As a member of The Happenings from 1961-1970, David Libert scored nine Billboard Hot 100 singles and carved out a nice little career for himself within the sunshine pop scene. What happened next, however, is what the meat of his memoir, “Rock and Roll Warrior: My Misadventures with Alice Cooper, Prince, George Clinton, Living Colour, The Runaways, and More…” is really all about.
His career as a songwriter, manager, producer, agent, and convict is examined in riveting detail throughout 273 pages, as he delivers all of the craziness one expects from the 1970s yet does so in a way that feels honest rather than exploitative.
I caught up with Libert recently to discuss his life in the rock ‘n’ roll trenches as well as what he’s been up to since walking away from the circus. If you’re looking for a gift to satisfy the music lover on your Christmas list, you’d be wise to add this one to your cart in the near future.
MNOD: Why did you feel that now was the right time to release a book?
Libert: It’s really something that came together in the last several years. I’ve led an interesting life and my girlfriend thought that I should start putting something out there. I hadn’t given it much thought. It wasn’t an easy undertaking, because I didn’t want it to just be a collection of stories. I knew that I had to include certain things, but it needed to be a smooth flowing memoir. I also didn’t want it to be anything salacious with balls and tits flying everywhere. It would be interesting and funny, but also informative. I started writing without being overly conscious of grammar or structure, because I knew that I could go back and fix it later. I had to allow it to be free flowing.
MNOD: When did you decide that a career in music was something you wanted to pursue?
Libert: I knew it pretty early in life. My father was an attorney, but he could also play the violin by ear. I soon discovered that I had that same ability to learn quickly. My parents agreed to let me start piano lessons, but I wasn’t allowed to quit until they said. My dad and I played together. I possessed the ability to play any song by ear, so I would listen to WNEW where they played the Top 20 hits every week. Groups like The Paragons and The Diablos. I was into doo wop and jazz. I learned harmony, technique, and chord theory, but one of our motivations was also to attract girls. I would go into Tin Pan Alley, as well.
MNOD: What were your expectations when you started The Happenings?
Libert: I didn’t really have any. I wanted longevity and to be successful, but I was also self-aware enough to know that I didn’t want to start thinking too highly of myself.
MNOD: You were Alice Cooper’s tour manager from 1971-1975. What was he like to work with during that period?
Libert: I love Alice. He never took himself too seriously and was easy to deal with. He just wanted to be one of the guys. I remember Shep Gordon, Alice’s manager, had an idea for Wolfman Jack to introduce the band at the Hollywood Bowl while riding a camel. There was an issue of who would clean up the mess if the camel were to take a shit on stage, because we had to decide which union would take care of it. If it was steaming, it would be considered a prop and the stagehand’s union would handle it, but, if it wasn’t steaming, the venue’s janitorial staff would do it. There was also one time when a helicopter was going to drop 18,000 pairs of panties on the School’s Out tour, but the material was considered flammable and didn’t meet the standard for distribution. On the surface, it looked like a disaster, but Shep knew how to spin any negative into a positive. He instantly put out the headline ‘Alice Cooper’s Panties Too Hot To Handle,’ which ended up being brilliant publicity.
MNOD: Prince is another major artist that you discuss in the book. Describe that experience.
Libert: He was incredibly talented, but he could also be pretty brutal. Maybe it was because he was diminutive in stature at 5′ 2″, but he was rough on certain people. He was nice to me, though. I don’t think he wanted to look like an asshole in front of me for whatever reason.
MNOD: I’ve heard that Guns N’ Roses is a band that you came really close to managing. What prevented that from happening?
Libert: I really wanted to manage them, but that’s one that didn’t work out. I got a call from Kim Fowley, who worked with The Runaways, and he said that I had to check out this band, so I did. They were very disciplined in what they did musically, but the storage unit in which they were living was insanity. It wasn’t safe for them to stay there with no running water. I knew they were the real deal, so I tried to do everything I could to get them into another space. They had this intoxicating thing about them that affected everyone and their confidence was such that they knew they couldn’t miss, but I wasn’t in a position financially at the time to make it happen. I had to let it go and chalk it up as the one that got away.
MNOD: Other than GNR, is there another band that you wish you could have worked with?
Libert: I had an idea to get Cream back together for a spectacular summer stadium tour, because they had been broken up for 15-20 years at that point and it would have been a big deal. Unfortunately, they despised each other and it didn’t matter that I had already started working on it. In the end, I just didn’t want to deal with the drama.
MNOD: How are you enjoying your life now that you’ve walked away from the circus?
Libert: I’m happy. I knew I’d had enough and now I’m just living a comfortable, leisurely life in Joshua Tree. I’ve become an animal rights activist and gotten involved in finding homes for dogs. I continue to get requests to produce, manage, and represent all the time, but I just say no. I look back fondly on everything I’ve done, but I got to a point where I was burned out. My thing was always to make it fun, so, if I were to do something again in the future, I would do it the same way. People don’t realize that you have to come up with ways to stay positive outside of the 90 minutes on stage every night. You don’t want to be miserable away from the actual performance. I’m not sure how involved I would want to be if I said yes to someone again. I never say never, but it would take one hell of an offer to get me off my butt.
David Libert’s memoir, “Rock and Roll Warrior” is available now wherever books are sold.