Self-described as the “third part of my tripography”, Oldham’s book shines the blazing white spotlight on the key architects pulling the strings behind a cavalcade of rock and roll’s finest. In the book, many of rock’s most influential and powerful movers and shakers are strikingly profiled, including managers Brian Epstein, (The Beatles), Albert Grossman (Bob Dylan), Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert (The Who), Don Arden (Small Faces), Malcolm McLaren (Sex Pistols), Phil Spector, and former Stones/Beatles manager Allen Klein, most of whom Oldham knew intimately.
A gifted storyteller, Oldham’s stylish prose brings to life a rogues gallery of colorful music biz characters, lending keen insight and astute perspective into their professional and personal background.
Away from his writing endeavors, Oldham holds down a weekly gig as host of his own three-hour show on Sirius XM Satellite Radio’s “Little Steven’s Underground Garage” channel. Adding to this bustle of activity, he’s also released a new CD, Andrew Oldham Orchestra & Friends returns with Plays The Rolling Stones Songbook Volume 2, which culls instrumental renditions of 12 Rolling Stones songs hand selected by Oldham and features musical contributions from The Smiths’ Johnny Marr, Al Kooper and members of the Super Furry Animals and Modest Mouse among others. And in a cheeky nod, the disc also includes the Andrew Oldham’s Orchestra’s version of The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony; the band was famously embroiled in a lawsuit with Allen Klein’s ABKCO Records for lifting a section from Oldham’s orchestral version of The Rolling Stones The Last Time, found on his inaugural 1966 release, The Rolling Stones Songbook.
Most recently, in May of this year, Andrew was the keynote speaker for the Liverpool Sound City 2013.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Stone Free is your third book. What inspired you to tackle a book chronicling rock’s most legendary movers and shakers?
Andrew Loog Oldham: An accident, as usual, and we know there are none. The publisher of my first two books, Random House, approached me around 2004, asking me to write a follow-up to Nik Cohn’s Awopbopaloobop. Can you imagine?
I was not busy at that time; I did not have the Little Steven radio gig so I took their paltry bread and then realized I could not deliver any such thing. For openers, Nik’s book and George Melly’s Revolt into Style were written “in the time” before 1970 when nobody realized we’d all still be the best thing since sliced bread. 45 years later Random House also asked me to include a chapter on Alan McGhee. Alan was the big impresario cheese at the time. Everyone was impressed as to how he’d sold half of what he had to Sony for a lot of money. I tried. I flew to Mexico City and had a fabulous time with Alan. He was there disc jockeying and it was a buzz to hear him spin Under My Thumb and Get Off of My Cloud and see the great crowd reaction. But there was nothing for me to write about.
He had not touched my life, neither had Oasis. Christ, I think he was in hospital with a coke seizure when he signed Oasis. But he’s a great guy and a forever friend. So after seeing what I could not do with Alan I decided to look into what I could do with hustlers I had known, admired, loved or loathed and Stone Free was born.
RCM: While from the 70’s onward, music business boasted its fair share of high powered managers such as Shep Gordon, Dee Anthony, Bill Aucoin, Paul McGuinness among them, the ’60s was truly the golden age of music managers. Can you explain why?
ALO: Oh, I think Shep Gordon is total magic and Paul McGuiness obviously was.
In the ‘70s a different kind of manager was required, a hard-nosed money collector.
Acts had their own vision. In the ‘60s we provided them with that vision. That’s the main difference.
RCM: Discuss how the era/managers you’re chronicling in the book were all about “magic”, whereas today it’s more about how about how many records you’ve sold.
ALO: When we came into the business the two big earners after the road was sheet music and then record sales. The album meant nothing unless you were Mantovani or South Pacific. Artists used to fight to get on the cover of the sheet music edition because, as you know, there were usually three versions of a hit song, the American original and two or three British efforts to best.
If you were on the cover of the sheet music edition you could provably get a fiver more for your club appearances. Records did not mean that much more. The BBC was still 50% live music. I think a big hit single in the ‘60s meant three grand for all the participants. Still not bad, for four grand you could buy an Aston Martin. But the illusion was Queen and The King was the road.
There were an amazing amount of awful acts that got sold to the public via the musical weeklies and fanzines that got onstage in a sold out house and were awful.
It didn’t matter because the kids were screaming so loud at the illusion.
That’s what managers did when I first came into the game as a publicist in 1961.
