Industry Profile: J.P. Williams
By Larry LeBlanc (CelebrityAccess MediaWire)
This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: J.P. Williams, founder & CEO, Parallel Entertainment.
Don’t be fooled by J.P. Williams, he ain’t no country rube.
As founder and CEO of Parallel Entertainment, a full-service talent management and production company headquartered in Los Angeles, with an office in Nashville, Williams sees the big picture of entertainment clearer than almost anyone you can name.
He has also been profiled by The New Yorker magazine, and by CBS-TV’s “60 Minutes.”
Williams founded Parallel Entertainment in 1991 with only a single client, standup comic Jeff Foxworthy, who advanced him $20,000 to take a roll of the management dice.
Today, Parallel Entertainment’s empire consists of comedic giants as Foxworthy, Larry the Cable Guy (aka Dan Whitney), Bill Engvall, Lisa Lampanelli, and Matt Knudsen; such musical acts as Zella Day, Jessica Frech, Dean Alexander, and country duo Kingston; and songwriters Blake Bollinger, Blake Chaffin, Brian Maher, Thom McHugh, and Jenn Schott. The company also handles former CMT host Lance Smith.
While Parallel Entertainment has maintained a presence in Nashville since 2007, Williams decided to launch a full-scale operation on Music Row last year in order to enhance the company’s growing music roster, and to create further opportunities for his clients.
In 2004, Williams launched Jack Records, a co-venture between Parallel Entertainment and Warner Bros. Records, which has released over 35 comedy recordings to date featuring many of his clients.
Among its endeavors, Parallel Entertainment is partnered in various entertainment ventures with Foxworthy, Larry the Cable Guy, and Bill Engvall—the “Blue Collar” troupe of outsized comedians that wear their values on their sleeves—that toured as a pack from 2000 to 2006.
Hailing from Morgantown, West Virginia, Williams’ father died when he was six. Following high school, he worked as a receptionist, an agent’s assistant, an agent, and, eventually, as VP Live Performance in New York at Spotlite Enterprises, the talent agency, owned by his uncle, Robert Williams that represented and booked Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Damon Wayans, Adam Sandler, and Jamie Foxx among others.
Williams launched Parallel Entertainment following Spotlight’s demise in 1991.
In 2000, Williams along with Foxworthy, Engvall, and Larry the Cable Guy created the “Blue Collar Comedy Tour” featuring the threesome, along with comedian Ron White, performing individually and together.
The national tour was so successful that Williams decided to develop further vehicles around his clients, including creating, producing or overseeing “Blue Collar” related feature films, comedy CDs, television specials, DVDs, and licensed merchandise, including T-shirts, bedclothes, aprons, BBQ sauce, and countless other household items bearing the likenesses or slogans of his clients.
In 2003, the feature-length concert film “Blue Collar Comedy Tour: The Movie,” released by Warner Bros., had a limited theatrical release. However, it later debuted on Comedy Central to the highest ever ratings for a movie on that network, with 2.9 million viewers. A DVD release sold more than four million units.
Parallel Entertainment went on to launch the half-hour comedy series “Blue Collar TV” on The WB Television Network in 2004, featuring Foxworthy, Engvall, and Larry the Cable Guy performing in a variety of comedy sketches. The series ran for two seasons.
Parallel Entertainment has since been in involved in such television series as “The Bill Engvall Show” for TBS, “Only in America” with Larry the Cable Guy for the History Channel, and the Bill Engvall-hosted show “Lingo” on the Game Show Network.
In June, 2012, CMT announced its first-ever animated project, “Bounty Hunters” that will feature the voices of Foxworthy, Engvall and Larry the Cable Guy. Co-created by Glenn Clements, Ben Levin and Matt Burnett, “Bounty Hunters” is being produced by Parallel Entertainment and Muse Entertainment. It is set to debut in 2013.
How often does someone say to you, “Boy, do I have a redneck story for Jeff Foxworthy?”
Ahhh, thank God that living out here (in Los Angeles) not much anymore. We still get letters in the mail because the fan mail comes here. I’m sure that Jeff gets it a lot, but I don’t think it occurs as much as it used to. He doesn’t do it (the “You Might Be a Redneck If…” routine) as much anymore. It’s kind of a double-edged sword for him.
