During the almost twenty-five years that I was Anne Murray’s business manager the best decision she made was hiring Leonard Rambeau, the young man from Smelt Brook, Nova Scotia, who became Canada’s most respected artist manager as well as one of the most respected managers in the U.S.
I mentioned last week (see Balmur Ltd.) that Leonard’s hiring was itself an interesting story. Here it is.
In April 1971, when Anne Murray, Bill Langstroth and I had our first meeting, I set out four conditions which she’d have to agree to in order for me to act as her business manager. Luckily for me she had no trouble doing so. The four conditions were: 1) there would be no such thing as a standard contract; everything would be negotiable; 2) if someone wanted a quick answer, it would always be no; 3) we would never sacrifice the long term for the short term; and, 4) because I would be strictly a business and financial guy, she’d hire a full-time person to handle the day-to-day activities of her career. This is where Leonard came in.
At that time Anne had a management contract with Nick Sevano covering her U.S. activity, and Bill Langstroth and producer Brian Ahern were more or less looking after her Canadian affairs. As mentioned, I wanted her to hire a full-time person to take over the Canadian end of things and, I hoped, learn enough about being an artist manager to eventually take over her entire career. I wanted her free of Nick Sevano for two reasons. First, he was alleged to have ties to the mafia. I have no idea whether he did, but even the allegation could hurt her career. And, second, Sevano was also managing Frank Sinatra and Glen Campbell (it was Glen who had introduced her to him), so you can guess how much time and inclination he had to devote to Anne’s U.S. career.
Shortly after Anne became a client we were able to get out of the contract with Sevano. As a matter of fact, it was so easy to do so that I’ve always suspected he was glad to get rid of us. We made arrangements for Anne’s U.S. career to be taken over by Shep Gordon, a fine manager out of Buffalo, who was Alice Cooper’s manager. Shep was happy to ease Leonard into the U.S. side of things and graciously stepped aside when we thought Leonard was ready to handle Anne’s entire career. (For those of you who are not familiar with the running of an artist’s career, I should point out that managers aren’t usually booking agents. Anne always had a big U.S. agency looking after booking her dates.) Anyway, back to Leonard’s hiring.
When I got to condition number four and told her what I had in mind, she had one question. “What,” she asked, “are the qualifications you’re looking for?” I replied that there was just one: an undying belief in her as an artist. Anne then said she knew exactly who we should go after. I asked her who that was, and I’ll never forget our next exchange. “You’re going to laugh,” she said, “but it’s a guy named Leonard Rambeau who works for Canada Manpower in Halifax.” I said, “You’re right. I’m going to laugh. But, tell me about him.”
She went on to explain that a while back, Leonard, on behalf of the student union at St. Mary’s University in Halifax, had booked her for a concert. After the show he handed her a folded piece of paper and asked her to read it when she got a chance. Thinking he was probably asking for a date, she forgot about it until a few days later when she was rummaging for something in her purse and found the note. She opened it to discover that he had written down a number of suggestions for changes to her show, and that she agreed with every one of them. They began to keep in touch and talk about her career. She explained to me that he took his vacation to act as her road manager on a recent tour of western Canada and things had never run more smoothly. “He’s the guy, Lyman,” she emphatically told me.
“Well, let’s offer him the job,” I said. But then I added another condition. I long felt that artist managers should get paid a base salary with generous bonuses when they did a good job and things were going well. My theory is that if a manager is working for a salary rather than a percentage (percentages being the norm in the business), he or she will always make the right long-term decisions for the artist rather than take a short-term view simply from the standpoint of their own cash flow.
Anne said that Leonard might actually like that because when she had earlier raised the possibility of him becoming her Canadian manger, the reason he gave for refusing was that he didn’t want to give up the security of having a government pension (he was twenty-five years old!). She thought that the certainty of a salary rather than the uncertainty of a percentage would appeal to him. I asked her how much he was making and she said she thought it was around $7,500 a year.
I said I’d call him, but Anne thought it would be better if she did. She convinced him to take some vacation days and we paid for a return first class ticket on an Air Canada flight to Toronto (I figured we might as well show him how life could be). I don’t remember whether he stayed with Anne or booked into a hotel, but I do remember well how the negotiations went.
I don’t remember why, but Anne Murray, Leonard and I were sitting around the dining room table at the MacInnis household about nine o’clock in the evening. Perhaps we had had dessert or a maritime snack. My wife, Anne, who was still teaching school at that time, had gone upstairs to mark some papers.
After some small talk, Anne and I made our pitch to Leonard, including the facts that he initially would be responsible only for her Canadian activity while acting as a liaison to her American agent and manager, and that he would be working for a salary and bonus rather than a percentage. Remembering his concern about retiring in forty years time, I said that although Balmur Ltd. didn’t have a pension plan, we would pay him enough that he could set up a pretty good individual registered retirement savings plan. I think Anne had been working on him since he arrived in Toronto because after only a couple of questions he agreed to take the job.
“Great,” I said. Then it got really interesting when I asked him how much salary he wanted.
Leonard, confirming Anne’s opinion that he was a pretty sharp cookie, countered with, “You’re offering me the job. How much does it pay?”
I turned to Anne and asked, “How much do you want to pay him?”
Anne said, “That’s the kind of decision I’m paying you to make.”
I thought for a couple of minutes and then came up with an idea. I fetched three identical sheets of paper and three pens. I gave a sheet of paper and a pen to each of Anne and Leonard and kept a sheet and a pen for myself.
I said, “OK. Here’s what we’re going to do. Each of us will write down an annual salary on our piece of paper, fold it twice and put it in the middle of the table. We’ll call Anne (MacInnis) down, have her look at the papers and tell us the middle figure. Not the highest nor the lowest, but the middle figure; and that will be the starting salary.” Anne Murray and Leonard agreed.
Anne came down and I explained what we wanted her to do. She opened up the three papers but didn’t say anything. I reminded her that we just wanted the middle figure, to which she said, “There isn’t one.” I said there had to be, but she said, “No, there isn’t; two of them are the same.” I then suggested that one of the two that were the same should be deemed to be the middle figure and that would be the salary. Again, Anne and Leonard agreed.
As phenomenal as two being the same was how close they were. Two of them were $15,500 and one was $15,000. I never asked Anne and Leonard how they arrived at their figures, but I always suspected that Leonard simply doubled what he was making (the $15,000 figure) and that Anne and I did the same thing but tacked on $500 for good measure. In any event, what a great way to start a relationship!
Leonard continued to work for a salary and bonuses throughout his entire career, likely the only top-line artist manager in the world to do so. Because both Anne and I recognized his tremendous value, we made sure he earned as much as if he had been on a percentage.
Leonard’s loyalty and devotion to Anne and her career had no limits, which when combined with his remarkable intuition, computer-like memory, and incredible people skills, made his hiring the best decision that Anne Murray ever made.