This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: TV host, promoter and author Sharon Osbourne, Sharon Osbourne Management.
Hold onto your hat, Sharon Osbourne is in the house.
A shrewd business maverick from British showbiz royalty who rarely, if ever, pulls her swing from the rafters punches, the rather demure Divine Mrs. O is a delightful interview subject.
She’s best known for shepherding her husband Ozzy’s career following his being sacked by heavy metal pioneers Black Sabbath in 1979.
Her fiercely protective attitude and devotion to Ozzy and his music are legendary.
This is someone who, from starting as an upstart manager in a male-dominated music industry, was intent on safeguarding the integrity of her husband’s artistry as his career evolved.
Sharon’s fierce intellect, fire and brimstone delivery, and media attractiveness were the cornerstones of the deal that sparked her family’s weekly MTV reality show, “The Osbournes” that attracted some 7.8 million viewers at its apex in 2002.
They are also the attributes that led to such achievements as releasing four books as well as her becoming one of the most significant media personalities of our time via such TV vehicles as “The Sharon Osbourne Show,” “The Talk,” “The X Factor,” “America’s Got Talent,” “Rock of Love: Charm School,” and “Celebrity Apprentice.”
Sharon Osbourne Management has guided the careers of not only Ozzy, but also their children Kelly and Jack and, at various times, the Smashing Pumpkins, Coal Chamber, Gary Moore, Motörhead, Lita Ford, and Electric Light Orchestra.
The Divine Mrs. O is unquestionably a force.
CAUTION: IF YOU ARE OFFENDED BY STRONG LANGUAGE YOU, PERHAPS, SHOULDN’T READ THIS.
You are one of the richest women in entertainment. Worth an estimated $220 million. How long will you continue to work?
For me, it’s not about the money anymore. It’s about, “What am I going to do? Make hairdressing appointments, and have massages all day?” This is what I do. My husband (Ozzy) doesn’t want to go away, and buy a place in Palm Springs and say, “See ya. I’m going to play golf.” No way.
Meanwhile, he’s doing a tour called. “No More Tours II”
Yes. but that doesn’t mean that he can’t write songs, and still make music.
Your family had a bad health scare with Ozzy earlier this year when he had an accidental fall at home while going to the bathroom. Such an injury might have limited his performing days.
Yep. Listen. I never think about the future. I live in today. I live today. That’s the way that I have always done it. I just live every day. I never think that I am going to save this for the future. That I will do this or that when I get older. I do it now. That way, you know what? No regrets. And I have had a brilliant fucking life. A brilliant life, and a brilliant family. I don’t want to go anywhere because I love my family. I can’t complain about a thing.
At the same time, we are all getting a bit older. Your close friend, Irish rock guitarist Bernie Tormé died on March 17th at the age of 66, the same age as you.
Yep. But look at Charlie Watts, he’s 78. Look at Paul McCartney, he’s 77. Age, it’s not about age. It’s not about saying, “I’m not going to tour anymore.” Do you want to retire from everything?
Do you directly oversee the details of the “No More Tours II” bookings?
It’s only me. Yeah, it’s only me.
How do you decide on how many dates to do, and about pricing?
Listen, it’s how many dates can your artist do. Can your artist sing back-to-back? Can your artist do this or do that? How many dates can the Rolling Stones do because they can only do a handful of dates?
Years ago major bands toured with four semi-trailer trucks. Today, they go out with 20 semi-trailer trucks. There’s now greater set-up times, and increased expenses involved.
That’s right. What do the Rolling Stones do? Two shows a week? That’s it. You have to go by the artist. It is the same that I would never pay big money to go and see a band. I would pay it to see Barbra Streisand, but I wouldn’t pay it to see a band. It’s horses for courses. If you’ve got a young act that can do night after night, great.
Ticket pricing is really about demand in the marketplace.
You have to take into consideration how long will this artist be around or if they are going to tour again. How many dates are they going to do in America? All of that comes into the ticket price. Also, you have to know your audience, and if you don’t know your audience, then you are in trouble. I don’t agree with what Madonna goes out for. I think that her tickets are too high. I think her ticket price is way too high.
I recently did an interview at Canadian Music Week with Tim Leiweke, (CEO of the Oak View Group, and former president & CEO of Anschutz Entertainment Group).
Yeah, he’s a good guy.
In our interview, he said he saw no reason why a concert ticket could not sell for $800. I can think of a lot of reasons why a concert ticket shouldn’t be $800. Tickets prices are now often out of the range of a segment of the population. Don’t get me wrong. If a $150 ticket sells on the resale market for 3 times its face value, what’s the correct pricing for that ticket? But $800 as a standard for a major artist’s show ticket, that strikes me as wrong.
Yes. Very few people would pay that amount of money. The thing is that you have to know who your audience is. And if you have a band like the Rolling Stones, there’s all of these wealthy idiots who go to The Hamptons in the summer who will pay that.
Or “Bruce Springsteen on Broadway” which made $106.8 million over 58 weeks with box office tickets ranging from $100 to $850, and averaging around $500; and then achieving the highest average ticket price ever recorded for a Broadway show on the secondary market with the average ticket reselling for about $1,789.
