Frank Barsalona Dies

Frank Barsalona, the legendary founder of Premier Talent – and creator of the modern concert business – died early Nov. 22, leaving behind an industry he virtually built from scratch. He was 74.

He died peacefully in his sleep at his Manhattan home early Thanksgiving Day, having suffered for several years from Alzheimer’s disease.  His daughter, Nicole, says a memorial service and celebration of his life will take place in January.

Barsalona was the youngest agent at General Artists Corporation when he was asked to work with Sid Bernstein, who’d signed The Beatles for their first American appearances, according to the New York Times. After laying the groundwork for most of that historic tour, and those of other British Invasion acts to follow, he founded Premier Talent in 1964 to exclusively book rock artists.

Barsalona took music seriously, unlike most of the agencies of the day that preferred to focus on film and television bookings, relegating music to fledgling personal appearance departments. Rock music was regarded with even more disdain by the major agencies.

When Barsalona jumped ship and formed Premier, he not only rescued rock performers from the personal appearances ghetto, he developed an entire network of young promoters who, like himself, were passionate about new music and eager to develop and present emerging talent. Much of that talent now makes up rock ‘n’ roll royalty, and the promoters formed the backbone of a national – and now, dominant – industry.

As Premier scooped up hot new talent in the 1960s – including The Rolling Stones  The Yardbirds, The Who  Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix – the agency sought out and developed relationships with regional promoters who, if they did well, would gain access to the agency’s entire roster.

If a promoter did a good job and everyone was happy, Barsalona repaid them with a lock on their respective markets. Among them were such figures as Bill Graham, Ron Delsener, Jules and Mike Belkin, Don Law, Barry Fey, John Scher, Jack Boyle and Larry Magid.  Concerts made the leap from packaged “caravans” like the Alan Freed Rock ‘n’ Roll Dance Party focused on the singles of the day, to events where the experience with a single artist was bigger than the hit.

And the artists, of course, benefited as well from the innovative Barsalona – who negotiated better paydays and treatment of a new class of star as the nascent industry developed artists from nightclubs to arenas and, eventually, into stadiums.

His reach extended far beyond the early days of rock ‘n’ roll, and he championed rockers like Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Bon Jovi, J. Geils Band and Van Halen, and emergent European stars like U2 and the Clash. He took punk seriously, representing artists like The Ramones, The PretendersTalking Heads and Blondie.

His network of local promoters became giants themselves in many cases. And those heritage promoting businesses in turn were attractive enough that by the late 1990s, Robert F.X. Sillerman got the idea to buy many of them out and form one massive national company, SFX, now Live Nation.

Barsalona retired in 2002 and sold Premier Talent to William Morris Agency.  Once the most powerful booking agent in the world, Barsalona was rarely seen in the decade since. Sadly, he was never able to be properly honored in person for the pioneering role he played in creating the modern concert business.

He was, however, inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame – the only talent agent to be so honored. Steven Van Zandt inducted him in 2005, and wrote for Rolling Stone shortly after his death:

“Like a wartime general who has no place in a peaceful world, Frank was a man of his time, a man who defined his time. A great man whose passion and gift was to bring greatness to the masses. To celebrate greatness. Greatness was his religion, and he was a missionary for it.”

Click here for Pollstar’s executive profile interview with Barsalona.