Harry Sandler, rock photographer and famous tour manager, dies at 73


Harry Sandler died on Saturday (September 2) after a brief battle with cancer. Sandler had spent much of his career as a tour manager working with Irving Azoff, helping the careers and tours of artists like John Mellencamp, Eagles, Katy Perry, Billy Joel, Jewel, Van Halen, Bruce Springsteen and Steve Nicks.

“Harry Sandler worked for me for 32 years. We fought many times together against unscrupulous promoters, record labels, managers, merchandisers and tried to keep ticket prices fair against dishonest ticket resellers Harry even produced a movie for me, he got a lot of people into this business,” Mellencamp said. Billboard. “Harry was part of my family. All my children grew up knowing him and we traveled the world together. I don’t remember having any serious arguments with Harry. He was usually right about most things. But mostly, I just remember laughing with him.

Sandler retired in 2008, returning to photography as the digital revolution took over, focusing on both music and, later, landscape photography. He met his partner Debra Rathwell of AEG Presents in 1980 when she was a promoter for Bass Clef Entertainment and he ran Springsteen’s tour. As the story goes, they got into an argument over clogged seats, she pretended to cry, the argument was dropped, they remained friends and fell in love in 2002. They lived together in a white colonial house in Mount Vernon, New York, where Sandler’s studio occupied the third floor.

“He started out in the music industry as a photographer, but it was too hard to make a living that way, so he became a tour manager,” Rathwell said. Billboard. “But he still kept taking pictures. He liked strange black and white photos, musical photos and landscapes. It was two people that way – photographer and tour manager.

Sandler was born in Tallahassee, Florida in 1944 and spent his childhood in Atlantic City, where his large extended family owned a summer boarding house. At the age of 18, Sandler enlisted in the army and was stationed in the demilitarized zone between South Korea and North Korea.

“He describes his type of job in the military as being the company clerk – just like the character Radar O’Reilly from the TV show MASH POTATOES“, Rathwell told Billboard. “When the ship docked in San Francisco in 1964, his choices were to take the acid tablet his cousin had brought with him when he met Harry on the ship, or to return to the Bronx and marry his wife. girlfriend. He took the acid tab and moved to Haight-Ashbury where he immersed himself in the music industry for the rest of his life.

Sandler worked for Bill Graham at the Fillmore East early in his career and has been involved in a number of high profile events including the American Festival, managing Barbra Streisand’s tour, running the Big Apple Circus, the Central Park production in 1981 by Simon & Garfunkel. gig and work with artists like Debbie Harry, Joan Jett and Nicks. He briefly came out of retirement in 2012 to work with Perry, who called Sandler “the Daddy Smurf of our touring family” with “a heart of gold for everyone”.

Harry Sandler and Katy Perry at the 2015 wedding of Ngoc Hoang (of Direct Management) in Big Sur.
Tamra Natisin

“Words are insufficient to sum up what Harry Sandler meant to everyone he touched during his incredible life,” Perry said. Billboard. “I will forever be honored that he came out of retirement for me. We will all miss his unwavering warmth and kindness, who created a comfort that only he could instill, making each new step in town a sense of We were all inspired by his constant curiosity and enthusiastic outlook on life displayed through his brilliant photographs as he documented tour life,” adding, “His spirit and his smile will forever be our mantra, city ​​after city.

Sandler spent nearly a decade working with Irving Azoff’s management company and Azoff described Sandler as “one of the most accomplished tour managers I have ever known”.

He was also a pioneer in VIP ticketing, working with Azoff to create a company called ILoveAllAccess which was eventually merged into Artist Nation after the two left Live Nation.

“It was the first true VIP experience that gave fans real customer service and experience and not just a ticket and merchandise,” Azoff said. Billboard. “He was an incredible mentor to his son Jesse, who became an accomplished road warrior and touring executive just like his father, and to [daughter] Emilie, who also became a road warrior.

Jesse Sandler now works as a production manager and tour manager for bands such as Bon Jovi, Phish and Nickelback. In 1999, his father invited Sandler to tour the country with Mellencamp – “I jumped at the chance to do it,” said Jesse Sandler. Billboard.

