Transcribe your podcast
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Physically, I don't think I ever felt scared, but scared every day that I'm not going to pull it off. I thought a lot of weight of people's lives on your shoulders. I still get scared when I'm doing something, but I think that fear is good to drive it and make sure it's better.

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Hello and welcome. I'm Shane Parrish and this is the Knowledge, a podcast exploring the ideas, methods and mental models that help you learn from the best of what other people have already figured out. You can learn more about the podcast and stay up to date at F-stop Blogs podcast. We also have a newsletter that comes out every Sunday. It's called Brainfeeder. It's free impact with all the best content we've come across all week. That's worth reading and thinking about.

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It contains, quote, good recommendations and articles and so much more. You can learn more and stop logged newsletter. Today I'm talking with Shep Gordon, the Rolling Stones named Chef, one of the most 100 influential people in the world. And while Shep prefers to remain behind the scenes, you've likely heard of some of the people he's worked with or helped create. Alice Cooper, Mike Myers, Jimi Hendrix, Sylvester Stallone, Michael Douglas, Emeril, Wolfgang Puck, Roger Virgini and so many others.

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I would go on, but it would just sound like I'm namedropping for the next hour. At first the audio is a bit windy because we're sitting outside on his lawn in Hawaii. Eventually we move inside so it gets a little better. Shep is one of the most interesting people I've ever met, and it's very difficult to summarize this conversation. We're going to talk drugs, how fame doesn't equal happiness, how to manufacture popularity and explore life. It's time to listen and learn.

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The Knowledge Project is sponsored by Medlab for a decade, Medlab has helped some of the world's top companies and entrepreneurs build products that millions of people use every day. You probably didn't realize that at the time, but odds are you've used an app that they've helped design or build apps like Slack, Coinbase, Facebook Messenger, Oculus, Lonely Planet and many more.

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Medlab wants to bring their unique design philosophy to your project. Let them take your brainstorm and turn it into the next billion dollar app from ideas sketched on the back of a napkin to a final ship product. Check them out at Medlab Dutko. That's Medlab Dutko. And when you get in touch, tell them Shane sent you.

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Chap, I'm so happy to be sitting here with you in Hawaii, even though it's freezing by your standards, it's getting to talk to you. This is such a great experience.

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Thank you for coming. You grew up with a brother who was the favorite child. What was that like? You know, as I think probably every child, it's all, you know, so that was life probably after a lot of my foundation was formed that I realized not everybody's brother treated them like that and that those were choices you made, not life choices made for you, that you could choose how you felt with people very competitive at all. Not at all.

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We didn't. We don't. I love my brother, but we don't know each other. I probably know you know as well as I know him. What was the biggest lesson you learned from your mom as a child? Listen and be compassionate to people.

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What does that mean to you? That compassionate, be sensitive to people, show them love. Listen to them. Don't be cruel to them. Don't take out your whatever went wrong with you that they have someone else and try and make every interaction sort of like a Johnny Appleseed, you know, make someone's day a little bit better by interacting with you. You can't do it all the time. It's not possible. But I think that thought makes for a better world.

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We're just one species that's very complicated, but totally.

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Is that what made you and you became a parole officer, I think, for a day or two?

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Yeah. That was just to buy lunch and a little bit of altruism. You know, I don't know if I was watching the Western movies.

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I don't know if it was the Jewish culture of understanding that I was from a group of humans who had been persecuted for whatever the reasons were. I was very quiet. I sort of stayed in my room most of my go. I got to college, but I always had this vision of really silly vision of myself on a white horse, like charging in and saving the day when I saw the job for the parole officer was really one of the first times I manifested that I was at the New School for Social Research in New York.

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I was a psychedelic kid. It was during the Reagan era there was a big song called I Want to Wear Flower in My Hair and Go to San Francisco. I love that song. At the new school, they came in recruiting for parole officers for California because we were all sociology majors. They were the only two jobs you could get was parole officer, social worker. That's all sociology in those days led towards. And I didn't graduate, but I said, gee, what an offer.

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The guy said, you don't have to. You can still apply. And I said, what a great opportunity to see these kids from Ronald Reagan. And my image was kids up against the wall at the whiskey and longhairs up against the wall and Latinos up against the wall. And I could be that Jew on the white horse that was a little high on acid. So that's what brought me to California. I stopped in San Francisco, lived in a commune for about a week, got the song out of my system.

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And I never had air to put the flowers. But I got the that I went down to L.A. and got the job and came in with that attitude, OK, kids, everything's great. Now I'm here very naive. I'll save you. I'll save the day. Here you go. To save the day like Mighty Mouse. And the officer showed me very fast who was in charge that they didn't want me. They sent me out. They said the kids are going to have a softball game.

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We need you to just watch you make sure they don't hit each other. And slowly, the kids got around me and sure, there were no other guards. There were pretty cool. I think they could have really hurt me. I realized after I left there that they really didn't and they probably could have, but they made it appear as if they were. And finally, it seemed like five minutes. It probably was thirty seconds. The guards came out, took me in the office and had a very frank conversation with me.

