The Minneapolis Years
THE MINNEAPOLIS YEARS 1980-1995
They say that life moves in mysterious ways. You always hear the phrase that when one door closes another opens, or I’d say, serendipity plays a part.and steps in.
After being forced into bankruptcy for the mistake I had made and making a move to Appleton to recover and figure out what was next, I received a phone call that would change my life and elevate my career to the next level, I was invited to come to Minneapolis to join a major agency called Variety Artists International who was creating a farm club called Excelsior Talent to groom upcoming recording artists, and I accepted. They had their headquarters in Mpls and a second office in Los Angeles.
I’d spend the next 5 years at Variety/Excelsior and love every minute of it. I was like a kid in a candy store for multiple reasons.
Wisconsin is based on many small markets, so my artists would play 20-25 dates a month, but every day was a new city. Minneapolis had a thriving music market, I’d guess that we had 50-100 clubs that were 500-1,000 capacity and you could go out 7 nights a week and they would be packed, whether it was a blues,country, funk, jazz powerpop, punk, metal, or R&B/Soul band. There was room for everyone and all were well attended.
Our artists were playing the same amount of dates without having to leave town, which was amazing, no hotels, no big gas bills, and you got to sleep in your own bed every night while playing to packed houses so, yes, it was a new experience.
Variety Artists was the biggest college agency in the country and how I got into the college world. We dominated several emerging areas at the time in the college world.
Blues: Albert Collins, Son Seals, Koko Taylor and other Alligator Records artists
Country Rock: Asleep at the Wheel, Amazing Rhythm Aces, Bobby Bare, Lacy J. Dalton, Pure Prairie League, Jerry Jeff Walker
Singer/Songwriter: Steve Goodman, Michael Johnson, John Prine, Leon Redbone
Jazz: Dan Fogleberg, Jeff Lorber Fusion, Doc Serverson. Shadowfax, Tim Wiseburg
Our Rock Roster: Beach Boys, Dixie Dreggs, Head East, Three Dog Night
Excelsior Talent represented the majority of the highest drawing original music artists in the Midwest and Minneapolis/MN in general they included:
Airkraft, Curtis A, Tony Brown, Chameleon, Danny Johnson, Eargazm,Flaming Oh’s, Doug Maynard, Johnny Rey, Limited Warranty, Dash Rip Rock, Slave Raider, Snap, Phil Solem, The Suburbs, Sussman Lawrence, Swing Set, The Wallets, YIPES, VIXEN
I was responsible for colleges and clubs in the Midwest and became heavily involved in the National Association of Campus Activities. I’d attend all of the regional NACCA conventions and showcase my artists to the college audience. I also became heavily involved in the middle agent world. What that means is that every spring and fall the colleges would do outdoor concerts and they’d have $25K-$50K to spend, so I’d help them secure the national headliners they wanted for a fee. I’d put my % on top of what the major agency was asking. I’d then put my artists on to open. I was booking dates on people like the Bodeans, Husker Du, The Rembrandts, The Replacements, Romantics, Smithereens, Soul Asylum, and Violent Femmes. It is a popular tool in the industry where a smaller agent will become a talent buyer for a casino, club, college, fair, or festival and be an intermediary between the buyer and major agency to guide them through the process.
Sadly my days at Variety Artists would come to an end when they decided to consolidate their two offices in MN and CA into one. They decided to close their Minneapolis office, keeping the two owners Lloyd St. Martin, Gordy Singer, and main agents, Rod Essig, Bobby Engle, and Terry Rindall, laid off the rest of the staff and moved to Los Angeles.
Like Gary Van Zeeland Talent, Variety Artists International was a breeding ground for a whole new generation of agents including Bobby Engel, Rod Essig (who is one of my mentors and now co-head of the Creative Artists Agency), John Harrington, Terry Rindall and owner Gordy Singer, to mention a few.
After Variety I had a short stint at the Good Music Agency. GMA was originally from Missoula, MT and was the GVZ equivalent in their territory. They dominated ND, SD, MT, WY, UT, CO which was a very heavy six night a week rock market. Which means it was the same as the lounge world, but instead of playing Holiday Inns, and Ramada Inns, you were playing 500-750 seat rock clubs that had bands playing 5-7 days per week. It was a huge money making market
They eventually opened up an office in Fargo, ND and then moved into MN
when I was at Variety Artists they moved to Minneapolis.
After their move to Mpls GMA got into the original music scene and had a few top draws, like the Jets, Metro All Stars, and The Phones, they also got into management and opened a studio.
Right before I arrived they had just hired an agent named Chip Hooper who came up from the Kansas City area to build an original music national agency department and I’d work with Chip for a year. Unfortunately Chip was recruited by one of my favorite agencies, Monterey Peninsula Artists who was headed by another mentor, Fred Bohlander. Fred was the kind of guy who returned every phone call no matter who you were, and taught me that lesson, which was simply a matter of treating people with respect. He would always give people his time and I took some of his lessons to heart, he is a great man. They were the only company I would have considered moving to California for as they are in Carmel which is on the ocean south of San Francisco, so they chose to not live in LA or San Francisco. At the time I had no interest in moving to either coast, so I never asked, and was never invited to have to consider the idea. Chip would go on to become a very highly respected agent in the industry and was well loved by all till he passed way too early.