The phrase typecast him; especially with journalists.
They’d come out and review him, and he’d say to me, “My God, all they talk about is ‘You Might Be a Redneck If…’ I did an hour show of which I did five redneck jokes at the end. Talk about my story-telling thing." But it’s (all about) that redneck thing that he wrote at a bowling alley in Detroit. He had it framed, the original five (redneck jokes), I think. It was a great selling tool to propel him up (the career ladder).
Are there significant differences between managing stand-up comic and musical acts? There seems to be more opportunities in comedy because more of the entertainment spectrum is available.
The difference is that you can get an opportunity with a comic to play—as you said—in so many different arenas; especially with the ones that I happen to represent. Not all comics are the same. I’m very fortunate because Jeff had “You Might Be a Redneck If…,” Larry the Cable Guy had "Git-R-Done,” and Bill Engvall, “Here’s Your Sign.” Those things (catch-phrases) all turned into books and merchandise. Everything from belly button rings and lighters to press-on tattoos. Now we have boxed food items for Larry, “Git-R-Done’ macaroni and cheese (New Smoky Mac-N-Cheese). So yes, we have an opportunity to play in different arenas.
[Taste Traditions of Omaha, a global food manufacturer, carries a variety of snacks, and sauces under Larry the Cable Guy’s brand name. New Smoky Mac-N-Cheese is the first food product that it has manufactured under the brand.]
Over his career, Jeff has hosted a radio countdown show, hosted several TV quiz programs, and done film voiceovers. You have had him doing all kinds of things other than him just touring, and recording.
That’s the beauty (of working in comedy). We get to play in all mediums. Every aspect (of entertainment) that there is. Whether it’s book deals; whether it’s television shows; whether it’s radio shows. You have so many more avenues to build a career.
Here’s the difference. If you are a singer in a band and it works, you can play all over the world. Comedy, up until I would say the last few years, was pretty much limited for comedians to travel only in the U.S. and, obviously, Canada. Now with the internet and other things, Chris Rock and all of these guys, they are playing England, South Africa, and Copenhagen, Denmark. They are going around the world now.
Before the internet, humor was largely geographically restricted.
Agreed. The internet has really helped comedians to be able to get their stuff out in a far different way.
Yet, the universal premise of comedy is that funny is funny. That should translate internationally.
I agree with that, but if people can’t get exposure to your funny, how will they know to go and see you? That is why I’m saying that the internet has been helpful for that. Chris Rock didn’t get funny four years ago when England discovered him. He’s been funny his entire career, but the internet has helped him get his message out. Therefore, he is able to do massive amounts of touring.
(Actor/comedian) Kevin Hart just did a (UK arena) tour. I don’t even know if you know who Kevin Hart is. He’s probably one of the hottest comedians out there. He just sold out the O2 (on Sept. 14, 2012) in London. That’s 15,000 people.
You have said that the “Blue Collar Tour” was aimed at a country music demographic; the world of bait shops and the gun rack. But, living in Toronto, when someone talks about a relative opening beer at a funeral, I recognize them.
Well, I think that is why “Blue Collar” was successful. We made a point of doing it…we never shot any of the movies in the South. The first “Blue Collar” movie that we shot was in Phoenix, Arizona. The second “Blue Collar” movie, I think, was shot in Denver, Colorado; and the third one we shot in Washington, D.C. We did that for a reason. We knew (if we didn’t) that it’d be people saying, ”Oh yeah, they are in the South” or “They did it in Dallas.” We stayed away from those places to show that it (the humor) is just not limited (to the South). Jeff said it best one time, and I give him a lot of credit. He said, “You know just because I’m from the South, people always go, ‘Well, you are a Southern comedian.’ No, I’m not. They don’t say that Jerry Seinfeld is a Northern comedian.”
By growing up as a Jew in Brooklyn, people would put Seinfeld down by saying that he’s a Jewish or a New York comic.
Yes, people tend to label. Jeff wouldn’t have had the career that he’s had if he was just a Southern comedian.
Many people who first heard Jeff’s act felt that he would only appeal to a distinctly rural audience. Like “Hee Haw” decades ago.