I don’t know how people find the money to do all of that shit. I don’t know.
The concert business is now dominated by two promoters, Live Nation and AEG Live. You were recently in the middle of a public tug-and-pull between the two when you learned that AEG wouldn’t book Ozzy’s farewell tour at its O2 Arena in London unless he also played its Staples Center in L.A with AEG Live. You filed an antitrust suit against AEG. You obviously thought you’d win the case?
Yeah, I did.
You thought AEG would blink?
A matter of breaking antitrust laws in controlling two big venues?
It is. It is what it is, and you can’t entice people by saying, “Don’t play in this venue. I will give you 200 grand cash on top of your fee if you play me.” You can’t conduct business like that when you are the only 20,000 seater in London. You can’t do it. So I knew that I was right, and the thing is that I don’t give a shit who owns that company. I don’t care about some billionaire (Philip Anschutz, 72, who owns AEG, and has an estimated net worth of 7 billion dollars, according to Forbes). I don’t give a shit about him. Because he’s under the radar, he’s one of those quiet fuckers who thinks he’s got the right to do whatever he wants with his billions.
At a press conference last year Ozzy was asked if he had felt any pressure not to play in Israel, and you jumped in to say, “I’m half a Heeb. We play where we want to play.”
We tour in Israel. Do you know why?
You are part Jewish, and fans in Israel want to see Ozzy?
People book Ozzy to play there. Religion has nothing to do with it. The thing is we have never been asked once to go to Palestine (the Palestinian territories) and perform. Not once.
Would you consider an invite to attend or speak at the annual Palestine Music Conference in Ramallah?
Yes, I would. This thing there goes beyond religion. This has nothing to do with religion now. Everybody has a right. When people ask me about Palestinians I say, “I hate the fact of what is happening. I hate the fact that you get children throwing stones at soldiers. They have nothing, but stones and then they get shot at. My heart goes out to them. Throwing stones is all they have.”
Your father was the famously tough British artist manager Don Arden. With news in 2004 that your father, then in his mid-70s, had been diagnosed as suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s, you decided the time was right for a reconciliation. You made peace with your father following a nasty family split of two decades, and you also paid for his healthcare in the last days of his life.
(Don Arden was born Harry Levy in Cheetham Hill, Manchester. He left school at 13 and adopted the name Don Arden to work as a stand-up comic, and singer during World War II on the UK vaudeville circuit before he was drafted. With the war over, Arden returned to vaudeville. In 1961, he promoted an extensive UK tour in theatres and ballrooms with American singer Gene Vincent, best known for his 1956 hit “Be-Bop-A-Lula,” with Chris Wayne and the Echoes. Arden became Vincent’s manager for a time, and then went on to manage the Nashville Teens, Amen Corner, the Animals, the Small Faces, Black Sabbath, Queen, Move, and Electric Light Orchestra.)
Does the theatrical side of your personality come from your father?
But listen my mother was a dancer. Her mother was a dancer/choreographer. My kids are 4th generation music industry. So I was raised going to drama school, and I used to do work in the theatre as a child. So this is all I know. So I wasn’t some snotty kid that suddenly decided to fuck a rock star. Think about all I knew, and that’s where I come from.
You mother Hope Shaw was an Irish ballet teacher?
My mother was a dancer in a group of dancers because her mother was a choreographer and a dancer, and my mother was a dancer. Not ballet. I did ballet but my mum she was in vaudeville. My grandmother and my mum were known in England.
Considering all of the issues between the two of how did you feel when your father died?
I wasn’t there the day that he died. But I went and sat with my father after he died. I was with my dad a good three years before he died, and I was heartbroken. Heartbroken. Listen, my father, a huge part of me is my father. He gave me an unbelievable musical education. My father opened my eyes to so many amazing experiences and amazing people and things like that. I was heartbroken. Heartbroken.
(Sharon’s brother David opined to British journalist Mick Wall, who wrote Arden’s autobiography, “Mr. Big: Ozzy, Sharon and My Life as the Godfather of Rock” that, “Sharon is Don in a skirt. You don’t wanna fuck with her.”)
Your father provided you and your brother with front seats to music in Britain in the late ’50s and throughout the ‘60s. You met a lot of the American artists that he brought to England to tour including Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, the Everly Brothers.
Brenda Lee, Gene Vincent. Sam Cooke. All of them. Just amazing artists. The Everly Brothers just the best.
You have said in interviews that Sam Cooke was so handsome.
Oh my God, you don’t have to tell me. I fell in love with him instantly. He was the sweetest, most beautiful man, ever. Beautiful, and he smelt gorgeous. He dressed beautifully. I couldn’t get enough of Sam Cooke.
Do you remember being 5, and being taken to Victoria Station in London to see Bill Haley and the Comets off?
Yep. Of course, I remember it. How could I not remember being dragged out of my bed at 10 o’clock at night because someone was getting the midnight train to Europe? So you remember.
