This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Jack Randall, president of the Agency Division, The Kurland Agency.
Veteran booking agent Jack Randall, recently named president of the Agency Division at The Kurland Agency in Boston, now directs domestic and international bookings as well as continuing his role leading A&R efforts at the agency.
Randall had been senior agent and VP of A&R at TKA.
TKA was founded in Boston in 1975 by Ted Kurland, who had graduated from Brandeis University nearby two years earlier, and who had served an apprenticeship with Music Unlimited Associates in Boston. With two partners, Kurland started out in 1974 as All American Talent booking primarily blues artists.
After American Talent morphed into Ted Kurland Associates in 1975, the agency’s focus shifted to booking notable jazz artists and expanding its bookings internationally.
Although TKA remains best-known for its representation of leading jazz artists, its roster now features performers from all fields including blues, world and pop music.
Among the acts represented by TKA are: Pat Metheny, Béla Fleck, Wynton Marsalis, Charles Lloyd, Chick Corea, Christian Sands, Davina and The Vagabonds, Elvin Bishop, Gary Burton, Jamison Ross, Lisa Fischer, Joey Alexander, Marcia Ball, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Sonny Rollins, Bobby McFerrin, Bettye LaVette, Catherine Russell and Squirrel Nut Zippers.
Born and raised in Dearborn, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, Randall’s entry in music first came from working on-air at a local high school radio station.
After various on-air positions at radio stations in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan, Randall shifted over to live music in 1987 at Prism Productions in Ann Arbor. Three years later, he moved to Concerted Efforts in Boston as a booking agent.
In 1996, he joined TKA.
You’ve been with The Kurland Agency since 1996 after Ed Keane, the Midwest/West Coast agent, left to start his own agency, Ed Keane Associates?
You recently were named to a new position, president of the Agency Division. What are the difference between what you had been doing as senior Agent, and VP of A&R? What’s new?
What’s changed? I guess I started down this path of becoming this three years ago 2013 when (senior agent, and VP of the domestic division) Laurel Wicks retired. She had been here from almost the very beginning (starting at Ted Kurland’s first agency, All-American Talent). She had started working for Ted when she was still going to university. She was a (temp) Kelly girl. If you are old enough to know what that is. Not everybody would know what the hell I am talking about. That’s how she met Ted. She worked here for 40 years or there about. So she retired.
So you ask what’s different?
I am in charge of the agency, and all of the agents and the support staff. Ted is allowing me—and I would say us as a team—to really run the agency and execute what our vision is in terms of what artists we represent and what projects that we want to do, and how we do things
When you came as an agent in 1996 you oversaw the Midwest, the Pacific North West, and Canada.
Yes. Central and Western Canada. Laurel had Ontario and the East.
Your background previously had been booking primarily blues and alternative acts. You weren’t doing any jazz, were you?
No. I wasn’t really doing any jazz. Not really, though I listened to a fair amount of it. Looking back now, I would like to think that I was reasonably knowledgeable about jazz. I will give myself some credit of that. I really dived into it. I really learned about the genre, and just devoured the music. I’m a music nut. You are talking to a guy with close to 11,000 CDs in my music collection.
It also happened to be a great time to get into jazz at that point and to build a collection because all the labels were reissuing jazz on CDs. Bluenote was putting out something like 7 reissues each month. I learned about the legacy of guys like Lee Morgan, Hank Mobley, and jazz musicians like that. There had already been a lot of history and legacy at TKA before I started here. But Miles Davis had been dead for five years before I started. The Modern jazz Quartet had just run its course, and guys like Dexter Gordon had passed as well.
As with other musical genres, with jazz, there’s continually a rebirth.
Yes, I would agree with that. The legacy artists that we had were Pat Metheny, Chick Corea, Sonny Rollins, and Bradford Marsalis. We had Isaac Hayes too, actually. That was a connection through the guy (Ron Moss) who managed Chick at the time. That is why he was here. Then a lot of guys, with the exception of Kurt Elling, a lot of the younger guys that were there at the time--really it was at the end of that Young Lions Movement--some of these artists later became clients. Like Joshua Redman, and Christian McBride. When I started here those guys weren’t here. There was a lot of guys, including Kevin Mahogany, Mark Whitfield, Wallace Roney, and people like that. Also, Kenny Garrett was here at the time.
