Barry Fey's Backstage Past: The Gun, Axl Rose, Lars Ulrich, and the Truth
Legendary concert promoter Barry Fey's Twitter bio is pretty revealing: "Its Barry Fey. I am a rock promoter. I have promoted a few shows here and there. Maybe you have heard of me?"
Fey, "The Rockfather," retired from the business in 1997, but not before establishing himself as one of the big names in promotion throughout the Southwest. The man brought Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Rolling Stones, and many more to Phoenix. He suggested Sun Devil Stadium as a location for U2's concert film, Rattle and Hum, and many of the film's iconic scenes wound up being shot there.
Fey finally got around to telling some of his most outrageous stories in Backstage Past, which finds him dispelling some rumors (the one about pointing a gun at Axl Rose, chiefly), hanging out with Brad Pitt, U2, and more.
Up on the Sun spoke with Fey over the phone to discuss his book, how the business has changed, and why he doesn't think there are any classic rock bands in the making.
For even more Fey action, visit our sister blog in Denver, Backbeat.
Up on the Sun: Barry, you have a long history of booking shows here in the Southwest.
Barry Fey: [Phoenix] was the first place I ever [booked] outside of the State of Colorado.
I imagine the business was a lot different in the late 1960s than it is when you retired in the late 1990s.
It was completely different. I don't mean to sound like this, but in the '90s, it went from the music business to the business of music. I got a wonderful review today. Have you heard of The Lefsetz Letter?
You should read that. Wow. It was a good one. I don't know him, never heard of him, [but] he says, "It's not well written, but you can't put it down."
But the music business today is nothing like when I started. There's no loyalty, no personality, no style -- nothing. It's just unbelievable money-grabbing. I don't see how people can go to [shows] with tickets at $400 and $300. I don't see how people can do it, or why they do it.
I guess, in some way, concerts are the last area where people are making money like that. You're not making it on records anymore.
You're 100 percent right. When we started, the groups used to tour to support their albums. Now, there are no albums. So they tour to support themselves. A few years ago, I [was asked] to give a speech in front of an industry organization, [so] I called the Bureau of Standards in Washington. In 1972, when I did most of the Stones tour, we didn't have a ticket over $6.50. So I called them back, and said, "What's a $6.50 ticket in 1972, adjusted for inflation and cost of living, [equal to] now? This was six years ago, and they came back and said $29.52. A month later, the Stones were in town charging $440. So it has no relationship to anything.
You have to ask yourself: If people aren't willing to pay it, they won't pay it. A lot of people have decided they don't want to pay for recorded music.
Right. But it's shocking that people are still willing to pay for [concerts].
I think that there's something about the live music experience. You can't replicate that experience. You can't re-create that feeling.
There comes a point at that price -- how many concerts can you [afford to go] to? That squeezes the lifeblood out of the new acts.
If you're a casual music fan and you only go to the Stones show, there are a dozen new acts that you might really love that are never going to get your dollar.
You're 100 percent right. In 1987, at the end of the Rattle and Hum movie [shoot], we charged two shows at Sun Devil Stadium for $5. For U2.
You mentioned loyalty, and that seems to have been lost in some ways: loyalty to the customer.
Oh, yeah, forget about that.
In your book, you talk a lot about being loyal to your customers, actually dealing with these rock stars backstage.
You have to realize that of all the entities, the audience is the most important. I think that's the reason I lasted as long as I did -- 35 years.
In the interview you did with Backbeat, you mentioned that people have been asking you to write a book for 15 years. My question is, now that you've written this first one, do you have enough stories left over for another?
No. I don't think so. [People kept asking me] "Where's the book?" But you have to get [past] a personal mental thing. People kept asking me, [but] you have to believe yourself, and I'm not saying it's pretentious, but you have to write something that someone wants to read. Once you get by that, you have to do it. It took me 15 years.
But there are some stories you didn't include in the book.
Not because I didn't want to. I left them out [because] I forgot them.
You had to debunk the story that Lars Ulrich has proliferated for years, about you holding a gun to Axl Rose's head.
Oh, my God. "Are you packing today, Barry?" There are two versions: Lars has a lot of credibility, and he gets to speak to more people than I do, but my version is true.
