Industry Profile: Debra Rathwell
By Larry LeBlanc (CelebrityAccess MediaWire)
This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Debra Rathwell, senior VP, AEG Live.
Debra Rathwell has sharp elbows.
And she plays alongside the big dogs of live music.
As senior VP for AEG Live in New York, Rathwell acts as both a regional and local promoter in New York and New Jersey, and oversees a large territory, stretching from the Carolinas to Canada.
She’s a pivotal player within AEG's team for national and international tours, and she also handles venue acquisition as well as development activities.
Her offices averages 800-1000 shows per year, and includes recent North America touring of Justin Bieber, Carrie Underwood, Il Divo, the Who, John Mellancamp, and “American Idols Live!”
Rathwell’s life changed forever during her last year at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario where she was studying German and history. She ripped a phone number off a flier, and wound up renting a room with poet/musician who was involved in the local music scene.
Rathwell was hired by Ottawa entertainment giant Harvey Glatt as his assistant. She went on to work at his Bass Clef Entertainment operation that often partnered on shows with Canada’s concert leaders, Donald K. Donald in Montreal, and Concert Production International (CPI) in Toronto.
This led to DKD’s Donald Tarlton convincing Rathwell to join his company in Montreal as VP (later senior VP). During her 12 year stint at DKD, Rathwell was involved with over 300 concerts per year, and managed a support staff of 22.
Under Rathwell’s steady hand, DKD produced 5 musicals that were brought to Broadway, including: “Tango Argentino,” “Flamenco Puro” and the Tony Award winning, “Black and Blue.
When DKD was sold to CPI in 1994, Rathwell moved to New York to work at Metropolitan Entertainment as executive VP. She remained there until the company was sold to Clear Channel Entertainment.
Rathwell was recently named to the board of the North American Concert Promoters Association.
After leaving Metropolitan Entertainment, you opened up the New York office for AEG in Jan. 2003.
Mitch Slater had sold the company, and I had decided not to go with Clear Channel. I phoned Randy Phillips (CEO of AEG Live), and said, “Let’s open up a New York office.”
What was his reaction?
He was in in one second. “Great. Let’s do it.” There was a good fit there. I knew John Meglen and Paul Gongaware (co-presidents/CEOs of Concerts West/AEG Live). John is a friend who I talked to a lot. I had worked with him when he was in Toronto (with CPI). I even called him, while I was at Metropolitan, trying to partner shows with him. I did a couple of Fleetwood Mac dates with him when nobody else wanted them.
So (after agreeing to launch AEG in New York) we just went on the “low-down” as I pulled back all of the people again. We opened on Jan. 13, 2003.
You hired some of the Metropolitan staff?
Yes. I brought 8 or 9 people back. The ones that we wanted. People who headed up ticketing, production and marketing.
At the time AEG wasn’t a major national player in the concert business.
They were starting to get traction.
Before you opened up, AEG had no footprint in New York?
There was Scott Sanders, who was running Creative Battery in a gorgeous loft space on Hudson Street in lower Manhattan when we arrived. Scott was doing some Broadway shows. Poor Scott. In we come, “Push down to the other end buddy, we are here.” So we moved in. Creative Battery was shuttered in 2005 when Scott left to produce the Broadway Musical "A Color Purple.”
At that time, AEG Live, moved to our current location on 45th Street near Times Square. We moved uptown as we needed to be near the Nokia Theatre at 44th and Broadway. The Nokia Theatre is now The Best Buy Theatre.
[Creative Battery was 50% owned by AEG and Scott Sanders, who formerly ran Radio City Music Hall and Mandalay Pictures. Creative Battery was responsible for solo Broadway shows by Elaine Stritch, and the Barry Humphries character, Dame Edna. In 2007, Sanders founded a film and theatrical production company, Scott Sanders Productions. He is one of the producers of the musical revival of "Evita" starring Ricky Martin which opened in New York on April 5, 2012,.]
You opened up having no shows?