A guy that I should single out, if you did your research on the agency before I was here, the guy who really was the key guy before Ted, who started booking a lot of blues guys, and that’s a love of his, is (eminent jazz vibraphonist) Gary Burton.
Gary Burton was living in Boston and had started teaching at Berklee. It was through Gary that Metheny came to Ted out of Gary’s band. And there was Chick, Sonny Rollins, Keith Jarrett, and Miles Davis. Gary was really the guy. An underrated musician. One of the great musicians out there. He has some dates coming this Spring. When the dates on his calendar play through, I believe (at age 74) he’s really retiring.
[Gary Burton, was the first artist to become a client of Ted Kurland Associates. Soon afterward, other major jazz performers joined as clients including Pat Metheny, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans, Roy Haynes, Milt Jackson, Charles Mingus, Dexter Gordon, Nina Simone, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Jaco Pastorius, and Tony Williams.]
There were great jazz labels then too like Pacific Jazz, Fantasy, Bluenote and so on.
Back when I started here, Larry, basically every major label had a jazz division. I had multiple acts on Warner Brothers Jazz. There was Verve, Impulse, and Sony.
Tommy LiPuma was still in his stride producing David Sanborn and others.
You also had people like Bruce Lundvall, one of the great label guys of all time.
When you came to TKA did you primarily book clubs?
At the time I started it was a lot of club stuff, a lot of jazz club stuff. Back then I could take a guy like (jazz vibraphonist) Milt Jackson, and be able to book him for six night at Catalina (in Los Angeles), and six nights at Yoshi’s (in Oakland, California). You could do a month on the west coast, and it was six bookings. Definitely a lot of clubs. We slowly started to infiltrate the performing arts circuit. When I started here there was some of that, but not anywhere near the volume that it is now.
With an agency heritage of over 40 years, you must have a pretty firm idea of what the vision is for the company already. Many of TKA’s clients, including Pat Metheny, have been at the agency for decades.
With Pat Metheny, this is the only agency he’s had in his whole career. Wynton Marsalis has been with us for about 15 years. Chick Corea, with one small break of four years at the turn of the century, has been with the agency for probably 35 years. So you right in that. I don’t believe that there is another agency out there that has the commitment we do to the genre of jazz. Not only with what I would call heritage artists, iconic artists like Chick Corea, Wynton Marsalis and Pat Metheny, all of those guys for sure--but also investing, and doubling down in the future of music too; whether it is people like (jazz vocalist) Cécile McLorin Salvant, who has become a real star in the jazz, and (13-year-old piano Indonesian jazz pianist) Joey Alexander.
Of course, you are still signing acts.
A couple of months ago, we signed a young piano player named Christian Sands. He’s 27-years-old. He’s been playing piano in in one of Christian McBride’s trios (Inside Straight) for, maybe, the last four or five years. An incredible piano player. I have this kid, Jamison Ross, who won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition (in 2012), two years after Cécile McLorin Salvant won. I don’t know what you know about that competition. Each year they alternate the competition One year, it’s a vocal competition, and the next year it’s an instrumental competition. So Jamison won as a drummer, and he sings like Stevie Wonder. His first record (“Jamison”) on Concord (Records) came out last year, and was nominated for a Best Jazz Vocal Album, and lost to Cécile (for “For One To Love”). Meanwhile, Concord has picked up his option and they are recording his next record.
To my bigger point, there is no one else out there that has the kind of commitment that we do to the jazz genre and, overall, to roots music in general. To blues, and to Americana.
Of late we are seeing damaging changes in the blues and jazz club sector, but there are also some bright spots. For every club that closes like Jimmy Mak’s in Portland, Oregon, there’s a vibrant music scene happening elsewhere, as in San Diego with The Seven Grand, The Rancho Bernardo Library, Saville Theatre, and Panama 66. A good or a bad time for booking jazz, blues, and bluegrass acts?