“Touring with him as an adult shaped me,” added Jesse Sandler. “I admired him. He subconsciously pushed me to be the best person and tour professional I could be. We worked together on Mellencamp, The Eagles, Don Henley, Dancing with the stars and Rock band toured together in my early years. I was lucky to have him as a mentor. I always wanted to be like him.”

Emilie Sandler works for Good Sense and Company in Brooklyn and tells Billboard, “As a teenager I spent a few weeks on the road with dad during the summers helping out where I could,” adding, “I started my touring career as a VIP coordinator for Van Halen, the Eagles and Def Leppard I quickly became production coordinator, road manager and assistant tour manager for bands like John Mellencamp, Phish, Katy Perry and the Grateful Dead.

Rathwell’s daughter, Marcella Grimaux, also works in the company, moving to Montreal in 2009 to assist Dominic Champagne, director of To like for Cirque du Soleil, on a project. She is now into creating video content.

Harry Sandler
Harry Sandler
Courtesy of the Sandler family

Sandler was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on June 29 and died 66 days later.

“Recently after his diagnosis, he was incredibly positive and calm,” says Azoff. Billboard. “He convinced me he was winning the battle but nobody wins against this horrible disease. I can’t think of enough nice things to say about Harry’s work ethic, demeanor and skills. He doesn’t will not be replaced!

After his death, tributes poured in from people whose lives were touched by Sandler, such as Artist Group International’s Dennis Arfa, who calls Sandler “a man of integrity, honesty and always a straight shooter.”

Perry’s co-manager, Steve Jensen of Direct Management, described Sandler “as a man of many things to many people: seasoned tour manager, senior accountant, knowledgeable advisor and ticketing expert. Above all, he was our dear friend and will forever remain in our hearts.

Jensen also noted that Sandler was “a very talented and passionate photographer” who “beautifully captured great moments on the concert stage, serene landscapes and arguing cowboys, all for us to enjoy and enjoy.” we will remember them forever. I personally owe Harry my deepest gratitude for his partnership in the Katy Perry tour. Harry was one of a kind and will be sorely missed.

Shelley Lazar of Live Nation’s SLO said Sandler was a consummate professional. “From Fillmore East to the Far East,” adding that “he was always straightforward, smart, and concerned with what was best, not just for the touring artists he represented, but for all of us who worked I will miss his support and his “always there” smile, as well as the great stories we always told about the “good old days”.

CAA booking agent Carole Kinzel recalled sharing a room with Sandler “in a magic house in Philadelphia in the ’70s with the members of the Edison Electric Band”, which Sandler led in the era and whose members TJ Tindall, Mark Jordan and Freebo went on to successful music careers.

“Harry was the official photographer and good mood creator. I was just starting out with Electric Factory Concerts. We were truly free spirits. We had such high hopes and dreams and were pure of heart if not always of action, and the industry of music was about music not business,” Kinzel said. “Last year we lost TJ and Harry and I were so upset that we talked all the time about our lost youth and the how we loved those carefree days. We drove Debra crazy. Nobody made me laugh like Harry. He really understood me and always saw me as this young girl in love with music. I will miss him every day.”

Many remember that Sandler often went out of his way to create special experiences for everyone around him, even those he barely knew.

“I remember being general manager of a 32-year-old facility in Richmond and we were lucky enough to get the Eagles to not just play, but to rehearse for a week,” says Larry Wilson, who works now at SMG. “We had an amazing week. I think they played the sold out show on Friday. Thursday the band was rehearsing around 9pm and I remember Harry coming into my office and saying, ‘I have a surprise for you. He ushered me into the arena and sat me in the front row. He said, “This one’s for you,” and the Eagles played “Hotel California” for this kid who knew nothing about the entertainment industry. We have spoken often over the years and I will never forget it or that time. He was tough but made me feel like I was on top of the world for that four minute song.

As a veteran and ex-serviceman, Sandler cared deeply about the nonprofit Veterans Matter and worked to raise funds for the group. In lieu of flowers, the family is asking for donations in Sandler’s name to Veterans Matter.org/donate. Funeral arrangements are pending.


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