Op-Ed: Howard Kaufman – By Bob Lefsetz


He famously told a household name band he’d make them more money in two years than they had in the previous twenty.

And then he did.

Most people don’t know who he was. Because unlike those that followed him into the business, Howard was not about fame, he was about protecting the interests of his artists, and money.

And everybody cares about the money. Knock around this business long enough and you’ll hear the famous cliche… “It’s not about the money, it’s about the money.”

And Howard started off as an accountant. He worked with James William Guercio. And then he went on to partner with Irving Azoff and steer the careers of Jimmy Buffett and Stevie Nicks and Aerosmith and Def Leppard and… You want someone in your corner, and that was Howard. He could be funny and he could be stern, but one thing’s for sure, you could not pull the wool over his eyes.

The first time I met him was on a plane down to Chula Vista, to see Jimmy Buffett, and he told me Fleetwood Mac was gonna reform and I asked him about new material and he told me he’d be happy if they never made another record. This was 2003, he already knew where the bucks were buried, on the road. You see old does not mean dumb, does not mean over the hill, oftentimes it means wisdom and foresight and Howard had it.

And now he’s dead.

I won’t say he died before his time, prematurely, that he was cut down in his prime, he was 79, but yesterday he was in the office, manning the phones, working, he had time left on his clock.

Only it turned out he didn’t.

Huh.

This has been a very strange year. Although the press has gone on about the passing of legends, from Bowie to Frey to Prince to George Michael to lesser luminaries like Dan Hicks, even Leonard Cohen, the story has been about the individuals and their work.

But really, it’s about the passing of an era.

This music business didn’t sprout in its present incarnation overnight. There were a lot of twists and turns, it was invented along the way. Bill Graham may have institutionalized rock concerts, but it was Led Zeppelin’s manager Peter Grant who flipped the script, who had Jimmy and the boys getting ninety percent of the money, because after all, everybody knew the show was gonna sell out.

And in the twenty first century, Jimmy Buffett was getting over a hundred percent of the gross. How can that be, you ask. Because even if you give him all the ticket revenue you’re gonna make bank on parking and merch and food and beverage. Hell, if you’re a guaranteed sell out there’s enough money for everybody.

And there was plenty of money in the seventies. There were no billionaires. Rock stars were as rich as anybody in America. The only difference was, they were beholden to nobody. If they acted out, the manager just peeled off enough hundreds to make it right. It was the wild west, no wonder the Eagles made a concept album entitled “Desperado.”

And we’ve had a couple of revolutions in this century. We had Napster and the changing of distribution to all you can eat streaming. And, of course, the internet has also fostered the social media revolution, and tech has made it so the cost of production has sunk.

But the era of the one of a kind musician, riding through town defining the game as he played it? That’s through. Most of the business has become institutionalized.

So, it’s not as simple as David Bowie’s body of work, it’s also about hearing of an act that’s not on the radio and buying the album and becoming infatuated and going to see the act at a club or a theatre where they blow you away and you tell everybody you know and you drag them to the next show and eventually they get a song on the radio and everybody knows and you tell them you were there first but all the time you’re foraging for new acts.

And the acts neither sounded the same nor used the same producers. And their skills were paramount, how they looked was secondary. If you couldn’t sing, write and play, you couldn’t make it.

And if you didn’t have the right team, your career was a nonstarter.

You ended up with Howard. After you’d been ripped off by others, because Howard knew the landscape, he knew where every dollar was buried. In a world where concert promoters show you books that say they lost money, how do you figure out the real numbers? The kickback from the hall, the advertising shenanigans…only through experience.

There was a plethora of people who learned this way. There were no school programs, there were no books, because it was being invented along the way.

And now they’re passing too.

You can read about some thirty year old wanker getting a promotion at the label but that person… It’s like working on the assembly line making cars in Mexico. You’re filling a role, but it’s very different and with a lot less excitement than it was working at Ford a hundred years ago, never mind being Ford.

But the baby boomers remember. Right time, right place. The Beatles were on TV and it all blew up. But that was more than fifty years ago. Some of the music survives, but most of the story does not. How we got from there to here. From terrible sound systems with no production to great sound systems with hi-def projection. From tickets sold for $3 at record stores to clicking to buy on your mobile phone from StubHub for over a hundred.

I’ll let others who knew Howard better tell his story. But I was always intrigued by both his intensity and his laughter, and his dedication to the job.

Because it’s about the work.


Whether you’re slinging burgers at McDonald’s or pushing paper at Goldman Sachs, you spend a lot of time there and you’ve got to enjoy it. And, if you dislike where you are, you have to find a way to something better. To the point where the day before you die, despite having enough cash for your whole neighborhood to retire, you go to work, because you love it.

Howard Kaufman loved his job.

And those he represented loved him.

And in a world where we’re all ultimately forgotten, that’s all you can ask for.


Hey Bob,

Long time no see or talk to. I guess it takes something like this. Well, as usual, you were right on the money with your piece on HK (pardon the pun). I haven’t told a lot of people this story, but I think you would appreciate it. (code of the road, of course ha ha). Once upon a time, back in the days when conflict of interest actually was a problem, Irving went to run Universal and divested himself of Frontline, my management company. It was a puzzling time for me, because Irving told me, it would be okay, but Irving was my manager and the one I talked to the most back then. HK, was the accountant and fire brigade for some of Irving’s incendiary moments. That is when HK management started, and since none of us in those days had contracts (can you even fucking imagine that in this day?), I was free to make that switch or look for an option. My decision, at the time was to ask Nina to manage me. She politely refused and said these few words. "You should stick with Howard. You will be ok."

