Before Minneapolis entertainment impresario Owen Husney became Prince’s first manager, he was a concert promoter who hung out with Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix and Mick Jagger.
Janis Joplin once made a pass at him. He served as publicist and pimp for movie star/singer Richard Harris. He was even a rock star of sorts with the High Spirits, a Twin Cities garage band that had a 1965 local hit, “Turn on Your Love Light.”
All those stories and more are recounted in “Famous People Who’ve Met Me,” a new memoir by Husney. A third of the book is devoted to Prince, but from his earliest days Husney — who describes himself as a bullied, music-loving nerd from St. Louis Park — demonstrated the kind of chutzpah that drew famous people to him.
As a partner with Minneapolis booking agent/promoter Dick Shapiro, Husney often carried out local duties for out-of-town promoters. In 1969, when Joplin rocked the Minneapolis Armory, fans broke in through the window of her dressing room before the show. It was Husney’s task to clean up the mess and apologize to her. Apparently, Joplin was so impressed that she told her road manager to have Husney join her at her hotel room later that night. The young promoter was “taken aback by her looks,” and made up an excuse about having to meet his (nonexistent) fiancée.
Presley’s manager, on a 1971 trip to Minneapolis to prepare for a concert, rejected the bed in the penthouse at the King’s preferred hotel. Husney had to find something special. He discovered a huge round bed in the cobwebby basement of a St. Paul furniture store. The manager was so pleased that he invited Husney to sound check to meet Elvis. Ever the hustler, Husney turned around and sold the bed, which cost a mere $25, to a local radio station for a promotion for $10,000.
In 1972 when the Rolling Stones played Met Center in Bloomington, Husney was hanging out backstage with Jagger and shooed away local folk-bluesmen Koerner, Ray and Glover from the dressing room door.
“Mick saw them at the door and he ran past me and he hugged them and said, ‘You guys were a major influence on my life,’ ” Husney, 70, recalled in an interview this week. “He said, ‘Let them in.’ ”
After Harris appeared before a sparse audience in Minneapolis in 1968, Husney and Shapiro wrote him a personal letter promising that they could drum up bigger audiences in other cities. So Husney went on tour with Harris, an Oscar nominee who had just starred in “Camelot” and was riding high on the hit single “MacArthur Park.” He booked Harris on daytime TV shows, drawing middle-aged women to the concerts.
The demanding star, who would go on to become a favorite of children as Harry Potter’s Prof. Dumbledore, asked Husney to set him up with women in the audience.
“This was not a #MeToo moment. These were very willing participants,” Husney pointed out in an interview. “He had everything. A hit record. He was very good looking. He was a Broadway star. A movie actor. Who wouldn’t? And who’s going to believe you if you did?”
The pivotal career moment, though, came when Husney met Hendrix in ’68. Through a gal pal, they got invited to the rock god’s hotel room. Pot was Husney’s choice, LSD was Hendrix’s. At 5 a.m., Hendrix asked if the lady could stay with him. Husney agreed. After all, he had bonded with Hendrix, who called the young promoter “one of us.”
Wrote Husney: “What he gave me was confidence in my instincts.”
‘Lying your way in’
Trusting his instincts is what the self-made college dropout has done for more than 50 years in show business. He’s quick to admit he has frequently fibbed to open doors for himself.
“Lying your way in is chutzpah,” he explained. “There isn’t anyone in show business who isn’t going to exaggerate a bit to get in the door. I over-promised people. So I had to over-deliver.”
While promoting concerts, Husney started an ad agency in 1972. One day in 1976, recording studio owner Chris Moon brought Husney a new Minneapolis Central High School graduate named Prince Nelson. They had written and recorded some songs, and weren’t sure how to take the next step.
Husney fell in love with Nelson’s demo tape and put together a team — investors, lawyer, photographer, recording engineer, art director, gofer — to get Prince a record deal. The well-documented story is detailed in the book, published this weekend by the Los Angeles imprint RothCo.
In late 1978, Prince became too demanding. He insisted that Husney bring a space heater to rehearsal just as the manager was about to have a conference call with a potential big-time booking agent. Husney quit.
Husney writes that he made no money off Prince, who signed with Warner Bros. Records for more than $1 million. In an interview, the impresario said he sold Prince’s management contract to another manager but never got any royalties.
In retrospect, “my greatest contribution to Prince was not being Mr. Manager. It was protecting him,” Husney said. “I knew he was young. I knew there were wolves. There were a few of us who were never on payroll for him. That allowed for a different relationship between the two of us.”
Teaching the music biz
After Prince, Husney moved on, working with other Minnesota musicians including Jesse Johnson, Andre Cymone and Sue Ann Carwell. He turned down chances to manage jazz singer Al Jarreau and New Age keyboardist Yanni.
He started record labels and eventually ended up as a top executive at K-Tel, the record repackager. In 2003, he moved permanently to Los Angeles, where he’d kept a place since 1989. He now teaches music business classes at UCLA and consults on record repackaging and music estates, including Bobby Darin’s.
He never wanted to write a tell-all (he says he turned down six-figure offers to do such a book on Prince), but Husney figures he has enough untold stories for another memoir.
So what’s the moral of this first volume?
“I was a bullied nerd. I still am a nerd,” he confessed. “It’s what I did to reinvent myself. I figured out things to make it happen. The moral of the story is: If I can do it, anybody can.”