LA promoter Julian Douglas
Julian Douglas with his wife Nicole and rock icons KISS
JUST LIKE THAT OLD-TIME ROCK N’ ROLL
Here’s a Metal Sludge exclusive with top Los Angeles promoter Julian "Mr. 80s" Douglas. He’s a hair-metal affectionado, but that does not mean he’s a pushover for has-beens
By: Gerry Gittelson
Metal Sludge Contributor
Hollywood, CA — If Metal Sludge is the one helping to keep ‘80s rock alive on the internet, then the great Julian Douglas is the one doing it in real life as a Los Angeles rock promoter specializing in bringing all the old hair-metal bands back to life.
Promoting shows at the Greek Theatre, Nokia Theatre, the Key Club, the Brixton South Bay and other storied venues, Douglas has booked everyone from ABC to ZZ Top. Some nights are more successful than others, but through the years Douglas has shown a knack for helping bands get all they can out of their performances.
Following in the footsteps of Bill Graham, Douglas has a zesty love for what he does. You can hear it in his voice, see it in his eyes and feel it in your bones. No one is more loyal to the old scene, and that’s a big reason Douglas was named “Promoter of the Decade” by L.A. Music Awards.
Douglas is that good at what he does, so you’ve got to respect the Corvette-drivin’, high-fivin’, glad-he’s-alivin’ maestro of the local rock scene.
And if you’re worried that a Metal Sludge exclusive with Douglas is going to be a bunch of kissy-face memories of seeing KISS for the first time or snorting cocaine with Guns N’ Roses back in the day, fear not. Douglas tells it like it is in a big way, and for once it was nice to meet someone in the club business who is not a two-faced, back-stabbing rapscallion.
Rock and roll is a business that applauds you one minute, then turns its back on you the next. One moment, you’re the toast of the town, and the next you’re being spit out the bottom of the porn industry. You’ve got to have tough skin to make it, but you can still succeed by being a nice guy.
And if you don’t believe it, read on.
Julian Douglas with long time friend Jack Russell of Great White
METAL SLUDGE: OK, Julian how did you first get started?
Douglas:I tried to make it as a rock and roll singer a long time ago on the Sunset Strip but it amounted to nothing — but all my buddies became famous. All the guys in Ratt, Dokken, Great White, especially Jack Russell.
METAL SLUDGE: That’s interesting. We were all just hanging out together with Jack Russell and you and me at the John Waite show the other night at Brixton South Bay. Let’s start with Jack Russell.
Douglas: We’ve known each other for 25 years, all the way to hanging out at the Red Onion (restaurant) and hangin’ on his boat. I knew him when he was just getting famous.
METAL SLUDGE: So you’ve known Jack through a lot of ups and downs. The rough times with the drugs and illnesses, did it pain you seeing Jack like that?
Douglas: Of course it did. It was a very painful thing because a lot of vocalists from the 80s, they just can’t do it anymore, or they’re forcing it, but Jack just always had such natural ability and soul in his voice.
METAL SLUDGE: I don’t think he ever took a singing lesson in his life. He didn’t need to.
Douglas: Yeah. So many from Jack’s day, they’ve either passed away or OD’d, or they’ve amounted to nothing, begging for a beer at the Rainbow.
METAL SLUDGE: Was there a point where you thought Jack Russell might die?
Douglas: Oh, I had no doubt he would. It’s a miracle. I think it’s a great story that Jack just celebrated one year of sobriety. He still has a long road ahead, but he’s been given a second chance on life. It’s heartbreaking some of these artists like Jani Lane.
Julian Douglas & Jani Lane
METAL SLUDGE: That one still hurts. You and Jani were good friends. You went to the private family funeral ceremony in Malibu.
Douglas:I knew Jani for 25 years. When he died, I was one of the first to find out about it before the public. I still talk to the family. It’s still up in the air how Jani passed away. I think there’s an ongoing investigation. Regardless of what happened, he is gone, and it looked like Jack Russell was going to follow the same path.
METAL SLUDGE: You mentioned Ratt. They were right up with Motley Crue back in the day, but look where Motley is now and look where Ratt is. Your thoughts?
Douglas: Dokken, Quiet Riot, Ratt. They were among the first to emerge in the 80s from the so-called Strip days. Warrant and Poison and especially Guns N’ Roses, they all came later. I was a South Bay boy, with Bobby Blotzer and Juan Croucier and all those guys. There was a certain pride back then in being from the South Bay. So we always made an extra effort to listen to them, to see them play small, little gigs. With Ratt, let’s face it, they were very amazing but they weren’t bigger than big like some of the others.
METAL SLUDGE: Are you kidding? They did like four or five arena tours. Ratt was pretty darn big.
Douglas: Yeah, but they should have been bigger. They had like a new MTV video every few months, but now they’re kind of part of the negative stigma of the 80s, the crash and burn like so many artists, and the other major tarnish, all the inner turmoils that all the 80s bands have had. You look at the two examples, Motley Crue and Ratt, and Motley right now is as big as they were then because they understand the concept that business is business – even if every guy in the band has to have their own bus, their own entourage, their own dressing room. Sometimes the only time they see each other is at sound check and back on stage for the show. Poison is the same way – sometimes they’re best friends, and sometimes they hate each other but bands like Motley and Poison put business ahead of everything else.