Well, “Hee Haw” reflected a different time. I think humor was different when “Hee Haw” was on the air. Nowadays everything has changed so much that it (the series) wouldn’t work in this day and age. They have tried to bring it back in different forms, and it just doesn’t fly. They have tried to update it.
[Country-themed “Hee Haw” aired on CBS-TV from 1969–1971 before a 21-year run in local syndication. While centered on country music, and the rural Southern culture, “Hee Haw's” appeal was not limited to a rural audience. It was successful in all of the major U.S. markets, including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.]
I recall a country radio consultant being aghast by the corniness of the Grand Ole Opry a few years back. He felt the Opry gave country music a poor image for today’s audiences.
The Grand Ole Opry can sure be corny some times, but it’s so rich in tradition; why would you ever want to get rid of it? For most country artists coming up, that’s one of the things that they strive to be inducted into. To have their names up there with all of the other great people that pioneered the way for them to have a career. The Grand Ole Opry is one of the cool things that are left.
People tend to overlook how long some of your clients have been around. Jeff was working in clubs in Atlanta in the mid-80s.
Oh yeah. Jeff has been doing standup for 25 or 27 years, and Bill Engvall has been doing it as long if not longer.
They would have met Jerry Seinfeld, Rosie O'Donnell and other celebrities of today on the comedy club circuit.
Oh yeah. They all used to look up to Johnny Carson whom a lot of people forget about. I can’t speak for Larry as much, but I do know that Jeff was influenced very heavily by Bill Cosby. If you look at Jeff’s style of humor, it’s very similar in a lot of ways. He’s a storyteller just like Bill Cosby. I know that back in the day that Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, and George Carlin; those were these guys’ thing (influences). As I said, I can’t speak for Larry because I’ve never really had that conversation with Larry. I have heard Jeff and Bill talk about those names.
From 1974 to 1984, “The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast” was on NBC-TV and probably influenced many comedians. The shows featured Jackie Gleason, Don Rickles, Redd Foxx, Jack Klugman, Milton Berle and other comedy greats. Corny, but often very funny.
Some of those roasts are hilarious. I love them. I suckered up, and bought the whole (DVD) collection. You look at the roasts today that are on Comedy Central and some of them are funny, but they are so filthy. Those (Dean Martin) roasts were so great because they (the comedians) did them “clean.” I think it’s much harder to be a stand-up (comedian) and be “clean.” You can always throw a swear word in and get a laugh. The art of stand-up to me, personally, is somebody being able, as we always used to say about Jay Leno, be able to tell a dick joke without saying the word dick. The reference is in the way that they do it. Look, if you want to be filthy you can be filthy. I find that funny too. I am just saying that for me personally that I think the art of clean stand-up is a bigger challenge.
When you met Jeff in 1988, he was a hard-working club performer.
He worked 48 weeks a year. I was his agent for a year (while at Spotlite Enterprises) but my forte was really in the urban business before that. One of my first clients was Robert Townshend. Then I represented the Wayan brothers, Jamie Foxx, and Mark Curry. That was kind of my thing. Then I got into Jeff. When the Spotlight agency went bankrupt, he was the one who said, “Go be my manager.” I was just going to go and get a job as an agent somewhere else; whether it was William Morris or ICM.
Didn’t Jeff bankroll you to set up Parallel Entertainment?
I had very little money. He said, “Look I will give you half of my net worth to start a management company.” Half of his net worth—we laugh at this today. He gave me $20,000. So I said, “Okay.” He looks back, and says, “What the hell was I thinking?” Giving you all that money when you were only six years younger than me.”
Wet behind the ears.
Wet behind the ears? How about a mullet, a purple feathered earring, and parachute pants? That’s how long ago that was. That’s wet behind the ears. But I paid him back the $20,000 in the first 11 months of being open. He was the best man at my wedding. I am the godfather of his first child. He’s the godfather of my son.
You are lucky you didn’t get your asses kicked in the southern clubs being dressed like that.
I didn’t go to the Southern clubs often dressed like that, okay? I didn’t really go to the Southern clubs. But you are right, I would have been.
Those early days may have been exhilarating but you were probably too busy to really enjoy them.
