From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article
Albert Bernard Grossman (May 21, 1926 – January 25, 1986) was an American entrepreneur and manager in the American folk music scene and rock and roll. He was most famous as the manager of Bob Dylan between 1962 and 1970.
Albert Grossman was born in Chicago on May 21, 1926, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants who worked as tailors. He attended Lane Technical High School and graduated from Roosevelt University, Chicago, with a degree in economics.
After university he worked for the Chicago Housing Authority, leaving in the late 1950s to go into the club business. Seeing folk star Bob Gibson perform at the Off Beat Room in 1956 prompted Grossman's idea of a 'listening room' to showcase Gibson and other talent, as the folk revival movement grew. The result was the Gate of Horn in the basement of the Rice Hotel, where Jim (later Roger) McGuinn began his career as a 12-string guitarist. Grossman moved into managing some of the acts who appeared at his club and in 1959, he joined forces with George Wein, who had founded the Newport Jazz Festival, to start up the Newport Folk Festival. At the first Newport Folk Festival, Grossman told New York Times critic Robert Shelton: "The American public is like Sleeping Beauty, waiting to be kissed awake by the prince of Folk music."
Because Grossman was committed to commercial success for his clients, and was frequently surrounded by socialist enthusiasts of the American folk music revival, Grossman's manner could generate hostility. This hostility is illustrated by this description of Grossman's presence in the Greenwich Village folk scene by Dylan biographer and critic Michael Gray: "He was a pudgy man with derisive eyes, with a regular table at Gerde's Folk City from which he surveyed the scene in silence, and many people loathed him. In a milieu of New Left reformers and folkie idealists campaigning for a better world, Albert Grossman was a breadhead, seen to move serenely and with deadly purpose like a barracuda circling shoals of fish."
In 1961, Grossman put together Mary Travers, Noel Stookey, and Peter Yarrow as the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary. They quickly achieved success when their first album, Peter, Paul and Mary, entered the Billboard Top Ten in 1962. Grossman's client list included Todd Rundgren, Odetta, Peter, Paul and Mary, John Lee Hooker, Ian and Sylvia, Phil Ochs (early in his career), Gordon Lightfoot, Richie Havens, The Pozo Seco Singers, The Band, the Electric Flag, Jesse Winchester, and Janis Joplin.
On August 20, 1962, Dylan signed a contract which made Grossman his manager. Grossman also extended hospitality to Dylan at his home in Woodstock in upstate New York. Dylan liked the area so much he purchased a house there in 1965. The cover of Dylan's album Bringing It All Back Home was photographed at Grossman's home in Woodstock. The woman in the cover photo with Dylan, in the red trouser suit, was Grossman's wife, Sally.
In his autobiography, Chronicles: Volume One, Dylan describes first encountering Grossman at the Gaslight cafe: " He looked like Sydney Greenstreet from the film The Maltese Falcon, had an enormous presence, always dressed in a conventional suit and tie, and he sat at his corner table. Usually when he talked, his voice was loud like the booming of war drums. He didn't talk so much as growl."
When Grossman signed Janis Joplin and her four bandmates from Big Brother and the Holding Company in 1967, he told them he would not tolerate any intravenous drug use, and all five agreed to abide by the rule. When he discovered, in the spring of 1969, that Joplin was injecting drugs anyway, he didn't confront her. Instead, in June 1969 he took out a life insurance policy guaranteeing him $200,000 in the event she died in an accident. His yearly premium was $3,500.
In 1969, Grossman built the Bearsville Recording Studio near Woodstock, and in 1970 he founded Bearsville Records. When Bob Dylan was about to perform at the Isle of Wight Festival in August 1969, English critic Michael Gray asked Grossman about the rumor that The Beatles might appear on-stage with Dylan. Grossman replied, sotto voce: "Of course the Beatles would like to join Bob Dylan on stage. I should like to fly to the moon." The contracts between Dylan and Grossman were officially dissolved on July 17, 1970, prompted by Dylan's earlier realization that Grossman had taken 50% of his song publishing rights in a hastily signed contract.
