The Evolution Of A Successful Rock And Roll Manager  
 

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 Manager". 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 born.

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 Soul", 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 closer.

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 the industry.

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 staging.

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 went.

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 Man."

"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 ratio."

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 and repairs.

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.

 
   
©2006 Sy Klopps