Neil Young's Manager
Neil Young News
An interview with Elliott Roberts by Paul Makos from the Neil Young Appreciation Society publication 'Broken Arrow', May 25, 1982.
During a recent short stay in London, Elliot Roberts, Neil's manager took the time out to speak to the NYAS. Unfortunately, following a phone call he was forced to return to the States a few hours earlier than expected.
Consequently, the interview was conducted in the back seat of David Clarke's car during a journey from the hotel in Fulham to the WEA offices in Central London. This then, is our first exclusive interview and the Society would like to express its sincere thanks to Elliot Roberts for fitting us into his very tight schedule.
B.A. Why are you in London?
E.R. I came to England to finish booking Neil's solo tour of Europe this year. He's gonna be touring from probably the middle of August till the end of September, beginning of October.
B.A. Is it just London he'll be playing?
E.R. No, he's gonna be playing everywhere in Europe. It's the first chance he's had to do a world tour and he's going to do everywhere in Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and the U.S.
B.A. Will he just be playing London in the U.K.?
E.R. So far the only thing we have set is about a week at Wembley.
B.A. Do you think this will be his last major tour?
E.R. One never knows. This would be his third last major tour.
B.A. He said on the Rockline interview he wouldn't tour for another fourteen months. Was it a change of mind at the last moment?
E.R. A number of things happened. Neil hadn't toured because he was dealing with personal things with his family, trying to get his son and his family in order. He has a new band now: Nils Lofgren on guitar, Ben Keith on steel, Ralph Molina on drums, Bruce Palmer from Buffalo Springfield on bass and Joe Lala from CSNY on congas and percussion. And he's written a lot of new songs and I think Neil is the kind of guy that when he is inspired by the calibre of players that he enjoys playing with, he likes to work and that's exactly what happened. He did all these new songs and a new band and he's excited about it, so he's decided to tour'.
B.A. Why has it been so long since the last tour?
E.R. Neil's been doing this a very long time. For the most part a lot of it turns out to be repeat. In other words, when you tour there's only so many places to play and you feel obligated to play certain songs, and after fifteen or sixteen years at it, it's not as much fun as you might think it is. So when Neil does tour, he does it either because he's excited about an idea that he has had and wants to do it, like Rust Never Sleeps, or he's put together a band just to play. Occasionally that band may turn him on so much that he'll write and want to expose it, and that's exactly what's happened now.
B.A. I was surprised that he didn't bring his Rust Never Sleeps tour over here, was that because of the size of the I equipment?
E.R. Well yeah, that was a matter of physical reality. To transport the entire set and design of it over here would have been so costly, and again he had problems with his children.
B.A. When did you first start to manage Neil?
E.R. I started managing Neil in 1967, so it's going on fifteen years together.
B.A. How did you tackle Neil in that he has a reputation of being tempremental and that he used to disappear every so often, like when he was with Buffalo Springfield? E.R I started working with Neil when he was with Buffalo Springfield. I negotiated the break-up of that band and then started representing Neil as a solo artist. In that band there were a number of good writers, Stephen Stills obviously, Richie Furay was just starting to write and Neil had so much material that he was writing. He was so prolific at that point and writing so many things, that to just have Buffalo Springfield as a release for his material, so many good songs weren't getting recorded and Neil didn't want to work in the confines of another group at that point, so he left. He has always been an individual, he's never been motivated by anything but the pure desire to play.
B.A. How much ofyour time is devoted to Neil as oppossed to other artists you manage?
E.R. I have a personal manager for every act. I have four managers that work for me that I oversee. The only clients that I look after myself, that call me directly when they have a problem, is Neil and Joni (Mitchell). I have a ranch next to Neil's ranch.
B.A. So you're neighbours?
E.R. Yeah, and needless to say, Neil's my best friend and I'm his, so that we communicate quite a lot.
B.A. What's your favourite Neil Young album?
