has the Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp concept been for you?
It hasn’t been lucrative for me. I didn’t do this for money. My goal in life has been to be the best I can be; and money will come. I love what I’m doing. If I was looking to make a lot of money, I would go back on the road. You give up a lot of your income leaving (the road). I’m not on the road for 40 or 50 nights. Now, I put my kids to bed every night. That is worth a billion dollars for me.
You just had a Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp (Feb. 16-20, 2012) with attendees and rock stars performing at the Gibson Showroom in Beverly Hills, and the Whisky A-Go-Go on the Sunset Strip.
This one was interesting because I am opening up to different genres of music. So I brought in Warren Haynes, Zakk Wylde, and Steve Vai. Felix Cavaliere was there for me in the beginning so I invited him for keyboards. Matt Sorum for drummers. The camp sold out. It was an amazing experience.
How many rock star counselors were there?
I had 14 counselors. For most of the camps I have had 12.
Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp takes place six times a year?
I do it six times a year, but here’s the big news—we’re moving the camp to a permanent location in Las Vegas next year. I can’t give you any details yet. We are in the midst of negotiating details.
There is still a camp at the Playboy Mansion in Hollywood May 2-6, 2012 with Steven Tyler.
The plan is still to do a camp yearly at the Playboy Mansion and also to go back to Abbey Road Studios in London. But we are going to find a permanent home to bring the Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp.
Why Las Vegas?
Because one of the biggest parts of my business are my corporate Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camps. I started those four years ago. I started them because executives attending my camp were saying to me, “Do you realize what an amazing team building product you have here?”
What are the fees for the regular Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp?
The six day camp costs anywhere from $6,000 to $8,000; or $9,000 to $10,000 if you want to record. I have a great recording package with (producer/engineer) Eddie Kramer. Unlike the sports camps where you just have a baseball bat or a basketball (as equipment), these camps are expensive because you set up a stage for the five days, and you have to take everything down.
The fee for four days is about $5,000?
Yeah. People get to record for a few hours, but they don’t get to record for a full day.
And the fee of up to $10,000 is for recording?
That’s the recording package.
“American Idol” and other musical talent TV shows have likely boosted the appeal of Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp because they show that amateurs can compete.
And they show people that there’s an opportunity to make it, still (in the music industry). Right. Totally.
Many attendees probably think, “I didn’t pursue this life, but I’m not bad at doing this.”
I would say that 99% of my customers are people who were in a band or wanted to be in a band and, unfortunately, life took a different turn. They had to take a job and support a family and, for many reasons, they couldn’t pursue their dream. They get to come to my camp to live that dream out.
You haven’t commercially released CDs by attendees?
No. Not at all. I am not going to promote that people that come to my camp are going to make it. I don’t want to promise anything like that. That’s not what it's about. I don’t promise anything.
Many older people play in bands with friends, and love doing that.
The most exciting thing for me is that I am able to give people their dreams. I feel like a Jewish Santa Claus because I literally change peoples’ lives. I get letters everyday thanking me for “this dream” and that really is what keeps me going. That’s why I love my gig more than ever. All I do is make people happy. I connect people with people and make them best friends. They are in a room with someone five days, collaborating, writing a song; these people become best friends. So these bands stay together.
The rock star counselors get paid. Does everybody get paid the same?
It's different pay scales for different jobs. No question they get paid.
What do you look for in a counselor?
What I look for is a rocker who enjoys people. I will tell you that what attracts the rock star to Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp is the friendships that they make with the attendees. I have attendees who have private planes, and who are heads of corporations. I think what has been exciting for the rock stars is to meet these people on a one-on-one basis, and to get to know them for four or five days. You can understand why the public likes it (the camp) but I think why the rock star likes it is that they are meeting these amazing people like the president of People magazine (Paul Caine); and the guy (Ed Oates) who started Oracle.
There are, of course, sports camps for sports fans.
There is a difference between these sports camps and the Fantasy Camp. Unlike the sports business where the people are retired and are probably overweight and can’t hit the ball over the fence, at the Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp, these rockers are still selling out stadiums and arenas. You can write a song at 60 years old.
C’mon, you have a mix of today’s stars and some aging veterans who have seen better days.
