I’m In Charge Here: The 7 Most Famous Band Managers

*Written and published for AUX.

Seven managers, two AUX writers. This past weekend AUX writer’s Anne T. Donahue and Ciaran Thompson combined notes to come up with a definitive list of band managers. Inspired by the death last week of former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, the Thompson-Donahue collaboration came up with the most fiercest, intelligent and extravagant folks to ever claim the title of band manager.

Albert Grossman

“You’re one of the dumbest assholes and most stupid persons I’ve ever spoken to…If we were someplace else I’d punch you in your god damn nose,” manager Albert Grossman said to a hotel manager on Bob Dylan’s 1965 tour of England. The famous event, captured on film by D.A. Pennebaker is just one of the several times Grossman showed his strength. Whether it was kicking unwanted people out of the picture or growling at the media for more money, Grossman knew what he was doing and knew how it get it done.

Grossman managed Dylan throughout the ‘60s and other folk artists such as Peter, Paul and Mary, Odetta, John Lee Hooker, Ian and Sylvia and Gordon Lightfoot among others. Paul from Peter, Paul and Mary, whose original name was Noel, switched it to Paul on Grossman’s request so the band could have a biblical reference. A truly legendary manager any artist or band would want to have in their corner.

Brian Epstein

Brian Epstein

Perhaps one of the youngest and most revered band managers in rock ‘n roll history, Brian Epstein was The Beatles’ manager, friend and qualified most for the title of “Fifth Beatle” – as once stated by Paul McCartney.  Despite having no previous managerial experience (though his work with NEMS and Mersey Beat magazine were incredibly well-received at the time), the then 27-year-old signed a five-year contract with The Beatles in January of 1962 and officially assumed the role of the band’s go-to for everything, anything and all things in-between.

Renowned for his generosity and kindness (though it was later revealed he wasn’t always as honest as previously thought), Epstein acted as the patriarch of The Beatles family, going so far as to be Lennon’s best man at his wedding to Cynthia, and paying for the reception lunch as well as a private hospital room for the birth of Julian.  However, like many industry legends, Epstein was not without his demons, suffering from depression, gambling addiction and drug use, and in August 27, 1967 he died at age 32 of a drug overdose.

Peter Grant

Sheet metal factory worker, army Corporal, bouncer, wrestler, actor and manager of one of the first bands to be called Heavy Metal, Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant led quite the life. Grant managed the Yardbirds until the band dissolved and guitarist Jimmy Page formed the new Yardbirds who became known as Led Zeppelin.

On the list of notable accomplishments are Grant’s negotiation for the band’s five-year record contract with Atlantic, marching into English records shops demanding all bootleg copies of shows be handed over, harassing concert staff about the sale of illegal posters and he is widely recognized for improving pay conditions for musicians. Standing at 6 ft 5 and weighing a ton probably helped Grant “convince” record labels and others standing in the way, but it was the stunning amount of faith he had in his bands that exemplifes what a legendary manager he was.

Malcolm McLaren

Few people encompass the definition of “badass” like former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, whose venture as a designer and shop owner led him to manage and design for the New York Dolls, acquaint himself with the Neon Boys, and own SEX, the iconic London store specializing in S&M-style clothing that acted as a catalyst for the London-born Sex Pistols.

It was at SEX where McLaren was introduced to bassist Glen Matlock, and where John Lyndon (Johnny Rotten) auditioned for the band, lip syncing to a track by Alice Cooper.  Following the breakup of the group, McLaren launched his own music career, releasing albums to critical and commercial success, yet despite his obvious accomplishments, McLaren saw himself as the ultimate failure – a title he proudly displayed and commented on:  “In my view, failing is a noble pursuit”.  Sadly, after a battle with cancer, the 64-year-old passed away in Switzerland last week, uttering the last words, “free Leonard Peltier”.

Danny Fields/Linda Stein

An icon of the original punk rock movement, Danny Fields (who formerly shared an apartment with Edie Sedgwick and penned the liner notes for The Velvet Underground’s Live at Max’s Kansas City) discovered The Ramones at CBGB in 1975, going on to co-manage the group with Linda Stein – wife of Sire Records president, Seymour Stein – who left her teaching position that same year to take on her managerial duties.  It was after the two brought the band to England, when the influence of The Ramones was fully realized; going on to inspire the UK punk movement which birthed The Sex Pistols and The Clash.

While the two eventually parted ways professionally, Fields continued his industry endeavours, managing Steve Forbert, The Modern Lovers and Paleface, later venturing into writing.  Tragically, after leaving the business to launch her career as a gossip columnist and “Realtor to the Stars”, Stein was found murdered in her New York City apartment in 2007 at the hand of her assistant.

Rob Gretton

It’s hard to judge how well actor Toby Kebbell played Joy Divison/New Order manager Rob Gretton in Control, a biopic about the late Joy Division singer Ian Curtis. In the movie it shows Gretton (Kebbell) as a very cool entrepreneur whose business is music and calling people daft c****. According to what’s been written, not all of that happened. However Gretton did discover Warsaw who later became Joy Division, bet with his bands about singles in the music charts and gave New Order its name from a situationist book he was reading that triggered a Nazi connotation. Gretton was also a partner in Factory Records and co-founded the Hacienda nightclub in Manchester.

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