You are talking about North America. I would say more good than bad. It’s challenging. I’d say that it is probably more challenging if you are an instrumental jazz artist. Think about it. I will get off in a moment about the clubs and how pretty much how all of the jazz clubs have diversified, and they are really like adult showcases. Just think about the fact that you are out there (as a jazz artist), and you are trying to develop your career. As with any musician you want to compare it to the rock world. But with the jazz guys, it’s not a reality to put---especially a developing jazz artist on a first or second record—these artists in a bus or a van and tour around the country. You can’t work that way. Also, they (artists) are typically used to having a hotel provided, and local ground transportation, but the huge thing is backline. Even if you are a singer with a piano trio or, maybe with more musicians---with a guitar and sax with you---think about it. How many clubs in our world have an in-house piano?
Not many. And pure jazz clubs are mostly long gone. I guess there’s a few in New York City. But there aren’t many of them anymore.
Right, New York is kind of the exception to the rule. There are a handful of others around the country. If you are a developing jazz artist, whether you are an instrumentalist or a vocalist, and even if it’s a piano trio you are talking about, if you don’t have an in-house piano, that’s two grand just to be able to play. Then the act needs to make something (a fee) on top of it.
Another obstacle for emerging artists working within the genre is that jazz radio is so diverse today. All over the musical spectrum.
If you are managing a newbie female jazz singer where do you start her at radio? Would she be “too jazz” for some stations? Maybe, she might be considered adult contemporary jazz?
Anytime somebody somewhere plays one of my clients, god bless them for doing so, but in the big picture with jazz radio airplay I see the charts from time to time and probably as frequently as often as not, somebody will be the #1 artist, and more often than not, they are a quality act. They are deserving of getting X amount of spins per week on all of these stations. However, the majority of the time that act outside of New York City, at least domestically, to book other dates for them around the country is kind of like hand-to-hand combat.
So do they concentrate on tackling bookings region by region?
Yes, but it’s hard. A lot of these guys live in the north east, so yes there are little places that they can play. But even in a market like Philadelphia right now on a club level, you have Chris’ Jazz Cafe, and that’s really it.
Out on the west coast, Portland and San Diego seem to be good markets for jazz.
Yes, there are certainly some places to play. Seattle, for sure. Obviously, The (San Francisco) Bay area. L.A. can be a struggle, but certainly, there are places where you can go in and work. But it is really, really hard.
How about within the Boston and Cambridge area where your office is located?
Basically, right now there are two clubs in town that do national touring acts. One of those clubs, The Regatta Bar (in Cambridge), if you look at their schedule you will see that they may have five shows a month; whereas 15 years ago they had 20, 22, 23 shows a month. There’s Scullers (Scullers Jazz Club in Boston,) which is doing live jazz probably four or five nights a week. They are doing touring artists and they do---I would say---some smooth jazz in various forms which can be a little urbane. They recently had (singer/actress) Linda Eder for a couple of nights. She’s a great singer. I wouldn’t categorize her as jazz. Cabaret, maybe.
So many clubs today in North America have a varied music policy.
Virtually all of them. A lot of these clubs, maybe as recently as 10 years ago, were real jazz clubs, booking jazz all of the time. I will give you the example of the Dakota in Minneapolis and Yoshi’s. The Dakota is probably doing better than ever as a club, as an entity, but they have broadened into what I would call a showcase room. So the (booker Lowell Pickett) will do anything from...I still do a lot of jazz there. He does blues, folk, and singer/songwriter as well. He will even do some classic rock. But I would say that the common thread with all of that (club’s status) is, typically, that the fan base is older, more affluent, and has no problem paying a relatively premium price for a real intimate experience with nice food, and being treated well.
PACs have also broadened their bookings in recent years.
Well, right, I would say that this is an example of where things are improving. I would say that more of the performing arts centers are also building small black boxes (smaller rooms)
Building an addition or walling off existing venue space?
