Rock managers typically operate behind the scenes, leaving the celebrity limelight to their gifted charges while handling more mundane matters of business and publicity. Occasionally, however, a manager’s flamboyant style or personal charisma elevates his or her visibility—for better or for worse—in the public eye. Below we profile 10 managers whose names will ring familiar to many devoted rock fans. Be sure to tell us who we missed, in the comments section.
Kit Lambert (The Who)
Pete Townshend might never have conceived Tommy and Quadrophrenia had it not been for the influence of Kit Lambert. As The Who’s flamboyant manager and producer, Lambert convinced Townshend to move away from simple pop themes and tackle more complex fare. A troubled drinker, Lambert died of a cerebral hemorrhage at age 45 after falling down the stairs of his mother's house in 1981.
Colonel Tom Parker (Elvis Presley)
Colonel Tom Parker’s shrewd handling of Elvis Presley’s career helped define the concept of the intensely controlling rock star manager. Working behind the scenes, Parker managed Presley’s career with ruthless devotion, overseeing aspects of every facet of the singer’s life while collecting a hefty percentage of Presley’s earnings. In 1997, Priscilla Presley gave a eulogy at Parker’s funeral, saying, “Elvis and the Colonel made history together, and the world is richer, better and far more interesting because of their collaboration.”
Malcolm McLaren (The Sex Pistols)
The degree to which Malcolm McLaren masterminded the Sex Pistols’ career is subject to debate, but there’s no denying he was exceptionally gifted at fanning the flames of notoriety. He also gave the Sex Pistols their band name and was instrumental in giving punk rock its distinct fashion sense. “Rock is fundamentally a young people's music,” he told New Musical Express, in 1976. “A lot of kids feel cheated. They feel that the music's been taken away from them by that whole over-25 audience.” McLaren died of peritoneal mesothelioma in 2010.
Andrew Loog Oldham (The Rolling Stones)
It’s impossible to overstate the role Andrew Loog Oldham played in nurturing the Rolling Stones career during the band’s early years. Not only does the longstanding perception of The Rolling Stones as “bad boy” alternatives to The Beatles owes its conception to Oldham—it was he who encouraged (some say “forced”) Jagger and Richards to write their own songs. Oldham’s role as the Stones manager extended from 1963 to 1967, a period during which they matured musically by leaps and bounds.
Tony Defries (David Bowie)
The incessant publicity David Bowie received during his Ziggy Stardust period was largely manufactured by his manager, Tony Defries. Defries spent lavishly to create the illusion that Bowie was a star before Bowie achieved that exalted status, in essence creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Nurturing ambitions even greater than his hero, Colonel Tom Parker, Defries also helped launch the solo careers of Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Mick Ronson and other key players in the glam rock movement. Bowie undertook a messy split with Defries in 1975.
Albert Grossman (Bob Dylan)
Like him or not, it’s hard to imagine the rise of the ‘60s folk music and rock scene without the pivotal presence of Albert Grossman. As manager of Janis Joplin, The Band, Bob Dylan and many more, Grossman had his hand in multiple facets of the music industry. In his autobiography, Dylan wrote: “[Grossman] had an enormous presence, always dressed in a conventional suit and tie, and he sat at his corner table. Usually when he talked, his voice was loud like the booming of war drums. He didn't talk so much as growl." Grossman died of a heart attack in 1986.
Don Arden (Black Sabbath)
It takes an exceptionally aggressive management style to earn such tags as “The English Godfather" or "The Al Capone of Pop," but according to many, in Don Arden’s case those descriptions were well-earned. Launching his career with American rock and roller Gene Vincent, Arden went on to manage the Small Faces, Electric Light Orchestra and, most famously, Black Sabbath—often employing intimidating tactics in the process. For years Arden and his daughter, Sharon Osbourne, were famously estranged, but eventually Ozzy Osbourne helped negotiate a reconciliation. Arden died from Alzheimer's disease in 2007.
Allen Klein (The Beatles / The Rolling Stones)
After staking out a reputation for ferreting out uncollected royalties for recording artists—which he did by ordering record company audits--Allen Klein fulfilled a grander ambition when he assumed the role of Rolling Stones manager in 1967. Following the death of Beatles manager Brian Epstein in 1967, Klein set his sights on an even bigger catch: the Fab Four. Lennon, Starr and Harrison were swayed to sign with him, but Paul McCartney resisted, and the resulting tension became a prime factor in the Beatles breakup. Klein’s business tactics were often nefarious—in 1979 he was jailed for two months for tax evasion.
Peter Grant (Led Zeppelin)
Led Zeppelin could hardly have hoped for a more devoted manager than Peter Grant. A former wrestler, Grant embodied the image of the burly rock impresario willing to strike physical blows to protect the interests of his client. Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones cherished Grant’s faith in the band, saying, “[Peter] trusted us to get the music together, and then just kept everybody else away, making sure we had the space to do whatever we wanted without interference from anybody--press, record company, promoters.” In 1995, Grant died after suffering heart attack at age 60.
Brian Epstein (The Beatles)
Although he had no previous experience in artist management, Brian Epstein proved to be exceptionally astute as manager of The Beatles. From choreographing their matching suits and synchronized bows, to securing a hard-won recording contract, his contributions to the band’s success were indispensable. As early as 1970, John Lennon lamented that Epstein’s death, in 1967, marked the beginning of the end for the group. “I knew that we were in trouble then,” Lennon said. In a 1997 BBC documentary, McCartney lauded Epstein’s impact, saying, "If anyone was the Fifth Beatle, it was Brian.”