With the help of a psychic, Barry Fey reconnects with some old friends and one bitter adversary
Barry Fey and Michelle Houchens at Red Rocks
See Also: Barry Fey on that time that he held a gun to Axl Rose's head Harry Tuft and Barry Fey inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame Red Rocks' famous hidden tunnel: A peek at the rock star signatures Dan Fong's unpublished rock photos on display this Friday at the Gallery
This year, Barry Fey was inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame. Last year, he published his first book, Backstage Past, which gave the legendary promoter a chance to relate some of his best stories from the past. It's that past that psychic medium Michelle Houchens attempted to reconnect him with recently at Red Rocks. We were on hand with photographer Dan Fong to document the exchange between Houchens and Fey, who channeled some of his old friends and one particularly noteworthy adversary.
As Fey looks down from the top row of Red Rocks at a staging crew that's busy setting up, he says, "Get off my stage." Fey views the musical community around him with a sense of entitlement, and rightly so. While John Shear booked the East Coast and Bill Graham handled the West Coast, for nearly three decades Fey owned everything in between: He was the first promoter to book Black Sabbath in 1971, he booked the Doors before anybody knew who they were, and he threw parties for the Rolling Stones, during which Mick Jagger once even tucked Fey's son into bed.
Among his many other accomplishments, Fey helped make Red Rocks one of the most revered venues on the planet when he brought U2 there to perform. He also saved Denver's historic Paramount Theatre when it faced certain destruction, and he stepped in to help keep the Colorado Symphony Orchestra afloat. "I am something special," declares Fey, adding that's he's also had a lot of luck. "How I got here, if you don't think that's an accident, you're out of your mind.... I am the quintessential person being at the right place at the right time."
Fey was a fierce businessman, readily proclaiming his willingness to crush other promoters, especially rival Bill Graham. But he was also able to put business aside, booking Ringo Starr repeatedly even though he never made any money (he jokes about listing Ringo as a dependent).
Barry Fey at his Colorado Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony earlier this year.
Ultimately, though, Fey is fiercely loyal and deeply compassionate. His main priority when he was calling the shots was the people he served. He likens himself to the Pied Piper. "I never went out and said, 'You people should like this,'" he explains. "I went out and found out what they did like, and I brought it." Like happy mice, the people of Colorado gladly followed. And he always made an effort to look out for them in return.
"I remember when I used to do a show at Mile High Stadium," Fey recalls. "We used to go in the neighborhoods and pass out fliers -- we might have a fireworks show -- that said, 'Please keep your dogs inside.' And we would make arrangements with the city that the people wouldn't be charged if the dogs ran away." As for the bands: "I didn't get 'em dope and I didn't get 'em chicks, 'cause I wasn't a pimp, and I wasn't a dealer, but I sold tickets, which, after all, was what they came for.... It was like we were friends, brothers, sisters -- whatever you want to call it. We belonged to each other."
This is the type of loyalty that Fey is unable to find in the contemporary music business, a deficiency that he credits to the evolution of the music scene into a money-first mentality not possible when he was around. In his time, if you took a chance on a group and "you were right and they got big and you treated them right, you got big with them," Fey says. "Now, if you do that, one of the monsters swoops up, and they offer them 120 million dollars for a tour." The bands he promoted, Fey contends, would never have done that. "I couldn't be Barry Fey today," he adds.
Perhaps not. But on this day, with the help of Houchens, Fey was able to reconnect to the past. Houchens, an expert at communicating with "beings who have transcended over," says that the same way we recognize the vibrations of each other's voices, so is the vibration different for the voices of the dead. "I can audibly hear them, and it's just an innate voice."
As you'll see below, we were fortunate enough to listen in while Houchens channeled some of Fey's dearest friends who had long passed away and also gave him some insight into his heated and bitter rivalry with Bill Graham. The conversation became poignant when, through Houchens, Fey reconnected with Tommy Bolin and Jimi Hendrix. The channeling touched on Fey's relationships with both of them, and even included some advice from passed icons Richard Pryor, Janis Joplin and Tupac Shakur.
Barry Fey: I have one real question, which I'd like someone to answer for me. It's well documented: my hatred for Bill Graham, and it was justified. But I'd like to find out why he did to me the things he tried to do. I mean, we were supposed to be friends. I would really like to know. I could never figure out...
