‘Go See The Legends!’ TKO’s Jim Lenz On The Late Great Leslie West

Leslie West
(Fin Costello/Redferns)

Leslie West performing at London’s Rainbow Theater in April 1973 as part of West, Bruce and Laing, which included Jack Bruce and Corky Laing.

When Leslie West, founder of Mountain, passed away just before Christmas at the age of 75, the world lost a legendary guitarist who helped set a template for what hard rock could be. Tracks, especially the classic “Mississippi Queen,” as well as lesser known bangers like “Never In My Life” and “Nantucket Sleigh Ride,” inspired generations of rock and metal fans and musicians alike.  In fact, West played and/or recorded with some of the greatest, including Van Halen, The Who, Mick Jagger, Billy Joel and Jimi Hendrix. Pollstar caught up with West’s agent for the past 11 years, Jim Lenz of TKO agency, to discuss West’s touring career, his recent dates with the Doors’ Robby Krieger and plans for a new album and tour.

Pollstar: How long did you work with Leslie?
Jim Lenz: I started with him in about 2009.

Didn’t he get married on stage that year at the Woodstock Anniversary show?
Correct. I got involved with him shortly after that.

And that kind of typified his interesting approaches to things.

How did you first come together?
Through Bob Ringe at Survival Management. He’s somebody I worked with on a variety of projects over the years, and he brought them to me and when I was at Paradise Artists.

Bobby Bank/WireImage
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Jenni Muldaur and Leslie West getting married at the 40th anniversary of Woodstock on Aug. 15, 2009 in Bethel, New York.

What other artists did you work on together?
We worked together on Alan Parsons for a bit.

So TKO tends to work with rock bands, the site listed Fear Factory, Alien Ant Farm, Buck Cherry, Fishbone.
Yes. I was with Paradise Artists for about 20 years and then joined TKO in 2016 to reopen their California office. We book a lot of classic rock and Iave historically had a roster of bands that would fit in. I also worked with Mark Farner.

Grand Funk.
Yes. And Robby Krieger (The Doors). We actually had dates set up with Leslie West and Robby Krieger that were supposed to happen in May of 2020. And we were in the process of rescheduling for for 2021.

So sad. What kind of places was he playing?
Well, if you looked through at his history back in 2011, he was scheduled to play at a casino down in Biloxi, Mississippi. He had diabetes for quite some time and had complications where he had to be rushed to the hospital the day of the show and, unfortunately, had his leg amputated. Since then he worked mostly within a six-hour driving radius of his home. He had a couple of fly dates here and there, but not much. He would drive to most of his dates with his equipped van. Everywhere that he played would have to be ADA-compliant, so there were times we would get a variety of different offers for specific venues or festivals and fairs that we just couldn’t take because they weren’t ADA-compliant with the proper ramps.

Was he based in Florida?
Actually, he lived in New Jersey for the majority of the time t I was working with him and he just recently moved to Florida in the fall of 2020.

What was he working on?
About a week before all of this happened, Bob and I had an extended conversation as we were planning out 2021. In January, he was set to go in the studio and record a new album with a long list of guests because all the rock guitar players had a lot of respect for Leslie West. He’s worked with the best— Peter Frampton, Robby Krieger, of course, Brian May of Queen, Steve Lukather. He’s got a long list of guitar players that he worked with who were jumping at the chance to work with him any time. Joe Bonamassa was a huge fan and supporter and they had a lot of communication back and forth.

Jim Lentz

TKO’s Jim Lenz who worked as the late-Leslie West’s agent for the last 11 years.

Young guitar players, too. We have a guy on our roster named Jared James Nichols. A couple of years ago I was at a show he was playing here in L.A. and after the show, he said, “You know what I want to do?” And he says, “I got to open a show for Leslie West.” He was based out here at the time, And I explained to him how at that point in time he was doing mostly East Coast states and we had a date coming up at B.B. King’s. And he said, “I don’t care. I’ll spend my own money. I’ll fly out there. I’ll take care of it. I just want to meet him and open a show for him.” And that was one of his last shows at B.B. King’s before they closed.

What did Jared James Nichols say about meeting him?

He was just in awe, in total awe. And Leslie was one of those people who people were just in awe of because he was a great and he had some stories. They knew his history before he walked in the door and just legendary. A lot of the musicians would line up to meet him and shake his hand. B.. King’s had a place for kind of a VIP seating and he had great gold circle supporters of fan. And a lot of his fans were musicians.

?You’re referring to VIP? ?
Correct, the front row seats. Leslie West was kind of old school, just go in and play. He didn’t have the whole VIP experience thing per se, but like at B.B. King’s, their front rows were probably three to four times the amount of the rest of the tickets in the place. So here were $150 tickets right there in front. And he had die-hard fans coming out.

Part of a legacy artist’s value is that they can command higher ticket prices for VIP or premium experiences.
Yes. And to finish up on the story with his new album, we were targeting a new album we expected to release sometime in the spring or early summer. And we were talking about how he really was looking forward to doing a lot more touring off of this album for the summer. Once touring got underway in 2021, with everybody’s hopes that we were all going to be able to start putting shows back on and out on the road, he was eager to get out on the road following this release.

Looking at Pollstar Boxoffice Reports, he did this Rock & Blues Festival and there was a September 2019 with Robby Krieger at The Bergen Performing Arts Center which had 1,000 people and a $42,000 gross.

Yes, so when you ask where was he playing, you can see there were performing arts type theaters and B.B.. King’s was a regular spot for him. He could go in there and sell pretty decent ticket price and do well there all the time. And some years, he was there twice.

When you have somebody legendary like Leslie West on your roster and you’re trying to market and promote his shows, what’s your strategy? Is it like, “Go see friggin’ Leslie West now. You may never see him again”? Do you have other acts like that who you need to let people know what that opportunity is?
Absolutely. Like Mark Farner, formerly of Grand Funk Railroad, who is still out performing with his group Mark Farner’s American Band. Blue Oyster Cult continues to tour. I have the pleasure to work with Dave Davies of the Kinks another legend who has been touring for the last several years. He comes over to the U.S. once every other year or so. That’s been his pattern up until now. He’ll be here for about six weeks and does great business and more of a PAC or club type of thing with anywhere from 600 to 1,200 people.?

So there may not be a huge market, but there’s enough people who would pay a premium ticket price who understand the value.
Right. Somebody like Dave always preferred playing smaller rooms. He said, “I’d rather see it sold out in advance. Maybe we add a second show, but, you know, let’s play in front of the diehard fans. I’d rather have a room full of real fans.”  That’s ultimately what happens nowadays for a lot of these legendary artists who may still be going like a Leslie West. The room, you know, might not have been huge, huge crowds, but the fans who were there were diehard fans.
The last two years or so I made sure to see Al Green, Van Morrison, Rod Stewart, George Clinton, Lonnie Liston Smith, Roy Ayers who were all on tour and who some may take for granted. One could easily have seen Leslie West with like a few hundred people, what do you think the takeaway is from that?
Get out to see the legends.