They will turn what is something...I don’t know if they do an addition. There’s Segerstrom Center in Costa Mesa, California, the Mesa Performing Arts Center in Mesa, Arizona, and Valley Performing Arts Center at California State/Northridge, California. Typically these are rooms that are, maybe, 150 to 250 (capacity). They will do a small series, and they will book amongst other things some of the younger artists on my roster. Trying to develop them in the market which is really great.
Two decades ago you might not have been able to get bluegrass artists like Béla Fleck or the Del McCoury Band into some of the PACs. They were then primarily booking classical, and some jazz.
Yeah. I agree with that statement. As you said, they have diversified. Another thing that has changed in recent years is that many of those buyers are programming later and later. It used to be 15 years ago that by the time that APAP (APAP Conference NYC, presented annually by the Assn. of Performing Arts Presenters) rolled around most people had a pretty good idea of their programming. You might not have had everything contracted and confirmed, but a lot of those buyers had a real idea. They had some stuff already booked.
They had their season worked out because they wanted to lock down budgets.
Yeah. The trend has been over the past several years where a lot of those people will show up—look I’m not saying they will come to APAP and have no idea of what they want to do next season. I’m not saying that—but they have realized that if they, maybe, don’t program early or don’t lock into too quickly or too far in advance that other options appear.
Have casinos diversified enough to book blues, jazz, and bluegrass acts from your roster?
There are a handful of cases where there are casinos out there that do very diversified programming. I will single out one, my buddy Bob Rech (manager of The Northern Lights Theater) at the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino in Milwaukee. He will book many things that you won’t typically see at a casino.
Like a Bettye LaVette?
Like a Bettye LaVette. I’ve had many people on my roster play there, like Chick Corea on a bigger level or Marcia Ball. Last year, I had a Fat Tuesday gig there with Marcia Ball and Buckwheat Zydeco. They aren’t my client anymore, but he’s also done Preservation Hall Jazz Band, for example. A lot of stuff like that.
You only rarely see a jazz artist at a casino in North America.
Look, most of the casino buyers, as a group of people, they are certainly diversified in what they are doing with their programming; but, yes, it’s a rarity that I will find a casino--at least in my territory-- looking to delve into jazz. Maybe, the blues, yes.
Meanwhile, they are running out of headline blues artists.
They are running out of blues artists, yeah. Even 25 years ago you still had great artists like (Clarence) “Gatemouth” Brown, Luther Allison, Junior Wells, and Otis Rush. He’s still alive, but he can’t perform anymore. Koko Taylor, Albert Collins. A lot of really, really great artists are gone. You’re right.
Decades ago many blues artists didn’t have agents. Many of the Alligator Record acts out of Chicago didn’t have agents early on. That’s when America Famous Talent’s Ron Kaplan (now at Monterey International) and others started picking up such artists as Koko Taylor, Lonnie Brooks, and others.
Right. When I was working at Prism Productions (in Ann Arbor) I was buying a lot of acts from AFT. Garry Buck (now also at Monterey International) was really my guy. But I booked a lot of the people that I just rattled off. I probably did 20 Lonnie Brooks shows in 2 ½ years all over the state of Michigan.
Last year the Squirrel Nut Zippers’ return with top-flight players was a nice present for everybody.
It sure was.
Who brought you the band? Keith Hagan of SKH Music?
Keith brought me the group. I didn’t really know Keith prior to the relationship. I knew Steve Karas, his partner a bit going back 20 plus years. Basically, what happened was Steve and Keith and we got involved with Davina and the Vagabonds basically at the same time. Davina is somebody that we kept an eye on for many years and we kind of felt that the time—this was going back about a year and a half ago—the timing was right. At the time, she decided for the first time in her career that it made sense for her to get a manager. We kind of came on board together. I just started working with those two guys and developing a relationship.
Of course, Keith goes back to the embryo of Squirrel Nut Zippers, really. I don’t know if there was another guy out there who could have reassembled it (the band) in any form. Yeah, so we ended up getting onboard. It’s been a very nice surprise. They have been doing really, really solid business. The band is a really great live act.
After all of the assorted versions of Squirrel Nut Zippers, this wasn’t a nostalgia tour, but a long-term commitment.
