It’s August 4, 1975 in Louisville, Kentucky. The Outlaws, supporting the Rolling Stones on the English band’s ‘Tour of the Americas’, are onstage at Freedom Hall.
Watching from the wings, Outlaw’s manager Charlie Brusco is flanked by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, who give each other approving nods as the Florida band rips through its set. Richards, with his trademark Jack Sparrow drawl, turns to Brusco and proclaims, “These boys can play.” A seal of approval from rock aristocracy.
I recently interviewed Brusco about his long career and he recounted his experiences of managing and promoting some of the world’s biggest bands.
In the early 70s, Brusco relocated from his hometown of Pittsburgh to Florida to dip his toe in concert promotion and band management. As the decade progressed he became an influential figure in the burgeoning ‘Southern Rock’ scene.
Pictured: Charlie Brusco
In 1976, the Outlaws, the first rock band signed to Clive Davis’ new Arista Records, headed to Europe for a stadium tour backing The Who, Little Feat and the Sensational Alex Harvey Band. Brusco spoke fondly about those heady days.
“It was unbelievable for us. We played Scotland, England, Wales and went over to Holland to play the Pink Pop Festival. The only thing the guys were not crazy about was the size of the beds. To us, the hotels we were stuck in seemed to have tiny beds!”
Brusco also shed light on a raucous July night in Atlanta when the Outlaws supported Lynyrd Skynyrd during a three-night stand at the city’s Fox Theatre. Skynyrd had chosen the venue to record their live album, One More From The Road, which was produced by Tom Dowd. What better way to prepare for the shows than a mass brawl in a local club?
“The night before the first show, Gary Rossington, me and a few others went out some place we weren’t supposed to be and got a little intoxicated or something. We went to a club that Alex Cooley (Atlanta promoter) owned at the time and there was someone playing on stage and we were being complete assholes.
“Next thing we know the security guys have us jacked up against the wall. Gary ended up with a black eye and the following night he wore sunglasses at the show.”
According to Brusco, Dowd’s influence contributed to Skynyrd’s incendiary performances over those three nights.
“Tom Dowd was recording that record and he had a respect level from the Skynyrd guys that not many people had. He told them how serious they had to be about playing those three shows. He got everybody to do what they had to do and they played three great shows.
“They really wanted that record to be great so policed themselves pretty good apart from that one night when Gary and I went out!”
In the 80s and 90s Brusco went on to promote tours by international acts such as U2, Bon Jovi, Motley Crue and Janet Jackson. He promoted the benefit Amnesty International Concert at Atlanta’s Omni in 1986 featuring, among others, U2, The Police and Bryan Adams.
Brusco played a pivotal role in persuading the surviving members of Lynyrd Skynyrd to reform for a nationwide tribute tour in 87 and into 88.
“I managed them for the 87 and 88 tours. Bill Graham then took over management from 89 and 90. They put a record together and then Bill was killed in a helicopter accident.
“I started managing them straight after that and I had them until 1999. The last tour that I put together was Skynyrd with ZZ Top. It was huge.”
I suggest that back in the 70s there seems to have been a back-slapping camaraderie between Southern bands. Not always, Brusco insists.
“I think it’s hard pressed to say there was a big camaraderie between all of us. I think there was a really special relationship between Skynyrd and the Outlaws that was different from any relationship the Skynyrd guys had with anyone else.
“The Allman Brothers were close to the Grateful Dead, not Skynyrd, even though they played together. There was more of a rivalry between those two bands, at least from the Skynyrd side. Skynyrd always looked at it if there was a band they wanted to eclipse, that was the Allman Brothers Band.
“The Outlaws, for a long time, we had a great relationship with the Marshall Tucker Band. But then there was little bit of a thing that happened that kind of turned things. We got into a kind of thing between the two bands and it never got resolved before Tommy and Toy Caldwell died.”
In 2011, Brusco’s company Alliance Artists merged with Red Light Management to form one of the world’s most high profile management firms.
As one of most respected managers operating in the US music business, Brusco has carved a successful career underpinned by hard work, being in the right place at the right time, and crucially, an unswerving loyalty to his roster of bands, which currently boasts Styx, Blackhawk, The Outlaws and former Eagles guitarist, Don Felder.
Pictured: Ex-Eagles guitarist, Don Felder and Styx front-man Tommy Shaw.