David Libert Interview: Talks Alice Cooper, Guns N Roses and Swingos!
David Libert has had quite an interesting life! From being in the 1960s band, The Beginings, to being the tour manager for Alice Cooper, P-Funk and Bootsy's Rubber Band, to the booking agent for The Runaways and more. David has seen and done it all.
We had the opportunity to do a Zoom call to discuss his new book Rock and Roll Warrior and his experiences managing Alice Cooper, George Clinton, The Runaways and his memories of Cleveland!
Greg Drugan: Hey David! Congratulations on your new book, which is appropriately titled Rock and Roll Warrior. Why did you decide that now this was the time to tell your story?
David Libert: Over the last few years, people have been saying to me: “You’ve got a lot of great stories and you’ve led an interesting life, why don’t you write a book?” I never took it all that seriously. Then about three years ago my girlfriend said, “You know what? They’re right, you do have a story to tell. You should write a book.” So I suppose that was the impetus for me to take a more serious look and start to put it together. Had I known what an overwhelming endeavor it is to write a book, I might have thought twice about it!
GD: And it’s out! I’m about halfway through it and you have a fascinating story. You have pretty much done it all in the music business from being a songwriter, a performer, to being a tour manager, to a manager and then to being a promoter. How did you know you wanted to be in the music industry and then stay there for sixty plus years?
DL: I started out as a musician and pursued that. Then through the course of being in a band called The Happenings, we had a few hit records and achieved some success in the mid to late sixties. I was also the manager of the band. I liked it because I was dealing with record companies and booking agencies, promoters and publicity firms. The music world was really changing at that time, FM radio came into prominence. Our music was the pop,syrupie AM friendly type of music. We were going to have a difficult time surviving unless we evolved into something more contemporary. Something more like Crosby, Stills and Nash were doing. The other guys really weren’t interested in doing that. They thought they could play colleges and night clubs for the next twenty five years. I saw the writing on the wall. Since I had experience managing our band, maybe I could manage other bands. I was pretty sure I couldn't be a Happening forever so that’s how I transitioned to being in the business end of the music biz.
GD: Like you said, you did have some success with the band, which had four Top Twenty hits. What was touring like at that time and who did you tour with?
DL: We used to go out on these cavalcade tours. We were on the Gene Pitney tour. The first tour was the Dick Clark tour that had The Capitols, The EasyBeats were on that tour and several other bands. It was a bus tour with eight or ten acts and we would travel from city to city. That’s how we got massive exposure by playing in front of ten, fifteen to twenty thousand people a night. We gained some experience but we weren’t making much money, that’s for sure! It was a great experience and a lot of fun.
GD: So you decided it wasn’t happening for you after about nine years or so?
DL: Oh no, it didn’t take that long to figure it out. Within four years I decided to leave the band and pursue other avenues in the music business.
GD: One of the biggest bands you started working with early on was the Alice Cooper band becoming their road manager. How did that come about?
DL: After I left The Happenings, I took various jobs. I worked for a management company in New York City. Johnny Mastro and the Brooklyn Bridge, The Stair Steps. Then I got a job as the road manager of Rare Earth. I loved that job and it went on for several months. Then i got a call from Johnny Podell, the booking agent for Alice Cooper. He told me that the band was looking for a new tour manager and asked if I would be interested. I ended up getting hired and I remember the first gig was in Atlanta and Shep Gordon told me to just observe and I would get the hang of it. I had no idea what I was supposed to do. There was no job description or tech manual. My first impression was that it looked like thirty odd, crazy, insane looking people crawling all over the gear like giant insects. I thought that I had made the biggest mistake of my life. But I started to get the hang of it and things fell into place and the rest is history! I would say that ninety-nine percent of the things I know, I learned from Shep Gordon.
GD: What did you think of that stage production, nobody had ever done anything like that until Kiss came along with all the pyro. But Alice was totally different with all of that production and theatrics.
DL: All the people that worked for Alice were professionals. They really knew what they were doing. You are right, there was a lot of equipment and props. Before anyone else, we carried our own lighting systems and sound systems and staging. It was my responsibility to make it run like a well oiled machine. It taught me responsibility, discipline and how to work with other people.
GD: From Alice Cooper, you moved onto George Clinton and P-Funk. That had to be some crazy times dealing with those characters. Do you have an interesting story about George?
