Music manager Allen Klein, a no-holds-barred businessman who bulldozed his way into and out of deals with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, died yesterday, a publicist for his company said. He was 77.
Klein, who was one of the most powerful figures in the music business in the 1960s but ended up feuding with some of his biggest clients, died at his New York City home of Alzheimer's disease, said Bob Merlis, publicist for ABKCO Music & Records.
An accountant known for his brashness, temper and tenacity in tracking down royalties and getting better record deals, Klein garnered clients including Sam Cooke, Bobby Darin and Herman's Hermits.
But he became most famous — and later infamous — for signing on the Rolling Stones and then the Beatles. Both arrangements eventually spurred lawsuits, with some Beatles fans blaming Klein for contributing to the tensions that broke up the group.
Klein was convicted of tax fraud in 1979 and served two months in prison for failing to report income from sales of promotional records by the Beatles and other groups; the records were supposed to be given away. The Rolling Stones grew so infuriated with Klein — whose company still owns an enormous chunk of their 1960s songs — that Mick Jagger once chased him down the hall of a posh hotel.
Klein was reputed to be the basis for the slick manager "Ron Decline," played by Jon Belushi, in the parodic 1978 film "The Rutles," and the inspiration for John Lennon's bitter 1974 song "Steel and Glass."
Regardless, Klein remained "very proud of the position he was in and what he was able to do with the different artists he was able to work with," Merlis said.
Klein began building his reputation by auditing record companies' books and finding unpaid royalties for Darin and other artists. After meeting Cooke in 1962, he helped the soul singer secure a then-unusual level of control over his music and finances.
"I never wanted to be a manager," he told The Star-Ledger of Newark, New Jersey, in 2002. "It was going over the books that I loved. And I was good at it."
That helped him win over the Rolling Stones, who hired him in the mid-1960s. He helped the group negotiate a new contract with its label, but the relationship soured after Klein bought the rights to the band's 1960s songs and recordings from a former manager.
He was fired in 1970, but the animosity continued for decades, culminating in dueling lawsuits over rights and royalties and a 1984 trial. Jagger testified in a federal court in New York that Klein "wanted a hold on us, on our futures" — and that a 1974 discussion about money ended with a shouting Jagger chasing Klein down a corridor at London's Savoy Hotel. The lawsuit was settled soon after, with Klein keeping the song rights but agreeing to pay royalties promptly.
In the meantime, Klein had set his sights on managing the Beatles and saw his chance when their longtime manager, Brian Epstein, died in 1967.
Initially rebuffed, Klein eventually won John Lennon's favor.
"He not only knew my work, and the lyrics that I had written, but he also understood them, and from way back. That was it," Lennon told an interviewer in 1970.
The group hired Klein in 1969 over the objections of Paul McCartney, who preferred his father-in-law, Lee Eastman.
At the time, a New York Times profile referred to Klein as "the toughest wheeler-dealer in the pop jungle." Klein himself once sent out a chest-beating holiday card with a profane takeoff on the 23rd Psalm: "Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, because I'm the biggest bastard in the valley."
But his relationship with the Beatles was bitter and short-lived. The group broke up the next year, and McCartney sued his bandmates in an effort to break free from Klein, an action once unthinkable among the harmonious foursome. McCartney went on to revile Klein in a 1997 biography, "Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now."
The other Beatles lost faith in Klein and sued him in the mid-1970s. Lennon sent him off in song in "Steel and Glass," which describes how "your mouthpiece squawks as he spreads your lies."
Klein was born in Newark on Dec. 18, 1931, and spent several years in an orphanage after his mother's death during his infancy. He was later raised by a grandmother and an aunt.
Klein graduated from Upsala College and served in the U.S. Army before joining a Manhattan accounting firm, according to his company.
He started his own firm, which later became ABKCO, in the late 1950s. Besides managing music, he co-produced 1971's "The Concert for Bangladesh," a forerunner of modern charity concerts, and films including 1978's "The Greek Tycoon," starring Anthony Quinn and Jacqueline Bisset.
He is survived by a longtime companion, Iris Keitel; his estranged wife, Betty; three children, four grandchildren and a sister.Reuse content