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I had long hair down on my shoulders and California penal system. And so I quit that. And that was my first time on a white horse charge. You get to not the last time, not the last, but sort of become my life. I still get that image. I do laugh at it now, but I'll be in the middle of a project and, you know, should. Here you go again. Got that. And then you ended up at a hotel and you heard a scream.

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I think it was a jolly good time on my horse. That was so that was that night. So this is the white horse again. It hit twice in a 24 hour period. But this time it would be more of I mean, it would be more beneficial. It would lead to another. So what happened is I was feeling very dejected. The white horse had been slaughtered, that I dragged myself off the battlefield and driving in L.A. and I was sort of daydreaming about how fucked my life was.

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And I had no money. All I had was some acid with me. And for my old days of a pharmaceutical dealer, Anthony Bourdain put it. If anyone knows L.A. that when you come off the freeway, I think it's Hylander Laperriere. If you're in the right lane, you have to make a right. I was daydreaming. I was headed towards Sunset Boulevard where I heard there were cheap motels. One of the other probation guys had told me and I had to get in the right lane and it took me out to this place and there was a motel side vacancy.

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So I went in and I got a room, I think it was fifty nine dollars. And I had like enough money for 20 days or something. And I went out on the balcony and took some acid and just thinking about how fucked my life is. One day at work I got no job, I have no money, I have no family out here, I have nothing. And I heard a girl screaming and I just come from jail. So my thought was something ugly, which is where I just come from.

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And I saw these two sort of bodies wrestling. And I for some reason, my mind went through rape and for the second time I'm going to be the guy on the white horse. I'm going to go save her. So I went down and I threw this guy off and she punched me in the jaw. They were making love and my lip a little bit. I went there for the morning and the girl was laughing and pulled me over and she was Janis Joplin.

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I don't know who she was making love to that night, but at the pool, she was sitting next to Jimi Hendrix, who is not the guy that night. A lot of people have interpreted this as a stupid. That's not true. He became a good customer of my pharmaceutical business. And luckily for me, at one point gave me a street education, which I never had. I was from the suburbs and I went bought a car that was doing fairly well.

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And you said, what are you going to tell the police if they ask you where you got the money for the car? And I said, you know, I come from Long Island. Nobody asked you where you got the money to buy a car. And he said, well, you're in L.A. They do. You said you better have an answer. And I had long hair of the hip. Right. So you targeted, you know, so I said, I don't know.

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He said, are you Jewish? And I said, you should be a manager. And the Chambers Brothers were sitting there and he turned to Lester and said, The band, Phoenix, Felixstowe, in your basement. You should tell them you found the Jewish guy, the manager, village manager. And that's how I thought it was. That was speaker 50 years ago. As crazy as most of my life has been that I was talking to a new friend a couple of weeks ago, we were talking about that subject and he's very calculated.

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I never wanted to be a manager and I wanted to make movies. I never I didn't care about chefs. There's nothing that I ended up making my living at that I broke up.

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I got to make a movie or I got to be in the music business. I didn't have a scenario where for 25 years music doesn't really interest me. I rarely watch a movie. I haven't seen most of my own. It never was about that for me. It was I realized through Alice and a few other people, I actually was good at helping people get what they wanted. If what they wanted was fame. I wasn't the best at getting him wealthy, but I was really good at getting fame.

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Like at the time, Alice wasn't famous at all. Nobody ever heard of them. And you were not. You had no idea.

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We had no idea what I was doing. So I put me through a little bit about I mean, Alice was complicated. They started as a track team, put on Beatles wigs. The girls scream. They decided to be a band, not really musicians that really, you know, sort of like me. A couple of them were art students. Alice was called the Arizona State record for twenty six mile run. They're athletes. Dennis was an art student, had been an Alice and Dennis were all students.

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And their idol was Dolly. And not being musicians, their show started to take on. Some things were very disjointed, very abstract. Nothing that anybody in the audience could understand. Lester took me to see him and they were opening for the doors and a place called the Cheetah, and they basically empty the room. Terrible. Terrible. Well, I mean, terrible to strange word of that judgment. It was very strong. It got, you know, fifteen hundred people to get up and leave.

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That's that's power. But when the doors opened up next and they were doing these really weird things, like one song was a picture frame, Alice's head out the window. The whole song was Nobody likes me, nobody likes me. Why don't you like me? Know you all hate me. Nobody likes me. OK, we don't like you. We leave. So it was interesting. Our statement certainly had power, but it wasn't what you do if you want to become famous.

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Right. It's not supposed to be polarizing. Yes. Although it is no doubt about it. So that's what I saw when I went to see you with two hands to this. I was doing very well in my pharmaceutical business. I didn't know anything about management. I didn't really want to manage. And he was. That was just your cover story. Yeah. So the last thing I wanted was somebody successful.

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And here is a group that empty the room. This is the perfect act for me. Yeah. Then people all around me started getting into trouble and I didn't want to get into trouble. The only thing I had in my life was Alice. And I wanted it. I didn't want to starve to death. So we had a very frank conversation, all of us, you know, and we were maybe the best of what we all did. But what I remember it a lot.