The American artists coming to the UK in the ‘60s couldn’t believe the difference between the two countries. Like ham sandwiches in the UK being so thin or what they called lemonade, the Brits called lemon squash. A Wimpy burger was like rubber in those days.
Oh my God, Americans, until recently, very recently, hated English food. Hated it. No ice and they wouldn’t eat. And what could be worse than no air conditioning? They hated it.
And bringing American artists to the UK your father had to pay them upfront before a tour.
Oh, they weren’t stupid. They knew they had to do that. If they didn’t get paid in advance, they wouldn’t turn up because they knew they would get naught. They knew that they wouldn’t get their money. So they were right to do that.
And in the early ‘60s, British bands were only getting £15 or £20 a night. It didn’t change until the late ‘60s.
America was the goal for Brit artists, especially after the Beatles broke through.
Oh my God, everything was America. Don’t forget that we were brought up on American movies, our TV shows, and everything, America; and everybody thought that there’s gold in America.
Meanwhile, there was a long-running feud between the Musicians Union (MU) in the UK, and the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) in the U.S barring music groups from freely touring. It was the British union who first stopped Americans touring in the UK.
That’s right. They were hellish. They were pathetic. If you wanted to do a TV show or whatever, it was just a nightmare with the (British) union. And with the union, if you don’t get paid, and you go to your union, do you know what they do? Fuck all. They don’t do a damn thing. They don’t do a damn thing for anyone. I would like to know what they do other than stopping people from working.
(In the 1920s the MU obtained a ruling that if an American act was to perform in the U.K. then a counterpart act from the UK must be allowed into America. The AFM countered by successfully blocking any UK musicians from touring the U.S. Then in 1956, the MU and AFM came to an agreement by which bands could once again enter their countries but only on an equal exchange basis: One American band could enter the UK. and one Brit band could then enter the States. The exchange agreement lasted into the 1980s.)
You were only 18 when Black Sabbath members came into your father’s office in 1979. They were scruffy Northern kids. You saw them perform that night, and they impressed you.
Just a few weeks ago Black Sabbath marked its 50th anniversary by opening the “Home Of Metal: Black Sabbath at 50” exhibition in Birmingham, the band’s hometown, and the location of their final concert ever. A Sabbath Bridge is now a landmark there.
Yeah, that is so nice.
(The “Home Of Metal: Black Sabbath at 50” exhibition at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, running from June 26th to September 29th, 2019, celebrates how the West Midlands band pioneered heavy metal.)
British rock was pretty tame until the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Cream, and Led Zeppelin arrived.
Here we are 50 years later.
I know, and it’s incredible. Listen I think it’s brilliant that they have got the bridge in their name. It’s lovely for them. They deserve it. They really, really do deserve it because I was just so pissed off at the Grammys this year because they gave them a Lifetime Achievement Award, but wouldn’t give it to them on the TV show that we all know as The Grammy Awards (on CBS). They did it at a separate (stand-alone) ceremony (“Grammy Salute To Music Legends”) which goes out on another network (PBS) later on. I wouldn’t let Ozzy go because I just thought it was shocking what they did to them. So I wouldn’t let Ozzy go.
(Black Sabbath’s discography includes 19 studio albums, 30 singles, 6 live albums, 12 compilation albums, and one EP. The band has won two Grammys in the Best Metal Performance category, for a live version of “Iron Man” released in 1998, and for “God is Dead” from “13,” the final Sabbath album in 2013.)
Black Sabbath had occult lyrics in their songs, and they scared both music fans and critics alike, but they really never have had full credit for being one of the influential, pioneering heavy metal bands.
No. And they wanted to give it (the Lifetime Achievement award) to them in some pissy fucking ceremony that they had. Listen there were artists there (George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, Sam and Dave, Dionne Warwick, Julio Iglesias, Donny Hathaway, and Billy Eckstine) that got awards that deserved it too. But I just thought because Sabbath– their career spanned 50 years and they are still selling records today–their catalog still sells and their last record that was out 6 years ago was #1 in many countries worldwide–so the other artists they were honoring had great careers and deserved to be honored but they still didn’t have the careers that Sabbath had. So not to put them on the proper (TV) show, it was like, “How dare you?” I was so angry. I just thought, “Fuck you. I am not going to give you the honor of having Ozzy at your shitty ceremony.”
The debut Black Sabbath album of 1970 was a watershed moment in heavy rock.
Yeah, that’s right. Yeah. And you tell me albums that were made 50 years ago that still sell. There are a handful of artists that are blessed with that. It’s an incredible feat for any artist who’s album still sells 50 years later. It’s a gift. It should be celebrated.
(Ozzy Osbourne speaks fondly of the recording of the band’s debut album, stating in his 2010 autobiography “I Am Ozzy,” “Once we’d finished, we spent a couple of hours double-tracking some of the guitar and vocals, and that was that. Done. We were in the pub in time for last orders. It can’t have taken any longer than twelve hours in total. That’s how albums should be made, in my opinion.”)
When Black Sabbath sacked Ozzy in April 1979, few music industry people wanted anything to do with him. He was widely viewed as a has been.
