Alex Hodges of Nederlander Concerts On His Friendship With Otis Redding and Being the ‘Best Small Promoter in the World’
There are few offices that document a life well lived better than that of Alex Hodges at Nederlander Concerts in Hollywood.
There are few offices that document a life well lived better than that of Alex Hodges at Nederlander Concerts in Hollywood. His sprawling “old school” space above the Pantages theater is chock-full of gold records from his days managing Stevie Ray Vaughan and serving as an agent for acts like The Allman Brothers Band, big black-and-white photos including one with concert promotion legend Bill Graham and mementos from the dozens of artists Hodges has assisted during his six-decade career in music.
The building, and much of the land around it, was purchased by Jimmy Nederlander Sr.‘s Nederlander Organization in the 1970s, and marked a westward expansion for the Broadway scion that now includes its concert division, which promotes shows across 80-plus venues around the country. It also houses the former personal office of Howard Hughes.
“I keep wondering if I’m going to run into Howard’s ghost in the hallway, but we haven’t met yet,” jokes Hodges, 76, from his executive suite overlooking Hollywood Boulevard and the developments that arose from Nederlander’s land-buying spree. Hodges, who spent six years as a vice president at Nederlander in the late ’80s and early ’90s, returned to the company as COO in 2007, and was promoted to the top job four years later. Lately, the company has thrived: In 2017, Nederlander grossed $23.7 million, up 39 percent over the year prior, according to Billboard Boxscore.
After decades operating out of his Macon, Ga., hometown where he helped launch the career of Otis Redding, who died in a plane crash in 1967, Hodges has seen it all in live music. “There’s an old saying: ‘When it’s too loud, you’ve gotten too old,'” says Hodges. “For me, it hasn’t gotten too loud yet.”
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the release of Otis Redding’s last record, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.” What do you remember about him recording that track?
We were supposed to leave on a Friday for Memphis, but he decided to fly Sunday instead to work on some overdubs and clear up the vocal tracks. I didn’t make the trip because I had other bands on the road and I felt I needed my landline. Otis told me he’d see me Monday. But his plane never made it to Memphis.
What did you think when you first heard the song?
I remember Otis playing it for me once with his whistling on it, and he wasn’t sure if he should keep that part. I told him, “You’ve got to — it’s the coolest extra piece and will become the signature of the song.” There’s also a line on the song that says, “I can’t do what 10 people tell me to do, so I guess I’ll remain the same.” Stevie Ray and I used to talk about that line all the time — it’s about staying true to who you are and your vision for your music. The song is poetic and beautiful, and has a continued relevance today as we grow and make decisions about our lives.
Nederlander has changed a lot, ceding control of The Greek Theatre as the city of Los Angeles made it an open venue. How has your mission evolved?
At one time, the Nederlander family owned a number of amphitheaters across the country and it was a national business. They sold the amphitheaters and today our mandate is different. We still partner on a number of shows at the Greek, but now we’re booking maybe as many shows, if not more, than a few years ago. But the shows are up and down the California coast as the market has changed. At Nederlander, we concentrate on smaller L.A. venues like the Theater at the Ace Hotel, the Orpheum, the Dolby and the Greek and Pantages. We’ll do 270 to 300 shows this year, mostly in the small halls. It’s about being much more flexible and mobile now.
After this season, the city’s three years running The Greek expires. What do you think will happen next?
Various promoters, really only three typically, are filling the calendar. The Greek has a great legacy and history. It is going to live on with that fantastic reputation. Where it will end up, who knows?
What has changed since Nederlander left the building as exclusive promoter?
The historic sweet spot was to do 60 shows; now it’s 76. The city wants to have every possible bit of revenue. So they’ve expanded the box seats and the non-manifested seats in front of the boxes have increased. And that’s not really that good for the promoter, because we don’t get paid on those tickets. You look at the schedule now and you gotta make your own judgements on how they’re selling. But we’ll be there on opening day and we’re going to co-promote or independently promote as the opportunities arise. If you want to play outdoors in L.A., your options are the Hollywood Bowl and the Greek Theatre. There’s no shortage of shows and the promoters don’t want to give up any marketshare, which creates an environment where we’ll all produce as many shows as we can at the Greek. Maybe it’ll go to 80 or 85 shows.
You’ve always described Nederlander as a “boutique promoter.” Do you still think of yourselves that way?
Absolutely. The best boutique, independent, small promoter in the world. We’re not necessarily in the festival business — where we might do that, we don’t know. But we really do know that the small arenas and small music halls need attention. We just want to be the best, however you define it, wherever we go. One city at a time, one show at a time, one ticket at a time.
What new plans are you working on?
We just made a deal a year ago at a soccer field at Cal Expo [in Sacramento, Calif.], which was the site of an amphitheater Bill Graham used to operate. We’ve already expanded the capacity three times for an upcoming concert by Slayer, set to take place on Mother’s Day. What could be a better way to spend the day with the family than on Slayer’s farewell tour, right?
What’s the most promising career path for a young person today?
The management side is tricky; you have to be fearless in making decisions and having that dialogue with the agent and the record company, but it’s really tremendous fun, especially when you and the artist are on the same wavelength. For Stevie Ray Vaughan, when I was his manager for four-plus years, we definitely were. Otis Redding and I were the same age when we were working together, and our relationship was incredible.
But if you’re looking to get enough feeling of accomplishment with less downside, I would go with being an agent. As an agent, I was closely involved with the artists and a part of the decision-making team all the time. As a manager, I called all the shots. As a promoter, you’ve got a different level of competition today and you’re not in the decision-making seat like an agent or manager. The mistake young people make is to come in thinking there’s a show every night and it’s a big party. We have fun, trust me. But this is real work.
Do you think you’ll ever retire?
I feel great. I just want to be sure I get to Georgia this summer to water ski. If I can still get up on one ski, I’m in good shape.
This article originally appeared in the May 5 issue of Billboard.