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I told him, I said I only took like 12 people just start Christianity because they believed they had less to sell than we did. And we got seven people. We can do pretty good. And then we started to develop a story we could get people to believe in. And the new school, there was a a professor who gave a lecture about the effect of Elvis Presley not being able to show his hips on TV, the effect of the Beatles having long hair it how it motivated the kids was hatred of parents.

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And that art was a very abstract form. But they were cultural revolutions, like every kid rebelled against its parents. So if you can be that definition of rebellion, you could be the thing that the parents hate that they can say they love. That's how you get to be Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Sinatra. You can't get that big by people just like a year or so. You know, I said, hey, fucking everybody ran out of the room.

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That's if we can get parents to say they ran out seeing you there, kids will flock to see you. And that's where we went through and it worked. And during the course of it, they figured out how to transform their artistic endeavors onto the stage. Yeah. So they became better players. Alice became a great songwriter, in my opinion. I think in the last twenty years or so, he's become a great vocalist. They really developed their stuff.

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But that was the the opening volley. So then for me, I didn't know if if I got really lucky or if this theory really worked, not necessarily that one theory, but the way that you look at the world of creating history rather than waiting for it to happen, because that's what we did with Dallas. We just created what we thought we wanted to have happen. We wanted tickets every night. How do you get tickets from an animal ASPCA?

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They'll show up every single night. I said chicken. Yeah. So this story just said everybody else I understand is I think it was Toronto, wasn't it was opening for John Lennon. Right. So there's a Canadian connection here, which is also you've got him played on the Canadian. So that's how we got there. Play. Yeah. And then you threw a chicken on the stage and he found it. It was very important, Tucker. He threw it into the audience and it came back fairly similar to Smith or was it a pretty sight, but it made for great great for us.

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So they actually the press was it Dallas ripped its head off and drank the blood. And we never claimed that it wasn't true. Wasn't true. Well, he never claimed it wasn't true. And that's what catapulted him. And then that led to the first record of Canada pass the Canadian content. What was the two thirds of the records played on Canadian radio? How to beat two out of three Canadian recorded, Canadian produced Canadian musicians. Canadian written.

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It was two out of the four, three out of the four. And the number one what was called. Breakout station in those days was scaled out of Windsor, Ontario. It was very early in the game and I said, that's how we're getting on the air. And we went up to Toronto and found the guys who did it, guess who who had a studio in Toronto and gave a guy, found a cowriter, Canadian, and brought the records to Canadian content, which I don't think an American band had ever done before.

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One of the ways that you've helped people become famous, you're not a one trick pony by any stretch of the imagination because one of your other early clients was Ann Murray, the Canadian folk singer who didn't, you know, throw chickens. And, you know, Ed was the other side of the coin and was a great artist who had no credibility with the audience. She had no image. She had no credibility. She was an unknown until you told them Snowbird and oh, what a great song.

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So my challenge with her was, how do you get her to be the sweetheart of Rolling Stone when they won't even, you know, put an interview in three sentences? And I knew her talent at that point, as opposed to Alice, who was developing his talent. Her talent was her vocal chords. She'd just sit on a stool. Right. But she had the purest voice, the most amount of octaves. She's got to be who she is.

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How do you do that? So I always used to laugh at a thing I called guilt by association to put someone famous next to someone who was not famous. All of a sudden, they become famous. Kim Kardashian is maybe our prime example today of that. Yeah, that was what I thought I needed to do for any. And I knew if I got the right group of people to take a photo with her, I could then talk my way on to like the midnight specials, the Rolling Stones.

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But I and I got really lucky. John Lennon happened to be in L.A. It was a dark period. He was never in L.A. And the Harry Nilsson was in town and Alice and Mickey Dolenz was in the picture. And they all went to a place called the Rainbow to drink. And I used to be the designated driver home was Thanksgiving Day or the day before Thanksgiving. And he was playing the Troubadour. I begged and got him to come over for like three minutes and take a photo.

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And that photo changed her life. Was the pharmacist become the designated driver? Yeah, I was always I was always the driver. Even under control. Was always good for beer. Yeah, I always stayed in control. So, yeah, that brokered and hosted the midnight special and it got big space in Rolling Stone. And she was off and running because once you looked inside, she was so powerful. You when my job was to get people to look inside.

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How did you feel at this point? I was on a roll. I was a Hollywood kind of in a more coke or cars or girls or fame or college. What's life on the road like? Life on the road for me was making sure there was a Bloody Mary next to my bed when I woke up in the morning. That was the most important thing of life on the road. Life on the road for me was different. I never really after Alice.

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I never really had I always had some a tour manager or someone to take care of. So my life was much more back at the office trying to find quiet time to figure out. I always felt my job for an artist, whether they were a chef or a filmmaker or a musicalized was to get ahead of them a year and build a highway for them and try and make sure they avoided the potholes. Come back every once in a while and check.

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But that was because I had a lot of artists and a lot of things going. I couldn't really give personal service. There are artists I manage that I met once in my life twice in my life. I married four years. My job was to get them down to one name at least. I felt my job was to get, you know, no one else to Luther who or I kill who or Groucho who or Alice who or that. It was that and it was to give them a roadmap for the year.

