Book Review: “Backstage Past” by Barry Fey

Anyone who was a music fan from the late ‘60s through the late ‘90s in Colorado knows the name Barry Fey. He is a legend—the rock promoter who sold more concert tickets than any other promoter in history. Fey brought everyone from the Beatles and Led Zeppelin to Diana Ross and Willie Nelson to the Denver area (and other places as well).

In his new book, “Backstage Past,” Fey says that he once played a show featuring Johnny Winter, Fleetwood Mac, Zephyr and the Flock in 1969, all for a whopping $3.50. Those days are long gone but they were also the days when great new music was cropping up everywhere and on a daily basis. You couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing some exciting new record that you just had to run out and buy RIGHT NOW!

With forewords by Pete Townsend and Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne, cover flap endorsement by President Bill Clinton and a little poem tribute to Fey written by Bono, “Backstage Past” also includes a poster highlighting Feyline ticket stubs and backstage passes. At 270 pages, this book is a combination of behind-the-scenes footage of the sea of snakes that comprises the monolithic rock and roll machine and personal anecdotes about the stars themselves. Fey recounts how Mick Jagger and Keith Richards taught him how to snort cocaine, how a fan once gave him a vial of her blood to give to Ozzy Osbourne as a gift, how he had (and continues to have) personal conversations with Bono, how he was picked up and escorted to the show in a helicopter, and how he hosted  many a party for the Rolling Stones at his personal residence. There are also stories about The Who, Led Zeppelin, the Mamas and the Papas, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, U2, the Eagles, Aerosmith, Elton John, The Grateful Dead, Bruce Springsteen and just about everybody who was anybody in the music business, along with agents and promoters of the rich and famous.

The amount of money that exchanged hands was staggering, not to mention the power, the politicians, the crazed fans, and the groupies, along with some temperamental artists. There were those who were overly-sensitive and those who were just plain mean and nasty. Some surprised me and some did not, but I guess rock stars are just people too—people with big egos and a ton of talent. Underneath it all, we all have our vices and our virtues.

One would have had to have been a tough cookie to survive in that business and it sounds like Barry was. His “final words… for now” (in the book) were: “I wish that I would have been nicer.” But if that had been the case, he may not have had the stories to tell. And in spite of all the excitement that accompanies rock and roll, after reading this book, I’m rather glad I wasn’t privy to a lot of the stuff that Fey describes. Sometimes, as the saying goes, ignorance is bliss. However, I’m sure Fey would agree with me when I say that his life has been anything but dull.

I loved his “Fey Lists”, where Fey documented his favorite bands, lead singers, guitar players, drummers, songwriters, songs, and albums, even though I didn’t always agree with him. But my favorite part of all was his list of “Pricks.” Who publishes a list like that? I couldn’t stop laughing. This dude’s got balls, but again, I guess one would have to to survive in that business.

Fey also mentions his love of Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado and he goes into great detail about Woodstock, painting a slightly different picture than how I had imagined it to be: rain and mud and the lack of toilets and food while exhausted people dropped acid and dropped like flies.

Backstage Past” (love the title—Fey credits his son for coming up with it) is a great read. I highly recommend it for anyone who wants a peek behind the music, the glitz and the glamor that audiences see night after night at rock concerts—the good, the bad, the ugly, and the Oh-my-God!

Thanks, Barry, for taking us along for the ride, and thanks for doing such an outstanding job as a rock and roll promoter all those years. Your work helped make me into the person I am today—a true lover of great music, and for that I will always be grateful.