Artist manager, 1970s - present
Given his huge influence on the Australian and international rock scene over the last thirty years, there's surprisingly little information on the Web about the redoubtable Roger Davies. Hopefully this article will go some way to redressing that lack, because he is without doubt certainly one of the greatest success stories to emerge from the Australian music industry. Born in Melbourne in 1952, Davies worked his way up from the very bottom rung of the industry, progressing from roadie to agent to manager of a local band, eventually becoming one of the most successful and respected artist managers in the world.
The rise of Roger began in earnest in 1972 when he became the manager of a Sydney band who, with his help, became arguably the most successful Australian pop act of the 70s. That group, Sherbet, provided him with the all-important experience that would take him to the top in his chosen field. Based in America since the late Seventies, he manages or has managed seven of the most successful female rock performers in the world -- Olivia Newton-John, Tina Turner, Cher, Janet Jackson, Sade and, most recently, Natalie Imbruglia and Pink. Working with management partners Lindsay Scott and former Bros bassist Craig Logan, Davies' company also manages Joe Cocker and Tony Joe White. One of his first clients in the USA was former Steve & The Board frontman Steve Kipner, and Davies was instrumental in putting Kipner together with singer Olivia Newton-John, resulting in her 1980 smash hit Physical.
Although he is now often tagged, predictably, as specialising in female artists, one of the most fascinating aspects of Roger's work is his remarkable success in facilitating spectacular career revivals for performers who had been written off being as past their use-by date. Davies' story is also quite similar to that of a number of other notable Australian road warriors -- people who got their start on the thriving Australian live scene of the late 60s and early 70s, and were then able to apply the experience and expertise they gained here with great success overseas -- people like LRB manager Glenn Wheatley, tour managers Billy McCartney (Rolling Stones, Lynard Skynyrd) and Clive Coulson (Led Zeppelin) and world-renowned concert sound engineer Howard Page, one of the original partners in Jands.
Davies' music career started around 1970 when he dropped out of university to become a roadie for cult Melbourne progressive band Company Caine. In 1971 Davies and the group relocated from Melbourne to Sydney. When gigs became scarce, he took a job at the Sydney office of the Melbourne-based Consolidated Rock booking agency, hoping to pass on occasional bookings to the group through his work. How long Davies remained working with them is unknown, but Company Caine split in October 1972 and by this time Davies had became a partner in a new booking agency, Sunrise, set up by ConRock's former manager, Michael Chugg. Sunrise later merged with Philip Jacobsen's Let It Be agency to become Australia's first national music booking agency. Davies worked concurrently as an artist manager until 1975, when he left to concentrate on launching Sherbet overseas.
Roger discovered Sherbet in 1971 while he was working at ConRock. At the time the band was slogging its way through a formative eight-month residency as the house band at Jonathon's Disco in Broadway, Sydney, playing seven hours a night, four nights a week. Davies was immediately impressed by their on-stage chemistry, the way they related to the audience, their strong musicianship and their willingness to work anywhere, anytime, and do whatever it took to get ahead. He passed on work to them through the agency and eventually became their full-time manager in 1972.
Davies cut his management teeth on Sherbet and under his astute guidance, they rapidly rose to the top. They signed to Festival Records' new subsidiary Infinity and won a fanatical following around the nation thanks to constant city and suburban gigging, prestigious support slots including the 1972 Creedence Clearwater Revival tour, and a gruelling round of country and interstate tours. Sherbet became the first local act to sell a million dollars worth of records in Australia, and the first to mount a large-scale, permanent touring operation that included specially-designed stage clothes, 3-1/2 tonnes of stage equipment, a 2000-watt PA system, and an integrated light show with pyrotechnic effects. They made some twenty national tours and travelled to almost every part of the country, including many regional towns and cities that had not been visited by bands since the 60s and some that had never seen rock tours before.
