Jan 25, 1986: Albert Grossman, ex-Dylan Manager, Dies

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Albert Grossman and his most famous client

One of the best music books of 2016 was Small Town Talk: Bob Dylan, The Band, Van Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Friends in the Wild Years of Woodstock, by Barney Hoskyns. It tells of how a bucolic pit stop in upstate New York became a mecca for musicians in the mid-’60s and early ’70s, attracting many of the most creative talents of the era, including those in the subtitle.

But that subtitle makes no mention of the man around whom that entire scene flourished. Albert Grossman is truly the main character of Small Town Talk, a larger-than-life figure who nurtured many of the artists who came to call Woodstock home but ultimately—in the eyes of many of them, including Dylan—became an insufferable boor. Grossman was the hub around which the Woodstock music scene swirled; he was also its villain.

Today marks the anniversary of his death, at age 59, in 1986.

Related: Dylan’s Woodstock brush with death

Albert Bernard Grossman was born May 21, 1926, in Chicago, getting his start in the music biz in the mid-’50s, where he ran a folk music club, the Gate of Horn, In 1959, with George Wein, Grossman organized the first Newport Folk Festival. As the ‘’60s dawned, he began managing artists working within that milieu, which was beginning to show great commercial promise thanks to college students. One of hiss first clients was Joan Baez, a young folk singer with a pure voice and earnest approach and before long Grossman was gathering other new acts into his burgeoning stable of artists: He put three singers together into a folk group called Peter, Paul and Mary and guided them to #1 albums and even hit singles. And of course there was Dylan. Grossman knew the kid had something and he stopped at nothing to make sure the world came to know him too.

Dylan eventually came to live with Grossman in Woodstock (the cover photo of Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home was shot in Grossman’s home) and bought his own home there, a place called Big Pink where he and a group of musicians who would some day go out on their own as The Band worked and played.

Related: Small Town Talk reviewed

Bob Dylan in Albert Grossman’s Woodstock home. The location provided the cover art for Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home album.

Those inside the business also came to know Grossman. He was a large man with a ponytail long before that became fashionable among men. He was loud and brash and pushy. He got things done, made money, built a recording studio, a record label and a theater, pissed people off just by being who he was and never changed his ways, regardless of the consequences. He was indispensable and yet artists came to despise him even while they admired him.

In his memoir, Chronicles: Volume One, Dylan wrote, “He looked like Sydney Greenstreet from the film The Maltese Falcon, had an enormous presence, always dressed in a conventional suit and tie, and he sat at his corner table [at a New York folk club]. Usually when he talked, his voice was loud like the booming of war drums. He didn’t talk so much as growl.”

Yet into his orbit they came: Todd Rundgren, Gordon Lightfoot, Janis, Odetta, Richie Havens, Paul Butterfield, Phil Ochs and so many others. By the beginning of the’70s, most of them had fled. There were angry accusations of financial improprieties. There were lawsuits and trials and, as time went on, even as those he championed left him behind, bad-mouthing him along the way, the ever-eccentric Grossman, who had become something of a hermit while buying up properties and watching Woodstock become world famous, continued to act as if nothing had gotten in his way.

Grossman was on a Concorde flight to Europe to attend a music business convention when he suffered a heart attack and died.

Watch Albert Grossman in a scene from the Dylan documentary Don’t Look Back

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