The thing was in those days if you were the singer and you got fired from a group you didn’t go on to do anything. So he broke the mold. But it was like, “So they’ve left the group, they are over. They are dead.”
At the same time, artist careers in music, particularly in England, were considered to span about 5 years, if they were lucky.
Of course, and the thing was those guys in Sabbath knew that too. So they weren’t expecting to go on longer than that either. You had your time, and that was it.
When Ozzy left Sabbath and recorded his first two albums, “Blizzard of Ozz” (1980) and “Diary of a Madman” (1981) were your father, and your brother David still actively involved in his management?
No, they weren’t. Yes, we were signed to my father’s label, Jet. The two of them did absolutely nothing, especially, my brother because he lived in England, was basically nowhere to be seen. My father was not doing too well at that time. He was trying to hold on to Electric Light Orchestra who were walking out the door. He had a huge lawsuit on his back. So he was dealing with that lawsuit, and my brother was in England, and he didn’t give a shit about America. He was married, and just had his first child. So there was no one there but me.
What made you think that you could manage Ozzy?
Because I had managed other people. I had managed Gary Moore.
He was the late great Northern Irish guitarist who played with Thin Lizzy and with the jazz-rock fusion band Colosseum II before his own, highly successful solo career.
He was the first guy that I managed, and I loved it (management). I had a great time doing it. In fact, I wanted Gary to join Ozzy’s band, but he wouldn’t.
When Ozzy and you gathered the musicians to play with him was it intended as a band project?
Never, never, never. The bass player Bob Daisley has said that over the years. He’s a sad old fuck that played on two of the greatest albums in the (rock) genre, and he can’t get over the fact that we didn’t use him further. Like it was, “Goodbye. See ya.” And he’s never gotten over it. And several lawsuits later—he tried to sue us three times–each time thrown out of court. Thrown out of court three times—he’s tried to change history, and it just won’t fit. It was never a band. There’s no way. It was Ozzy Osbourne.
Although reputed to be an unreliable severe drunk, Ozzy was still the star when he left Black Sabbath?
You got your revenge on Bob Daisley. He and drummer Lee Kerslake were both fired by you in the summer of 1981, and their names and contributions were later erased from those first two albums. The tracks were re-recorded with new players.
Yeah, just to teach him a lesson.
(Laughing) You are a mean bitch, aren’t you?
I am. I am. It’s true. I am.
When Ozzy and you were putting together the band, you were in Los Angeles first, and then in England?
We started off in L.A. yeah. That is where Ozzy found Randy (Rhoads). Couldn’t find a bass player or a drummer. Bob Daisley had been working with Jet Records for awhile with Widowmaker. He was like a session player. If you look up Bob Daisley’s list of credits, I think he was in about 12 different bands because he was a session player. So my brother said, “Well, we’ve worked with Bob. Why don’t you try him because he’s a good bass player?” And he is and was a good bass player. So we said, “All right, we will try him.” Then when we couldn’t find a drummer Bob said, “I have a mate, (drummer) Lee Kerslake, looking for a gig” and that’s how Lee Kerslake played on the first two records as well.
Randy came from the band Quiet Riot.
Yes, he was from L.A. We auditioned these guys and one of them, he was a bass player, Dana Stum (future Slaughter bassist) was very sweet to Ozzy. He didn’t get the gig as a bass player but he was a very nice guy. He would sit with Ozzy. He befriended Ozzy. Dana said, “I know this guy, this guitar player,” and it was Randy.
When did you officially start managing Ozzy, separate legally from either your father or brother?
Oh Lord. God, let me see. ’81.
You father wasn’t happy, of course.
How did you and Ozzy end up with the rights to the two Jet albums? Did you buy them back from your father eventually?
Ozzy had to give him a million and a half dollars which Ozzy didn’t have. Ozzy didn’t have a million and a half dollars.
You had to buy Ozzy’s contract out from your father and brother?
My brother never had Ozzy signed ever. It was just to my father’s company.
“Blizzard of Oz” sold 4 million copies.
No, it was 5 million but the thing was that we had to get money from the record company. Jet in those days went through CBS (for distribution). We had to go to CBS, and get the money. You see the deal was Jet through CBS. When we gave my father the million and a half, the albums reverted back to us right away. His buyout was 100% from the day that he cashed that check. So he was gone.
How about the publishing?
We never signed the publishing with him. He tried to get it, and we wouldn’t sell it. We absolutely refused, and he sent people after us and threatened us and everything, and we just wouldn’t do it.
How about the Black Sabbath publishing? There’s been so many covers of Sabbath songs over the years.
My father didn’t manage Sabbath until ’79, and their publishing deal was done in ’70 with their first manager, and he gave it to a fucking publisher for perpetuity. So it was gone, and the bastards still won’t give it back to Black Sabbath. It’s this company called Essex (TRO Essex Music Group).
(Set up by German-born British music publisher David Platz, and American music publisher Howie Richmond, TRO Essex Music Group owns copyrights popularized by the Rolling Stones, the Moody Blues, the Move, Procol Harum, the Who, Johnny Dankworth, Dudley Moore, Lonnie Donegan, David Bowie, and Marc Bolan.)
