The Absent-Minded Promoter

Chuck Morris arrived in Colorado planning to be a college professor. Instead, he's spent nearly 40 years making Denver a part of rock 'n' roll history. He's worked hard and at times played even harder. Now, backed by a conservative billionaire, Morris is singing a new tune.

July 2007

The seeds for Morris' latest unexpected turn sprouted last year over a dinner in Los Angeles with his old friend Azoff. The agent "Blackberried" AEG president and CEO Tim Leiweke, whom Morris befriended when Leiweke ran the Nuggets in the '90s. Leiweke was across the street at a basketball game, and Azoff was pinging him to ask if he wanted to get together afterward. Rather than respond electronically, Leiweke walked over to the restaurant and told Morris that once his Live Nation contract and noncompete agreement expired, AEG had a job for him. "As I understand it, he got the proverbial offer he couldn't refuse," Scher says. "He's not so much working for AEG as doing a co-venture with them, so he gets to sail his own ship to some degree." (To wit, Morris bought the building at Seventh and Santa Fe and is leasing it to his new company.)

The AEG showdown with Live Nation started even before Morris took the reins in June. AEG already has hired Morris' top two Live Nation promoters, Don Strasburg and Brent Fredrizzi, and Morris' longtime assistant Jan Martin. And AEG leased the Ogden and Bluebird theaters from NIPP and is promoting almost 30 shows at Red Rocks this summer. The upshot for Denver's rabid music fans: a record-breaking season at Red Rocks, fierce competition that should bring more music than ever to the Front Range—and (sigh) higher ticket prices.

Until his noncompete agreement with Live Nation ended June 1, Morris couldn't promote shows, book talent, cut deals, or even talk to anyone about coming to work for AEG. All of which might explain the intense anxiety in his voice the night in April he called me twice at home a few weeks after our first meeting. AEG had gotten wind of this story—a company spokesman already had said he couldn't comment on non- or prospective employees—and after consulting with his future bosses, Morris prepared the following statement. He insisted on reading it twice:

"I've agreed to go to work for AEG, and the actual starting date is an open question, but it won't be later than October 1. I will say that up until the last day of my contract with Live Nation, starting with my partnership with Bill Graham Presents, I've had nothing but pleasurable memories. Those guys gave me the tools to have a lot of my dreams come true. It was a great relationship, and I'm looking forward to my future with AEG because of my longtime friendship with Tim and Phil."

Morris has spent almost 40 years steering himself through the freewheeling, renegade era of clubs and coke to a more rigid time of balance sheets and bottom-line expectations. He wants this latest move to be the cherry on his giant sundae of a career; he appears to be intensely focused on not complicating this transition while still remaining the same old Chuck, no matter how irresistible the corporate tractor beam—with its button-down sensibilities and big paydays—might be. As we talked on that anxious night, wafting through the background I could hear the strains of Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl," a favorite song from a favorite artist, composed in a simpler time:

Whatever happened
To Tuesday and so slow
Going down the old mine
With a transistor radio
Standing in the sunlight laughing,
Hiding behind a rainbow's wall...

Luc Hatlestad is a senior editor at 5280.