Road Mangler

Phil Kaufman – Road Mangler

philemmy“How We Met”

Interview by Lucy O’Brien
The Independent (London), Oct. 6, 1996

Emmylou Harris: When I first met Phil, I was being bombarded by a lot of strange stuff. I was touring with Gram Parsons. LA was very exotic to come to; it was my first time there and everything seemed unusual. Phil seemed like an upbeat person with a great sense of humor. We had to be good friends, because his girlfriend was babysitting my daughter and we were traveling together on a bus with no bunks and people sleeping on the floor.

We became really close after Gram Parsons’ death from a drug overdose. It brought us together in our loss. I remember once coming out to LA to sing with Linda Ronstadt. I was in my late 20s, going through a latent case of acne, and I had a big, red pimple right in the middle of my forehead. I got off the plane, it was the first time I had seen Phil since Gram died, and he goes: “Nice bullet hole, Miss Harris.” His humor is astonishing.

There was no weeping and moaning. Obviously we were all affected by events, but his comment made me laugh and put me at my ease.

Phil and Gram were very close, like brothers. For all his making light of everything, Phil obviously loved him. I also loved Gram very much. He was my best friend and someone who changed my life. Whether we’d have gone on to be more than friends, it’s hard to say. All I know is I was devastated by his death. We’d just started to know one another.
pgeI remember Gram talking to me about a pact he’d made with Phil after the funeral of Clarence White (the ex-Byrds guitar player), that if one of them died, the other would take the body out to a place called Joshua Tree in the California desert. And, of course, shortly after that, Gram died. Phil kidnapped his coffin from the airport at LA and burned it in the desert. My first thought was that I wished I could have been there, because I never got a chance to say goodbye to Gram. I respect Phil for doing what he did; it was an act of love and friendship.

I had a record deal and had been on the road for a year or two before Phil started road-managing me again. It was great to have him back; we didn’t miss a step. He comes off like the clown with the jokes and the wisecracks, but he uses that in doing a good job. I feel very safe knowing Phil is running things.

Occasionally, a fan will get very intense or scary, and there’s only been a couple of incidents where humor didn’t work and Phil had to go into his Harley Davidson pose. He’s never had to punch someone out. At least, if he did he never told me about it.

He was never abusive to my ex-husbands. I’m still great friends with them, but I guess marriage and me don’t mix. As for Phil, well, it’s a girl in every port. His girlfriends are always great gals. They appreciate his humor.

When I learned that Phil had prostate cancer, right away I was concerned that we needed to take care of him, making sure that he had the money for treatment and that it was OK for him to go on the road. But I heard it was treatable. I felt that Phil was young and healthy enough, so I didn’t allow myself to get too worried. I started to see Phil really take care of himself. He’s lost weight, stopped drinking. This might be a godsend that ends up prolonging his life.

I’ve never fallen out with him. I sometimes vent my frustration on him, but he’s a good punching bag; he takes it in his stride. You can’t stay in a grumpy mood when someone’s that funny. He makes me realize that there’s always something to laugh about — that’s an extraordinary gift to have.

He doesn’t pamper me. I know he loves me. He’s family.

(Emmylou Harris, 47, was born in Birmingham, Ala. She started her career singing with country rock pioneer Gram Parsons, then after his 1973 death went on to record 19 albums — including last year’s acclaimed ‘Wrecking Ball.’ She has been married three times, has two daughters, 17 and 26, and now lives in Nashville with her mother.)

rmdPhil Kaufman:
 I first met Emmylou at the notorious Chateau Marmont hotel in Los Angeles in 1973 when we were touring Gram Parson’s album, ‘GP,’ and she was his backing singer. I knocked on her door to introduce myself: “Hi, I’m Gram’s road manager. I’m looking after you.” The door opened and there was this beautiful young lady there, with long brunette hair. She was a hippie, folkie girl. Not beads and sandals, but long straight hair. I just called her the chick singer. To this day, we say affectionately: “Has anybody seen the chick singer?”

She’d sit in the studio and knit, and I’d say: “Aren’t you meant to be singing?” She’d look at me and say, very proper: “When Gram wants me, he’ll call me.” She was very much impressed with him — he had a good track record, having been in the Byrds and friends with bthe Rolling Stones. He was impressed with her singing ability and they spent a lot of time rehearsing their voices together. When I listen to some of those old records, her voice is beautiful.

Emmylou was very conservative, and she had her little girl, Hallie, with her. Once in a while, she would go out with the boys and drink tequila and get sick and swear off. She was never an abuser. The guys enjoyed her company, though — we were very protective of her. Those years were a blur. We were really honky tonk and heavy in those days. Real party time. We were young, you get crazy.

Me and Gram were good friends. He was living with me when he died and I knew he was in bad shape. At Clarence White’s funeral, Gram and I agreed that if he’d had a choice, Clarence wouldn’t have had that type of funeral. That’s when we made our pact. He died and I had to honor it. I stole his body from the airport in LA, took it out to the desert and poured five gallons of high gas over him.

I was arrested and fined $750, but among his friends there have been no complaints. Emmylou was shattered by his death. Everything was going so well. We’d just done the first tour and were getting ready to do the second, and he died. Her world collapsed around her. I didn’t see much of her immediately after that.

When Gram died, I got out of the music business for a while, came to England with my 4-year-old son and worked for Harley Davidson. Emmylou had gone back to Washington and formed a band that wasn’t very good. Then eddie Tickner, Gram’s manager, took her under his wing. Under his guidance she got a record deal, and in 1975 I saw her again when she came to England — playing a concert with the Hot Band at the Hammersmith Odeon.

When I went back to America the following year, she called me up and asked if I’d be her road manager again. I said, “Yeah. Boy, you know it.” I’ve road-managed her on and off for 25 years. We’re pals. With her, I’ve been through three marriages and several different hair shades.

When I was diagnosed with cancer and said I didn’t have any money or insurance, the first thing she said was, “Right, we’ll do a show.” So she’s headlining at a benefit for me in Nashville on Oct. 8 (1996).

I got the diagnosis in March and I’ve been getting hormone shots to make the tumor smaller so it’s manageable for treatment. It was a real shock, but I have confidence in my doctors that I’m going to be all right. They caught it at the right stage.

Emmylou’s been very supportive. I’ve always been there if she needed me and I’ve never needed her until now. I didn’t even have to ask. She might get a little grumpy with me sometimes, but we’ve never really fallen out.

I wouldn’t know how to handle it if I couldn’t be her friend. I think we’ll be friends forever.

(Phil Kaufman, 56, was born in New York, and moved to LA in the late 1950s to work as a movie stunt man. After a period in prison on a drug charge, he became one of the best-known road managers in the music business — working for the Rolling Stones, Joe Cocker, Frank Zappa and Emmylou Harris. Divorced, he has one son, aged 26, and lives in Nashville.) –

( Submitted by ALAN STAMM )