You first had big fights with your father, and he was calling up CBS Record executives in America, and saying, ‘Don’t deal with her.” Tell me the CBS executive in New York whom you met, and when neither of you knew what to say to each other, he blurted out, “Would you like to see my kitchen that I’ve just had installed?” And you said, ‘I don’t fucking cook. Why would I want to see your fucking kitchen in your office?” Who was that?
Oh my God. He was a lawyer like Walter (president and CEO of CBS Records Walter Yentikoff) too, and I am just trying o think of his name.
One of the funniest stories I’ve ever heard.
When you took over Ozzy’s career, the industry, overwhelmingly a man’s world, had confidently predicted you would fail. The only women managers around then were Mary Martin (Leonard Cohen and Van Morrison), Marcia Day (Seals & Croft), and Susan Joseph (Laura Branigan). There were only a handful of women booking agents then in America, Marsha Vlasic Barbara Skydel, and Jayne Garrity.
That’s right. And Barbara Skydel used to represent Black Sabbath.
You had to stickhandle past all of the music industry crap of the ‘70s, and ‘80s.
Well, thank you. If you were a woman, you were what they called a secretary. Now nobody uses the word secretary anymore because it’s insulting. Or you are called an assistant.
In those days, It was being a secretary or a publicist.
A publicist, right. But that is what women did. So that was it. I was like, “No. Not for me.”
You have said that you had to get loud in order to get heard.
For me, it was that way. Yeah, and it was like I had to get peoples’ attention. So to get peoples’ attention, I was louder and fouler than they were.
There was a patriarchal order in the music industry in those days. It was also the era of cocaine and outrageous business expense accounts.
Listen, it was at the time when it was a real boy’s club. Everything was cocaine. Women were for fucking, and that was it. That was it. Unless they fancied you or they thought they could fuck you, they (male executives) didn’t want to know in the industry. It was the boys’ club. It was going to strip clubs, getting hookers, doing the coke. You don’t do that with women. You do that with other guys that ran radio stations, and with the editor of magazines. They basically didn’t want women to be hanging around cuz you would bust them to their wives.
They certainly did not want wives on the road.
No. It was just something that was just not done.
While Ozzy’s career takes off in America, you were dealing with not only CBS but also with lawyers, agents, and promoters. To initially fend against your father, you had asked Linda McCartney’s father and brother, attorneys Lee Eastman, and his son John, to help you out. They refused to get involved because of your father’s reputation.
More helpful was the late New York entertainment lawyer Marty Machat, who represented Phil Spector, the Rolling Stones, and Leonard Cohen; and had represented Sam Cooke.
Oh my God. Let me tell you Marty Machat, I really liked him. He was very nice to Ozzy and I. But his son Steven, my God, I think he’s crazy. He was finished after his father died, and then he takes all his father’s credit on things, and the people he allegedly worked with.
As you are aware, Premier Talent’s Frank Barsalona revolutionized America’s rock concert business with such clients as The Who, Herman’s Hermits, Mitch Ryder, Led Zeppelin, Grand Funk, J. Geils Band, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Van Halen, and U2; and by developing regional promoter empires, anchored by Bill Graham, Barry Fey, Ron Delsener, Danny Zelisko, Chuck Morris, Larry Magid, Don Law and others.
Many of the regional promoters sold their companies to Robert Sillerman’s SFX Entertainment which then sold them Clear Channel Entertainment for an estimated $4 billion. Live Nation was formed by a spin-off from the subsidiary, Clear Channel Communications.
Yeah, I know. I know.
Back then, live music in America was very much controlled by a handful of these indie promoters; artist managers had very little negotiating power. The promoters would strong-arm managers whenever they could.
Yeah, they did, but I never thought of it because I had such a powerful father. People who threatened and shouted didn’t do anything to me. I’d heard it my whole life.
People would say, “She’s crazy like her father,” or “She will kill you.”
They didn’t do anything to me. There was nothing that anyone could say to me that somebody else hadn’t said to me. It didn’t faze me at all. So nobody could fight or intimidate me, and I thought, “Right, I’ll fucking intimidate you lot.”
Is it true that you kneed Metropolitan Talent’s promoter John Scher backstage?
Yeah, and whacked him around the head. He tried to do the dirty on Ozzy and I. We needed the (settlement) money because that’s how we moved on from one gig to another. Everything was cash in those days. Everything. And we had sold out the gig months in advance. Then we got there, and I am doing the settlement, and he gives me all of these advertising bills. I’m like, “We sold out. We sold out the first day. Why do I have all of these advertising bills?” I was then told, “Well, once it (an advertisement) is booked, you can’t cancel them.” I was like, “Fuck off.”
(In his 2009 In The Hot Seat profile, John Scher was asked about the incident.
