This is David Geffen, by Gentlemen’s Agreement Manager to the Superstars

Will CSN&Y ever re-unite and find true happiness?

COLONEL TOM PARKER was the prototype of the definitive starmaker, the first public figure to partly transform the image of the man with the straw hat and fat cigar into that of a manager who really cared about the welfare of his talented chargeling.

Since then, the rock industry has spasmodically produced starmakers whose names are synonymous with the artists they guide to fame.

The late Brian Epstein and the Beatles; Andrew Loog Oldham and the Rolling Stones; Peter Grant and Led Zeppelin; on a totally different level, Terry Knight and Grand Funk Railroad.

To this list can be added David Geffen and Elliot Roberts, who between them have skilfully guided the careers of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro, America and others.

Currently in London on business, 29-year-old David Geffen admits that he has a reputation for toughness, though not in the sense of duffin’-up his clients or occasionally their critics. Geffen is a business man who won’t settle for anything but the best.

He admits: “It isn’t my job to be popular except to those people I work for. Elliot and I are hired by these people to protect them from all those people who would try and rip them off, bring them down or attack them. We are supposed to be tough and we are. It’s easy to be popular in the music business, just say ‘Yes’ all the time.”

“Managers don’t make stars,” he points out, “music makes stars. Managers are like baby doctors in that they help the artist to deliver. There’s no such thing as instant success, and I know that more than anyone ’cause I’ve had to hustle hard for all my clients.”


CARR: What are the major difficulties in managing such contrasting personalities as Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young?

GEFFEN: Oh God… Probably that Elliot [Roberts] and I don’t have enough time. It’s very difficult. Even though they are a group, they are also four individuals very different from each other. The only thing that they have in common is that they are musicians — and that’s about it.

For instance, Graham is very laid-back… an extremely quiet and modest gentleman.

Then there’s Stephen who, as you know, is not particularly modest about anything.

Neil is very shy and not interested in all the big pop-star bullshit. He’s content to live out on his farm near San Francisco where he has his studio, write songs or raise horses and cattle.

In fact, Neil has just finished a fantastic movie which will be out in the Fall. It’s called, Journey Through The Past. He’s very talented, a totally artistic person.

Then we have David, who is quite a mixer… a revolutionary type individual.

Do the four personalities clash a great deal?

I would say they clash a lot, but I would point out that they complement each other. Together they made some terrific music, and apart they also made some terrific music. But together it was something else.

So what are the prospects of the four collaborating on another album?

Well, probably three of them will, because Graham, David and Neil are still very good friends. They see each other a lot and, whenever possible, help each other with their records. No doubt they will eventually get around to making an album together.

However, I have a feeling that it’s very doubtful the four of them together will record. It’s possible, but doubtful.

So what’s happened to make you say that?

[Pauses for some time before answering] Stephen’s off on his own thing… you see, the first major break came during the last tour. I’ve read all kinds of interviews with Stephen in the English trades and his versions of how it all happened.

Actually, what happened was that Stephen kinda thought it was his band, while all the others thought that they were pretty equal. In order for a band to stay together, they’ve got to have a certain amount of unity… one for all and all for one.

Three of them felt this way but Stephen thought it was his thing. It was obvious it couldn’t last like that.

Was it perhaps a feeling that there was insufficient freedom for each individual?

They’d always agreed they were all going to do separate albums while they were doing group albums.

Neil made three solo albums while still with the group; Stephen was in the midst of recording his first solo album while the group was still together and both David and Graham had plans to cut their first solo efforts.

So that wasn’t the reason for the break-up of the group.

There’s a song on David and Graham’s new album called ‘Frozen Smile’, which is something Graham wrote for Stephen, and is a certain indication as to why they’re not together any longer.

There is a consensus of opinion in the rock press that once an act is represented by Geffen-Roberts Management, they automatically become unavailable for interviews. Would you comment on this?

Well let’s put it this way. We’re very protective about our clients… we don’t believe in hype. When you say they become unavailable to the press, you’ve got to realise that there are managers who push their clients into doing all kinds of things.

Like they encourage them to make lots of tours, make lots of records and give lots of interviews. We don’t. It’s our belief that an artist should make as many records as they are comfortable with — like one album a year — keep the quality high and the frequency low.

An artist shouldn’t work too much, because the more you’re on the road the less you’re able to be in touch with yourself. We’re more interested in an artist remaining creative than in generating huge fortunes of money.

Don’t you feel an artist owes a certain amount of press coverage to the people who’ve bought their records?

As you well know, a lot of the trouble is that many interviews come out in a different context to how an artist meant it to sound.

I agree, but surely you can pick writers whose integrity and approach you respect?

