Year End Newsletter

As 2020 finally comes to a close, North American Concert Promoters Association would like to wish everyone the best for next year.

Notes from the Executive Director

It has certainly been a year of transformation, and that includes inside NACPA, with the formal announcement that its leadership will transfer from executive director Cynthia Liss and Ben Liss to West-coasters Joe Reinartz and Linda Moody beginning Jan. 1.  In our next edition, we will share some information on who we are and our experience.  For now, we look forward to leading NACPA into 2021. 

Random Readings

Below are links to some articles we have found to be worth a read.

December COVID-19 Relief Bill – Shuttered Venue Operator Grants

Why rights are the holy grail of the music industry — and more valuable than ever

Here’s what’s in the $900 billion stimulus package

Michael Strickland, CEO of Bandit Lites, has always been an advocate for topics like workplace safety, and he recently testified in front of the US Senate’s Subcommittee on Manufacturing, Trade, and Consumer Protection seeking financial relief for the live industry. Below is his testimony, among others:

By the way, for those who follow all things Lefsetz, Bob’s latest interview is with Joe Bonamassa.

The year wraps with some consistencies, namely the Pollstar Year-End charts and accompanying articles.

Meanwhile, Pollstar has ambitiously announced its annual Pollstar Live! Conference, combined with the VenuesNow Conference, for June 14-17 at The Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles.

Likewise, the ILMC has announced is virtual conference for March 3-5. Registration is available here.

The Legendary Dick Alen

Finally, before I took on the role of executive director for NACPA, I was a longtime writer/reporter for the music industry. One project included assisting Dick Alen, former head of William Morris’s personal appearances department, developing a book documenting his interesting life. Dick passed away recently so sadly that project never saw the light of day.  However, Alen’s contribution to music history is significant. He was essential in putting black artists in front of national TV audiences. He had a lifetime business relationship and friendship with acts like Chuck Berry, Woody Herman and Aretha Franklin. He was involved with everything from bringing Julio Iglesias to America to writing the lyrics to “Here Comes The Judge,” made famous by his client Pigmeat Markham. He offered advice to beginning agents like “Be honest” and “Your first day working with your client is the beginning of the end. They will leave you.”

He was also a man who was incredibly sweet, played a lot of tennis and loved tongue sandwiches.

Please enjoy a quick story (never published) Alen shared about signing Jerry Lee Lewis to William Morris. Some artistic liberties were likely taken:

In 1973, I got a call from Judd Phillips. Judd was the brother of famed Sun Records founder Sam Phillips had been working at Sun for many years, handling promotion.  He had also worked promotion for artists the likes of Ray Acuff and was known as a radio man.  For a short time, he even had his own record company, Judd Records.

He was now managing Jerry Lee Lewis, a position he was going to hold for many years. By this time, Lewis had patched his differences with Sam – they had a well-known fallout regarding Jerry Lee’s marriage to his cousin; Jerry Lee had thought Sam was not supportive during the crisis. That was a long time ago at this point.  Now Jerry was finding his way in country music, and Judd and I knew each other because of my relationship with Charlie Rich, and because of William Morris’s new Nashville office.

In a world filled with new rock heroes like The Rolling Stones and The Who, Jerry Lee had discovered a second career in country music. He was already five years beyond his No. 1 country single “To Make Love Sweeter For You” and had already recorded songs that would be classics like “What’s Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made A Loser Out Of Me)” and “Another Place, Another Time.” He was about to play his first and only appearance at the Grand Ole Opry.  He was a year into a marriage with wife Jaren Pate, and they had a newborn.  Within a year of Judd’s phone call, the 38-year-old Jerry Lee Lewis would lose his son, Jerry Lee Jr., in a car accident.

Judd wanted more for his client than just a country music career.  He still saw Jerry Lee as a viable rock and roll act and he thought Jerry deserved to return to that scene.

And I was willing to take Jerry Lee as a client.  Of course, we still had to go through several calls’ worth of negotiations, with Judd and I taking several long-distance phone calls between Los Angeles and Memphis. 

Contracts are simple things, on one level: an agent books dates and an artist plays them.  But every contract has variables. There are details to be ironed out. An agent needs to know the commission rate and how many dates will the client be willing to do a week. What is the pricing? What is the artist worth? Does he like to work in clubs? Does he like to play big concerts? Does he want to be on big shows? Does he just want to play by himself? 

These, of course, have to be covered in writing. And the client has parameters, too: Will William Morris make a guarantee on television? Will the agency have the client meet with the commercial department?  Will the client get a commercial? What are the chances of getting into a movie?

One of the unique points Judd wanted was television.  He believed Jerry deserved four television specials, one each for spring, summer, fall and winter. William Morris, and my connections, definitely provided the best leverage for that. Still, we told Judd that was one thing we could not guarantee. We were very happy to try but in 1973 rock music on television was not popular. People weren’t watching music and they certainly weren’t watching rock and roll – maybe Andy Williams or Barbra Streisand. But for Jerry Lee, especially 10 years after his popularity, we suggested the best thing would be to get a couple of guest spots on some major variety shows. And, at that time, most of the variety shows were gone. Johnny Carson was more like it.

