By Ken Sharp
Never one to mince words, former Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham was quite succinct about his decision to skip the 2014 Rock And Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, during which he and Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein were to be honored.
“Like Brian Epstein, I was not consulted as regards to this matter and like dear Brian, I will not be going,” Oldham tweeted on April 4.
Oldham is just as candid in “Stone Free,” his third biography, which shines a blazing spotlight on some of rock and roll’s biggest movers and shakers, including Epstein, Albert Grossman (Bob Dylan), Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert (The Who), Don Arden (Small Faces), Malcolm McLaren (Sex Pistols), Phil Spector and former Stones and Beatles manager Allen Klein, most of whom Oldham knew intimately. Oldham, who was 19 when he took over managing The Rolling Stones, is the last man standing of the great 1960s rock and roll managers. He produced all of the Stones’ records during the band’s classic era from 1963 to 1967.
GOLDMINE: From the ’70s onward, music business boasted its fair share of high-powered managers, Shep Gordon and Paul McGuinness among them. The ’60s was truly the golden age of music managers; can you explain why?
ANDREW LOOG OLDHAM: Oh, I think Shep Gordon is total magic and Paul McGuinesss 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.
GM: Discuss how the managers you chronicle in the book were all about “magic.”
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 it. If you were on the cover of the sheet music edition, you could probably get a fiver more for your club appearances. Records did not mean that much more. The BBC was still 50 percent 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. 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.
GM: You dedicate the book to Brian Epstein. You did public relations for The Beatles in ’63 and gained first-hand perspective of Epstein’s style and talents. Did his training as an actor further sharpen his skills in terms of understanding presentation?
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.
GM: Many are critical of Epstein’s business decisions, citing the 10-90 merchandising split as one of his biggest blunders. In my eyes, he was a trailblazer and is unduly criticized. Your take?
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.
GM: Albert Grossman, Bob Dylan’s manager, remains a larger-than-life figure. You praised his ability to see a universe of possibility. Does seeing him operate 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. No, look, Grossman told Dylan to do what he liked and he would serve that. That’s the gift.
GM: Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, The Who’s managerial team – 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.
GM: 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?
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.
GM: 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.
GM: 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.
GM: 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 struggles he faced, which gave a three-dimensional portrait of the man. Did you derive any inspiration from his approach?
ALO: He was inspiring to be around. When you stood next to Don Arden, you were in show biz. 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.
GM: Under your guidance at Immediate Records, The Small Faces blossomed dramatically as writers, producers and musicians, away from their Decca Record era. What did Immediate afford them to precipitate such a flowering of creativity?
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.
GM: 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!
GM: While “Itchycoo Park” was the band’s biggest hit in the States, for many fans “Tin Soldier” is the quintessential Small Faces recording. What make that such a powerful and special song?
ALO: The beat and the space in it they are there! Great recorded moment of oneness.
GM: Another chapter in the book chronicles Phil Spector. You were a huge fan of Spector’s “Wall of Sound” production, so much so that you paid with your own money to place full-page ads in British trades to champion The Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” calling it “Tomorrow’s Music today.” What was it about his work that so strongly resonated with you?
ALO: I took out the ad for the Spector-produced Righteous Brothers “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling” because, no slight to Cilla Black, I did not want to see her cover version be the Top 10 record of the song. His sound took me over emotionally and made me complete.
GM: Brian Wilson still reveres the work of Spector and feels his work pales in comparison. Could you sense the connection between Spector’s work and Brian’s, particularly on “Pet Sounds?”
ALO: Not really, I don’t think Brian realizes how he opened up the realms of audio-visual possibilities in ways that had nothing to do with Phil Spector. Look, you go in wanting to record yogurt, you come out with cheese. As long as it’s a great cheese, who cares if it was yogurt you wanted in the first place?
GM: You first saw The Rolling Stones April 23, 1963, at the Station Hotel in Richmond. Describe what you witnessed and what clicked for you to decide to manage them.
ALO: The wraparound version is I came, they played and I was conquered and wanted to spread the word and pass that wave that came over me to as many people as possible.
GM: You were extremely young while managing the Stones. Did that vitality of youth work to your advantage?
ALO: Who knows? We didn’t get asked to stay in school past 16. That helped. These days, education is the new mafia. Totally unnecessary suppressive clan, filling in for parents who are working hard to pay the bills and unable to be parents.
GM: In reference to The Stones, you once said, “I managed them less than I inspired them to become what they became.” Can you expand on that?
ALO: You open the door of possibilities, you tell your act they can do anything if they dream and work hard enough. It does help if you are right.
GM: The Rolling Stones’ first tour of the states was not a huge success. What are your recollections of that first tour of America? How confident were you that the band would eventually break?
ALO: Total panic. That’s why I booked them into Chess Studios in Chicago, so at least they’d go home with big smiles on their faces when they landed. As you know, we got some great records cut in those two days in May. I had no idea when or if we would break. I knew we needed vinyl legs, which we really did not have until the spring of ’65. If The Beatles ever looked over their shoulders, it was not the Stones they saw. They saw the Dave Clark 5 or Herman’s Hermits.
