Barry Fey on that time that he held a gun to Axl Rose's head and how the business has changed
For years, Barry Fey says, music fans have been needling him to write a book. "You know, people have been saying 'When's the book? When's the book?' for fifteen years," Fey notes. "It was daily, wherever I would go out... 'When's the book? Come on, you've got to write a book!'" Well, he finally did -- and it's quite a read. In the appropriately titled Backstage Past, Fey dishes freely on his years in the music business.
There's the story about how he almost passed on booking Led Zeppelin, until the manager of Spirit offered to give up part of his band's guarantee in exchange for adding Plant and company to the bill of a show that had already sold-out in which Spirit was headlining. And then there's the one about how he supposedly held a gun to Axl Rose's head when the Guns N' Roses frontman mysteriously disappeared from a gig at Mile High Stadium that Barry had booked with Guns and Metallica (spoiler alert: didn't happen, even if Lars Ulrich remembers it differently).
Suffice to say, Barry's got about a million yarns to spin and he's finally spun a few them. We recently caught up with the legendary concert promoter and asked him to spin a few more for us, a request that he gladly obliged, even sharing a few stories that aren't in the book, including the time Cheech and Chong literally gave him the shirt off their backs and when he had lunch with Bono and Brad Pitt -- back when the latter was still playing bit parts on shows like Dallas. Read about it below, and then stop by the Tattered Cover in LoDo this Tuesday to pick up a copy of the book and have it signed by Barry.
Westword: What inspired you to finally write the book after all these years?
Barry Fey: It was not an inspiration. It's uh, you know, people have been saying, "When's the book? When's the book?" for fifteen years.
Right. I guess I should say what finally convinced you?
Well, it took a barrier - there's a barrier you cross, and I'm going to make this up as I go along - to think that you can write a book that someone really wants to read, you know? And it was daily, wherever I would go out: "When's the book? C'mon, you've got to write a book." I'd go on the air and tell stories - "When are you going to put 'em in the book?" When I'd do Lewis & Floorwax, "When are you going to have a book?"
I kind of slumped it off, because, well, about two years I got serious, and then ran into certain obstacles. I had a best-selling author who wanted to do it, a Pulitzer prize winner and a best-seller. He wanted an advance bigger than the publisher wanted to pay me.
And that went awry. So I didn't care. So I tried to look around into other ways of doing it over the last year, and I found a wonderful publisher, who just does it - he's the biggest sports publisher in the country the last eleven years, and he's only done two other books.
Mine is the second non-sports [book] he's ever done. He did something like Tim Russert, We Hardly Knew Ye or something - you know one of those type [of books] and this Barry Fey. So it took about five months, five six months to do it. But the biggest thing was to really think that, 'Hey, I got something people want to hear,' and the people of Denver convinced me of that.
So what's your favorite story?
I guess my favorite story... oh, God, that's hard. Dave, that's really hard -- and I'm not being cool - but the one I had most fun with is debunking the story that's not true.
The Axl Rose story, as told by Lars Ulrich. You've heard about that one, right? That story is, I guess, the most famous of the stories. We had Guns and Metallica at Mile High. And there was 48-49,000 people there. It was a big tour, and they alternated closing. One night, one band would close, and the other night the other one.
This one, Metallica opened, and... the whole story's in the book, but I'll tell you... Metallica opened, and I went out - it was a great set - I went backstage for the opening number of Guns. I went out, and they played "Welcome to the Jungle." I'm walking out - I'm going to give you the language, and you clean it up however you want; I'm just telling you how it happened - I'm walking backstage, and this guy comes running out and says, "Barry, Axl just left."
I said, "'The fuck are you talking about, 'Axl left'?" So I ran backstage, and I found out that he had come down off the stage, got into the limousine and left the site. So I said to... I went up to - his name was Big John; he was the guy who ran the limo company - and I said, 'You don't work for him; you work for me.' I said, 'You ever want to see another fucking dime of this company's money, you get that car back here.' And he said, "What?" I said, "Yeah. The only way he gets out of that car is if he jumps out. And if he jumps out, you leave him in the street. But you get that car back here."
So he gets on his little telephone. People are getting a little pissed by this time. Guns is up there just jamming, right? They played "Welcome to the Jungle," and then they didn't do anything; they were just jamming, and people were getting a little pissed off. In fact, I found out that they were taking their Guns N' Roses T-shirts back to the concession stand and throwing them at them and saying, "Give me a Metallica shirt."
So I went into the Guns and Metallica dressing room. So Guns sends down an emissary -- and this I know for sure because I was standing there within three feet - and he tells Lars, "Would you guys consider coming back up and jamming with us, because the crowd's going to get out of line?" So Lars tells him, word for word, "You bozos don't have enough money in your collective bank accounts for me to get back on that stage."
So at that point, I left the dressing room, went back out to the parking lot and got my .357 out of my glove box and put it in my back pocket. So I go out there, and I don't know what I'm going to do, because, you know, he had caused a riot in Montreal, I believe, by leaving and not coming back. Well, a few minutes later, the car comes back, and Axl gets out and talks to his manager - his name was Doug Goldstein; he was a glorified security guy; he use to do their security, and he took over their management. But how do you manage, manic depressive heroin addicts? That's a pretty good trick. I don't know how you do that.
So he [Axl] comes and talks to his manager and goes right up on the stage and gets back into it. So I put three of my, what do you want to call 'em, security, goons, thugs -- the toughest ones I have - at the top of the stairs and three Denver cops at the bottom. My instructions are: "The only way he gets out, if he leaves again, is that way," and I point to the crowd. Doug Goldstein says, "Barry, you can't do that. Axl will get so pissed." I said, "I don't give a fuck about him, and I don't give the same about you. I care about them," and I pointed to the people.