Michelle Houchens: He would have called you a friend. He did call you a friend. He would have called you a friend...
BF: No, I understand. He's the biggest hypocrite who ever lived.
MH: So let's start with Bill Graham.
BF: I don't want to talk to him... I would just like to know why he did, from 1973, a continuous bunch of stuff to hurt me and my family, and I've never been able to figure out.... It drove me to become a person that I am not. I am not a killer, but I tried to have him killed. I'm not a snitch, but I went to the IRS.... He really affected my life, and I don't understand why.
MH: He thought that people liked you more than him. He was jealous of that, Barry. And he thought you could become bigger than you could, and he wanted to step on you. He wanted to keep stepping on you like an ant and crushing you, anything, anyone. It wasn't just about Barry, it was about anybody. Anybody who took over his kingdom -- look out. Now, you didn't try to take over his kingdom, but he felt you could take over his kingdom because people were very loyal to you, Barry, and you had good ideas. You had better ideas than he did."
Barry Fey and Michelle Houchens at Red Rocks
Photograph by Dan Fong, ©2012
BF: Can I answer that?
BF: Bill Graham was not a fool. Bill Graham knew who he was and what he had done. He never would have anything rationally to fear from me. I was a pimple compared to...Bill Graham started a lot of this stuff, and if he felt like that...
MH: But pimples turn into...
BF: They fester.
BF: If that's the truth, I'm very happy because then he was unhappy.
MH: It's a compliment to you, but he was very fearful of you and fearful of anybody...
BF: I can't even imagine that. I mean he was Bill Graham, man.
MH: Fear is not always rational; it's rarely rational.
BF: I would be happy to believe that.
Michelle Houchens: So Tommy says, 'Hey, man, Barry is my friend, and still my friend, and still, well, around me most of the time. Barry, I'm around you all of the time. When you think of me, you literally, kind of, feel me around you, man. I am around you. I worried about you, but you worried about me more, and I think you were right.' [laughs] 'I think that in this whole big ballgame we call life, that, man, taking care of each other is something people...underrate.
'I don't think that people really realize how important it is that we should love each other. Now, I wouldn't have said that on the earth a lot, but I did say it to my friends and I said it to Barry. He's a very important person to the world and to me. Now, man, did we have some fun times. We had a lot of fun times. But the best times, really, Barry, were just you and me eating ribs, barbecue, bullshit, and just having what I'll call brother time. Time between you and me, man. That's it. That's what I would say, Barry, is that I'm still here. No, I don't look the same. I don't act the same. I'm a little bit better, but not much.'
[Fey gets emotional.] 'But this is really, really, really -- ugh, man, you're breaking me up. Barry, I love you. Man, I never said that to him enough. Wow, he wasn't like a father... like a brother to me. He's like a brother to me. I love him. So, essentially, Barry, this is what...wow. This is pretty freaky weird, I'm sure, to you, but to me, it's like a dream come true to tell you I love you, man, and I'm watching over your back. I told you I always had your back, Barry. I have your back. Right now, I have your back.'
Barry Fey: I loved him so much, but I couldn't handle it. I know I'm naive when it comes to drugs, but I saw him destroying himself, yet I saw everybody love him except him [wails]. Oh, sad.
MH: 'Barry, I saw how much you loved me in your eyes, how you would look at me and take me, well, sometimes literally, pick me up off the floor, and help me, like, man, I couldn't do it anymore. But you said, "C'mon, man, just pick it up. Get it together." Keep me going. It was unbelievable, Barry.'
BF: I treated him better than I treated my own children, and yet I pretended I didn't know. But if I was so naive about drugs, then why would...? Chuck Morris and I went with Tommy for his physical, and I suggested that Chuck submit his urine [laughs]. And then Chuck told me he couldn't use his urine anyway, and I used my urine. So how could I really say I didn't know, but I...we got him a house in the hills in L.A. and he was doted on, and he spent so much money with..."
MH: 'You protected me, Barry, and I couldn't believe you did that. I told you that. I can't believe you're doing this, man. It's okay. "Whatever, it's okay," I told you. And you said, "No, no, no, no, no." And you took care of me. And I was a sloppy mess. I was a mess. You are a good guy. You are a really good guy in this world. [Fey breaks down.] Really, I told you that. You know that. You are a really good guy...
