Peter Grant

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This article is about the British music manager. For the evolutionary biologists at Princeton University, please see Peter and Rosemary Grant.

Peter Grant (5 April 1935 - 21 November 1995) was an English music manager. Grant managed the popular English bands the Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin and Bad Company, amongst others, and was also a record executive for Swan Song Records. Grant has been described as one of the shrewdest managers in rock history. He is widely credited with improving pay and conditions for musicians in dealings with concert promoters.[1]

Early life

Grant was born in the south London suburb of South Norwood, Surrey, England. His mother Dorothy worked as a secretary. He attended Sir Walter St John School in Grayshott before the Second World War, and completed schooling at Charterhouse School in Godalming after the evacuation.[2] After the war Grant returned to Norwood until leaving at the age of 13, when he became a sheet metal factory worker in Croydon. He left that job after a few weeks and obtained employment on Fleet Street delivering photographs for Reuters. Grant was soon attracted to the entertainment industry, and worked as a stagehand for the Croydon Empire Theatre until 1953, when he was called up for National Service in the RAOC, reaching the rank of Corporal.[3] He worked briefly as an entertainment manager at a hotel in Jersey before being employed as a bouncer and doorman at London's famous 2i's Coffee Bar, where Cliff Richard, Adam Faith, Tommy Steele and others got their start. Australian-born Professional wrestler Paul Lincoln, who also co-owned the 2i's bar, suggested Grant appear on television and gave him the opportunity to wrestle under the titles 'Count Massimo' and 'Count Bruno Alassio of Milan,' using his 6 ft 5 in frame to good effect. This kindled his enthusiasm for acting, and he was hired by film studios as a bit part actor, stuntman, and body double.

Acting career

Between 1958 and 1963, Grant appeared in a number of movies, including A Night to Remember (as a crew member on the Titanic), The Guns of Navarone (as a British commando) and Cleopatra (as a palace guard). He also appeared in television shows such as The Saint, Crackerjack, Dixon of Dock Green, and The Benny Hill Show. He was Robert Morley's double on many of that actor's films. The money he made from these ventures was invested in his own entertainment transport business. As the acting roles dried up, Grant made more money taking groups such as the Shadows to their concerts.

Artist management

In 1963, Grant was hired by promoter Don Arden to act as the British tour manager for artists such as Bo Diddley, the Everly Brothers, Little Richard, Brian Hyland, Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, and the Animals. By 1964, Grant had started to manage his own acts including the Nashville Teens, an all-girl group called She Trinity, the New Vaudeville Band, Jeff Beck, Terry Reid, and Stone the Crows. His management was established in the same 155 Oxford Street office used by his friend, record producer Mickie Most, who had previously worked with Grant at the 2i's club. Most and Grant together set up the highly successful RAK Records label, which produced a string of hits throughout the 1970s.

In late 1966 Simon Napier-Bell asked Grant to take over management of the Yardbirds, who were constantly touring yet struggling financially. Mickie Most had suggested to Napier-Bell that Grant would be an asset to the Yardbirds, but as it happened, his arrival was too late to save the band. The experience, however, did give him ideas which were put to good use later with Led Zeppelin. As he explained:

When I started managing the Yardbirds, they weren't getting the hit singles, but were on the college circuit and underground scene in America. Instead of trying to get played on Top 40 radio, I realised that there was another market. We were the first UK act to get booked at places like the Fillmore. The scene was changing.[4]

Grant's no-nonsense approach to promoters, and his persuasive presence, were influential in the Yardbirds making money from concerts for the first time. Grant travelled closely with the Yardbirds, ensuring that all costs were kept to a minimum, that members were paid on time, and that the band retained artistic control. Unlike most other managers at the time who rarely set foot in a music venue, Grant's approach was hands-on.

The Led Zeppelin era

In 1968 the Yardbirds dissolved, with all band members departing except guitarist Jimmy Page, who promptly set about constructing a new group consisting of himself, Robert Plant, John Bonham and John Paul Jones. Originally dubbed the 'New Yardbirds,' the group became known as Led Zeppelin, with Grant assuming the position as their manager. His trust and loyalty to Led Zeppelin was such that his managerial arrangement with the band was via a gentlemen's agreement.[5]

It is doubtful whether Led Zeppelin would have been as successful without Grant as their manager.[6] He negotiated the group's sizable five-year record contract with Atlantic Records, and his business philosophy would eventually pay off for the label. Grant strongly believed that bands could make more money, and have more artistic merit, by focusing their efforts on albums rather than singles. Live performances were deemed more important than television appearances – if one wanted to see Led Zeppelin, one had to experience one of their performances.[7]