“She kicked me in the balls is the story. It had to do with settlements from two shows with Ozzy Osbourne. We had a letter from Sharon saying we could deduct money from a second show. (After a dispute over payment) I walked over to her and asked if I could talk with her. She broke into a rage, screaming, and cursing. I said, “Calm down.” and she threatened to pull Ozzy offstage. I said, “Be my guest but your equipment will live in Asbury Park for as long as it takes me to auction it off.” Then she very calmly walked over me -we’re 10 feet apart—and I’m figuring we’re going to get out of this situation. Instead, she kicks me in the nuts and knocks me down…..Sharon has spun this story to make me look like I’d done something wrong. But I know the truth and everybody who was there knows the truth.”)
Bill Graham and Barry Fey were among the most colorful and aggressive American promoters of the day.
Bill Graham, he was another one people said you should bow down to but not me. Barry Fey was always good to Ozzy and me. He was always a mensch to us. He was a good guy to us.
Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood film mogul now cast as a sexual predator, then worked with Corky Burger as Harvey & Corky Productions, bringing Frank Sinatra, Bette Midler, the Rolling Stones, Stephen Stills and others to Buffalo.
Oh yes. I can remember, believe me dealing with him. I remember him from being on the road with Electric Light Orchestra before Ozzy.
Down under in Australia, Chuggi (Michael Chugg of Chugg Entertainment), and Michael Gudinski (of Frontier Touring) are still going strong after four decades of concert promoting.
Oh hell’s bells, those two. The gruesome twosome. You know, characters like that don’t exist anymore.
Is it different today dealing with younger promoters and agents?
It’s very, very different. The people that you deal with now are all…how can I say….they are also these computer nerds. They are geeks. Everything in life, that what it’s about is change. This new breed in the industry is just so fucking boring.
Is it true that when you approached Lollapalooza for Ozzy, you were told that he was too “uncool,” so you two decided to launch Ozzfest in 1996?
That’s right, and we were like, “Well fuck you.” It was the best thing that they ever could have done to us because we started Ozzfest and it was brilliant.
Over the years, Ozzfest has benefited the likes of Marilyn Manson, System Of A Down. Disturbed, Slipknot, Lamb Of God, Mastodon, Arch Enemy, and others.
We gave the stage to bands that could never have played in front of that many people. Bands that weren’t even signed. And it was just phenomenal. From that, a whole breed of festivals for harder-edged bands came about, and I am really proud of that. It was brilliant.
Today, some American festivals have premium tickets running to $600 so attendees can enjoy an open bar, artist lounges, premium main stage viewing, and other perks. Meanwhile, the millennial generation see events like Coachella as a rite of passage.
Listen, the festivals are for kids that want to go out and experience the elements. Coachella is kids. I’m telling you. You get all of the old fuckers that think that they are at a Rolling Stones’ show, and you go, “What the fuck are you doing being there? It’s so embarrassing.” And they are sad fuckers. And the sad fuckers will always, go and spend that money. Coachella is for kids. Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande. C’mon.
Your bio says that you have also managed the Smashing Pumpkins, Coal Chamber, Queen, Motörhead, Lita Ford, and Electric Light Orchestra. When did you manage Queen?
Oh my gawd. Freddie Mercury, and his girlfriend (Mary Austin) were big friends of mine, and Freddie hated their manager (Norman Sheffield of Trident Recording, Publishing and Management). So they asked me if we would consider taking then on. I said, “Of course.” I go to my dad and everybody’s over the moon. And that was it. They came to us. That year, probably ’74 or ’75, we had a Christmas party and I had John Reid there who was another friend of mine. And Freddie and John Reid then met, and the rest is history.
UK promoter Harvey Goldsmith swears that Freddie Mercury was the best performer of them all, including David Bowie and Mick Jagger.
Oh my God. Nobody could compete with Freddie. Nobody could compete with Freddie Mercury. First of all his vocal range was untouchable. Nobody had his vocal range. And he was just electric onstage. You couldn’t compete with Freddie. He played every instrument in the world. And that was it. Go on.
What did you think of the “Bohemian Rhapsody” film in which Rami Malek, wearing a set of prosthetic teeth, plays Freddie? He received critical acclaim and won several awards, including the Academy Award, Golden Globe Award, Screen Actors Guild Award, and British Academy Film Award for best actor. The film has raked in more than $1 billion worldwide at the box office, and it received four Academy Awards.
I did not like it. I cannot watch it. Listen I know that kid got the Oscar, but I can’t watch it.
The thing intriguing about Queen onstage is that you couldn’t take your eyes off Freddie. Meanwhile, critics and fans have accused the “Bohemian Rhapsody” filmmakers of twisting facts to create a more convenient drama for the movie.
But please don’t give me the shit in that movie about Brian (May) doing this, and Brian doing that. Brian did what Freddie told him to do, and that’s it. And you know what? It’s like finally these two (drummer Roger Taylor and bassist John Deacon) have got to their late 60s, and finally, finally, they have got the attention that they always wanted, but never got because of Freddie. As you say, you watched Queen you didn’t give a shit about anybody else. You were drawn to Freddie. And who did anyone want to write about? Nobody but Freddie. So there were these frustrated fuck musos that sat at home going, “We hate Freddie. We hate Freddie.” And that was it.