They kept saying that we had no shows. Well, the wonderful thing was that Howard Rose and Dennis Arfa were also calling me and saying, "If you are going to open up, we'll do this show with you with Elton John and Billy Joel for a show in Albany (New York).”I will never forget how stand-up that was. That they saved that show for me. I kept saying, “Are you doing something? If you are, we are going to do it with you.” Then we were able to bring “American Idol” (Live) back and do that. That would have been the second year. That was the big tour. Then we started pulling together theatre and arena events, and getting everything going.
Your offices now oversee a large territory, stretching from the Carolinas to Canada.
Along the way, we added the Carolinas with Allen Corbett who had been a partner with us. We had done some shows with him. That was a fit. So we added the Carolinas to our page. Doing shows in Canada is second nature to me. Going up there and doing shows is easy for me. Of course, I had done all of the north east (U.S.) at Metropolitan for all those years.
What changed along the way was John and Paul allowing AEG Touring to set up as a separate entity in New York, and using “American Idol” which was sort of the first grandfathered piece in. Then with CAA agent Jeff Frasco, we pulled Disney's "High School Musical: The Concert" which was a big deal. There were the “Hannah Montana” and Miley Cyrus’ tours
You handled those nationally for AEG?
Yes, all of them. The one thing that I have to say is that this office runs as a team. When I use the word “I,” I mean “we.” There are 27 people in the New York office, plus 3 people in Philadelphia, three people in the Carolinas plus staff at the Best Buy Theatre, and the Keswick Theatre in Philadelphia.
How far in advance do you work?
Right now, I’m working on 2014. I have some things that are yet to go on sale in 2013 but, in my mind, the deal part of it is done. I’m busy trying to map out 2014, so I can build a financial performer for that year. It sounds so easy. It’s difficult.
[AEG Live's concerts took in a combined gross of $576.4 million in 2012. Instead of being fully driven by touring, the company is now evenly divided between festivals, regional offices, venues and touring.]
You have a lot on your plate in 2013.
We started this year with 100 sold out promoted shows with Carrie Underwood, the Who, and Justin Bieber. That’s a lot for a promoter.
Your office operates both regionally and nationally?
We do both. Usually the clubs stay with the AEG Live office, and the arenas are with facilities. They are handled out of LA.
How about touring Justin Bieber?
Justin Bieber is out of our office in North America. He’s now in Europe working with the UK office. Then he comes back here this summer.
In 2012, AEG Live promoted a very successful Il Divo tour of North America.
We did all of those. Carrie Underwood is out of my office. As I said, we just did 100 shows with her. John Mellancamp is me. I love him. He knows what he wants and we find a way to get it done.
The live music experience has grown in importance in the music industry as music sales have dipped.
Well, think about how amazing these shows are now. When you have shows showing up with 15, 20 and 22 trucks of production, and with all these things that move onstage. So yeah, it’s really good value. When we went to see shows years ago, what did we get? What has happened is that all of the markers have moved. My job comes down to: How much will somebody pay? And how many tickets will they buy? It’s as simple as that.
And figuring out at what time period people will purchase their ticket to a show.
Now you need to make the evaluation. I may pick a ticket price that is fair, but now I need to know how many people (will attend a show). It’s really hard because all of the markers have moved. Before you could pull SoundScan. You could look at radio (airplay). You checked the charts. You checked all of those things. But now you have social charts. You have to talk to a lot of people, and kind of get a read. And records aren’t the same anymore. I’m working with somebody (an artist) now, and they are going to release a single once a month for three months. Then we are going out and doing a club run. Then we are probably going to work another single. We aren’t even sure when or if a record (album) comes after that. We are just trying to build something. Larry, you and I have never lived through anything quite like this.
And you are primarily meeting with management and an agent. You aren’t necessarily always meeting with the label.
No. At any time, you could work as hard as you can (on developing an artist), and the label might say, “Well, we don’t know about this. We are kind of done. No record.” So you have to be very, very adaptable now in trying to understand projects, and looking for what you think are really good markers on where it’s (a career) going to go, and how fast it’s going to go, and what you should be doing.
