Jill Meniketti is an amazing human being. Extraordinarily busy but still able to smile! She is not only an indefatigable artist manager/tour manager/agent, but she also wrote an incredible book called, Welcome to Groove House, that everyone who has read has loved. She is so “spot on” with her interpretation of the personalities of the people, not only in the rock music business, but also the people surrounding them. Obviously she has been “around the block” a few times, touring and spending lots of time with musicians! We think the book is just fantastically written, with characters that we can all identify as having known along this long strange trip! And her sense of humor and writing style are infectious.
That is why Leighsa Montrose and I decided that we needed to turn the table on Jill to find out what makes her tick! So here we go!
Behind the Art: Jill Meniketti
LINDA: What was your favorite Y&T tour?
I’d have to say the 1983 European tour, where Y&T opened for Ozzy Osbourne. That tour holds so many remarkable moments for me: it was my first time overseas; I saw snow actually falling for the first time (yeah, I’m a Bay Area girl); I heard Ozzy’s voice through the monitors (raw—not doubled, as on the records); I experienced the magical Munich Christmas market, where Sharon and Ozzy introduced Dave and me to Gluwein (hot mulled wine); and the highlight of that tour—Dave proposed to me in Amsterdam.
LEIGHSA: Talk about your evolution in becoming the manager for your rock star husband’s band, Y&T. How did that all come about?
When grunge came in and the music industry kicked hard rock to the curb in the ’90s, Y&T took a brief hiatus. When they resumed a short while later, playing a handful of shows at the turn of the new millennium, times had changed. And the band didn’t have a web site, nor was anyone doing their PR or merchandise. So I took it upon myself to create a web site for them and to start sending out press releases; and I eventually began handling the merchandise at shows.
At that time, technology was advancing rapidly, the Internet was gaining traction, and digital music was in its infancy. Current management wasn’t up to speed on this newfangled technology, but I was. (Fun fact: Dave and I bought our first computer in 1984. Yeah, we’re geeks.) Several years prior, I’d created the web site for Dave’s solo project, so it just made sense to get one rolling for Y&T on our same server. Once I’d developed and launched Y&T’s official web site, email inquiries started pouring in from promoters who wanted the band again—from all over the world. After a few years of essentially volunteering for the band, they put me on the payroll for the plethora of behind-the-scenes tasks I’d been handling. That grew into soliciting shows, which I’d then hand over to management.
In 2004—Y&T’s 30th anniversary year—the guys expected to play more shows than in the year prior. Who wouldn’t? When it became evident that they were, in fact, playing fewer shows in that banner year, the guys grew frustrated. Backstage in Madrid, they were discussing how unhappy they were with the lack of shows compared to the year prior, and how their longtime manager no longer seemed emotionally invested in doing much for them. (In his defense, he was managing other acts—including a multimillion dollar artist—so Y&T was surely just “chump change” to him; plus, he’d already admitted to having one foot in retirement.) In that same backstage conversation, original drummer Leonard Haze suggested they should fire him and hire me for the job. I sat there, stunned. The guys liked Leonard’s idea—well, all but Dave.
Now, Dave knows only too well that his wife is a workaholic, so the idea of being married to his manager didn’t initially sit well with him. He was, of course, fully confident that I could do the gig justice (I’d had my own band in the ’90s, for which I’d handled plenty of business, albeit on a much smaller scale). And so, my husband hesitantly agreed to a one-year trial. That first year I kicked their asses and nailed the gig. And Dave has never regretted it.
LINDA: Do you get involved in decisions about writing, playing, or recording music, or is that left to Dave and the band?
Oh, no way. That’s 100% theirs. For studio work, the only thing I’ll do is create a recording schedule in order to keep them on track. And I’ll sing an occasional background vocal, when asked.
LEIGHSA: What is a day in your life like?
Nonstop. A friend once asked me, “What do you do all day?” Sheesh, I couldn’t even begin to explain it all. He’d have to sit with me for 12 hours to grasp the myriad tasks that I tackle each day. I’m always working on the future, and I barely have a moment in the day to catch my breath.
At home, I’m typically up at 5:30 a.m. to deal with promoters, venues, press, hotels, the record label in Europe, and the UK, and so on. Then the East Coast of the U.S. awakes and I’m dealing with the same in that time zone. As office hours roll across the rest of the U.S., I then deal with those time zones. About 5:00/5:30 in the evening, when the Japanese start their workday, I respond to those emails and try to catch up on more things that I couldn’t get to throughout the day. After a 12+ hour workday, Dave tries to lure me out of the office . . . often with a nice glass of wine.
