From Alice Cooper to Guns N’ Roses, from Queen to Pink Floyd: interview with the man who has worked with everybody

Whitney Houston, 1991 concert leaflet

Whitney Houston, 1991 concert leaflet

There are many stories and memories about the past of rock music out there, and then there is parasite literature.
Being able to draw the line between the two is what tells a fan from a creep and a journalist from a stalker.
By the intentionally offensive term parasite literature, I mean everything being constantly produced by those freaks, especially in the UK, who constantly try to become famous and make money from the fact that they were in the right place at the right time, and with the right people – or at least they claim they were.
This is especially true when it’s something relating to The Beatles.

I guess if you get to New York, you won’t bump into so many people claiming their auntie was Liza Minnelli’s hairdresser, but just drive to Liverpool and have a chat with random individuals down the pub, and you’ll see what I mean.
This is a city with half a million people, and literally, everybody will swear they did have some exclusive strict tie with John Lennon.
But they don’t even say they were six-degree separated, they all say they were his neighbours.
Now, I’ve been to Liverpool myself and I saw the outside of the house where Lennon grew up, and it’s in a quite barren land.
He couldn’t have had all these neighbours in a desert place like that.
Maybe some three or four, but that’s it.

On the other hand, in the vast ocean of parasite literature, you’ve got literally anything.
People who accidentally took Mick Jagger in some promiscuous school picture and so they invent they were BBF.
People who say they were intimate with Freddie Mercury’s cats.
People who insist they lived across the street from Paul McCartney, but then when you question them about the frankly disturbing Paul is Dead conspiracy theory and the disconcerting pieces of evidence that go with it (more of it here) they run away, terrified.
If you’ll ever meet somebody with whom you can discuss the Paul is Dead conspiracy theory without them getting terribly nervous and uncomfortable, I tell you they’re never British.
But it’s nobody’s fault.
Some are born citizens, some are born subjects.

Danny Zelisko and his book All Excess © to the owners

Danny Zelisko and his book All Excess © to the owners

And so, on the same day I declined to review a tome written by somebody who is convinced that having been in school with David Bowie is a good enough reason to write a tome, I was also submitted an amazing 350-page bible of rock and roll titled All Excess.
The author is major American concert promoter Danny Zelisko who has worked with everybody, from Alice Cooper to Queen, from Pink Floyd to Guns N’ Roses, Aerosmith and The Rolling Stones – including Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston, Prince and Jon Bon Jovi and everybody in-between, and he tells you stories and things and events that have nothing to do with parasite literature.

All Excess is not a book about gossip, is not made to show off and say “I was there”, “I know X and Y” or to reveal embarrassing details about celebrities: the storyline follows Danny in his 50 years of career organising colossal concerts in the United States and describes the struggle, challenges and achievements that belong to this unique profession – as well as all the great places and people that go with it.
All the anecdotes Danny is sharing are reported for no other reason than offering an original close-up on the history of rock and roll and the greatest musicians of all time; the things he writes are never inappropriate and never brought in just for the sake of it.

Everything in All Excess makes perfect sense, and as you go through the pages you can really feel that Danny’s devotion for live music is real and genuine, and you can tell how much he respects all the people involved, dead or alive; even if in some cases he’s clearly not a fan of somebody or something, he’s always considered and respectful, whilst never being a hypocrite.

All Excess by Danny Zelisko is a must-read for anyone who has ever felt home in the shouting crowd of a concert and knows that those hundreds of thousands of strangers are actually hundreds of thousands of friends who will always share something special with each other, and it doesn’t matter if they never met before and would never get to meet again after the concert.

All Excess by Danny Zelisko

All Excess by Danny Zelisko

This book is just what you need right now.
Yes, a book.
Not a screen. Not a video streaming event trying to convince you that you’re part of something, when you’re actually just part of a massive brainwashing process that didn’t just happen by accident or circumstances, but was carefully thought, planned and executed, and won’t just stop here.

Danny Zelisko and his memoir are a celebration of live music with a sense of purpose – a social, meaningful, real sense of purpose for the music to make sense of your own life, and vice versa.
Do you even remember this word, life?
Real, sweaty, disordered, random life?
That thing that is not pre-booked, pre-ordered or pre-dictable, that thing that has always just happened to you while you were busy making other plans.