Right exactly. We are getting talent that is still current, and we need the other talent to get them (attendees) prepared so when the big names walk in they can jam with them.
But what do you look for in a counselor?
I look for someone who wants to give back to the public and to a fan and to a musician. Someone who is really into the music and likes to collaborate and to make music. I look at each coach (counselor) as a record producer taking a band of five or six people that they have never met before and creating an entity. I liken my rock star coaches and counselors to an NFL football coach because the success of an NFL coach doesn’t matter how much talent he has. It’s the brains of putting together a team. It’s about the strength of each hand. I have seen bands win our “Battle of the Bands” who have had the weakest drummers, and the weakest guitar players but they were able to take the best of the people, and take the creativity they have.
When you evaluate someone to be a counselor, do you consider their lifestyle? That someone may a great musician but may also be unreliable?
Well, I go back to thanking Ringo (Starr) because when I was putting the bands together with him, we would have disagreements about who should go in the bands. Naturally, I wanted the artists that I felt could sell the most tickets to the package. He would say, “I want a good guy. I want a good person, first. To me, that is more important. I have to live with these people on the road.” So over the years, Ringo and I would have disagreements and, in the end, he was right. And, I learned that for this business, the people who are great with (other) people keep your business going. The biggest lines I get (from attendees) are, “I can’t believe how nice this person is,” or “I can’t believe how great this person is.”
Not every musician is going to be friendly.
I had a well-known musician who begged me to do the camp. He said, “I really want to get back. I really want to do this.” He turned out to be the biggest jerk. He wouldn’t sign an autograph; and when people asked him something he wouldn’t answer. He didn’t have enough patience to deal with the people. I have had 99.9% great people here. I make sure to meet with them in advance. I have them talk to the others to know what to expect.
Have you ever sent a rocker home?
Have you ever had to send an attendee home?
Yes. Over the years, I have had two people that I had to send back. If they are coming to my camp looking to advance their careers, that’s not the business that I am in. I am in the fantasy business. I had one guy who was trying to tell the rocker what to do. And he was obnoxious. So I asked him to leave. But that’s not a bad record after doing this for 15 years.
Why have the corporate Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camps been so successful?
Executives walk into a room and they usually turn to the rock star and say that they want to do this song by this band. The rock star says, "That’s very nice, but I have to teach it to four other people; you will just have to wait, sir.” The executives learn patience. They learn that they have to be in a team; and it’s not about them. In order to make music, it has to be one big team. If you ask me what my passion is, I want to change corporate America to learn to operate their businesses like a rock band. That’s my goal.
How did the corporate Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camps start?
Upon doing these camps, corporate heads were telling me, “I’d love you to do this for my company. But some of our people don’t play instruments so what can we do, David?”
So you created a corporate program that has been very successful. How does it work?
I bring my line-up of rock stars and I divide their people into groups of 20 or 25. I send them into a room to rewrite the lyrics of a classic rock song that their rock star is involved in; that has the elements of what their corporation experience is about, as if they were the rock stars.
You give executives an assignment.
They rewrite the song for a few hours, and they do a team-building experience where we identify the one person who has the (musical) skills and passion and we put the passion together so they get the product. Then they collaborate. One person in the group becomes the road manager; one becomes the stage manager; one writes lyrics; one does the costumes; some do choreography; and if they are a musician they play. Then their group performs onstage with their rock star. Recently, it was with Simon Kirke from Bad Company, and Lita Ford. They (executives) were performing with the rockers.
Afterwards, the rock stars do a set.
So not only do I give them a team building experience, but I give them a great night of entertainment. I did these corporate fantasy camps for People magazine, GE, and recently for Hard Rock International in Orlando. They were re-writing a song with Mark Hudson, “Livin’ on the Edge” which he co-wrote (with Aersomith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry). They changed the lyrics to “Livin’ on the Ledge” celebrating their new $4 hamburger…”Living on the Ledge, mushroom, cheese and hamburger too.” They changed the words, and they performed it.
The idea to create Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp came out of your first tour in 1989 with Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band?
What really got me to push this idea was traveling on that tour that summer. It was just Ringo and the band, and it was such an experience to be with the guys that I kept saying, “This is an experience that I could share with the world.” Everybody kept calling me everyday asking me what this guy or that guy was like. To see us in the private plane was just such a great experience.