ALO: He was an awful actor! I never saw him act but just look at how much of a nervous tither he was in hosting Hullabaloo! But he was a great manager, he was devoted to The Beatles. He would kill for them. He could be quite tough. He represented his act 24/7.
RCM: Many are critical of Epstein’s business decisions, citing the 10-90 merchandising split as one of his biggest blunders. However, in my eyes, he was a trailblazer and is unduly criticized.
ALO: I don’t know how he even took the merch thing seriously, I mean, it was turning The Beatles into Davy Crockett hats and Hula-Hoops.
We British took our music seriously, lunch boxes were for you Yanks.
I would imagine he was quite dismissive of the merch thing but did the deal anyway, as best he could.
RCM: Why was Brian the right manager for The Beatles?
ALO: They took over life.
RCM: Albert Grossman, Bob Dylan’s manager, remains a larger than life figure. You praised “his ability to see a universe of possibility”, can you expand upon that? Does seeing him operate/strong arming Tito Burns in the Don’t Look Back documentary capture his essence and managerial style?
ALO: Not really. Never trust a manager playing to a camera; it’s not his natural forte. He’ll get affected. No, look Grossman told Dylan to do what he liked and he would serve that. That’s the gift.
RCM: With Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, the Who’s managerial team, while you cite that this team was flawed as managers, can you characterize the spark each offered that helped ignite The Who into superstardom?
ALO: They all had fronts but acts in the ‘60s had an amazing lack of imagination or estimate of self worth. In the case of The Who, Kit and Chris had enough of both to serve themselves and the band. Look what happens when you did not have that energy with a great act. What do you get? You get The Kinks.
RCM: One manager not touched upon in your book is Colonel Tom Parker. How do you view his legacy, was he the right manager for Elvis Presley? What did he do right and what were his flaws?
ALO: It’s so American, successful and pathetic, I would not have touched it with a barge pole. If I’d done Colonel Parker I might as well have done Albert Speer or Henry Wilson.
RCM: Knowing of your dismissal of Colonel Parker and his gross mismanagement of Elvis, what kind of manager did Elvis need? Are there any managers you profiled in Stone Free that would have been able to handle him properly and how so?
ALO: I don’t think so. Generally you get what you deserve.
RCM: Had you been able to manage Elvis, what would you have done differently to nurture his talent?
ALO: I wouldn’t even consider it. Maybe Gordon Mills might have made some better choices. I don’t know. Elvis was Elvis – it’s slightly redundant to imagine him having done anything other than that that he did. It was his journey and our experience, not to be tampered with.
RCM: Elvis covered songs by The Beatles. Hypothetically, had he taken a crack at a Stones song or two, which ones would he have nailed?
ALO: She Smiled Sweetly, Wild Horses. Nice question. Thank you.
RCM: Speaking of Elvis, The Beatles met him in Hollywood in 1965. Keith’s a big Elvis fan and when I interviewed him and he said there were plans afoot for a meeting with Elvis but it never happened, any recollections of that?
ALO: No. I did not wish The Stones to follow Herman’s Hermits or Tom Jones. Sorry Peter (Noone). Anyway Mick would not have gone even if something had been set up. It wasn’t his style. He did not join Keith and I when we went to meet Frank Sinatra.
RCM: Your take on Don Arden is quite fascinating. Stories about him holding Robert Stigwood out of a window are legendary. What I found refreshing about his chapter was how you weaved his back story, childhood, and the struggles he faced together, which provided a three dimensional portrait of the man. Did you derive any inspiration from his style/approach?
ALO: He was inspiring to be around. When you stood next to Don Arden you were in showbiz. That was basically what he lived for, and I understood and appreciated that. He also gave me a sense of family which at the time I did not have.
ALO: Money, unlimited studio time, hope and drugs. They were not a band, they were a recording act. A recording act is sometimes good on stage, a great band is in the business of nailing it nightly. They became bands via The Faces and Humble Pie.
RCM: For U.S. music fans, There Are But Four Small Faces is the first album released in the States. You brokered that deal with Clive Davis. Did the band have any involvement with that release or was that a product created by Epic Records?
ALO: We did it, we delivered it and Clive (Davis) buried it. He got his money back on Itchycoo Park and Lazy Sunday and forgot about us. I do not actually blame him because, at the time, Steve (Marriott) was paranoid and he refused to tour. What am I talking about? Of course I blame him…