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Leadership and Unity



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I want to make one thing very clear at the beginning of this post.  I have never been THE leader of a band.  NEVER!  I have owned three businesses, I have never owned a band.


The biggest disappointment of my career was because the leader of the band went to rehab not once, but twice, because of being a drug addict.  This resulted in the band, The Wolves, NOT being signed to Geffen Records and becoming a national tour act with major label backing.


He was the leader because the band operated with the aid of his money as he was wealthy.  This was also why he could afford to do hard drugs not because he was some low life out of disillusionment.  He did it purely for pleasure.


Good bands require a lot of money and it has to come from somewhere.  Someone’s job at the garage will not be enough and if he stops working, there will be no money at all if you do not have someone booking you gigs.


I have always been the willing follower of someone whose money or status kept the band alive and working.  My primary skill is being a Bandleader and Musical Director in a studio or in an act fronted by an Artist.  I acquired these skills by being a good follower.


This is different from being the Artist or owning the band and making all the business decisions.  Every time I ever made money on stage I was a follower of someone who was the leader.  I have never made money where everyone voted on things.  I have not played in that type of band since college.  I direct a band in playing not the artistic or business direction.  This is what Chuck Leavell does for the Rolling Stones.  He plays keyboards and directs their backing musicians.  This is what Steve Van Zandt does for Bruce Springsteen.


In early 2020 I was hospitalized with Covid-19 for 28 days and suffered neurological damage.  This severely hampered my ability to play and can no longer do so at a professional level.  This is not as tragic as it may sound as I am 70 years old, played my first gig in 1969, and I am financially secure from a combination of my musical career, the businesses I have owned, and my wife being the Executive Director of a major national nonprofit foundation.


I record Music now because I enjoy it and feel I still have an artistic contribution to be made as I am musically different from the average commercial artist.  These are basically the same two reasons I write here.


Based upon 50 years of experience I say a band either has to be a business or a hobby with friends there is no middle ground.  They should not function as a democracy.  They have to have a clear direction in which they are going.  They have to have a clear top down structure from the beginning.  Otherwise it will be an anarchy of “Yeah man I don’t want to do that I’ve got other plans that day.”  There would be a constant struggle for control.  To not believe this is nativity.  The least desirable circumstance is a struggle for power.


I have seen this happen over and over and over again with other people’s bands.   There is no ideal world of sunshine, flowers, and rainbows in anything which makes money.  Two people can share decision making power in a band after that it becomes chaos.  Look at any major band and it will usually comes down to a center of one or two people.  They will all be contributors to the music but not in the direction of the career moves.  Charley Watts complained later in interviews that Mick Jagger made him wear his hair long.  Several members of The Mothers of Invention had the exact same complaint about Frank Zappa.


Few things designed by a committee are good because the attempt is to try to please everyone’s separate interests.  This is a form of weakness because of lack of actual unity.  There is no real unity only a consensus of individuals representing their own priorities.


What are the qualities of good leadership?  Someone who is a good leader thinks of the benefit of his followers in order to keep his organization alive.  Wealth and power usually comes either from some form of being the servant of others in helping them to succeed on their own or family inheritances.  The leader of The Wolves was a BAD leader because his personal whims destroyed the band.


After this was when I became an AFM union member.  Union musicians have a great deal of power because of belonging to the union.  This prevents them from being abused because of the union’s power.


The American Constitution is the child of James Madison which was helped to be birthed by Thomas Jefferson.  Put another way it is the result of two leaders bringing the other members to agreement not individuals finding their own path to consensus but following a path in which they were led “in order to form a more perfect union” as it reads.

Edited by Clay Anderson Johnson

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