Gary James' Interview With
Skip Taylor

Billboard magazine called him "a visionary and music innovator", and it's easy to see why. He's been an agent, a personal manager (and still is), a nightclub owner, a record company president, a music and concert consultant and concert and tour producer and promoter. He's worked with the biggest names in the business. The Rolling Stones, The Doors, The Beach Boys, Linda Ronstadt, The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and the list goes on and on. These days he's the President of Two Goats Entertainment, a personal management, booking and production company for Classic Rock and Blues artist. His name is Skip Taylor. What a life Skip Taylor has led!

Q - Mr. Taylor, I'm impressed! You still have that passion and excitement for Rock music. I guess when you get down to it, it's a hard thing to shake, isn't it?

A - Well, if it's in you. I grew up in the music business. I never thought I'd be in it, but once I got in it, it's been all consuming. (laughs)

Q - Is it harder to be optimistic today? The music business has changed so much.

A - It depends. I wear so many hats and have worn so many through the years that I've adjusted with the use of the computer in the work that I do. I do probably five to ten times more than I ever did ten years ago. Ten to fifteen years ago I had seventy employees and offices in New York and London and L.A. and now it's me. And I do more work than I did then.

Q - The miracle of the personal computer!

A - Yeah. With a vox and a cell phone. I can do my work any time, any place. I just went to Canada for a week and didn't skip a beat. The other thing is, in tough times people still need their entertainment and still will spend a dollar on something that's worthwhile and gives 'em a little entertainment for a period of time. Even in the worst of times in history the entertainment business really hasn't gone down that much. Last year they had the big convention of the fair buyers, all these guys that buy for state and county fairs. They all announced that as far as attendance, they were actually up a little bit, but the thing that was way off was all the concessionaires. People just got their ticket, got in there and that's about all they had to spend. They weren't' buying the t-shirts and all the merchandise and drinks or food or whatever. They will spend it on decent entertainment and name entertainment. It's harder for a new act to break through. But I'm mainly with the old dogs and they keep learning new tricks and playing well. In comparison to a lot of the newer bands, they just waste them as far as musicianship and performing and entertaining.

Q - One of the acts you manage, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, seem to be going pretty strong.

A - Well, I've handled them now for two years. I finally took on Kim's (Kim Wilson of The Fabulous Thunderbirds) management and management of The Fabulous Thunderbirds and him as a solo artist and his solo project, The Blues Allstars. I've known him for many, many years. He's been a friend with a couple of the guys in Canned Heat who I've managed from day one. Finally, Larry Taylor from Canned Heat said "You know Skip, Kim could really use some help. He's really great. Why don't you go check it out again and see what you can do." I went to Las Vegas and saw their show and sat with Kim for a couple of hours. There was no way to say "no" again.(laughs) This is a guy who is truly one of the best performers out there, maybe the best harmonica players going. I don't care if you include Charlie Musslewhite or whomever, I think right now he might be the best guy, and he's a great singer, a great writer. Since he's been clean and sober for many years, he's become an even better performer and entertainer. He knows what it takes to entertain. Always has a great band together and goes out and gives his all. He'll sit with people and sit at the autograph table and do things that just endear him to fans and press and the general public. When you look a guys like B.B. King and Buddy Guy and as they are on their last legs more than likely, who better than Kim to take over and be the next really great guy to represent Blues, R&B, Combo and be there to lead that kind of forefront of music.

Q - You manage The Fabulous Thunderbirds and Canned Heat. Anybody else?

A - That's really all. There's a guy here in Tucson named Tom Walbank who when I saw him a couple of years ago I was embarrassed to call myself a personal manager, and the fact that the world doesn't know of this guy. So, I've kind of helped him out. I book him when I can or give him a little career direction once in awhile, whatever I can do to aid his career. He' an English guy who lives here in Tucson, married to a gal from here and has a young baby. He doesn't want to move to L.A. or N.Y. I think he could jump start his career a lot easier. He is just a really unique guy. A great person. Hopefully, but surely the world will catch up with him.

Q - Back in 2006, you moved from L.A. or "Hell A" as you called it, to Tucson, Arizona.

A - Right.

Q - Why would you refer to L.A. as "Hell A"?