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Um, other than that, pick berries, you know, take the phone calls and pick the right ones that so much of it is not planned, but it's knowing what to say yes and no to for your artist because they come at you, you know, you can't sell a car commercial or a Disney voice very hard. You have to be consistent with this image that you're. Yeah. And you have to understand what what's coming in that's real and not real, because once you get to a certain point of fame, the filtering system is really important.

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So my job was wasn't to be with the artist, not to get to know them. Not that my job was to get them famous and then filter. And so I would do the filtering for all the access and then I'd give it to some guy. Give it to him as they pass on this immediately or investigate this. Let me know what's happening or we want this get it immediately just to keep that highway on a path. What's it like dealing with all of these egos, I would imagine, as people became more famous?

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Do you think that revealed who they are or do you think it changed to that there?

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Once I did, Alyson and Marie. What I realized fairly early was the toughest thing was dealing with the fame. That was really the hardest thing. And it was the thing that was completely out of my control, just out of my control. I couldn't, you know, psychologically. So what I did is I set up a rule in my office that we didn't take access until after they had already had a number when I started recording and they were meaningful on the road.

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I think we set our barrier 3500 people or something so that they had already been tested if they were going to drop out from fame. They had their shit together. We may take it to a new level, but at least Alice was the only act I ever created and even had a number one record when I took it. But it was. So that was my filter system. So I didn't waste my time. Is that where a lot of people sort of like run into problems that thirty five hundred sort of audience size and you don't see it as the public.

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What are the problems.

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Everyone's different. And when I say problems, I'm not speaking as much problems for them or problems for the audience. Problems for a manager.

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They're not smart enough to understand that it's a team, so many of them still think it's just them. So you come up with this brilliant idea and they shoot you down. And I don't you know, I'm not I don't do this to buy lunch. And I'm really proud of what I do mind. And I feel like I'm performing art. And I wanted to deal with people who really appreciate what I do really understand that I'm going to fuck up at times because I go way out, but then I'm going to protect them.

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And I don't want to deal with those conversations of that. I see every other manager go through. We have to, you know, convince them that you're on their side. And I think sitting in a Jacuzzi, having a joint, get really excited and get to the phone and saying, I got it. And they go to the mirror myself for like a year later and go and high five we go, motherfucker, you pull that off. That's my joy.

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Yeah. You know, that's that's maybe that's my white horse. Still, I've come to realize what my joy is. I've come to realize I'm never going to be the guy that the name is going to be on an office building. You know, that's about it. Accumulator Sammy Hagar in his book, I think tells it the best. When he joined Van Halen, he wanted them to for me to manage him. And they came out of the office.

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And the first thing I said to him, listen, if money is your goal, I'm the wrong guy that took care of that meeting.

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That's what's the difference.

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I mean, I would imagine a lot of people are sort of in this for money versus sort of like for women for money. There's no question of it. Yeah, but that's one of many things I don't want to overstate it. Well, everybody's in it for money and all the artists are going to put money into it for money. It's those choices that you make. For example, the way I met Sammy, Alice was headlining in Orlando, Florida, an outdoor show.

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We were getting thirty five hundred dollars, maybe twenty five hundred dollars as the headliner. The opening act was Montreaux. They were getting one hundred and fifty dollars. They had five guys in the band. A hurricane came in to the stage. The promoter didn't pay anyone. I knew that these guys at one hundred and fifty bucks, that's a fucking killer. That means you're not in a motel. You're all in one room at night. You're not in the one room.

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Yeah, that means I'm missing a meal. Yeah. So I went to Dallas and I said, hey, here's what happened. I think we should give the hundred fifty men. Absolutely whatever you think as you get bigger, those choices you make every day, what do you pay. The lighting guy and his wife's pregnancy isn't good and he doesn't have insurance. There's choices like that every day that if you're there for the money, the answer's always going to be no.

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Everybody has a right to their choice. I don't want to be a part of those no's. I want to be a part of something where I can be a human being, do my job when and have everybody else win. Why is it important to have a baby? It's my white horse. I have no idea. And maybe it's my father always felt there were you know, there was a large time in my life when I used to question it and now I just don't question it anymore.

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I know it makes me feel good. I feel better about myself. Soon after Alice, I became at a point in my life where I didn't have to do other stuff, which is not to say I don't work hard. I mean, take the weight of a person's life on your shoulders. That's tough shit, because they only have one life, you lose them and you can destroy that life or make it. I got 35 lives, I move on, I move right to the next one.

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How do you maintain integrity in an industry that seems, at least from the outside, notorious for a lack of integrity and lack of relationships? And you never had a contract? The ballots never had a contract that anybody only also had a contract with, with anybody whose lawyer made me sign a contract. That's the only one around the contract. It doesn't mean anything. It's meaningless. They want to leave. Goodbye. No problem. The way I do my business, it's all based on trust.

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They have to trust me and I have to trust them. And if we don't have that trust, for me, it doesn't work because of what I'm looking to get out of it selfishly for me, which is to be able to win and win in a way that everybody else wins. Win, win. So if they don't trust me and I don't trust them, and then why are we doing this for. Yeah, you know, if you need a contract to enforce trust, then.