DL: At this point, George was selling out arenas. I also had Bootsy's Rubber Band and when I put those two together, they were selling out stadiums. George had a very complicated show as well, production wise. He had the “Mothership” that landed on stage every night. They had all kinds of special effects and props and it was very chaotic compared to Alice Cooper. I was able to bring some sanity and stability to the production of it all. I was really proud of the whole P-Funk thing.
GD: I think from P-Funk you went to the Runaways. Was is Shep that got you hooked up with the girls?
DL: No, it was the notorious Kim Fawley. He was the manager and producer of the band. He recruited me as their booking agent and it was quite the experience. He was quite the experience as well! He was a rather unusual character. But he was very entertaining and I was very fond of him. I loved the band, the girls were great. I remember he said, “book them in Japan, I think they will do really well there.” He was right. The night before they left, I get a call from Mr. Udo, the major promoter in Japan. He said, “Girls on stage, wild yes. Girls off stage, wild no. Very important in Japan.” I told him that the band would get the message. Well, that message fell on deaf, teenage ears because these girls left a trail of wrecked hotel rooms, unpaid bills and a slew of heartbroken Japanese boys all over the country…. and girls!
GD: After that, you mention in the book that you got caught dealing drugs. How did that turn from being a manager to the drug route?
DL: I ended up losing George and Bootsy as clients and I found myself with very limited income at that point. So I had a great idea, why don’t I become a cocaine dealer? Everyone I know seemed to use it. I did eventually did get caught and convicted and spent fourteen or fifteen months in prison. It was not the highlight of my life, but it was a chapter in my life so it deserved to be a chapter in my book.
GD: Sure! I was told to ask you about the one that got away in Guns N Roses. So how did they work into your life?
DL: I got a call for Kim Fowley and he said “there’s a band living in a storage locker, you need to check them out. They’re called Guns N Roses.” I went over there to check them out and was immediately impressed. Their songs were special and they were extremely disciplined when it came to the music. They practiced several hours a day, their songs were terrific, and their musicianship was high quality. I liked everything about them. They were the real deal. They were never not Guns N Roses. They were always Guns N Roses if they were together or hanging out individually. You knew that there was no way in hell they were not going to make it. I wanted to manage them. But I didn’t have any money at that moment. They were living in a storage locker that didn’t have any running water or bathroom facilities. So they used to crash at my house or get a shower and get cleaned up. I had to get them out of there so I went looking for money and I failed in that pursuit. So I had to walk away because I couldn’t have been a benefit to them.
GD: Wow, so was like around 1985?
DL: Yeah, somewhere in there. I’m sure everyone has a story about the one that got away, and that one is mine.
GD: That’s a big one! Since I am based out of Cleveland, I have to ask you if you have any memories of coming to Cleveland and did you stay at the legendary Swingos?
DL: I certainly did! Everybody stayed at Swingos! It was infamous. It was very rock and roll friendly. We loved coming to Cleveland. Alice did very well in Cleveland and The Happenings did very well there. We appeared on the Upbeat show there with Vince Spero and I’m very good friends with David Spero today.
GD: Channel five with the Upbeat show. It’s a little before my time but I know all about it. I’ve spoken to David many times. He’s a Cleveland legend!
DL He is. We have very fond memories of Cleveland.
GD: One more thing, what are your thoughts on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
DL: There are two groups of thought. One feels that it’s important and should be more selective in who they choose. I’m sure many people feel that Dolly Parton doesn’t belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Then there’s another group of thought that feels that the idea of a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is kind of passe and not really relevant. I’m kinda in the middle.
GD: David, you have led quite a fascinating life. Your book is fantastic and I wish you all the best! Do you have any plans of doing a book tour? We would love to see you in Cleveland!
DL: I think that’s going to happen in the spring. I’m sure Cleveland is on that list. As a matter of fact, I was talking to David Spero about it and we’re going to see if we can do a hook up with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That would be relevant because they sell books!
GD: Yes they do! Jann Wenner was just there giving a talk and doing a book signing.
DL: I would look forward to that and I would look forward to meeting you, Greg.
GD: That would be great. I look forward to meeting you in person! Best of luck to you.
DL: Thank you so much!
Make sure you check out the fascinating life of David Libert and his book titled Rockand Roll Warrior. Buy it where ever great books are sold!