When semi-retired artist manager Shep Gordon married a raw food chef three days before his 60th birthday, he arranged to have his honeymoon on “an extremely exclusive resort on a tiny, remote island” in Hawaii that usually plays host to just one or two couples.
When Gordon’s wife’s laptop broke, he called the front desk for assistance, and a “repairman” showed up several minutes later.It was Steve Jobs — the resort’s other guest.
Jobs fixed the computer and, being a raw food enthusiast, joined the couple for dinner the next few nights.
For most people, this would be an outlandish, once-in-a-lifetime tale. For Gordon, it was just another day in his charmed life of random celebrity encounters, as revealed in his new memoir “They Call Me Supermensch.”
Gordon, who was born in Queens in 1945 and raised in Oceanside, L.I., went to the University of Buffalo, but rarely attended classes, and began selling marijuana in his sophomore year. Twice while in college he smuggled pot across the U.S./Mexican border, after driving there in the Mustang convertible he bought in part with his bar mitzvah money.
The first time, after meeting his connections and getting the pot, he was taken to meet a rancher, who brought out a horse.
“[They] explained to me that once it got dark, I was going to ride this horse across the Rio Grande back into the States with my bag of weed. I had never been on a horse in my life. They said, ‘That’s all right. The horse knows what to do. He’s done this plenty of times.’”The first time, after meeting his connections and getting the pot, he was taken to meet a rancher, who brought out a horse.
“[They] explained to me that once it got dark, I was going to ride this horse across the Rio Grande back into the States with my bag of weed. I had never been on a horse in my life. They said, ‘That’s all right. The horse knows what to do. He’s done this plenty of times.’”
That’s exactly how it happened. The horse rode him and his bag of weed across the border to safety, he disembarked with his merchandise and went to his car, while the horse turned around (presumably) for Mexico.
By 1968, Gordon was broke, unemployed, aimless and homeless in Los Angeles. Driving one night, he saw a sign for a motel called the Landmark, and took a room.
Feeling dejected and lost, he took a hit of acid and sat on the balcony. Around midnight, he heard a woman’s scream, and thought he saw a woman being raped by the pool.
But when he went to separate the two people he saw, the woman punched him in the mouth.
“We’re f–king,” she said. “Would you please leave us alone.”
The next day, a group was hanging out by the pool, the woman among them. She told the story, getting a big laugh, then everyone introduced themselves.
“She was Janis Joplin,” Gordon writes.
“Lounging on pool chairs around her were Jimi Hendrix; Lester and Willie Chambers of the Chambers Brothers, who had the hit song ‘Time Has Come Today’ … and Paul Rothchild,” who produced albums by Joplin and The Doors. Jim Morrison was a frequent visitor.
Given the star power, groupies — including the infamous GTOs, led by Pamela Des Barres, then known as Miss Pamela — were a constant presence.
“You could sit at the pool and see these girls … moving from Hendrix’s room to Morrison’s room and so on,” he writes, noting that he lost his virginity to one of these groupies. At 22, “I was so naive I thought, Wow, this girl really likes me. And then she was two doors down the next night.”“You could sit at the pool and see these girls … moving from Hendrix’s room to Morrison’s room and so on,” he writes, noting that he lost his virginity to one of these groupies. At 22, “I was so naive I thought, Wow, this girl really likes me. And then she was two doors down the next night.”
Gordon, along with a friend, became the hotel’s LSD and marijuana dealer, and they were so successful within a few months that they bought a limo.
One day by the pool, Lester asked Gordon how he would explain owning the limo to the police if asked, and Gordon realized he needed a cover — a profession that looked legit.
“You guys are Jewish, right?” Lester said. “Well, then you should be managers.”
Gordon and his friend agreed.
As it happened, Lester had a new “band of freaks” from Phoenix staying in the basement of his home in Watts. Someone at the pool, possibly Hendrix, suggested having Gordon manage them.
The freaks were Alice Cooper and his band.
At the time, Cooper played average-at-best psychedelic music and used horror-type gimmicks, and the hippie audiences of the time couldn’t stand them.
For Gordon, this was the ideal situation.
“To me, Alice Cooper seemed like the perfect band to manage,” he writes, “because from what I could see they had no chance of ever making it, so I wouldn’t have to do any work.”
But Gordon would change this attitude soon after. He quit dealing drugs in 1969, dedicating himself to the music business, and pledging with the band that they wouldn’t stop until they became millionaires.
Inspired by acts like Elvis Presley and the Rolling Stones, Gordon decided that Alice Cooper had to be the band who parents hated, and began arranging stunts to make it happen.
He hired a seamstress to create see-through plastic suits for the band. Arranging a small club gig, he had them take the stage in these suits, with nothing underneath. As the set began, he called the police, saying, “My child is in this club and the band is onstage naked. This is horrible.”
But his plan — to have them arrested for indecent exposure, garnering lots of press — was foiled when the heat in the club fogged up their plastic suits, making them opaque. The police showed up, saw the band appear fully clothed, and left.
His work paid off when the band’s 1972 album “School’s Out” reached No. 2 on Billboard, and the following year’s “Billion Dollar Babies” hit the top spot.
At the height of Cooper’s megastardom, Gordon decided that Cooper should be seen with his great inspiration, Salvador Dali. Gordon’s partner, Joe, arranged a meeting with the artist and his wife/muse, Gala.
One of Gordon’s more challenging assignments came when the head of Columbia Records asked him to consider managing singer Teddy Pendergrass. Gordon wasn’t interested, but met the singer as a favor, with plans to discourage Pendergrass from hiring him.
Somehow, this led to Gordon challenging Pendergrass to a drug-off to see who could handle their drugs better. A record company gave them a two-bedroom suite at the Regency Hotel, and Gordon “had a beautiful wooden briefcase made and filled it with every drug known to man.”
“Teddy and I went head-to-head there, drinking and drugging … when he collapsed after two days, I was still standing. I called a friend at Columbia, who came over and took a picture of me standing over Teddy with my foot on his chest.” When Pendergrass came to, he and Gordon shook hands, and Gordon became his manager.
The two became close, and when the singer was paralyzed in a 1982 car accident, Gordon was there with his family when they told him he’d never walk again.
But not every client was family like Cooper or Pendergrass. When Gordon managed Luther Vandross, it was strictly business, and he considered Vandross a diva. And when singer Anita Baker opened an arena tour for Vandross, it was the meeting of two divas who despised each other.
At the beginning of the tour, Gordon sensed he’d “have to keep these two apart if there were going to be any shows at all.”
His solution? He had a plywood wall built in the backstage corridor at MSG so “when Anita came out of her dressing room Luther wouldn’t have to see her.”
But this didn’t stop Baker, who simply walked another way around, stood in front of Vandross’ dressing room and “started taunting him like a little kid. ‘Hey, Luther, I’m out here!’”
So, for the rest of the tour, Gordon had an impenetrable brick wall built between their dressing rooms in every venue, at a cost of $20,000 a night.