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Thursday, February 18, 2021

"The Manager: ELLIOT ROBERTS" - Essay by Bill Bentley | NYA

Neil Young, Jonathan Demme & Elliot Roberts
(See Neil Young Journeys Film Premiere)
"Roberts, who would have been 78 on February 25, was someone who saw into the deepest center of life, behind the big curtain, and discovered that all things are possible. 
If you dream."
A major essay on Neil Young Archives on Elliot Roberts by Bill Bentley.
An excerpt follows.


by Bill Bentley

I'd already known Elliot twenty years during my time at Warner Bros./Reprise Records, where I was luckily a publicist for so many of the great artists of our time. 

David Geffen, Elliot Roberts, & Neil Young
Frame from  'Inventing David Geffen': American Masters

During those two decades I came to understand that Elliot Roberts had cracked open his own code for how to live, and been able to find a perfect balance between chaos and order. And the day in '06 I was informed my Warner Bros. Records job was over, Elliot called and asked me to come to work for him and Neil Young. That's what we call winning the lottery in the music business. Nothing is worse in that profession than being unemployed, and to walk from a record label into Lookout was a time to shine. 

When I asked Elliot what I would be doing, he just laughed his mischievous laugh and said, "Don't worry. Neil and I will find something."

Joni Mitchell w/ Elliot Roberts
Carnegie Hall, 1969 - Photo by Joel Bernstein

I had always been enamored by how Elliot Roberts' career had followed such a unique curve. His beginnings with Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, then the awe-inducing success of the Geffen-Roberts company, which included the start and quick ascent of Asylum Records as a record label of the future, were storied. David Geffen with Elliot Roberts had birthed a place that let them establish a new community for not only those they represented, but even better allowed them to fashion their own universe, one where they could define the limits of life in the 20th century and enjoy a view very few others had seen. It reminded me of some of the eccentric cowboys I once met as a child at the YMCA summer camp in the Texas hill country in the 1950s. These wise travelers had lived on their horses their whole lives, and weren't about to adapt to a place where they'd have to answer to others. They'd created a way of seeing their place in life, based on an honor system of hard work and virtue. I'd hang around them in the horse stalls when they were working, listening to how they talked and what they had discovered. It wasn't that different when I worked at Lookout Management. I'd listen to Elliot talk and watch how he interacted with people, and think of those Texas cowboys. 

They had something no one else did, and were envied for it because of the freedom they'd earned and how they used it.

The Geffen-Roberts management company had created its own perch in the music business, where they could build the community they wanted to be in and let others come to them there. The pair would wade into a business full of old attitudes and out-of-date practices, and turn it around to how they felt it should be. Where the artist was at the top of the decision-chain, and their freedom ranked above all else. It didn't happen overnight, but that was the beauty of what Roberts and Geffen and others in the new brigade were building. They did it because it was right, and they did it because it was fun. The money was no doubt important in the equation, but it wasn't driving the train. No one could have predicted where the business of music was going, but the early pioneers in this new gestalt were going to be the ones who took it there.

There is a well-told legend of how Elliot Roberts first came to be Neil Young's manager in 1968. Near the end of Buffalo Springfield, Roberts took over the manager position with the band. But at a group meeting in 1968, Young told the manager he was fired. Gone. The next morning Elliot heard a knock on his Laurel Canyon front door, and there was Young, who came in, told Elliot he was leaving Buffalo Springfield and asked if Elliot would manage him. Which he did for more than 50 years. Without a written contract. 

As Elliot once told me, "Contracts can just be torn up, and then everyone ends up suing each other. What's the point of that?" 

Elliot Roberts w/ Neil Young
photo by Jay Blakesberg


Full essay on Neil Young Archives on Elliot Roberts by Bill Bentley.

Also, see Elliot Roberts: 1943 - 2019.

Also, see Neil Young News: "The greatest manager of all time": Neil Young’s Statement on Elliot Roberts.

Neil Young, Tour Manager Eric Johnson, Manager Elliot Roberts - 2011
Plan9 Music, Richmond, Virginia
Photo by Emaleigh Franzak
(See Neil Young Supports Vinyl & Independent Record Stores)
Elliot Roberts - July 22, 2009
'Inventing David Geffen' PBS | American Masters
(Also, see Elliot Roberts Uncut, Never-Before-Seen Interview | 'Inventing David Geffen' | PBS American Masters Archive) 

Labels: ,


At 2/19/2021 01:35:00 PM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

Thrasher, you have outdone yourself, these posts are really great. I have been thinking of a seminar course about art and commerce. This could be a great case study. Thanks so much.

At 2/19/2021 02:54:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

so glad you're digging the wheat here @ TW Abner.

