Barry Fey on that time that he held a gun to Axl Rose's head and how the business has changed
I heard a bootleg of the show at the Rainbow -- I believe it was the second time they came through - and at one point, Bono makes a point to not only thank you but to kind of point out how you had championed the band to the radio, like actually had called the radio stations and lobbied for them to get played.
Yeah, and I also did it for Alan King. Remember him? He had that British radio show. I said, "This is going to be the biggest band in the world," and I believed it.
What about U2 early on struck you that they were kind of special from the other bands you had worked with?
Well, musically, I said it... after they had played three numbers, I went into the office at the Rainbow and called Frank Barcelona, their agent, and I said, "This band is going to be the biggest band in the world." They've got the musical integrity of the early Who - and that's what I saw. I mean, they were just unbelievable.
And that was from the first time that you ever booked them?
First three numbers.
Wow. What was it, was there just a sense of urgency to what they were doing?
No, their command of their music, their audience, the stage, it was just amazing. I mean, you know, usually, a group the first time in, I think was '81, and it was amazing. I remember I went to the box office and I got four fifty dollar bills, and I went back in... you know the Rainbow didn't have a dressing room; it had a trailer in back. So I walked back in the trailer, and I said, "Here, take these." I gave them each a fifty. I said, "Go have a good meal on me, because you guys work hard and you deserve it." And then Bono called me out. I was outside trying to buy a U2 pin from somebody who had it, and I had to pay three or four dollars for it, but he saw that and never forgot it.
And then they heard the Jonathan King story, 'cause they were on the road some place when they tuned in and they heard me say they were going to be the biggest band in the world. I was their champion. I didn't think there was any... you know, music was stagnating at the time. I mean, we were about to into the - this was 1981 - and we were about to go into the terrible, polarizing '90s. And this was it. That's it. The last great band. I mean, Guns N' Roses would've been had they not been manic depressant heroin addicts. But U2 has been amazing, and they've become bigger than life.
Were there any other bands that you felt kind of similar about over the course of your career?
Oh yeah. Yeah. I mean, the first time I saw Lynyrd Skynyrd play at Ebbetts, I about ran out. I wanted to shout: "Get in here! Get in here and hear this!" Because when they did "Freebird," man, the three guitar players stepped up front, I don't think I'd ever seen anything like that in my life. And they're, of course - he became my best friend in the business of superstars. Ronnie used to call me every month just to talk. And you know, they shot their album on my lawn. The photograph for, what, Street Survivors? I forget which one. But anytime they came to town...
That's the one where they're playing touch football, right?
But it's different from the first time I saw the Stones. I was totally in awe from the minute we got the date until they played. And of course, the greatest show - I say that in the book - the greatest show I've ever seen was June 9, 1970 with the Who at Mammoth Gardens. I've never seen anything like that in my life.
What stands out about that show? What made it the best show?
Well, the elements itself, just like the elements itself [for] Under a Blood Red Sky. It was so hot. We had sold 5,000 seats, because that was the capacity. It was so hot that we cut it off at 3,500. We had to turn people with tickets away. 'Cause it was just too unbearable. Oh you don't remember. I don't know if they still do... they used to have these giant windows that would open. We opened up all the windows and all the doors. You could hear the music - you know, this is the Who; it's like a jet plane - you could hear the music plainly down at Civic Center park.
Oh yeah. It was so loud. Well, this was only at Clarkson, so it was only a few blocks away. The Mammoth Gardens is where the Fillmore is now.
That wouldn't even be possible today.
Oh, I don't know.
I think within ten minutes of that it would be shut down.
I've never met an ordinance I couldn't get around. You know? That's neither here nor there.
So we got together with Peter, Rog, Frank Barcelona was in town and the Who, and we agreed to do a second show the night of the tenth, so we could let those 1,500 people in who didn't get in. Plus we sold another 2,000 tickets, and then, you know, made lemonade out of lemons. But that first show, what made it so great: When Pete steps on the stage and he says, "I'm sure you've read that we'll never perform Tommy live again." And he says, "Bullshit!"
And then they go into two and a half hours of the most mighty, amazing music I've ever heard come from the stage, the energy and everything. But the most amazing thing - and I'll never forget - the people at that show, when it was over and the Who left, there was no "More!" no clapping, no roaring. They got up and walked out. The people had a sense of what they'd just seen. And that's the best show I've ever seen in my life. I've seen some great shows, Dave, some great shows, but nothing like that.
Of all the artists that you've worked with over the years, who was the most difficult to work with, or who gave you the most aggrivation?
Well, they've from the same genre, but I'd have to say, in ratio to their talent - and you'll read all about it - the Marshall Tucker Band. I hated them. Hated them. And at one Colorado Sunday, the tour manager, who was an ex-convict or something, turned off the power on Heart, and Heart just didn't know what to do. They were on stage, and he turned off the power so they [Marshall Tucker Band] could get on. I mean, they were just an ugly bunch of people. But I say in the book.
In contrast to that, who was the easiest person and the band/artist that you enjoyed working with the most?
If you go from top to bottom, I would say Lynyrd Skynyrd. Never a peep. Now, the Stones were a pleasure, but you still had Mick and Keith. You've got to put them in a different category. But Lynyrd Skynyrd from the... I mean, the Who. My god, every time you ever played the Who it was an adventure. You never knew what was going to happen. But I would say, from top to bottom, Skynyrd. They were just so nice.
And after Ronnie died in the plane crash, and inevitably we had Rossington Collins at the Rainbow - you know the Rossington Collins band? And Gary and what was the name - Alan Collins, yeah? Right. They were so fucked up on dilaudid that I took them aside and I said, "Didn't you get the message from God? You are alive. What are you doing to yourself?" Gary's still alive, but Alan, of course, died. But you know, what can you do?
