Books that rock.

It's time I give some overdue props to three R&R books that can provide us business wisdom and life lessons.

In 'Shoulda Been There: a Novel on the Life of John Winston Lennon', Jude Kessler affords us an intimate view of Lennon's troubled young life, until the time that Brian Epstein took over management of the early Beatles.

There's much to learn here about how the most commercially successful musical team in history came together, despite their adolescent differences and jealousies.

The colorful dialogue in the book is fictional conjecture (thus 'a novel') but the basic story is founded on meticulous research—offering many surprises. For instance, I had no idea how Lennon bullied his art school buddy, Stu Sutcliffe, into joining—and sticking with—the Beatles despite Stu's protests. (In the end Sutcliffe lacked the talent and passion to musically succeed.)

This 800-page tome is a surprisingly quick read, and an absolute must-have for us get-a-life Beatlephiles. I eagerly anticipate volume two.

In 'Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (1974-2001)' guitarist Don Felder entertains us with a candid account of his Eagles flight until his abrupt firing at the beginning of their 2001 tour.

One take-away from this lively paperback is if you're playing poker with friends, cut the cards. Felder alleges that the leaders of the Eagles, Glenn Frey and Don Henley, in collusion with their manager, violated the terms of their initial partnership agreement, treated him as contract labor, and ignored his requests for accounting information. (After Felder was fired, his subsequent lawsuit was settled out of court.)

He also documents the continual discord that placed the Eagles among the most fractious (and debauched) bands in the history of R&R. Even if Felder's claims are exaggerated the lesson still stands: get clear—get crystal clear—on what the business agreements are, even (or especially) if you're working with 'friends'.

In 'Bumping into Geniuses: My Life Inside the Rock and Roll Business' journalist/manager/recording executive Danny Goldberg discusses his business and artistic relationships with a who's-who of rock, including Stevie Nicks, Nirvana, Bonnie Raitt, Warren Zevon, Kiss, and Led Zeppelin.

His philosophy of management—applicable to more than the music biz—is to find talent with a 'self-contained vision', provide direction as needed, but mostly get out of the way.

Impressively, he never stopped being a fan of the talent he directed. How's that for a radical notion of management—from a guy with serious business cred?

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  1. It sounds like Felder got screwed pretty good - but we haven't heard from the other side. I read that's he recently reached out to his former Eagle mates to put the past behind but they haven't reached back. Sad tale. - Gary

  2. Gary, I too would love to hear the Frey/Henley side of the altercation and maybe I'll get to chat with one of them about it someday. I knew Glenn in passing in the late 60s when he was half of Longbranch Pennywhistle (with John David Souther) and he seemed like an approachable, unassuming, decent guy. But I also know that personal insecurity and hard drugs is a combustible combination - which might explain the "command & control" leadership of Frey & Henley. And Henley's claim in a Rolling Stone interview that "rock bands work best as a benevolent dictatorship" is complete bullshit.

    Some people call "Heaven and Hell" a revenge book, but it doesn't read that way to me. Felder passes around many compliments to his bandmates, especially Henley for his lyrical talents.

  3. John – you didn’t expect I would miss out on this one did you?

    I too would love to hear Don and Glen’s side to this. I’m pretty sure when things were good and all in the garden seemed rosy the possibility of litigation in the long term future never even entered the head of these three ‘young men’.

    Now they are all at 60 years of age or over the world may look a different place and the motivation is different.

    When we are working with our friends it is very easy to say lets get this all tied up in proper legal agreements and contracts but trust is an important thing.

    When we are young (in my case even now I’m old) we tend to trust people – especially those close to us. Why the heck would we ever believe things might go wrong?

    Putting everything in legal boxes may take away the essential creative mindset – you tell me John as I am not in that business - you are – can it undermine the creative process by making it too legal and ‘processy’?

  4. Trevor, having a basic contractual understanding - and keeping to it - seems essential in any business partnership, even a highly creative one. In the case of the Eagles, they signed a limited partnership agreement early on, but after Leadon and Meisner left, Frey & Henley allegedly abused the rights of Felder, the third partner. (Schmidt and Walsh didn't sign on as partners.) Then after Felder kept asking his partners for financial information he was fired.

  5. I know you are right of course John about having contracts but we have to remember these were just young guys with no business sense in all probability. I’m pretty sure with hindsight they all regret how things have turned out.

    Hindsight is something we all wish we had don’t you think John? With hindsight my life would have been lived with no problems whatsoever. But we both know that is not the real world. Our lives have bad times so we can appreciate the good times methinks – now I’m getting very profound on a Sunday evening buddy :-)

  6. Trevor - yes, I'm sure they all regret how things turned out. But I keep reading that the remaining band (or at least Frey & Henley) don't desire any rapprochement with Felder and didn't respond to the offer of Randy Meisner (their original bass player) to sit in on an LA performance. But hopefully they'll bury the many hatchets someday.

    Judith - yeah, thanks for the reminder about my own book. It's getting there...

