TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Tess Vigeland: Not all musicians were as paranoid about giving up control of their money as Howlin’ Wolf, but maybe they should have been. History is rife with stories of musicians selling millions of albums, only to wind up broke years later.
Greg Kot is the host of the music talk show Sound Opinions out of Chi-Town and Greg, how typical was it for musicians, maybe especially those in the era of Howlin’ Wolf, to have a good sense of money management?
Greg Kot: I don’t think they thought about money management at all. For a lot of these musicians, the whole notion of just having a record out was the prize. That was what it was all about and all the other issues surrounding that — how do I get paid, what do I get paid, by whom and when — that was all ephemeral. You know, I spent a day with John Lee Hooker about a decade ago, who wrote this amazing song called “Boogie Chill,” and it is reputed to have sold about a million copies. And Hooker said, “I never saw a dime.”
Vigeland: But beyond that, there did come a time when artists did start getting much larger portions of the money that was coming in. And yet, they really couldn’t manage it themselves. You think even the late Michael Jackson being in over his head and getting into debt. MC Hammer losing his fortune. Even Bill Joel. How does this happen.
Kot: Well, you know, it’s about who you surround yourself with. For example, I’ve had some experiences being around the Michael Jackson camp over the years. I’ve never actually spoken to Michael Jackson, but I got to meet some of the people around him and you just go, “This is not going to turn out well for this guy.” You just kind of sensed that the people who were supposed to be in charge did not have his best interest at heart.
Vigeland: And yet there are examples, even early inductees to the Hall of Fame, that were actually pretty savvy businessmen, people like Ray Charles come to mind. Any other musicians that were actually good at handling their money?
Kot: You know, I’ve had some experience talking with Mick Jagger and Mick Jagger doesn’t talk too enthusiastically about music anymore. But man, you get him talking about handling the Rolling Stones’ business affairs and his eyes light up. It’s like “Woo! We’re talking now!”
The Stones have created the blueprint for the modern rock band, in terms of the rock band as corporation, a business that employes hundreds of people. You know, everyone’s rolling their eyes saying “The Stones are going on the road again, next year?” Well that’s why? People get paid.
Vigeland: Greg Kot is one of the hosts, along with Jim DeRogatis, of Sound Opinions out of Chicago. Thanks so much for your time.
Kot: Tess, my pleasure.
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