A very interesting thing happened recently. A guy asked me last week at a book-signing, "Would you have shot him? Would you have used [the gun]?" And I really had to think. The answer was yes. Because I'm not going to let [Rose] treat people that way. I wouldn't have killed him. But I would have winged him or something so he could still play, and he'd know damn well that I was serious. But I had to think about it.
I feel like only the most popular bands in the world still have that kind of craziness going on backstage.
Let's break it out: He was a manic-depressive heroin addict. You had a different set of circumstances. I've never had anything like that in my life. I mean, except, had he not done the same thing three weeks earlier -- in, I believe it was Montreal, [where he] caused a riot, where there was damage and people hurt -- I wouldn't have believed it. But I knew he would do it, so you've got to be willing to stand.
Were you a Guns N' Roses fan? Did you enjoy the band's records?
Appetite for Destruction? Are you kidding? That was the last great album. Joshua Tree and then that one.
Did you hear Chinese Democracy?
The last Guns N' Roses record. The last one released.
Was Slash on it?
No, then I wouldn't listen to it.
Do you still check out new music?
You're pretty much done with it?
Yeah, I'm done. How old are you?
Oh, you're too young. I believe that in 20 years, classic rock as it's played now will be the exact same. I don't see any new Stones, Who, any Zeppelin, Beatles, Eltons, or Morrisons.
You don't see those guys?
But you're also not particularly looking.
Yeah, but if something like that happens, you find out. You didn't have to be looking to know that Abe Lincoln was shot in 1860. 1865, rather.
That's true. You might be right, but I think that everything has changed so fundamentally that I don't know if the business is set up in a way that there could be other bands like that.
I'm not attached to it, but you would know if there was something monstrous. Enough people would call me and say, "Barry, did you hear that?" Nobody calls me.
You didn't hear stuff like that about Mumford and Sons or Arcade Fire?
I heard Coldplay was pretty good. But I sat down with Bono in Paris [in the '80s] -- and it says it in the book -- and they were probably getting to be the biggest group in the word. And I said, "Don't kid yourself. You still haven't gotten your "Hey Jude" yet."
Do you feel like they did get their "Hey Jude"? A song that cemented them in the canon?
I have a list best songs in my book: "Stairway to Heaven," "Free Bird," "Hey Jude," "Satisfaction," "Born to Run," "Light My Fire," "Baba O'Riley," "Bohemian Rhapsody," "Sweet Child O' Mine," "Hotel California," "Suite for Judy Blue Eyes," "Bridge Over Troubled Waters," "Dream On," "Sound of Silence," "Can't Always Get What You Want," "Won't Get Fooled Again."
"With or Without You" is the top U2 song that I have. They have great songs on [The Joshua Tree], but [that song] I really like.
That's a good song, but I really love Achtung Baby.
You think it's as good as The Joshua Tree?
I think it might be as good.
See . . . I didn't think so.
I love a band that keeps pushing and doesn't settle into a groove.
Well, that's what they certainly did.
What are some of your favorite gigs you've booked here in Arizona?
One of the most memorable moments had nothing to do with music. I was meeting Jim Morrison at Sky Harbor Airport. He was going to the Stones show with me in November of '69. I was waiting for him to come down the stairs, and two federal marshals came and took him off the plane -- for interfering with a flight crew. He never got to see the show. They took him to jail.
But my favorite show in Phoenix? I love stadium shows. We filmed some of Rattle and Hum at Sun Devil Stadium. I had The Who at Sun Devil during their first comeback tour. After Keith [Moon] had died. I hosted them before, too, in October '68. Two months later, I had Simon and Garfunkel in the Coliseum.
Was Phoenix a difficult town to work in?
No, but you don't get the same energy from the crowd.
That's right. I remember my Metallica/Guns N' Roses show there was pretty good. On February 8, 1968, I had Jimi Hendrix at ASU Fieldhouse. I set up a little card table outside and sold tickets myself.
That's insane to me. But at the time, they weren't the legends they would become.
They were just starting.
Like a lot of acts today. You know, I hope you're wrong about us not having those legends in 20 years.
Not a chance, honey.
As it is now, the bands I love from 20 years ago aren't stadium-fillers.
Well, I never got to see Pavement when I they were first around, but I saw their reunion at Coachella.
Never heard of them [laughs].
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