So that, basically, is what happened. But Lars tends to tell a different story, and Lars has far more credibility out in the industry than I have. He swears I put the gun up to Axl's temple and said, "Get on that fucking stage or you're going to die." It [his .357] never left my pocket. But every time he sees me today, he says, "Barry, are you packing today?" So that was that story.
Of course, that also was Slash's bachelor party that night. It was downtown at the Embassy Suites, which is no longer there. They were handing out little tickets - a blue ticket, like if you wanted a blow job, a yellow ticket if you wanted to get laid, a red ticket if you wanted to do both. It was a crazy night. And it turns out, I found out later, the reason Axl left was because he had a fight with Slash on the stage. But you know, I didn't really care. I just... I wasn't going to let him get away with that.
And Lars says to me, "Don't tell me you wouldn't have shot him." I said, 'Oh if he's not going to go on, he's going to get shot." But it didn't have to happen. So that's a great story, but it's true. That's the way it is. If you hang up with me and call Lars, he'll tell you the story, "Yeah, Barry put this fucking gun to his head." Didn't happen.
Were there any great stories that you left out of the book?
Yeah, there were a couple of them, but you know it's all... how the book was written: I would call up, the guy turns on his recorder, and I talk. And he doesn't know to ask me about things, and then later, I forget - I mean, one of the best stories I left out was Cheech and Chong.
Can you tell me that one?
Yeah, sure. You're going to have things that ain't even in the book. It's great. Cheech and Chong were very big here. They were huge here. And one night, they sold out McNichols Arena, so it had to be '75-'76. It was early on. And we really had a good relationship. Ah, this ain't a great story, but it's a story... so they come out on stage and they're wearing this incredibly - you know, I use to weigh 320 pounds at the time - and they put this incredibly big shirt on... Cheech has his right arm in it and Chong has his left arm in it, both of them. And they say, "We're going to tell you how much we like Feyline, man. We're going to give the shirt off our back." So onstage, they called me out and they give me this shirt. It was huge for me, but it was a nice moment.
Do you still have the shirt?
No, I don't think so. Let's see, by that time, I was... no, I wasn't divorced yet, but my second wife, Lisa, threw away so much shit. It's ridiculous. I can't find anything. That would be a ceremonial shirt. In fact, I think the office mounted it once. I don't know where it is. But they gave me the shirt off their back. We had a great relationship for many, many years.
How did you decide which stories to include in the book, Barry?
I just talked. It was 330 pages, and it had to get down to 270, so there was one chapter that I was really unhappy about being gone, but I don't have that kind of choice. I'm lucky. Working at Feyline, where he interviewed Chuck [Morris] and Pam [Moore] and Bill Silva and Jeff Krump, he got some great stories, but they had to cut it out.
Another one that was ridiculous to leave out is when Brad Pitt - he hadn't even been in Thelma and Louise yet; he was playing in three episodes of Dallas, and Phil Lobel [Fey's publicist] was his first manager. I don't know if you know that, and he called me and says, "Brad would like to meet Bono." So I say, "Oh yeah, sure." We're all staying at the Sunset Marquis. It was November 1987, and we're getting ready for the U2 date at the LA Coliseum. It was the last part of the Joshua Tree tour.
So Phil brings Brad Pitt over to the hotel, and they hit it off. They sit around. And he also brought a young lady with him, who was a star. She played Priscilla Presley's daughter on Dallas. And Brad Pitt was 22-23 at the time. [He] had to play a seventeen year old. He played her boyfriend.
But anyhow, he was only on three episodes. I forgot her name...
McClaine...something... it's an Irish name. You can probably look it up. She played Priscilla Presley's daughter on Dallas [Shalane McCall], and we sat at the... we all had lunch, and I said, "Well, look at this, two stars and two wannabe stars" - me and Bono and Brad and his girlfriend. [laughs]
So at one point, I went down to your house when I use to work for the Hawk, back in the old days, and we took pictures of all the memorabilia you had on the walls and that sort of thing and did a virtual tour of all the cool memorabilia you had...
Yeah, and you put it on the website?
Uh-huh. Exactly. Do you still have all that stuff?
It's all in one place now. It's all in a warehouse, thank God.
Are you at some point planning on doing something with that, like putting it in a coffee table book or something?
Yeah, I'm not allowed to say.
'Cause somebody's going to display it. It's an honor, but it will be displayed for everybody within the year.
A lot of awesome stuff in there. I remember at one point you had a Captain Fantastic pinball machine...
I've still got that.
You just had one incredible thing after another at your house. I even seem to remember an autographed basketball from Michael Jordan...
Yeah, I've got that, too. It's Jordan, [Larry] Bird and Magic [Johnson] on the same ball.
I remember just going from one room to another and just being awestruck by all the cool stuff you had...
That's why the queen of real estate in this town, Edie Marks, said, "I'm having trouble selling your house because everyone just keeps looking at the walls." I said, "I'm sorry, Edie. I'm very sorry."
So now that the book's put together, what are your thoughts in retrospect?
About the book? Well, I'm a little nervous. I'm very excited. As I said on my page, I'm nervous - and I haven't been nervous in a long time. But it feels kind of good. ...Certain parts I love about the book is the fact that it's not where you just read the book and put it down. This is something you can go back to and refer to, especially for the people in this area, plus all the people in the United States and elsewhere.
This is a part of your life, man. You can review it, but I don't think it's something you just read and put it down. There's lists in there; there's things you want to refer to. And it's my opinion. It's how I see it. That's the only eyes I have are mine.