Electric Factory Concerts is on the verge of celebrating its 50th anniversary and Larry Magid, who has been with the company since its inception, is looking forward to honoring its success.
“I have a scholarship program that will be announced at Temple University in November celebrating the 50th anniversary and named for some of the friends I’ve made in the entertainment business,” Magid told Amplify.
The scholarship will go to deserving students in the arts at Magid’s alma mater.
“It is something that I have thought about for some time,” he said. “I want to share my success.”
When speaking with Magid, his passion for the live entertainment world and desire to see it thrive is immediately clear. As someone who helped shape the music scene in Philadelphia for the past 50 years, he is eager to see it blossom and grow without forgetting the past.
In 2011, Magid released a book chronicling the history of Electric Factory called “My Soul’s Been Psychedelicized: Electric Factory: Four Decades in Posters and Photographs.”
“The book is a largely pictorial history of Electric Factory and Electric Factory Concerts. I had to do that because people that I know don’t know how to read so I figured pictures with captions would work better,” Magid said.
Magid enjoyed putting the book together and added, “At certain times in your life, you’re able to reflect on where your life has brought you. In my case, I never afforded myself the luxury of looking back. My thought process was to be one or two steps ahead of what I was doing at the moment. It’s great to reflect and see what you’ve done and how many friends you’ve made along the way.”
Amplify spoke with Magid to look even further back into his work with Electric Factory and helping to grow live music into a multi-billion dollar business.
How did you get started in the industry?
Like several people, I started booking bands at fraternity parties. I booked bands into clubs and had a lot of success in the three and a half years I did that. It developed into another business and in ’68 we opened Electric Factory and fortunately it has become an iconic club in Philadelphia.
Have you always been based in Philadelphia?
I’ve been in Philadelphia most of my life. There were three years I spent working in New York for a booking agency, learning more about the business that I needed to know as a young man. I was trying to find the avenue in the entertainment business that I wanted to pursue.
Did you have any mentors during these years?
Yes. Certainly I had a lot of mentors and continue to have them. In New York, I worked for a guy named Bert Block and another guy named Larry Bennett who started the contemporary music business. They signed acts like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and acts like that. I was fortunate enough to work for them and learned a great deal from them over the years at the agency (International Talent Associates).
Bert went on to be a partner with Albert Grossman in the management business and Albert was a great mentor of mine. And later, Frank Barsalona and Joe Smith at Warner Bros. Records were mentors of mine. You try to learn something from everyone and then hopefully you’re able to pass that on to other people.
Is that why you have the scholarship – passing on good fortune?
It’s really important. At some point in your life you have to figure out how you are going to return the good fortune. None of us got to where we are by ourselves. Albert Grossman and Bert Block they made me work. They taught me what the merits of hard work were. Joe Smith taught me how to be, not only respectful, but how you respect yourself and the ways that you should deal with other people and deal with situations.
Another mentor of mine was Leon Fisher and he was a disc jockey, newscaster that I met when I was 16 years old. I was just a 16-year-old white Jewish kid from a tough neighborhood and he was an African American. He took me under his wing and gave me my first two starts in the entertainment business. He was the first guy that saw that I had any potential outside of my father.
Were you really into music as a kid?
To me, rock’n’roll was a new religion. It spoke to me like it did for a lot of kids. To this day, I think I am the same person I was when I was 11 years-old. I was just enthralled with the music and what it does to people, how it speaks to them and the rebellion that came with that.
What bands were you listening to?
So many acts. I liked Little Richard, Chuck Berry or even great jazz acts like Miles Davis who I had an association with for several years. They grab you and they never let go of you. I think Bruce Springsteen is very impressive at what he does and how hard he works. Then there’s Genesis, The Who, the Rolling Stones. There’s so many great acts and more of them broke out in Philadelphia than any other city. It was great to watch.
What was your association with Miles Davis?
When I went to work in New York, I worked in a small agency and I met a man named Jack Whittemore who was a giant in jazz booking. Miles Davis was his client and I was able to book Miles in college. I had a great relationship with Miles and when I returned to Philadelphia, Miles was the first jazz act I wanted to put on at Electric Factory. He played there a few times, but you never forget the first big act you booked.
You grew up in Philadelphia?
Yes. West Philadelphia.
Were you going to see shows when you were younger?
There were rock’n’roll shows in Philadelphia quite often where they had 10 or 12 acts on a bill. The Uptown was one of the big black theaters on the circuit like the Apollo or the Howard. It was a predominantly black audience at the Uptown with very few white people. You would go and be seeing James Brown, the Temptations, and all the great shows there.
