Debbie Gold died on January 8th 2016. There was nothing she didn’t do in the music industry. She was in artist management, music supervision, licensing, tour support and she was a friend of Bob Dylan going back to at least 1981. Gold produced Dylan’s 1992 acoustic album Good As I Been To You, and she played a major role in bringing Bob Dylan and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers together in 1985.
Debbie Gold was also a friend of Peter Stone Brown. These are Peter’s words on her passing:
I am extremely bummed to find out that my friend Debbie Gold has passed. I met her I guess it was more than a decade ago when my old friend Ed Rosenthal brought her to a Dylan birthday tribute Kenn Kweder and I were putting on at a now gone BBQ joint near the Academy of Music in downtown Philly.
We got together several times after that, and I gathered all the official Dylan bootleg singles for her for a radio project she was working on. She was a hell of a lot of fun to be around, but also was a good person to talk to when navigating the often rocky waters that exist in Dylanland and the music business. She knew just what to say when things didn’t happen. For that and a bunch of other reasons, I’ll miss her.
She made a huge impression on all those who met her or worked with her. A beautiful eulogy was written by her friend and colleague Tim Baker the day after she passed away.
Debbie had many great stories from her years working in the music business and her friend Meg Hansen was kind enough to share them after Debbie died. She also granted me permission to print them here.
These are Meg’s words on Debbie, followed by the stories Debbie told her:
Debbie had stories about everyone… from going trick-or-treating with Slash and hearing, “check out that costume – that guy is dressed up as Slash!” to the Cranberries to knowing all the secrets of all the music execs! Unfortunately, we only managed to get a few of them down on paper.
About 15 years ago, I think it was right around when Debbie was first diagnosed with the cancer, we spent some time in Malibu at my apartment getting a few of her stories on paper. She told me she wanted to someday write a book, but she said, if she doesn’t write the book, she wanted me to hold onto the stories for her and not tell anyone that I had them; and then, after she passes away someday, she wanted me to “publish them” and “share them with her friends.”
Ironically, a couple of days after Debbie passed away, I saw Bob at a restaurant in Malibu and it reminded me of Debbie’s stories. I had to dig them out of storage and I need to re-type them, so probably one a week for the next few weeks, but here we go. Also, since I live in Malibu and I don’t wish to upset the good-looking guy around the corner who happens to have two empty horse stalls in his backyard, if Bob requests that I delete this, I will need to do so (to cover my tail, I left him the stories at his house in advance).
Bob Dylan: At the Zoo
By Debbie Gold (with Meg Hansen)
I’ve often been asked such captivating questions as, “Hey, uh, what’s the difference between being on the road with Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan?”
There is certainly more than one answer to that question, but the first thing that comes to mind is, when traveling around the world with Bruce, when I introduce him to any fan and/or industry person, the response is usually about the same. They almost always being jumping up and down, madly shaking his hand and exclaiming things like, “Wow, man, this is like unbelievable, Bruce Springsteen!! This is one of the most amazing moments of my life! I can’t believe it! Bruce, you’re my hero! Oh this is so cool…”
When introducing a fan to Dylan, the response is a little different.
Inevitably, the one I introduce to Bob begins standing there, almost at a loss for words, eyes open real wide, and a look comes over their face that just about says, “I’m standing face to face with God.” I’ve often wished I could carry a video camera when traveling the world with Dylan and place it just over his left shoulder, so that I could capture all of the moments like that (complete with people spilling things and tripping over their shoelaces, etc.).
Can you imagine what it’s like to be looked at that way all the time?
Also, Bob has a very distinctive look whereas once in a while, Bruce can blend into a crowd. Of course, as soon as someone notices it’s Bruce, I’ve seen that same crowd turn into a scene from “The Pied Piper.” Anyway, a reasonable amount of security is required for both of them when they go on the road, which brings us my next story.
On Dylan’s European tour in 1981, which I was lucky enough to be a part of, a handful of ‘handlers’ were put together for his protection. Though professional, and devoted to their jobs, once in a while I noticed there could be a bit of confusion as far as who was supposed to be doing what. On such rare occasions, I could picture them bumping heads, in a ‘Three Stooges’ kind of way, to make sure Bob was protected (it’s hard to believe, but Dylan’s always been more famous in Europe, making security even more significant). London, where this story takes place, was certainly no exception. Dylan was scheduled to play 5 nights at Earl’s Court, London’s 20,000 seat hall, beginning in a few days. It would be an understatement to say that the city was aware of Dylan’s presence.