A - I've always loved Los Angeles. For many, many years I used to fly in there in the early '70s when the smog was at its absolute worst. You'd look from an airplane as you're landing at L.A.X. and you couldn't see the ground. I'd still say I love it here. I love L.A. But it's gotten to a point where I just don't believe it's human friendly anymore. The road system has not been improved and they've doubled the population in the past fifteen years. What normally would take you fifteen to twenty minutes to drive somewhere, it's an hour and a half, two hour drive. You just don't know what you're getting yourself into. I would be invited to something almost every night in L.A. within the entertainment industry 'cause I've dabbled in movies and sports and music. There's something to do every night, but I would find an excuse to not get in my car and go. I went "why am I continuing to live here if that's going to be my attitude and that's how I feel about it?" Having left there and looking back, I'll look at my pool here in Tucson, Arizona in the Tucson Hills where I can only hear doves and quail, and there's no helicopters, no police sirens, no gunshots, no smog, no traffic and I go "Wow! I really miss L.A.... Not!" So, I affectingly call it "Hell A" because the crime rate, the population, the traffic, the air pollution, the electricity grid, the constant outages, it's just not a friendly place to live anymore. It just isn't. L.A. is the center of the world, whether people believe it or not, or admit it or not. It's not New York or Paris or London or anywhere else. It's L.A. that defines lifestyles for the world through the entertainment media of movies and music and TV. It is the center of the world. You go anywhere in the world and people will say "where are you from?" You go "the U.S." And their eyes open. "Not Hollywood?" "Yeah". (laughs) They just feel it is a special kind of Tinsel Town. It still is. I still would be better if I were closer to L.A. for meetings, for doing things out of the mainstream or things you can't really do on your computer because so much of the entertainment business and any business is really personal contacts and relationships and going to dinner with somebody and playing gold with them or having lunch. Just those kinds of things. While I try to maintain friendships with e-mails or phone calls, it's still not the same as being there. When you really want to do something on a grander scale, whether it be a recording agreement or placing a song in a movie or on a TV show or something of that nature, it certainly works better if you're there in person to meet with the right people and the people who are going to make the decisions.

Q - As a manager, who would you say you're closer to modeling yourself after, Colonel Tom Parker or Brian Epstein?

A - Oh, Tom Parker without a doubt. When I was an agent at the William Morris office, I had the pleasure of meeting the Colonel one time. I asked him out of the ordinary questions 'cause I knew I only had few minutes with him. We were waiting to have a big meeting with the Personal Appearance Department. One of the questions I remember asking him, and here I was 21 years old, "How do you determine how long Elvis should play?" He said "Well, it differs with each venue and each engagement, but generally I like to give people enough so they think they've had their money's worth and not so much that we can show every trick in the book, and the bottom line is leave 'em hungry." (laughs) And that line I remember to this minute. Leave 'em hungry, but always have them wanting more. Elvis never did more than one encore, no matter what. That was it. People could stand there and yell and scream and rant and rave, but that's all they were gonna get, and they should be happy they got that. If they want more, then the next time he's in town they better buy another ticket.

Q - Do you remember what year you talked to him?

A - It had to be '65 or '66. '65 more likely.

Q - Elvis wasn't dong any concerts then.

A - While I was at William Morris, he opened at the Hilton and most of the Personal Appearance Department from William Morris flew down there for that opening.

Q - That would have been 1969?

A - No, no, no. It was before that. I can't really tell you. I think it was '65 or '66. That's my recollection at any rate.

Q - You were 21 when you joined William Morris?

A - Yeah, I was 21 and I was basically the first guy to ever be brought in there that hadn't gone through the mail room system, which is what they were and still are famous for. They would have a guy come in there for $50 - $60 a week and work in the mail room and literally deliver mail to all the offices and get to know where everybody was just hear talk and hear things in the hallway and whatever and then they'll become secretaries, male or female. It didn't matter. All of the guys who were agents there had been male secretaries. I was brought in to basically start a department, with no training what-so-ever. I'd never been an agent. My background was in the music business as far as a record producer. I worked with Henry Mancini, Larry Shane Organization and I worked with a guy named Happy Go Day in New York and the Howie Richman Publishing Organization and had been in the music business my entire life, because of my Dad, who was in the business his entire life.

Q - William Morris contacted you, or did you apply?

A - I did apply. My Dad told me that he had heard that William Morris was going to start basically a Rock music division and try to sign more Rock acts. They had a Personal Appearance Department. They had Wayne Newton, Elvis, Lani Kazan, Sinatra, Sammy Davis. They would mainly book Las Vegas and a couple of other dinner show places around the country, but that was it. They were not in the Rock business at all. I think the first act they had that actually fell into that department were The Beach Boys. From there, together with a guy named Peter Golden, Harvey Kresky and John Hartman, who was in the TV department and who became my partner later, we started to sign acts. My sole function at William Morris, as opposed to anyone else there, was to sign acts and schmooze artists. I did not book anybody. I didn't book appearance dates. I wound up having two secretaries. The whole kind of training that everybody else had, I had a crash course in it. At the time, they had two laws: One, you only had one piece of paper on your desk at a time, Anything else went under your desk in a file cabinet, hidden somewhere. And the other thing was that your desk chair would be five inches higher than any other seat in the room.

Q - Who made up those rules?