E.R. That's a tough one. I still like Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. It's hard to say. I may pull out After The Goldrush after not listening to it for a year or two, or I'll pull out Harvest. I think my favourite in one way, creatively, is Tonight's The Night, because it was one that I thought would be the biggest disaster musically. I was very confused as to what Neil was doing at that time, because what he was expressing was something that was unique for him, in that it wasn't just "Hey, I've got these songs, let's do an album".
A friend of his had just died and another friend of his also died, who was the head roadie for somebody else's band which had started out with Neil. He was very moved by both their deaths and wanted to do this project, which was very dark and gloomy. I was very worried about it because Neil's music had been so uplifting to that point, that I didn't know how it would be accepted. When he toured it live in Europe I and U.S.A. he did none of his old songs, he only sang Tonight's The Night songs and I knew that people who would go to see a Neil Young or Bob Dylan concert would wanna hear Blowing In The Wind and those old songs. Because that's what's been important to their life and I know that by Neil not playing these songs a lot of fans would be disappointed.
It was a very hard tour and a very hard project but it was probably the most successful thing Neil did, not in terms of sales, but in terms of pride and belief and I think I that at that point Neil felt more confident as an artist. He knew he'd be able to make his records from his emotions rather than "Hey, I wonder what's happening now, maybe I should add a disco song because it's happening". He looks at his music like a painter, they're not all gonna be commercial, not all gonna be a Mona Lisa. Some of them will be smaller works, some of them will be more important works. He relates to his music that way and that's one of the keys to his longevity, to why he can create it and get excited. We're doing this tour this summer because he's excited about playing with this band. He's excited about playing guitar with Nils Lofgren who he thinks very highly of.
B.A. Nils Lofgren recently said in a Melody Maker interview that Neil invented punk rock way back in '73!
E.R. Well, I think that came from the first Sex Pistols interviews when Sid Vicious was interviewed in America and was asked what his big influences were and he said that one of them was Neil's Tonight's The Night tour, which he'd seen in Manchester, because it was so dark and raw and anti-pop and he had done none of his old songs. The fans booed it after they thought he was gonna do another half of the show when in fact the show was over, and on some level it was that anti-pop attitude that people interpret as the start of the Punk movement which was an aggression and hostility.
B.A. I really didn't think there was any truth in it!
E.R. Oh yeah, there is in that a number of people were affected by it. I don't know if you can point to anyone as the start of anything like that. I know there are a number of musicians who I've met since then were affected. Ric Ocasek especially, used to do a lot of Neil's songs in his old band. He's with The Cars now.
B.A. Why did Neil change to Geffen Records?
E.R. Well, I did have a much larger offer from R.C.A. about £4 Million more. David Geffen and I used to be partners and David has worked with Neil for a very long time. He totally relates to Neil as an artist and has no preconceived notions about Neil. He knows that he's capable of doing anything at any point, at any time, and I made the decision and I think that at the end of 5 years we will see that Neil's record sales will more than make up for the money we refused to take now, because he will have the freedom to practice his art as he sees it, as opposed to when you make a deal where someone is paying you £I - £2 million an album you feel obligated to give them commercial music that they can sell large numbers of. Neil's not concerned with selling large numbers of his records, he's concerned with making records that he's pleased with. Unfortunately they are not always commercial from the record company's point of view. David Geffen relates to that. He knows Neil may do a country album and then he may do an electric album because there's no rhyme or reason with Neil. It's what he's moved by.
B.A. I take it he will still be issuing the regular yearly album?
E.R. Yes,'cause Neil writes a lot and I think you'll see Neil write and tour a lot more now.
B.A. Who distribute Geffen Records In this country?
E.R. Columbia. (CBS)
B.A. Does Reprise have any unreleased material?
B.A. Do you think we'll be seeing 'best of' compilations being issued by Reprise?
E.R. Contractually we've always fought for the ability to limit that. The only compilation album out now is Decade and I don't see them putting out another one. I have control of that.
B.A. Why did Neil choose the Rockline programme for an interview? Rather unusualfor Neil I would have thought!