By the end of 1972 Sherbet were the hottest band in the land, winning the 'Top Australian Group' gong in the annual Go-Set Pop Poll. They were assiduously marketed by Davies as a teen-oriented singles band and their success was assisted by the fact that they were not only photogenic but also terrific musicans, tireless workers and really nice blokes. They were also fortunate that, as their songwriting developed, they were their able to create a distinctive brand of concise, soul-influenced harmony pop that was perfectly suited to the demands of the dominant new Australian Top 40 radio formula, a variant of the Drake-Chenault "Boss Radio" format, which was being spearheaded by 2SM and Rod Muir's Digamae consultancy.
Sherbet dominated the Australian pop charts through the mid-Seventies, winning award after award -- lead singer Daryl Braithwaite was Australia's 'King of Pop' for three years running - and they became a key part of the 'Countdown generation', creating scenes of fan frenzy that had not been witnessed since the heyday of The Easybeats.
After three successive years as Australia's top pop act, and hoping to get the mythical big break in England, Davies took the band to London in 1977, They had scored a major international hit with Howzat (it reached #4 in the UK) but sadly, their lack of continued success there was due in part to the fact that their work plans were frustrated by a British Musicians' Union ban. Sherbet then tried their luck in the USA in 1979. Things began promisingly, and on the recommendation of Andy Gibb they were signed to RSO Records, owned by expatriate Australian extrepreneur and Bee Gees manager Robert Stigwood.
They recorded an LP in Los Angeles in mid-1978 but problems began to develop almost immediately -- the record's US release was delayed for months and it didn't come out there until seven months after its Australian release -- and RSO also decided that the Sherbet moniker was not tough enough for the US market and insisted on a name change. The band eventually gave in and changed their name to Highway, but by this time RSO was already losing interest.
Sherbet/Highway cut three more LPs and an excellent EP, The Skill, but although the band themselves still feel that this later work was among the best of their career, it was ignored in America -- and while they slogged away in the bars and clubs of middle America, their popularity in Australia rapidly faded. Another basic problem was that athough they remained troupers to the end -- according to drummer Alan Sandow they only misseed one gig in their entire fifteen year career -- by the end they were simply worn out by the years of constant touring, and in the face of disinterest abroad and waning support at home, they finally called it a day in 1984.
It appears that Davies parted ways with the group around 1979 (whether amicably or not we don't know) and he remained in America, where he took a job working for Lee Kramer, then the manager expatriate Aussie pop princess Olivia Newton-John. She had released a string of chart-topping country-influenced hits in the Seventies, under the production guidance of fellow Aussie John Farrar, a formerly member of The Strangers and the husband of Olivia's close friend Pat Carroll. Davies' time with Kramer was extremely important and provided him both with experience in the American industry and a wealth of contacts that would soon prove invaluable.
Around the time he began working for Kramer, Davies became the manager of his close friend from Australia, Steve Kipner. The son of Spin Records boss, producer and songwriter Nat Kipner, Steve's remarkable career began in Australia in the mid-60s, where he fronted 60s popsters Steve & The Board. Relocating to London in the late '60s, he had some success with the studio group Tin Tin, which he formed with former Kinetics member Steve Groves and with assistance from Bee Gee Maurice Gibb, Tin Tin scored a notable international hit with the single Toast And Marmalade.
Kipner relocated to the USA in the mid-70s where he became increasingly active as a composer and began collaborating with other writers. Davies helped Kipner negotiate key label and publishing deals during this time, including a sub-publishing deal with CBS Songs, following the European success of a hit collaboration with Spanish star Miguel Bose.
It was Kipner's collaboration with Terry Shaddick (reputedly written with Rod Stewart in mind) which yielded his biggest hit, Physical, and Roger Davies played a crucial role in putting song and singer together, as Kipner recalled in an interview for Songwriter Universe:
"Terry and I were writing a song about the physical side of love, rather than the emotional side. We finished the verse, and then the chorus just came very quickly ... I played Roger the demo of 'Physical' at his office. By pure luck, Lee Kramer was in the next room, he heard Physical, and then he played it for Olivia. Later on, after Physical had been recorded, Olivia panicked, thinking the song was too rude to release. But by this point, all of the label promotion execs said Physical would be a smash, and that it had to be the first single. Then it was Olivia's idea to release the video first, so people would think the song was about exercise rather than sex. Of course, the song was about sex, but her plan worked. Physical received massive airplay, except in Utah and South Africa, where the song was banned."