On tour, I check our entourage out of the hotel in the morning, work in the bus as we drive to the next city, check everyone in at the next hotel, field questions from the crew when they’re at the venue setting up the stage for sound check, and work in my hotel room until it’s time to leave with the band for sound check. Once at the venue, I ensure everything that I’d previously advanced actually happens (show times, hospitality, etc.), troubleshoot, and meet with the promoter and/or venue owner/manager to make sure the night continues to run smoothly. I run a tight ship, so I help the crew keep the show on time, get the band onstage on time, get them out to the after-show meet and greet in a timely manner, and then round up everyone when it’s time to leave the venue. Then it’s back to the hotel for a few hours of sleep before we wake up the next day to rinse and repeat.
All the while, my other work from back home doesn’t stop while I’m on tour—emails still flood my inbox, the phone still rings, my calendar is still loaded with alarms—I just have to find a way to fit it in to my tour days, usually via triage. On travel days, I create my own little lair in the back of the bus, my office on the road; I have a good overall view from back there. 😉
For writing, the road isn’t conducive to that (only jotting down ideas), so writing only happens when we’re not touring. When I’m working on a book I try to carve out the first few early morning hours to get as many ideas on the page as possible. Y&T, however, always takes precedence; it’s my top priority. When I’m deep into a writing project, I’ll also devote much of my weekends to writing; and I become very selective with social activities, otherwise I’ll never finish.
LINDA: From what I can see, you wear many “hats.” You not only manage Y&T, book the shows, book the flights and hotels, and do the tour management, along with myriad other management responsibilities, but you also run your blog, wrote and promote a fantastic book, and do some public speaking and volunteer work. Do you ever want to have a “hat sale?”
Ha! When you put it that way, I sound like a comic book character! Yeah, I’d love to ditch a few hats. I’ve had booking agents and other managers tell me I’m insane for doing it all, and I suppose I am. I did finally farm out merchandise a few years ago, which has been a huge relief from my excessive workload, but there’s still plenty merch-wise that I need to handle. I really do need to learn to delegate more, but first I need to find those to whom I can delegate. Such is the challenge of running a business.
LINDA: I know it’s not easy working with a spouse, but some can make it work well, and some have nothing but trouble. How do you balance the role of wife and manager? How do you settle a disagreement about “band” issues?
Dave is a great business partner. We both have a strong work ethic, a good moral compass, and common sense. We’ve been married for 32 years, together for 34 years, so that in itself speaks volumes. And we’re still in love. We like each other and respect each other—both massively important factors. Dave is a total pro, which makes my business life easier. In most cases we see eye to eye, but whenever we butt heads on an issue, we both typically take the other’s argument into account. Bottom line, though: it’s his band, so if he doesn’t agree, at the end of the day I have no problem at all deferring to his wishes.
I always say that there’s a fine line between manager and nagging wife; unfortunately, I have to cross it daily. So many people—band, crew, family, and friends included—come to me for things they want Dave to do; but there’s only so much I can ask of the man. I’ve finally had to tell people to just ask him themselves.
LEIGHSA: You truly are an original, one-of-a-kind in the rock world. When you started out doing so, how did you familiarize yourself with your profession, venues, and routing the tour?
Really? Wow, thanks! I don’t think of myself in that way. I’m just doing my job.
The familiarity came via osmosis, I suppose, being a silent observer throughout my husband’s career. I gained plenty of hands-on experience with the brief stint in my own band in the ’90s. I love research, and that’s where finding venues comes into play; though, I feel lucky nowadays that legitimate promoters and venue owners seek me out.
To me, routing a tour starts with logic (thanks to my mom for instilling common sense) and continues with a healthy dose of perseverance. As I’ve explained before on my blog, routing a tour is like a jigsaw puzzle, and it’s a real challenge to pull it all together. My initial plans rarely just fall into place, so I always have to have backup plans B through Z at the ready. I don’t understand when booking agents—who, unlike me, have every promoter and every venue at their beckon call—can’t route a sensible tour for their acts. There’s a standing joke that many booking agents just throw darts at a map and call it a tour. Routing a logical tour is just common sense to me. Maybe that’s what separates me from the chaff, I dunno. Once an exec at a major booking agency told me he wished that all of his agents were like me. That felt really good to hear.
LEIGHSA: Was the beginning of your career difficult as you broke down “codified” ways of what might be expected of you? Was there ever a time that you were not taken seriously?
I’ve been pretty lucky that nearly everyone I deal with treats me with respect. (I have no idea what they say behind my back, though!) Perhaps the fact that I’m married to the band’s leader, who is a much-revered musician, plays a role in that.
In the past dozen-plus years of managing this band, I’ve only had two real incidents where I had to set a promoter straight. I take my job seriously, and I expect the same of others, and I think most people get that about me up front.
LEIGHSA: Going into your career, was this a non-issue for you or something to be conscious of? Do you feel there are barriers to still break down?
When I was handed the job, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I’ve always approached my work with professionalism, and perhaps most people catch that vibe from the start. There are definitely still barriers to break down, but when anyone—male or female—proves they are capable, that they are serious, and when they excel at their job, that’s when they gain respect. It leaves little room for naysayers. At the end of the day, there’s nothing like sleeping well at night knowing that you’ve done your best.
