The Artist known as Sy
Klopps started out as a fictional "recluse prodigy" musician.
It was all just a trick played on booking agents by Herbie Herbert,
the successful rock and roll "Personal
It was during the relationship building part of phone
conversations with fellow music business people, where poking fun
and gaming was always expected, that the legend of Sy Klopps was
Ironically, Herbie decided to become Sy Klopps. Actually
bring Klopps to life. The real legend of Sy Klopps started when all
Herbie's connections with famous musician friends to jam, gig and
record with made it doable and even more importantly, fun.
Herbie retired from managment at the tail end
of 1993 and jumped headlong into Sy Klopps. It became his passion.
He built his own state of the art commercially competitive recording
studio and recorded his first album, "Walter
Ego". "Walter Ego" was released in
1993 on Guitar Recordings Classic Cuts label. Gigs around the Bay Area
and eventually at the Fillmore in San Francisco soon followed.
After his first CD, Sy recorded several more: "Old
Blue Eye Is Back", "Berkeley
an EP called "High Five" and
a Live Video recorded
in concert at the Fillmore. Sy has played
live gigs with Etta James at the House Of Blues, with Tower of
Power and The Doobie Brothers.
Joel Selvin of the San Francisco Chronicle dubbed
Sy Klopps "The Paul Bunyan of the blues".
In 2001, Sy teamed up with Billy Kreutzmann, Neal
Schon and some of his other band mates to create a new group called
the Trichromes. They realeased a CD called "Dice
With The Universe"
Sy Klopps was born Walter James Herbert II on Feb.
5th, 1948, at Alta Bates Hospital, in Berkeley, California. His mother
was a bank teller, first with Wells Fargo and then Bank of America.
She also moonlighted as the accountant and bookeeper for Herbie's
father's business, Vulcan Engineering, at 2850 Broadway on Oakland's
fabled Auto Row. Dad was an expert machinist and engine builder,
providing record-breaking, custom-built racing engines for the drag
strip and auto racing circuits. The family lived at 1393 Virginia
St., near Acton St. As a boy Herbie attended Jefferson Elementary
and Garfield Junior High (later changed to Martin Luther King Jr.
Junior High). Herbie spent a lot of time in his father's shop and
went with him to the Fremont Drag Strip to watch the races. At eighteen
Herbie worked at California Distributors, a parts warehouse also
on Auto Row, and displayed an unexpected talent for organization
and inventory control. The owners were pleased to learn that Herbie
had managed to memorize the entire inventory of the shop, along with
all the part numbers. He could instantly call up information about
the quantity or availability of anything in the warehouse directly
out of his head.
In 1962, the San Francisco/Bay Area rapid transit
system BART was built and the home on Virginia St. was razed for
a parking lot. The law of Eminent Domain forced the family to Orinda.
Contra Costa County culture was radically different to the way of
life Herbie was used to in Berkeley. The different music, vernacular
and attitudes of the new town inspired him to routinely hitchhike
after school to Berkeley for a dose of familiarity and sanity. Though
only eight miles away from his birthplace it might as well have been
8000. Few others in Orinda would even think of going to Berkeley
and Herbie usually hitchhiked alone.
Upon arriving in Orinda Herbie briefly attended Miramonte
High School but was quickly expelled for mischievious behavior, including
a bomb scare hoax that cleared the grounds. Herbie just wanted the
day off. He transferred to Campolindo High School, graduating in
1966. During his late teens Herbie stayed busy, working in auto shops,
trying a year at Diablo Valley College and even playing drums in
a rock band.
Herbie had some managing experience with a band called
Frumious Bandersnatch, in the East Bay. Though they were known to
be famous music critic Ralph Gleason's favorite band, Herbie thought
they were just trying to be another Moby Grape. Members of Frumious
Bandersnatch (including Ross Valory, David Denny, Bobby Winkleman,
and Jack King) went on to become members of the Steve Miller Band.
Ross Valory then became a charter member of Journey.
On August 5th, 1967, Herbie was called in to get
a physical for military service. He contrived ways to get himself
out of the obligation. Though he took the physical he snowed the
examiners with so many fictional medical maladies they were forced
to let him go, if only to rid themselves of his tenacious tirade.
