Doc McGhee:
Pollstar Live! Keynote

A short and sweet keynote address can do wonders. Doc McGhee’s chat with Pollstar Live! delegates was all of 30 minutes, with a short Q&A afterward. 
During his keynote speech during Pollstar Live! in Nashville Feb. 20. 

McGhee gets a gold star for filling in at the last second for promoter Michael Cohl, who had to cancel because of back surgery.

McGhee – currently managing KISS and Darius Rucker – joked about his value in all of this, saying even his wife asked him to push his keynote back a half hour because it conflicted with her nail appointment.

But if what he had to say was short, it was certainly sweet: if you’re a manager, you’re a “connection artist.”

It’s not about being passionately in love with the artist. It’s about making sure they keep connected to their fans.

“Let’s face it: if there was a squirrel here in front of me, and people wanted to see that squirrel, I’d manage that squirrel,” he said.

McGhee, who got his start playing guitar in a band called Nightflight, was introduced into management with a partner through clients James Brown and Isaac Hayes.

“I honestly don’t know if we were managing them, or they were managing us.”

There was no brochure on being a manager. Nobody told McGhee what management was, and he certainly didn’t know it was going to be “father of a dysfunctional family” or “psychiatrist” or certainly not “role model.”

But he got his lead from manager extraordinaire David Krebs.

“He changed my life in one sentence,” McGhee said. “’What is management? This is how you manage an artist: You either manage them at the throat or you manage them at the feet. If you manage them at the feet, they’ll kick your teeth in right away.  If you manage them at the throat, you have a chance to hold on until they push you to the ground and kick your teeth in.’”

With that advice tucked under his belt, McGhee wound up seeing a band called Mötley Crüe in 1982. It was his first date with his future wife, and the event was called New Year’s Evil.

“They were terrible. I just watched them blow up shit and roll around,” he said. “But I saw 3,000 kids who were absolutely crazy for them. Bought every piece of merchandise. That’s when I knew I was in it for the business. I’m not a music snob.”

That led to the famous Soviet-era Moscow show.

“In the ‘70s, all we needed to do was tour,” McGhee said. Bands didn’t need the radio to get 15,000 people to see them play live. In the ‘80s, though, with MTV, it was all about the radio.

“By luck, I had those artists,” he said. “They were the ones who were connecting.” But it was also the era of Live Aid, Bangladesh, “Fuck The Fish … there were a lot of those.”

So in 1989 McGhee did the Moscow Music Peace Festival starring management clients Mötley Crüe, Skid Row, and Bon Jovi, along with Ozzy Osbourne, among others.

“We went there without any permits. Just stamps. My partner said, ‘They won’t know what a permit is. Just stamp the shit,’” McGhee said.

Now it’s back to touring. One of McGhee’s clients is Vintage Trouble.

“I knew they were never going to be on the radio,” he said. “So two-and-a-half years ago I sent them to England. They’ve done 300 shows in 59 countries and it’s worked. People needed to see them live.”

Although radio is still important, McGhee says it’s coming to an end with the advent of Spotify and Beats Music.

“People will soon rent music. We only sign bands that tour. We have a band you’ve probably never heard of called A Thousand Horses. They do 80 or 90 shows a year, driving 250 miles for a gig that gives them $200. We’ll play pay toilets and use our own change, you know?”

And that’s basically it: to make the connection. And the connection will be live music.

Also, one other bit of advice: “If you take a starving dog an make him prosperous he will not bite you. And that’s the principal difference between dog and man.”