A - Those were things they thought of and thought about. There were reasons behind it. The philosophy of that is if you're sitting a little higher, all you have to do is look at these late night talk shows, it's almost a crime to the point where these people are sunk down on couches and the guest host is sitting a foot above them.

Q - They look down on the guests.

A - Yeah. That's the way anyone who's coming to have a meeting with you in your office, they should be looking up at you. They should see whatever you're working on at that moment, that's the most important thing. If there's just that one piece of paper or one notebook on your desk, then it appears as though you're giving them full attention and you're super organized and you're taking care of business.

Q - Did you sign The Beach Boys to William Morris?

A - No. They were signed by a fellow named Ira Oaken, who might still be there.

Q - So, who did you sign?

A - Sonny And Cher, The Rolling Stones.

Q - For their '69 tour?

A - Yeah. A lot of people like Freddy And The Dreamers, Roy Head, Chad And Jeremy. The biggest one that I thought was going to be the biggest act was Buffalo Springfield. I signed them together with John Hartman. I happened to be standing in front of The Whisky A Go Go one afternoon talking to Elmer Valentine, the owner, and these guys drove up in a car with Canada license plates and wanted to know how they got to play at The Whisky. I looked at Elmer. He looked at me. I said "You want to set up right now and we'll take a listen." There was Neil Young and Richie Furay and Stephen Stills, three of the greatest American musicians ever and along with Dewey Martin on drums and Bruce Palmer on bass. All Canadians. Just arrived in L.A. Set up and played and Elmer and I looked at each other and our mouths were falling open. I went "These guys are stars!" You could sit them in an empty room in the afternoon and go "These guys are stars!" One song after another that you just knew were hits. The next day I had 'em over to the William Morris office signing papers to represent them and help put the deal together with Charlie Greene and Brian Stone of Atlantic Records and book their first dates. Unfortunately the egos over-powered the humans and the music. The other thing was Warners chose the wrong single basically. Everybody wanted "Sit Down I Think I Think I Love You" to be the single and Warners decided not to release it and put out "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing", which was also a great song but another Warners group called The Mojomen covered "Sit Down I Think I Love You" and it went to number one.

Q - Well, you can't influence every aspect of an artist's career.

A - I think that was one of the lessons I learned, is that I wanted to have an influence on every part of the career. I think that's one of the reasons I left being an agent and promoter and club owner and wound up as a personal manager where you really do direct careers and you try to make every career decision, even to the point where I got so involved with the recording and song selection and song writing and arranging and art work and really looking to contribute and oversee every phase of an artist's career, where they play, for how much and who they play for and what the ticket prices are. The biggest theory that I disagreed with at William Morris and what was a contributing factor in leaving there was that they believed there was a promoter born every night and that it was the agent's sole and number one job to get as much money for that act, for that night, as possible, with total disregard for the future. If that guy went under or went bankrupt, it was no big deal because in that audience that night someone would be going "God, look at that bunch of Hippies onstage. They probably paid them a couple of grand and cost nothing to promote this or rent this hall. I'm gonna be a promoter." Unfortunately that still holds true. I've always looked at it as another part of my management resume, as kind of a check list, as keeping guys in business rather than putting them out of business. The more club owners there were, the more promoters that stayed in business, and the fairer you made a contract, the better chance you had to keep the business growing and provide another outlet for 'live' entertainment, which are always fewer than you wish.

Q - Frank Barsalona was probably the first agent to turn that philosophy around.

A - Yeah.

Q - He was the one who said we have to work with promoters.

A - That's very true. That was an attitude Frank had. It's not always about the money. There are sometimes when you go "this show is nothing more than being about money." There are places in Europe where Canned Heat has played for years that are state or government supported festivals to the point that they establish a budget and it's paid for by the government and the promoter is not gonna go out of business, no matter what and somebody's gonna get that $25,000 fee for handling. And why not one of my acts? I toured a number of acts in Europe for their first times, including The Doors, Alice Cooper. When Alice went, I learned another fact from a guy named Shep Gordon, who has managed Alice from day one, and handled a lot of other people and I call a good friend. His thing was, "I want an ass in every seat." That was also another concept of Tom Parker. He never wanted to see an artist walk onstage and see empty seats. No matter by hook or by crook, get people in that building. If you have to drag 'em off the street, round 'em up someplace, give all the tickets to the local radio or newspaper, get that place filled up so people can see that act. On the first go 'round with Alice, Europe wasn't really ready for "Welcome To My Nightmare" and snakes and chopping heads off, but after they saw this and saw a real stage production, they left the building knowing they had seen something they had never seen before. The second tour there was a total sell-out, every show, everywhere. Shep and Johnny Podell, who was at Associated Booking, one the real go-getter agents, the three of us were always friends. We used to book our acts and Phil Walden was another one of Capricorn Records and managed The Allman Brothers. We'd book The Allman Brothers and Canned Heat together no matter what the fee was so that Phil and I could get together and party or Podell could join in. When we did an Alice date, Podell would come along and Shep would be there and I'd be there. Those days were definitely different. When you're a younger age, you're a little wilder or a lot wilder. There was always drugs and women involved and we partook in all of the above. (laughs)

Q - And still were able to take care of business.

