Sometimes the Lion

Band manager John Reese fought his way to the top

Of course, Guns N' Roses cracked at their height. By 1997, Reese had had enough and left to start his own company, Freeze Artist Management, where he would represent the likes of Candlebox, Danzig and the Used, and become U.S. consultant for the Cure. He was also instrumental in getting My Chemical Romance, Slipknot and Limp Bizkit signed to record deals, though he's less than enthused about that last one.

"[Lead singer] Fred Durst is the biggest asshole in the world," he says. "A horrible, miserable human being."

Still, he says, while being a jerk is never a good quality, a little or a lot of psychosis is the price of brilliance in the biz.

"I have never worked with a huge artist who didn't have some serious psychosis. Axl, Kurt [Cobain], any of them [he does not mention Durst], they were all brilliant and all completely fucked up in the head. But that's the way it has to be. You've heard nice guys finish last. Well, that's the truth in the music business," says the man who lived alone in a trailer, grew up to manage the biggest rock band in the world, started his own company, and once challenged Godsmack's crew to a no-holds barred ultimate fight—broadcast by KROQ—because they had pushed around one of his bands. (The crew declined.)

The quicksilver implosion of Guns N' Roses taught Reese to diversify his band portfolio. Any band, no matter how big, can go bust—there are just too many drugs, girls and egos out there—and so one must always be looking for the next big thing, "working the fields," and "maintaining your farm system."

It's never easy, of course. Some bands that seem like they can't miss do most of the time.

"Ninety-five percent of the bands you work with will never make any real money," he says. "But that's the business."

Of course, since that is the business, and since burgeoning technology seems to be threatening every facet of it, he has diversified his business. He not only represents bands, but also promotes tours—Warped and Taste of Chaos, both of which were conceived by Kevin Lyman—and has started a mobile phone service, a TV production company and, with his wife Elenie, given birth to LiL Punk clothing, which makes tanks and T-shirts for babies and toddlers with things like "Anarchy in the Pre-K" and "God Save the Milk" silk-screened on them.

"You can't just have one thing you depend on these days," he says. "You have to be able to go a few different directions. Because it can go that quick. I've seen it, and when it happens, you're either going to be able to adapt or be destroyed."

He walks you out to the curb after he digs from his BMW a six-song CD from Evaline, a band he's trying to get signed and is having over for a barbecue this evening. The man who once threw Billy Corgan to one side during a backstage fight offers you his neutered right hand and couldn't be more pleasant. You compliment his home again and say you'd expect the CEO of a golf company to own it. "Thanks," he says, a little puzzled. You ask him if the other people in the neighborhood—the doctors, lawyers, CEOs and broadband billionaires—know how he makes his living.

"Oh yeah," he says. "They all know. So do their kids. I'd say I get about 100 packages left at my door every year. Everyone's in a band."

Of course, none of them have any idea what is really required to make it. Very few of them, one surmises, have spent as much as one night alone in a trailer next to a cemetery 20 miles from the Mexican border.

"I love failure," he says. "Without failure there is no success. You got to get your ass knocked around," says the former 12-year-old bachelor who grew up to be Axl Rose's defender and Henry Nicholas' neighbor. "All part of the roller coaster. I love the roller coaster."

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