Well, you are right. One of the downsides is that you don’t really appreciate it because you are in the throes of doing it. That rush of when we first started doing tour dates and me picking Jeff up at his house at 5 A.M. to go to L.A. LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) for whatever cities we were going to on the weekend. Now, you think about some of the funny moments. He’d be chain-smoking in my car; I’d be smoking. He’d be doing interviews for the gigs on the way to LAX. We both smoked like fiends but he quit, and I quit.
Jeff’s first pair of albums “You Might Be a Redneck If…” in 1993, and “Games Rednecks Play” in 1995 both sold three million copies. He’s had four Grammy Award nominations but never won.
We have been nominated numerous times, but have never won.
Not even for his wonderful debut album, “You Might Be a Redneck If…”
The first one we should have won in a landslide. We lost to a Jonathan Winters’ answering machine thing that Jonathan had nothing to do with. It sold something like 10,000 copies, and we sold 3 1/2 million.
[In 1996, “Crank Calls” by Jonathan Winters on the Publishing Mills label won the Grammy for Best Spoken Comedy Recording. The album features Winters leaving humorous messages on his friends' phone answering machines.]
In 1995, Jeff lands a sitcom, “The Jeff Foxworthy Show.” He’s a club performer, but can he act?
What we did for that was exactly this. In 1994 we started doing theatres. Our first real theatre gig was Roanoke, Virginia. I will never forget it. It was in January. We sold two shows at the Roanoke Civic Center (2,440-seater exhibit hall). We weren’t charging $100 a ticket. We were charging $22 or $25. We started to build a buzz with the following. The selling of the records was getting attention. We were doing a lot of radio. So, we went and played the Wiltern Theatre here in L.A., and we used the show as a showcase. We had sold it out. Right in the heart of Los Angeles, right on Wilshire Boulevard.
We invited the networks. We invited Don Omeyer who was running NBC. We invited the people from ABC, CBS, and Fox. At the end of the day one of the lower ABC executives—I think that it was Ken Mok—really believed in Jeff. He convinced his uppers, and they gave us a deal.
At the time, Ted Harbert was the head of the network (chairman of ABC Entertainment). We shot a pilot presentation. It wasn’t very good but the interesting thing was that they tested it, and it tested through the roof because of Jeff.
We were with Brillstein-Grey (Entertainment) which is now Brillstein Entertainment Partners. They had just started their production company. They were a management company, and we were one of their first shows. So they were kinda a little green themselves.
Anyway, ABC picked it (the series) up. But they buried us on Saturday night. There hasn’t been a successful sitcom on Saturday night in years. We lasted one season on ABC. But the interesting thing was that the two times they aired us on a weekday, we finished in third in the ratings for that week, and then 14. If they had put us on during the week we would have had a shot, but it wasn’t ever going to happen. Ted didn’t get into the show. So they canceled us, NBC picked us up for the second season.
Who pushed for a TV series? You or Jeff?
We both wanted to do it. It’s a natural progression. Not for all (comedians) but we wanted to. We were looking at things. You look at the popularity of “Roseanne” and other shows, and they were all (with) stand-ups. So you figure, “I’m conquering it on the road. I’ve built the fan base. What's the next natural thing to do?”
The next natural thing to do for many years was doing nighttime talk show.
We wanted to do the sitcom route. But it didn’t work. So we laid low for a little bit. We created the “Blue Collar” thing, and then we sold the sketch show “Blue Collar TV” to the WB (The WB Television Network that closed down in 2006) which is now The CW (The CW Television Network).
When Comedy Central broadcast the first “Blue Collar” concert movie in 2003, ratings blew through the roof.
Yeah, we did a lot for them. We don’t do much with them anymore.
How did you convince Jeff to team up with a couple of other comedians to tour?
It was kind of interesting. He had his tour, and he had different opening acts but it had really settled into Ron (White) being his opening. He helped Ron. Ron had a lot of problems with money, and it was a way for Jeff to help. Jeff was being a good friend. Then Bill had his own tour, and was building his hard ticket up. He wasn’t as big as Jeff at the time, but he was in theatres. And he had his opening act Craig Hawksley. We call him our Pete Best because he was on the first 20 dates of the “Blue Collar Tour.” He got let go because he really didn’t fit. That’s where Larry the Cable Guy came in.
You weren’t managing Larry The Cable Guy at that point.