Danny Zelisko believes that for an artist to continue performing their greatest successes live whilst he’s still alive and kicking is like a “public service” he owns to the fans.
He believes that “every time the check arrives in your mailbox for songs you wrote 50 years ago and you’re not performing that song live anymore, you should give the money away”.
If music is here to save the world, guys like Danny exist to save music.

Danny Zelisko and Sting - © to the owners

Danny Zelisko and Sting – © to the owners

Danny, why did you write this book?

You know, it was a nice thing to be able to put those things together, but it’s a hard thing to do as well, it’s not something you do to make money. It’s painful sometimes, and getting started on this thing was nuts for me. It was a difficult thing to do but once it started happening as stories came out, it just starts to feel better once you start putting pictures in there. I hope more people are gonna do it and share their stories because it’s amazing how important these musicians are for so many people and the impact they had on them. And the interest is at an all-time high, after everybody being, you know, kind of sequestered and held back for the last year plus during the pandemic.

Why should people read All Excess?

Oh well, the book has been out for a little while now, and I’m really enjoying promoting it and I’ll promote it as long as people will want to talk about it. The nice thing about All Excess is that it really isn’t dated because it’s kind of a history book of live rock news – of course, it’s from my perspective. A lot of musicians and other concert promoters have stories about the music business that I’m hoping they’re gonna share like I did.

How did you start working as a concert promoter?

I was in high school and I wanted to go to college, my grades were average, they weren’t bad but weren’t great either, so I wasn’t going to get a scholarship anywhere. My parents didn’t have a lot of money, and then they said that based on my grade point average, I would have to go to a summer school and take any course just to qualify for a credit to get into college. And so I moved to California for the summer and I chase Bill Graham, the promoter down in San Francisco, and I went from concert to concert, and every day I was getting more and more dragged into the concert business – really, it was like a magnet pulling me in, and stuff started to happen very slowly, but things that gave me hope happened, and it seemed like the best course to pursue for an 18-year-old. So I suppose, if nothing had happened, I had to develop a plan, but I had no idea what that was gonna be.

What was your dream job when you were a child?

I didn’t have a dream job, I couldn’t even conceive of working to make money when I was a kid because I had a dad who did that right. So, I was freed up to be able to just pursue whatever interests that I had, and then the music got involved, because at a very young age, at the age of eight, I found out about The Beatles about a year before any of my friends knew who they were. It seems like for my whole life I did nothing but finding out about groups – not all of them but a lot of the groups that have become famous, and I knew about them when they first came out. Once you are in business, you’re connected with all the best business people, managers and agents who discover this talent, and it’s up to you as a promoter to figure out how you can work with them and promote them and help make them big in the part of the country where you live.

What achievements are you most proud of, at this stage in your career?

In an odd way, doing this book was a big achievement for me because a lot of the stories that are in the book happened some time ago but you know, when you think about things that have happened in your life, if they happened 30 years ago, or 30 seconds ago, they’re still in your head, there’s still something that happened – and I think people dismiss a lot of things that have happened in their lives or forget about them way too easily or too often. This is what made you who you are today, and I’m very happy about all the stories that I wrote about, and there’s a million more of them. But those are the ones that probably stuck out the most in my memory, I’ve told those stories again and again over the years. It was about 10 years ago when I wrote a list that had 30 of the chapters that are in the book, I was just trying to figure out what I would write about if I could do the book right away. So I wrote down a sentence that would remind me of each of the stories, and all of those stories ended up in the book. This was 10 years ago, and then there was other stuff that happened more recently that I added up. Having done all the things I wrote about in the book is something I am proud of because there are 1000s of shows, I started doing that in the 1970s, it’s six decades I’m doing shows. It’s ridiculous. It’s weird, you know, I mean, when I think about it by looking at the clock on board. Where did all that time go? And how much do I have left? I understand that with humans, there’s an expiration date, but it’s very strange to think about that.

Is there any difference between working with English artists as opposed to Americans?

They drink tea.

Fair enough.

You know, it’s not a whole lot of difference. I have English blood from my mother’s side, and it’s very odd, but I’m very in tune with them. For the most part, I love going there. I tell my wife almost every week that I want to move there. So, at any rate, it’s not only the bloodline but you know, from the time I can remember, what I first heard about them other than the Queen and the palace of Kensington was The Beatles. Why would anybody know about England if it wasn’t for The Beatles?

