Personal Management

Science StudentI just watched D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary about Bob Dylan’s 1965 tour in the United Kingdom, Don’t Look Back. This was the second time I’ve seen it; the first time was about 30 years ago. What struck me most both times was the conversation between Dylan and the “science student.” During this conversation, Dylan seems to be teasing the young man who is surprisingly open about his feelings. For example, the student mentions that when he interviews musicians (he writes about music for his college newspaper), they don’t want to know him. Dylan responds with something like, “Have you ever asked yourself why?” It sounds worse on paper than it does in the movie, because I certainly get the impression that Dylan kind of likes of kid. Anyway, the student is not easily taken down. He responds that he knows it has nothing to do with him because these people don’t want to know him even before he appears.

What most strikes me about this scene is how the young student is so open about his feelings and about who he is. Dylan comes off looking the cool hipster he is, but the kid comes off looking real in a way that few of us ever attain. Even at this late stage in my life, I’m not sure I am capable of being this honest to my closest friends. I don’t think that speaks so poorly of me so much as it speaks really well of the kid.

It turns out that this science student—he graduated from the University of Newcastle with degrees (?) in math and metallurgy—is Terry Ellis, a man whose name is not associated with science except in relation to Don’t Look Back. After college he started booking concerts and eventually started managing groups. With Chris Wright, he founded Chrysalis Records. He stayed with the company until the mid-1980s, after which he founded another highly successful (but short-lived) label Imago Records. He is most associated with the band Jethro Tull. In addition to discovering and signing the band, Ellis co-produced five of their albums. It may be just a coincidence, but they are the best Jethro Tull albums—the only ones really worth listening to. When Ian Anderson was left to produce alone—early on, but especially later—his natural, but limited, intellectualism was generally fatal.

Ellis has had a great ear for new talent. He was the first to sign Pat Benatar. He signed Aimee Mann, when she was considered poison after the break-up of ‘Til Tuesday. And there are many others: Huey Lewis and the News (when they were still Huey Lewis and the American Express), Blondie, Baby Animals, and many more.[1]

What I think has been most important about Terry Ellis the musical genius is not the ear and eye he has for talent; it is his personal commitment to the artists he’s believed in. He was most definitely an old-fashioned manager who worked closely with his artists. In this regard, he wasn’t always successful. The band Clouds clearly suffered due to Ellis’ preoccupation with Jethro Tull.[2] So in the surprisingly open science student in Don’t Look Back we see all we need to about the remarkable and successful career path that Terry Ellis would go on to follow.

[1] I could name lots more: Ten Years After (little), Procol Harum (little), Robin Trower (little), David Bowie (almost none), Leo Sayer (little), Spandau Ballet (much), Steeleye Span (much). However, the extent of Ellis’ involvement with these acts is unclear. There isn’t a lot of historical information about him.

[2] If you doubt me that the world would be a better place had Ellis spent more time with Clouds, have a listen to the first single Clouds ever produced. Even if you don’t doubt: listen.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “Personal Management

  1. A good point made about Terry Ellis being a manager who spent time on his artists. Very noticeable that when he was unable to do this, a great band like Clouds did not fulfil their potential. This was something of a tragedy, particularly for Billy Ritchie, who (in Terry Ellis’ own recent words) was "a great songwriter".

  2. @Martin – I think that Ellis’ career shows went wrong with the music business starting in the early 1980s. The same thing happened in the book business. The labels (publishers) saw their primary purpose to be providing content rather than co-creating it. And many artists have taken a good look at the business: it is better to go it alone.

    From my own experience, I just don’t see what my publishers got 90% of the profits for. It is very much like the movies: the only books that get any TLC from the publishers are the books that don’t need it. You can depend upon them to sell the hell out of your second best seller. The first? Forget about it!

    But mostly, I find Ellis very endearing. He has heart. And I think that’s the most important thing about his success. The same goes for John Hammond.

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