An oral history, as told to Bud Scoppa


Peter: I was gonna quit Leber-Krebs office to manage the Scorpions, because Cliff was gonna back me in the management company. So I went over to the see the lawyer whose name won’t be mentioned, as Cliff insists, although I would because he’s dead—I’d pee on his grave because he’s dead—but he looked at me and said, “You’re 26—what do you know about management?” And the only thing I had been doing was tour managing. But I told him, “I love the Scorpions and this is a great record.” And he said he’d promised these guys someone heavier, someone more important, someone bigger. A few weeks later, I get a call from Malcolm Young saying, “We’re in New York—do you wanna meet up? We’re worried about our money; would you like to be our accountant on the road? And I gotta cop to the fact that I’m really not an accountant, but I can suggest an American accountant to you, a proper accountant. And I proceed to suggest the same accountant that Aerosmith had used, a guy named Alvin Handwerker, who to this day is AC/DC’s accountant—and manager, funnily enough. A couple weeks later, he asks me to meet up with the band at the New York Hilton. I went over to their room, and they said, “Listen, we wanna get rid of our manager. Will you manage us?” And I said, “Um, sure. Why not?” They thanked me for suggesting Alvin, and then they said, “You have to stay at Leber-Krebs, because we know David Krebs wanted to manage us, and we’re afraid they’ll be pissed at us and try to stifle our career.” So I thought about it and said, “That’s OK—I can live with that.” I went to Krebs and said, “There’s some good news and some bad news. The good news is that you can get AC/DC as a client”—which he was thrilled about—“and the bad news is I’m your partner.” We made a deal for a piece of his piece. Then they gave me Highway to Hell to listen to, and I knew that it would be more successful than any AC/DC record to date, which wouldn’t take much, as Cliff pointed out.

Cliff: At that point, I went back to the Scorpions’ lawyer and said, “You know that guy you turned down? He’s now managing AC/DC under the aegis of Leber-Krebs.”

Peter: And I walked into Krebs’s office saying, “When it rains, it pours—I have another act I want to manage…actually two.” Because by then, Michael Schenker had wandered off the plantation. I showed him a copy of Lovedrive, which had a pretty impressive album cover, but the back cover has a picture of the Scorpions, who even then weren’t the youngest people known to mankind. Krebs said in a dismissive way, but not in a mean way, “OK, sure. Once we have AC/DC, you can manage whomever you want.” Then I went back to the lawyer whose name won’t be mentioned and said, “I’m back.” And then the guy basically said, “Where can we sign?” So by July 1 of ’79, I was managing three acts, we had signed contracts for all three and I did a contract with Krebs which had key-man clauses for me, so I was off to the races. Highway to Hell comes out, and all of a sudden it’s the biggest record known to mankind. And I’m 26 years old, learning the management business. I can’t tell you what I did right or wrong, because the record was so big, any mistake—and I’m sure I made tons of them—was completely covered up by the rolling of the rock. I don’t think anybody expected them to blow up that way, and the record sold many more copies after the Highway to Hell Tour. It was a short tour, which is what you did—you started touring the day the record came out and you finished and that was that. And if the record had a long tail, you didn’t think, let’s go back and play buildings that are five times the size, which we certainly could have done. You just made another record.


Cliff: It’s the summer of ’79, and I’m becoming aware of the new wave of British heavy metal. Bands are putting out their own records, and one of them is “Getcha Rocks Off” by Def Leppard on Bludgeon-Riffola Records. I hadn’t heard this fuckin’ thing, but I just loved the name of it—I even loved the label name. The record had some nice write-ups; Sounds was championing it. Because we were part of PolyGram, I called up somebody at our English company and said I’d really like to hear this Def Leppard record. The guy said, “As luck would have it, we just signed them, but there’s a problem—all the British acts hate Mercury in America, so we could only sign them ex-U.S.” They sent me The Def Leppard E.P., and I fell in love with it, so I pledged that we’d put out their first album simultaneously in the United States and England, and that was enough to make it a worldwide deal. I called Peter, told him the story and said I was flying over to see them in Wolverhampton in September.

Peter: By this time, I’d moved to London, because AC/DC were English-based and the Scorpions were German-based.

Cliff: I flew over, and we drove up from London to Wolverhampton with Rod MacSween, who was Def Leppard’s agent. We get there, and the oldest guy, Joe Elliott, is 21; there’s three guys who are 18 and then the drummer is 15. First song, Joe Elliott rips his pants, and he spends the rest of the show in a sideways crouch because he’s so fucking embarrassed. After the show, Peter and I go backstage and the guys are almost in tears because they think it’s the worst gig they ever played. I introduced myself and said, “Look, whatever you guys think of the show tonight doesn’t really fucking matter, because the music you’re making is great for America.” They had the guarantee that their record would come out in America, the American A&R guy liked them—that was me—and they met Peter. They had a pair of managers, local Sheffield guys, who were a disaster, so I hoped that by bringing Peter to the gig that the band would meet—

Peter: —a real manager.