Herbie took it upon himself to school his musician friends on ways
to be passed over by the draft board. In one instance, he had a friend
dress in his own mother's clothing and smear peanut butter between
his legs. Herbie figured the medical examiners wouldn't accept a
man with no sense of personal hygiene. In another skit of conscientious
objection he convinced Ross Valory to spend two days in the Juvenile
Psych Ward, drooling on himself and speaking in monosyllabic grunts.
And in yet another set-up Herbie borrowed a book on homosexual behavior
from the library and insisted two friends study it. He instructed
them to play out the part of two boys in love, frantically weeping
and kissing each other over the threat of death at the hands of the
Vietcong. Oscar-winning performances were given. Herbie's tricks
were completely successful in each instance. None of his friends
even made it to boot camp. Herbie's nascent hammer of negotiation
was being born.
His trips away from the staid society of Orinda took
him for longer and longer periods of time and finally found him loitering
around the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco, looking to do something,
anything, in the new and exciting realm of rock and roll. When Bill
Graham took over the Fillmore West from The Grateful Dead, Herbie
was there, doing whatever was called for. He routinely found himself
sitting outside Graham's little office listening to one side of the
promoter's predatory monolog, taking mental notes. Everybody knew
Graham was an uptight square at heart, surrounded by freaks. Herbie,
in tie-dye coveralls and hair with its own micro-climate, was no
exception. But Herbie paid attention. He stayed close, and listened
At the Santana rehearsal studio later that year Herbie
was poking around inside a broken amplifier when shouts erupted nearby.
It seems that Bill Graham was both booking and managing Santana (a
no-no in California law) and the band felt too much of their revenue
was being lost by this arrangement. The band had decided to fire
Graham, but Santana's personal manager Stan Markum hadn't been able
to muster the courage to do the deed. After Stan left the office
Graham's secretary gave the secret away. Graham flew into a rage
and raced to Santana's rehearsal studio. The sharp-tongued promoter
shouted at the band members: "How could you do this to me after
all I've done for you?" Gregg Rolie, the keyboard player, took
Herbie aside and demanded he do what their manager had been unable
to. Herbie told Gregg:"I couldn't do that! He got me my job!" Rolie
replied: "We sign your paychecks. If you want to keep getting
them you gotta go in there and take care of this problem." Herbie
coaxed Graham outside and explained how the band's reasons were fair
ones and that the promoter should "take it like a mensch." Miraculously,
Graham acquiesced, and showed Herbie a new respect. Herbie remained
a roadie with Santana for several more years but Gregg Rolie asserts
that was the defining moment when Herbie Herbert became a manager.
Herbie was one of two people to ever fire Bill Graham.
The original Santana band released four albums during
the time Herbie worked with them. He started as a roadie and eventually
became the production manager. During his tenure with the band he
made significant production advances in sound, lighting, power distribution
and trucking. It was needed, too. The quality of live event production
in the early Seventies was in a deplorable state. When bands came
into sports arenas they had to contract with the venue and promoter
for the most basic necessities...lights, sound, even the stage.
In 1972 the original Santana group disbanded and
Herbie left as well. Under an agreement with Santana Herbie took
control of the sound gear, lighting system, power distribution equipment
and even the big White Freightliner tractor-trailer rig for hauling
it all. With these assets he started his first production company, "Primo
Productions", with partners John and Jack Villanueva. Herbie
left the Santana camp with a contract for Primo to provide live production
for all Santana shows as well as the freedom to contract out Primo's
services to the likes of Graham Central Station, Tower Of Power and
Jeff Beck. Herbie stayed busy.
As manager of Journey Herbie invented efficient logistical
systems and profitable business arrangements out of whole cloth,
out of his own head, and many of these ideas became standards for
First and foremost, the five members of Journey and
Herbie became, under a binding partnership agreement, equal partners
in all the dealings of the corporation. And make no mistake, Journey
was a corporation. The parent company, Nightmare Inc., furnished
the services of Journey to the label and was an umbrella under which
several wholly-owned subsidiaries flourished. There was a tour support
company for lighting and staging, called Nocturne Productions. There
was what is now known as Rebanda Trucking, to get everything where
it needed to go. There were music publishing companies: Weedhigh
Nightmare (BMI) and Twist and Shout Music (ASCAP). There was a fan
club now known as Fan Asylum. There was even a real estate investing
group called the Daydream Partnership, to better aggregate office,
rehearsal and storage facilities under the Journey name. Any time
there was a real need for any kind of service for the band or management,
Herbie would find a way to create an in-house business entity to
serve that need. By controlling physical assets instead of shuffling
sales receipts, Herbie was able to increase the profits for the corporation.
