Allen Klein, 77; Brash Record Executive Managed 'Beatles' and Other Big Names

Allen Klein, left, with Yoko Ono and John Lennon, was known as the "toughest wheeler-dealer in the pop jungle."
Allen Klein, left, with Yoko Ono and John Lennon, was known as the "toughest wheeler-dealer in the pop jungle." (Associated Press Photo)
By T. Rees Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Allen Klein, 77, a cunning record executive whose clients included the Rolling Stones and the Beatles and who was known as the "toughest wheeler-dealer in the pop jungle," but whose ego and temperament also contributed to the breakup of the Fab Four, died July 4 at his home in Manhattan. He had complications from Alzheimer's disease.

Mr. Klein was an accountant by trade and fell into musician and record company management by accident. Through his company, Abkco, Mr. Klein built his reputation on shrewd attention to financial detail. He ruthlessly negotiated rich contracts for his clients -- and for his own gain. He was the target of scores of lawsuits by clients and associates while making millions of dollars for many others.

"Don't talk to me about ethics," Mr. Klein said in a 1971 interview with Playboy. "It's like a war. You choose your side early and from then on you're being shot at. The man you beat is likely to call you unethical. So what?"

After early work for Sam Cooke and Bobby Darin, Mr. Klein was hired by Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham in 1965 to renegotiate the Stones' record contract with Decca. He used his thick New Jersey accent and swaggering attitude to impress the group.

"Andrew sold him to us as a gangster figure, someone outside the establishment," Mick Jagger said in Stephen Davis's book "Old Gods Almost Dead: The 40-Year Odyssey of the Rolling Stones." "We found that rather attractive."

In the early 1970s, Mr. Klein used his accounting skills to purchase the entire 1960s back catalogue of the Rolling Stones master recordings from Oldham without the band's knowledge. Mr. Klein also transferred more than $1 million of the Stones' earnings into his personal account.

Around this period, Jagger chased Mr. Klein down a hallway of London's Savoy Hotel during one particularly energetic discussion about the band's finances. The singer, shouting expletives, demanded to know why a significant amount of his money had seemingly disappeared.

"What did he want from us? Apart from the moon, I don't know," Jagger said while testifying during a lawsuit against Mr. Klein in 1984. "He wanted everything. He wanted a hold on us, on our futures."

Mr. Klein saw his greatest aspiration realized when he became manager of the Beatles in 1969. He was aware that Apple Corps, the band's multimedia company, was months away from bankruptcy and set up a secret meeting with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. From that conference, Mr. Klein negotiated a contract to be the group's business manager.

Lennon and Ono persuaded band members Ringo Starr and George Harrison to sign the contract as well. But Paul McCartney did not like Mr. Klein's brash manner and refused to participate. This rift helped lead to the band's dissolution in 1970 after McCartney filed suit against Mr. Klein and the other members.

Mr. Klein bragged that the Beatles had made 9 million pounds in 19 months under his guidance-- more than the band had made in the previous six years.

"Nobody sues a failure," Mr. Klein said around that time. "They only sue a success."

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