What’s the best show you’ve ever been to not counting Ozzy’s shows?
Every Queen show that I ever went to. And Elton. It has to be between Freddie Mercury and Elton John.
In the early days living in London it might have been a show by the Animals which your father briefly managed.
Oh my God. I saw Eric Burdon about three years ago, and we laughed. We had the best night. We saw him at an award’s show, and it was so great to see him. What a fucking voice. He’s still fantastic. Alan Price (the Animals’ keyboardist). I loved Alan Price and his (1966) hit “Simon Smith and His Amazing Dancing Bear” (a song written by Randy Newman). I Loved him.
How have you kept Ozzy in the public eye all these years?
Listen Ozzy has been playing for 51 years now, and he’s been always touring. It is what Ozzy does. There is only one Ozzy. There’s only one person who looks like him and sounds like him. That voice is instantly identifiable. And that’s it. He’s unique. And he’s one of the few guys, like I said before, who has ever left a successful band and has gone on to do just as successfully on his own. Even Mick Jagger couldn’t do it.
The closest might be Rod Stewart who went through different bands leading up to the Faces.
He did but he was always really Rod, and he wasn’t in a successful band. What successful band did he come from?
Well, guitarist Jeff Beck recruited Rod for his new post-Yardbirds venture, the Jeff Beck Group, and Rod was there for the “Truth” and “Beck-Ola” albums until 1969 when Steve Marriott left the Small Faces; and Ron Wood and Rod joined Ronnie Lane, Ian McLagan, and Kenney Jones in the Faces for the next three years as his solo career took off.
No, no wrong.
I am not wrong.
Listen to me, okay? I was at school with Steve Marriott, okay?
At the Italia Conti Academy, Britain’s first performing arts academy. Steve was, of course, a child actor.
Right. I was at school with him, and he went in and saw my father (about the Small Face) because he was at school with me.
So it was through you that your father came to manage the Small Faces?
I’d always wondered about how your father came to work with the Small Faces. His previous ‘60s management clients, Amen Corner, and the Nashville Teens were hardly the same caliber, though he did briefly manage the Animals, as I said. Later, he managed the Move after they fired Tony Secunda, and that led to him working with Electric Light Orchestra.
So don’t tell me where the Faces come from. So my father had the Small Faces and that’s where the Faces come from. Seriously, they weren’t Black Sabbath.
(Small Faces signed with Don Arden within 6 weeks of forming, and quickly became a revered Brit mod band with a string of successful UK hit singles including “Whatcha Gonna Do About It” “Sha-La-La-La-Lee,” “All Or Nothing,” “Itchycoo Park,” and “Toy Soldier.”)
London is filled with great showbiz families
The Grade brothers, Lou, and Leslie, and Bernard Delfont were the most powerful entertainment agents and impresarios in Britain. Leslie’s son Michael Grade was chairman of the BBC (2004-2006) and executive chairman of ITV (2007-2009)
Rob and Barry Dickins’ grandfather had a knife throwing act in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in the early 20th century. Their father Percy co-founded the New Musical Express. Barry is still co-managing director of International Talent Booking Agency which your father co-founded. Rob was chairman of Warner Music UK. Barry’s son Jonathan manages Adele, and his daughter Lucy Dickins was appointed Head of UK Music at WME in May.
Decca Records’ A&R head in the ‘60s was Dick Rowe, who signed the Rolling Stones, Them, the Moody Blues, Tom Jones, and the Small Faces. His son, Richard, a solicitor worked at CBS Records, and was president of Sony ATV music publishing.
I could go on about famous British showbiz families.
Well, the Grades were friends of my mother’s. Dick Rowe, and Bernard Delfont, all of those people I knew as a kid, but it was a tiny tiny industry if you could even call it an industry. Variety was an industry in those days.
How old were you when you first came to America?
I came over when I was 10, I suppose.
What did you first think of New York?
It reminded me of London. To me, it’s just another London.
How about Los Angeles?
I have always loved it here from when I would come over as a child, and then as a teenager, I always knew that I wanted to move here. So in ’76, that was when we moved.
You just can’t stand the weather in England.
No, I can’t. I definitely can’t,
Do you spend much time in England today?
No. We have a home there (a Buckinghamshire, South East England estate). I go over there to do bits, but we don’t spend much time there now.
You wisely stay away from the English media which is quite vicious.
Horrible. Horrible media. The scum of the earth they are.
Any immigration difficulties in moving to the United States? A lot of people do have difficulty.
No. No. No. Not at all.
How did you and Ozzy first deal from the States with the two children that he had in Britain with his former wife Thelma?
You mean in leaving England? Well, she had custody of the kids. Of course, Ozzy couldn’t, being In a band, he tours. He couldn’t raise two kids. We had them for holidays. We had them in the summer. We had them at Christmas. So yeah, we had the kids, and we dealt with them at holidays, and then Ozzy put them into boarding school because it was very stabilizing for them. We’d see them at holidays. So it was fine.