Rikki Rockett, Julian, Sebastian Bach & Chaz West
KNAC Dj Junkman, Julian & Geoff Tate
Troy Patrick Farrell, Bobby Blotzer, Julian & EJ Curse
METAL SLUDGE: A lot of bands split off, too, and that was Ratt. It’s all part of it.
Douglas: Look at Queensryche. Are you kidding me. What a joke. But with Ratt, we all know that now that Juan is back, he wants what he wants and Steven Pearcy wants what he wants, and Warren wants what he wants, and there was already enough problems before all this, so my thinking is: Let’s just keep things like a business because you look now and Ratt hasn’t toured in, what, year and half? You say they did five arena tours, Gerry, but now they can’t get their shit together to play the Key Club.
METAL SLUDGE: Keep going, Julian. You’re on a roll.
Douglas: Well, the two bands out there at the same time, now with Great White and L.A. Guns, two of the most notable names, they can’t get their shit together. Faster Pussycat, BulletBoys, even Ratt. That’s really a tarnish. Even Warrant was part of that mess.
METAL SLUDGE: And now Pretty Boy Floyd.
Douglas: Pretty Boy Floyd? Those guys are idiots. Sorry, but they give the 80s a bad name. It’s hard enough to sell a band like that as they are, but then with the inner turmoil, the fans don’t want to be a part of that bullshit. And Tracii Guns. Shit, what an asshole. I mean, I have maybe two enemies in the whole world, so I don’t like to say personal things, but he’s one of them.
Julian Douglas with his wife and Don Dokken
METAL SLUDGE: This is a perfect time to bring up Don Dokken. How good of friends were you again?
Douglas:I am great friends with him.
METAL SLUDGE: So tell me, Julian, with his reputation, is Don Dokken really that hard to get along with, or is he misunderstood? I mean, would you say there’s something wrong with him?
Douglas: No, there’s nothing wrong with him. I would say “misunderstood.” I think because he’s such a genius with music, and it shows with his production and engineering, that he’s just a perfectionist, and maybe sometimes he expects from others what he expects from himself, especially in the studio, and that makes some people see Don Dokken as an asshole. The business part, as far as splitting songwriting credits and royalties and that kind of stuff, I can’t comment on that because I don’t know, but his personality, he definitely comes across a certain way. But if you’ve known him for years, you know he’s a good guy. He kind of reminds me of Jizzy Pearl. The whole thing kind of depends on what they’ve had to drink, and with Jizzy, as he says, Jizzilla comes out.
METAL SLUDGE: Red wine is his favorite, right?
Douglas: Oh yes. A glass of red wine. People say, “Fuck Jizzy, he’s such a dick,” but they don’t really know him. He’s sarcastic. That’s his personality. I find Don Dokken is the same way.
METAL SLUDGE: You promote shows. Hopefully, most of them sell out or make a lot of money, but there are always a few bad ones. Can it be humbling when no one comes to your show?
Douglas: Oh yes. I’ve seen it first hand. I have to be careful what bands I name, but there are a lot of bands, for example, that when they play the Key Club, you would automatically think they could sell it out. But I’ve had bands like that that should be selling 500 or 600 tickets and keep bragging about how they played these huge festivals and county fairs or that they played Fremont Street and it was packed. But then they play the Key Club and sell 38 tickets. I almost want to tell ‘em: “Look dude, you played Fremont Street and it was packed because every crack addict and tourist came out to see a live band, so get off your high horse.”
Some bands, they don’t want to play for a lower amount, and that can be humbling. Sometimes they ask for $5,000, and I say I’ll pay $2,500 plus bonuses for every increment in attendance totals, and they say, “No way.” I tell them that if they’re so confident about all these people that follow you and message you on Facebook, then why not? But let’s face it: Most bands aren’t as big as they were 25 years ago.
I’ve got to be careful about what I say, but look at Great White, the other Great White.
METAL SLUDGE: Yeah.
Douglas:It’s just so up and down. Could Faster Pussycat/Bang Tango/BulletBoys sell out House of Blues? No way.
Steve Riley, Julian, Brian Perera CEO of Cleopatra Records & Phil Lewis
METAL SLUDGE: What was the biggest bomb of all?
Douglas: The Tracii Guns L.A. Guns is a prime example. They completely bombed at Club Vodka. Each time I’ve booked ‘em, they do less and less. They played three times at the Brixton, every time with a different singer. What is that? When you pop in a band’s CD on the way to show, and you’re getting all pumped up, when you arrive you want to see the singer you’ve been listening to for 25 years.
METAL SLUDGE: Less than 100 people turn up?
Douglas: Oh god yes. My job is to get people to come so we make money, but as a promoter, I’m only as good as the product I’m selling.
METAL SLUDGE: So what is it between you and Tracii Guns?
Douglas: Well, we had been friends for years. I always thought we were buddies, but one night at the Brixton South Bay, they had like 13 tickets presold, and the ownership wanted me to bring like 100 of my friends on the free guest list, and I just wasn’t comfortable doing it. Against my better judgment, I got an extra 100 people down there after all, but half or maybe 75 of them left, and I felt like a fool.