They are really not going to like this statement.

I mean, I knew about World War II and I heard of Winston Churchill, but then The Beatles came in, and they gave the world a history lesson with their accents, and everybody was so interested in them. You learned a lot about British people through them in the early 1960s, You know, so if there’s something different between Brits and Americans, is that the British have the bragging rights that they have The Beatles, and so they have won upon us forever.

Which of the concerts you organised are you most attached to?

Danny Zelisko and Paul McCartney in 1990 - © to the owners

Danny Zelisko and Paul McCartney in 1990 – © to the owners

Paul McCartney, at the Sun Devil Stadium in Arizona, in 1990. We sold 70,000 tickets in three hours. It’s been 31 years ago now, this is gonna sound funny but you never forget your first stadium – and Paul was my first.

What do you think of the Paul is Dead conspiracy theory?

What?

A considerable number of people, especially outside the UK, claim they have evidence that Paul McCartney was replaced in 1966 by an imposter by the name of Billy Shears Campbell.

Well, I don’t think that happened. When that came out, I couldn’t even conceive this, and I remember hearing about it back then, but I was 12, so I didn’t know what to think about it. Obviously, he’s still alive.

Some of the things they bring as evidence are quite disturbing, though.

Okay, well, I wish I could shed some light on that for you.

Have you got any special memories about that concert you would like to share?

Paul McCartney 1990 World Tour flyer

Paul McCartney 1990 World Tour flyer

This Sun Devil Stadium is not far from where I’m sitting right now, it’s a college university stadium with a backstage that was very dull, there is nothing there, you know, it’s just cement, it’s a place where they do football games, so I went to the manager and I said to him: “why don’t we do something really fun back here and amuse everybody?” Now, we are in Arizona, it’s the South-West, I could get some donkeys and some horses and some mules, and we could put bales of hay and so that’s what we did, and we spent about $5,000 and made a western town out of backstage with wagon wheels and fake storefronts and all kinds of stuff like that. I don’t even remember how we actually found all that stuff but they ended up using it. Paul McCartney ended up using it for some photoshoot they did, I don’t remember what the shoot was for, but I think if you look hard enough you could probably find that there are some pretty famous pictures taken there. It was fun to be part of that.

Is that okay if I throw names from your book at you and you tell me one single memory about working with all these musicians?

Absolutely!

You are good friends with Alice Cooper, so he must be the first.

Danny Zelisko and Alice Cooper - © to the owners

Danny Zelisko and Alice Cooper – © to the owners

Yes, we are good friends. Last Friday, it was my wife’s birthday. We had a little birthday party with about 25 people, and Alice Cooper and his wife Sheryl came around. We had a great time, and Alice told a lot of good stories at dinner and everybody had a good time. The thing about Alice and Sheryl together as a couple and as performers and everything else they are is that they’re such lovely people and, and it’s so great to have people that are cool as friends, and not because they’re famous — it has nothing to do with them being famous at this point, because we’re all just lifelong friends now, and it’s a great thing.

I would actually have the same question about Robin Williams and Whitney Houston that are both mentioned in your book. But if it’s painful and you don’t want to discuss this, it’s fine.

Danny Zelisko and Robin Williams in 2006 - © to the owners

Danny Zelisko and Robin Williams in 2006 – © to the owners

Robin Williams' live show leaflet

Robin Williams’ live show leaflet

Oh, it’s alright. I wasn’t really good friends with either. I was very well acquainted with them but we didn’t hang out or anything like that. In Whitney’s case, she was so magical. What a voice. What a presence. Yeah. And what a shame that she’s not around anymore. And same with Robin. One of the funniest guys that I’ve ever been around, just as sharp and as brilliant as he could be. We were lucky to have them, we were really lucky that they were filmed and captured, and hopefully, their talent will inspire others to follow and become super funny people and super great singers, as well. It’s so weird to have gone through all these years and be closer than most to a lot of these people simply because my job involves arranging some concerts for them. I’m very privileged to follow that course, and as a perk or a side benefit of that is to actually be able to meet these people and be with them. In some cases, get to be friends with them. And in more cases, having them around at the house or having meals together and having fun, just opened up the music world as a whole – another world to me, and I found out just how great these people can be and how human they can be at the same time. I don’t want to deflate anybody’s image by saying that they’re just nice regular people, but most of the ones I work with are also known for some really out of line behaviour every now and then, or they do exceptionally stupid things. And it just, it just backs up what I’m saying: they’re just people, we all do this.