[In 1988, David Fishof came up with the idea of Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band.
“It came together in 1989,” Ringo Starr told Billboard’s editor in chief Timothy White in 2001. “I was sitting in England thinking, ‘What will I do? I should go on the road, but how will I do that?’ I didn't know [promoter] David [Fishof] from a hole in my shoe, and out of the blue, I got a message through my lawyer from him, saying a sponsor would like to know if I'd be interested in putting a band together. I thought, ‘It must be a message from God!’
“After I moved back to Monte Carlo again from England, in '89, I thought, ‘Let's give it a shot.’ So I had a friend in L.A. who was helping me find musicians I knew and I'd played with, like Dr. John and Joe Walsh -- and, of course, Levon [Helm] and others from the Band [Garth Hudson, Robbie Robertson] were on the Ringo album. Nils [Lofgren] had become a friend, so I just phoned and said, "I've been offered this tour. Would you like to have fun in the summer?" And that's how it started.”
Over two decades, the All-Starr Band’s line-up has included Jack Bruce, Eric Carmen, Dave Edmunds, Simon Kirke, Randy Bachman, Gary Brooker, Clarence Clemons, John Entwistle, Peter Frampton, Billy Preston and others.]
Surely, the first All-Starr lineup was difficult to put together?
Everybody had told me that I could never put an all star band tour together to travel with all of these different characters. You can do one night at Live Aid or you can do a benefit concert but to tour all of these people for a worldwide tour they would never get in the way of each other. The egos would get in the way. So here I was touring with all of these musicians, and they are all leaders in their own way and I was trying to put an all star band together for them to collaborate and all sound like a band.
There were also then substance issues with several of the musicians.
So everybody warned me that it wasn’t going to work and that I was nuts to do this. Meanwhile, I had mortgaged my townhouse in Manhattan to invest in putting this Ringo and the All-Starr Band together, and by the fourth show at the Garden State Arts Center in Holmdale, New Jersey (now The PNC Bank Arts Center) the tour was about ready to implode.
I was having dinner backstage and Clarence Clemons walked by my table and he said to me, “I am quitting the band.” I asked, “What’s wrong?” He said, “Joe Walsh and Levon Helm are fighting over songs.” Then Nils Lofgren walked by a second later, and he said, “Fishof, I’m out of here. I’m quitting.” And I said, “Oh no. What happened?” And he told me the same thing.
So I went downstairs and walked in on this fight between Levon Helm and Joe Walsh. Levon had a glass bottle in his hand, and there was blood running down his hands. Joe Walsh had a knife and there was blood on his lips and all over this face. Dr. John, and the late Rick Danko were there. I screamed, “You guys are a bunch of babies. Can’t you behave?”
They both turned around, and stuck their tongues out at me.
What they had done was they had the tour manager Max Loubiere get fake blood, a rubber knife and a glass bottle that looked like it was made out of sugar. They staged a fake fight, and I walked in, and tried to break up. I will tell you that I was surprised that I didn’t get a heart attack because I almost saw my home go right down the drain. But Jim Keltner videotaped it, and I have the video.
[Ironically, Bruce Springsteen, New Jersey's most famous resident musician never appeared at the Garden State Arts Center in Holmdale, New Jersey until two performances in 2006, except for his 1989 walk-on, during the Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band show.]
How did you come up with the idea for Ringo to tour with the different musicians?
If you look at my career, I was basically putting together all star bands. My brother who was a drummer idolized Ringo and I’d hear the name every day. I got the idea from hearing the name every day. I wanted to put together different packages. I was putting together The Happy Together Tours, and the classic rock tour (as the British Rock Symphony), the Monkees’ tour; and “Dirty Dancing” (Dirty Dancing: The Concert Tour). There was Ringo in my family with my brother being a fan. But what can you do with a drummer? I thought of his (Beatles) song “With A Little Help From My Friends” and I came up with the idea to put the All-Starr Band together.
How long did you work with Ringo Starr?
I did 15 years, and I did eight tours—traveled the entire world. It was a great experience. I got married about seven years ago. I have two little children. I have a six year old and a five year old. I have grandchildren older than my children. It was time for me to stay at home, and not travel. I had come up with this idea of having a Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp in 1997.