The whole tour arrived in town a few days early, giving us a chance to get a head start working on what would surely be a busy week, and the musicians the opportunity to enjoy a few days off. The first afternoon, the phone in my hotel room suddenly started ringing with frantic phone calls from various Dylan staffers, beginning with one of his bodyguards, “Have you seen Bob?” he asked, hopefully.
“No, I haven’t,” I answered, “Has he missed an appointment? Is he supposed to be somewhere?”
“No, uh, that’s O.K., thanks,” he said hurriedly, before hanging up.
Next, his road manager called, asking nervously, “You haven’t seen Bob this afternoon, have you?”
“No,” I replied, hardly getting the word out before he thanked me and hung up. I remember shortly after a few more calls, walking out in to the hallway, near Bob’s room, and noticing at least a few of them pacing around, nervously.
A couple of hours later, back in my room, the phone rang once again, only this time it was Bob’s voice I heard on the other end of the line, casually asking me if I wasn’t busy, would I mind coming down to his room for a bit. I asked, “Bob, do you know that everyone’s in a panic looking all over for you? Do they know you’re back?”
“Yeah, yeah,” he replied, totally uninterested, “Are you coming over?”
“Sure,” I said, “I’ll be right there.”
Bob looked relaxed and really happy as he greeted me at the door. “I had the best afternoon!” he almost bursted, exuberantly.
“You did?” I asked, curiously, “What happened?”
“Well, I was feeling a little cooped up in this hotel room,” he began. “It looked like such a nice afternoon so I decided to take a walk. I put my sweatshirt on with the hood up,” (it was mid-July in London, but this was Bob’s best attempt at disguising himself) “and I went out and just started walking.”
“By yourself?” I asked, amazed.
“Yeah,” he began, enthusiastically, “and I first ended up walking all through Piccadilly Circus, where, of course, there were thousands of other people, and nobody said a word to me! It was so great so I just kept going. Then, I walked up and down King’s road and through Trafalgar Square, and still, I never said a word to anyone, and nobody spoke to me.”
“Wow, Bob, that’s unbelievable! That must have felt great.”
“It did, and so I kept going. It was such a beautiful day, too, so I went through Hyde Park, and was walking around for hours – it was so peaceful. I saw so many people and nobody ever said a word to me. Finally, I was making my way back to Regents Park (where our hotel was located), and I ended up in the Regents Park Zoo, just sitting quietly on a hill. It was so great, I could hardly believe it, and I didn’t want the day to end. Finally, I noticed it must have been 5pm, because the zoo was getting ready to close, and the zookeeper was politely getting everyone to leave. Eventually, the whole place was empty, except for me, and I didn’t notice, as I was busy pondering what a peaceful day it had been, when the zookeeper came over to me and said, ‘It’s closing time. I’m afraid you’re going to have to leave, MR. DYLAN!”
Jerry Weintraub, Bob Dylan, and Me
By Debbie Gold (with Meg Hansen)
On an otherwise typical sunny fall day, while driving around West L.A. in a convertible with Bob, he casually mentioned that ‘we’ had a meeting in one hour with Jerry Weintraub at his West L.A. offices. To kill some time, we drove slowly through Beverly Hills. Bob pulled over when he spotted an old van double parked. Its side door was open, displaying a worn poster hastily taped up, with block letters hand written that read, “MAPS TO THE STARS HOMES – HERE!”
As we got out of the car, he said something like, “I’ve always wanted to get one of these.” He was already way ahead of me and as I caught up I practiced keeping a straight face. Here I am, with BOB DYLAN, buying a MAP TO THE STARS HOMES in Beverly Hills. By the time I did catch up, Bob was having a conversation with the guy in charge – a Latino boy around 14 years old. Bob’s curiosity led us to find out that this boy was part of a family business, existing for three generations.
We eventually got back in the car, poured over the map, had some laughs, considered visiting some of these places, and then became otherwise distracted. Most times, just driving down the street with Bob was an experience as he noticed everything, and he didn’t see most things the way ‘ordinary’ people did. I often thought he’s the kind of guy who might run away with the circus if it happened to be passing by at the right time.
We had just met about five months before when I was the production coordinator for his “Shot of Love” record, released in 1981. Our business relationship continued, and he hired me to handle all communications with his record label, Columbia, including making sure the record and the European tour were promoted and publicized properly. I did this from New York, and also on the road throughout Europe.
By the time this story took place, we were already becoming close friends, and I was quite fond of him. Dylan, if you knew him, was legendary for being a man of few words in person and of course, for so many other things. I always said if you put three or more famous musicians in a room together, it wouldn’t be long before they started breaking out their ‘Dylan Stories’ – they were famous, he was in a whole other category – they all loved him and revered him.