Lee Kramer and Olivia had met in France in 1974 and they were both romantically and professionally involved until 1976, when they split for a year, but they reunited in 1977. Kramer steered Olivia through her transition from country balladeer to mega-star actress and rock singer, during the hugely successful period in which she starred in the smash hit musicals Grease and Xanadu. The partnership ended for good in 1981, after the making of Xanadu, where Olivia met her future husband, dancer Matt Lattanzi. After ending his relationship with Olivia, Kramer decided to relinquish his role as manager, By his own account, he offered the company to Davies, who guided her through the next phase of her career and played an important part in the massive sucess she enjoyed in the early 1980s, including her multi-million-selling albums Physical and Soul Kiss
Although customarily credited to Davies, recent corrspondence from Lee Kramer suggests it was he, rather than Roger, who was largely repsonsible for reviving the career of Sixties soul icon Tina Turner. One of the hottest female performers of the Sixties, Tina was indelibly linked with her husband, musician, composer and troubled music pioneer Ike Turner, whose seminal Rocket 88 is often cited as one of the first true rock'n'roll singles. In the mid-Sixties Tina had briefly stepped out as a solo performer, when she recorded one of the greatest pop singles of all time, Phil Spector's incomparable 'Wall Of Sound' masterpiece River Deep, Mountain High, which was credited to Ike and Tina even though Ike was deliberately excluded from the sessions. The Ike & Tina Turner Revue was one of the top American soul acts of the Sixties and scored another big hit with their version of Creedence Clearwater Revival's Proud Mary. Thanks to the perennial '70s hit Nutbush City Limits and their dynamic stage shows, their popularity continued during the early 70s, but by mid-decade Tina's personal life and career had fallen apart.
Ike Turner became addicted to drugs and began abusing his wife. Finally, in 1976, after years of conflict, she ended her disastrous marriage, but she left the partnership with nothing and over the next few years she struggled to survive as a solo artist. Her first solo album, Rough, released in 1978, did not do well and by 1979 she was without a record contract for the first time in her career. She was supporting herself by gigging on the hotel and club circuit but although her talent was undimished, she realised that she needed new songs, new management and a new image if she was going to reach a wider audience and make it as a solo performer.
The conventional account -- which is hotly disputed by Lee Kramer -- is that Roger Davies had long been a big fan, although he had never seen her in concert (the Turner Revue toured Australia only once, in 1974). In 1979 Davies supposedly went to see Tina live for the first time at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco and it was a turning point for both of them:
"I was skeptical. It was in the Venetian room with chandeliers and Tina came on wearing those sequins with a band in tuxedos, and I went, 'Oh my God'. You know, people were sitting there having dinner. But by the end of the show she had the whole crowd on their feet. Her energy blew me away."
Roger met Tina after the show and saw that she was still hungry for sucess. "She he said 'I want to get out of here and play rock venues.'" He obviously impressed Tina as much as she impressed him and he agreed to become her new manager. He set to work finding her a new contract, but the next couple of years proved to be a testing time. To support herself, Tina worked on the club circuit, while Davies called in every favor owed to him to put together a comeback. Tina was in debt, and record companies were either not interested or were frightened off by the spectre of Ike, who was by then notorious in the industry for his dangerous behaviour.
"When I first got involved, she was in debt, and she had this amazing knack of going into shops and saying, 'Excuse me, I'll take this dress' -- they all knew who she was -- 'and just call my manager and he'll send you a cheque.' And she'd leave town! I'd get these phone calls and they'd say, 'It's Valentino, Tina just picked up a few dresses,'and I'd say, 'Fine.' And they'd go, '$16,000.'I'd ring her up and she'd say, 'Well, I'll make the money this week!' All her life, Tina spent money before she made it."