(Thelma Riley and Ozzy reportedly met at a Birmingham club in 1971 and got married shortly afterward. They apparently had a turbulent marriage which was dissolved in 1982. Their children would later contend that Ozzy had not been a good father to them. Osbourne himself admitted in the 2011 documentary film “God Bless Ozzy Osbourne” that he could not even recall Jessica’s and Louis’ birthdays.)
Of course, if only from the MTV reality show “The Osbournes,” which aired from 2002 to 2005, we know you and Ozzy are the parents of Aimee, who chooses to stay out of the limelight, and Jack and Kelly. How is Jack doing? He was diagnosed as having multiple sclerosis diagnosis 7 years ago.
He’s good thank you very much. He’s a very good boy. He’s a great boy.
Jack was diagnosed with a form of dyslexia at 8, and then attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at 10. How did you and Ozzy balance careers and raising a family?
You know I always say this about what women are good at. Women are good at juggling and you do what you do. We can just juggle. The reason we moved here (to Los Angeles) was because of the children because in those days in England they didn’t know what to do with dyslexic kids. There weren’t any schools for them. And here it was a whole different world if you had a dyslectic child.
Jack and Kelly were both diagnosed with dyslexia as has Ozzy.
And then we just brought the kids right here, and that was it. We had to for them. That was it.
I’m quite surprised with your management experience and industry savvy that labels haven’t courted you to handle their acts. Have many people approached you?
No, never even when people they will take a manager from here and there, and here and put them all together and have a huge umbrella of artist managers. But no. Never. I think because I have a tendency to say what I think to your face. But then it’s over, and I move on. Like you are my best friend again. People don’t like it when you tell them what you think.
Well, Americans neither get Brit’s deadpan humor nor their effortless use of taboo words. Brits understand the general expressive content as well as nuanced distinctions of swear words. Americans don’t.
No, they don’t. I don’t know. I am fine with how it all panned out for me, but I don’t know. You know what too also? People have always seen me as kind of a loose cannon, and people don’t like it. That’s why I can’t work with Simon Cowell because I’m not a bullshitter and he can’t deal with people that tell him the truth.
You have done a lot of work with Simon including on “The X Factor.”
I have and because he pays me more to come back. But I never am going back again. He cannot deal with the truth.
(In several interviews Sharon has charged that Simon Cowell dropped her as a judge last year from “The X Factor” for being too old.)
You’d have to agree that TV talent competition shows like “The X Factor,” “American Idol,” “The Voice,” “Songland,” “America’s Got Talent,” “Pop Idol,” and Britain’s Got Talent” hardly match up with entertainment reality. These contestants still have to put together a team behind themselves. They can be TV stars for two or three minutes, but it is still a business in which to be successful, you have to work so many hours, do many shows and so many tours. There are few short cuts. Many of these artists on TV are good, but they don’t have stickability to sell tickets.
They don’t. Listen the only ones that have really lasted have been Kelly Clarkson and the country singer whatever her name is.
Right. They are the only ones. All of them (the final contestants) are good and if they win, they are great and then they’ve got a couple of tours and an album and it’s “See ya.” The ones that win sometimes don’t even get that.
So many of the female singers on these programs try to channel Mariah Carey. Sing the song, please.
I always say, “Stop fucking oversinging. Stop oversinging.” If you are Mariah Carey you created that style of singing. She created it. Okay? A hundred years ago, she created it. Now Mariah can fucking do that, you can’t. Now how do you sing?” When you see these people, and they just clone their favorites artists including the way that they move, it just gets me crazy because they have no idea who they are. They can sing great, and they sing just like who their favorite singer is, but they have no fucking idea of who they are.
There was a film script a few years ago on the Black List about your relationship with Ozzy. Is it being made into a film?
Oh my God, no. We are doing our own movie. We’ve got a deal and we are working with a writer right now, Ozzy and I.
You have said that you don’t want to do another rock and roll, sex, drugs and money movie about a musician. So the film will focus on you two meeting and falling in love?
You and Ozzy married in Maui, Hawaii on July 4th in 1982.
Do you know why? Because it was the stopover on the way over to Japan from L.A. We used to stop there. You could go either to Anchorage or to Hawaii. So we said, “Let’s go to Hawaii. We’ll get married, and then we will get back on the plane, and go to Japan to start the tour.”
Both you and Ozzy look great in your wedding photos. Ozzy is very handsome in the photos.
A gorgeous guy. He’s a gorgeous looking guy.
Would you be surprised to know that when I told friends that I was interviewing you many said, “Oh my God, I love her”?
Noooooo. Get out of here. That’s very nice to hear. Thank you for telling me that.
My wife Anya (Wilson) worked as a receptionist in London at the International Talent Booking Agency which your father co-owned until he was bought out in 1978.
Yes, with Rod MacSween (Barry Dickins then came aboard as a co-owner in 1978).
Anya wanted me to ask if you had owned a mink coat when you were 13. She had heard that rumor.
Yes. Yes, I did.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-80. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record.
He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is a co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide,” and a Lifetime Member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
He is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry.