Passings: Robert Stigwood (1934 - 2016)
Reaction from the music world and his colleagues has been swift. Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote "Farewell beloved Robert, the great showman who taught me so much. With love, ALW." While Spencer Gibb, the son of the late Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees, wrote:
I would like to share the sad news with you all, that my godfather, and the longtime manager of my family, Robert Stigwood, has passed away. A creative genius with a very quick and dry wit, Robert was the driving force behind The Bee Gees career, as well as having discovered Cream, and subsequently managing Eric Clapton. He was also of course, the creator of the movies Saturday Night Fever and Grease, and many Broadway musicals with Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. RSO Records pretty much defined the late 70’s. Of course, his biography is very extensive and can easily be found online…..I would like to thank Robert for his kindness to me over the years as well as his mentorship to my family. “Stiggy", you will be missed.Stigwood was born in Australia but moved to England at the age of 21 and, at first, did jobs such as supervising at an institution for "backward teenage boys" and in theaters around the country. He formed the firm Robert Stigwood Associates, Ltd. with partner Stephen Komlosy where the two would manage actors trying to get their big break.
One of those actors, John Leyton, was able to break out on the record charts with the song Johnny Remember Me (1961 / #1 U.K.) which was produced by Stigwood and Joe Meek (the Tornados). A manager also producing, or doing any other job outside of overseeing artists, was unheard of at that time in the U.K. and the combination of Stigwood and Meek was a totally new concept for the British industry.
Over the next two years, Leyton, under the eye of Stigwood and Meek, would have seven move top fifty hits. In late-1961, Meek moved on and Stigwood signed an agreement with EMI where he produced for such artists as Mike Sarne and Mike Berry.
Even with his growing reputation, Stigwood hit tough financial times in the mid-60's and he resorted to promoting shows to make ends meet. In 1966, he was able to strike a deal to become the Who's booking agent and eventually parlayed it into signing them to his new Reaction label. The same year, he signed up to manage the new band Cream whom he booked as the Who's opening act for a nine-night run at the RKO theater in New York, one of the group's first big breaks in the U.S. A new deal between Stigwood and Polydor also helped him fund the recording of Cream's first album in New York.
On January 13, 1967, Stigwood company merged with Brian Epstein's NEMS Enterprises. The merger, though, was a rocky one. The Beatles outright refused to work with Stigwood and Epstein grew weary of Robert's management style.
During his time with NEMS, Stigwood brought a young Australian group to the U.K. called the Bee Gees. Much of his time, and money spent, with NEMS was in breaking the band in Britain and the U.S. which he did with the top twenty hit New York Mining Disaster 1941 and the followup, Massachusetts.
When Brian Epstein died in August 1967, his brother Clive took over the company and, by the end of the year, Stigwood had left to form his new Robert Stigwood Organization (RSO). It was under his own company and control that he truly flourished, expanding into a number of entertainment areas. His promotion arm worked with Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart and David Bowie while his RSO records was the home of Eric Clapton, the Bee Gees, Andy Gibb, Player, Yvonne Elliman and many other along with, more importantly, the label that released some of the biggest soundtracks in history including Saturday Night Fever, Grease, The Empire Strikes Back and Fame.
The Robert Stigwood Orgainizations film arm was the home of the previously mentioned Saturday Night Fever and Grease along with making such films as Tommy, Bugsy Malone, Evita and Staying Alive. All was not perfect, though, for RSO's films as they also made the critically savaged Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Moment by Moment and Grease 2.
RSO also became involved in theater in the late 60's, producing Hair for the West End in London along with other shows such as Pippin, Jesus Christ Superstar, Oh! Calcutta! and Evita.