Also social networking moves faster than word of mouth in the past.
Now you have to look for a “sticky” factor. A lot of people look at things (artists), but there might be nothing “sticky” about it. It’s not important to them (people). They just needed to go, and look. I can go and look at something that might have 9 or 10 million hits on YouTube, and I can tell you that it’s nothing, It doesn’t mean anything. I can’t sell tickets to it.
Does that include music artists developed by TV?
No. There are just different markers that you look at with someone from TV. The mystique of TV…You see that the new shows, like “The Voice” and “The X-Factor,” are all about the judges, rather than the contestants. With “American Idol,” it’s still about the contestants.
I just did 100 Carrie Underwood shows. So it’s different.
Let me tell you something, Kelly Clarkson is a star. Carrie is star. Jennifer Hudson is a star. Daughtry, I have done two or three tours with him. Constantine (Maroulis) is on Broadway.. There is more in substance there (with these TV artists) than you think.
Competition for attention has heated up since Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood emerged. Certainly, things have changed since “American Idol” debuted in 2002,
Yeah. Audience had never quite seen reality TV 11 years ago. But they really aren’t having stars coming off “The Voice” and “The X-Factor” because it’s about the judges.
Just because someone in the industry raves about a band at Coachella doesn’t mean people will pay for a hard ticket.
Well, I can tell you that someone tells me about Jake Bugg, and I watch Jake Bugg and I go, “Oh my gawd, Jake Bugg is going (to have a career).” I can tell you that Jake Bugg is going. Does it take time? Yes.
Another one (to watch is) the Brooklyn band, Lone Bellow out of Stage Coach (Stagecoach Country Music Festival 2013). Oh, my gawd. And how about Donald’s new band Half Moon Run that is opening for Mumford and Sons? Amazing, I love them.
So I find lots of stuff talking to people. Then I kind of investigate, and look into it. See if it’s possible (to tour).
The “Hannah Montana” ticketing scandal in 2007 led to AEG trying out paperless ticketing. What happened there?
The demand for tickets for “Hannah Montana” was so enormous that when we put those shows on sale we couldn’t meet the demand. The public had a perception that something had to be wrong. Then, of course, we had scalpers popping up on the internet followed by (state) attorney generals looking into the situation. We just had to deal our way through this. Of course, Miley (Cyrus) has a clever lawyer, and Jeff Frasco is a good agent. We got through it, but there was always this sense that there was something going on.
So for the next tour, when we did Miley Cyrus, the management, lawyer, agent made the decision that it was all going to be paperless. It went very well. I’m not sure that I would recommend it for everything but, in this case, based on our prior experience, it was the right thing to do. It is the only tour that has been paperless from all tickets.
Secondary ticketing continues to be a headache for promoters.
It is something that evolved. You can’t change it. It is something that exists. If they could get rid of the bots that would be great because that’s just unfair that people would use machinery to scoop up tickets.
Michael Cohl recently told me that he felt that scalping can’t be stopped.
It can’t be. But paperless for the first thousand tickets, I’m okay with that. But you can’t change it (scalping) People don’t even live the same way anymore. People want what they want when they want it which could be two days before a show and they will pay whatever they want because that’s what they want when they want it. It’s not going back to some different.
You began working with Donald Tarlton at DKD in 1982 after you had been at Bass Clef in Ottawa for five years.
Donald was always one of those people who were calling up to see what he could get cheap. It was always the same. “Why don’t you come, and work with me?” But that was never an offer. One day, he called and he made an offer. It seemed like an enormous amount of money at the time, but it really wasn’t. I think it was $56,000 in ’82. I got to be a vice-president, and I had a car. I remember moving to Montreal, and it was like Mary Tyler Moore coming into Minneapolis. It was, “Oh my gawd. I have arrived. This is big time.”
