Artist Management: One Long Game of Creative Chutzpah

The first months that I worked as an artist’s manager for Bill Graham at Fillmore Management in 1969 was like attending an anarchist university. There were no structured courses, no schedule, no time clocks and no rules. Not only did I not know what I did not know; I didn’t know how tangled and corrupt some of the knowledge that eventually came my way would be and the toll it would take on me and the artists that I managed.

I was the only woman in management level in a building that encompassed Fillmore Records, Millard (Talent) Agency and Fillmore Management. I looked naïve and was on a lot of levels. Management was a competitive game with shifting team members within the company, a dynamic it took some getting used to. Sometimes learning was about what others didn’t know.

Management of bands at Fillmore Management was a lot more complex than just finding gigs for the bands and acting as surrogate den mother. My job included being the main money boss, chief sales person, contract negotiator, publishing administrator, mediator, press agent and person that hired and fired supplemental personnel, including musicians not central to the core band. I was expected to be conversant and knowledgeable about all the contracts that my bands had or would face.

My first surprise was that I learned it was ‘illegal’ in California (and a few other states) for artist managers to get gigs for their bands. That was the job of booking agents. The only time I saw this to be a real problem was when bands and their managers got crosswise with each other and bands then had an excuse to fire the manager.

It was also illegal for bands to play clubs that weren’t union. Jobs in union clubs were very difficult to come by for Lamb, Victoria or Pamela Polland. They were reserved for major rock bands that would fill the club with drinking customers.

And unless bands had big draws (audiences) outside of town, booking agents only got gigs for them during the three months after their records were released by ‘packaging’ them with more established artists. That was the harshest lesson about working with the Millard Agency. Sometimes members of Millard Agency would throw us a booking bone, often not.

Rock ‘n roll dominated the Fillmore conglomerate that included Santana, Beautiful Day, Elvin Bishop and Cold Blood. Bill Graham would try and book Lamb or Victoria at Fillmore, but more often than not, they would be packaged with name rock bands. When Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young headlined Fillmore West, the bands sequenced at the bottom of the poster were Cold Blood-Joy of Cooking -Lamb. I never asked Bill whether the puns were intended.DownloadedFile-1

Fighting within the company for attention to my bands was ongoing throughout the five years I worked there. it helped prepare me for the same dynamic when by bands had their records released on major labels (next vignette).

Maneuvering in these craggy shoals to make sure that my bands had paying work was chancy.

Creative Chutzpah
Bill Graham was not unaware that I was spending time on his nickel managing Pamela and looking for record deals for her. One day, he summoned me to the front office.

Gruff voice. “Why am I paying you to manage Pamela Polland?”

“First of all, at the time you hired me, I was getting it on for all the acoustic bands in the city. And fulfilling some management capacities for Lamb and Victoria by fiat. What was good for them was equally good for Pamela.” I took a breath.

“And second of all?” He said, more gruffly. His eyes bore right into mine.

“Second, the issue doesn’t seem to be that I’m not doing a stellar job for Lamb and Victoria. What is at issue is that you don’t want to sign Pamela to Fillmore Management. But neither do you want to lose my services on behalf of Lamb or Victoria. So maybe one way to resolve this is to cut a new deal. I’ll give you a small percentage of my management percentage for Pamela, in exchange for the same from Lamb and Victoria. Salary remains the same.”

This deal had come to me in a creative flash. It was a way out for both of us.

The offer came so far out of left field that Bill just stood there for quite a few minutes without saying anything. Then he held out his hand and we shook on it.

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