Phil Kaufman Interview

Phil Kaufman is that rare breed of man known as a Road Manager, or in his words, an "Executive Nanny." His job as he sees it is "moving people, not equipment. Coordinating all aspects of touring for musicians and other celebrities."

Phil's past employers read like a Who's Who List of popular music - Frank Zappa, Joe Cocker, Rosanne Cash, Marianne Faithfull, Gram Parsons, Marty Stuart, The Rolling Stones, and Emmy Lou Harris.

Phil Kaufman is the proud author of the book "Road Mangler (yes, that's right, mangler), Deluxe"

(White-Boucke Publishing).

We talked with one of the most celebrated Road Managers in the business - Mr. Phil Kaufman.

Q - Phil, I once saw an ad for a Road Manager's School. Is it possible for someone to go to school and learn what you know?
A - I wouldn't think so. There are some basics you can learn in a school - and that would be like a travel agency, how to operate a computer and book your stuff. Every artist is different. Everybody requires different personal attention. I've met a lot of Road Managers over the years who believe they're more important than the artists. They've got such a terrible ego. A guy who worked with Joe Cocker was incredible. The musicians hated him. He treated them like the help. He flaunted all over Joe. That's not good for anybody, the morale especially. Nobody wants to be treated like the help. But, I wouldn't think there's much you can learn in a Road Manager's School.

Q - You've been described as a guy who watches everything that's happening. You're very careful about security. You keep your eyes on the dressing rooms. You walk out to check the sound and lights. You're like the "on-site" manager for every aspect that's happening. You make sure you've got a clear sense of everything that's going on. Why? How does that help you do a better job as a Road Manager?
A -You don't want any surprises. When they go out there, you want them to know their stuff is secure in the dressing room, the people are in their seats, and they can go out there and not worry about something going wrong. I want to make sure everything is right. I check with my crew. You got a problem? Let me know. I have to know everything. It doesn't mean I have to do everything. I delegate authority, but, I want to know. If they're having a problem, I want to know. Maybe I can help. Maybe I can't. But, I gotta know, so perhaps I can look up contingencies. You just have to be on top of it. No surprises - and that's not something you're gonna learn in a school. You just gotta get out there, and know what's going on.

Q - Do you have to like the music of the artist you're a Road Manager for? Could you be a Road Manager for New Kids on the Block?
A - Yeah. I worked with Frank Zappa. I worked with The DiVinyls. You don't have to like the music. It helps. As a matter of fact, it's even broadened my horizons. I had heard of Frank Zappa when I went to work for him, but, I wasn't a big fan. But left and became a fan, and a friend. Same with the DiVinyls. I thought their music was crap. But, being exposed to it a long time, and listening to it, and getting rid of my prejudices, I liked their music as well. (Laughs). But, you're there for business. You're not there as a critic. You're not there contributing in the music sense. You just gotta get them to work, and let them do whatever it is they do.

Q - Is the job of being a Road Manager different for Frank Zappa, than it is for Emmy Lou Harris?
A - Oh, for sure. Definitely. First of all, Emmy Lou is very low key. We have a very small crew. We're almost like a commando unit. We all travel on the same bus. I have to look after the crew, and if they're ready, the band will leave. We have a little coordinating there. But with Zappa, there were multiple buses. He flew separately. Sometimes he stayed in different hotels than the band. Each group is unique within itself, to what their requirements are. Sometimes you gotta get grumpy with 'em, with the musicians or the crew, just to get their attention. I always thought that b.s. beats bullets, but once in a while you gotta fire a gun, and get the ship and chair out, just to get their attention.

Q - Could you make the jump from being a Road Manager to a Personal Manager?
A - Oh, I have managed. I managed Etta James and Gram Parsons and The Flying Burrito Bros. There are different requirements to be a manager. Managers have to make a lot of corporate decisions. I usually just end up with their decisions and take them out on the road. (Laughs). They made negotiations on what press they're gonna do and I see that the press is carried out. They make decisions as to how much you're gonna make, what your routing is, well, they do consult me on routing. But, not all the time. You gotta go where the gigs are. But, right now, I don't know if I want to get nailed behind a desk.

Q - Why did you title the book, "Road Mangler", instead of Road Manager?
A - That's my nickname. I'm known as Mangler. The guys in the band call me Mangler. Years ago, before Road Managing became the great science it is today, if you did it right, you're the Road Manager, if you screwed up, you're the Road Mangler. I just like the name. Every once in a while we had to punch somebody out, or get rough with somebody. So, the name stuck. As a matter of fact, a lot of people know me just as Mangler, ‘til the book came out.

Q - Did you ever meet Hendrix, Joplin or Morrison?
A - Jimi Hendrix played with The Flying Burrito Bros, once in Hollywood at the Teen Fair. It was at the Palladium. They used to have all these young groups. Jefferson Airplane would be there, Big Brother and the Holding Co., Quick Silver, Hendrix was there. He wasn't playing with anybody, so, he came in and sat in with us. We strung a guitar left handed for him, and he played with The Flying Burrito Bros. Jim Morrison, I kicked out of a car. I think that's in the book, where I kicked him out of a limo, once.

Q - Did you get to spend any time with these people?
A - Well, you'd be backstage, or at a party and you'd be hanging out, you know. They were all like contemporaries. They weren't like stars to us, 'cause we were working with 'em. You can't run around with stars in your eyes and do your job.

Q - Well, what did you think of Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison?
A - Hendrix was just a big, ugly, black guy who was very talented, very loud, and on drugs. (Laughs). Morrison was a skinny, white guy, same thing. (Laughs). You know the old saying the good die young? I say the dumb die young, 'cause the good guys are still around. I'm still here. I'm one of the good guys.

