Lessons Learned: Johnny Colt

Pollstar continues its series of real life lessons in the concert business.

This week’s contribution comes from Johnny Colt, bass player for Train and Rock Star: Supernova. Colt was in The Black Crowes at the band’s zenith.

I’ve never told this story before. The Black Crowes were on the Amorica tour when we played a seven-night stand at the Beacon Theatre in New York. We decided to record five of the shows. It cost $25,000 a night just for the mobile truck.

We had a killer live show and this was a super-cool city. It was a great idea, we thought. The only thing we didn’t factor in was that New York was where we would always party the hardest. We played a couple of nights but, at that point, I had ingested way too much of way too many things. I got onstage after being up for two days straight and, at some point, I blacked out. I don’t remember what happened, but the whole night was unusable. Other nights turned out bad, too, because of other band members. Still, ultimately, we probably ate $75,000.

And that’s not even talking about what the promoter lost, or the cost to the fans. Of course, partying is part of the job description. It’s rock ‘n’ roll, it’s dangerous product, but everybody was furious at me. The band was pissed, the manager was pissed, the promoter was pissed. It was a low point, but it was the beginning of my sobriety and I can now look back at it as just a footnote in my life.

But you know what else? The night reminded me that people in the concert business are genuinely concerned about you. Promoters at that point in our career were people we had relationships with. A lot of them I still know. Peter Conlon, Don Fox and Alex Cooley, for instance. These are people I’ve known my whole life and they watched us grow up onstage.

Don Fox and Ray Compton taught me the promotion business. And my manager at the time, Pete Angelus, has been a mentor and a friend my whole life. It was disappointing to lose 25 grand but, all in all, these people are concerned about you. That kind of drug use ends with you not waking up one day, and that’s bad business for everybody, whether they care about you personally or for commerce. And most importantly, you don’t want to disappoint the fans.

Not only were Peter Conlon and Alex Cooley mentors to me, but Conlon helped me with my first business, Avatar Events Group. It was originally a backline company I started 13 years ago with my partners, Kenny Creswell and Chris Conner. It only got off the ground because Peter let me use his account and told me to make this happen. Alex Cooley sat me down one day as a friend. He was ill at the time and had just sold his company to SFX, and he gave me some real serious advice about life, some real do’s and don’ts. And I listened to him very closely. I really wouldn’t be in the real estate development business if it weren’t for these guys. And now Avatar has offices in Orlando and Pittsburgh. Because those promoters taught me the business side of music, I’ve mastered commerce. Now I can play in two bands because I choose to, not because I have to.

There’s only two ways to deal with commerce. Either you duck it, which is easy to do as a young person, or tackle it, face it and to master it. Steve Vai told me you could do anything creatively. You can eat your cereal creatively. Pete Angelus does business all day, but he’s a very creative man. Rock Star: Supernova’s manager, Carl Stubner, is a very creative guy. And there’s no one better than Jonathan Daniel at Crush Music Media Management, who does Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco. He’s pretty much responsible for the second half of my career.

They’re far more creative than people with an instrument in their hands. Whatever we do in life, we can do it creatively.