So I had to talk Judd out of his request. I reminded him that William Morris was one of the biggest agencies in the country, or the world, and we had a television department of between 50 and 100 people. They were selling everything from major movie stars to movies of the week – the Bill Cosby television series, for instance. Jerry would have a better chance with us of getting some type of TV coverage than he would at some independent agent based in Nashville that didn’t have a regular conversation with TV buyers.  That’s how it works: You promise best effort. You give them a history of what best effort has done for some people. It works for some, it doesn’t for others.

Also, we’re assuming everything we say to Judd goes to Jerry Lee. And we felt Jerry Lee could upgrade where he’s playing and get more of a pop audience instead of a strictly country crowd.

Not to say that wouldn’t be difficult. In Los Angeles there was The Palomino, which was a great club that paid really well but the only people who went there were country fans. It became the first place we booked Jerry Lee, but it was so we could invite television and newspaper contacts. We knew that was a place that would be packed with Jerry’s fans.  Once we had that taken care of, the next step would be to bring him to Universal Amphitheatre or Santa Monica Civic Center – someplace more likely to bring in a pop crowd.

Eventually we reached an agreement. It was just the formality of getting Jerry Lee’s signature. 

Judd wanted a photo op for the event. I would fly to Memphis, go to his office, meet Jerry Lee, we’d shake hands, take pictures and tell each other how much we loved each other.

That was the plan, anyway.

I flew to Memphis, landing in the afternoon. I got a rental car – not only because it’s convenient but I had learned that it’s a good idea to have my own wheels in times like these because if a problem crops up, I can get out immediately. That experience was about to pay dividends.

Judd met me at the airport and I followed him to his office.  It was around 4 p.m. But, unlike what I expected, Jerry Lee was not there. Instead, I sit listening to Judd talking on the phone.  I’m told Jerry will be there at 5. Then, the story is, Jerry will be there in another hour.

“Hey look,” I finally tell Judd.  “I got to get to the hotel. I haven’t even checked in yet.” I wanted to check my suitcase, wash my face and get something to eat.

Judd understood and came up with Plan B.  Jerry was going to be at a club that night, right across the Mississippi in Arkansas.  He suggested we have dinner then drive out there to meet Jerry at around 10 p.m.

And that’s what we did. I went to the hotel, checked in and had dinner with Judd.  Then I followed him to the club and got there around 10 o’clock.

Jerry wasn’t not there. And he wasn’t there at 11 p.m., either.

Around midnight, Jerry arrives. He was glad to see me and, obviously, I ws glad to see him. We took a table and had lighthearted conversation while we waited for the next show to start.

Jerry Lee ordered up some drinks. Not for us, but for him. He’d order a Brandy Alexander and a double Tequila Sunrise. Over and over.

Now, stories about The Killer’s drinking are plentiful, and there are legendary stories about things he may have done when he wasn’t sober. But that’s not the whole story. He is, at heart, a Southern gentleman. When he was straight, he was fun, nice and very pleasant to be around. But when he had one too many in the afternoon, he could become unpleasant.

The show ended around 2 a.m. and Jerry Lee was probably had about four rounds to himself, although I wasn’t keeping track. But I was definitely getting nervous.

“Jerry,” I said, “You know, I’ve got to take a 9 o’clock plane. Can we take care of the business?”

“Sure,” he says. He wanted to sign the papers in the manager’s office.

So we go there, along with Judd and a few others.  I take the contract from our legal department out of my briefcase.

“Wait a second,” Jerry Lee said. “I don’t want to just sign it. This is a very important event. Jerry Lee Lewis is going with WEEliam MORris!”

He turned to his manager.

“Judd, go out and get the photographer.”

Judd left the office. Meanwhile, Jerry Lee turned to one of the hangers’ on. “Bring me a Brandy Alexander and a double Tequila Sunrise.”

The drinks come first and Jerry Lee didn’t waste any time.  The photographer came in and stood next to Jerry. The Killer grabbed the pen and got ready to sign.

That’s when Jerry finally got a good look at the photographer. 

“I know you.”

The photographer looked puzzled, or at least pretended to.

“I know you,” Jerry Lee said again.  “You’re that photographer from the paper.”  Apparently, it was a professional photographer from the Commercial-Appeal

“You took that picture of me drunk, didn’t you?”  Jerry Lee said.  “You took that picture, the one with that caption. You published that damned photo.”

We really didn’t know what he was talking about, but the photographer did. And the photographer was definitely not apologizing, and an inebriated Jerry Lee was not about to let bygones be bygones.  The minutes kept on clicking by.

“Hey Jerry,” I said.  The two stopped and looked at me.  “I gotta get out of here. My plane’s coming. Come on. I got to get this done.”

“OK,” Jerry Lee said, and looked down at the contract.  “OK.”

He picked up the pen again, squiggled his name on the line, dropped the pen, stood up, turned and round-housed the photographer with a vicious right.

Judd jumped in to separate them, and the rest of the room clustered around the men, pulling them apart.

I looked down at the table and grabbed the papers.  The signature was definitely on the right page. I shoveled the papers back into my case, ran out of the room, got into my car and tore down the highway to Memphis.

We look forward to 2021 as much as you do.

Joe Reinartz

Executive Director, NACPA

Linda Moody, Associate Director

Joe Reinartz