His offices had full time promotional, accounting, marketing, merchandising
and travel people. His desire to provide state of the art technical
and logistical production values to every aspect of live production
saw his ancillary companies' assets in high demand. When Journey
was not using their production and tour support, it was leased to
other acts who could count on the industry standard in live performance
But Herbie's negotiating grease was in more than
just live performance. He knew that he had to have the label's promotional
division behind Journey as well. He worked the employees of CBS,
offering pep talks and solutions. He streamlined communication between
label and artist. He painted win-win scenarios in a time when the
industry was acknowledged by the Wall Street Journal to be in a "downturn." Herbie
bucked the status quo by foregoing print and radio advertisments
in favor of point of purchase displays at retail stores. In a blur
of efficiency he acquired a toll-free number for retailers to call
for fast delivery of Journey promotional materials. He rewarded everyone
who helped him further the cause. He gave hundreds of gold and silver
commemorative albums at his own expense to everyone from label execs
to sales clerks. Loyalty and team spirit building grew wherever he
Herbie could speak the language of the CBS bureaucracy,
succesfully exploiting the huge resources of the label. His coach
mentality and inexhaustable supply of energy gathered tangible results.
And what about the developement of the actual band
members? Herbie saw to it that they prepared like warriors for battle.
Schooling in singing and movement were followed by subtler approaches
like consciousness training. The band submitted to personnel changes
and blunt criticism. Herbie had told them up front that he wanted
complete autonomy and the Last Word on running Journey's career.
Herbie didn't dictate from an ivory tower. Like his
mentor, Bill Graham, he got right into the face of his intended ally
and went to the mat for what he wanted. And what Herbie wanted usually
made sense to most people. Of course, when people wouldn't see things
his way he had an answer for that, too. Herbie Herbert celebrated
his thirtieth birthday on February 5, 1978, gazing at the nightime
sky above the little brown house in Orinda he rented for $300 a month.
He was totally broke. Two nickels in his pocket would have been a
happy meeting. He was wondering how he was going to pay rent. Here
he was at the benchmark age, and still in the business. Beset by
a thirty-year-old's doubts, he despaired over whether he had wasted
his life. Maybe, he thought, it was time to pull the ripcord and
get a real job. It wouldn't be the world's greatest tragedy. He'd
accomplished a lot. There would be no shame if he tossed in the towel.
He'd been very successful in his early twenties with Santana. Life
had been intoxicating and wonderful chasing that dragon. Now, after
a long road, Herbie was days away from the release of Journey's fourth
album. It was the album that almost didn't get made by the band that
almost sank into obscurity.
First, some background: The first Journey album had
sold over 150,000 copies and was still selling. The second album
had sold upwards of a quarter of a million and continued to sell.
When the third album sold "only" 100,000 units the label
balked. In an era when disco was king, the execs decided it wasn't
going to be worth it to support the band. Even though Herbie had
put Journey through a successful world tour the band was told by
CBS it would be dropped. Anybody else would have frantically cut
their losses. Herbie turned the situation to his favor. He convinced
the label not to give up on the band. The label agreed but insisted
that Journey use Roy Thomas Baker to produce the new record. Herbie
agreed on the condition of a rise in Journey's royalty rate. The
deal was struck. Herbie found and hired a new singer for the band,
someone who could act as a focal point and provide a little heart-throb
star appeal along with heart-wrenching vocal skills.
Herbie was going to save Journey's future and save
his own at the same time. One more swing at the bat was all he asked.
Miracles were needed. Walking on water, quacking like a duck and
spinning flip-flops had only approximated the wild gesticulations
necessary for the label to cough up resources to record "Infinity." Would
the record sell? Herbie wasn't going to take any chances. He redoubled
his efforts. CBS was smugly certain that Journey would never have
a hit. It wouldn't matter what Herbie did. And since, according to
the label people, nothing was going to work, Herbie decided to make
it happen. He got every A list promoter in the country to agree to
headline Journey coast-to-coast and border-to-border at theatres.
He did massive point of purchase merchandising, sensing it was where
Journey's captive target demographic would be found. He knew there
would be no big ticket, mass media advertising by the label. Instead,
Herbie went into record stores and worked employees with merchandise
and free tickets. Tickets were big currency and front row seats for
Journey could get a lot of things done. He created and rallied a
frantic and effective Journey fan club. He put Journey's music in
airports, on airplanes, in elevators and in shopping malls, anywhere
that would increase the public's familiarity with the band's songs.