A - We were businessmen. There are a lot of people unfortunately in the music business that don't even have high school graduation certificates let alone college degrees. The business acumen is not always the finest. No matter how street smart you are, it's still two worlds, music and business. I've tried to tell that to entertainers through the years, the music business, which I say is making records and then there's the entertainment business and that's 'live' performances. They're two different categories. Some people are phenomenal at one, whether it be Steely Dan or The Eagles are the two I like to note as far as making records, two of the most successful and finest in the studio and putting out a finished product they are. But when it comes to entertainment, they are two of the most lacking groups. The Eagles got a little better when they added Joe Walsh. You could close your eyes and it was like listening to the record and you weren't going to see or hear much else and the connection between the artist and the audience seldom happened. It happened once in awhile. I like to think there's an invisible kind of plastic shield between the stage and the audience. Unless the artist really makes the effort to break that down and do away with it and sweep it aside and really connect with the audience, then you never have the true entertainment experience that 'live' entertainment should be.

Q - Did you know Wally "Famous" Ames?

A - Absolutely.

Q - He signed a lot of Motown acts to William Morris. He was in New York and you were in L.A.

A - I'd run into Wally every once in awhile when we had a meeting of two coast offices. Of course we'd get together. I'm a maker of what's called "Skip's Chips" which is another chocolate chip cookie that I never took to the nth degree Wally did. He always said "Yours actually look like the ones they put on the bag" of his cookies. His were always way smaller and harder. He loved my cookies. I've never done anything with them unfortunately, other than supply a lot of friends at Christmas normally. (laughs)

Q - I'm going to ask you about your impressions of three people who I think you knew. The first, Janis Joplin.

A - Janis Joplin was an absolute incredible talent. One of the most fabulous singers we've ever had. A very troubled soul. She was very disappointed in the way she looked, in her attraction to men. A gal who joined The 27 Club. Right along with Alan Wilson, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison.

Q - What did you think of Jim Morrison?

A - I saw Jim Morrison the same night I saw Canned Heat at UCLA at a fraternity party. At the time, Jim was not even singing. He was reciting his songs like poetry to the music backing of these guys. I've remained friends with Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger. I play golf with Robby Krieger when I'm in California at the Riviera Country Club. I just saw the two of them at a show in Austin two months ago. We wound up going to Joe Cocker's dressing room and sitting with him for a half hour. Morrison, I think the minute I saw him I said the guy's a star. He just had the charisma. You could see all these college gals staring at this guy. He had great sex appeal. He was intelligent. He was talented. He had untapped talent I'm afraid.

Q - How about Jimi Hendrix?

A - Jimi Hendrix couldn't make it in the U.S. and went to England. When Canned Heat did their first tour of England on the strength of a number one record over there, "Goin' Up The Country"... actually it was for "On The Road Again". We played this club in London and the opening act was Jimi Hendrix playing solo. It was the first time I had ever seen a guy play left handed with a guitar strung upside down. I just stood there and said "This guy is outrageous." He wasn't even hinting at what he had. Next time I saw him was like a year later at The Monterey Pop Festival when he completely blew me away with his lighter fluid deal with the guitar. Again, tremendous talent. Maybe the most talented guitar player ever. He's up there in my Top Five of all time, whether it be Clapton or Les Paul or Henry Vestine or Harvey Mandel, Mark Knopfler. There are some guys for me, Albert King, Stevie Ray Vaughn. I managed Arthur Lee from Arthur Lee And Love and he and Hendrix were friends and recorded together. Those tapes have never come out. I think those tapes are owned and controlled by Bob Krasnow when he had Blue Thumb Records and went on to bigger and better things thereafter.

Q - Did you ever meet The Beatles?

A - I've met all The Beatles. I was very close for a number of years with Ringo. I met McCartney at Apple Records. I met Lennon and Harrison in London. I was never close to any of the others, other than Ringo. Ringo I've spent many evenings with and had many discussions with.

Q - The name of your company, Two Goats Entertainment. What does that mean?

A - Back in the early '90s I was married to a gal who was also a Capricorn, goats. My logo is actually two Capricorn goats with the goats heads and fish tails. Two Goats just seemed to be... well, here you are asking me about it, so I guess it's a good name. That's about all I escaped that marriage with, the name. I always kiddingly say I'm the old goat of the two goats.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.