From Prince To Michael Jackson To Why Don’t We: Randy Phillips’ Extraordinary Career
5:00 AM, Tuesday, 2/06/2018 By: Andy Gensler
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This Is ItMichael Jackson and Randy Phillips backstage at the London’s O2 Arena before a press conference to announce Jackson’s residency on March 5, 2009.
To hear veteran music exec Randy Phillips discuss his illustrious five-decades career in the music business and the veritable music hall-of-fame artists whose careers he’s touched is to induce head-spinning.
How does one go from booking shows as an undergrad to managing Rod Stewart, Prince, Sublime, Lionel Richie and Toni Braxton? Or promoting tours by Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, Bon Jovi, Britney Spears, Cher, Usher and Justin Bieber among many, many others?
“I’m a type-A Jew and a workaholic,” says Phillips, 63, who hasn’t slowed down a millisecond. He’s now running LiveStyle, formerly SFX, a festival production company he joined in the fall of 2016. He continues to manage artists like this week’s cover subject Why Don’t We with his company Signature Entertainment
Fittingly, he cites attending George Harrison and Ravi Shankar’s 1971 all-star benefit Concert for Bangladesh at Madison Square Garden with his older brother as an early influence. Perhaps it was that legendary show, featuring all-star performances by Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Leon Russell, Badfinger and Ali Akbar Khan among others, that led Phillips to work with such a luminous amalgamation of superstars.
Pollstar: When did you start working in music?
Randy Phillips: I transferred to Stanford in 1972 where I was the director of special events. I was actually named Billboard’s college talent buyer of the year.
Really? Which artists did you book?
A lot of Bay Area bands, Crosby Stills & Nash and Boz Scaggs. We had Fleetwood Mac and Rod Stewart who became a client. Then I went to the University of Santa Clara for law school because they had opened an air-supported 5,000-seater and gave me a scholarship to book the building. I was a building manager when I was still in college. I had bands like Lydia Pense and Cold Blood, Elvin Bishop and Bruce Springsteen.
What was your first job in L.A.?
I co-produced a show on NBC called the “Rock Palace.” I was one of the partners. I did a show out of there that followed “SNL” for three seasons. I made a deal with K-Rock and we had all the New Wave artists, Haircut 100 and Modern English. I was very much into New Wave.
What was your defining moment there?
I booked Rod Steward to perform and his new manager [Arnold Stiefel] was so impressed with my presentation he hired me to join his management company. Within a year we had signed Billy Squier and Prince and I was offered a full partnership after the first year. Arnold’s a character and he still has Rod Stewart.
How did you land Prince?
Rod had become a massive arena touring act and Warner Bros. Records was desperate to find Prince a manager. Mo Ostin, Lenny Waronker and Michael Ostin couldn’t deal directly with him and Steve Fargnoli, Prince’s original manager, had died. He had a lawyer at the time named Gary Stiffelman from John Branca’s firm – so Gary set up a meeting for Arnold and I at Prince’s Paisley Park.
Oh my God, how’d that go?
Prince made us wait in his conference room for most of the day and then he summoned us. In Paisley Park you got in an elevator and went up three stories to this apartment where he lived on the top. The doors were like church doors with stained glass and there was this massive white room. We walked in and to the left was a golden heart-shaped satin bed. Laying on the bed, and this was for a meeting after we had waited for six hours, was Kim Basinger.
Arnold and I are sitting there and Prince is behind the desk and no one is saying anything – not a thing. And Kim Basinger is reading a magazine. So I said, “Hey Prince don’t you want to ask us anything? Get to know us, the whole thing?” And he said, “No. Are you managers?” And I said, “Yes, that’s what we do for a living.” And he said, “Okay then manage me.” And that was the end of the meeting.
So this was mid-’80s after Purple Rain, was he massive then?
He was massive, but it was uneven. Like in Europe we could go from one city and do 60,000 in a stadium and then go into another town and he’d only do 30,000. Unfortunately Arnold and I got the honor, or dishonor, of executive producing “Graffiti Bridge.” Which was shot all at a Paisley Park soundstage and looked like “H.R. Pufnstuf.”
How long did you work for Prince?
About a year and a half. We were able to turn his finances around. When I met him he was hemorrhaging money and he could have lost Paisley Park, which was dear to him. I was known as a touring manager, someone who knew the road and the touring business really, really well. Paul Gongaware and I made that deal with the Sunday Mail with the bundled tickets and he made about 3 million pounds from that. We were also his promoter for 21 nights at the London O2 and the first one to package his CD into the tickets for his Musicology Tour.