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Yeah, yeah. Then then you have a problem. And it's not only a problem that creates the problem. You've now created the problem because now you're getting into technicalities and now you're into a place where fuck, I had to sign the trust. It's all now. It's lawyers now. It's a whole different game and it goes both ways. You know, when you fuck up, if you have a contract, they beat the shit out of you.

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When it's trust, the guy can say to you, I know you did the best you tried. I appreciate you trying. That's what I would always say to my artist. They say to me, I've never had an artist when I failed backtrack on me ever. I don't think because we cover it, we cover the failure. What happens when people become famous? I think everybody's very different. I think you certainly have to figure out a way to live your life through it.

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It's certainly different because you have all the energy coming out. But alas, it hasn't changed one iota. Michael Douglas is a good friend, hasn't changed one iota for both of them, have gone through valleys where it's just beat the shit out of him, but they've come back to be exactly who they were. So I don't know. I'm not famous enough to really completely understand what their total loss of privacy is all about. But I know that the advice that I give to everyone I've worked with and the ones that are able to do it or even a little later on in life is to always think about the person that's out there as a character, put it to sleep.

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Like when you when you go out to dinner, you're Michael Douglas. You got to be Michael Douglas. The second you get back to the house, zip up the costume, put it in a closet and go be who you are. Just thinking about it in those terms makes it so much easier, because when that guy gets a bad review, he's in the closet fucking. When you get a bad review, you have to take it personally. You can't not take it personally.

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Alice is completely not affected by anything that anybody ever says professionally. That sounds pretty unique. I mean, I don't think I think more and more. I mean, a lot of the chefs I've worked with, I've I've seen them having trouble and then just changing that little mindset, just that little mindset. Talk to me about cooking. That's become like a large part of your life. And there was. How did you get interested in Hannaway? I had a chef who mentored me.

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That was Roger Roger Bergey. I had an amazing amount of respect for and love for you to imagine my life without him. And I saw the way that his class of artists was being treated and the lack of monetizing of it, which led to the lack of respect. And who were some of the greatest artists in the world who were doing the most other than mothering, maybe the most important thing in the world feeding us. And they're being treated like cooks like pieces of shit ship with these great artists.

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It just really hurt me. So I decided I had the skills that could change that. It was the same thing I was doing for my other artists, much easier, because already the way the cultural wave was so evident to anybody who looked at it, you couldn't get into Spago, you couldn't get into Charlie Trotter, you couldn't get it. Delicious. I don't care how much money you had, you could be, you know, the Texas billionaire of all time.

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You could buy front row tickets for the theater. Ten minutes before the show starts, you could be on the 50 yard line at the Super Bowl. You could be behind the home plate at the World Series. You couldn't you get a table of spaghetti. I don't give a fuck who you are. And that shows demand for what I do. Demand is everything. That's 100 percent of my game is creating the man. So the man was already there, it was how do you explain to the people who can write the checks that the demand is there to use them to create demand for their products?

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I always think of this in the sense of the value you create and the value you capture. And if those things are out of balance, point to one side of you. You capture more than you create. You'll go bankrupt or out of business. If you don't capture enough, you won't be able to create. Yeah, I mean, you have to open the curtain to peek in, but when they peak in, you better have something. They're right or they're gone forever.

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Yeah. You know, so for me, the chefs, your idea was really outside. Groups of artists get to a place where they made nothing to where they're billionaires and they all had the same kind of things in common, which was broadcast Soul Food Network. You know, some network became my goal. The first thing I said to the guys in the meeting, I find everybody the same day. So. So what happened was everything for me is anti jerk.

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So I went with Mr. Vergès on a tour and for the first time we realized he wasn't getting paid. He was paying his own hotel rooms and places where they were throwing million dollar dinners. It reminded me so much of the chitlin circuit for black artists with Teddy was exactly the same thing with who were these? You know, sofas open the resort in Palm Springs. They called it the million dollar opening featuring Roger Bourgie, and they had one hundred thousand dollars worth of caviar and Cristal champagne.

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And so we went to check in and they gave him the shittiest room in the hotel. They asked for his credit card for extras. I said, How much are you getting paid for your shop? I do not get paid. Are you kidding me? With that extra money, you're not getting paid a million dollars. When we're trying to leave, I can't find where he set the bar. So first came out with a wine. He's at the pool holding the wine.

[00:35:02]

He has his own wine line. Roger Bourgie shooting for Food and Wine magazine. I said, excuse me, how much are they paying? Or it would not pay me for this. And that happened this whole journey. I got so pissed off. I said to at the end of the trip that I was going back to L.A., I had Kenny Loggins at the Ritz on the Big Island for a corporate affair for one of the car companies. And I got so pissed off.

[00:35:29]

I said, Mr. Vijay, from now on, please have these people call me. This is what I do for a living. I can't. This is after I knew him for ten years. I said, I can't see you treated like this. I don't care about the money, but I can't see you treated like this. It's just not right. When I got to the big island I rented to Wolfgang Puck, he was doing the dinner for the event that Kenny Loggins was playing it.

