Shep Gordon: Trust, Compassion, and Shooting Friends from Cannons – The Knowledge Project

Check out The Knowledge Project Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • With every interaction, aim to make someone’s day a little bit better
  • In the world of music and art, rebellion is often what attracts a crowd
  • Trust is the foundation of any successful business partnership
  • An easy way to help deal with fame: think about your famous persona as a character
    • “When you go out to dinner and you’re Michael Douglas, you have to be Michael Douglas. The second you get back to the house, zip up the costume, put it in a closet, and go be who you are.”
    • Thinking about it this way makes dealing with criticism much easier:
      • When your “character” gets a bad review… they’re in the closet and it’s much easier to stomach
      • But, on the other hand, when YOU get a bad review, you can’t not take it personally
  • “Try and make relationships win-win instead of win-lose”
    • Aim to always make sure the other person in the relationship gets something out of it, whether emotional, economic, or career-driven
  • A quote to ponder – “Money equates to respect. If you work for free for people, you don’t get their respect.”

Intro

The Biggest Lesson Shep Learned From His Mom

  • “Listen and be compassionate to people”
    • Be sensitive to others, show them love, listen to them, don’t be cruel, and most importantly – don’t take out your frustrations on them
    • Overall – With every interaction, aim to make someone’s day a little bit better

How Shep Wound Up in L.A. Selling Acid to Jimi Hendrix

  • Shep, a self-described “psychedelic head” at the time, dropped out of the New School for Social Research as a sociology major to become a parole officer in Los Angeles
    • “I thought, ‘What a great opportunity to save these kids from Ronald Reagen.'”
      • But… the job didn’t last long – Shep soon quit
  • “I was out in L.A., daydreaming about how f***d my life was. All I had was some acid with me.”
    • Shep wound up staying at a motel for a while – “I went out on the balcony and took some acid. I was just thinking about how f***d my life was. I had no job, no money, no family out there… nothing. I then heard a girl screaming… “
      • Shep, having just come from jail, thought the worse…rape. So, he broke into the room where the screams were coming from and threw the guy off the girl, but… it turned out they were just making love.
        • The next day, Shep saw that same girl at the motel pool sitting next to Jimi Hendrix. He ended up selling Jimi some acid and sure enough, Jimi became a regular customer.

Becoming a Manager and Making Alice Cooper Famous

  • As Shep was Jewish, Jimi suggested he become an artist manager – thus beginning his journey of making Alice Copper famous
  • Shep adds:
    • “I never wanted to be a manager. I never wanted to make movies. I didn’t care about chefs… I didn’t have a stereo for 25 years. Music doesn’t really interest me… It never was about that for me. I realized through Alice and a few others that I was good at helping people get what they wanted if what they wanted was fame.”
    • “I didn’t know anything about management. I didn’t really even want to manage… The last thing I wanted was somebody successful.” 
      • BUT – “People all around me started getting into trouble and I didn’t want to get into trouble. The only thing I had in my life was Alice… I didn’t want to starve to death. So we had a very frank conversation… I remember what I told him: ‘It only took 12 people to start Christianity because they believed.’ They had less to sell than we did.'”
        • “Then we simply started to develop a story that we could get people to believe in”
  • Shep’s main strategy with Alice Cooper – Be REBELLIOUS
    • “If you can be that definition of rebellion, if you can be the thing that the kids say they love [and the parents hate], that’s how you get to be Elvis Presley, The Beatles, or Sinatra… You can’t get that big by people just liking your art.”
      • Sure enough, Alice Cooper blew up

The Anne Murray Days

  • One of Shep’s next clients was Anne Murray, a Canadian folk singer
  • Although Anne was extremely talented, Shep had a different strategy for gaining her fame:
    • “You put someone famous next to someone not famous and all of a sudden they become famous… I knew if I got the right group of people to take a photo with her, I could then talk my way onto the midnight specials and Rolling Stone.”

But what about Shep?