I enjoyed my time at GMA, and really liked Brian and Doug the owners of the company, but I did not fit in, and had a hard time being able to pay for myself. I came into an existing agency with a lot of agents who had already defined their territories. So I had to try to build my own market, but had a hard time trying to do so. One of the problems you can encounter coming into a new company and trying to build new territories is that for an artist to expand, they need to take less money to break into and build a new market. So as an example, I’d book a 4-6 week tour in FL which was a very coveted thing, and was also controlled by a very strong territorial agent, so it was a very hard market to break into. The problem was the bands were making $4,500-$6,000 per week, and my dates were probably $3,000-$4,000 per week. You also have the problem that the responsible agent for said artists would not be big on giving up one of his cash cows for a month or more, because to build the band in my territory meant that I’d be taking money out of his pocket for an extended time, so I booked many tours that would get turned down, and could not balance that out with my own roster which had also taken a hit as Danny Johnson was bouncing between being in Rod Stewart and Alcatrazz, and VIXEN had relocated to LA and eventually changed managers. Terry Rindall had taken his local roster of established draws with him to LA, which ultimately led to my demise. After Chip left GMA decided to turn away from the original music market except for the few people they managed, which was very similar to what transpired at Sandas Entertainment. Both Eddie and Randy Schwoerer would follow me to Minneapolis. I believe Randy worked at GMA for a while, sorry it has been a long time, and Eddie created Entertainment America with a former GMA agent and is still running the company.
GMA would also become a breeding ground for another generation of agents that would go on to change the world. Throughout the years, GMA maintained a diverse talent roster of more than 125 exclusive bands while training a substantial number of agents who went on to oversee the music industry. Executives like Chip Hooper (Paradigm Agency), Ron Baird (Creative Artists Agency), Keith Miller (William Morris Agency), John Dittmar (Pinnacle Entertainment), James Yelich (Monterey Peninsula Artists) and many more all played a role in the colorful history of GMA.
One of my favorite things about GMA was, like Variety, they were located in a house, the difference was Variety was in what looked like a Southern Mansion and GMA was like a large ranch home. GMA was several miles from where I lived so I’d ride my bike several miles to work in the morning which would take about an hour. I’d arrive, take a shower, and go to work. From spring to fall I would then take about a 90 minute lunch hour, ride my bike to Lake Minnetonka, play basketball for about an hour, take a dip in the lake, and dry off while riding back to work. Brian and Doug were kind enough to give us a flexible schedule, but this industry is not a 9-5 job, I may have taken a 90 minute lunch but I’d be at work till 8-9 at night, and then ride my bike an hour back home.
I’d later do the same thing when I lived in Hollywood, except on my first day to the office on a Sunday after driving for 4 days to move to Hollywood the front wheel of my bike came off and I was knocked out for the only time in my life and woke up in an ambulance being given oxygen in a neck brace on a backboard with people asking me my name and where I lived and I’d have to think about that for a minute as the move itself was still a blur, but that is a story for another time.
After 5 years as executive recruiter I’d return to the music industry exclusively for a two and half year stint at Artists Representation and Management (ARM)
John Domigall was the owner of the company and Roger Anderson I used to represent in Eargazm and worked with for about 4 years at Variety Artists.
I had never left the music industry, even as a recruiter I was still involved in the management and booking of a few artists, which my employers allowed me to do and probably contributed to my demise at Sathe and Associates because it was hard to do both and meet the financial expectations that were needed when shifts in the market happened.
While at ARM, who at the time were the main Metal/Rock club agency intown, I helped establish them in the college market, and also got them into the middle agent world. I was doing my middle agent work with the colleges and they saw the income potential that could come from it and I helped them get established as a major Midwest middle agency by doing what I was doing but in the club market which they were later able to use to propel themselves to become a midsized agency themselves by out hustling the major agencies and taking their bands from them because they were booking the majority of the dates.
While at ARM I worked for about a year with Kevin Daily who would leave to also go to Monterey Peninsula before returning home many years later to start his own company.
Unfortunately I could not make ARM work long term financially with either the company or myself and I left and went back into recruiting for four and a half years before forming the original version of the Paramour Group before accepting an offer to move to LA to work for Performers of the World, by the same man who brought me to Mpls and to to Variety Artists, Terry Rindall.
I was also going through a divorce while at ARM which did not make it any easier.
While at the original version of the Paramour Group I would establish a long term relationship with Kurt Jorgensen who I still represent till this day. At the time I’d represent him in Son Sen Ien and then New Sun Union, I’d also represent several other successful Mpls bands and national touring artists, including Another Carnival, Big Guitars From Memphis, Tony Brown, Danny Johnson, Swing Set, The Fontanas (whose leader, Brian Drake, I still represent and would represent every band he’d have including 60 Cycle Hum, and now The April Fools), Jack Knife and The Sharps,The Spanic Boys, The Vees, and Zebop to mention a few.
Roger Anderson, Rod Essig and Me circa: IEBA 2017