[00:35:52]

And I told him the story and he said, Are you kidding, chef? You want to hear my story? I said, Tell me what? And he said, And I knew Wolf only through Vergès. You know, I knew all the chefs. He was doing the same convention we were we were getting one hundred fifty thousand plus all expenses a week at the hotel for the band, everybody. He was promised to first class tickets and a suite two days before he left.

[00:36:17]

They called him up and asked them they couldn't source the food. Could he bring the certain products with me? Came up to one hundred and fifty pounds of food. He gets to the airport, it's two coach tickets. You get to the airport at the Ritz. There's no one to meet him. He calls up the chef. I'm so sorry. We're very busy. Take a cab now with one hundred fifty pounds. You got to take three cabs.

[00:36:38]

You get to the hotel. There's no one there to pay for the cab. They don't have room in the refrigerator. So I had a he said they gave me a card and I had to walk it a quarter of a mile to the hotel next door and walk it back this morning. And I said, how much you getting paid? And he said, paid nothing. Now, that night we do the show and there's a meet and greet for corporate always, Kenny Loggins had 30 people waiting on the meet and greet Wolfgang Puck at 400 women can each get under.

[00:37:07]

Fifty thousand will get you getting nothing. So I said to Wolf, I said, you know, I'm going to do this thing for Vergès. You guys got to get yourselves organized. This is insane. You can't take this shit. And when I got back to L.A., called me, asked me to come over to a restaurant, there were like 100 or 110 or 85 of the world's great chefs, Nobu and Thomas Kellers, Paul Prud'homme. And they asked me if I would represent them.

[00:37:40]

I told them I would do it pro bono, but they had it if I could get him a TV network. They had to work for free for a couple of years to three. They had to let me go, tell somebody I can get all the talent free, but if they get broadcast, they don't need me anymore. And that's what we did. We started an agency called the local air resources person I knew peripherally was had just left CNN.

[00:38:04]

He started CNN, Schoenfeld and all the guys worked for free. And we got really lucky because what I got him was a 30 second commercial and each of their shows for sell a product in lieu of payment. And we developed Emeril spices for that. And that I share. That's the only thing I share those things. So for me, it was like representing artists. It was, you know, the same basic thing. How do you get above the noise?

[00:38:33]

I think the first gig we did was Dean fearing for the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame dinner when Bruce Springsteen was inducted at the Century Plaza Hotel, which was actually pretty funny, was the first gig I booked for the chefs. Dean Ferring was the chef at the mansion in Dallas, very, very, very famous, very well-respected by all the chefs.

[00:38:56]

And I got him, I think, fifty thousand dollars, which was the first time any chef got paid for anything. Money equates to respect if you work for free for people. You don't get the respect, that's where a manager's job comes in and to make them do it in a way that they're not going to where they went after what goes into sort of like creating that, I wouldn't call it the celebrity of whatever industry, but sort of like becoming more of a person and a brand.

[00:39:28]

And I think everything's different. Guilt by association, very important. It's why people pay for these tweets on social media. Why stars do you think we're going to see more of this in sort of like with the backdrop of counterculture to algorithmic? I think it's always the same.

[00:39:44]

I think there's people who come through in every generation that are artists who see it. You know, you look at Lady Gaga today, she's exactly what else was 40 years ago. Yeah, I think it's basically the same. Just the economics change, the delivery system change, but it's the same kind of thing. You know, it's just figuring out how to get attention and then having the real goods behind the curtain. I remember a moment in my life where I walked past my kids room.

[00:40:12]

They were playing hip hop music. I opened up the door. I thought, would you turn that shit off? And as soon as I said it, I shut the door. I said to myself, that's the next big thing, because that's the way the cycle works. Anything I don't like they're going for. Right. And so I think now you're seeing guys like Adrian who are quiet go out on their own as a counterculture to, you know, the Swedish dance mob.

[00:40:36]

And because guys like me don't go to the Swedish. Yeah, but the next generation does. So they have young kids who are seeing their parents just kind of like cycle it just over and over. I think so.

[00:40:47]

I think as much as we think we're in control, the human cycle is still a lot stronger than us. Was there a moment when you ever felt like a failure or a fraud? Every day.

[00:40:59]

So I think anyone who doesn't say that look in the mirror and see you schmuck is sort of kidding themselves to me. How do you get through that? Like, how do you recover? I just left. Yeah, because I know that. And I know, you know, I had a good life. I've been lucky, but I still you know, you look you still that at least I am. And I think both of the people I say it through, at least my the kind of people I'm drawn to her are my friends.

[00:41:24]

You know, they just thought love and they.

[00:41:27]

Yeah, if you are super, I mean, you seem like you've had, you know, a lot of successes. It doesn't go into a lot of failures.

[00:41:36]

Are there any that stand out to you in terms of I think most of the ones that stand out to me with Alice because he was the one that I took the most amount of chances with. We had so many with them. I think in the movie I tell the Cannon story. We got our first stadium, the Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. I was trying to think of what would Alice Cooper do with a baseball stadium like.

[00:42:01]

That big, gigantic, how do we use that space to do something really unique and for some reason getting shot out of a cannon across the stadium sort of hit my head that that would be like an Alice Cooper thing to do.