I was not. The bottom line (behind the tour) was “The Kings of Comedy” tour (in 1997 with Steve Harvey, Cedric The Entertainer, and Bernie Mac) that had a lot of success. We waited until we could figure it all out. It came down to wanting to try new things. You can only go to so many cities with an opening by yourself year in and year out. You can do it but would it be more fun if we did it this way?
Obviously, Jeff was secure enough to embrace the group concept.
He’s very secure. What people do forget is that these are friends. So it’s not like they are going out with three people they don’t know. That’s why the encores always work so well. Two, think about this. Your business goes bigger—of course you are splitting the pie differently—but you are doing a third of the work. When you are out on your own…There was a point where Jeff was doing two hours or two hours and 15 minute shows. Now he’s on “Blue Collar” and, at the end, each guy was doing 30 or 30 minutes, and then the encore. Whether you are a guy or a girl after awhile the road can be a pretty boring place to be.
How much editing was done with the “Blue Collar” concert films? So much that goes on is based on the chemistry between the guys. There must be a lot on the floor.
You would be surprised because towards the end they each had their set so together. So they pretty much stuck with it. When we were doing the second and third film, and each guy was doing 20 minutes or so, there wasn’t a whole lot of editing just because we knew what we were going to put in to be able to give the network what they wanted. There’s some (editing) but it’s not crazy. They’d do their set in a way that we weren’t chopping stuff up too much.
The best parts are the encores where the guys are joking around with each other.
Oh yeah. They wanted to make something special at the end of the tour. No matter how funny they were individually we always got more comments on the encores.
What makes it work is that each one of them is different.
Didn’t Parallel Entertainment finance and produce the first “Blue Collar” film?
I didn’t have to put up money. It was financed through the studio (Warner Bros.). What I personally financed were the three Larry The Cable Guy movies. The “Blue Collar” movies were a great model. What I would do is that I would pre-sell to Comedy Central. I’d get what I needed to finance, and shoot (the concert) and split what was left with the guys.
The second one, I sold to Comedy Central for $2 million. The third one, I sold them for $4 million. I was making them (the films) for $500,000 or $600,000.
What did you sell the first “Blue Collar” film for?
The first one we were in a partnership with Warner Brothers. Comedy Central stole that. They bought it from the studio. The girl called from Comedy Central Acquisitions and got the first “Blue Collar” for $1 million for seven years. Warner Brothers gave it away. The studio couldn’t have cared less. They are putting out $100 million movies.
What have you learned by recently being involved with the game show “Lingo” on The Game Show Network which Bill Engvall hosts?
I tend to do a lot of those things with my buddies who own Zoo Productions, Barry Poznick and John Stevens. They are great to work with. John lives seven doors down from me. So we have a good time. We did “Lingo” together. I met them through “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?”
[Jeff Foxworthy hosted the quiz show “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” that ran on Fox Television for two years (2007–2009), and then ran in syndication until being canceled March 24, 2011.]
Game shows are cheap to produce, but chaotic to shoot.
This isn’t like “Family Feud” or “The Price Is Right” where you go on every day. We stock shoot them. When we were doing “Fifth Grader” in syndication, Jeff would shoot 150 episodes in four weeks, and he would be done. It’s a long day but working for four weeks out of the year, you get a fair amount of money, and you are done.
Four shows a day?
At one point, Jeff was up to eight shows a day. Once you get them down. You know Jeff’s a worker. “If I’m going to be out, work me.” This new game show he’s hosting that is getting a lot of attention on GSN (Game Show Network) called “The American Bible Challenge.” It’s a great show that airs on Thursday night. It’s cutting edge in the sense that it’s a Bible show.
There’s trivia on the show from the best-selling book of all time?
Yes, but the cool thing about the show is that there are three teams of three competing on each show, and they are playing for a charity. They aren’t playing for themselves. So it’s a win/win across the board. It’s contemporary. It’s today. It’s not, “I’m about to go to sleep. Let’s talk about the Old Testament.” No, they have made it very modern.
Does your record label Jack Records primarily operate as an extension of your clients’ film, and TV projects?
Yeah. That’s why I started doing it. I partnered (in 2004) with Warner Bros. which was issuing Jeff’s (recordings). It just made sense.