There were three theaters that had rock shows from time to time, not too far from where I was. The bigger shows were at a place called Convention Hall which has been torn down. Ray Charles played the State Theater on 52nd street which was a couple miles from my house. It was easy to walk and see a show. If you were young, 12, 13, 14, you could go to the matinees on weekends.
There was also the Tower Theater and in 1974 my partner and I bought the theater. As I walked into the theater for our first show, the entrance music was Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers and that was one of my first rock’n’roll idols.
Were your parents concerned about you going to these rock’n’roll shows?
I came home from school one day and my mother said she read in the newspaper that Elvis was going to play the arena which was next to the studio that bandstand was in and right near my high school. She didn’t want me to go see Elvis. But the first time we played Elvis at Electric Factory, I think it was ’71, she was the first person to call me for tickets. Other than that, my parents didn’t stop me or encourage me. They let me live my life.
So rock’n’roll wasn’t forbidden in your home?
I think the first rock and roll song was “Sh-Boom” and I got to think it was around ’54. It had these words that didn’t make any sense, but I understood them completely. What was interesting to me was that they were by black groups and got covered by white groups that then sanitized the songs. When Little Richard came out with “Wop Bop a “Loo Bop a Lop Bam Boom” I knew exactly what he meant. My parents thought I was crazy, but they never tried to stop me or influence me in any way.
Are there any current acts you’re interested in?
There’s nothing in particular, but you always want to see growth. Bruno Mars sticks out because he’s a throwback. But music isn’t made for people like me. Music is made for young people. It’s great to still be in the business and enjoy it, but it’s a young person’s business. Right now they are more inventive than my era was. Then again maybe we were the most inventive era because we invented a business. There was no business. When we started there were a handful of people and now it has grown into a multi-billion dollar business. I have a lot of pride for having been a small hand is starting this.
Do you think the music business is in good shape now?
It is in better shape than the music I listened to in caves. I would have liked to have seen some other things happen, but I look at people like Michael Rapino and think this is brilliant. The things Live Nation does we never thought of doing, then again we never had to think about it. It was a different business with a lot of constraints. The business now is very healthy. It is limiting for people who want to get into the business because of the bigger companies. But that’s progress.
Are you referring to the rollups in the industry?
The rollups are how it became a multi-billion dollar industry and the advent of big companies. I didn’t see it coming, nor did I want to see it. As far as the money that I got for selling my company, I would have made that three, four times over had I not sold the company, but there was no other path at that time. But being part of something that grew into a giant business is pretty fulfilling.
Do you think it is easier or harder to be an independent venue or promoter today?
It’s certainly harder but there are creases in there for independent people. The problem comes if you are so independent that you only like one sphere of music and you’re not going to grow from that. That becomes very limiting. I remember when we had the Factory in the late 60s there was an act that I just didn’t want to play. I just didn’t like them. I didn’t like anything about them, but I had to take a step back and realize if you’re going to play if you’re going to play what you like and only what you like, it’s going to be very limiting. The business needs people who have their minds open to other things and if you’re going to take on the responsibility of being one of the keystones of the music business in your area, you need to accept what other people like. It can’t just be for you.
Is there anything about the business now you wish you could change?
No. The only thing I would change is if I could be 29 again.
Is there an artist that you didn’t get a chance to work with that you wish you had?
There was a small company that I worked for in Philadelphia. I took that job to learn more about structure and working in an office. They had an opportunity to book the Beatles at a stadium in Philadelphia. I think it was $25,000 against 60 percent of the gross and you pay the expenses. They were terrified of it and I couldn’t understand it. I urged them to try to get into this business, but they turned that opportunity down.
Then they had the opportunity to play Frank Sinatra on the same terms and they turned it down. It was at that point I knew my future wasn’t there. It was disappointing to me at the time, but you have to take your disappointment and turn it into dreams.
Do you have any music memorabilia you’re proud of?
We have had 19 rock ‘n’ roll auctions at Electric Factory where we raised over a million dollars for Philadelphia area schools and music institutions. We just inventoried our collection. There’s over 2,500 pieces. But my two personal favorites are from Dylan and Springsteen. They each gave me guitars made out to me. Anything personalized, I cherish.
I also have a piece of the cornerstone of the original Electric Factory. It’s a little cement corner with psychedelic painting on it. That means a lot to me.