Right. From the get-go, this was never about “Let’s do a victory lap for 15 months or whatever, and everybody will go on and do something else.” This was always, “We are going to put together a new incarnation of the band. We are going to go out there and work, and we are going to do new music. Everybody’s in it for the long hall.” That’s what it has been.
The band revamp unexpectedly included a female singer, New Orleans’ Ingrid Lucia who has since been replaced by Celia Blue.
Yep. Jimbo (Mathus) is a sweet guy. A great band leader. He has a real vision. A great showman. Working with Keith and Steve has been a real nice thing as well. Working with both of these artists. I hope to be working with those guys for a long time and, hopefully, work with them on other things too.
According to a recent SEC filing, Live Nation subsidiaries are now managing more than 500 artists. Also leaders in the management field today are Red Light Management, and Azoff Music. Does that type of concentration of management assets hold any problems for boutique-sized booking agencies? Does such concentration of management power even touch your side of the business?
[Live Nation companies now employ over 140 artist managers worldwide with stakes in the United States including Roc Nation Management, 24 Artist Management, Blueprint Artist Management, Spalding Entertainment, LMG Management, Mick Artists Management, Three Six Zero Group, Vector Management, Career Artist Management and Philymack Management.]
I have had clients at Red Light, and one client at Vector Management which is not a mom and pop shop. They are a satellite of Azoff’s. Is it a problem?
You do know in working with these major management shops that the clocks are going to run on time in contrast to working with an inexperienced manager.
I would say that if you have an artist there that there is a certain level of professionalism. Sometimes with a baby manager, you have to hold their hand and guide them along. You know that in cases here that you don’t have to worry at all. It’s a case by case situation.
There are huge mega management companies that do well for their clients. I will use Vector as an example. They took Kings of Leon from nowhere to where they have become.
Probably the biggest problem that I have seen with some of the bigger management companies is that at times....frankly speaking, the acts that I am typically dealing with, they are not arena acts. If a manager has got 7 or 8 clients, the reality is that, if I am lucky, I am working with the 6th largest grossing client that they have. Maybe. Or the 7th or 8th. But sometimes in a small shop, an artist will just not be getting enough attention. That can happen everywhere. It happens at a label level. It happens at an agency level. It happens at a promoter level with shows.
Still, these companies have a big footprint in your world.
As the company continues on, I certainly want to broaden our footprint. I would like to develop deeper relationships with some of these larger management companies, for sure.
TKA’s senior VP David Sholemson, and management associate Jordan Fritz now oversee some management. Will management be an area you move into further?
I would say for the right artist, sure. Frankly, I am primarily focused on growing the agency side of the things. We are certainly open to managing some other clients as well, though.
In these times doesn’t it make sense to both book and manage acts?
Yeah, but you have to be careful that you don’t have conflicts of interest. It’s not a factor inside of our company. But you don’t want a perception of that out there. Two things in my opinion that you have to be conscious of. One is that you don’t want your managers to be threatened that you are going to try to steal their act away as a management client. Two, you also don’t want your managers thinking that artists that you manage are a higher priority.
It leads to a scenario where a manager might think you bumped his act with a booking in favor of an act the agency manages.
We don’t think like that, but it’s something you have to be conscious of. Madison House as an example of a company which has grown both parts of their business.
They were involved with management from day one.
Yeah, their company was built on the String Cheese Incident. To their credit, they grew their business and have done a really nice job with it and diversified. And now obviously in the concert promotion business as well. I go way back with those guys from their early days. I worked with Mike Luba, maybe, in the twilight (years) of Pete Seeger which will always be an honor and highlight of my career.
You are from Dearborn, Michigan?
You got into radio while in high school?
I got a lucky break and I got a gig the summer between my junior and senior year in high school at a radio station at Southfield High School. I kinda got the bug. Looking back at it now, I knew by the time that I was 16 that I wanted to be in the music business. I knew that I wasn’t going to be a musician. I kind of kid now and say that coming to that realization at that point of my life was like the equivalent of getting a four-year degree.
You wanted the free records.
Yeah, yeah (laughing) and to meet the (record) guys. I didn’t know anybody in the entertainment business, let alone the music business.