On October 4, 1970, Grossman's most famous remaining client, Janis Joplin, died suddenly from a heroin overdose. Grossman refused to say a word about her death to any journalists or colleagues in the music business, leaving his employee Myra Friedman to handle the phone calls that flooded their office. According to Joplin biographer Ellis Amburn, Grossman's "feelings about the loss of his most valuable client are not known." What is known is that in 1974, by which time his only living clients were the members of The Band, he kept busy with Joplin's legacy. The San Francisco Associated Indemnity Corporation challenged him on his collection of $200,000 from his life insurance policy, which led to a bizarre civil trial in the spring of that year, covered by the New York Post, in which the insurer tried to prove that the singer's death was a suicide, not an accidental overdose as had been determined by Dr. Thomas Noguchi. Grossman testified that he had never known the extent of Joplin's substance abuse when she was alive, and that he secured the accidental death policy "with air crashes in mind." He won the case and collected $112,000. In 1974 he also assisted Howard Alk with the creation of the feature-length documentary Janis, locating and using black and white film footage in which the singer says she is satisfied with Grossman as her manager.
Grossman died of a heart attack on January 25, 1986 while flying on the Concorde: he was 59 years of age. Grossman was on route to London with a plan to sign an unknown British singer to a contract. He is buried behind his own Bearsville Theater near Woodstock, New York.
Grossman had a reputation for aggressiveness in both his method of acquiring clients and the implementation of their successes. That aggressiveness was based in large measure on Grossman's faith in his own aesthetic judgments. Grossman charged his clients 25 percent commission (industry standards were 15 percent). He is quoted as saying, "Every time you talk to me you're ten percent smarter than before. So I just add ten percent on to what all the dummies charge for nothing."
In negotiations one of Grossman's favorite techniques was silence. Musician manager Charlie Rothschild said of Grossman, "He would simply stare at you and say nothing. He wouldn't volunteer any information, and that would drive people crazy. They would keep talking to fill the void, and say anything. He had a remarkable gift for tipping the balance of power in his favor."
Grossman sometimes appeared treacherously devoted to his clients' satisfaction. While wooing Joan Baez into representation, Grossman is quoted as saying, "Look, what do you like? Just tell me what do you like? I can get it for you. I can get anything you want. Who do you want? Just tell me. I'll get you anybody you want."
Over the years Grossman had a number of partners including John Court, Bert Block, Michael Friedman and Bennett Glotzer.
In the documentary film chronicling Dylan's 1965 tour of the United Kingdom, Dont Look Back, Grossman can be seen constantly protecting his client, sometimes aggressively confronting people he thinks are disrespectful to Dylan. In one memorable scene, he works with musical entrepreneur Tito Burns to extract a good price for Dylan's appearance on BBC One television. The director of Dont Look Back, D. A. Pennebaker, said of Grossman's management tactics, "I think Albert was one of the few people that saw Dylan's worth very early on, and played it absolutely without equivocation or any kind of compromise."
There are two interesting comments on Grossman in Martin Scorsese's film No Direction Home. One is Dylan's: "He was kind of like a Colonel Tom Parker figure... all immaculately dressed, every time you see him. You could smell him coming." The other is John Cohen's: "I don't think Albert manipulated Bob, because Bob was weirder than Albert."
In the 2007 Bob Dylan biopic I'm Not There, Grossman was represented as the fictitious character Norman, played by Mark Camacho. In the film, Norman makes many of the remarks spoken by Grossman in Dont Look Back, at one point saying to an English hotel manager, "And you, sir, are one of the dumbest assholes and most stupid persons I've ever spoken to in my life". He was also briefly portrayed as the manager of the fictional Bob Dylan (Hayden Christensen as Billy Quinn) in the 2007 film Factory Girl.