Why a major label as a partner?
At the time I created the company, it was obviously a different time and I needed the marketing and the distribution. With Warner Bros., every one of those albums that they have, also came with a DVD, and every DVD I had already sold to Comedy Central. Warner Bros. never paid for one piece of product. Everything I gave them for Jack Records was already paid for by Comedy Central. The DVD aired so the advertising part of it was on Comedy Central. So they have never had to go and pay recording costs. They never have had to pay recording costs.
Why not just license the recordings to Warners?
Because I own the label in conjunction with Warners. It has worked out fine. I’ve made my share.
Do you worry about oversaturation of your clients in the marketplace?
No. There are some people out there that can’t afford to go and see a live show. Now more than ever. But they are still fans. So if they want to get their taste of Jeff Foxworthy, Larry The Cable Guy or Bill Engvall, they can afford a calendar that makes them laugh or puts a smile on their face. Or they can afford a T-shirt or they can get a kick out of buying the macaroni and cheese or whatever it may be. There’s a different price point for everybody. A musical act, it’s “Come pay your $200 to see me” and that’s it. We’ve got stuff (merchandise) at $5, $10, $20.
Has legal downloading had a noticeable impact on revenue streams for your clients?
There’s a lot of money in iTunes and other things for the musicians out there. It just hasn’t hit that level for comedy at this point. You don’t see a lot of ringtones in comedy. You have some but it just hasn’t hit that threshold yet.
How about your clients being all over YouTube and not being paid?
Well, people get it for free. What are you going to do? You hope that the exposure propels into other areas of business; and you hope that the exposure drives other pieces of product whether it’s the food or the book product or that those people who watch on YouTube decide to watch “Only in America,” Larry’s show on the History Channel to keep rating up.
It’s often impossible to track down illegal usage.
It’s everywhere. It is stealing but what are you going to do at the end of the day? It’s frustrating that you work very hard and you are not getting paid. You should be getting paid because of the time and effort you put into it.
In 2007, Parallel Entertainment opened a Nashville office with John Dennis. You greatly expanded the operation there last year. Why a Nashville office?
Well, I have spent a lot of time there. When I opened it in ’07, I thought, “Okay, there are not many companies that are management companies in Nashville that are also in L.A., and do what I do.” They may have a music office in Nashville, and a music office in L.A. but I wanted to be that full service (company). We do a lot of TV, and if some country singer wants to get into television, we can use it (the office) as a tool to sign people. We are just not about the music. We are about all areas of entertainment. That we had so much success with branding and stuff that I figured that it may be an attraction. John Dennis and I are no longer partners. The guy I have running it now is C.T. Wyatt who I love and adore.
Tim Hunze now heads up Parallel Music Publishing in Nashville.
And Tim is on the publishing side. We had signed Dean Alexander who is on Warner Bros. Records. He’s a talented, talented kid. I had met Tim through Dean. Tim had signed Dean to a publishing deal while he was at Stage Three Music. Stage Three was bought by BMG in 2010, and they got rid of Tim. I thought all this publishing stuff is just one big company after another. There’s no real (playing) field. So I sat down with Tim, and we decided “Let’s start a publishing company. I will fund it. Let’s go old school." We have a house on Music Row. I think we have eight writers now. We have writing rooms. In our first year, I think that we had 900 songs in our catalog. So it just made sense. I want to do more country music.
Because country is more consistent than other genres?
Country is consistent. It also sort of fits into what I have done in the past. Country is a natural fit. But I represent a 17 year old girl Zella Day who’s not country. She’s pop. She’s fantastic. So I play in both arenas.
Country just makes the most sense to me. I know Nashville well. I let Tim do his thing. You say that I have a publishing company? I do. But I don’t work it. I fund it. That’s Tim’s job. He’s a partner. Think of a restaurant with a good chef. You want to open a restaurant but you don’t have enough money. I will be your silent partner. You are going to do the day-to-day, so it’s not spreading me too thin.
You are from Morgantown, West Virginia. Did you grow up listening to country music?
Honestly, no, I never listened to country music as a kid. My first live concert was Rush. I was in the 9th grade. I saw them in Albuquerque, New Mexico at the Tingley Coliseum. Tickets were $3.25.