Cliff: A worldwide manager, who we did not mention had only been a manager for four months, but he had the biggest fuckin’ album in the world at that time, plus he had the fuckin’ Scorpions and Michael Schenker—and every guitar player bowed down to Michael Schenker. So everybody in Def Leppard was terribly impressed, and Peter told them he’d get them some AC/DC dates when they played their December tour. Sure enough, by the end of the year, the managers were out and Peter was installed as the new manager of Def Leppard. They went in with Tom Allom to record On Through the Night.


Cliff: Toward the end of ’79, Peter called me and said, “Cliff, could you be my eyes and ears in the New York office?” I mulled over my career at Mercury. I’d been there six years, and with all those accumulated $50 bonuses, I was of course making a small fortune, with the emphasis on small, but I decided I’d move to New York and go to work at Leber-Krebs. In all fairness, though, when I told Mercury of my intentions, they did make me an offer to stay there for another three years, but my mind was made up, so I talked to Krebs and we worked out a deal.

Peter: I gave up a piece of my piece, Cliff kicked in a little bit of his piece on Def Leppard, Scorpions and Schenker; Cliff and I split a chunk of Krebs’s piece because he didn’t care about those acts; he was skeptical because they were German, they were losing some hair and none of them spoke English.

Cliff: Peter had an apartment in Brooklyn Heights that was sitting empty, so in February of 1980 I moved in. While working at Mercury, I got to understand the economics of the business, and I saw that what managers could make was magnitudes greater than what a record employee could make. And because I was so involved with Rush, I became friendly with the guys in the band and their managers, and I saw how that unfolded. Their first two albums continued to sell, they continued to tour and gain popularity, but Caress of Steel, the third album, was more esoteric and didn’t sell as well, and the people at Mercury were losing faith in the band. I was trying to get their records played, which wasn’t easy, because radio hated metal—and they also hated guys with high-pitched voices. So Mercury decided the fourth album, 2112, was going to be make-or-break. The manager brought it in to play for everybody, and one side of it is a fuckin’ sci-fi, prog suite, and people from all departments are listening to it in the conference room and putting fingers in their ears, like, “Oh God, we’re fucked now.” Now, I’m not saying I knew what was going to happen, but I said, “These guys are good, they’ve really hit a chord out there in the world, and we have to back this thing.” And what I realized was that, as the chief cheerleader for the band in the company as well as as the guy who did the promotion calls to all the rock stations, I was caught in a vise, and I hated being in that position. I wanted to be unambiguously on somebody’s side, and the side I would choose to be on was the artist’s side. And I could only do that by being a manager. So when the opportunity came around from Peter, I was quick to make my decision to leave Mercury, and that’s how I got into management.

I got to Leber-Krebs in 1980, and just a couple weeks later, Bon Scott died. I felt terrible about Bon, and I had no idea what would happen with AC/DC without Bon Scott. But within a few weeks, they’d hired Brian Johnson to be the singer, then they went in with Mutt Lange and recorded Back in Black, which turned out to be one of the landmark hard-rock albums of all time. We put out Back in Black, and it was like Highway to Hell on steroids—it just blew the doors out. We also made inroads with that first Def Leppard album; we got some airplay, we sold like 250,000 in the States and they also started building up nicely in England. The Scorpions went in to record Animal Magnetism, their follow-up to Lovedrive, and we knew we had a couple of great tracks—and we also had Michael Schenker to work. Everything was working out fine—no complaints—but in ’81, a number of things weren’t so good.


Cliff: AC/DC’s Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap had never come out on Atlantic, and it was obvious to all of us that the title song would be a smash, but that record was with Bon Scott, so the band didn’t want it out, and I didn’t have the clout to stop Atlantic from releasing it. And because I didn’t have the history with AC/DC, I didn’t realize how bitter they were that the label didn’t release it the first time around. So when it came out after the success of Back in Black, that started to poison the relationship between AC/DC and us. They felt we should have prevented that thing from coming out. So that relationship was starting to fray. Def Leppard went in with Mutt Lange, and they did this great album, High ’n’ Dry, but people in the business considered them a novelty act because of their age, and High ’n’ Dry wasn’t taken seriously. After Krebs saw them for the first time, he was sure they’d never succeed. Meanwhile, the Scorpions’ Animal Magnetism did about as well as the Lovedrive album, but no better, and the Michael Schenker records were doing like 75,000. So we weren’t exactly killing it.

By the end of ’81, with all that happening, AC/DC said they didn’t want to work with me and Peter anymore. They were signed to Leber-Krebs, so Krebs said he’d take them over. He’d lost faith in Def Leppard, so he and Leber decided that they should end their agreement with us. We had an arbitration, and in early 1982 our relationship with Leber-Krebs ended. Peter and I decided then that we would go out on our own and start our own company. So on April 1, 1982, we opened the doors of Q Prime Management. By “doors,” I mean my apartment in New York and his apartment in London. There were no employees, just two guys working out of two apartments separated by 3,000 miles of water. We’d lost AC/DC, but we thought we’d be able to bring in the other bands. Then the Scorpions said, “We are Germans, and we believe we have to be with the company that has the biggest clout, and even though we like you guys and we understand what you did for us, we will stay at Leber-Krebs.” That broke our hearts. Def Leppard was like, “Krebs doesn’t want us—he thinks we suck—and our second album didn’t do very well, so we’ll be your guys.” So we started our company with one act, Def Leppard, in 1982.

...Read Pt. 1 here