GM: One of your most astute decisions as a manager was insisting The Stones write their own material.
ALO: We were without material to record. The R&B barrel of tunes was getting raided and soon would be empty. I fancied The Stones trying that great James Ray thing, “If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody.” Then somebody told me that Freddie & The Dreamers had covered it. That’s the moment I knew The Stones had to write. So, thank you, James, and thank you, Freddie!
GM: Did Brian Jones express interest in a writing role? Did he have the ability to write songs?
ALO: He did; he did not. I put him with Gene Pitney, an old PR client and friend and a great writer, and asked him to see what he could get out of Brian. He didn’t get much out of him. He tried. But in pop music, you do not write down to an audience. They can smell it. Brian was dismissive about the process, but he wanted the rewards.
GM: What was the first great Jagger-Richards song?
ALO: “Tell Me.”
GM: As a producer, who were your role models, and how did deriving inspiration from them inform your work with the band?
ALO: Bob Crewe. The enthusiasm, the belief, the joy at being in the studio with those he was in the studio with. Bob was not only a great, great lyricist and producer, he was contagious. I thought the way he was turned into the Charles Nelson Reilly gay relief in “Jersey Boys” … he deserved better than that. Bob Gaudio should have listened to the records, not his ego.
GM: Select a few Four Seasons songs in particular that best demonstrate Bob Crewe’s imagination and skills as a producer.
ALO: “Big Man in Town,” “Rag Doll,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and all the rest. There’s no reasoning. The casting was just perfect. Voice, melody, lyrics and the finest New York arrangers and players.
GM: “Satisfaction” was the track that ushered the Stones into superstardom. When you first heard the song, could you sense its commercial potential? Or did it seem to be just another album track?
ALO: We tried it first in Chicago, minus the fuzz, and it sounded not unlike The Rooftop Singers. Then Jack Nitzsche took Keith shopping (for a fuzz box) in L.A. when we were at RCA, and history was made that day. I was amazed. I knew we had nailed it.
GM: Is it true that the fuzz guitar was just a placeholder for a horn line that would later be overdubbed?
ALO: Nonsense. That’s what Keith has decided to believe. We didn’t have the time to imagine horns; we had a gig to get to.
GM: As mythology continues to unfold around him, the real Brian Jones seems to get increasingly lost. Was he is a hero or villain, or a little of both?
ALO: He was just a confused, conflicted cat who had already lived nine lives and who, in error, got sent back for a 10th. Before he was recalled, he left some amazing musical gifts, starting with The Rolling Stones.
GM: As manager of The Rolling Stones, from your perspective, how would you characterize the relationship between The Beatles and Stones? Was there any underlying sense of competition or rivalry, or was that manufactured by the press?
ALO: I cannot answer that except that I’d agree with you. They had a relationship, and the press manufactured it into a competition. Nobody complained, all par for the course.
GM: Is it true you’d work in close alignment with the Beatles management about album or single releases to ensure neither conflicted with the release of the other?
ALO: No. The acts themselves sat in night clubs on their occasional nights off and worked that stuff out on a few occasions.
GM: Were you in the studio when John and Paul came down and provided background vocals on “We Love You?” If so, any memories you can share?
ALO: Magic. We were in trouble. I’m not sure Mick and Keith could have nailed that vocal. John and Paul did and turned it into a single.
GM: Has your creative vision changed from the manner in which you approached the first album back in ‘66?
ALO: Look, in ’66, you sat down with the arranger and sung or hummed or described what it was you wanted him to arrange into what you heard. Then you went in four or five three-hour sessions and recorded the lot. I probably did the basic tracks by themselves, then added the choruses, strings and horns. Today, you build it up from the basic track just as you did before, except that now I could have contributions from all over the world.
GM: Your Sirius XM radio show finds you once again taking on the role of being a vocal proponent for a new generation. What’s that experience been like for you? Is the current music scene healthy or on condition critical?
ALO: The world is so noisy. Music has been wounded by Steve Jobs’ technology; greed and ego is fighting for survival. The main role of the artist is to serve the song, as opposed to him or herself. That is difficult to understand in a world where we are all stars and technology supports that dangerous charade. Give me John Prine any day over what Simon Cowell barfs up. What’s the result? You’ve got Adele, who is great at receiving awards, but could no more put a set together than a politician could tell the truth.
GM: What roads are left for you to explore?
ALO: The great fashion designer Balenciaga was told by his doctor when he retires that he better find something to occupy physically his hands, because he had cut and sewn and stitched for 50 years — and as you know, if you do not use it you lose it. So I have to be mindful of my gifts and find a way to apply them in other quarters. For sure the radio helps; it’s a great ongoing opportunity. But I certainly do not wish to be doing this on The Stones 60th. They can; it’s their right. They can always get up on stage and do their stuff, but for me to be talking to you about 1963 in 2023, I would find that idea slightly abhorrent and redundant. Today it would have been a pleasure, but tomorrow it would be a chore, and we only do chores at home. GM