Have a Cigar! The Memoir of the Man Behind Pink Floyd, T. Rex, The Jam, and George Michael
By Bryan Morrison
Of all the inductees into this year’s class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it’s the one of oldest vintage that stands out as the most Dark Horse candidate – T. Rex. That’s because while the group is primarily known in the United States as a one-hit wonder for “Bang A Gong (Get It On),” their popularity overseas as a folk duo turned glam/boogie rock kings was far greater.
Bryan Morrison served as the group’s manager and agent in the early part of their career from 1968-71. And he certainly recalls here what kind of initial impression the group’s alpha leader Marc Bolan made on him when the elfin singer/songwriter’s girlfriend suggested he audition for Morrison.
“It soon became evident that the man with the impish grin knew what he wanted and where he was going. As with all great artists I’ve come across, it was never a question of ‘if I make it,’ rather than ‘when I make it,’’ Morrison writes. “I still remember with total clarity the minute that passed as he played to me. The room filled with magic…he was like a beautiful lost animal, singing in the forest on the night of a full moon. I was mesmerized, elated, transfixed.”
Morrison says he quit when Bolan’s ego became too large as the singer surrounded himself with sycophants. Though he says they ran into each other at a club six years later, Bolan tearfully apologizing with his arms around Morrison’s neck while sitting in his former manager’s lap. Five days later, Bolan was dead in a car wreck.
Morrison also felt that way about another client who led his own group – Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd. Morrison served as a manager and agent for the band early in their career. That was before he was fired by Roger Waters immediately after the Floyd came offstage from their breakthrough gig at Royal Albert Hall, which Morrison booked for them. Morrison would later work with a drugged-out Barrett for his first two solo albums and recalls one evening when the troubled singer/guitarist showed up at his front door and, angry about a perceived business slight, bit Morrison deep on the hand.
In fact, in this memoir from the hyphenate manager/agent/music publisher – written in 1991 but only seeing the light of day now – Morrison almost gleefully chronicles a litany of missed opportunities and wrong bets. He turns down the chance for his group Pretty Things to record Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” before the Byrds; declines to chance to manage a burgeoning Rod Stewart despite the singer’s pleas; he turns over a new group called Jethro Tull to friends to manage; he sells the music publishing/recording rights for Free to make a mortgage payment.
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He takes a flat fee instead of royalties for the rights to a David Gilmour song that would appear on an upcoming album called Dark Side of the Moon. A record that has to date sold over 40 million copies. But the worst mistake Morrison says he made in his life? Turning down a dinner invitation from Ike Turner in Memphis where the only other guest would be Elvis Presley. He had an already-scheduled date with a blond woman.
As Morrison’s take continues, there are pages about his time working with the Bee Gees (brotherly ego fights), the Jam (Paul Weller's ego helping to derail their U.S. career), and Wham! (for whom he was an early supporter and could see the star potential of George Michael). But – as with all the performers mentioned – Morrison seems to spend a short period of time actually working with them, and the anecdotes and revelations are a bit on the skimpy side. Hardly deserving of the book subtitle’s claim he was “The Man Behind” these acts.
But Bryan Morrison had wide-ranging interests and was something of a bon vivant. Outside of music, his business and personal lives touched art, fashion, theater, real estate, and furniture design, and he includes these non-musical journeys in the narrative. He was also an obsessed observer and player of polo, though his attraction to the game would have tragic consequences. While playing an informal game with his son in 2006, Morrison was thrown from his horse and suffered a traumatic brain injury that put him in a coma from which he never awoke, finally passing away in 2008.
While not quite delivering on the promise of a dishy, deep, and telling insider memoir, Have a Cigar! does offer something for those interested in the backroom machinations of the rock business. And it highlights a long gone time when charismatic solo wheelers and dealers – maybe with a bit of shady partnerships – could make struggling performers into stars.