Q - How about Janis Joplin?
A - Janis Joplin, drunk, fell on top of Gram Parsons backstage at Steve Paul's The Scene in New York. We were doing a show there. She fell down, and passed out. I had to peel her off of him. We used to run into Janis, and Mama Cass. I used to see Mama Cass a lot. I did a film with Michelle Phillips years ago, with the son of Brian Jones, Julian Jones.

Q –You write "Record company people don't seem to understand their artists. They treat 'em like cars, fill 'em up, oil 'em, and let 'em run." If that was what it was like years ago, can you imagine what it's like today?
A - Well, I do know. Somebody comes up with a gimmick, and then everybody wants to clone it. We get Garth Brooks, and he's a superstar, so now, we call them Hats here in Nashville, the label is trying to sign another Hat, and that's it. They got staff writers out there, trying to clone the song. Guys like George Jones and Merle (Haggard) are still the greatest, and those guys couldn't get arrested until recently. They even have Randy Travis on the oldies station. C'mon! The guy's contemporary. What the hell is going on? It's a disposable industry. They go a formula, and you fill the formula. Gimme something that rhymes with moon and June, a hat, and let's cut the track. (Laughs).

Q - What are you doing in Nashville? Shouldn't you be in L.A.?
A - No. I hate L.A. I never want to go to L.A. again. I lived there for many years. When Emmy Lou moved, I got out of there. I lived in Europe for a long time. L.A. is a toilet. You can quote me on that. It could use a big flushing right now. I think L.A. would be a good place to store nuclear waste. It's an unsafe, dangerous and ugly place. And, that's the streets there. The business there is just b.s., too. It's just corporate b.s.

Q - You write, "You don't save money in rock 'n roll, you spend money." There's gotta be a few people out there who are tight with a buck.
A - Tell me one.

Q - How about Paul McCartney?
A - Well, he's still working. (Laughs).

Q -How about Engel Bert Humperdinck?
A - He's still working. These guys are all working. I don't know if they've saved their money. I think Wayne Newton blew all of his money. He has to work. It's the old saying, if you got a dollar, you spend a dollar. If you got a thousand dollars, you spend a thousand dollars. That's how it is. You buy bigger toys. See a lot of guys are writers, so they got money comin' in from songs, for copyrights and publishing and writers' royalties. Other people cover their songs, their albums are still selling, things like that. So, they always have something to fall back on. Rick Grech ("Blind Faith") died, owing everybody money. Rich Grech put a farm in his arm. He had a beautiful farm down in East Sussex. I went down to visit him. It was heroin. He put the whole farm in his arm. And, a Ferrari. His wife and kids got nothing.

Q - You produced an album by Charles Manson. Could he have made it as a recording artist?
A - No. His only selling point is because of what he did, what he allegedly did. He wanted a recording contract mostly so he could get his music out so people would be following him. I don't think he was concerned about big touring.

Q - What was wrong with his recording artistry? Did he not have a good voice?
A - Oh, he's cool. He sounded like a young Frankie Laine. But, the lyrical content of the song was just what he was up to. Nothing really commercial.

Q - Were you the Road Manager for The Stones?
A - Well, not exactly a Road Manager, more of an in-house confidante in the studio. I never toured with them. I worked on Beggar's Banquet, Let It Bleed, and we've kept contact to go back to England with him, and look after Brian Jones, but the parole board wouldn't give me a passport, so I didn't go, and he died. Then I met Gram Parsons through Keith. I was there when Gram sat down with a big stack of records and I played d.j. Gram told me what to play, to give them a hint about country music, and then they did country music.

Q - Did the Stones treat you pretty good?
A - Just like one of the guys. I was an employee, but I never felt like I was an employee. I knew they were the boss and I was working for them, and I didn't take liberties, but I always felt comfortable with them. They were very generous. I thought I was assisting and helping them, so I felt I was contributing in my own small way, to their comfort, which gave them the flexibility to concentrate on their music. I took care of all the little, petty business deals, shopping, security, booking studio time, getting them to work on time, making sure they were comfortable in the studio, screening their calls, keeping them healthy. That in turn gave them the impetus to get on with what they were supposed to do, and that's make music, good music.

Q - It was a mutual friend who introduced you to The Stones?
A - Right. Tony Foutz. He introduced me to Mick Jaggar, and their producer Jimmy Miller. They just had the hit "Jumpin' Jack Flash," and were in the process of mixing Beggar's Banquet. They needed someone to look after them, someone to drive them, and do as I described earlier. It wasn't very well defined what they wanted, but the guy loaned me some money to buy a pair of shoes to go to work, and that night I came home with a new Cadillac and fifteen hundred dollars, and this thing they call rock 'n roll, and I've been in it ever since.

Q - What's the likelihood that somebody just out of prison would get the opportunity you got? Today, they'd probably look for 20 years of experience.
A - At that time there wasn't anybody around with 20 years of experience. We kind of invented the road Manager as we went along. Now, it's more of a science. We learned our lessons. With the advent of E-mail and computer we can do a lot of travel arrangement from home. The Road Manager's job is basically to take care of the road, so they have nothing to worry about. Take them on the road. Get 'em in and out gracefully. Take care of security. Make sure they're fed, and get 'em to work.

Q - How did you know how to do all that?
A - Well, I didn't. I figured I had to get from A to B, and I did it. I researched it. I got a good travel agent. I learned how to read an OAG, Official Airlines Guide. I started using the 800 numbers to book hotels, whereas before, most people would just call up a hotel straight ahead. I looked for bargains. I looked for deals. I had to know where the big guitar shop was, in case you need something. So, I just learned as I went along. Now, I've become world class.

© Gary James All Rights Reserved