Bill Thompson

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Posted by Analytical Fundamentalist on 03/02/02 - 01:48:18
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I have to agree with Kevin about Bill Thompson.

I have a list of 5 Great Mistakes the band(s)has  (have) made which prevent(s) them from being:-

a)incredibly wealthy

b)recognised as being one of the most important bands - both artistically and commercially - in the history of rock

c)even more of a mass cult act than the Dead were at their late 80s commercial peak

Making Bill Thompson Manager in Feb 68 was the first of the Great Mistakes.

Thompson's loyalty at that stage was unquestioned.

He was a childhood friend of Marty's; and Marty roomed with Bill when he first came back to San Francisco in May 65. Indeed, Bill and Marty roomed together throughout the first 15-18 months of the Airplane's existence - with Jack joining them (after a few weeks with the Andersons) when he first came out to San Francisco.

Thompson roadied for them before they made any money to pay him and nagged Ralph Gleason into giving them that all-important second weekend review.

And Bill was their unofficial manager during the 3 months in between Matthew Katz and Bill Graham - which should have rang the warning bells because he couldn't hack it then and kept running off to Graham for advice (which was how Graham eventually got them!)

And the loyalty has undoubtedly been 2 ways. Thompson kept his job right through to the demise of the Jefferson-less Starship in 1990 and was mooted seriously as would-be manager for the 89 Airplane reunion. When he took his late 90s sabbatical, even MC reckoned Bill Thompson was the person most likely to take over. (And that in spite of Thompson siding with Mickey in the 92 suit over ownership of the JS name!)

In her 98 bio Grace is fulsome in her praise of Thompson.

Of course, Thompson has done well out of it. Being part-owner of JA Inc means he owns one fifth of whatever the Airplane's legacy is worth financially at any one point in time. (It would be interesting to know what Thompson's relationship with the murky JS Inc was/is.)

But competence has not been his strength. He couldn't harrass the band into working the way Katz and Graham could. Hence, the drop in gig rate from late 68 on.

The band treated him as one of them - not as somebody who had authority they respected. More of a gofer. (Kantner in the infamous Summer 70 ROLLING STONE Slickantner interview: "THOMPSON! THOMPSON! Get me Little Richard's manager on the phone!")

And Thompson was a good co-ordinator. I was backstage at Reading in 88. When Meatloaf was bottled off early by a hostile anarchic crowd on edge of riot, I saw Thompson gather up the Starship members, get them into a photo call and pep talk them onto stage inside 10 minutes. Very impressive!

But co-ordinating isn't managing.

And he couldn't keep the factions focussed on common objectives - hence the drifting apart in 70-72, 77-78 and 82-85.

The agreement he negotiated to bring Grunt Records into existence - Great Mistake #2 - was idiotic. The band might have got carried away with all the free studio time he got them - but to have to produce 13 albums (5 Airplane, 4 Tuna, 3 Kantner and 1 Slick)in 5 years - previously they had managed 10 (7 Airplane, 2 Tuna and 1 Kantner) in 6 years - on top of mentoring other artists was artistically crazy - and, therefore, bound to fail commercially.

Not only that, but the pressures to produce that the deal created exacerbated the factionalism in the band and led directly to Tuna being a name act in its own right rather than simply FUN!

And the Grunt debacle, of course, led to Great Mistake #3: the name change in Feb 74.

It's interesting that, while Jorma might have got all pally again with Thompson over the Silly Suit, in 78 he tried to distance himself as much as he could. The breakup of Tuna gave him the opportunity to get out of Grunt and, boy, did he go for it! Contractually, he was still bound to Thompson as manager; but it doesn't seem to have been a close relationship.

I didn't know that Craig had sued Thompson over accounting irregularities - what?!?!? a piece of The History the band's historian wasn't aware of?!?!? - but it has echoes of Marty catching out Katz' accounting irregularities - and Katz was Thompson's first role model as manager.

For 26 years Thompson seems to have been a very loyal servant of the band - whether he has been a good servant is much more contentious. Personally, I reckon the rot started with Thompson - and a combination of loyalty, lack of business savvy and simply being too busy indulging themselves kept many of the musicians who have been through the ranks from facing up to it.

I think it speaks for itself that Thompson has never had any other significant act on his books - and, since, 89 he's had plenty of time to work with other folks.

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