Let’s continue with Queen and Freddie Mercury.

Gerry Stickells with Queen: Freddie Mercury, Roger Taylor, Brian May, John Deacon - picture taken from All Excess by Danny Zelisko as a courtesy of the author - © to the owners

Gerry Stickells with Queen – © to the owners

I booked Queen to play at the Coliseum of Phoenix in Arizona in 1982 and on the day before the show, their tour manager Gerry Stickells pointed at the catering I had provided and asked: “What do you call that?” – “That’s a cheese tray,” I replied. He said, “It’s a tray filled with slices of cheese, but that’s not a Queen cheese tray. I want riverboats of relish and onions and pickles and bread and exotic cheese from all over the world meats and all the rest. Come on, you sold out, make the presentation fitting of a band who comes in here and sells all these tickets! These are classy men who have toured the world; show us your stuff!” – and so the tray was replaced with $1,000 or so worth of cheeses and meats

Stevie Wonder.

Stevie Wonder's concert leaflet

Stevie Wonder’s concert leaflet

What a magnificent guy and writer and definitely social commentator on things! He was the first guy to come and do a show with me. I don’t know if you heard about this but in America, a long time ago, they established a Martin Luther King Day on the 17ᵗʰ of January. In my State, Arizona, we had this governor who thankfully was impeached and thrown out of office in the end, who ditched Martin Luther King Day. So, the country established it as a holiday, and the governor rescinded the holiday so that it didn’t exist. There were a lot of people in the State in the first couple of years that still respected the holiday anyway, but it took a while for it to get back into being like the rest of the United States. We were the only state with this distinction for having this redneck idiot for a governor, and a lot of artists wouldn’t come and play in Arizona until they put the holiday back on the map. So I lost a lot of business over a couple of years’ time because there was no Martin Luther King Day in Arizona. Stevie Wonder was the first to come and play here once the holiday was put back on the calendar. This was in 1992 – it is always a joy to be around him and each time we meet he says “Good to see you again, Danny!” It’s obviously a joke as he’s blind. Ray Charles also did the “Good to see you again” thing and it always cracked me up!

Prince.

This is my favourite one. I really loved him, he was great. When I met him for the first time, it was in the very early 1980s, and he was getting bigger in the more urban parts of town. It was a weird thing that by the time his career finished he was loved by everybody, but at the very beginning, it was mostly black people that were into the radio stations that played Michael Jackson. I don’t know why but finally, obviously these guys put out music and got pressure to play it because Prince was so good. It wasn’t a matter of black and white, it was just a matter of white ears not getting the stuff right away, there. It’s just a weird thing they didn’t understand this music; otherwise, Prince would have been bigger even sooner. So when I met him for the first time I was standing over there like I was a giant, and I’m only 5’7’’ tall! He was a very small guy, maybe 5’5’’ tall.

He was actually shorter, like 5’3” – or 160 cm.

When he got on stage, he looked like he was 12’ tall! The first time we worked together he said “I’m going to give you a special show tonight” – and he literally crushed this place. Other than the stage, this 4000-seat place had these wings that went into the audience from the side, and he used that entire arena. He was James Brown and Jimi Hendrix and Mick Jagger – all at once, and that was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, I only got to do a couple of shows, maybe just six, with him over the years. We really weren’t that well acquainted, we just met that one time and briefly other times, so I really didn’t have that kind of friendship or relationship that I have with other people, but you know what, I really admired him and enjoyed what he did. I love Purple Rain and what he did with that movie. He really jump-started the music business and became popular at the same time as The Jackson 5 – later known as The Jacksons, and Michael Jackson himself at the time he did the first moonwalk at the Grammy Awards in 1983 and changed music forever.

Any cool memory about Michael Jackson you would like to share?