Led Zeppelin's particular success in the United States can partly be credited to Grant's keen sense of U.S. audiences and the vast underground movement that was sweeping the country.[8] It was his sound knowledge of the American touring scene which thrust Led Zeppelin into the forefront of the burgeoning American rock market, and under his stewardship, by far the majority of Led Zeppelin concerts were performed in the United States, resulting in massive profits for the group.[9] He ensured that the vast bulk of ticket profits wound up in the hands of the band rather than in the hands of promoters and booking agents. He is reported to have secured 90% of gate money from concerts performed by the band, an unprecedented feat. By taking this shrewd approach he set a new standard for artist management, 'single-handedly pioneer[ing] the shift of power from the agents and promoters to the artists and management themselves.'[10]

Grant's determination to protect the financial interests of Led Zeppelin was also reflected by the sometimes-extraordinary measures he took to combat the practice of unauthorized live bootleg recordings. He is reported to have personally visited record stores in London which were selling Led Zeppelin bootlegs and demanded all copies be handed over. He also monitored the crowd at Led Zeppelin concerts in order to locate anything which resembled bootleg recording equipment. Grant's famous dressing room scene in the film The Song Remains the Same, where he demands an explanation from concert staff about the sale of illegal posters, was typical of his no-nonsense dealings with people who tried to profit at the band's expense.

Grant is also recognised for the complete and unwavering faith that he placed in Led Zeppelin.[11][12] Unlike some other managers of the era, he never compromised his clients by exploiting them for short-term profit, instead always putting their interests first. This was demonstrated by his decision to never release the popular songs from Led Zeppelin's albums as singles in the UK, in respect for the band's desire to develop the concept of album-oriented rock. As was explained by Jones:

[Peter] trusted us to get the music together, and then just kept everybody else away, making sure we had the space to do whatever we wanted without interference from anybody - press, record company, promoters. He only had us [as clients] and reckoned that if we were going to do good, then he would do good. He always believed that we would be hugely successful and people became afraid not to go along with his terms in case they missed out.

Grant's past experience in handling stars such as Jerry Lee Lewis and Gene Vincent also provided him with an excellent grounding in managing the pandemonium which frequently surrounded Led Zeppelin, particularly whilst the band was on tour.[13] Grant himself said that 'Led Zeppelin looks after the music and I do everything else - and if it takes some strong measures to get our way, then so be it.'[14] According to rock journalist Steven Rosen:

Peter Grant, former bouncer and wrestler, was, in many respects, the physical embodiment of a lead zeppelin. Standing over six feet and weighing over 300 pounds, he used his intimidating presence to maintain order and to keep his charges safe and worry-free ... His raison d’etre was simple - protecting his band and their finances. When a bootlegger or unauthorized photographer was identified, it was the lucky infringing party who was let off with merely a severe verbal reprimand and confiscation of unauthorized t-shirts and film.[15]

However, although there were several reports of his heavy-handed, intimidating tactics, Grant's biographers Lewis and Pallet suggest that 'he was generally held in high esteem by those whom he came in contact.'[16] In the words of John Paul Jones, 'Peter was a very sensitive man. He was a very, very smart man. People just think of his size and his reputation, but actually he never had to use his size. He could out-talk anybody ...'[17]

Grant was instrumental in setting up Led Zeppelin's publishing company, Superhype Music, in 1968. He was also the driving force in establishing Swan Song Records in 1974, which gave Led Zeppelin further financial and artistic control over its products. Although initially he solely managed Led Zeppelin, in later years he additionally assumed management of other bands signed to Swan Song, such as Bad Company, the Pretty Things, and Maggie Bell. In 1975 he turned down a lucrative offer to manage Queen. When he was once questioned on what was the single most important thing a manager could say, Grant's response was 'Know when to say "no".' In 1977, he was asked by Colonel Tom Parker to manage a proposed concert tour of Europe by Elvis Presley, but Elvis died on 16 August 1977, just as negotiations had commenced.

Post-Led Zeppelin and death

Marital problems, diabetes, cocaine addiction and the death of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham all took their toll on Grant's health, and after the official breakup of Led Zeppelin in 1980, and the subsequent folding of the Swan Song label in 1983, he virtually retired from the music business to his private estate in Hellingly, East Sussex. This is the house that is featured at the beginning of the film The Song Remains the Same.

Towards the end of his life, however, he conquered his addiction and lost a significant amount of weight. His first public appearance for many years was in 1989, when he and Jimmy Page both attended a Frank Sinatra concert at the Royal Albert Hall. Grant subsequently sold his estate, and moved to nearby Eastbourne, where he was offered the civic position of local magistrate for the town council, but turned it down.[18] In 1992, he appeared in the film Carry On Columbus as a cardinal.[19] In his remaining years, Grant became a keynote speaker at music management conferences such as In the City, where he was lauded by latter-day peers.[20]

Peter Grant was last reported, before his death, to be working on the much-lamented Malcolm McLaren biopic about Robert Plant (starring Jason Donovan), and also working on a film about his own life (according to an interview reprinted in ZOSO magazine). He also appeared on the 'Rosalyn' music video for the Pretty Things in 1995, recorded at London's 100 Club, playing the role of manager.