  • After experiencing some success, how did Shep feel?
    • “I was on a roll. I was a Hollywood guy. More coke, more cars, more girls, more fame, more all that s**t.”
  • What was life like on the road?
    • “Life on the road was making sure there was a Bloody Mary next to my bed when I woke up in the morning… That was THE most important thing about life on the road.”
  • Shep adds:
    • “I always felt my job for an artist, whether they were a chef or a filmmaker or a musician, was to get ahead of them by a year, build a highway for them to follow, and make sure they avoided the potholes”
      • “My job wasn’t to be with the artist, nor to get to know them, nor to have dinner with them… my job was to get them famous.”

The Problems of Fame

  • Dealing with fame is TOUGH and can result in a whole downstream of negative consequences 
    • For this reason, Shep set up a rule that he’d never manage an act until after they already had a #1 record AND could pull in 3500 people for a show on the road
  • One of the most common problems that results from fame:
    • The artist begins to isolate themselves and acts as if they aren’t part of a wider team

The Importance of Trust

  • Shep has only ever had 1 contract despite having managed tons of artists (it was Anne Murray because a lawyer made him sign it)
    • “It doesn’t mean anything. It’s meaningless… The way I do my business is based on trust. They have to trust me and I have to trust them. If we don’t have that trust, for me it doesn’t work because of what I’m looking to get out of it.. to be able to win and win in a way that everybody else wins. Win-win.”
      • Shane adds – “If you need a contract to enforce trust, you have a problem”

How to Deal with Fame

  • Think about your famous persona as a character
    • “When you go out to dinner and you’re Michael Douglas, you have to be Michael Douglas. The second you get back to the house, zip up the costume, put it in a closet, and go be who you are.”
    • Thinking about it this way makes dealing with criticism much easier:
      • When your “character” gets a bad review… they’re in the closet and it’s much easier to stomach
      • But, on the other hand, when YOU get a bad review, you can’t not take it personally

Taking Over the Cooking Scene

  • Shep began working with celebrity chefs, like Roger Vergé, after noticing they were hardly getting paid 
    • Shep set out to change that – “Money equates to respect. If you work for free for people, you don’t get their respect. That’s where a manager’s job comes in.”
  • Shep adds – “It was just like representing artists. It was the same basic thing.”
  • And as a bonus – “For what I do, demand is everything. That’s 100% of my game… creating demand. The demand was already there.”
    • (the demand for eating food from world-class chefs)

Has Shep ever felt like a failure or fraud?

  • “Every day. Still. I think anyone who doesn’t say they look in the mirror and see a schmuck is kidding themselves.”

Has Shep ever felt scared as a manager?

  • “Physically I don’t think I ever felt scared but I’m scared every day that I’m not going to pull it off… I still get scared when I’m doing something. But I think that fear is good. It drives you to get better.”

Win-Win Relationships

  • “Try and make relationships win-win instead of win-lose.”
    • Always make sure the other person in the relationship gets something out of it, whether emotional, economic, or career-driven
    • DON’T just take what’s on the table and run for cover

What’s life all about?

  • “I don’t know if you ever get that answer… I’m still in the questioning period.”
  • Shep adds:
    • “I feel like I’m happier with myself… I don’t see the schmuck in me as much. I’m happier with who I am.”

What does happiness mean to Shep?

  • It’s all about feeling good with the way you’re living your life

What Shep Learned From Meeting the Dali Lama

  • Just how compassionate he was (Shep says Roger Vergé was quite similar)
    • “No matter what we were doing… they always saw the miracle in something before they saw the something”
    • “They were as compassionate to a piece of paper as they were to a relative. They saw the miracle in everything.”

What would Shep (who’s 73 now) tell his younger self?

  • “I don’t know if I would change anything”
    • “I have plenty of regrets… I have things I would have liked to do… There are moments where I think I did too many drugs or I partied too much, but I always go back to the saying, ‘Whatever you’re doing, you’re supposed to be doing.'”

Additional Notes

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