I was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame with my band Talking Heads in 2002. We performed together at the induction ceremony for the first time in eighteen years, since our lead singer had decided to pursue a full time solo career. Each of us in the band had our own little emotional roller coaster ride that night but in the end it was a good time and as a band we did not disappoint. In fact, we tore the roof off the muthasucka.
Talking Heads along with our old friends the Ramones were inducted in our first year of eligibility. It would be nice to think that this happened because both bands were so important and innovative and that we wrote songs and performed shows that had tremendous influence, because we were and we did. But the real reason we had success and this big night at the Rock and & Roll Hall Of Fame is because we had surrounded ourselves with a really great team.
Seymour Stein, the chief of Sire Records who signed us and the Ramones, bless his heart, had always done right by us and Seymour has been on the board of the R&R HOF board since it’s beginning. Seymour is a good man to have on your team.
Gary Kurfirst was Talking Heads one and only manager. He had also managed the Ramones for something like twenty years. Like the Ramones, Gary had grown up in Forest Hills, Queens. He began his music business career by managing The Vagrants who became Mountain. He also ran the Village East Theater where he promoted shows with bands like The Who and The Doors until Bill Graham bought the lease out from under him and turned it into the Fillmore East. He later managed Peter Tosh and Toots and The Maytals and had an office at Island Records where his secretary was a girl called May Pang. Seymour Stein’s right hand man at the time was Ken Kushnick who brought Gary to see Talking Heads down at CBGB’s. He agreed to manage us for a year on a trial basis and we never had any reason to look back or question his managerial skills. Other bands started wanting him to manage them too, like The B52’s, The Eurythmics and Jane’s Addiction. Gary was a good man to have on your team.
Gary took us to meet his friend Frank Barsalona of Premier Talent who agreed to be our agent. He was the Beatles’ American agent. He also represented The Who, Bruce Springsteen, Van Halen, The Pretenders and later, U2. Our concert fees took a giant step forward. Also, like Seymour and Gary, Frank appreciated art. On our first visit to his home, I couldn’t help but notice works by Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline and Willem De Kooning. Frank was a good man to have on your team, so much so that he himself has been inducted into the R&R HOF.
Gary also took us to meet Bert Padell and his partner Jake Fine who are business managers par excellence. They helped us collect our fees, make payrolls, made sure the bills were paid on time and that we were straight with the IRS. They took good care of us they did with Alice Cooper, Joe Dimaggio, Blondie, Madonna and Mary J. Blige. Bert and Jake are good men to have on your team.
And of course, there were our attorneys Elliot Hoffman and Peter Matorin who along with Gary negotiated and then renegotiated our contracts and formed our touring and publishing companies. They have never let us down and they are good team players, too.
So when we talk about the R&R HOF we are talking about a celebration of the music industry. It is a night when the music industry can get dressed up, spend a ton of money for a table and say to themselves, “See that band up there? They’re up there because of me and my people. We took care of business for them so that they could write songs, do tours, have their records played on the radio, and be Rock Stars.”
Don’t even get me started on the importance of a good road crew and front of house sound and monitor mixers and lighting designers. They work so much harder and longer than any band ever did with grueling hours with little or no sleep. Frank Gallagher from Scotland and Jeffery Hooper from Wales, Ace Penna from New York City, Clive Brinkworth from London and Jeff Shaw from City Island, you know who you are!
Then there are the recording engineers and record producers like Ed Stasium, Brian Eno, Dave Jerden, Eric Thorngren, Alex Sadkin and Steve Lillywhite. They can raise the level of the your recording’s sound to the point that it has the potential to be a hit.
People will argue and bicker about who should and shouldn’t be in the R&R HOF, but those of us who really know what the deal is and how it all works don’t do that. We know that this is about celebrating whose team your were on, which is why, when we were inducted back in 2002, we brought Hilly Kristal onstage with us. Hilly was the first music business person to tell us we had something special that was worth repeated viewing and listening. Even in our earliest shows he recognized this and encouraged us to come back and play again at his humble club. So, we hung in there and one night when our loft building caught on fire and we had nowhere to go, he sat us down, told us to try to relax and gave us a bottle of beer and a bowl of chili. Yes, we really did eat the chili at CBGB’s and believe me, it was pretty tasty.