[Montreal-based conglomerate Le Groupe DKD is headed by Donald Tarlton who has been major presence in Canada’s concert world since founding the booking, concert and promotion firm Donald K. Donald Productions in 1966.
As a teenager, Tarlton had organized dances in schools and youth clubs. He has since promoted the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, the Who, David Bowie, Celine Dion, Supertramp, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Sting and thousands of other acts.
With several other partners, Tarlton set up Aquarius Records in 1969. The label has released recordings by Canadians Sum 41, April Wine, Corey Hart, and Sass Jordan. Tarlton’s French-language label, Tacca Musique, had success with Kevin Parent, France D’Amour, Jorane, and Marie-Chantal Toupin.
Though in semi-retirement, Tarlton has continued developing new Canadian artists through his partnerships in several management companies, and involvements in alternative Indie labels including Last Gang Entertainment Group, Indica Records, and Hidden Pony Records.]
At first, you had to sit in an office each day with Donald who’s not about to let you do much on your own.
He showed me my office, but I didn’t get to sit in it because my desk was right beside him.. Every time I was trying to make a buy or whatever I was doing, it was, “Stop. Who are you talking to? Put them on hold.” And then it was, “How much? What are you buying?
Did that lead to tensions between you two?
I’m scrappy enough, and I can fight back enough. But I’m also smart enough to learn and take advantage of it (the situation). It wasn’t everybody that got to sit in a desk next to him.
You think you know things until you have sat beside the master
Finally, I moved off to my office. My favorite one (story) was buying Tina Turner. I had been over at MIDEM in Cannes, and Tina Turner was just coming back (in her career). She had just done the McDonald’s circuit, and had signed with (manager) Roger Davies, who was bringing her back. I bought her for The Spectrum (in Montreal) for $12,000 or $12,500. Donald goes, “What are you doing?” He has to do the walk of embarrassment around the office. But everyone goes, “No I think that it’s good. I think that it’s good.”
We bought the show, and it sold out instantly. Along comes a Rolling Stone (story) because here Tina is in this big comeback. Then Roger Davies shows up and he and Donald are best friends. I think we did three Tina Turner tours after that.
Quebec is a fascinating market. Pink Floyd, Genesis, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and even Gentle Giant have always been more popular there than anywhere else.
All of the prog rock bands.
DKD was a pivotal player in Celine Dion’s career. And now she works with AEG Live.
She’s the best isn’t she? She is wonderful. I remember coming back from Toronto--I don’t know what the event--I was standing at the baggage carousel with Celine. We are all picking up our bags back in Montreal. This was the start of her singing in English, and her first English record (“Unison” in 1990). And here she is back at the beginning. She’s amazing. She has never changed. Everybody in our company (AEG Live) are just so proud to have her as part of our company.
You joined Donald as he was beginning to branch out. One of your first projects was overseeing the North American tour of Torvill and Dean and handling a Canadian tour of the Moscow Circus.
That was sort of the precursor to Donald discovering that there were other things than just generic rock concerts. Torvill and Dean, I went over to England and saw them in a tent in Sherwood Forest in Nottingham. Believe me, there is such a place. I thought they were amazing. So Donald asked, “Do we do it? And I said we’d do it. It was spectacular in Canada. I don’t know if they ever did as well in the States, but Canadians are crazy about skating and hockey. Remember that they had just come of the Ravel’s “Bolero” perfect score at the Olympics. So that was big for us.
[At the Sarajevo 1984 Winter Olympics, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean became the highest scoring figure skaters of all time for a single programme receiving 12 perfect 6.0s, and six 5.9's which included artistic impression scores of 6.0 from every judge.]
The Moscow Circus was really Gerry Grundman (who ran the events program) at the Montreal Forum). It was his connections with the circus people in Russia. We did all of the Canadian dates. It was a time, as Donald will tell you, that there was a mystique about the Russians (in Canada). People didn’t see Russians. It was all behind the Iron Curtain. Seeing Russians after things opened up, it wasn’t the same thing as it was then.