"Trying to get her a record deal was difficult because people in the industry were scared of Ike. People weren't aware they were divorced. We had to go to England to get her a break."
In 1980 Tina agreed to do a tour of South Africa followed by a tour of Australia and South East Asia. It during this tour that Davies expressed his dissatisfaction with her stage presentation. He felt that her entourage and the material she was performing -- much of it a hangover from her days with Ike and tailored to the demands of the club circuit -- were simply not doing her justice, so he proposed a complete change. He wanted younger, more energetic musicians on stage and a change to a more contemporary rock-oriented s ound and repertoire. Tina agreed, so Davies arranged a series of showacse gigs at the Ritz in New York. They created a tremendous buzz in the entertainment world, with stars including Jagger, Warhol, De Niro and Diana Ross coming to see her. One of the shows was attended by Rod Stewart, and as a result he invited Tina to appear with him on a TV show, where they duetted, appropriately, on Rod's hit Hot Legs. Later that year, Tina attended a Rolling Stones concert and after the show Keith Richard invited her to join them for three concerts, where she wowed audiences with her duet with Mick Jagger on Honky Tonk Women.
It was Britain that again proved to be crucial in its support for Tina. River Deep Mountain High had been a major hit there, even though it was virtually ignored in the USA. Her next project was not (at first) a major commercial success, but Tina took an important artistic step forward in 1982 when she collaborated with former Human League members Martyn Ware and Ian Craig-Marsh. Now working under the name production banner of the British Electric Foundation (and soon to achieve major success with the BEF's alter-ego Heaven-17) the pair recorded an album called Music of Quality and Distinction, Vol.1. Using the latest computerised production techniques, they created new synth-driven versions of classic tracks, performed by some of their favourite singers, including Tina, Paul Jones, Sandie Shaw, Bernadette Nolan, Billy MacKenzie and Gary Glitter. The project was moderately successful, but it was Tina's electrifying vocal on the Temptations classic Ball of Confusion -- recorded in one take -- that really stole the show, and also gave the clearest indication yet of what she could achieve with the right material and sympathetic contemporary production.
Still without a record deal, Tina returned to the Ritz for another series of performances to keep the cash flowing, and it was then that the big break finally came her way. One night David Bowie attended the show with executives from Capitol Records. They were knocked out by Tina's performance and offered her the record deal she had been waiting for. Contract in hand, she returned to the UK and cut two new tracks with BEF -- covers of Bowie's 1984 and Al Green's Let's Stay Together, for which her vocal was recorded in a single take. The latter track was released in the UK in late 1983 and became a Top 5 hit, and it did the same when released in Europe and Australia early the next year. Bizarrely, Capitol at first refused to relase it as a single in America, claiming that it was too slow, but the UK single was picked up by a New York DJ and it was soon playing on radio stations around the country.
From that point on the momentum picked up with spectacular speed. Capitol were delighted with the success of Let's Stay Together and they asked for an album. The catch was that they wanted it in two weeks. In April 1984 Roger and Tina dashed back to London and recorded more tracks, including Mark Knopfler's Private Dancer, and What's Love Got To Do With It, written by Terry Britten, former lead guitarist of Aussie '60s pop icons The Twilights. The latter song was brought to her by Davies but when Britten first played it for her she didn't like it. She later changed her mind and after some rearrangement by Britten, she recorded it and the rest was history.
Davies delivered the alblum to Capitol later that month, the first single was released and it started climbing the charts. Two months later, while she was performing at the Ritz, she mentioned to Davies that she would like to appear in a film. The next day she got a call from Australian director George Miller, inviting her to be in his third Mad Max film. Later the same day she got a phone call to tell her that What's Love Got To Do With It had provided her with her first US #1 hit in 25 years, and signalling that she was not only back on top but bigger than ever -- and it was all on her own terms. Her comeback was confirmed in spectacular fashion by Private Dancer, which in spite of its left-field subject matter (prostitution) was another huge hit. It was followed by a fourth hit -- Better Be Good To Me -- and the Private Dancer album sold a whacking ten million copies.