The first one I ever heard, when I was 19, was from John Kahn, who played with Jerry Garcia. At the time of his story, he was part of the Butterfield Blues Band. Dylan walked into one of their rehearsals at Kahn’s house, unannounced, listened while checking out every book on his bookshelves, and then left as quietly as he came in.
Even when few words were used, there always seemed to be a lot going on inside. I think the business world sometimes bored him, and often I couldn’t escape the feeling that he’d accidentally on purpose stir things up just to stay amused (or awake, at least). Certainly, to say the least, being with Bob never included a dull moment and so as we entered the high rise Westwood office building, I realized I had no time left to be nervous about the meeting which was about to take place.
I was always so comfortable around Bob, and looking back now, I didn’t even begin to get apprehensive until the elevator doors opened to the entire floor which was the home of Jerry Weintraub Enterprises. All things considered – décor, location of the building, how high up his floor was, and just how massive the lobby was, one could not help being intimidated. The furniture was gorgeous, mostly antique, with some incredible paintings and beautiful vases everywhere, each holding massive bouquets of fresh flowers.
Weintraub Enterprises included a management company whose main clients were huge in the 70s and 80s. The current year was 1981, so it was safe to assume that he was enjoying the power of his stable which included The Beach Boys, and what everyone fondly referred to as “The Three D’s” – Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, and John Denver. There seemed to be about 20 principal executives, almost, if not exclusively men – all with very good looking young secretaries. They also operated as concert promoters called, “Concerts West.”
It was well known in the business that all of their ventures generated a lot of cash and most seemed to be aware of the fact that no amount of money or power seemed enough for Jerry Weintraub. He was always putting together the next venture – bigger and better than before. He later became a very successful movie producer and was in pre-production on his first film, “The Karate Kid,” at this time. Politically connected almost around the world, no one asked questions of Weintraub; most of the time they just did whatever he wanted.
Bob and I were sitting in the lobby for a few minutes and I remember hoping that none of the beads of sweat that were starting to accumulate on my forehead and face were visible. I still had no idea why he brought me there in the first place and I was praying that I’d be waiting in the lobby for Bob after HIS meeting, when Weintraub personally came out to usher Bob in. Bob, gesturing clearly to me, softly said, “After you, Deb.”
His office was immense. Designed perfectly to his liking, the décor screamed power. His huge 6’4”, 195 lb. frame added to his image. This guy was scary. His cameo in the Tom Cruise movie, “The Firm,” as a well-dressed bully whose purpose in the scene was to show Cruise how inexperienced and insignificant he was and to remind him who he was dealing with, fit him well.
The look on Weintraub’s face when he first noticed this 24-year-old girl with Bob was your typical “oh, so here’s your latest babe du jour, Bob” – and he proceeded to ignore me. This changed right away when Bob began by introducing me, “Jerry, this is Debbie Gold. She’s been working with us for a while. She was very helpful on our European Tour this summer, and has been working very closely with Columbia on the new record. She’s young, but very bright and quite experienced. I’m sure you’ll find her assistance to be very valuable, as I do, especially regarding the upcoming U.S. tour you’re about to propose.” The mood in the room changed immediately.
Weintraub’s icy eyes were starring me down and he began conducting what was almost like a job interview. He asked questions like who I’ve worked for and where I’ve been, but his tone was clearly saying, “Just who the hell do you think you are?” Bob’s confidence in me helped, but I must admit that for at least a few seconds I felt like the cowardly lion, wishing I could turn around and run.
After our abrupt “interview,” Weintraub went back to ignoring me and started the meeting by trying to get Bob to attend a fundraiser he was having at his house (located in Malibu, his home had a name – Blue Heaven). The dinner was for, of all people, George Bush. Bob laughed and politely tried to excuse himself.
“Oh, come on, Bob,” Weintraub urged, “There will be great food, lots of security – including helicopters flying overhead – you’ll have a great time!”
“Nah,” Bob replied, “I don’t think I’ll be able to make that one, Jerry.”
“Let’s start talking about the tour, then” Weintraub began, “We’ve done lots of work here preparing these dates for the U.S. and getting some pretty impressive guarantees from the promoters. Here’s what it looks like, roughly,” he said, as he proudly handed Bob some papers across his desk. At that time, his secretary entered, quietly notifying Jerry that he had an extremely important call. She knew better than to interrupt this meeting, so this had to be good.
Weintraub stood up to excuse himself from the room, gesturing that we sit on the couch. With one foot out the door, he looked over his shoulder at me and said, “Why don’t you keep him busy for a few minutes while I’m gone – you know, rub his leg or something.” Well, I must say, that immediately changed my mood. In fact, I was so angry that it was easy to muster the strength for what came next.