When it came to promoting the Moscow Circus in the United States, Donald passed, saying, “This is not what I do.” Why?
Some of this could have been the Frank Barsalona thing of, “I’ve got my place. This is where I am. I am not wandering off.” Today with the internet, you can go anywhere. in those days, you really needed someone to be your eyes and ears when you went to another market.
Back then it was hard getting accurate information about markets.
If you want to know what was playing in the marketplace today, you can go online and look up the buildings, and see what is going on. See what is being scheduled. You had to know someone to find out what was going on in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Donald certainly got bit by the theatre bug after co-producing the dance show “Tango Argentino” on Broadway in 1985.
We did “Tango Argentino” with (producer) Mel Howard. There’s Donald going, “Is it good, Debra? Is it good?” “Yes, it’s good Donald. It’s good.” In order for us to do it, we went down to Bryan Nix’s office. He was the accountant (at DKD) who kept all of the accounting in his shirt pocket. He could tell you if you had any money to go and do something interesting or not. He told us that we had a couple of thousand dollars to play with if we wanted to try this.
So “Tango Argentino” went into the City Centre in New York first. That sold out, and did very well. The reviews were fantastic. Then we had to make the decision to go on Broadway. We took the leap. It was the right thing to do at the time.
Was the idea of working on Broadway to evolve DKD?
There’s nothing like coming to Broadway, and coming to the street. You are warmly greeted because to them (theatrical people) it’s a new producer, and new opportunity. Donald hit it out of the park the first time. It (the show) made nothing but money. It made hundreds of thousands of dollars if not more every week. “Tango Argentino” now seems old because there’s been so many shows but this was the one. The dancers were older, and it was blessed by the New York Times that this was the show. You kind of get drunk on that.
[“Tango Argentino” had first opened in Paris in 1983, staged by choreographer Claudio Segovia and designer Hector Orezzolli.]
An exciting period for you?
I would come down here (New York) Tuesday to Saturday or Wednesday to Sunday in ’85, ’86 and ’87. I used to wait for (agent) George Quevedo over at Premier (Talent) so we could go out at night. He was the only single person who wanted to go out and hang. Everybody else had families, kids and stuff. He was my gay hang-out person. That was when I used to go and flop on a couch at Frank Barsalona’s office (at Premier Talent).
Then “Black and Blue” won three Tony Awards, and a Grammy.
“Black and Blue” was the next one (Broadway show) that we did with the same directors. That was escalated to big numbers.
Working in the theatre world is far different than the concert business.
This is where they separate the men from the boys. When “Black and Blue” opened, all of the critics liked it, except the New York Times. They called one of our sets, “a row of urinals.” I remember that. It sticks in my mind.
It was a bad review.
So here we are at the opening night party which, for those of us with money at stake, was turning into a funeral. Donald just went in a room and said, “If it takes half a million dollars to buy some time and distance from this review, that is what we are going to do.” And, we did. We jammed the market with all of the positive reviews. We pretended that the New York Times never happened. The show ran for two shows. I think that somebody without the big set (of balls) would have folded up and gone.
[“Black and Blue,” celebrating the black culture of dance and music in Paris between World War I, and World War II, was based on an idea by Mel Howard, and conceived by Hector Orezzoli and Claudio Segovia. The revue consists of songs by W. C. Handy, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Eubie Blake, and Big Maybelle as well as skits.
The show was first presented at the Chatelet Theatre in Paris in 1985. The Broadway production opened on Jan. 26, 1989 at the Minskoff Theatre and closed on Jan. 20, 1991 after 829 performances. The cast of 41 singers, included such notable singers as Ruth Brown, Linda Hopkins, and Carrie Smith.]
A television production of Black and Blue,” directed by Robert Altman, aired on PBS in 1993. You were the producer.
Yes. I probably have a VHS of it at home. I haven’t thought about it in years. NHK Japan wanted that. So we made that with them.
