Rock & roll mentors

Mentor word cloud Mentoring has been on my mind this week. I’ve been impressed by a Boston hi-tech start-up, WomenLEAD, which is upending the mentoring model by offering an online Personal Advisory Board for women leaders. Instead of working with one mentor, a woman subscriber to WomenLEAD who needs help with a business issue will be matched with a group of advisors, hand-picked—by an algorithm—to help with that issue.

A support system like this, if adopted by enough companies, could help stem the tide of women who in mid-career leave management positions in droves because they lack mentors, role models, and sponsors. This could be a financial boost for their companies—which, surveys show, are more profitable with more women in leadership positions—as well as for the economy as a whole. A useful topic to explore on another day.

But this got me thinking about some of the mentoring I received in my rock & roll years. It was never formal or long-lasting—though it might have been, had I asked—but it was much appreciated, even when I didn’t follow the advice!

In some cases it was just one meeting, like the one I had decades ago with hitmaker Johnny Rivers (“Secret Agent Man,” “Poor Side of Town”). He advised me and my band not to rush into a management contract, especially with Doug Weston, the colorful owner of LA’s top concert club, The Troubadour. Rivers said it was a bad fit and that we should pursue other possibilities. It was excellent counsel—which of course we ignored. But within three months of signing the management contract we realized Rivers was right. (Fortunately, we ended the management relationship with Weston amicably.)

The great singer-songwriter Del Shannon (“Runaway,” “Hats Off to Larry") played a more active mentoring role for a different band I performed with. He always told us the most important thing we could do as musicians was to write our own songs. Shannon was the first fellow in the music biz to tell me that songwriting/publishing was where the money was—and where we should focus our attention. This advice I’ve continued to follow.

Jim Hilton, who produced Iron Butterfly (“In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida"), advised my band that we had to do outrageous things to stand out from the hundreds of bands in Hollywood at the time. (His exact words were, “You need to be willing to kill chickens.”) An astute observation, but we chickened out—as reported in an earlier post.

There are many others I'm grateful to, who kindly offered their guidance and wisdom to this young pup many years ago, including comedians David Steinberg and George Carlin—as well as singers Richie Furay (Buffalo Springfield, Poco), Gary Lewis (“This Diamond Ring”), and Michael Bolton (“When a Man Loves a Woman”). Furay once advised me to talk to his lawyer about a legal decision I had to make. Bolton recommended, repeatedly, that I stop eating meat! (Both suggestions changed my life.)

People love to give advice, even the stars. It’s useful to listen to it. Even more useful to follow it.

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  1. I'd love to have a mentor for my writing; someone who'd guide me to the next level.

    I'd also enjoy mentoring someone who wanted to know what I know about being a solo entrepreneur, creating a location-independent business, stuff like that.

    And writers; love to help writers.

    Also cool to realize I'm one step removed from some stupendous songwriters.

    1. You actually DO mentor writers—as part of your services, yes? But maybe you don't call it that.

    1. You may have a point, Gary. But my official position as an R&R blogger is, of course, I love everybody. I learned that lesson when I was in Shanghai in 2005 and ran into an American consultant, who heard about the book I was writing and asked me what I thought of Mitch Ryder. I said something like, "Oh, I guess he was ok" before he told me that one of the biggest joys of his life was playing keyboard with Mitch years ago. Of course I hastened to add that I thought Mitch had an amazing piano player.

    1. Yes, I've read that. But Hilton at least did the mix on it. That wasn't the Butterfly's finest hour, but they were apparently doing a spoof when they recorded Da-Vita. At least I hope so.

      But Hilton was nice enough to give us—a bunch of clueless 23-year-olds—an hour of his time. I don't remember how we got the audience with him.

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