Art and commerce?! Why 2 of our favorite subjects rolled into one.

Well, Elliot was a master pioneer in the field.

Must see interview w/ Elliot from New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation Sync Up by Warren Zanes on Feb. 28, 2018. Quite revealing discussion on music and "The Business". Note, that there are audio issue with Elliot's microphone, unfortunately.

And for seminar consideration, our lectures:

The Price of Neil: When Art and Commerce Collide

Expecting To See Neil Young: For The Turnstiles, Cough Up The Buck$, Watch Out For The Greedy Hand

These Notes Are For Who? Neil Young Sells Song Catalog Stake For $150,000,000

And if that's not enough art and commerce, share these with The Professor:

An Open Letter To Neil Young On Ticket Prices For The Turnstiles (130+ Comments)

Comment of the Moment: An Open Letter To Neil Young On Ticket Prices For The Turnstiles (50+ Comments)

For The Turnstiles Again (30+ Comments)

For The Turnstiles Yet Again(50+ Comments)

Free Neil Young Warmup Concerts Cancelled(30+ Comments)

The Price of Neil: When Art and Commerce Collide (60+ Comments)

Comment of the Moment: The High Price of Neil (20+ Comments)

It's Only Money (20+ Comments)

New Neil Young Video: Cough Up The Buck$ (40+ Comments)

Good luck!
ps - we'll be happy to publish your dissertation here on TW! :)

At 2/19/2021 04:15:00 PM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

wait- maybe with all this stuff I will teach this as a three week seminar- we have a semester called May Term, three weeks. I could teach a class just on the Neil/Geffen story and all the material you just fed me.

At 2/20/2021 03:16:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 2/20/2021 03:29:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

Bill is indeed an excellent writer, and I’ve enjoyed each article he has posted on NYA. My favorite anecdote from this article was the so called legend of Elliot taking over management for Buffalo Springfield, and after their first meeting Neil fired him. Then the next morning Neil knocks on Elliot’s door and asked him to manage his solo carrier. Legend or sounds just like something Neil would have likely done. I also love the fact that they had no written contract that lasted 50 years. Like Elliot said, “ Contracts can just be torn up, then everyone ends up suing each other. What’s the point of that?”

On another subject, I just got The Times vinyl from my local record store, and I now think of it as a field recording much like Alan Lomax did back in the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s. The Lo Fi sound quality is an important part of what makes this record so special. The performances are so stripped down and raw that it adds to the overall listening experience, exactly like those old recordings Lomax created so many decades ago. There is also the historical quality to the song choices, and lyrically a feeling of cautionary tales from the distant past. Perhaps years from now this recording could be used to educate future generations about this painful moment in this country's struggle to save our democracy.

And yet another subject...... Next Friday..... Way Down in the Rust Bucket Deluxe Edition will be added to the vast NY library I’ve spent my life curating. I can’t wait to hear this on vinyl for the very first time, then watch the full concert as it happened on DVD. Then exactly one month later, Young Shakespeare Deluxe Edition will arrive. I will have two weekend a month apart to be completely immersed in the Neil Young universe. What a year 2021 is shaping up for us loyal and dedicated rusties. We’re all in this together..... smell the House, and marinate in the pure joy of solo Neil.

Peace 🙏

At 2/21/2021 02:00:00 PM, Blogger Dionys said...

In Old Europe and maybe still today in some countries or territories hereabouts there are two known trades, where they don't make written contracts: One is selling diamonds for jewelry and the other is the sale of horses. Deals are a matter of trust symbolized by a handshake which means that the trade person is putting his or her reputation on the line. Elliot Roberts was in both trades, representing Neil Young and his string of musical gems and the Horse. Jewish people before the Shoah have been involved in both the diamond trade in the cities and livestock markets in rural areas of eastern and central Europe. So Elliot Rabinowitz hailing from New York and having been of Jewish immgrant background might have known about these customs and respected them.

At 2/22/2021 01:07:00 PM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

Thanks Dionys for such an interesting post.

At 2/22/2021 04:20:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ Dan - well, like all legends, probably a mix of both.

altho, it seems that the story has been confirmed multiple times over the years by the principals CSNY. we can recall specifically both Crosby & Nash confirming with statements like "Neil - sly as a fox".

nice to hear you supporting vinyl and your local record store.

and, yes, marinate in the pure joy of solo Neil!

@ Dionys - to echo Abner, very interesting.

The juxtaposition of musical gems and horse trading is quite intriguing.

some great imagery there for a song or film.

maybe someday Elliot will get the Geffen treatment with an in depth documentary. he certainly deserves it.


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