Michael Jackson's first moonwalk at the Grammy Awards in 1983 - © to the owners

Michael Jackson’s first moonwalk at the Grammy Awards in 1983 – © to the owners

Yes, I’ll give you another one about him and Prince together. I was managing this guy called Chris Bliss, a comedy juggler who would go in sync with great songs, so he would be interpreting the song by juggling with coloured lights, and all this – amazing stuff. So The Jacksons wanted somebody that wasn’t a musician but would entertain the people when they go and take their seats in this big stadium show they did in 1984, called The Victory Tour. So Chris opened up for 60,000 or 70,000 people a night as a juggler for The Jacksons, and on either the first or the second night – I don’t remember which one it was but I remember this was in Texas – Prince came in five minutes before the show was going to start. But he didn’t come backstage. He came into the stadium floor from the opposite side of the stage with about twenty guys with him, and so the whole stadium saw him, which was exactly what he wanted. It was so camp, it was so incredible. He came walking, and then suddenly all the lights went off and the cameras went off and here’s Michael Jackson on stage. He knew that Prince was trying to upstage him, and so he came out and just slayed the place. It was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. It was amazing how these guys responded to the call and fight back – just amazing.

I’ve got a question about Michael Jackson I always ask Americans when I have the chance. It seems like the world has forgotten him – I don’t know in the US, but here in Europe, you literally never hear him playing on the radio, the telly or anywhere else. His birthday and death anniversary get completely ignored by the media. He became a taboo topic. It’s like if he never existed. What do you think about that?

I don’t know what’s going on over there and it always seemed to me that, I mean, he was incredibly huge over there. Didn’t he have 50 concerts sold out in London in 2009?

He did, and still, Michael Jackson’s legacy is non-existent. And he’s got a very big family that could help keep his music alive. But after the sexual abuse allegations, all disappeared.

Yeah, I think it has something to do with this. I don’t know. People were remarkably forgiving about him over here in the US whether he did any of that stuff or not. I mean, I wasn’t there, I don’t know. I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt but a lot of other people don’t get it, and that could be what it is. I’m not sure. Um, I think he’s still a big deal over here on the radio, as far as I know. And the funny thing is that musicians that came from nowhere became something, and then it’s an interesting test to see if they stay on top or how long they stand up or do they ever lose it? Look at all the different bands out there in the world that you’ve become aware of during your whole life. How many of them are still relevant and important to the public today? So for a group or a musician, to remain big for five years, for ten years – forget 20 or 30 years, it is really special, it’s big and it’s really something else.

How about Pink Floyd?

David Gilmour of Pink Floyd at the Chicago Auditorium, April 28th 1972, picture provided from Danny Zelisko in his book All Excess, credits and copyright belong to Cathy Godiksen

Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour in 1972 by Cathy Godiksen ©

Again, I was a huge, huge Pink Floyd fan prior to ever promoting their shows. The first time I met them, I called them up at a hotel in Detroit. I was living in Chicago, I was a kid, aged 16. I somehow tracked Pink Floyd down to their hotel in Detroit, that was the night before they came and played in Chicago, and the hotel receptionist said: “Oh, they’re right here at the front desk right now, they’re checking out”. And so David Gilmour got on the phone and talked to me and invited me to come and see them before the show. It was unbelievable. He asked if I needed tickets. I already had tickets, and so he said “just come to the guard by the side of the stage and we’ll come and get you”. And exactly like he promised, he came out in his bare feet, ready to play, and he brought me backstage for a quick beer with the band. And I was like pinching myself, this was my favourite band and I was getting to meet them.

That’s amazing.

Danny Zelisko with Roger Waters and Nobuo Fukada in 2018 - © to the owners

Danny Zelisko with Roger Waters and Nobuo Fukada in 2018 – © to the owners

After that, Roger Waters and I have maintained a really really great friendship – he’s a wonderful guy, probably the smartest guy who knows about things I know so little about. We just did a podcast together where you’ll hear that he does not hold back his opinions, and I love that about him. And that’s why that music is so incredible, is that you have this passionate man, this passionate musician who’s a great writer and shares all these thoughts with everybody, and the outcomes are The Wall, The Dark Side of The Moon, Animals and all these great records that everybody still listens to this day like they’re brand new. That is really saying something.

Roger Waters is also one of the very few celebrities campaigning to free WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange who is facing 175 years of prison in the US for exposing war crimes and corruption.