How and why did it end?
He got into the war with Warner Bros. and painted his face and changed his name and that was it. We never got fired, we just never heard from him again.
Who was on the Stiefel-Phillips roster?
We had Prince, Rod Stewart, Simple Minds, Morrissey from the Smiths, Matthew Broderick. We produced the film “Midnight in the
Garden of Good and Evil.” It was a very
When did you pivot to record labels?
In the late-’80s I made a deal with Al Teller who was chairman of MCA which is now Universal Music Group. Teller made a deal for a label called Gasoline Alley, which was a Rod Stewart album title. The second act I signed was Shai, which went on to sell 4 million albums and 6 million singles. They had the No. 2 single that year behind Whitney Houston called “If Ever I Fall in Love,” which is a
Who else did you sign?
Around 1993 we signed Sublime. Actually, my nephew found the act, he was working for me in A&R (he now manages Slightly Stoopid). I kept their first two albums, 40oz to Freedom and Robbin the Hood, independent of MCA and we formed an independent label called Skunk Records. I went down to see them, they were crazy wild. It was everything music and rock and roll are supposed be.
You were doing the management company at the same time?
Yes, we signed Toni Braxton. We had her during the massive hits.
“Un-Break My Heart”?
That was a song Clive Davis brought Arnold and I from Diane Warren and we played it for Toni and convinced her to cut it with David Foster and it became a massive hit.
When did you start Red Ant Records?
That was from about 1994-1996 which was another label with Al Teller who had left MCA. I left the management company, but we remained partners on Toni Braxton. We had a hit with Divine called “Lately” and also signed Cheap Trick and Salt-N-Pepa.
How did you transition to running AEG Live?
I get a call in 1999 from Irving Azoff who had just brokered the sale of a boutique concert company called Concerts West that Paul Gongaware and John Meglen owned to Tim Leiweke who was the CEO of AEG [and current CEO of Oak View Group, Pollstar’s parent company] and who had just opened Staples Center. Apparently, John and Paul were having a hard time buying talent. I’m close to David Zedeck and Larry Rudolph who worked with Britney Spears and was able to help make that happen. The company started with a Britney Spears arena tour which was hugely successful. And then we got Tom Petty and Paul McCartney and we were off and running and that was the beginning of AEG. I wrote a 33-page business plan and proposed changing the name to AEG Live and became the new company’s CEO
What were some of your tentpoles during your 13-year career at AEG?
I brought over Chuck Morris and Brent Fedrizzi who were at Clear Channel. We bought Goldenvoice and got 100% of the company and 50% of Coachella. I opened a New York office and took the New York staff of Metropolitan Entertainment after Live Nation bought it from Mitch Slater and moved into new offices with Debra Rathwell. I opened The O2 arena in London and hired Rob Hallett to run booking for us. We opened it with Bon Jovi and Justin Timberlake and Bocelli. We were able to save the New Orleans Jazz Fest with Quint Davis and George Wein. John Meglen and I changed the paradigm in Las Vegas when Celine Dion opened the Colosseum at Caesars and started her multi-year residency. And then the big one was going to be 50 nights with Michael Jackson.
How did that all happen?
Phil Anschutz got a call from a business associate named Tom Barrack who was a friend of Phil’s and who told him that he bought the note on Neverland and that Michael Jackson wanted to go back to work. I had actually represented Michael for an LA Gear sponsorship and product line deal in the mid-’90s with Arnold. And that was the beginning of the adventure that became “This Is It.”
What was your relationship like with Michael?
I was close with him at that time. I think the only person closer to Michael then was probably his mother, Katherine.
Did you see signs of what would come?
No, because I worked with him during the day. When I had meetings with him he was always fine and alert. I didn’t know he had sleep problems. He had an eating problem and would forget to eat and he was thin. I hired someone just to feed him and be his food monitor because I was concerned he wasn’t getting enough nutrients. I met his doctor three times. I had no idea he was given Propofol at night to sleep. Had I known, I would have tried to stop it. But I never saw him like that.
It must have been your worst nightmare when he passed?
It was horrible. And we were $36 million into it when he died between his security, living expenses, production with Kenny Ortega building the show, rehearsals, the whole thing.