In the entertainment world, Shep Gordon’s name is magic. Over his long career as a manager, agent and producer, Gordon has worked with an array of stars -- from Betty Davis to rocker Alice Cooper -- and celebrity chefs.
Gordon’s career started with a punch in the face.
“It did, yeah. I’m a lucky guy,” Gordon said, laughing as he spoke with “CBS This Morning: Saturday” co-host Anthony Mason at Aureole, a restaurant in Manhattan.
It was 1968, and Gordon thought he was helping a young woman in distress at a Los Angeles hotel.
“She was actually making love. She punched me. I separated the two people. She punched me. It was Janis Joplin,” he said, laughing. “And it was the luckiest day of my life.”
Joplin would introduce him to Jimi Hendrix, who introduced him to Alice Cooper, and Gordon’s life would never be the same.
“Alice Cooper was nobody at that time,” Mason said.
“Right, so was I,” Gordon said. “Alice says we met on a lie. He told me he was a singer. I told him I was a manager.”
“So you cooked up some pretty kooky ideas to get noticed,” Mason said.
“Yeah we went a little crazy,” Gordon said.
It was Gordon’s idea for the band to get busted for indecent exposure.
“Our big mistake -- we made up clear plastic suits,” Gordon said. “They went on the stage. I called the police, 911. I called the police from the phone booth. I said, ‘I’m at this club called the Experience on Sunset. These transvestites are on stage. They’re completely naked. I have my 8-year-old daughter in the club.’”
“How quickly did they come?” Mason asked.
“They came three minutes, I would say, three, four minutes,” Gordon said. “In that 10 minutes on stage they heated their bodies, fogged up the plastic.”
“So you couldn’t see anything,” Mason said.
“You couldn’t see anything. The police walked in and they left. And we all sat down afterwards and said, ‘OK, we actually couldn’t get arrested,’” Gordon said.
As Alice Cooper broke through, Gordon’s client list grew – Blondie, Anne Murray, Raquel Welch, Theodore Pendergrass and Luther Vandross, who one night refused to go to the American Music Awards because his pants cuff was too long.
“And I said to him, ‘What if Bob Mackie’ll drive with us to the American Music Awards in the car and fix your pants?’ And he said, ‘You’re kidding me. You know Bob Mackie?’ And I said, ‘He’ll be in the car with us,’” Gordon recalled.
“You got Bob Mackie?” Mason asked.
“No, Bob Mackie was in France,” Gordon said.
But the designer’s partner, Ray Aghayan, was available.
“And Ray agreed to drive with us in the car to the American Music Awards. And Mackie and Aghayan made Luther’s clothes until the day he died. But that moment, those kind of things, that’s what gives you power with an artist,” Gordon said.
“You managed Groucho Marx?”
“I did. Alice actually introduced me to Groucho Marx. I walked into Groucho’s house, and in bed was Alice and Groucho Marx watching TV in gray Mickey Mouse ears that said ‘Groucho’ on it,” Gordon said, laughing. ”And I ended up managing him for a couple of years.”
“What was that like?” Mason asked.
“It was unbelievable. I mean, he was just -- he’d say, ‘You’re Shep, my manager?’ And I’d go, ‘Yeah, Groucho.’ ‘Funny, you don’t look like a crook,’” Gordon recalled.
Gordon finally took the turn to cooking when he realized in his 30s that he was “too successful.”
“In a Hollywood kind of way. You know, I had the white Bentley and the playmates and the drugs and nightclubs and -- but I could see I was at risk,” Gordon said.
“How did you know you were at risk?” Mason asked.
“I could see all around me people dying, people unhappy. Nobody was happy,” Gordon said.
Then, Gordon met a chef named Roger Verge. He writes: “He was the calmest, most beautiful quiet pool of life I had ever seen in my life.” Gordon would ask him to become his mentor.
“At some point I felt like I owed him to get dignity for his profession. I saw the way he was treated, and they were treated horribly, the chefs, horribly,” Gordon said.
So in the early ‘90s, he created an agency to promote chefs. He’d sign up nearly 100, including Wolfgang Puck, Daniel Boulud and Emeril Lagasse.
“Everyone told me I was crazy. ‘How could you represent chefs? They don’t make anything. You’re out of your mind.’ You’re now gone -- everybody in the music business is completely convinced that I had now gone completely off the map. I was -- all my clients thought I was insane,” Gordon said.
“In a way you kinda created the celebrity chef?” Mason asked.
“I’m given credit for creating, but I don’t think I created as much as exposed it. I think the demand was there when I started,” Gordon said.
Gordon worked with the chefs pro bono. He never charged them, he said. It was not his only unusual business practice.
“I never signed a contract with anyone,” Gordon said. “Never had contracts.”
“So it’s a handshake?” Mason asked.
“Yeah, a handshake. Because I didn’t want that moment. I mean, if you don’t feel I’m giving you value, if you think this is a one-sided relationship, go to someone else.”
“So outside what the industry norm was,” Mason said.
“Yeah, everything I did was sort of outside the industry norm,” Gordon said.
“But when you put all the things you’ve done side by side, which has the most value to you?” Mason asked.
“I would say Alice getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is probably the moment I was proudest of,” Gordon said. “We started on the bottom. If you had to take out a piece of paper and put the odds in Vegas, the betting against Alice Cooper ever getting in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was, I mean, just insane.”
You can learn more about Gordon’s career in his new memoir “They Call Me Supermensch: A Backstage Pass to the Amazing World of Film, Food and Rock’n’Roll.”