That's amazing. So you actually called them out on it?
Oh yeah. The good thing about me, after a while in the business, I started thinking I was every bit as big as they were, even though I knew better. People didn't pay to see me. But I mean, they were friends, and you've got to say, "Hey, man!" One of the great stories from the book is the intervention that Aerosmith had on me.
What was that about?
Do I have to give away the whole...? No one's going to buy the book, Dave.
[laughs] What prompted it - let's say that?
Well, first of all, Aerosmith was on the wagon at the time. Tim Collins became their manager and pulled them out of the drudgery of heroin addiction. And they were straight, Perry and Tyler, and their manager was Tim Collins. And we have a show in Vegas, right, me and Aerosmith. I remember because Robert Deniro was there. It was when they were shooting Casino. And he came back because he was involved in kind of a CD-rom -- which I didn't know what a CD-rom was at the time; I still really don't - project with Aerosmith.
So then Tim Collins comes to get me. He says, "We want to talk to you for a minute in the dressing room. Would you come in?" I said, "Sure." So I go sit down in the dressing room, and there's Steven Tyler, Joe Perry and Tim Collins having an intervention on me. They say, "Barry, you're killing yourself. You're going to be eating yourself to death. We have a man outside waiting for you to take you to a rehab center."
And I said, "What the fuck is going on? This is the pot calling the kettle... You've got two fucking heroin addicts - three heroin addicts - telling me that I gotta go into rehab because I eat too many spare ribs.
I've got to imagine you were fit to be tied?
No I was not... Hey, you don't get mad at the bands, Dave.
Well, Marshall Tucker, I threw Doug Gray off the stage. Occasionally you get mad. So I wasn't "fit to be tied." I said those words: "What the fuck is going on here?" Three heroin addicts telling me I gotta go into rehab because I eat too many spare ribs. So there's a guy standing outside. I said, "You can tell him to go home." And that was my intervention.
So as much as the industry has changed just in terms of even prices - the prices for the tickets back when you were promoting were ridiculously low...
Yeah, I kept them low. I mean, look, I charged $2.50 and $3.50 when I was starting, and the highest price I ever charged was 1994, three years before my retirement, I charged $70 for the Eagles, and $71 for the Stones, and $71 for Pink Floyd. And now they're $300-$400.
How do you view that now?
I think it's disgusting.
What do you attribute it to?
Well, I attribute a lot to one man, Robert Sillerman, who founded SFX and had to buy up all the promoters -- and he had 65 percent of truly great promoters in his pocket - but decided that he needed to do the whole tour. And that's when he offered three times what the band's worth, and then they made it back in ticket sales. And then, of course, he bought - because of his synergy - he bought Clear Channel, and that's when that shit started to happen.
I gave a speech a few years ago. I called American Bureau, the bureau of standards in Washington, and I said, "The highest price we charged for the Stones tour in '72 was $6.50." I said, "Would you extrapolate it now for cost of living and inflation and tell me what it would be now - this was a few years ago. And he said - he called me a couple days later - it was $29.62. And the Stones were charging $440 for the whole lower bowl at Pepsi Center.
So accounting for real dollars today how much was that be again, accounting for inflation and all that?
Well this was five years ago at least: $29.62.
Wow. So do you think prices will ever come back down?
No. Well, forever's a long time, but the genie's out of the bottle. I mean, you've got these two major corporations bidding against each other now. And that's the way it is.
What are the other changes you've seen in the industry and what are your thoughts on them - like what are the biggest changes and what are your thoughts on them?
Well, it went from the music business to the business of music. I think it's ridiculous. There's no soul, no heart, no loyalty anymore. It used to be if you were a small promoter - which I was when I started - I would hear of something, and I'd like it, and I'd play the group, and if I was right and they got big, I got big with them. Now if a guy does that, within two tours, one of the giants goes out and offers them a hundred and some million for the tour and you're gone. I hope it will come back to the small places again... in the early days, we had some great acts, Dave, great acts and no place to put them. Now you got all these facilities and you got no acts. Used to have great artists dabbling in drugs. Now you've got drug addicts dabbling in the music.
Why do you think overall that there's not the career artists like there used to be, like your U2s, the Rolling Stones, the Who, bands like that?
What do I know? Because the music sucks. There's an infinite amount of words and lyrics out there. You tell me. One of my favorite sayings when I teach that class at CU, I say that, "Classic rock will be the same in twenty years as it is now," and I believe that. I mean, you've got no Who, no Stones, no Eltons, no Zeppelins. Who's making the classic songs? It's really disgusting. Now that I'm out I'm out. For the first two years, when I got out, I wanted nothing to do with this business. I was disgusted by it.
What was the impetus for that? What were disgusted with?
You just mentioned all of it - the ticket prices, the lack of quality...
Just the way the industry had changed even then?
Yeah, see what you had to do - I got out in '97 - but to be successful... there's a lot of ways to be successful, but my key was that I loved my audience and I did anything to take care of them. In fact, Bono said that at my roast in '92. He says, "Barry loved his audience. He cared more for his audience than he did for us."
Do you ever miss it, Barry?
Are there elements that you miss?
No. I only go to a show now if I'm invited. I mean, Van Morrison invited me a year ago, October. Roger Daltry did a year ago. I don't go... U2 invited me, and then they postponed a year, and they didn't invite me to the last one. I don't know. If they did I didn't find out about it. But no, there's nothing I miss. I mean, you might describe me as - no I don't want to say this, because I'm going to say it at the book signing - but it's just... my time is... this book is great. That's all I ever had... this book is the finish. That's all I had to do, and I wasn't sure I had to that until I actually did it.
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