Yeah. It’s nice and very passionate the way he feels about things, he’s involved in so many causes, and God bless him for it – whether you agree with them or not, and to me, there’s not much to disagree with. Why would I disagree with them, when I don’t know what he’s talking about? It’s just over my head because I haven’t had a chance to study these world affairs, and I should. We should all be mindfully aware of what’s going on around us and how it could affect us. And he does that.

Same question about Led Zeppelin.

Danny Zelisko with Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant and Jimmy Page in 1995 - © to the owners

Danny Zelisko with Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and Jimmy Page in 1995 – © to the owners

Led Zeppelin's concert leaflet

Led Zeppelin’s concert leaflet

Led Zeppelin were very influential to me about wanting to be in this business, they epitomised all the great parts of being a rock star: they looked like they were having fun, girls loved them, and what kid wouldn’t want to be in Led Zeppelin? I started seeing their shows as a fan, the first concert I saw was in 1971, and they debuted Stairway to Heaven in Chicago, live, which was incredible because nobody was prepared for it. In the old days, a lot of bands who toured infrequently would use the stage to debut new music, and they knew that their fans were such great fans that they knew the music when the record came out – and that’s really what happened when they debuted Stairway to Heaven on stage in Chicago and it blew everybody away. It was like the perfect Led Zeppelin song, and nobody knew it at that time before that. As a concert promoter, I worked with Jimmy Page and Robert Plant separately, I never really did the band as Led Zeppelin because by the time they were breaking up I was really just coming into my own as a promoter. And so I got to do a lot of dates with Robert, and I did a bunch of dates with Jimmy in the 1990s – both on their own, and both were fantastic. There’s always something about Led Zeppelin which is a bit like driving up to your favourite restaurant in a Rolls Royce and everybody knows and watches you getting there! You can feel that when you’re doing shows that are in some way connected with Led Zeppelin, especially Jimmy and Robert.

How about The Rolling Stones?

I liked the Stones because they felt more dangerous than The Beatles. It was always in the 1960s when these bands were just becoming popular.

More dangerous?

Danny Zelisko and Jon Bon Jovi - © to the owners

Danny Zelisko and Jon Bon Jovi – © to the owners

Yeah, I mean, they looked like roughnecks, like teddy boys, like hooligans, and I don’t know why but I loved them when they first came out and I found out about them just after The Beatles. There was also another group called The Dave Clark Five that was from England as well, and those three bands were the top three bands in the world for several years. As far as I was concerned, The Rolling Stones put out a lot of records and I loved all those, and my favourite one is one that most people don’t ever say is their favourite but it’s Their Satanic Majesties Request which includes She’s a Rainbow, and I think this is one of the greatest songs ever made. The Stones are fabulous and I was very happy to have met them on a couple of occasions, they are very nice people. I’ll tell you a good one now, it’s about Bon Jovi. We used to be very, very close – I’m still friends with them but we used to hang out a lot in the 1990s. They were going to play two shows in France as opening for The Rolling Stones, which is their favourite band. They were very big in Europe in the 1990s, you know?

Yes, I remember Bon Jovi were huge when I was a kid.

Danny Zelisko, Jon Bon Jovi, Sam Moore and Nathan East - © to the owners

Danny Zelisko, Jon Bon Jovi, Sam Moore and Nathan East – © to the owners

And so Jon Bon Jovi told me “you should come”, and I said okay, and so I went to the show with them on the first night. The problem was that they were added after the shows sold out, which is never a good idea; much better to be on the bill when it goes on sale so everybody knows. But like that, they don’t care who you are and how big you are at opening that show – nobody is going to care. And they didn’t care. And so Bon Jovi – who were used to be met with craziness and wilding – were met with silence on that very first show.

French. Always the same.

It was like an awful movie. They were great. They didn’t do anything different than they always did, but people were there for The Rolling Stones. We went out to dinner after the show and John was so upset. And he said “I’m gonna kill them tomorrow!” and that’s what he did, he was so fed up, and they went out the next day and just kicked ass, and the audience went crazy and he came off the roof. When you’re so good at something and you’re told over and over and over again how great you are, and then that happens, it’s quite a shock.

You’re making me think about a U2 concert I went to which was opened by Noel Gallagher who would normally be highly acclaimed, but we didn’t know about that in advance and so most people just ignored him.

