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Raw Dealer

Allen Klein

By Lee Gardner | Posted 12/30/2009

Most of the time, people show up in these year-end obit round-ups because of something they've contributed to the world. Allen Klein is notable in large part for what he took from it. As an accountant and manager for 1960s soul and pop acts, including Sam Cooke, the Rolling Stones, and the Beatles, he proved himself a tough negotiator on his clients' behalf. At the same time, he sometimes wound up owning the rights to the work they created and often left strife and lawsuits in his wake. He gave the rock era its foremost archetype of the grasping, shady manager in the process.

Born in Newark, NJ, in 1931, Klein spent much of his childhood in an orphanage. After earning a degree in accounting, he set his sights on the entertainment business. His early specialty was combing through record companies' ledgers and finding money owed to artists, which won him grateful clients such as pop singer Bobby Darin and gospel-turned-soul star Cooke. The latter took on Klein as his manager and was rewarded with an unprecedentedly rich Klein-negotiated record deal. (Klein's company, ABKCO, purchased the rights to Cooke's music after the singer's 1964 death.)

Already working with British pop acts, Klein landed the Rolling Stones as management clients in 1965. Impressed by the burly, unpolished Klein's reputation for toughness, and by the fat paydays he'd won for the Stones, John Lennon suggested he take over the Beatles' finances after long-time manager Brian Epstein died in 1967. Paul McCartney was against the idea, but the other two Beatles sided with Lennon, sealing the deal and driving a wedge; people may believe Yoko Ono broke up the Beatles, but blaming Klein makes more sense. The Stones, distrustful of Klein's own accounting, eventually tried to extricate themselves and ended up in a lawsuit that won him all rights to all of the band's music recorded before 1971. While he wound up with no Beatles rights himself, Klein uncharacteristically failed to secure for Lennon and McCartney the up-for-grab rights to their early songs--the lucrative publishing eventually snapped up by Michael Jackson. After Klein helped ex-Beatle George Harrison organized the charitable Concert for Bangladesh in 1971, questions arose about his handling of the proceeds, leading to a brief prison sentence for tax evasion

All the legal wrangling cooled Klein's management career, but he remained a formidable force through rights controlled by ABKCO. He kept the music of '60s pop label Cameo-Parkway--artists ranging from Chubby Checker to ? and the Mysterians--out of print for decades. He prevented the release of legendary 1968 concert film The Rolling Stones' Rock and Roll Circus until 1996. After funding Alejandro Jodorowsky's 1973 cult classic The Holy Mountain, Klein feuded with the director and withdrew all of Jodorowsky's early films from circulation until 2004. A snippet of a Stones tune that wound up in the Verve's 1997 song "Bitter Sweet Symphony" led to a legal battle that won ABKCO 100 percent of the royalties from the international hit. ABKCO sued rapper Lil Wayne over a similar Stones bite in 2008.

Klein died of complications from Alzheimer's Disease on July 4, but ABKCO, now reportedly run by Klein's son Jody, still controls an enormous chunk of rock-era creativity. And Klein might ultimately be best remembered by the various bits of rock-era creativity that seem to revile him, usually created by artists he represented. "Well your teeth are clean but your mind is capped," John Lennon sang in his song "Steel and Glass." "You leave your smell like an alley cat."

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