With Donald’s Broadway success came offers to invest in more shows including “Raggedy Ann” and a puppet version of “The Lords of The Rings”
The puppet version of “The Lord of the Rings” was (Montreal impresario) Sam Gesser which we didn’t invest in. “Raggedy Ann” was really amazing. It was written by William Gibson (with music by Joe Raposo). It opened and closed (on Broadway). They (the producers) wouldn’t make any of the changes (needed). It started at the Kennedy Centre (in Washington, D.C.). Everybody got stuck (in the concept of the show), and loved everything that they had. That’s how a lot of things fail. Nobody will dig back in, and give and re-create. That’s really where Donald’s heart was. This was people working him over for some money. Those were just investments. We didn’t have any control. The ones we had control over were Argentina Tango,” “Black and Blue” and “Flamenco Puro,” they were all with the same directing team.
Next, you spent two years overseeing the North American touring of “The Music Of Andrew Lloyd Webber.”
Yes. That was when nobody in America believed in it like I did. So, we did the rights to all of the major cities. We sold them out. It did very well. I recall all the rock promoters saying, “Who’s Sarah Brightman.” Donald pretty much let me run with this one.
Was that the touring company starring Michael Crawford?
No. As soon as Michael Crawford came along, they kicked me out. That was the end of that.
Over the years, I’ve worked with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s collaborator Tim Rice
Funny you should bring that up because our UK office just did “Jesus Christ Superstar.” It’s the arena production, newly revamped. It’s a big arena production with big sound, and big lights and there’s this giant big long set of stairs with the musicians on the sides. it’s gorgeous. Oh my gawd, it is so good. We were over there, and there were tears running down my face. It is just so good. So now we are working for February, 2014 for bringing it to North America. It’s gone to Australia where it’s a huge hit. It’s through the roof there. It’s doing amazing.
After Donald K. Donald Productions was sold, you moved to New York to join Metropolitan Entertainment. Why New York?
This was when Donald sold his company to Michael Cohl. I was going to move to Toronto to work for Michael. I was looking for places in Toronto. Donald came in (my office) and said, “Debra, you belong in New York. I’ve known you for all these years. This is what you should do.”
We had lived through all the Broadway, and I knew it really well, and I knew lots of people in New York. I had (use of) an apartment down here that a friend in Montreal had that I paid the maintenance on for years. I was down here all of the time. I think that Donald called John (Scher), and said, “I think that Debra should go to New York.” It got set up because someone had to get a visa for me. Then I went down to work there.
[While an undergraduate at Brooklyn College, John Scher got his first taste of the concert business. With his then partner Al Hayward, and operating as Monarch Entertainment Bureau, Scher produced shows in various New Jersey locations, including Wall Stadium.
Scher's company, later renamed Metropolitan Entertainment, came to acquire the rights to produce shows at The Capitol Theater in Passaic, New Jersey.
At the same time, Metropolitan Entertainment grew by expanding into upstate New York, and Connecticut and into New York, with shows at Madison Square Garden and smaller venues like the Beacon and Irving Plaza, while promoting regularly at the Meadowlands Arena. The company also produced national tours with the Grateful Dead.
In 1989, Polygram acquired a minority share of Metropolitan Entertainment, and Scher became president of Polygram Diversified, where he was responsible for Polygram's expansion into live event promotion, artist merchandising, sponsorships, and television production.
Scher continued to run the company until his departure in 2001.]
Your first job at Metropolitan Entertainment was working at “Woodstock ’94” also known as "Mudstock"
Yes. The most fun I ever had.
You were there to get the bands onstage.
Yes, and it was the wildest, wackiest thing. It rained. They would send Nine Inch Nails down from the artist compound and, all of a sudden, they were rolling around in the mud. “Oh my gawd, what is my band doing?” They wanted to be mud people onstage. It was insane. It was crazy. Then we had the fight up at the compound when Aerosmith’s manager Tim Collins, and John Scher.
