Johnny Jones of Evolution is the archetypal successful manager. If that means bad news to you — fair enough. But should you ask any of John's artists — they include Mud, Tom Paxton, Sweet Inspiration and Babe Ruth — they'll say he's only good news.
He holds court in a Georgian Town House in Bayswater, surrounded by antiques and reproductions that produced the lingering impression of heady wealth rapidly earned that is so typical of the music business.
Jones' background is as fine a pedigree as any in the industry. At 36 he belonged to the last generation that had to endure the castrating trauma of national service. When he was demobbed, security, a semi and a wife seemed like heaven. It was for a few years, until he discovered music.
Though he'd had a limited amount of musical experience as a child, he never really got into the scene until the trad boom came along. He was just the right age to be caught up in the beards, sloppy joe sweaters and bad trumpet playing.
In fact, Jones claims to be the worst trumpet player in the world. Nevertheless that didn't stop his band playing BBC shows like Saturday Club (remember?). Then he realised that perhaps there was more money — not to say more satisfaction in getting the gigs and generally handling the business. This is where he reached his watershed.
Going into the rock'n'roll business cost him his marriage (eventually it was to cost him his second) and many years of virtual starvation. The trad band he had was called London City Stompers — "So it was natural that when I started an agency I called it London City Agency".
Fortunately Jones has a mathematical mind. That attribute can't be overstated. Today his business is 70 percent finance and 30 percent personal management and unless you're good with figures you'll soon lose the fast sort of money that this business offers.
"I've always had a good head for maths. But I was a complete fool at school. I mean I went to a grammar school. I wasn't a complete dunderhead. But I never really enjoyed anything except maths. I left school as soon as I could".
The long years with London City Agency provided the training ground. Record after record was released — nothing happened. Many of the artists Jones handled then are now legends or household names. Keef Hartley, The Attwoods — an endless list of names who have all written their own page in the history of rock.
"Trouble was I didn't know what I was doing — I had no better idea than the artists. I'd get a good record out and then no matter what I did I couldn't get it played. At one time the agency had quite a large staff. Even Keef Hartley was employed as a booker.
"I was paying my staff more that I was taking home myself at the end of the week. The most I ever took home at the end of the week in those days was £30. Usually it was considerably less".
Like most success stories there's a definite point where Johnny's luck changed. The turning point for him can be traced directly back to a flight to Hamburg. "I was going out for one day to see Keef do a German TV show or something like that, and I saw this chick on the plane reading a score. I could see that she was part of the business so I started to make conversation, I suppose I just wanted to chat her up.
I got a brush off so I didn't think anymore about it until I caught the plane home the next day and to my surprise, she was given the seat next to mine. Naturally we started chatting and it turned out that she was a German singer called Bibi Johns.
"She had been to Hamburg to tie up an Anglo-German TV series with Rolf Harris and we exchanged stories about our different sides of the business. I gave her my card, said good-bye at the airport, and didn't see her again.
"Six weeks later I got a phone call from her in Germany telling me that she had been booked for a 13 weeks TV series with Rolf Harris that was being made by the BBC in collaboration with German TV and would I represent her with the BBC and negotiate her fee?
"I agreed because when you are at that stage in the business you don't turn anything down, and that immediately gave me a problem. I'd never negotiated anything for TV, come to that I don't think I'd ever even rung up the BBC TV, so I had to decide how to do it.
"I rang up Bill Cotton's office (Cotton is BBC's director of light entertainment). Like he was God to me, his secretary put me through when I told her I was Miss John's agent and Bill said, 'Come and see me'. I mean, God would see me!
"I went to see Bill Cotton with no idea of what I should ask for. A 13 week TV series — I didn't even know whether I should ask for a fee per show or a total fee for the series. Bill asked how much and I pulled a figure from the sky and said '£750 a show'. I remember clearly what Bill said. He looked straight at me and said 'You must be mad!'
"The horror of the situation was that I had no idea in which direction my figure was wrong. I really didn't know whether Bibi should get £75 per show or £5,000 a show.
"I said, 'What do you mean?'" It turned out that nobody ever got more than £600 a show no matter how big a star they were and Bibi Johns was hardly known here. After a lot of hustling I managed to get a fee of £500 a show for Bibi. You can imagine how pleased she was. She asked me to handle all her affairs and I found myself with an artist and a 13 week TV series going out in this country and Germany.
"I went to see MAM. They were just setting up and I realised that I wasn't really equipped to do the booking for an artist like Bibi. Naturally they were delighted to take her on and the outcome of our relationship was that they asked me to start the Contemporary Music Section of their agency. I was with them a few years and that opened all the doors. I mean it felt like I'd been banging my head on a brick wall for seven years and someone had opened a door a few yards further along and whistled for me to nip in.
"Later when I went out on my own again it was so different. I asked MAM if we could get into management. They didn't really want to at that time, so I left to start managing some of the artists that MAM agency was handling. I went out with their blessing because I really just swopped roles from being an agent to a manager.
"Initially I rode in on the back of Tom Paxton, who I immediately put on a British tour. I believe in Tom Paxton so much, he could be so big here."
Of course Mud are the band who really set Jones and his company on the road to the top. They've been one of the most successful bands in the singles area and he claims that they've done more Top Of The Pops on any one record than any other band.
Most people understand why Mud have made it. Chinn-Chapman helped a lot. The problem for Jones came when he tried to break his next act, Sweet Inspiration.
"I had this record that I knew was good enough to make it, but I couldn't get it past the BBC panel. It was getting loads of disco plays and it hung in the bubblers for weeks and weeks, but I still couldn't get it any BBC plays. This is where the people I met with MAM made all the difference. I invited Teddy Warwick (a BBC producer) to lunch. During the lunch I talked about everything except the record. When I left him at the corner of Wardour Street, I just said, 'Oh by the way, I've got a record that I can't get past the panel.' He said 'I'm chairing the panel next week.'"
"I got the BBC plays and the record broke."
Jones is now looking for fast expansion. "I used my solicitor so much I decided to employ one as part of my own staff as well as an accountant". Jones has just bought a new building in Charing Cross Road, and he's ready for the next step.
Interview by Ray Hammond
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