Tina was now firmly established as one of the rock icons of the Eighties. The success of Private Dancer earned her three Grammy awards in 1985, and over the next few years she scored hit after hit, performed sell-out tours around the world, sang on We Are The World, duetted with Mick Jagger at Live Aid, played the evil Aunty Entity in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdomeand scored another huge hit with the film's Terry Britten-penned theme song, We Don't Need Another Hero.
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As well as managing Olivia and Tina's incredible career comebacks in the Eighties, Davies also managed Canadian-born singer Dalbello (aka Lisa Dal Bello), although his first stint at managing her proved less successful than with his other clients, and showed that his usually impeccable commercial instincts didn't always hit the mark. Originally from Woodbridge, Ontario, Dalbello began her professional career at the age of thirteen, touring Ontario with the "Summer Sounds '71" revue. After appearing in commercials and on CBC-TV's Singalong Jubilee, Keith Hampshire's Music Machine and The Bobby Vinton Show, she scored a contract with MCA. She released her first album of dance styled pop songs, Lisa Dal Bello, in 1977 which won her a Most Promising Female Vocalist Juno award. Pretty Girls (1978) followed with a Best New Female Vocalist Juno as well and the title track became a modest hit when covered by Melissa Manchester. After Drastic Measures (1981) she took a three-year break from recording, focussing on her poetry and attending York University. It was during this period that former David Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson saw a CBC-TV documentary on her and convinced her to get back into recording. It was presumably during this period that she took on Davies as her manager. In 1984, Dalbello and Ronson co-produced the album Whomanfoursays, at which time she change her professional name to Dalbello, transforming her image and sound from disco diva to avant-garde artiste.
Ronson and Dalbello began work on another album, but Ronson's ongoing feud with Captitol caused him to pull out. In 1986, Dalbello contributed to the 9-1/2 Weeks soundtrack, writing the song Black On Black and she also collaborated with other artists, including Duran Duran's John Taylor, Heart, the band Nena, Glass Tiger and their producer Jim Vallance, and Howard Jones' producer Rupert Hine, who also had a solo recording career. She eagerly began a co-production with Hine in London, England, but Roger Davies vetoed the project soon after and suggested that she look for a 'more commercial' producer. Disappointed, Dalbello returned to Toronto and waited for Davies to set up meetings. In the meantime she and engineer Lenny De Rose recorded three tracks in the hopes that Davies and Capitol might accept the idea of her producing her own material, but though they liked the songs, they vetoed the idea of Dalbello self-producing.
Almost a year passed, so in an ingenious effort to move the project forward, she decided to hand in the same demo she offered up a year earlier. Having learned the lesson that "perception is everything" Dalbello half-jokingly created a fictional producer, Bill Da'Salleo (an anagram of her full name, Lisa Dal Bello), explaining to them that Da'Salleo was an old school friend of hers and a very talented producer who just needed a break. Both Roger Davies and Capitol immediately green-lighted the project, hailing Bill Da' Salleo as "a genius".
Her next album, the self-produced she, was released in Europe in 1987. She enjoyed commercial success in Scandinavia, Germany and Holland with the singles Tango and Talk To Me, so Capitol requested that Dalbello return to Toronto to begin promoting and touring the record, which they were preparing to release in North America. But by this time the Bill Da' Salleo cover story had been exposed and, disappointingly for Dalbello, Davies began to question the strength of the album's production and commercial viability. It was suggested that she scrap half the album and record new songs with a new producer and other songwriters.
Because of this uncertainty, eighteen months elapsed before the album's US release, momentum was lost, and the record company's interest in tour and promotional plans faded. The album was finally released in 1989 but made no significant commercial impact in Canada. As a result, Dalbello parted ways with both Davies and Capitol. Dalbello and Mick Ronson began working together again in 1991. Mick was enthused with Dalbello's new material and wanted to play guitar for her on a Scandinavian club tour scheduled for November '91 but then he fell ill and the tour was pushed back to April 1992. His health continued to decline, forcing the tour to be cancelled and planned recording to be postponed. Sadly, Ronson's illness proved fatal and he succumbed to cancer on 29 April 1993. Dalbello disappeared off the scene for several years, but in fact what she was doing was working with her brother Stefano to record 1997's whore in Toronto. Once completed, she reconciled with Davies and re-signed with EMI.