As might be expected, it was a tough day for all of us, having just spoken to him on Tuesday, planning to have breakfast with him yesterday and go over the summer tour. I got a call in the morning, saying he wasn’t feeling well and I rescheduled for today. Well, that meeting did not happen. But what did happen, was that Howard Rose, Charlie and I went to work and locked in the May run of the tour, because that is exactly what HK would have wanted us to do. Three-quarters of the way through your piece, I broke down and had a good cry, which I needed to do. Thanks for that. I finished it, and was laughing by the end. Thanks for you no bullshit expose on the man who figured out to just let me be myself. It worked, and I am still here and will thank him and toast him, for a good while. I was incredibly lucky that he came into my life, and I will try and pass on a little of that wisdom to those who might be interested. Keep writing. Fins Up


Jimmy Buffett


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Howard and I started Caribou Management for Jim Guercio in 1967. He was an accountant and I was only a few years out of the William Morris mailroom in Beverly Hills. Howard was the business manager and I was the personal manager. Jimmy had a vision of how a management company should work. He called it a "creative community" and it was our job to create, or rather invent the business model and make it work. There were no rules or no road map. We figured it out on the fly and Howard figured it out quickly. In ten years, Caribou was a multi million dollar business but when he left, I left. When I did, I took what Howard taught me and now 40 years later I still feel his presence when a deal is on the table in front of me.

Rest Well Partner. You've earned it.


Larry Fitzgerald
FITZGERALD HARTLEY
Nashville


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Howard was a wonderful man, kind, generous, caring. I’ve been with HK Management for 38 years. The clients adored him, and most of the people at the company have been here for decades. He was so brilliant, you couldn’t help but learn from him. We are devastated and will miss him so much. A very sad day for all of us.


Laurie Gorman

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Hi Bob. I wanted to share an HK story with you. It was 1988, and I was working with Jimmy Iovine as an A&R guy, at our offices on the A&M lot, before Interscope was built in Westwood. I was living with Stevie Nicks as her roommate, and had just resigned as Stevie's personal assistant. I was approached by Sheryl Louis and Gerri Leonard and told that Howard Kaufman wants to meet with me to be his partner, and co-manage Stevie. Howard and I had a conversation and I said to Howard, that Stevie had a manager! Howard said…. Glen! I know she has a manager but her ticket prices are to low, and so are her guarantees! ("Typical Howard looking out for the artist"!) I told Howard, that I was working with Jimmy Iovine already and didn't know if Stevie would want to make a move. Howard said whatever Jimmy is paying you….I'll pay you double! I was at a crossroads in my life and torn of which decision to make. Either be Howard's partner and manage Stevie Nicks or leave Stevie and stay a part of Interscope with Jimmy. I really liked the idea of co-managing Stevie, plus Stevie and I had been roommates for 10 years and were best friends! I wanted to make sure she was in good hands, so I said to Howard, that I was in…. if Stevie would agree to fire her current manager and hire Howard and myself. Howard said Glen! set up a meeting and I'll talk to Stevie. I then told Stevie the plan and she agreed to hear us out! Howard and Stevie talked and after their conversation Stevie asked me to call her current manager and fire him!

I did, and the rest is history! Howard and I came on board as Stevie's managers. Howard gave me my start as a manager in the music business, and I will always be grateful! HK will be missed by many! Rest in peace Howard….. XX

Best,
Glen Parrish

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Thank you for acknowledging how great of a manager and a person he was I'm saddened to hear about his passing he was a friend and a supporter I really loved him
There was only one HK and there will not be another
We lost a great man


Louis Messina

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I never had a conversation with Howard in which I didn’t learn something…….or have a chuckle.
Clearly he was one of a kind.


Jim Morey

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Howard did love his job and that was the first thing i noticed when i first was introduced to him. Was lucky to have had several conversations and absorb a little bit of his wisdom. He was a mentor to a lot of colleagues who are half his age.


Ryan Kravontka

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They don't make them like HK anymore, Bob. I hope he and his longtime assistant Lynda Lou Bouch are up in heaven rolling calls as we speak. Sadly we lost them both in the past year.


Peter Rinker

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I loved working with Howard and learned so much about the business from him- do's and dont's- when and when not to pull the trigger. He always believed in his artists more than anything and we were there to support him and bring their vision to life.

I learned from the best, the guy we called Howard.

He will be missed…Rest My Friend.


Matt Gaines

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If you had Howard Kaufman on your side, you really didn’t need anyone else.

He was a gentleman and an icon.

He will be missed.


John Ferriter

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From: Danny Zelisko

“If my act goes into percentage, I didn’t charge you enough.”

It’s just business.

– Howard Kaufman

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Thanks Bob kind words for Howard he was the winner he worked hard and made a lot of artist very successful.


Don Fox

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"If a show goes into percentage, I made a bad deal on the guarantee." That's my favorite HK-ism. The combination of Howard and Howard …. Kaufman as manager and Howard Rose as agent….. were like Gehrig and Ruth. Feared and respected like none other.


Tom Rooney

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Thank you for this. I had not heard. I once sat next to him on a plane. At the time I was exhausted, nervous, stressed and had been interviewing job candidates on a market visit. Worried about money. He said "The money is the easy part" then that man kindly went over and basically redid a whole radio programming budget between the time the movie ended and before we landed, showing me how we could make it work.

I kept his card, and followed up with a note. I never forgot him.


Valerie Geller