At the end of the three days, they had to get a tow truck to tow my car out of the mud. I got in the mud, and it was the happiest time. I had never been part of anything that was that exciting. It so (musically) eclectic, and everybody was on site. This was a couple hundred thousand people wandering around half-covered in mud. It was just so funny.
How long were you at Metropolitan?
I stayed there from ’94 to 2002. When I went to Metropolitan, we worked in a house in Montclair. John (Scher) was at 2 Penn Plaza downtown. He worked on the Grateful Dead, and a whole lot of different things. We were mostly with Jimmy Koplik at the house in Montclair. We had a lot of volume. I look back and the number of shows that we had and it is just astounding. We had so many small, medium and large venues. Then we had Montage (Mountain Performing Arts Center and Darien (Lake Performing Arts Center). We were really busy. We were cranking a lot of volume.
You had to learn what shows worked in what markets in the northeast United States.
It took me about a year to know two markets that couldn’t go together. This one fits here and that one fits there. You learn where the good heavy rock people are and where the alternative people are and what’s a good college town.
Meanwhile, Metropolitan is battling (New York promoter) Ron Delsener.
It was a bit of a back-and-forth. Delsener on top; us on top. We had Irving Plaza and, at the time, no band would play the other (promoter’s venue). He squeezed us, and we’d squeeze him.
This was in the midst of the SFX/Clear Channel roll-up of concerts firms nationally.
That was kind of the beginning and the end of (competition) when they started rolling up. It got bigger, and you weren’t competing with the same size anymore.
You were at Metropolitan during a turbulent period.
Remember that Jerry (Garcia) died in ’95. So I come in the office and everybody goes, “That’s it. We are all getting laid off.” I go, “Why are we getting laid off.” They said, “Because Jerry died.” I go, “My God, Jerry died is the reason that we are being laid off. And that didn’t happen. Then John left PolyGram after ’94. He went to Ogden (Ogden Corporation}. Move forward to “Woodstock ’99,” and it (the company) loses a lot of money. Then Ogden doesn’t want to be in the concert business anymore. In fact, there are a lot of businesses that they don’t want to be in, one of which is the concert business. That was the beginning of the end. It took a lot of time for it to end.
[The Ogden Corporation had bought a 50% stake in Metropolitan Entertainment in 1995.]
You left Metropolitan in 2002.
Mitch Slater bought the company. He owned it for 9 months, and he sold it. I bumped into Mitch recently. I introduced him by saying, “Mitch was my boss for two years.” He said, “It was 9 months, Debra.” I said that felt like two years because if you work for Mitch Slater…..
[The Slater Group, a private investment company owned by Mitchell Slater, briefly owned Metropolitan Entertainment In 2002, Clear Channel Entertainment then acquired many of the company’s assets].
You’re a small town Canadian girl.
My hometown is in the Gatineaus, north of Ottawa, Low with a one room school house. I was first in my class because they moved (students) every row. I think in the sixth year, we were bused out to Wakefield.
[Low is a township municipality in the La Vallée-de-la-Gatineau Regional County Municipality of western Quebec. It is situated along the Gatineau River north of Wakefield. Its 2006 population was 956.]
Were you interested in music when you were young?
We were like the Von Trapp Family at home. My mother is a music teacher. We had the “Great American Songbook,” and we all had to take piano lessons. It’s (interest in Broadway) all due to my mother. How I went to work for Harvey Glatt was because I had moved in with this woman who was a poet who hung with all of the musicians and the music people in Ottawa. I became part of the whole music scene, and I loved it. I thought, “This is amazing.” That was sort of it for me.”
When I started working for Harvey, I was 19 or 20. I took this interview with him because I was going to university. I swear he hired me because I read the New York Times. I really did. But there I was, and I lied about everything else. Totally.
[At the time, Harvey Glatt’s footprint was large in Ottawa. He owned the record chain Treble Clef; Bass Clef Productions that did concert promotion; Posterity Records, which released records by the Nighthawks, Downchild Blues Band, Ian Tamblyn, Joe Hall, Figgy Duff and others; the distributor, TCD Records and Tapes; and local radio station, CHEZ-FM.
