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The Long Goodbye

After thirty years, Barry Fey is stepping down. Sort of.

"I was in the right place at the right time," he says. "Because KIMN and the rest of the guys in town then were doing the wrong music. They were bringing in people like Sonny and Cher. But Sonny and Cher weren't ever going to beat the Grateful Dead."

It was a tumultuous era for popular music, and Fey was right in the middle of it. He was involved with the 1969 Denver Pop Festival that ended in a cloud of police tear gas, and he was behind a chaotic 1971 Jethro Tull date that inspired the city to ban rock concerts at Red Rocks for a couple of years. "I sued the city to bring America there for the Fourth of July and won," he boasts. "I'm six wins, no losses and a tie in lawsuits with the city."

His combativeness didn't stop at the courthouse door. During the Seventies it was not uncommon for Fey to become embroiled in physical confrontations. "I used to get into fights all the time. I didn't go looking for trouble, but if I was attacked, I'd fight back. Like the time I hit the lead singer of Sha Na Na. It was 1973 at the Denver Coliseum with Steely Dan, Chuck Berry and Sha Na Na, and Chuck Berry walks in and says, 'I'm going to play now.' And since he gets his money up front and will walk if he doesn't like something, we started tearing down Sha Na Na's stage setup. It was an ugly scene, and the singer starts yelling, 'Bill Graham would never pull this shit.' I said, 'So go play for fucking Bill Graham.' He took a swing at me, and I hit him. Hard."

As Fey admits, he hurled everything from the most profane invective to random items from his desk at anyone and everyone who crossed him. "I remember talking to this one guy once, and I said, 'Bill, I'm going to be on the next plane to New York. Why don't you go get a cop, because when I get there, I'm going to throw you out the fucking window.' I'd tell people that I'd tear their eyes out, throw them in the garbage can, stomp on them. I was nuts."

His peers agreed. "In 1974, which was a down time for the industry, I remember [former employee] Chuck Morris coming into my office and telling me, 'Barry, you're in the finals.' I said, 'What are you talking about?' And he says, 'The guys in the business had a vote, and you're in the finals of the top five craziest guys in the music business.' I said, 'Who's in it?' And he told me about this one guy who was a madman--God, he probably slept with his Irish setter--and this other manager who'd done acid every day for years. I said, 'This can't be.' But a month later Chuck comes to me and says, 'You won!' And I said, 'Chuck, how could I be crazier than these guys?' And he says, 'Because everyone else had drugs to blame. But you were the only one who was crazy and straight.'"

As Fey tells it, he steered clear of narcotics in part because he attended Jimi Hendrix's funeral and "saw what damage they could do." This opinion was confirmed in his mind by the demise of Tommy Bolin, a Denver-based guitarist whom Fey managed twice--once in 1969 as a member of the band Zephyr and in the years immediately preceding Bolin's death in Miami on December 4, 1976, from a combination of heroin, cocaine, Valium and alcohol. "I was so naive about his problem," Fey claims. "I was hearing stories, but I couldn't tell." Because Feyline was the beneficiary of an insurance policy on Bolin's life, Fey haters have accused him of everything from enabling Bolin's drug dependency to actual culpability in his death. More than twenty years later, such talk still incenses Fey. If anyone had vocalized this theory to him in person, he says, "I would have beaten him within an inch of his fucking life."

The Bolin allegation is hardly the only nasty rumor about Fey. His detractors, and they are legion, accuse him of myriad bad behavior--some of it criminal, some of it legal but decidedly unsavory. Below is a partial list of charges made against Fey by former employees and other sources, all of whom decline to be named in print, along with Fey's retorts:

*Fey lost several hundred thousand dollars he didn't have gambling in the early Nineties. Universal, then known as MCA, had to bail him out. The alliance between the two companies soured immediately thereafter.

Fey's response: "Ridiculous. Ridiculous. MCA never bailed me out of anything."

*Fey sent two flunkies to Las Vegas with a suitcase brimming with cash in order to place a bet on an Orange Bowl game. He lost.

Fey's response: "I've never sent anyone to Las Vegas with a suitcase filled with money. I do gamble too much, but I'm a real good gambler. I don't do casino games. I gamble on horses, and at the end of the year I bet on bowl games like the Super Bowl. And I'm very rarely wrong. But the most I think I've ever lost on a game is $10,000. I don't have the balls to bet more than that."

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