On the afternoon of 21 November 1995, while driving to his home at Eastbourne, Grant suffered a fatal heart attack, his son Warren by his side. He was 60 years old. Grant was buried on 4 December 1995 at St. Peter and St. Paul's churchyard, Hellingly, East Sussex. His eulogy was read by long time friend Alan Callan.[21] Coincidentally, it was the 15th anniversary of Led Zeppelin's official break up. His final public appearance had been at the final night of the Jimmy Page and Robert Plant tour at the Wembley Arena in July 1995.[22]

Phil Everly, from the Everly Brothers, described his management style:

Without his efforts, musicians had no careers. He was the first to make sure the artists came first and that we got paid and paid properly.[23]

Similarly, Page has described Grant as groundbreaking in his style of management, explaining that:

Peter had changed the dynamic that existed between bands, managers and promoters. He was a superb, canny manager.[24]

In 1996, the Music Managers Forum (MMF) award for outstanding achievement in management was renamed the Peter Grant Award, in his honour.

Grant is survived by son Warren and daughter Helen (born 1964). Helen was partner to former the Moody Blues and Wings guitarist Denny Laine. They have one daughter Lucienne (born 1987).

Notes

  1. Lewis, Dave and Pallett, Simon (1997) Led Zeppelin: The Concert File, London: Omnibus Press. ISBN 0-7119-5307-4, p. 145.
  2. Welch, Chris (2002). Peter Grant: The Man Who Led Zeppelin. ISBN 0-7119-9195-2. 
  3. Led Zeppelin In Their Own Words compiled by Paul Kendall (1981), London: Omnibus Press. ISBN 0-86001-932-2, pp. 17-18.
  4. Fortnam, Ian. 'Dazed & confused', Classic Rock: Classic Rock Presents Led Zeppelin, 2008, p. 34.
  5. Welch, Chris (2002). Peter Grant: The Man Who Led Zeppelin. ISBN 0-7119-9195-2. 
  6. Welch, Chris (1994) Led Zeppelin, London: Orion Books. ISBN 0-85797-930-3, pp. 24, 56.
  7. Lewis, Dave (2003), Led Zeppelin: Celebration II: The 'Tight But Loose' Files, London: Omnibus Press. ISBN 1-84449-056-4, p. 30.
  8. Liner notes by Cameron Crowe for The Complete Studio Recordings
  9. Lewis, Dave and Pallett, Simon (1997) Led Zeppelin: The Concert File, London: Omnibus Press. ISBN 0-7119-5307-4, p. 145.
  10. Lewis, Dave and Pallett, Simon (1997) Led Zeppelin: The Concert File, London: Omnibus Press. ISBN 0-7119-5307-4, p. 145.
  11. Lewis, Dave and Pallett, Simon (1997) Led Zeppelin: The Concert File, London: Omnibus Press. ISBN 0-7119-5307-4, p. 145.
  12. 'I first met Jimmy on Tolworth Broadway, holding a bag of exotic fish...”, Uncut, January 2009, p. 40.
  13. Lewis, Dave and Pallett, Simon (1997) Led Zeppelin: The Concert File, London: Omnibus Press. ISBN 0-7119-5307-4, p. 145.
  14. Lewis, Dave and Pallett, Simon (1997) Led Zeppelin: The Concert File, London: Omnibus Press. ISBN 0-7119-5307-4, p. 145.
  15. Rosen, Steven 'Led Zeppelin's 1977 Tour - A Tragic Ending!', Classic Rock Legends.
  16. Lewis, Dave and Pallett, Simon (1997) Led Zeppelin: The Concert File, London: Omnibus Press. ISBN 0-7119-5307-4, p. 145.
  17. Cavanagh, David 'Interview with John Paul Jones', Uncut.
  18. Welch, Chris (2002). Peter Grant: The Man Who Led Zeppelin. ISBN 0-7119-9195-2. 
  19. Ross, Robert (2002). The Carry on Companion. ISBN 0-7134-8771-2. 
  20. Lewis, Dave and Pallett, Simon (1997) Led Zeppelin: The Concert File, London: Omnibus Press. ISBN 0-7119-5307-4, p. 145.
  21. Peter Grant's eulogy, reproduced by Led Zeppelin fanzine Proximity
  22. Lewis, Dave and Pallett, Simon (1997) Led Zeppelin: The Concert File, London: Omnibus Press. ISBN 0-7119-5307-4, p. 145.
  23. Pace, Eric, 'Peter Grant, 60, An Ex-Wrestler Who Managed Led Zeppelin', New York Times, 26 November 1995.
  24. Blake, Mark. 'The Keeper of the Flame', Mojo magazine, December 2007.