That’s it – and I’ve also got another one which is very interesting and is about Sting.

Oh no – was Sting ignored as well?!

Danny Zelisko and Sting - © to the owners

Danny Zelisko and Sting – © to the owners

He did. I got Sting to open for the Grateful Dead in 1993 in front of 40,000 people, but it was early in the day, it was a 2 o’clock show with full sunlight. He went out and did a one-hour set, and again, he was met with indifference, all the people were still outside in the parking lot. By the end of the set he was doing okay, but he was clearly mad and upset and hurt. It was a three-show thing a row, and so the next day he went out and re-did the set, but the last two days were just brilliant because he adjusted himself for that audience in the end. That wasn’t a Police’s audience, that wasn’t really his thing, it was a Grateful Dead audience, and they are a very musical group of people, but there’s a certain approach, a certain vibe that you have to achieve in order to win them over. And professionals like Sting and these guys we are talking about, they know how to do that but sometimes you know — you just can’t help but keep going on the role and do everything as you normally do. Sometimes you get reminded that you really have to try harder, which after you’re that successful is not really what you’re thinking – but these ones I’m talking about all went really crazy and made it all better!

Anything to declare about Guns ‘N Roses?

Axl Rose - © to the owners

Axl Rose – © to the owners

It‘s really incredible how far the whole thing has gone, because when Guns ‘N Roses first came out in the 1980s and in the 1990s, there was madness around them, but nobody ever gives you a roadmap of what to do or how to behave, and that certainly was the case with those guys. People were throwing money at them, they were having fun and the traction was incredible. And then they broke up for a while, and now they’ve returned to their veteran line-up that people count on, to deliver great shows and a great time for all those who buy a ticket to see them. They were always great in concert, but Axl Rose was a little bit more unpredictable than he is now, and that part of unpredictability was one of the things we loved about Guns ‘N Roses. We loved the danger, it’s like being close to a flame and you could get burned if you get a little too close, and in their case, they had to work their way through it.

How did they get over it?

You know, they were like kid actors that have had to grow up in public, right in front of everybody, and it’s up to them to choose what course they go to; they can stay reckless and immature and do silly things, or they can say “Hey you know what? I can have fun being a rock star, but it is a big business and there’s a lot of money riding on this and there’s a lot of people counting on me to be in good shape and be there and perform well and I don’t want to disappoint them”. I mean, this is the worst you can ever do to anybody, just make a date and then miss it. So, fortunately, Axl got over that, as I understand it, but when groups get as big as Guns ‘N Roses, you have behemoth contract promotion companies that could go and say “I will give you $100 million if you work for us and nobody else”.

So you couldn’t work with Guns ‘N Roses anymore.

The sad part of what happens is that people like me who were with these guys at the very beginning don’t get a chance to work with them now. The bottom line is that big companies can put together so much money to make these guys get back together again, that they did it. You know, I think without the offer of the big money there would be no reason for them to get back together again, And I think they’re very wise to do it. There’s a lot of groups that no matter what, won’t play together again and it’s like you have an ugly divorce and it just ain’t gonna happen, and it’s too bad because my personal feeling is that anybody who sells a million records, or 5 million, or 10 million, or 100 million records – as long as you’re alive and breathing you need to understand that the audience gave you this life that you’re now enjoying, and so you owe us a show every once in a while.

Musicians owning us a concert. That’s brilliant. I love that.

I think it’s true. I think it’s something they should be forced to do, that should be part of their vocabulary, like every time the check arrives in your mailbox for songs you wrote 50 years ago and you’re not performing that song live anymore, you should give the money away, you don’t need it anymore. I think when artists get hold of people’s emotions and their thoughts, they own it to people. Now, some artists would disagree and say “no, I don’t own anybody anything”, but I beg to differ. I think it’s a public service, you will help the mental health of that person, much less than a crowd of people if you just pay attention to them and make them feel wanted by you.

This makes me think about Queen that are still getting criticism from some fans for continuing to perform Queen songs and getting Adam Lambert on board as a lead vocalist after Freddie Mercury’s death.