What type of work did your mother and father do?
My dad worked at the Detroit Free Press. My mom was what you would now call an executive assistant. She was the secretary to the boss at the extension service of the 4-H Program for Wayne County. She was a county employee. Unlike a lot of my friends, both of my parents worked. I guess we were middle class. I don’t know if I would say upper middle class but skewed in that direction more than lower middle class.
Shortly after graduation, you enrolled at the Specs Howard School of Broadcasting in Southfield.
Yeah. I saved up enough money. My old man got me a job working at the newspaper the night after I graduated high school. I saved up money, and I paid my tuition to Specs Howard all up front. I started in January so I paid by the end of December. I did it for $1,700. I saved $200 (by paying early).
That was just me figuring radio was a big thing. We all listened to it. You spent a lot of time in a car if you then grew up in suburban Detroit. That’s how we discovered music. That and reading Circus and Creem was how we discovered music
And going out to Pine Knob Music Theatre, the outdoor amphitheater in nearby Clarkston.
Yep. Going out to Pine Knob, and Cobo Arena (in Detroit) and wherever.
Did you graduate from the Specs Howard School?
I did graduate. It was basically a trade school. I graduated 9 months later. I had the good fortune a few weeks after I started at that school the guy who was the new promotion’s director for (AOR station) WWWW-FM came to the school looking for interns. I think that three of my classmates also started there.
Howard Stern worked at WWW-FM early in his career.
I was there when Howard was there. Mark McEwen was the morning guy when I started there, and he got a gig at The Loop in Chicago. Actually, they offered the morning slot to another guy who was the morning guy and program director at a station in Toledo. From what I understand, when he went back down there to hand in his notice, they offered him a piece of the station’s ownership. So he reneged on the (WWW-FM) deal. So they went with the #2 choice which was Howard.
Was Howard pretty straight back then.
Howard was very straight back then.
I meant on the air.
Oh yeah. He didn’t have an engineer. He was spinning his own records. Playing a lot of music. We got to know each other pretty well. We used to have breakfast once or twice a week. He wanted the station to hire me, and pay me a minimum wage just to engineer the board, but the GM was too cheap to do it.
You weren’t being paid?
No, I wasn’t. I did end up working my way up. They bought a used white stretch limo for me to drive Howard around to different promotions and sometimes drive musicians. I remember driving Dave Davies around one night. And executives from the broadcasting company. Another jock who started the same day was Les Cook. He was a very important guy to me. He gave me a lot of opportunities. I had graduated from the school, and I was looking for a gig. He invited me to sit in on kind of a masters class by radio consultant Lee Michaels who was working with Lee Abrams (of Burkhart/Abrams). They were the premier AOR consulting firm back in the day.
You landed on-air radio positions at Y-95 in Rockford, Illinois; WMAD in Madison, Wisconsin; WILS-FM in Lansing, Michigan; and WIQB in Ann Arbor. Eventually, you realized that a radio career wasn’t in your future?
Well, I liked it. There were a lot of things that I liked about it. I joke that WIQB stands for “Why I Quit Broadcasting.” The positive thing for me was that the program director there was one of my best friends from the time I was 12. His name was Jeff Crowe. He’s still one of my best friends. That was cool. But it got to the point where a computer was picking what we were playing a week ahead. I had gotten to know Lee Berry when I was at WILS-FM in Lansing.
Lee operated Prism Productions in Ann Arbor.
Yes. I ended up going to work with him. Again, looking back that was another important thing for me. Getting out of radio and getting into the live music part.
Was Lee both a booking agent and a promoter?
The company was first and foremost a concert promoter. Lee and the guy who co-founded the company, Tom Stachler, who got out of it around the time I started working there, had developed themselves as the indie-rock guys. Lee became the sole principal shortly after I started there.
Prism did shows from R.E.M. in arenas to the Replacements, Husker Du, Nirvana and Soundgarden in clubs. It also promoted acts like Jimmy Cliff, Buddy Guy and John Lee Hooker.
All those bands
Did you know local promoter Vince Bannon?
