‘Who Are These Guys?’ – A Conversation with John Meglen & Paul Gongaware

As the keynote title suggests, John Meglen and Paul Gongaware of

Moderator Michael Walker, journalist and author of “Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock ‘N’ Roll’s Legendary Neighborhood,” led the pair through careers that include working with and for such legends as Elvis Presley and Col. Tom Parker, Jerry Weintraub, Celine Dion, Prince, and The Rolling Stones.

Jason Squires
– Hey Who Are These Guys?
Paul Gongaware, John Meglen, Michael Walker

Gongaware said among his first tours was Presley and his mercurial manager, Parker.

“I was assigned the Elvis tour in Bloomington, Ind., and the first thing I learned was to never go up against the Indianapolis 500,” Gongaware said. He also learned the importance of having a “sold out” sign at the venue box office – even if there were still 70 unsold tickets.

Gongaware and Meglen learned about taking care of the artists from manager Jerry Weintraub, and keeping tours streamlined.

“I grew up under that system,” Gongaware said. “I didn’t even know any agents for maybe the first 10 years of my professional life. I didn’t even know that many local promoters.”

Meglen told how, in his early days, his relationships were primarily with venues.

“The venues were our local partners,” he said. “You got on the phone with the venue guy and they’d put together the advertising, the tickets, everything. They were the ones who knew about the local market.”

An extreme example of that streamlining was Prince’s “Musicology” tour.

“There was just John, Paul and Prince,” Gongaware said. “When we were mounting the Celine Dion [residency in Las Vegas], I hear ‘Prince is on the phone,’” Meglen said. “I’d met him once or twice before, and he said, ‘I find this thing you are doing with Celine to be very interesting. But she’s lip syncing, isn’t she?’ I said no. He said, ‘She’s lip syncing.’

“But we handled everything for Celine. We built our own wardrobe and dry cleaning. We went that extra mile. Then we had a meeting with Prince and Celine. Prince was in his lime green leisure suit down to the boots, and she’s in jeans and a T-shirt. He left, and we got a call a week later to meet him at the Beverly Hills Hotel. I have Celine to thank for that,” Meglen said.

“We paid for everything on the ‘Musicology’ tour. Sound, lights, everything. But he wound up with 50 percent of the gross revenues, which was unheard of,” Gongaware said.

Walker reminded the room that the Celine residency itself was an innovation. At the time, the biggest show in Las Vegas was Cirque du Soleil.

“[Concerts West] tried to find money for a residency before AEG came along,” Meglen said. “For me, the marriage was one plus one equals three.” But the idea of the Vegas residency was one that many had to be convinced of.

“Barbra Streisand’s manager, Marty Erlichman, said there’s only two people who believe in this show,” Gongaware said. “And that’s John and I don’t know who else. Daren Libonati helped that, and we agreed to sell our company to AEG.

“John told Phil [Anschutz] about the Celine idea. It took about 20 minutes to explain. The risk was $150 million, and that was big money back then,” Gongaware said.

“It’s like doing 50 arena shows in Las Vegas,” Meglen added. “But it worked. The residency model really was born from that.”

Prince took note and the three of them put together a 21-show residency in London at

“It was funny,” Meglen said of the London shows. “He had to go and pick £32.21 as the ticket price, because that was his mystical number at the time. Actually, it was an address up on Mulholland Drive [in Los Angeles].

“If we tell him this isn’t going to work; it’s not going to happen and he can fire us now. But if we don’t tell him and it doesn’t work, he can fire us then,” Meglen said to laughter. “We love doing this job.”

Walker moved on to a discussion of the evolution of the business with AEG, new talent and festivals.

“I left SFX Entertainment when it started,” Meglen explained. “That’s when Paul and I reformed our company. And there was this little company called Goldenvoice. Paul Tollett took us out to the desert one day, explaining about doing a festival out there that had flopped.

“Paul got it. He said it takes three years to get one of these things going. Goldenvoice had just signed a deal with Nederlander. They had an exclusive on

“Now, Nederlander is pissed because the exclusive was threatened. We had a meeting at the Jonathan Club [in Los Angeles] with Tim Leiweke, etc. We had to talk them into tearing up the contract.

“We gave them the Santa Barbara Bowl, and they gave us Goldenvoice. It took a while, but we believed in Coachella. It took the Sahara Tent and the birth of EDM for it to really take off,” Meglen said.