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Much has been written about Roger's success with Tina, but there is a real paucity of information available about his management of Janet Jackson and Cher. It would appear that he took over Jackson's management sometime before her major international breakthrough, but he was certainly on board by the time she blasted into the charts in 1990 and thrilled audiences with her superb Rhythm Nation album and the subsequent tour, which critics and audiences alike still regard as one of the best of the decade.
Cher appears to be a relatively recent addition to the RDWM stable. Perhaps even more so than Tina, Cher is the archetypal "comeback kid" and she has the unique distinction of being the only female performer to have #1 hits in four successive decades. Davies evidently took over as Cher's manager in the late 1990s, around the time of her massive international smash hit Believe (Love After Love) in 1999 and oversaw her hugely successful 1999 world tour and her record-breaking 2003 farewell tour, which made Cher the highest-grossing female touring artist in the world that year, taking a massive US$145 million.
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Davies' most recent success is American singer Pink (Alecia Moore), who made her first tour of Australia in April 2004. She cut her debut album in 2000, when she was just 18. Davies was impressed by her performance in her first video and reviewed her album, but he was no more convinced by it than the many critics who bagged it -- the Village Voice rated it #780 in their annual album poll. The public were less jaundiced and it sold a very respectable three million copies.
The first album had been very much the construction of her label, Arista, but Pink then bravely decided to take control of her career and do the next record her way, changing label and management and developing her own material. It was then that Davies heard some of the songs Pink had written with her new collaborator, 4 Non Blondes member Linda Perry, and he was intrigued, as he recalled in a 2003 Sydney Morning Herald interview:
"She not only sang along to the tracks, but she acted them out. She said, 'This song is going to be the first single, and this is how the video should be.' By then I knew I wanted to manage her. I told her that she was taking a huge risk by changing her sound, but she knew that. She was just fearless."
Her profile was boosted by her hugely successful collaboration with Christina Aguilera, Lil Kim and Mya in the mega-hit video and single for the signature song from Baz Luhrmann's film Moulin Rouge, a cover of LaBelle's classic Lady Marmelade. She followed up with her second album, which a far more personal voice, featuring many songs that addressed her tempestuous childhood in Philadelphia and her parents' divorce. Her determination paid off in spades -- M!ssundaztood was a tremendous hit, winning over critics and fans alike and selling an extraordinary 10 million copies worldwide, and the single Get This Party Started became the party anthem of the year and a Top Five US hit.
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Roger Davies notoriety in the music business has led to him becoming probably the only Australian rock manager ever to be portrayed in American TV and film. In 1993 Kurt Loder's biography of Tina Turner, What's Love Got To Do With It, was made into a hit film with Angela Bassett as Tina and Australian singer-actor James Reyne portraying Davies. Roger also featured (briefly) as a character in a 1997 Saturday Night Live sketch. The show -- hosted by actor Alec Baldwin, with Tina as musical guest -- featured an hilarious sketch in which Tina's dressing room is invaded by star-struck, disaster-prone Catholic schoolgirl Mary Catherine Gallagher (played by Molly Shannon), with Baldwin making a brief cameo as Davies, wearing a spectacularly bad blond wig and speaking in a comically broad Australian accent -- probably intended as a parody of Reyne's poorly-reviewed role in the Tina biopic.
REFERENCES / LINKS
Steve Kipner article, Songwriter Universe site
Oscar van Duijn
"Tina Turner - Simply The Last Time"
US "Elle" Interview with Tina
"Tina Turner Happy At Last"
Sydney Morning Herald, 22 November, 2003
Jam! Music's Canadian POP Music Encyclopedia.
Dalbello official website