Bob, musing over the neatly typed tour arrangements, handed the paperwork over to me and simply said, “Here, Debbie, what do you think of this tour? Does it look right to you?”
I couldn’t believe it, but I heard myself replying, “I don’t think we should do this tour, Bob. The halls they’ve booked are way too big. Let’s not forget, you’re just coming out of that very Christian faze of your career, where people may still expect you to play none of your old songs, you know, the ones they want to hear. I think you’d feel so much more comfortable playing multiple nights in more intimate halls than playing for 250 people in a new arena with a capacity of 20,000 people. Don’t forget, Bob, I have access to all Sony information as to where the new record is doing well, and where, in some places, it’s virtually being ignored.”
“I think you could be right,” he said, “but why do you think the promoters are offering so much money if they know they might lose money?”
“Well, that’s easy,” I replied. “Think about it. First of all, it’s Jerry Weintraub they’d have to say ‘no’ to. They want the prestige that still comes along with promoting a Bob Dylan concert, and they still make a tremendous amount of money with The Beach Boys and the other D’s.”
“I think you may be right, but tell me, what do you think about Detroit? Bob asked.
“There is a much smaller arena there, but my gut feeling says you should play in a college town nearby called Ann Arbor, and they have a beautiful old small hall…”
At that point, the ever-pleasant Mr. Weintraub re-joined us and seated himself in a chair next to Bob. He began by ‘small talking’ with Bob about a recent trip he took to Rio, where, apparently, he truly enjoyed himself. Not so much as looking at me, I’m sure the next part of his description of his trip was aimed at making me feel uncomfortable. He started bragging in the most macho of ways about an evening he spent with two beautiful and exotic Brazilian women, the lurid details of which even Bob didn’t seem that fascinated by, and I tried not to hear. Then, proudly, he sat back in his chair and asked Bob, “So, what do you think of this pretty impressive tour we’ve just started to book. That’s a lot of money for 6 weeks in the States, huh?”
“I’m not sure, Jerry,” Bob muttered, much to Jerry’s surprise, “What do you think of maybe Cobo Hall or even Hill Auditorium in Detroit?”
Shocked, Weintraub’s posture stiffened. He extended his large arm and pointed his index finger inches in front of my face, and screamed, “YOU!!!”
“I’m sorry, Jerry, but I really feel like Bob may feel a lot more comfortable playing in smaller halls this time out,” I found the nerve to say.
He retorted with much distain, “Yeah, and if you’re so smart, why do you think the promoters would take such a risk?”
Thank Heaven, Bob then interrupted, saying, “I think she may be right, Jerry. I haven’t played those kind of places for a long time. Maybe we should make some adjustments with Debbie’s help and see how things look.”
Weintraub was clearly infuriated. Not only was he humiliated, but if I was right, this would also cost him a lot of money. Still way too nervous to feel at all victorious, I next found myself being introduced around the office as someone they were soon going to be dealing with.
The last words I heard Weintraub utter (or threaten, I should say) as we entered the elevator to leave, were, “Bob, she may be 24, and you may think she’s very smart, but you remember, I’ve been in this business for 25 years and I know what I’m talking about.” Shocked, as the elevator doors closed, I couldn’t help but notice the big smirk on Bob’s face. He loved this stuff. Sometimes he reminded me of a little kid playing with toy soldiers on the battlefield, setting them up in just the right way, and then just sitting back to watch what would happen next.
As we walked down the street, headed for the car, I was practically trembling. Even though I knew I could have taken Jerry’s comment as a compliment, I wasn’t exactly prepared to singlehandedly go against him. Bob looked at me and asked, “What are you so worried about?”
Worried? I was almost engulfed with fear! “Bob, I don’t think I can keep this up. He scares me and he HATED me! Did you notice?”
Bob smiled sympathetically and tried to assure me, “He won’t do anything to you. You know I would never let that happen. I think you did a great job up there and as far as I’m concerned, they’re gonna have to deal with you and treat you nicely.” That was very sweet of him to say, and he had to be right, right? After all, he was Bob Dylan, and they had to obey his wishes (I think).
Anyway, Jerry was a formidable opponent and this was the last thing I expected from this otherwise beautiful, sunny day in Los Angeles.
Dylan stayed true to his word – not only by ‘protecting’ me, but by refusing to play any show on that tour which did not meet my approval. The 6-week tour was a resounding success, and since my instincts were right in nearly every city, Jerry Weintraub and his henchmen were not my greatest supporters (my great ideas cost him money).
DJ and Dylanologist Stu Levitan also got to speak with Debbie on his show Books & Beats with Stu Levitan, 92.1 The Mic in 2012. They discuss Debbie’s project to reproduce classic album covers as jigsaw puzzles.