I sure did. He’s a Canadian. We used to do 60 or 70 shows a year with Vince and Amir Daiza at Concert Company Ritual.
[While in college in Detroit, Vince Bannon launched Concert Company Ritual, serving as its president from 1979 to 1993. The company, which owned and operated several Detroit nightclubs--including St. Andrew's Hall, The Shelter, Industry Asylum, Industry, and Clutch Cargo's—and promoted shows with Nirvana, the Police, Prince, Pearl Jam, the Dave Matthews Band, Nine Inch Nails, Guns N’ Roses and others. Concert Company Ritual grew to 110 employees, and was eventually purchased by Clear Channel Entertainment.]
Also what Prism had besides the concert promotion business was that we booked talent at a lot of clubs in the region. There was a club in Ann Arbor, The Blind Pig, where they booked everything, whether it was local or national (acts). Then there were other situations where they (venues) booked a lot of the national stuff. I was getting a salary for working the shows, for doing the publicity and promotion, running the door sometimes, and settling shows. I was getting commissions for things that I booked.
What acts were you working with?
It was all kinds of stuff. At that time it seemed that with blues and reggae, it seemed to me almost impossible to lose money. I could take a baby act on Alligator Records at the time (1988) like Lil' Ed & The Blues Imperials or Tinsley Ellis or the Kinsey Report and I could book them at Club Rick’s American Cafe in East Lansing on a Wednesday night and do 400 people.
We had the good fortune, depending if there was a booking in Kalamazoo or Grand Rapids or Lansing or Ann Arbor or Detroit, of being within two to four hours of 80% of the great blues artists in the country. So I just started getting more into blues. Then I started booking a couple of acts which were really baby acts on Alligator Records at the time like Kenny Neal and Tinsley Ellis. When they put out their first records, they didn’t even really have an agent. I just started to book them, and I started booking them around the country. I just started book them and I started booking them around the country. Then I started putting together things for them in Europe. One thing led to another, and I soon thought, “What if I was a full-time booking agent?” Steve Hecht was leaving Concerted Efforts (in Massachusetts). So I came out east, and Paul Kahn interviewed me. He then offered me a job. That was in January 1990
Paul then had Booker T. & the MGs, and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown on his roster.
As well as Robert Jr. Lockwood, and Buckwheat Zydeco.
Paul was so pivotal to America’s emerging blues scene.
He was. He built careers and really loved the music as well. I still work with him in that he manages his wife who is a client, Catherine Russell.
Steve Hecht had hired blues and reggae artists from Paul at Concerted Efforts while he was a student at SUNY Binghamton. Then Steve was hired out of university and worked there for five years until he moved to North Carolina and founded Piedmont Talent, which he built into a great roots music agency until his death in 2013.
Elizabeth Rush was at Concerted Efforts as well.
That’s right. I was there most of her time.
Elizabeth brought in such artists as Richard Thompson, Roger McGuinn, Leon Redbone, Adrian Belew and others.
That was ’93 when that happened.
Elizabeth greatly expanded the scope of the agency.
She did and that gave me the opportunity to develop a broader network of relationships in booking people like that at the time.
So you end up at TKA where you have been for over 20 years. Did you ever think that would happen?
Did I think I was going to work here for 20 years when I started? No. But....
Why haven’t you gone out on your own?
While I was at Concerted Efforts I had started a family. I ended up in a situation of having two children who both have cystic fibrosis. I had no idea that the disease would run in my family or my former wife’s family. I just felt that I wanted....they needed the security. That was something, frankly, that I wasn’t willing to gamble.
Plus, as they are growing up, you have to be there for both them and for your spouse.
That was exactly it.
All the times you’d be called away due to a medical emergency.
That’s the other thing. Ted always treated me well and specifically when it came to my kids. Without exception, he couldn’t have been more supportive. If I felt that I had to be with them or deal with something, never was a negative word spoken.
How old are you children today?
My son will be 26 in two months, and my daughter is 23, and she continues to threaten you and I and all of my colleagues about getting into the music business herself.
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.”
Larry is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry. He is a board member of the Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia, Ontario.
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