  7. My experience with one band left me feeling like Felder. When I thought I was a partner it turned out I was actually contract labor without the contract and the compensation. But I guess it did teach me the lesson you're speaking of.

  8. Vic, I hear stories like that all the time. Relying on vaguely defined "verbal agreements" is a recipe for disaster. (In the case of Felder he had a written agreement, but it was allegedly ignored.) Regrettably, I played the perpetrator role 40+ years ago when my band ignored a loosely defined verbal contract we had with one business manager and signed with a different manager. (The band broke up soon thereafter. I've since apologized to the first manager.) Written contracts have their place - especially in the R&R world where exploitation is business as usual.

  9. Wasn't Stu Sutcliffe a supertalented painter who felt rock wasn't his calling? Did the book recount his tragic death and its effect on John Lennon? That band had a lifetime of experiences well before they made it big.

  10. Thanks, px, I should have clarified that. Although Stu lacked the passion and talent to keep up musically with the Beatles (by most accounts anyway), he had the passion and talent for painting. But we'll never know how far he could have gone as an artist because he died of a brain hemorrhage in Hamburg shortly after he left the Beatles - presumably from a street brawl in Liverpool.

    Coincidentally, this week is the 50th anniversary of Stu's joining the Beatles - when John Lennon told Paul and George that Stu was in the band (against their - and Stu's - objections!). Stu's death was yet another traumatic loss for John. John's father, Fred, ran off and deserted him at a young age. His mother, Julia, gave him over to his Aunt Mimi to raise when John was 4. His step-dad, Uncle George, died when John was 14. His mother - whom John had finally gotten close to - was struck by a car and died when John was 17. (This is all described in detail in "Shoulda Been There.") Then Stu - John's best friend - died when he was 21. Within a few years the Beatles were the biggest entertainment phenomenon in the world, so it didn't allow much time for young John to come to grips with the losses.

  11. If we do ever hear the Henley / Frey side of the story, there will probably be a lawsuit because I understand that the settlement includes some tough non-disclosure clauses. There's a fabulous podcast from a UK magasine called The Word in which Felder talks very articulately about his experiences, albeit with the non-disclosure agreement clearly preventing him from going into all the details.

    This link takes you to Word's podcast page, which gives you a link to iTunes to subscribe:

    Or you can listen to the Felder interview from this page:

  12. Mark, that's a great Felder interview. I think it was the mad blogger Trevor Gay (who you may be surprised to know is a closet Eagles fan) who turned me onto it last year. I thought Felder was pretty even-handed in his version of events, which made me want to read his book. I would think Henley/Frey could give their side of the controversy without revealing details of the settlement. It's speculation of course, but most observers think Felder made out OK on it.

  13. Hi John - It was Mark who put me on to the interview I think!

    Don Felder has no doubt made lots of money through TV appearances and book sales so in a way he is still capitalising on the Eagles brand even if not directly so its a bit rich for him to play the innocent and hard done by.

    There simply has to be another side to this thing that we have not heard from Frey and Henley being promoted as highly as Don Felder has promoted his own side of it ...

    Maybe John its because The Eagles are too busy working and being continually successful whilst Don sits at home with time on his hands and maybe a bit of the green monster in him?

    Who knows the truth? - Its good fun that we can all speculate...

    Great discussion though ... and there is no doubt Don Felder was highly influential in the development of The Eagles brand ... shame it has ended this way ... I wonder if they will ever kiss and make up ...


    THE MAD BLOGGERR of Ye Olde London Town

  14. Ok, kudos to Mark for turning us all onto Felder's voice! I do believe Felder has every right to capitalize on his Eagles fame given his instrumental contribution to their sound AND his role as chief composer of "Hotel California" - their signature song. And Don Henley hasn't been silent on the subject, justifying the firing by saying Felder wasn't bringing anything to the party. We'll see if they (including all 7 of them) ever kiss and make up, but Felder has already held out an olive branch. Meanwhile, Felder isn't alone in his critique of "the gods." Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner had many of the same gripes too. I always admired the Eagles' priority on songwriting and strong vocals, so they deserve their props as a great song band. But "partnership abuse" is a serious issue, and the Eagles strike me as a case study in highly dysfunctional leadership. Perhaps if the band weren't run as a "benevolent dictatorship" they could have made better use of their considerable talent and been a bigger force in R&R history.

  15. I'm sure you are right John. It appears both Frey and Henley are strong willed characters and my hope is one day they may all get together and laugh about it ... I hope so because we are a long time dead.

    Great discussion - thanks my friend

  16. Had to trash the spam from an Asian porn site. Glad they could stop by tho. Maybe they picked up a few business lessons.

    Nick, given my blog & book project I have to keep up on this stuff, but there's so many more rock-related books I'd love to get to. (There are over 3000 books written on the Beatles alone - 2970 of which I haven't read...yet.) Now I'm working my way through a stack of business best-sellers.

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