It’s not well-written, but you can’t put it down.
The public did not kill the music business. Blame MTV, Bob Sillerman, the Telecommunications Act of 1996. But don’t blame the people.
The people know the power of sound. They know greatness when they hear it. But greed squeezed integrity out of the music business and everybody involved’s been crying ever since.
Barry Fey owned Denver. That’s the way it used to be, territorial. With all the players, the regional promoters, kept in check by Frank Barsalona, who controlled all the talent. Sure, radio mattered. But if Frank said a new act was gonna go, that you needed to book it, you did. Barry booked Led Zeppelin before the first album came out. And although the crowd didn’t care at first, by time they were done, stars were born.
What bothers me is people think there is a business. Something akin to IBM, even Apple, a structured organization that you can prep for and succeed in. That’s my biggest gripe with music schools. If only they taught you to be a crook, to be an asshole, then they might have value.
Yes, the original concert promoters, everybody left from the late sixties/early seventies heyday, were all crooks. You had to be, or someone would cut you out. Music was kind of like the Mafia. You had to protect your turf, you knew who your enemies were, but you didn’t let anybody in.
And if you are in, you know who these people really are, what they’re like.
Don’t believe what you read in papers, in magazines, the real stories never get told, you’ve got to truly be there to know what’s going on.
So Barry stands up at a "Billboard" conference where everybody’s lamenting the dominance of Jerry Weintraub and his national touring paradigm and he talks about the tour’s tires being slashed. That the promoters had to stick together to fight Jerry. HE didn’t slash the tires, just somebody who appreciated all the good work he did in Denver.
And he said all this in public.
And he talks about Howard Kaufman scalping his acts’ tickets.
And he talks about Jimmy Buffett getting 105% of the gross.
And he tells the real reason ticket prices are sky high. Sillerman. Sure, Napster helped, but it was the rollup of the regional promoters that sent prices through the roof.
And the acts partook of the riches and want to give none of them back.
But the acts are teflon and everybody would rather play with his iPhone than go to a show anyway.
Attendance goes down. And there’s a patina of credibility on top of the industry, but underneath, it’s still as cutthroat as ever.
And there’s no room for you.
There used to be room, when there used to be money. Now everybody left doesn’t want to share. Everybody left wants even more money and if you go to work for them you’ll get crumbs at best. Because so many of these people are just shy of thugs. Colorful characters. You can’t handle the truth, but there it is.
Barry Fey didn’t love music, he loved MONEY!
And it wasn’t only Barry, he rips Bill Graham’s reputation to shreds. Not only did Bill sell tickets he never reported to the acts, he squirreled cash out of the country to avoid paying taxes.
These guys were renegades.
You want to see renegades today?
Go to Silicon Valley. Everybody’s fighting to get in. And everybody’s fighting to protect his turf. But there are opportunities.
But there are no opportunities in music.
Insiders keep trumpeting crap, keep predicting a turnaround, but just like America music is past its peak. Every last dollar has been squeezed out and when the classic rock acts are done touring, they’ll just throw the carcass away.
The classic acts keep Live Nation alive. Sure, there’s an occasional youngster who can sell tickets, but often not for long, and not in prodigious amounts.
Stadium gigs were de rigueur in the seventies. Not only in the Bay Area, but Denver, across this great country of ours, demand was just that great.
Demand’s piss-poor right now.
Except in electronic music. That’s the bastion of hope.
We had the British Invasion, then FM underground radio, then MTV. What’s next?
Because if it’s the fake Top Forty and country acts, count me out. Have you listened to this music? Used to be all the acts were different, all were striving for the stars, there was a cornucopia of greatness. Now we live in a land of me-too.
Really, tune in the country station. The names are interchangeable, just like the music, the songs are written by the same guys. Just like the same producers make all the Top Forty music. It’s an assembly line, it’s drudgery. Chalk up the music business decline to that, not the public.
But when you read about the greats in Barry’s book, you remember what it was like.
And if you’re too young to have been around back then, your eyes will bug out. Over the excess, the crowds, the drugs, the passion. It was a tsunami of success. The audience thought it owned the music. Ain’t that a laugh. Now the music is owned by the Fortune 500. Is there an act out there that won’t make that deal?
Now "Backstage Past" could have been proof-read, it’s littered with irrelevant mistakes that don’t affect readability but make you wince.
Some stories are told more than once.
There’s no defined arc.
But when you read about everything from the Stones being pissed that Elton John overstayed his welcome onstage to the outrageous demands for cash you’ll think that you missed it.
And you did.
Sit with any concert promoter from days gone by and he’s got stories like this. Whether it be the semi-retired, like Donald Tarlton in Montreal, or the still-working, like Don Fox in New Orleans.
Donald will tell you about borrowing cash from the Mafia to spring the Who from jail. Who he found in the pokey singing "Don’t Fence Me In".
Each one of them has got story after story.
Barry’s told his.
This is what it used to be like.