It’s not always the case that we don’t want an artist to do an interview. The fact is, a lot of our artists are very quiet or shy. For instance, Neil Young is extremely shy… he’s an introverted person, very sensitive.

Isn’t it possible for an artist to cut himself off to the point where it becomes harmful to his career?

Yes, I think that’s quite possible. In order for an artist to write things that are vital, you have to be part of what’s going on.

Brian Wilson locked himself away in his house for so long he ended up just writing songs about vegetables. Yes, it can be very dangerous.

Don’t you feel that due to Neil Young’s image of being an acute introvert he could suddenly find himself in just that position?

I don’t think that’s the case with Neil. Starting in January he’s going on a world tour, and he’s not doing it ’cause he needs the money. As a matter of fact the tickets on this tour are going to be very low priced. In America, there will be a 5-dollar top, hopefully less than that.

Actually, what Neil wanted to do was a free concert in Hyde Park, but the way in which the tour has been routed the weather wouldn’t be favourable for such a gig.

Ticket prices will be a lot less than acts less important than Neil.

Main reason I hear for artists cutting down on tours is the numerous hassles they encounter on the road.

That’s correct. You have to leave your home and spend every day travelling from one strange hotel room to another.

With Neil it’s extremely hard, because he’s a very big star and therefore has no privacy. To the extent that it’s hard for him to just walk in the streets without having people coming up to him taking photographs and annoying him.

At this time, his wife is pregnant and he’s very protective about that, and therefore, it makes things even harder.

On the other hand, David and Graham live in San Francisco and they always seem to be around doing benefits, rallies, and things like that. Everyone comes from a different place and therefore fulfil their needs in different ways.

How much direct influence do you and Elliot have on the musical policy of an artist?

As far as the music itself is concerned, we don’t get involved. After all, they are the musicians and it would be presumptuous for us to try and tell them what to do.

How we get involved is in trying to guide their respective careers so they have the time to write, keep their heads together… so that they don’t blow it.

We’re very protective in that we make sure their records and tours are handled just right and in a way that will be beneficial.

How would you react if, say, Neil Young played you the tapes of a new album and you realised that it fell below his accepted standard. Would you tell him so?

Yes. I think Neil depends on the fact that both Elliot and I are completely honest with both him and everyone else.

There’s very little paranoia between our clients and ourselves, because we’ve always been very honest with them. We have no contracts with them. If they’re not happy with us they are free to leave.

Do you mean that you have no written agreement with any artist you represent?

We have no written contracts with any of our clients. The fact that we have chosen to do this has eliminated so much paranoia and given us the opportunity to be completely honest with them.

We’re not at all worried that an act is going to leave us. We do a very good job for our clients… we work very hard for them.

They’ve all become very successful with us, extremely wealthy and no one has beaten them or tried to take unfair advantage of them. It’s very much of a family scene, we’re all very close.

What was your initial reaction when you heard America?

My first reaction was: “My God, there’s this group that sounds like Neil Young”. I heard ‘A Horse With No Name’ on the radio and thought: “What is that?”

How did Neil Young react?

Neil felt that here was this group imitating his sound. But that’s not true for, if you know Dewey, then you know that’s what he sounds like… he sounds like Neil, but that’s the only similarity.

I’ll tell you, Neil doesn’t feel paranoid or uptight about America. In fact, when America approached Elliot and I to manage them, we called up Neil and said: “Listen, America wants us to manage them.” To which he replied: “You’re kidding… how funny, so what are you going to do?”

We told Neil that if he objected we wouldn’t carry the matter any further. He said he didn’t object and in fact expressed a desire to meet them, to the point of inviting them up to his ranch.

As a matter of fact they met all of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young — and all of them like America. The first thing David said to them was: “I like your records very much.” And America replied: “Thank you, we like your records as well,” and David immediately quipped: “That’s obvious.” As they are older than America, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young almost feel paternal.

There’s a feeling in the industry that you’ve only taken on management of America in order to have control over the competitive threat they may have towards your other artists.

That’s ridiculous, America’s not competition for Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. First of all, we didn’t take America, they begged us to take them on.

They called us, flew to the States, moved there to be with us — because they were very unhappy with their past management. They felt so paranoid about the way in which they were being handled that they couldn’t create.

They are very nice, very young and brand new. In many ways they are infants, and what they are doing now is not nearly as productive, to what they can be doing in five, years.

The fact that you have no written agreements surely places you in the somewhat precarious position of possibly being left holding the baby?

That’s one of the chances you take. For instance, we’ve already invested 100,000 dollars in the Eagles… it hasn’t cost them a single penny.

There’s always one thing you can count on, and that’s at one point or another groups do break up. We do everything possible to keep our acts together. We try to keep them happy, healthy, protected, see that they have sufficient money and a certain amount of peace of mind, and hope that it will stay together. If a group breaks up, it breaks up.

