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Topic: Allen Klein Article Return to archive
10-01-02 05:31 PM
From rock to riches: Management skills made Newark native Allen Klein a witness to music history

Sunday, September 29, 2002


NEW YORK -- Back in 1965, Allen Klein was at a meeting in London where he surprised the manager of The Rolling Stones by asking if he wanted to be a millionaire.

The answer was a no-brainer. The Stones were still a fairly new band. But what began as just another business pitch unexpectedly shaped the future of rock 'n' roll. And in doing so, the encounter soon transformed Klein -- a Newark native and behind-the-scenes, music-industry accountant -- into one of the most influential figures in 1960s pop culture.

Within a few years, Klein was advising both The Stones and The Beatles.

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"It was really happenstance that I got into the music business," Klein said in a rare interview last week at his Manhattan offices on the eve of the latest -- and perhaps last -- Stones tour. "I never wanted to be a manager. It was going over the books that I loved. And I was good at it."

In the ensuing decades, Klein has been revered and reviled.

A tough negotiator, he often struck lucrative deals for his clients, who also included Sam Cooke and Bobby Darin. But his relationship with The Stones dissolved in a tangle of litigation. And he inadvertently aggravated tensions among The Beatles -- it was widely reported at the time that John Lennon wanted to hire him to manage them, but Paul McCartney didn't.

Through it all, Klein has kept a low profile. Once in a while, his name appears in a report about a lawsuit or recording contract. And he briefly made headlines with a 1979 conviction for tax evasion that resulted in a two-month prison sentence. But he generally avoids publicity.

Now, though, the Stones have again catapulted him into the limelight.

His ABKCO company owns the rights to nearly two dozen vintage Stones albums, which he just reissued on a new Super Audio CD format that's getting rave reviews. And Klein is also readying reissues of other Stones material, including old films such as 1968's "Rock and Roll Circus."

"I'm not surprised they're still playing," said Klein, a spry 70-year-old, whose suite of midtown offices is lined with framed gold records, autographed posters and rare memorabilia. "They're a good band. And by all accounts, Jagger still has it. In fact, I'm going to the Monday night concert" at the Roseland Ballroom in Manhattan.

How he came to own many classic Stones recordings -- including such hits as "Satisfaction," "Jumpin' Jack Flash," and "Honky Tonk Woman" -- is part of what made Klein famous. But early on, there was little hint of the crucial role he would play in pop music.

His early years were fraught with disappointment and challenge. His mother died when he was an infant. When Klein was four years old, his father, a butcher, had to place Klein and two older sisters in an orphanage, where he stayed until he was nine.

"I still go to the cemetery in Newark regularly to visit my mother's grave," he said, with a wistful shake of his head. "You can see the old beer bottle on top of the nearby building," a former manufacturing plant on South Orange Avenue.

After being raised, in part, by his grandmother, Klein graduated from Upsala College with an accounting degree. Following a stint in the army, he clerked for a Manhattan accounting firm, but then ran into Don Kirshner, a friend who was working for a music publisher.

Soon, Klein was auditing record companies and identifying artists' unpaid royalties. His aggressive tactics helped him develop a following among musicians who sought back payments and a greater degree of creative freedom.

New York DJ Doug "Jocko" Henderson told soul singer Sam Cooke that hiring Klein would be a "phenomenal" move, according to the liner notes from a recent Cooke anthology.

Klein said he envisioned and orchestrated a "self-contained" package that gave Cooke nearly total control over his finances. It helped that Cooke wrote, arranged and produced -- not just recorded -- his songs. Cooke's label and music publisher responded with bigger pay-outs.

This approach earned Klein admiration and fear in the music industry. By the mid-1960s, Klein was performing similar feats for up-and-coming artists in England. That's where he ran into Andrew Loog Oldham, the flamboyant manager for The Stones.

Oldham -- who was a publicist, not a financial advisor -- was intrigued enough to hire Klein to strike a better deal with Decca, the band's record label. As Klein tells the story, he choreographed the bargaining scene with Decca as if it were a gang showdown.

"I told them to follow me into the room, but not say a word. Just look angry and I'll do all the talking," said Klein with a proud smile. "They listened. And it worked."

He also negotiated songwriting royalties for Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, who wrote the band's material. Klein provided a $1 million guarantee and, for his trouble, received 20 percent of the future revenue.

"Jagger was the boss" when it came to representing the band in its business dealings, he said. "He was astute and clever. He was intelligent. I think he wanted to be a prince."

Meanwhile, Klein purchased the band's master recordings from Oldham and his partner, Eric Easton, for $1.25 million. At the time, Klein acknowledged, the deal may not have made sense, because The Stones could have easily fizzled out in a couple of years.

"Oldham signed that deal with The Stones. The Stones didn't own those masters. Oldham and Easton did. And they wanted to sell because they wanted the money," said Klein. "But do you know who else would have paid what I did?"

It was a prescient move, given that the band's 1960s material became cultural treasures. However, Klein maintained he offered the band a chance to buy the master recordings before striking his deal with Oldham and Easton.

"I told them to buy it," he said. Maybe, he speculated, they didn't have the funds.

A spokeswoman, Fran Curtis, said The Stones weren't available for comment.

By 1970, Klein attempted to manage The Beatles as well. But McCartney balked, opting for his father-in-law at the time, Lee Eastman, instead. Meanwhile, The Stones went searching for a new label and manager, severing their day-to-day dealings with Klein.

Years of sometimes bitter litigation followed with The Stones, who wanted to own the master recordings. It was settled in 1984.

But old Stones hits aren't the only thing keeping Klein busy. He also owns back catalogs by other artists, including The Crystals.

At times, Klein has been maligned for enforcing his ownership of various popular songs. For instance, he successfully sued The Verve, a British pop act, for failing to gain permission to sample "The Last Time," an old Stones tune, in one of its songs.

The episode earned him the enmity of some fans, but industry watchers say Klein deserves better.

"Klein has been very protective of his catalog, but never cheapened it with repetitive compilations or never-ending reissues," said Bob Grossweiner, a music-industry analyst. "He's maintained a classy approach, while every other label is money hungry."

Like it or not, The Stones dealt with him again this year as they readied release of "Dirty Licks," their newest greatest-hits collection.

For Stones fans, this marks the first time an anthology gathers both older hits, such as "The Last Time" and "Get Off My Cloud," which are owned by ABKCO, and newer songs, such as "Miss You" and "Start Me Up," which are owned by The Stones.

"It's a joint venture," said Klein, who struck the deal with Virgin Records, the band's current label. "Jagger must have called me 15 times. I didn't want to do it at first, but I eventually did because they had a need to do this. And I like Keith."

One thing Klein says he likes as much as Keith Richards, however, is the food at Jimmy Buff's. He still visits the Irvington branch of the famed eatery, which began in Newark in 1932, whenever he goes to the cemetery.

"Have you been there?" asked Klein. "We used to go all the time when I was kid. You'll come with me. We'll talk about the Stones."

10-01-02 05:51 PM
stonesmik A touching report on the old crook. But probably without the Stones wouldn't be where they are. Fuckin' Andrew and Clockwork Orange alright, but someone had to show them about the real world. And what this article says about the compilations, it's true. He didn't sell out yet. Butcherman sells them by pieces.