You did the inaugural Rock ’n’ Roll Fantasy Camp in 1997 in Miami, and promptly blew your brains out, financially.
Blew my brains out. I was deciding at that point what to do.
The Miami event you considered to be a one-off?
Yes, I did it as a one-off.
I had an investor who wanted Miami. He thought Miami would be a good place to do it. I made a bunch of phone calls. Mike Love, Felix Cavaliere, and Mark Farner from Grand Funk all came. I called up Nils Lofgren and he liked it (the concept) and he came. Clarence Clemons lived nearby so he came in. Everybody I called I said, “I have this idea.”
Did any artist pass because of not wanting to look corporate?
I have definitely had that problem but the ones that I called then all said “yes” to me. I called my friends, and everybody that I knew. I told them my idea, and they said yes.
What did you do wrong?
People just didn’t believe that there could be a Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp. It was an idea. It was hard to promote because people didn’t know what it was.
There were sports camps operating by then.
We had sports camps but I guess that people didn’t know what this was and nobody wanted to be the first to go. They wanted to see what it was like.
What was it like?
I think that I had 24 campers, and 10 rock stars. But the press came out. That was the interesting thing. I had more press than I had campers. People magazine came and a guy from the (New York) Daily News. Delta Airlines sent a reporter. All these writers came. It was a sexy story so they all came. They were sitting in the (hotel) lobby the second night as I walked in, and they said, “Fishof, come over here.” I thought that they were really going to cream me. “This is crazy. This is the stupidest idea in the world.” But they all turned to me at the same time and said, “This is the greatest idea in the world. This thing is great. We are having so much fun.” They were blown away, and they all wrote great stories.
Was the first Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp three or five days?
I think it was three days. I did it over the weekend.
You decided not to do it again?
I said, “I’m not doing it anymore. I’m not making any money.” But it was fun. I was at the Pollstar Awards in 2000, and people were playing this game “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” A take-off on the TV show. They were playing it with Sammy Hagar, Tommy Lee, and Tommy Shaw on the stage. I watched the first couple of questions, and then I was walking out the door. I saw (Jon) Bon Jovi and he said, “Fishof, they are talking about you.” I turned around and the question was, “Who created Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp? David Bowie, David Byrne or David Fishof?” Tommy Shaw said, “David Fishof.” I thought to myself, “Wow. I can’t believe that these guys remember what I did.” I was blown away. I thought, “I have to do this thing again.”
When was the next one?
I did it in Los Angeles in 2000. I called George Thorogood because I had met him and Bret Michaels backstage at a Ringo show. I called whoever I thought I could get. I told them my idea, and they all said that they would do it. Eric Sherman, who was head (senior VP/GM) of VH-1 Classic, had contacted me and said that they would be interested in promoting it. So they marketed it. I did 60 campers. Broke even. And I did it again the next year.
The next year I was in London, and I was having dinner with Roger Daltrey. I asked him if he would do my Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp. The next question I asked was, “If you could go to Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp, who would you want to meet?” He said, “Levon Helm.” So I called Levon, and I asked him to be there. Roger also told me, “You give Levon the money that you were going to give me. I want to meet him.” Roger was supposed to come for one day, and he stayed for four days. It was Roger’s idea to jam with the people at the Bottom Line. He jammed with every band. He did it and all of a sudden I got such great publicity. I really owe it to him.
Roger has returned to Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp several times.
He has done it eight times for me. We have done privates as well. He’s been the best friend that a man could want.
You were born in New York and raised in Hackensack. How did you come to work in the Catskills’ Borscht Belt, as a booking agent?
My brother had a Jewish rock band, and he was the drummer. I was booking them at Grossinger’s (Grossinger's Catskill Resort Hotel) and other hotels in the Catskills.
Like Woody Allen in “Broadway Danny Rose.”
Totally my story. Totally my story.
I love the cafeteria scene in the film with comics Sandy Baron, Corbett Monica, and Jackie Gayle.
That was me. The funny thing was that half of those acts used to work my kid’s birthday party. My other favorite movie that I have seen 40 times is “The Jazz Singer.” The Neil Diamond one. That’s my story as well. My dad was a cantor. I used to fly down to Florida, and fly back coach so I could keep seeing the movie.