What about the adverse criticism that greeted CSN&Y’s ‘Ohio’ and Neil and Graham’s current single ‘War Song’?

‘Ohio’ was banned by a lot of radio stations and ‘War Song’ has been banned by even more stations. ‘War Song’ was recorded by Neil and Graham as a personal contribution to Senator McGovern, who we all feel very forcibly about as a very strong hope for change in America.

That record was a gift. They (Neil and Graham) make no money from it, everything has been donated to McGovern. It was done as a magnanimous gesture. A lot of stations won’t play it because they’re afraid. But others are playing it.

Apart from the difficulties you can expect to encounter when putting out such records, I feel that if someone feels prone towards making a statement, then they should make their statement.

Have you encountered any direct pressures from official sources?

Absolutely none. David Crosby insists that he does, but I think it’s more paranoia than anything else. I mean David has said some of the most outrageous things in concert about Nixon, but I don’t think Nixon cares very much… he probably doesn’t know who David Crosby is.

Do you worry when you see one of your artists — Stephen Stills for instance — doing things which you consider damaging to his career?

Absolutely. At times it becomes very hard to watch. Stephen and I have been together for many years. I’m very fond of him and wish him only the best. When I see Stephen doing things that I think are wrong… I tell him so and he doesn’t listen. That’s the time when we have to come to a parting of the ways.

I certainly am not going to be a part of somebody ruining their career or doing those things that I think are tragically wrong things. The only reason for staying involved in a situation like that is that you might hang on to the bread, and I don’t.

Now you’ve set up Asylum Records, is it your intention to eventually get all your artists to place their product with you in the same way that Joni Mitchell has?

I’ll put it this way. If they want to record for Asylum Records I would love to have them, but if they would prefer to stay with Atlantic, Reprise or Warner Brothers, then they are free to do so.

There is no obligation on anybody’s part to record for Asylum… Asylum is a very good record company, and if they want to be there, great. So too are Warner Brothers, Atlantic and Reprise. We have no problems dealing with any of these labels, for I feel that the Kinney group is the finest group of record companies in the world.

Most of your artists have been extensively bootlegged. Has this affected official record sales?

No. But bootlegs affect the artist, because they are not up to the quality that these artists would like to have, and they don’t get any money from them.

After all, you write for a living and if someone took your articles and reprinted them in another paper and didn’t pay you, I guess you’d be pissed off. Specially if you’re in the middle of a conversation somewhere and there’s somebody sitting next to you there with a cassette recorder. Then you have a right to feel annoyed.

What are the major obstacles you encounter in your professional role?

Elliot and I try to avoid those things that will complicate an artist’s life and work against them being creative. We also want to help young new artists… that’s the thing we enjoy most.

America have been the only act that were already super-successful before we managed them. Everybody else was relatively unknown and it’s been a joy to watch them grow. At the moment, we are getting the same thrill from seeing the Eagles, Jackson Browne, Jo Jo Gunne, Judee Sill happen.

With each new act, does it become less of a personal challenge?

No, not at all, it’s always hard. It’s as hard to do it with Jackson Browne as it was to do it with Joni Mitchell five years ago. The trouble is that so few people want to give new things a chance, but the fun is in discovering new talent and helping them to make it.

What qualifications do you look for in an act before you will represent them?

Well, as you can imagine we get approached by a lot of successful acts because they are having managerial difficulties. The thing is that we’ve got to like them, because a manager-artist relationship should be a very close personal thing, and if you don’t get on together at this level then there’s going to be no fun in doing it. As it was no longer fun with Stephen Stills.

I’d like to make one thing clear, we don’t pursue artists who already have managers, because we respect a relationship that an artist has with his manager. I mean America came to us. We didn’t go to them.

If an exceptionally successful act came to you for management and you didn’t like their music, would you represent them? For an example, let’s take Grand Funk Railroad.

I wouldn’t manage Grand Funk Railroad for all the money in the world. I don’t like their music and there’s no way that I could feel honest in trying to sell them to anybody.

Even if I liked them personally, in their particular case I certainly could not be their manager, or manager for any other act who turn me off as much as they do musically. I would feel like the world’s worst hypocrite.

What are your feelings about groups who prefer to handle their own management?

I think it’s very dumb for a group to handle its own business, for at some point or other it must interfere with the music. The Beatles were the greatest group in the world, four people and Brian Epstein who was part of it all.

Then sadly he dies and they hire Allen Klein and the whole thing falls apart, which has never ceased to amaze me. Obviously they must think he’s a great manager. To me a manager is someone who keeps it all going.

© Roy CarrNew Musical Express, 22 July 1972

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