E.R. That was my choice. I wanted him to do something where he could speak to kids directly that wasn't an interview. That was really the reason. That was the only interview we did for that period. I didn't want a Rolling Stone cover story where they ask the same question, like "when's CSNY getting back together?", the same things they always ask.
B.A. Now that Neil's coming over is there any possibility that NYAS will have a good chance of obtaining tickets?
E.R. I will do anything I can to make sure that everyone who is a member is accommodated.
B.A. Can we interview Neil for Broken Arrow when he's over?
B.A. Do you like our society magazine, Broken Arrow?
E.R. I've only seen three copies (3, 4 & 5) and I liked it.
B.A. What about Neil?
E.R. Yes. I had to show it to him so that I could continue giving you permission to do it, 'cause after all it is his name. He was very flattered and was very glad that there were people who have that kind of belief in his music and in what he's doing. Every artist needs to feel that support, especially someone who's as un-mainstream as Neil. You like to know that even though you're making these esoteric records that may be commercial or may not be commercial, that there are people who care about your music. That's what we're in it for, isn't it!
B.A. Has there ever been anything like the NYAS before?
E.R. I've never allowed it. Never allowed a fan club in America. I still won't in America.
B.A. We've just written off to Rolling Stone to advertise for members in the States!
E.R. That's fine. I don't mind members joining the NYAS from America. I don't like the idea of fan clubs in America because what happens is that people start going to Neil's house and as you know, Neil's a very private person. I want to discourage that.
B.A. We have a problem with news. Take for instance this change of label thing, the week the music press announced the change to Geffen Records our issue 6 was at the printers with news of Neil changing to R.C.A. any way you can help?
E.R. Well, that I can keep you appraised of, but I've gotta tell you that was a last second thing. R.C.A. had already drawn up the contracts and David Geffen called Neil and I the day we were going over to sign and asked if we could sit down for 10 minutes and we went over and David changed his offer considerably and elevated it to what was in the same ball park, although considerably lower and showed a lot of love and concern for Neil. Other companies can offer you money-up-the-ass but not many people can offer you love and respectability from the point that they really do treat Neil as a great artist. It's never a question of "hey, we gave you 'three million and the album only sold half a million so the next one better be more commercial 'fella". You play an album for David and he genuinely loves it. He's not concerned with sales on that level because you must remember that David Geffen is a person. He's a very wealthy person. David and I have been partners. We started Asylum Records together and sold it for many millions of dollars to Warner Brothers. David has produced successful films and he has two shows on Broadway now, including one that's the biggest hit of the year - Dream Girls. It's a gigantic Broadway hit.
He's just very successful. He's doing this record company because he loves music. He's not looking to make money on that although I know he wouldn't throw it away, that's not his motive. This is not a company that's looking at the bottom line, looking for what he's made He's looking to put out fine records. If they sell fantastic, okay, if they don't, it's not a problem with David, as long as it's a fine product. You like to be in business with people like that, with people that when you play a song to them they're not listening to see if there's a hit single and if there isn't they're disappointed and if there is they're elated. He is genuinely listening for lyrics and is actually moved by music and so am I, so that's who I like to do business with. When you do business with those kind of people, in the long run you make more money. Doing it right will eventually make you more money than doing it wrong for quick bucks and then you're gone in 2 years which is what happens to many a pop star as you know.
B.A. Any new photographs ofNeil?
E.R. Yes. We're having new sessions this week. Joel Bernstein is in Hawaii with Neil right now and I'll get some to you.
We reached WEA at Broadwick Street, where Elliot's car was waiting to whisk him off to London Airport and a flight home.
E.R. I think it's a good thing you're doing and will be glad to any help I can.
B.A. Thank you very much for your time.
E.R. I only wish I had more.
B.A. So do I.
Also, see excerpts on Elliot Roberts from Shakey - A Neil Young Biography by Jimmy McDonough.
Reviews and comments on Shakey - A Neil Young Biography by Jimmy McDonough.
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