[00:42:16]

Big dramatic I could do by Flame Light, a big explosion. So I went to Warner Brothers Studios who had built my guillotines and other props for us. And there was an old man. They will have classes who did all the stuff and told him this idea and didn't even look up. And he said what period can and was most confident answer I've ever gotten out of a bizarre question. And I told him we went through a door and he pulled out blueprints.

[00:42:46]

So I thought I was home. Completely confident. Alice, sweetheart, baby, you're going to get shot out of a of really that covered. I got it. So he built this 40 foot three ton of four ton cannon and the gag was the lights go down, the whole band goes to torchlight, except for the drummer who's on the snare. They take Alice in a procession. Two guys are holding a torchlight load him in the cannon. The band goes up steps to where the big fuses can light the fuse and the tape recording of that really loud fuse sound.

[00:43:27]

Alice catapults out. Spotlight hits the top of the stadium on the other side, and there's Alice, so he goes into a dummy. Suppose he gets in a golf cart, the race around, and they spend enough time with the schmooze to get around. If the problem is a dummy only comes out like two inches and falls on Alliss, the golf cart hasn't quite gotten to the top. When he gets to the top, there's no noise at the end of the show.

[00:43:56]

No one's applauding or it's going crazy. The spotlight hits him. He's right there. It's like completely silent. There he goes backstage, said what happened? I said it was really horrible to think about. We had an explosion the next night. The cannon blew up. Alice was in it and went to the hospital. But the doctors weren't allowed to do the show from a wheelchair. So we came, we did the stadium show and people were just like the newspapers can't believe he came and played right from the hospital bed.

[00:44:27]

What a great guy this is. So we got through, again, not work, but with with a normal relationship with an artist that would have you'd be up all night screaming and yelling, how could you do this to me? How could you put me out there? I can't believe what you did to me. And I never would have gotten to the next night or the next night. He didn't say one word to me, except is it going to be OK?

[00:44:50]

I got it covered. He left me alone. And that's where trust another corner, you know, especially in failure. If you don't have trust, those are dark moments when you get a guy slap in your back and laughing and saying, OK, that's all you can do, is the best you can do. And if you really have done the best you can do.

[00:45:11]

Were there any moments that you ever felt scared? I mean, in the 70s, wasn't Teddy's former manager before you killed, you know, I mean, scared in different ways physically?

[00:45:21]

I don't think I ever felt scared, but scared every day that I'm not going to pull it off. I thought a lot of weight of people's lives on your shoulders. I still get scared when I'm doing something. But I think that fear is good to drive, to make sure it's better.

[00:45:35]

It seems like fear has different effects on different people. Sometimes it was paralyzing and means you won't do anything.

[00:45:40]

And sometimes it's like motivating, motivating.

[00:45:43]

You know, again, it gets back to that. They only have one life. Each I make a mistake. I really screw up a life. There's always a scare, you know, are you doing the right thing or you're not doing the right thing? Is it going to work, especially when you get way out on the edge? Is it going to work is a big question. You were asking a lot of another human to trust me, that it's going to work for Teddy Pendergrass, for women only shows there wasn't a person in his life who didn't tell him he shouldn't do it.

[00:46:09]

Lawyer told him, you get sued. Record company told him he'd never sell a record to a male ever again. There was nobody who wanted him to do it. And he just looked at me and she said, just go to work. And I said, this is going to work and this is going to work. This is what you need. This is the thing that's going to put you over. So that was in the 70s when you met Teddy and at the time, black artists were being suppressed.

[00:46:31]

What was what was going on for people? You know, suppressed is the word to use. They hadn't been liberated, I think is a better way maybe to put it. I just like the chefs. A system had developed probably with greed based, but I'm not going to be the one to make that judgment. But in the black world, it was a thing called the chitlin circuit. And just like the reason Wolfgang worked for free at the Big Island, all the chefs were convinced that if they had an expensive restaurant, the only way to keep it full was to go reach out to Chicago, to Pittsburgh, to Hawaii and all these places and promote themselves.

[00:47:13]

And that that was the only way their restaurants back home were going to survive. The chitlin circuit was exactly the same thing, and it was record companies, radio stations and promoters. Teddy would have a single he wasn't even told it was just the way it was if you were a black artist and you had a single, you went to Cleveland, you played a concert for a promoter who was a partner with the radio station. They played your record, that's why you went and did it to get paid, you did it because if you didn't go, you wouldn't get your record played or that's what the record company would tell you, right.

[00:47:51]

If they didn't have a chitlin circuit, they'd have to pay a fortune to the independent promotion man. So what they would do is deliver the artist free to the city. They'd get their records played. They sell a ton of records and they wouldn't pay the artists for the record sales anyway. It just wasn't even discussed, it wasn't that's just how well it's how it was. And once we said, fuck you, just like the chefs, everyone realized, wait a second, I'm the power.

[00:48:17]

It's not Stover's in Palm Springs that they covered for the chemicals I'm cooking here just like, wait a second. Then I come into the club because I'm on Philadelphia records that come into the club because they love my music and a radio station has to play my music.

[00:48:33]

That's what the people want and that's changed everything.