You began your career in New York at Spotlite Enterprises that was owned by your uncle, Robert Williams.
That’s where I started. That was my first job out of high sczhool. I went from high school to New York City, in 1983 and I worked as a receptionist. Back in those days, you took the postage meter to the post office to get more postage. We didn’t have faxes back then. Everything we got was through Western Union. We had a telex machine. When we got an offer in, and the agents got it and accepted it, one of my jobs was to send out the telex confirming it.
[Spotlite Enterprises, originally a Virginia Beach, Virginia-based booking agency, grew into a national entertainment power player with offices in New York, Nashville and Los Angeles. Opening in New York City in 1976, Spotlite signed such musical acts as Blood Sweat and Tears, Ritchie Havens, the Weather Girls, and Jimmy (J.J.) Walker, and later signed such stand-up comics as Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Dennis Miller, Yakov Smirnoff, Damon Wayans, among others.]
Where was the office in New York City?
221 West 57th Street. It was right next to the Hard Rock Cafe. I remember when the Hard Rock opened up, there were lines around the block.
[The Hard Rock Café on West 57th Street has since closed. The only Hard Rock Cafe in New York City is now located at Times Square.]
Why didn’t you go to university?
I didn’t want to go to college. I hated school. I hated school with a passion. I wanted to go and work. I worked my way up to be an agent there. I left New York in ’88 where my uncle opened up an office in L.A. Being young, I thought “Why don’t I try something new?”
A big change in your life to move from New York to Los Angeles.
I wish to God I had thought it through. I was 24 years old when I moved out here. I was young. I didn’t care. It wasn’t like I was leaving anything behind. I loved New York. I had a blast living there but when you are young, you want to go and run. I came from a small town growing up, and I knew that’s not what I wanted to be. Morgantown is a beautiful city with the WVA University (West Virginia University), but it wasn’t for me.
Los Angeles is expensive. You would have been starving out there for the first few years.
No more starved than when I first went to New York. Trust me. I got very lucky. I moved out here with Adam Sandler. We lived together in a house in Van Nuys. Then I met a girl and we moved in together. I had to buy a car because I had never owned one. I wasn’t making any real money. I was making, I think at the time $350 a week. My uncle wasn’t known for paying people, trust me. I got (my salary) up to $750. Yeah, driving my blue Honda Accord.
When did you open Parallel Entertainment?
Dec. ’91. I opened up after he went bankrupt in Oct. ’91. By that point, I had been Jeff’s agent for one year before the company went under.
How are you today able to oversee all of Parallel Entertainment’s activities?
Here’s the interesting thing. Jeff lives in Atlanta. I know exactly what he wants, and what he doesn’t. It’s not like when we started when he was in the club business and he was working 48 weeks a year on the road, and had all those concerts. When he first got into concerts, I would have to travel with him every weekend. That just doesn’t happen anymore. So I have plenty of time. I have a great team that works with me. I have a VP of development, Jennifer Novak, who does a lot of my shows. Once they are sold, I move on, and she handles the day-to-day with the production companies, and the talent and so forth.
With many of the projects, you are partnered with others. So you aren’t really carrying the full weight.
Nope. Whether it’s Fox or Zoo TV or BermanBraun or whatever the production house. For Larry’s show “Only in America,” it’s Pilgrim Studios. They do the physical production, and all of that. Jenny is in constant contact with them from my office regarding scheduling, and being involved in where we are going. Jenny goes to cities. She picks her spots to see the filming, and see Larry because that’s a grueling show to do.
The fact that you get paid for thinking up innovative projects for your clients isn’t a bad way to make a living.
No. There’s a lot worst ways to make a living. I’m very fortunate. There are a lot of people a lot smarter than me. You have to have luck fall into your lap. Sometimes you have to be standing at the right spot at the right time. I’m been very fortunate to have what I have. I have also been very fortunate to work with the people that I get to work with. It makes a difference. I guess. I have never taken the time to sit down and look at it from that perspective of, “Wow, I’m really proud of my career.” I think, maybe, that is something that you do when you decide to slow down, and look back. Then you go, “Wow. I can’t believe this and this and this.” You are still working day-to-day on all these different projects.
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. 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.”