Through Bass Clef Productions, Glatt had become the leading concert promoter in the region, promoting such artists as the Kingston Trio, Cream, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, the Beach Boys, and the Rolling Stones.
In 1977, Glatt founded Ottawa-based rock radio station, CHEZ-FM. His radio holdings expanded in the ‘80s with the acquisition of the CKUE and CJET in Smiths Falls, Ontario, and CKIK in Calgary, Alberta.
Glatt sold his Treble Clef record stores in 1979, and his Bass Clef concert promotion business in 1985. In 1999, he sold his radio interests.]
You were then studying history at Carleton University.
I had been at it so long because I was working and going to school and trying to figure out things for myself. I started at the Treble Clef office. I sat with the receptionist. I had Harvey on one side; and I Harold Levin on the other side. Harold ran Bass Clef Entertainment, the concert arm of Treble Clef.
Down the hallway was all of the stereo and the record store stuff that Harvey had. That really wasn’t my world. Then I had Howard Lapidus who used to be (known as) John L'Heuri sitting in front of me, who was the concert manager.
Harvey was more CHEZ-FM at that point. He spent a lot of the time at his office downtown. CHEZ-FM was on top. It was flying. All of DJs and people there were stars. It was big in the community. So a lot of his focus was on that. Then on his record label he had Ian Tamblyn and others.
You didn’t even know how to turn on the electric typewriter when you started?
That’s correct. I had to turn it on and try to put in carbon paper. Every day, I thought that they would fire me. But I was really good on the telephone.
You survived and you were allowed to work on shows.
Part of my job was working with John going to shows, and prepping the files for shows. That was way more fun than typing for someone or answering the phone That was all that Harvey really had going on with me. So I would go to the shows with Harold and John. In those days, you had to go to the box-office, turn the lights, set the tickets up, get the ticket sellers prepped, and go back downstairs and make sure that the piano tuner is in. Those were the days that when you had a show, your box of tickets would arrive from D. English printing in Montréal. and you would have to break your manifest. Get in your car or send them in trucks to the stores or to ticket sellers.
How did you become a buyer at Bass Clef?
John’s father was sick in Buffalo, and he went home, I think, to run the family business. I went to Harold, and asked, “Could I be the buyer.” So he had to call Donald (Tarlton) and Michael (Cohl) and they had to have a meeting, “Could a girl do it?”
Being a woman buyer was a big deal then.
Which was a big deal. So they let me do it. You have to remember that when you were a buyer then it was a yellow pad and a calculator. You worked your numbers, and put offers in. You called them in over the telephone.
What was your territory?
I was putting shows into the National Arts Centre, doing some university stuff, and working on shows with CPI and DKD. They would bring most of the arena shows through. But we did lots of little things. We’d do Charley Pride country show at the Civic Centre. Or we might have done Cano. Do you remember Cano? Those were my first shows. We would do Bruce Cockburn. A lot of the shows were (because of) Harvey and Harold’s relationships.
Harvey worked a lot with CPI and DKD?
I would say that probably 80% of the shows were done with DKD and CPI. We were partners (with them). We were there in Ottawa when we did a show. Then we did the (Ottawa) fair. We did the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition) in Toronto and, the Central Canada Exhibition (CCE) in Ottawa. So we did that in August with them. then probably the other 20% would be shows that we would do ourselves.
Do you still get a buzz from standing in the wings of a venue as the lights go down on a show you are promoting?
Okay, I have Paul McCartney in June. In your whole entire life, when you were a little kid, when you were 11 or 12, and you’d go with your best friend and sit at the jukebox, and put nickels in to listen to "I Am the Walrus," and eat French fries and pretend that you are going to marry Paul McCartney. Then you move from the town with the one room school house all the way to New York, and you get to put on a Paul McCartney show. How cool is that? Really?
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record.
Larry is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry.
He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide.”