Rock and roll is meant to be the music of freedom and liberation. That’s ironic, given that some of its most legendary figures were rabid control freaks.
10 Murry Wilson
Pretty much everyone has heard of The Beach Boys and Brian Wilson, but you may not know that the chief reason for Wilson’s much-publicized mental problems was his manipulative ogre of a dad, Murry, who managed the band in their early days. While Brian was under huge amounts of pressure trying to deliver hits, his father was manipulating him into giving up his 50-percent share of the income from his songs. He called Brain nightly at the studio, telling him, “I’m entitled. I’ve been your father all your life. I’m not doing anything that’s unfair.” Brian eventually gave in.
A recording of Murry interrupting studio sessions of “Help Me Rhonda” is a master class in emotional blackmail. He issues rapid-fire criticism, casts anyone who might undermine his influence as “the people that have tried to hurt you,” responds to the anger he’s provoking with sarcasm, and then—hilariously—tells the band they need to “loosen up.” After the band fired Murry as their manager, he told Brian, “You’ve gotten where you are only because of my hard work. Both of us know I’m the writer in the family. The real talent. You’ll always be second best.” Mike Love, a cousin of the Wilsons’ and one of the most famously unpleasant in people in music history, had this to say: “Murry was a pr—. He was awful. I’m so glad he wasn’t my father.”
9 Axl Rose
The chief architect of Guns N’ Roses’ devolution from big band to bad joke, William Bruce Rose is well known among fans as the kind of guy who would, for example, show up on stage an hour late, throw a tantrum, walk off after three songs, return an hour later under the threat of litigation, and then play the rest of the set to a largely emptied arena.
Rose became an impossible headache as soon as the band hit it big. His antics included forcing the release of “One In a Million” (causing the whole band to take flak for his bigoted lyrics), challenging other musicians to fights via the press, announcing the band’s drug problems from the stage in LA (a move Duff McKagan said dissolved the band’s camaraderie instantly and permanently), hiring backup musicians without telling anyone, and stopping shows to bore the audience for minutes on end with tedious rants about contractual disputes.
Furious at his bandmates’ failure to jump to his defense every time he did something ridiculous, he finally moved to take sole ownership of the band’s name by refusing to take the stage one night until documents were signed. Desperate to prevent Rose from inciting yet another riot, the band signed. Within three years, he succeeded in alienating his entire band and replaced them with session musicians. He got the full control he wanted and only had to turn Guns N’ Roses into a soulless revival act to do it.
8 Colonel Tom Parker
Elvis Presley’s manager used a form of tyranny much more subtle than others, relying less on intimidation and more on his client’s lazy preference for the familiar.
In his desire for control, he acted against Elvis’s interests. For example, Parker (who was secretly Dutch) feared being barred reentry to the States if he traveled abroad, but he was scared of losing influence if Presley traveled without him. The result was that Elvis never played a single show outside the US in his entire career except for three Canadian dates in 1957, which was before the Canada-US border closed.
Of course, that didn’t really matter because, for most of the ’60s, Elvis didn’t perform live at all. The Colonel implored him to focus on his film career over live performance. The man regarded as the most electrifying live performer of his age wasted his talent in a parade of terrible films because they made more money.
When Presley tried to initiate a film project himself with Barbara Streisand in the ’70s—which could have finally been his chance to appear in something decent—Parker sabotaged it by asking for too much money. As one associate put it, “If Elvis can make that kind of meeting and Colonel didn’t stop it—Colonel’s out of a job.”