To be honest, for anybody who wants to remain a purist and doesn’t support this, then good: just don’t go. Stay home. Let me put it to you like this: many years ago, there was a composer called Beethoven who lost his hearing. So in his own lifetime, he was rendered useless from performing. While he could still write in his mind, he couldn’t play anymore, so he had to teach people how to be him, how to be Beethoven. I’m sure there were other people playing music by dead people before that, but the fact that matters is – like in the case of Queen – does anybody really think that Freddie Mercury would not like those songs to continue being celebrated forever? I think you’re making a big mistake there. You don’t know this guy, you don’t know, you don’t know any singer or writer – if you think for a second – whether they’re dead or alive, that don’t want other people singing their songs, and well done for Brian May and Roger Taylor for making that happen and bringing Adam Lambert around.

Some Queen fans don’t like Adam Lambert because he won a talent show.

I haven’t done any Queen shows with Adam Lambert, but we’ve done Adam’s shows and he’s a really good guy, a great talent that came out of that TV show American Idol, and people who put down that TV show should think that without that show, there would be no many original new artists being discovered.

What do you think of The X Factor and talent shows in general?

I love them and I watch them. Okay, I didn’t watch American Idol so much this year as I just didn’t have the time or patience for it, but I paid attention to those shows over the years. And you know, it’s fantastic that they exist, because it is so hard to get noticed today. Without American Idol, over here, people like Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson and Daughtry would have never been discovered, Being on a show that millions of people watch every week is the ultimate way to break, which was fantastic. I learned about that guy, that opera singer from England who won a British talent show – what’s his name?

You mean Paul Potts? The guy who won the first edition of Britain’s Got Talent in 2007?

Yes, Paul Potts. And also Susan Boyle, always from Britain’s Got Talent. So, I promoted shows with both of them over here in America and they were great, and if it wasn’t for that show they would have never done this. They were the nicest, most down-to-earth, unbelievable people. They’re very sweet. I’ve never met Simon Cowell [Ed. Note: the creator of The X Factor], and I think I would like him very much. I enjoy his attitude, his confidence and cockiness after the bravado and the whole macho thing. I think he’s really a good guy who’s done a lot for the music business. He has made himself a boatload of money but he deserved that… look what he’s done!

What do you think the future of live streaming will be, after the pandemic and everything? Do you think people enjoy streaming music live?

Well, I think streaming is like the equivalent of seeing somebody on TV – who cares?

Not me, for sure.

Yeah, I mean, it’s nice to fill in the blanks between live appearances to see a band or get turned on to somebody, but I think the main part of being a fan is enjoying the live shows. I think the live music business should come back as strong as it can be. I think the big groups are only going to get bigger by this, while for the groups that are medium or small, it could be harder to get through, so I also think it’s important for radio stations around the world to play their stuff. There are so many great rock bands out there right now begging for attention, begging for airplay, and that would help set them up for when they go somewhere and play live. I mean, as a concept, it really makes sense for people to be aware of who you are, before you come to their town and play live. These groups really need help with radio airplay and media attention, so that when they come to town people have at least heard of them. And I think that’s the biggest obstacle in the business right now that people are unwilling to take chances by playing quality music on the radio, just because it’s new and it’s not proven yet. How does it get proven if you don’t give it a chance? Let the audience decide!

What are your plans for the future? What are you going to do now?

Right now the main project is re-establishing the live shows that we already had booked before the pandemic and announcing new shows that are being booked. It seems that everything is going to come back, some people are faster than others, but I imagine by September 2021 we should be back in full swing. I don’t know when England and Europe are going to open up again. I missed my trip last year and it looks like I’m going to miss the trip this year too, unless something changes. But like I said, by September I’m going to have a show or two every day of the week, so I won’t be going anywhere but backstage!

★ If you like music from the good old days, you may also enjoy our interviews with Prince’s musical director of 20 years Morris Hayes, Paul Young, The Animals, The Zombies, Suzi Quatro, UB40, The Jam, The Sex Pistols, Christie

★ If you are interested in the Paul is Dead conspiracy theory, read this 

★ For further memories about Michael Jackson read our interview with Barry Blue, and also check this out for a completely different view on the King of Pop

danny zelisko all excess, collage of musicians concert promoter book

All Excess by Danny Zelisko – © to the owners

All the pictures published have been provided by Danny Zelisko’s private collection and his book All Excess © to the owners

About The Author

Founder of The Shortlisted Magazine

The one behind the wheel.