The conversation moved to ticketing, and how to beat the secondary market. And again, the story goes back to Prince.

“When we started ‘Musicology’ people said you might get one sellout in Los Angeles and you might get 10,000 at Madison Square Garden,” Gongaware said. “They told us it would be a stiff. It turned out to be the tour of the year. It was the reverse of the Stones.”

Meglen added, “We got into premium ticketing before anyone else; when David Goldberg and Ticketmaster wanted to bring in Team Exchange to that world. When tickets went digital there was an entire cottage industry that totally exploded. The scalpers.

“We don’t have a scalping problem; we have a pricing problem. The example was Prince taking the tickets out of marketplace, because we had the inventory.

“I believe that money belongs to the industry. We believe it belongs with the band. We know the techniques. We know what people do out there. There’s so many middle companies that exist in that space,” Meglen said.

“Col. Parker did it when we did the Elvis tours,” Gongaware continued. “All the tickets were sold to the box office. We had to make sure the first 10 rows went to the public. One day, we realized the bots were buying the tickets and that’s when we decided to take it back.”

Prince also figured in how Meglen and Gongaware came to work with Michael Jackson.

“In the end, it’s a very sad story but it was an interesting time,” Meglen said. “A good neighbor of ours named Peter Lopez said he’d been on the phone for a couple of hours with Michael Jackson and had signed him. He wanted to talk to us. The first meeting, Paul and I had to spend six hours listening to King Tut. But Michael did go to see Prince.

“He came to the show no bodyguards, nothing. We put him in the liquor room that was fixed up with couches and purple gels and he was jumping on couches. ‘Where’s Prince? Where’s Prince?’ Then Prince came backstage and saw Michael and just ran off!”

Meglen and Gongaware may be known most recently for tours with The Rolling Stones, Prince, and Michael Jackson, but their road started in the days when communications was by Telex, routing “was done by Rand McNally” and the business was a cash one.

“In the 1970s it was a cash business,” Gongaware said. “It was a cash cash business. When artists crossed borders, [tour manager] Pat Stansfield had to divvy up the cash between roadies to not declare it.”

Meglen said his favorite cash story involved Presley and manager Tom Hulett. Elvis did a show in Providence, R.I., and stayed in a Holiday Inn.

They put the cash from the show in a briefcase under the bed, and forgot to take it with them when they left.

“We realized a day later what happened and went back,” Meglen said. “We pulled it out from the mattress and the couple that was in there had no idea.”

It’s a different business now, of course.

“Structurally, it’s very different,” Meglen explained. “We see a lot of similarities with Concerts West/Management III and

“When we started working with Jerry Weintraub in those days, you put everything on the table with the artist. Paul and I have just been practicing that same thing for 40 years. We find other smart people.

“…Structurally, we’re very different. We started out as arena guys. We started Arena Network around the same time as Concerts West. I think it’s about more boutiques for us. We live in a wonderful company, we have a great owner that never said no on a single proposal,” Meglen continued. “What’s beautiful is at AEG we get to do our businesses. Louis [Messina] is here. He gets to be Country Louis. Barrie Marshall gets to be Barrie. Goldenvoice can be Goldenvoice. I believe in that model. I don’t believe in consolidation and making everything a system.”

For Meglen and Gongaware, live music is “the last analog. You have to pay your money, show up and see that person live.”

There’s “the beginning of augmented reality creeping into the business,” Meglen said, explaining that tickets still have value – and the future is dynamic pricing.

“We can only fit so many people in the room. I hate discounting; I hate all that shit,” Meglen said. “We lose the value of the ticket, and we are out of the business. We have to get the value out of that ticket.

“Artists need to make as much money as they can. That should be their decision, for most part. We need to close the ticket. We need to know where the ticket is at all times; like your airline ticket, your hotel room. We need to open distribution and quit telling people that there is only one place they can buy a ticket.”

Gongaware acknowledged that it’s a different era, but some things remain the same.

“When those house lights go out, you still get that burst of energy from the crowd – this massive amount of energy. Music meant everything to different people back then and now it’s a commodity when there’s so many things competing like movies and video games.

“But still, you have to see artists.”

Walker noted that bands like U2 and The.Stones still demand attention.

“I still believe in the live experience. We did years of Neil Diamond. Why does Neil still sell? Why does

“If you turned it into widgets, you would get jaded.”