[00:48:36]

And I just started to change everything. What have you learned about how to be successful and not hurting other people?

[00:48:43]

Try and make relationships about win win, a win lose. And you may not be able to do that every time, but if that's your focus is to try and make sure the person that you're dealing with gets something out of the transactional, whether it's emotional, economic, career driven. Don't just take what's on the table and run for cover. A lot of people talk about Wenman, but few people live it. What do you do when you're on the other side trying to figure out if this person is sincere or it depends to different areas?

[00:49:12]

One is for my artists and one is for me or me. I'm pretty successful at doing Winwin because I don't have to jump into stuff for my artists. And that is successful because there are a lot of people out there that that want losers and you have to make sure you're not one of them that your artist is. And what you're. How old now? Seventy three. Seventy three.

[00:49:35]

You've lived an amazing life so far, so hopefully lots of years left. I was reading the Rolling Stones article before that came out right after the book. And in there you briefly sort of like you're asking a philosophical question, but you never answered it, which was what's life all about it.

[00:49:52]

So I don't know if you ever get that answer, where are you with this pursuit?

[00:49:56]

I mean, it's an interesting moment in my life. I have a a new lady, which I didn't think would happen, again, very much in love with and a very different relationship than I've had before. So that's that's open the gateway to a much calmer personal journey. So I'm sort of in a questioning period. I don't really know what what I would like. Not that I am in control of it, but if I have choices, what I want life to be in the next next period that I have, I've been getting very focused on Chinese cooking, and I've never given up the thought of a child, even though I'm seventy three years left.

[00:50:40]

Yeah, yeah.

[00:50:41]

I'm not very interested in commerce. I see these opportunities go by my eyes that are really nice and they I can see that I'm really drawing back from that world. It's been a nice time. I feel like I've moved into sort of fourth or fifth gear. I think I'm happy with myself. What does that mean, happier with yourself? I don't see the schmuck in me as much. I get happier with who I am. We all see our own faults.

[00:51:07]

So then it's like a normal time of life. You just you know, I don't think I ever stop. And one thing for sure, you'd never find out the answer. What's it all about? What does happiness mean?

[00:51:19]

I think happiness is just feel good about the way you're living your life. I think it depends on the moment and particularly the person. There are some people who anger makes them really happy in some sick way. I don't know where those emotions come in. I think compassion is one I understand much more than happiness as a way of dealing with life. You met the Dalai Lama through Sharon Stone.

[00:51:44]

You guys were dating. How did that change? You just fortified my feelings. I had picked up through my association with Mr. Rouget as a way in which you can live your life of service from a position of strength, not weakness. When I met His Holiness, they were exactly the same person, compassionate to every living thing I always thought was the two of them. The thing that always impressed me with both of them, although I never discussed it with either one, is no matter what we were doing, no matter what didn't matter.

[00:52:18]

They always saw the miracle in something before they saw something. Holiness, see, meet so many people. Every time you meet a person, you could see that first. And Mr. Vajpayee was the same, whether it was a chicken that came in to be cooked at night or a customer or a flower like that. The miracle of that essence of that thing came first. And you can't be anything but compassionate to it. So, you know, they were as compassionate to like a piece of paper as they were to their relative.

[00:52:57]

They see the miracle on everything. So that's the way I sort of that was my take away from both of them. I try and incorporate that. I have not been able to do that in my political conversations. Do you think it's like a mental habit that you consciously practice until it becomes. For me. For me? Definitely, yeah. Especially if I'm in a moment where I'm confused or not feeling the joy. Or complaining about something. The flights too long that this is just I just stopped.

[00:53:31]

Oh, my God. My two thoughts are first world problems. And then what a miracle. How do you draw yourself out of that? My first thoughts are, first of all, problems. You put that in perspective in the sense of yeah, I just thought laughing Yeah. I'll say to my girlfriend on boy services is wrong and then I do. Well, what a first world problem.

[00:53:52]

Look at me like we all catch ourselves. Yeah, right. But I think it's nice to have some. Yeah. Something that, you know, clicks you out of this world.

[00:54:05]

I'm wondering if you could go back and tell yourself your younger self any message that you you want to pass on. What would it be?

[00:54:15]

I don't know if I would change anything. No regrets. Yeah.

[00:54:19]

I mean, I'm sure plenty of regrets. I would like to have children at a younger age, but it just didn't happen. I wish my dad had lived longer. I have things that I wouldn't like so I could have spent more time when I understood who he was rather than being the kid. I don't know. I mean, there are moments when I think, why did I do too much drugs at a party too much? And then I go back to, you know, whatever you're doing, you're supposed to be doing.

[00:54:45]

And if you do it with compassion and I've always had that stroke in me, I just never knew what it was. And I used to be ashamed of it instead of proud of it. Right. Just happy I got here. Whatever got me here. The knowledge project is produced in collaboration with Jason Oberholtzer and the team at Charts and Leisure. You can find show notes on this episode as well as every other episode at F-stop blog podcast. If you find this episode valuable, shared on social media and leave a review to support the podcast, go to F-stop logged membership and join our learning community.

[00:55:28]

You'll get hand edited transcripts of all the podcasts and so much more. Thank you for listening.