In The Mix – #9 ( Movers and Shakers – part one.) with Jane Risdon

Don Arden

In The Mix – #9

Movers and Shakers – part one.

I’m writing another music related novel and it got me thinking about those who have shaped the business in the last 60 decades or so. I’ve met many forceful and iconic figures both in music – especially rock and R&B – and in the movie business, and I like I’d share something about a few of them with you. I thought I’d start with rock music managers.
The music business is an interesting business there’s no doubt about it and there are some very ‘interesting’ characters working in it. If you have worked professionally in the business you’ve probably come across some legends – movers and shakers – whose names and reputations are almost – if not – as famous as some of the artists they’ve managed, signed, or the record companies they’ve run.
Most people have heard of (the late) Don Arden, father of Sharon Osbourne and father-in-law to the fascinating Ozzy. Don still makes the hairs stand up on the back of some necks. No-one ever messed with him! He was known as ‘The Godfather of Rock,’ ‘The Al Capon of Pop,’ and ‘Mr Big,’ and was one of the meanest most feared men in the industry. He had been a singer at one time.
Don managed such acts as Gene Vincent (briefly), Black Sabbath, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Air Supply, Small Faces, The Move, and Electric Light Orchestra. Sharon, who went on to manage her husband’s band, learned her trade at her father’s feet; she and Ozzy’s battles with her father are legendary.
Dons battles with his artists and other managers are legendary too. The Bee Gees manager, Robert Stigwood, was interested in becoming The Small Faces manager and Don got wind of it. He turned up at Stigwood’s home with some ‘friends’ and grabbed Stigwood from his seat and dangled him from his fourth floor balcony. That was the end of his interest in The Small Faces.
Jimmy Page was also the object of his anger. Before the Zeppelin days Jimmy and Keith Moon were forming a band and Steve Marriott (Small Faces) was being considered for the band. Don heard about it and sent a message to Jimmy saying something along the lines, ’how would you like to play in a band with broken fingers?’ They looked elsewhere for a singer and the rest is history, and so was the Small Faces’ complaint they were not being paid what they were owed. Don could call upon his own ‘muscle’ to deal with discontent.
I met Sharon back in the late 1980s in Los Angeles at a rock convention when Ozzy was performing. She was with Wendy James Dio – wife of the late Ronnie James Dio – at the time. Both came across as very professional and competent yet engaging people too. Sharon had not yet become a ‘reality TV star.’
Some years before several members of Black Sabbath came to a rock show I’d produced at a top London venue and I met Tommy Iommi and Geezer Butler. It was around that time the movie ‘Spinal Tap,’ had come out and a number of bands were purported to be the inspiration for the band in the movie. Certainly the Stonehenge episode sounds a lot like an event involving Black Sabbath’s stage show at one time.
So many famous rock/heavy metal bands said they recognised themselves in the movie – it really was an amalgamation of a number of bands – and it has become known as an accurate portrayal of life with a rock band on the road. I can vouch for that, having managed many rock and heavy metal bands and I’ve shared some of these experiences in my series ‘In the Mix’ which is serialised in The Writers Newsletter.
There was also (the late) great Peter Grant, manager of the fantastic Led Zeppelin until he died. He was someone I met many years ago at the very first ‘In The City Music Manager’s Forum,’ in the Midlands (UK) and I thought he seemed like a nice man in spite of his reputation for ruthlessness where his band were concerned. He was also an actor and appeared in many movies and TV series and often used to body double Robert Morley as well.
Like Arden and Osbourne he was a force to be reckoned with where his artists and the business was concerned. Peter managed The Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin, Nashville Teens, Jeff Beck Group, Maggie Bell and Bad Company among others, and has been described as one of the most ruthless and shrewdest managers in rock history. However, he was also one of the most respected.
He turned down the chance to manage Queen and was in talks with Colonel Parker for an Elvis UK tour when Elvis suddenly died before it could be finalised.
Peter is widely recognised and credited for the way he changed how artists got paid by venues – his ‘persuasive presence’ (he always travelled with his bands) meant he managed to keep travel expenses to a minimum and ensure bands such as The Yardbirds made money from the concerts they played and that they were paid on time. Peter was a huge mountain of a man and had been known to use his fists.
Peter also insisted his bands retained artistic control. He was hands-on unlike many managers who’d rarely set foot inside the venues where their acts played. He was credited with improving the pay and conditions for musicians dealing with concert promoters.
Peter Grant always made sure the artists came first and they got paid and paid properly.
Books have been written about many of the legends one hears about – their tactics and the way they conducted business but, as far as I’m aware, there haven’t been any libel cases against the authors. Food for thought. These guys shaped the music business and without them we might not have had the legendary rock bands we’ve enjoyed for decades.
Part two next month.
The information referred to in this article is in the public domain.
Peter Grant:
Don Arden:
Jane Risdon:
Jane is co-author of Only One Woman with Christina Jones and countless short stories. She’s contributed to 15 anthologies, numerous online magazine articles and newsletters. Her background is in the International Music Business as an artist manager: managing singers, songwriters, musicians, actors, as well as record producers, and has facilitated the use of her artist’s and songwriter’s music on TV and Movie soundtracks. She is married to a musician.



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