Herbie insisted on high-visibility graphics. Journey toured and toured
and toured. For 121 days, starting on March 1st, 1978 in Racine,
WI, the so-called DOA tour with Montrose and Van Halen pounded throughout
North America. No opportunity to turn even a slight profit was ignored.
Every living, breathing lead offering any possibility of increasing
Journey's market share was chased down.
By early 1979 Journey's fourth album "Infinity" had
gone triple platinum without a charting single. Herbie's dream of
success had worked beyond his most fantastical imaginings. The industry
woke up one morning and realized that Herbie Herbert was: "Da
"I was trying to figure out what it was that
we had done together. Gregg Rolie, a founding member of Santana and
Journey, pointed it out to me one day. We'd been successful and we'd
made a lot of money, but it seemed there was another way it needed
to be described. Gregg said: 'We risked our lives.' I said: 'There
you go. That feels correct to me.' We really did hang it all out
and put it on the line. That's the bottom line. It's a risk/reward
Herbie clearly saw the need to control all aspects
of his business and, by doing so, save money, build equity and share
wealth for himself and his company. Using this new business model
the band carried everything to a show. All risers, platforms, lighting,
sound, consoles, barricades, the entire stage, all rigging motors
and a complete office, with cases full of typewriters, walkie-talkies,
etc., traveled with the band. A crew of 30 people traveled with 6
tractor-trailers, putting up the show in four hours and taking it
down in two, night after night. Herbie's businesses handled every
aspect of lights, sound, trucking, promotion, travel arrangements,
rigging and stage costs, recording, video costs, equipment, supplies
1982 brought Herbie's logistical genius and technological
prowess together in an awe-inspring piece of stagecraft that instantly
became the event production benchmark for the entire concert industry.
The whole center field wall of a baseball stadium was taken up by
a gigantic five panel structure combining a huge stage, two enormous
speaker stacks covered by colorful painted scrims and two giant TV
screens each about half the size of the stage itself. No one had
ever seen a rock and roll show like this before. By using new video
image magnification technologies at a live concert every seat in
the arena was now a front row seat. Herbie had raised the bar on
production quality again.
Herbie set about teaching the music business how
to really make money. He would tenaciously negotiate for the highest
yield per unit sold per dollar grossed, whether songs, t-shirts,
tickets or CDs. Under Herbie Herbert's business model all royalties
- publishing, licensing, merchandise sales or mail order - were paid
directly to the band with no deductions. And all the separate entities
of the business were required to be run from the tour profits. Touring
was the largest source of income for the band, with Herbie routinely
netting 70% of every dollar grossed. Between 1978 and 1988 the members
of Journey pocketed over 65% of the gross receipts.
By 1986 Herbie Herbert had become a full time empresario
in rock and roll. During the golden years of Journey he sheparded
the band through a startlingly long string of record-breaking successes.
The accomplishments of Journey are well documented: consistent sellouts,
ground-breaking stagecraft technologies, endless touring and record
breaking sales statistics. Journey has sold well over 50,000,000
albums worldwide and continues to sell to this day.
In 1987 it was decided that Journey would take a
long hiatus. They had been steadily liquidating assets since 1984
and now wanted to sell Nocturne. Herbie and Journey guitarist Neal
Schon bought 100% of Nocturne Productions from the remaining members
of the band. Herbie continued to have tremendous management success,
guiding the careers of Europe, Roxette and Mr. Big. Those three acts
sold another 50,000,000 albums worldwide.
Herbie stopped being Journey's manager on January
1st, 1993. He spent one more year managing various acts, including
Roxette and the Steve Miller Band before hanging up the jersey of
band manager. The personality of Herbie Herbert as big name band
manager was now totally historical. It was buried. What does a successful
man do when he reaches the top of his game? He evolves. Now the man
who bet everything on the audience's love of "showtime," the
man whose serious love of major league sports gave him so much pleasure,
the man described by the legendary Bill Graham as: "...fully
capturing the necessities of what managing should entail and exemplary
of what the term manager means" faced a new chapter in a magical
life. Walter James Herbert II would reinvent himself again. But this
time, he would be in the spotlight, as Sy Klopps.