As a businessman, it’s on me to sell the show. Anyway, back in the dressing room, Tracii was like: “I heard what you said – that we’re a fake L.A. Guns,” and he almost wanted to fight me. Then he was trying to sic his bodyguard on me, or his big roadie, whatever. The guy confronts me and practically threatened me, telling me, “You’re gonna have to get out of here, dude.” I was like, “Dude, I work for this club.” It was so childish. Instead of fighting me, Tracii should have been thanking me for at least bring 100 people instead of the 25 that were in the club. That was a crappy night. The Brixton holds 450. It was a horrible show.
METAL SLUDGE: Did you ever get in Tracii’s face?
Douglas: I never had the chance. I told the booking agent, “Never again.”
Julian with Taime Downe of Faster Pussycat
Riki Rachtman, Julian & Jesse James Dupree of Jackyl
Julian with Matt Sorum
METAL SLUDGE: Here’s something that could be interesting to Sludge readers: What’s the most money you ever paid a band?
Douglas: I dunno, probably Ratt or Cinderella. I think $50,000 or $75,000 for Cinderella.
METAL SLUDGE: I used to promote shows on the Sunset Strip back in the day – the G-Spot Jams. The one thing I can remember is I could never enjoy the night because I was always so anxious and so worried about making the rent or, god forbid, some big band was playing down the street or something at another club. Do you feel anxiety, too?
Douglas: Oh, every show I do. I remember doing Quiet Riot this one time at the Brixton South Bay, and the band was also playing the Coach House (in Orange County) and Canyon Club (in the Valley) the same weekend. The Coach House and Canyon Club ended up being packed, and we had maybe 125 people. The Brixton lost its ass that night, I lost my ass that night, and it was expensive because Quiet Riot was getting $7,500 or $10,000, and with 100 people in the club, you do the math. You’re up shit creek.
METAL SLUDGE: And when a band does not do well, you’re the first one they blame – the promoter. Right?
Douglas: All the fuckin’ time. Are you kidding? Half these bands are not what they think they are.
METAL SLUDGE: The average show, how much does each patron spend on drinks? How many dollars per head?
Douglas: My crowd, about 25 dollars, and that’s been proven. People in their 40s, they don’t go out as much, so when they do it’s a big deal. They’re the ones who order an apple martini instead of a Pabst Blue Ribbon.
METAL SLUDGE: So you’re proud of the moniker Mr. 80s.
Douglas: I am. I think I have the right to call myself that because I’ve been around forever. There’s a lot of people around this town that maybe hung out at the Rainbow or did shots one night with this rock star or that rock star, and now they think they’re in the music industry, but they’re not. I have 18,000 names on my mailing list.
I don’t have a day off. There are times I’m dealing with stuff, working after a show until 7 a.m., and that’s just when agents on the East Coast are rolling into their office, so I’m back up, turning the computer back on again.
METAL SLUDGE: You must be always on the phone. Would you say you make at least 50 calls a day.
Douglas: Are you kidding. I’m looking at my phone right now, and I have 17 missed calls just sitting here talking to you. (laughs)
John Corabi & Julian
Julian & Michael Starr of Steel Panther
METAL SLUDGE: You’re funny. OK, this story needs a happy ending. Who was the most shocking, pleasant surprise, a band that surprised you with how many people they brought? You know, you were expected 50 and they brought 500, something like that.
Douglas: Nelson. We had them at Brixton South Bay, and we were really worried about that show because Nelson hadn’t done any shows for a while. I had known Gunnar and Matthew, and they had always been great with me, but as far as pushing the show, I was worried. Well, not only were they very tight, not only did they play great, but I had never seen audience interaction like that. The place was packed, and everybody had the time of their lives. It was like “Storytellers.” They were joking about their hair length and people were calling out song requests, and I’m telling you, Nelson just blew me away.
Plus, we did an impromptu meet-and-great because there were so many people waiting in line to buy merchandise. The bar must have done an extra $1,000 afterwards just with people waiting to buy merch. They signed autographs and took pictures with every single person. It must have taken an hour and a half. I was impressed.
METAL SLUDGE: Oh, one more thing. You said you were a singer. Why do you think you never made it big like your friends?
Douglas: Wow, to be honest, how do I put this: At the time, in Hollywood, I wasn’t the kind of guy who would spend seven nights on the Strip and do every drug and hang around in a tour bus, that sort of thing. Looking back now, I wasn’t dirty enough to make it. I had too much pride, living in a nice place, going to USC for a bit. I’m not going to say I was spoiled, but being who I am, it was hard to write songs like Guns N’ Roses. How could I?
METAL SLUDGE: What was the name of your band?
Douglas: Oh god, who remembers? There were a few of them. At one time it was Queen of Hearts.
METAL SLUDGE: Never heard of ‘em, Julian.
Douglas: (laughs) Well, I did sing for Silent Rage at one point. I guess I’ll always be able to say that.
Gerry Gittelson can be reached @ firstname.lastname@example.org