Comedians Milton Berle and David Brenner appeared on the Borscht Belt circuit in those days.
Yes, and that’s where I started. You could book Henny Youngman and Freddie Roman up there. I started working for the Charles Rapp Agency in New York booking acts in the Catskills. I used to book Jan Murray and Jack Carter. I used to book all of that stuff. I booked Sammy Davis Jr. for private dates. Gene Simmons told me recently that he played Kutsher’s. It was a great learning experience—a great learning experience, and it was all about the show.
You also worked as an agent for actor Herschel Bernardi.
Yes. I was writing for a Jewish newspaper The Jewish Press in New York and I wrote a story, and I met him. I got him bookings. He was a very big mentor to me. He passed away May 9th, 1986. He had come into New York to tape the Monkee’s voiceover commercial for me. I was looking for a TV voice for my commercial because I figured that the Monkees were a TV band. So I asked Herschel if he would do me a favor. He was the voice of “Charlie the Tuna” and he had his own TV show (“Arnie”). So he did me the favor. Unfortunately, he wasn’t feeling well and he went home afterwards, and he passed. He was like a father figure to me in the business.
[Herschel Bernardi died in his sleep of a sudden heart attack. He was 62 years old.]
You later produced the concert tour of “Dirty Dancing” which took place in the 1987 film at Kellerman's, a resort in the Catskill Mountains.
Yeah, that was a great collaboration that I did with Dennis Arfa (Billy Joel’s Joel's booking agent since 1976). I saw the movie when I was up in the Catskills, and it just reminded me so much of what my life was like. So I figured if I took these dancers and the people who wrote these songs and do a little music and go out…You know what? I didn’t have a show. I put a full page (ad) in the New York Times and when I saw that we had sold a million dollars worth of tickets, I created a show.
Eight nights at Radio City Music Hall in New York.
It was unbelievable. It sold out in 48 hours; a million dollars in tickets.
Your father was a Holocaust survivor.
My dad was a Holocaust survivor, and he was a cantor. He survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald. He was amazing. He passed away 10 years ago.
Your mother wasn’t in the camps?
No she wasn’t in the camps. They (the family) ran away. She was born in Germany, and they went to Israel and to Holland. She married my dad here.
Many Holocaust parents wouldn’t talk of their experiences in the camps.
My father used to speak to kids in the ‘60s and ‘70s while he was teaching Hebrew school and talk about the Holocaust. He really believed that everybody has to know about the experience. He almost got fired from his job as a cantor in Brockton, Massachusetts because he would talk about it. I remember that parents would complain.
Before (Steven) Spielberg (with his 1993 film “Schindler's List”), he would talk about it. He would talk about it daily. He would eat one and a half pieces of bread every day. I asked, “Dad why aren’t you eating the other half?” He said, “I’m saving it for dinner.”
Being a child of a Holocaust survivor definitely had an effect on my life. I think if I have to translate it to show business, the fact that I am not afraid to take on a project, and do something. I am basically fearless. I have that from my father. He had to survive. He survived living as a non-Jew before he got captured. But I got my strength from my dad.
It must have been quite emotional for you to go to Bosnia in 1995. The genocide there was comparable to the Second World War.
And that’s why I did it. The Ambassador for Bosnia knocked on my door. He told me Bono had been there the year before and that many promoters had promised him to bring entertainment there. He asked me if I would help him, and I said yes. He wanted me to see it first. I flew over. You are absolutely right. I envisaged what my father used to say happened after the war; seeing the bullet wounds. I said, "Whatever I can do. I am going to help you.” You are right. It was exactly how I felt hearing my father’s stories.
[In 1995, after visiting war-torn Bosnia, Fishof assembled the original members of Grand Funk Railroad to perform for three sold-out shows and a CD with the proceeds going to Bosnian war victims. In 1997 the band played three sold-out Bosnian benefit concerts. The shows featured a full symphony orchestra conducted by Paul Shaffer, and also featured Peter Frampton who joined the band on stage. Grand Funk Railroad released a two-disc benefit CD “Bosnia” recorded March 1997 at the Palace Of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Michigan.]
