Former Tour Manager for Alice Cooper, Sheila E & More, DAVID LIBERT Releases Book “Rock And Roll Warrior.” Talks How He Went From Artist To Tour Manager, New Book & MORE.
Guest Interview by All Access‘ Michael Morrison
The power of music wove itself intricately into the early life of musician, recording artist manager and legendary tour impresario David Libert, appearing first as a prodigious talent for the piano, much to the delight of his parents.
Informed by this musical foundation, a fascination with vocal harmony soon led to Libert’s formation of treasured ‘60s singing quartet, The Happenings. The many organizational calamities and law enforcement close shaves encountered on college tours with The Happenings would be only the beginning of David Libert’s raucous relationship with the road.
Riding on a wave of sunny hit singles and surprising chart success, The Happenings’ campus tours served as Libert’s education in the logistics of touring musical acts, eventually put to good use as he left The Happenings to assume the role of tour manager and rep for the likes of Alice Cooper, George Clinton, The Runaways, Living Colour and Sheila E. David Libert surfed the first wave of the international rock mega-tour, traveling spectacles seemingly powered by ruthless military coordination rewarded with licentious excess.
David’s recently-released memoir of his uncanny journey through the touring business and the electrifying entertainment world of Los Angeles in the ‘70s and ‘80’s, Rock And Roll Warrior, is available now, everywhere.
ALL ACCESS [Michael Morrison]: Who are the singers and artists who led the way to your early interest in music and vocal harmony?
DAVID LIBERT:Growing up, I was heavily influenced by the Beach Boys, the Four Seasons and the Lettermen. As I grew older, I started listening to a lot of Jazz and became fascinated by the sophisticated harmonies of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, The Double Six of Paris, The Hi-Lo’s and The Four Freshmen. I would listen to them and then sit at the piano and try to figure out how these intricate harmonies were structured. I was also interested in barbershop quartets and would go to the local meetings of the local Barbershop Quartet society here in New Jersey. I think that all of these influences played a huge role in the development of my own vocal arranging style and how I applied this style for the harmonies of The Happenings hit records.
AA [MM]: Can you describe the response to your performances with The Happenings in the early days of the group’s success? Based on your description in “Rock And Roll Warrior”, the idea of a pop music group strategically planning college tours seems to have been uninvestigated and somewhat uncharted territory.
DL: Back then, and even now, a band’s fee is primarily based on how many tickets they can sell for the promoter who is paying you. I felt that The Happenings might never become a big enough ticket selling attraction where we could command large fees for our performances. On the other hand, there are literally thousands of colleges and universities in the U.S. and almost all of them have student unions that have fairly large budgets for the buying musical groups. For the most part, the bands they buy are free to the students and so there is no pressure to have to sell tickets. I felt if The Happenings could build a reputation of having a great stage show, we could be a very salable commodity on the college circuit. We signed on with the William Morris Agency, a powerful booking agency that had the clout and understood what we were trying to do. Our responsible agent there, Al DiMarino, loved the band and was instrumental in helping us develop into a much sought after college attraction.
AA [MM]: What about your personality and approach led to your success as a tour manager?
DL: Early on, The Happenings took over the management of the group with me dealing with most of the managerial duties, like interacting with the agency and record company, advancing the technical aspects of each gig, and a host of other related responsibilities. I enjoyed dealing with the intricacies, the “nuts and bolts” of management and I started to realize that this might be a good path for me to follow post-Happenings. I could manage other bands in the future. As successful as The Happenings had become, I was pretty sure I couldn’t be a Happening forever. So I decided to learn as much as I could about all the different aspects of management.
AA [MM]: What are the crucial skills a tour manager must possess to successfully steer a tour?
DL: Having learned so much being the de facto rad manager of The Happenings, I realized that pre-planning was crucial in preparing for a tour. With so many things that could go wrong on the road, it was crucial that even the smallest detail needed to be addressed because even a seemingly minor detail could cause a disastrous chain reaction. My credo: Assume nothing and leave nothing up to chance. If these 2 rules of the road were followed, it would greatly reduce the possibility of something going wrong. It was also important to make things as smooth and as comfortable as possible for bands and crews that employed me. That was how to win their respect and confidence. It was also important to create an environment where everyone was having a good time. Touring is a physically grueling process, and remember, the actual stage show is only an average of 90 minutes. The remaining 22 1/2 hours should be filled with fun, camaraderie, playful pranks and lots of laughs. I tried to make all that happen. The sign of a good tour manager is when you know the people in your charge are happy you’re there.
AA [MM]: What is the key to a successful working relationship with an often eccentric recording artist?
DL: Being a musician myself, I believe it gave me a unique insight about how the artists I managed actually thought about things. Either as booking agent, personal manger or tour manager, I think they realized that I was somewhat able to see things from their perspective as an artist. And I think that enabled me to “call them out” when they were being unreasonable. It didn’t always work but at least they knew that I was there once myself and that often was enough for them to reconsider their bad behavior. But the most important aspect is to develop a close enough relationship with the artist based on mutual respect.
AA [MM]: Were there musical artists with whom you were interested in working to develop their careers, but never got the chance?
DL: The one that stands out in my mind didn’t need me to develop their career. They were already there. I had the idea of trying Cream together to do a tour. It easily would have been one of the most successful tours of all time. I was sure they would be able to sell out stadiums all over the world. But even the prospect of making such an incredible amount of money was not enough for Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker to even consider the possibility. The relationship between Bruce and Baker was so volatile, it was never really in the cards.
I became aware of Guns ‘N Roses long before they even had a record deal with Geffen. I loved Guns ‘N Roses and really wanted to manage them. They seemed to have it all. I came very close to becoming their manager, but in the end, for a variety of reasons, it just wasn’t in the cards for me. The one that got away.
I did have success having Living Colour getting back together after a 5 year absence and this proved to be a wonderful experience. I think they are one of the greatest live bands that ever existed. Today, their drummer, Will Calhoun is one of my closest friends.
AA [MM]: What are the unavoidable pitfalls of a large scale rock tour even with advance preparation?
DL: The prospect that people are fed up with high ticket prices, the possibility of contracting COVID, the parking, the inconvenience. Does all this outweigh the thrill of seeing one’s favorite band playing live? That remains to be seen.
AA [MM]: Who is your favorite rock performer or group of all time?
DL: The Rolling Stones. They have it all and they simply do it better than any other band, in my opinion.
AA [MM]: What are your predictions for the future of the big pop artist tour?
DL: Who knows? I think the very largest bands will have more and more elaborate, expensive stage shows. Did you check out Queen + Adam Lambert when they performed for Queen Elizabeth’s 70th Anniversary Celebration? Can things possibly get more elaborate than that? I personally loved it. There’s also the possibility that at least some future tours will actually be singular pay-per-view streaming events rather than hitting the road and playing city after city.
Congrats to David Libert on the release of his book Rock And Roll Warrior. To get even more of a behind the scenes look and hear the “absolutely true tales from the Inner circle of the music industry from Alice Cooper to Prince” be sure to pick up a copy HERE.