'I feel like I'm hurting him, Michelle. I don't want to hurt him. I just want him to know how much I love him. Man, you are the man. He promoted me. He got me...shows...I love Barry. He was always real. There was no bullshit, no bullshit at all. I tell him that: Barry, you're real. Now, Barry, I'm gonna tell you: You need to get hotter chicks around you, don't you? That's what I tell you; that's what I would have laughed and told you. You are the man. Have fun on the earth -- that's what I would tell you. Man, I miss it. I miss all the smells, the food, and I even miss the drugs. I can't help but say that. I do miss that, Barry.'
BF: Oh, Jesus Christ... I thought this was supposed to be fun.
Michelle Houchens: 'Man, we had more good times, really interesting talks... He wouldn't just, like, pick me up and then tell me about how many tickets we had sold and concerts we had sold out. Like, he'd talk to me. He really knew me. He really tried to get to know me. Like, not many people, man, tried to get to know me -- that is what I'm saying. I felt like a black man in a white world, but this man was colorless. He is colorless.' Who else, Barry?
Barry Fey: I'm just thinking about what you said.
MH: Yeah, he could go on like that for hours.
BF: Yeah, pre-heroin we used to talk a lot, yeah...
MH: He told you that: 'Like, you don't look at color, Barry. Like, man, everybody looks at color.'
BF: Yeah, green [laughs]. He made me a lot of money.
MH: Yeah, but you didn't look at him as color...like he was some freak, some weirdo. Like, you treated him as a human being.
BF: Yeah, but Jimi was so...unusual and so unique...
MH: He's different. He's esoteric.
BF: To call him a racial name would be absurd.
MH: But he didn't understand why people were like that. And you weren't like that, Barry.
BF: Oh, no, I was never like that in my life. Not just with Jimi, but with anybody.
MH: That's what he's saying to you.
BF: I grew up in a very mixed neighborhood.
MH: Yeah, but you didn't see colors...what he wanted...I'll just channel him: 'Barry, you didn't see color, man. You saw me. You saw who I was. I told you that. You saw me. Like, we didn't talk about color... Many people talked to me about color -- like, "You're this black guy. How can you play guitar like that?" Man, you never did that.'
BF: I remember coming home from the Red Rocks performance. We went to the Casa Carlton hotel and talked and talked, and he wrote the liner notes for his next album there, right in front of me. Yeah, Jimi was Jimi.
Barry Fey and Michelle Houchens at Red Rocks
Photograph by Dan Fong ©2012
MH: I heard he did that twice. He's telling me he did that twice. He wrote lyrics to very big songs twice with you.
BF: In my presence?
MH: In your presence.
BF: In the same night, or two different occasions?
MH: Two different occasions.
BF: I don't remember the second one.
MH: He was high. Well... [both laugh]
BF: The reason I say that was because that was September 1, 1968...
MH: Yeah, it was about five years later.
BF: No, he was dead.
BF: He died in '70. But the next time I saw him was at the Denver Pop Festival, and he barely talked to me or knew.... That was the day that Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell told me that they were gonna quit, and they couldn't take Jimi anymore, but we hardly talked.
MH: Yeah, that there was four or five years between the two, Barry, but he wrote two songs with you. That's what he's saying. Well, lyrics to two songs; he didn't write the whole songs. He wrote the lyrics.
BF: No, but I'm saying I met him in '68 and he died in '70. I didn't even know him five years.
MH: That's what he's saying to me, so I'm just gonna channel...
BF: I don't argue with a guitar player like that.
MF: Let me ask. You're right, he's not, but that's what he's channeling to me, so that's what I'm saying. Now, how much does he remember? That's interesting. I'm asking him how much does he remember on the earth: not very much.
BF: He was never on the earth.
MH: Yeah, he doesn't remember a lot on the earth.
BF: Earthly things, man...
MH: That's what I'm asking him: How much does he remember? Not a lot. Felt like five... He felt like he was on the earth a lot longer than he was.
After channeling for Fey, for fun, Michelle did a little more channeling to get some perspective and advice from legends who weren't especially close with Fey (though Fey did have professional relationships with Joplin and Pryor).
Advice from Richard Pryor: "Laugh at life."
Advice from Janis Joplin: "Love yourself." And musicians: "Write your own fucking music."
Advice from Tupac Shakur: Get rid of your anger: "Put down the guns, put down the knives, put down the colors and, man, fucking walk away." Also, most of the conspiracy theories around his death are true.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Denver, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.