How did you become a sports agent?
I was booking the Catskills, and Dr. J (basketball player Julius Erving) showed up. All these kids were going nuts over Dr. J, and here I was calling in at the hotel to collect the checks for the comedians, and the singers from the night before. The woman from the hotel would say, “I am taking off $25 because the singer didn’t do the song from “Fiddler on the Roof” or another Yiddish song or “the comedian wasn’t funny.” I said to myself, “This is crazy. Dr. J just shows up, and he gets $2,500.” That was the last time I ever wanted to book an act in the Catskills.
I interviewed a baseball player called Ron Bloomberg (the first major leaguer to play a game as a designated hitter). He was Jewish. I asked him if he wanted to do an appearance, and I started meeting these ball players.
You had a sizable and impressive sports roster.
I had over 30 players. I had the whole front line of the New York Giants. In 1986, I had eight of the New York Giants. I had quite a great practice. Agents were just starting to get into the game. So I was doing the sports business and I was sharing office space with (manager/promoter) Gary Kurfurst who was representing the Talking Heads and the Ramones and sharing office space with (manager) Shep Gordon, (actor/dancer) Ben Vereen, and Cleveland International. All these people were all under the umbrella of an accountant. We would pay him rent but we were all working together.
I’d see the Ramones come walking in. I saw Blondie walk in the office. I saw all of these gold records on the wall. I loved sports but I would get paid in December. All these athletes would tell their accountants to pay their agent in December. So the month of December I had a lot of money, but the rest of the year I didn’t have cash flow.
So one day I decided that I wanted to be in the entertainment business. I got a phone call (in 1983) from a publicist asking if I’d be interested in representing the Association. I had never heard of the Association. I thought it was a corporate (booking). I thought they wanted a Bill Cosby or an Alan King. I knew the Beach Boys. I knew Chicago. I didn’t know that music. That was my brother’s music. They told me what it was, and I went out and got their music. I flew to L.A. and I met the band, and I took them on. Everybody looked at me like I was nuts. “Why are you doing this? You have the biggest sports clients. You have Lou Piniella and Phil Simms.” And I was booking basketball star Earl “The Pearl” Monroe. But I’d always wanted to be in the music business. I guess because of my brother’s band. So I took them on.
You did well?
By the end of the summer, I had booked a million dollars of Association dates. Then all of these other bands started calling me. Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, and the Turtles. So I said, “Let me put a package together” because that’s what we did in the Catskills. We would package the comedians (and singers). So I followed my business model there, and put them out on tour.
One of your bigger accomplishments was the Monkees’ anniversary tour in the mid-80s? How did that happen?
In 1986, I was staying in a hotel watching their TV show at 2 A.M. I couldn’t sleep and I was watching the Monkees. The minute I announced that tour I was selling out 20,000 and 25,000 seats. A hundred dates working with individual promoters. MTV’s Bob Pittman had told me, “You help me promote my network by putting our logo on your ads, and I’ll promote your tour schedule on TV.”
[A Monkees TV show marathon "Pleasant Valley Sunday" was broadcast on MTV Feb. 23, 1986. In May, David Fishof announced a "20th Anniversary Tour" and the Monkees began playing North America dates in June. Backed by MTV promotion, tour dates grew from small to larger venues, and the Monkees became one of the biggest live acts of the decade.]
This week we heard that Davy Jones of the Monkees had died.
I’ve been blessed to work with some of the greatest artists throughout my line of work, but Davy Jones was an exception. He was an artist unlike any other with an infectious smile and enormous heart. Working alongside him while helping to launch the Monkees reunion tour is a memory I will forever hold onto. I am grateful for the time we had together. I know his legacy will live on. My prayers are with his family.
[Davy Jones died Wednesday morning (Feb. 29. 2012) of a heart attack in Indiantown, Florida where he lived. He was 66.]
Two years ago, you wrote the book "Putting It On the Line" (CreateSpace) about your experiences in the world of sports and entertainment. Now you have another book being published.
My book “Rock Your Business” is coming out Sept. 4th (2012) on BenBella Books. It’s a book on how corporate American could learn from the rock and roll industry.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record. He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide.”
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