Allen Klein by Fred Goodman (Mariner)

allen klein

“It may have been the dramatic grounds; he may have been impressed that George C Scott and Colleen Dewhurst were renting it. Whatever the reason, Allen Klein wanted the house.”

THE house was where the deals were done. In the unlikely event that you might be unawares, the sub-deck exclaims that Klein was the “man who bailed out the Beatles, made the Stones and transformed rock & roll”. Fred Goodman should know. He is a former editor of Rolling Stone. Here he had access to Klein’s business papers, which, as a prodigious litigator, were extensive.

For all the tomes written about rock & roll, this one gets down and dirty in the nitty gritty legalese.

The opening is pretty Jewish. Immigrant butcher’s son born into the depression makes good. Very good. Brilliant, pathologically obsessive, rude, terrified to be alone, a detail obsessive. Not a particularly nice boy, certainly not someone you would want turning up on your doorstep in the middle of the night but, as his mother (deceased) might have said, no worse than the other record A&R men he dealt with. In a sense this is a business book but also a witness to just how many Jewish people were the midwives at the birth of R&R. Klein is often portrayed as the bogey man of R&R management but like Andrew Loog Oldham perhaps he was actually a part of the whole process, the most incendiary of all, integral not a peripheral suit, just his notes were $. This rather picks up where Oldham’s odd autobiography Stoned peters out.

The juicy bits start to flow as we meet the stellar cast of Sam Cooke, Mickie Most, Oldham, Brian Epstein, Jagger, Lennon is like a R&R travelator.

Klein, Goodman outlines, argued that the artistic talent counted for more than anything else. So he rewrote the contracts. This particular skill he had learned from auditing record company books to find unpaid royalties. At first this was not even for the artists themselves (who were not paid anything of note anyway) but their publishers and managers. In the the UK he began working with the likes of the Animals, Herman’s Hermits and Donavon (who had to take a £7million tax hit to marry his girlfriend, btw).

Klein had a pretty compelling opening line: “I can make you a million dollars”. He was an accountant, but also a compulsive salesman par excellence. As R&R started to tear up the rule book, Alan was on hand to script the new republic. Not everybody liked that. Not everyone liked that Allen wanted to know where the royalties were.

We are leading up here to the nuclear confrontations of Klein and Lennon on one side and McCartney and the Eastmans on the other. By this point the Beatles were already broken, almost bankrupt. Soft deals done by their original manager Brian Epstein meant the record companies were making tens of millions a week. The tax man was coming in for his 90 per cent of the boys’ take plus the band was haemorrhaging what they did have in the altruistic, hippy cash cow of their own Apple corporation where the staff were literally helping themselves to the money out of the newly installed cash points outside the office.

Klein and Lennon hit it off instantly. Lennon needed him.  Klein equally had a messianic zeal to secure his life’s ambition of managing the big one, the Beatles.  He done his homework.  He knew every one of Lennon’s songs. He was a fan. They would become mates, also with Yoko. Lennon related to Klein as a street wise practitioner. They were equals.

The problem would be Paul’s girlfriend. Linda Eastman’s family were lawyers. They also fancied a piece of the action. And with a bit of digging Klein uncovered a touchy point that Lee Eastman was actually Leo Epstein, like himself a Russian Jew who started as an entertainment lawyer but had diversified into fine art.

Paul was especially embittered by how the Beatles song catalogue had been purloined down the line and ended up with another famous Jew in TV tycoon Lew Grade bypassing the boys altogether thanks to Dick James, aka Leon Isaac Vapnick. The band was between a rock and a hard place.

This is just one acrimonious anecdote from the early testosterone driven meeting with John Eastman aimed at a rapprochement. Eastman comes out of the bathroom in Klein’s house waving a box of suppositories for everyone to see. “Why Alan, I thought you were the perfect arsehole”.

Of all the histories of R&R, this one touches on the saddest truth of the Beatles. The boys may have sung about peace and love but backstage the corporates had them by the cahoonas. No one really expected the whole R&R thing to last more than a few years so when it began to morph into viral money the whole circus became surreal. Klein eventually would find himself tailed by the IRS for five years looking for evidence of misdemeanour.

In this reading Klein facilitated the first big stadium shows of the Rolling Stones and was central in George Harrison creating the first charity rock event for Bangladesh, indeed for most of Harrison’s post Beatles catalogue and even ended up owning both My Sweet Lord and He’s So Fine from which it was allegedly plagiarised. That is Allen did, not George. George just wrote one of them. Allen wrote the contract.

Klein knew where the money was.  He spread contracted revenues across 20 years to minimise the tax impact on his clients, the interest on the interest however was not accounted for. That went to fund the financial Disneyland of suites at the Dorchester, the red eye flights across the Atlantic, the Rolls Royces and later the lawyers and lawyers. No one ever paid when Allen was around.

There is an argument that he ripped the bands off. But they just wanted to be stars. That is what they signed up to do. They didn’t, no one did, except perhaps Klein, know just how much money that might make. Klein had the financial imagination.

The English born pugilistic promoter Don Arden also gets a namecheck here which rather validates how it was at the sharp end or in his case the end of a shotgun His story can be found in Mr Big (Robson). He is Sharon Osbourne’s father.

Reading again the aspirations of those times, often so beautifully articulated in song and spirit, it seems we have moved a very, very long way away from such ideals. The forensic evidence, sadly, is here. “Fucking suits,” as Lennon said.


About drewsmith28

Words, words, words...
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