Unfortunately, women still have a long way to go. When I make a strong comment I’m viewed as a bitch, whereas if a male manager delivered the same line it would be interpreted quite differently.
LINDA: When you were growing up, did you have dreams of what you wanted to do? Is any of this what you anticipated?
I’ve always had a vivid imagination, and growing up I wanted to be so many things, but when I’d express them to adults, I was always told, “You can’t do that!”
I remember at one point I thought I should just be the female version of George Plimpton so that I could do all of the things I found interesting and then write about them. When I was daydreaming in my childhood bedroom, though, I can’t say rock band manager was a job that had crossed my mind.
LEIGHSA: What might you have chosen as a career or chosen to do if you weren’t a band manager?
Well, I’ve already done a number of things in my life, but I do wish I’d taken writing more seriously decades ago. I’d actually started writing my first rock novel back in the mid-’80s, but I was much too easily discouraged when Jackie Collins published “Rock Star” at the same time I was working on mine; and so, dejected, I stupidly shelved that story.
I’d always written promotional copy, and I’d started various story-writing projects through my life, but I’d never developed any of them. It wasn’t until the 2003 Monsters of Rock tour—where I was struck with a story idea—that I seriously returned to writing. On that tour, after the dismal (for hard rock) ’90s, it was so wonderful to see original members Dave, Phil, and Leonard (along with John) back on the big arena stages again. It was on that very tour that the idea for my novel, Welcome to Groove House, was born.
LEIGHSA: What is the best thing about your job on a daily basis? Also, the worst or most unenjoyable thing?
Best: Watching Y&T on tour every night and seeing the joy on the fans’ faces—that’s an awesome reward for all of my hard work. These guys perform an incredible high-energy show that’s different every night, and I never get tired of it.
Worst: Whining crew. The musicians in this band are total pros, who rarely complain about anything. So when the crew (who are treated very well, mind you) gripe about the inanest things, it’s exasperating. Touring is trying enough, and having a truly professional crew with us sure makes a world of difference.
LINDA: Who was your favorite band to tour with, either headliner or support act, other than Y&T?
There have been so many great tours, but I’d have to rank the 2003 UK Monsters of Rock tour with Whitesnake and Gary Moore as my personal favorite. Whitesnake has so many great tunes; they were majestic on stage every night. Gary Moore was such a treat to see live. And it was so cool to see the massive respect that David Coverdale has for my husband. I just had to give Coverdale a revered part in my debut novel.
LEIGHSA: How do you maintain balance in life while on tour?
It’s a challenge, that’s for sure! Sleep is key, and that means catching it wherever I can. My hours on tour are polar opposite from my hours at home. With such late hours and often early morning departures, I’ll sometimes try to catch a few winks on the bus or at the hotel before sound check . . . that is, until I’m interrupted.
I also try to eat as healthily as I possibly can on tour, which isn’t always easy in certain countries and in various parts of the U.S. Finding time to exercise on tour is difficult for me, but we typically get in some walking on days off.
LINDA: You and Dave are also in the wine business, as Roger and I are [Foghat Cellars], and I’ve tasted
your delicious Meniketti Wines! How did that come about, and what are your plans for the future of that business?
Dave and I came into wine later in life. We didn’t even know we liked wine until a family visit to Italy in 2001. (Apparently, we’d only previously tried crap wine.) But our enthusiasm for good wine grew rapidly.
A few people at one of our favorite local wineries (Testarossa) had suggested that Dave should release his own wine, and they kept on him about it for several years. Dave had a keen interest in that, but he didn’t want to be yet another rock star releasing wine or beer or spirits. Plus, I’m ultra-aware of the mind-numbing bureaucracy involved in the alcohol business, and it’s not something I felt prepared to endure; I’m already a workaholic with a seriously full plate, and I just couldn’t fathom piling on another mountain of tasks. But then an amazing opportunity opened up, and it felt right—scary, but right—so we held our breath and dove in.
Meniketti Wines actually hail from the same vineyards as the wine that we drink at home, so it made sense. So far it’s been fun, which is always Dave’s goal. We’re stoked that we’ll have another new wine release this year. Beyond that, we’ll see what the future holds.
LINDA: I’m not sure what the word means, but do you ever plan to “retire?” I know Roger plans to play until he can’t, so retirement is not in my future. LOL
Retire? What is that word? I must look it up. 🙂
You and I are in the same boat, my dear, as there is no retirement in store for us, either. Dave lives to play live shows and he, too, plans to play for as long as he’s able.
How do workaholics retire, anyway? I’m quite sure I’d be bored. A college professor of mine once said that we should retire to something, not from. Wise words indeed.
LEIGHSA: Who inspires you, whether in your profession or personal arena?
I’d imagine this may sound corny to some, or like I’m blowing smoke, but my husband inspires me. I’m not just talking about his musical talent, which has inspired so many people around the globe and continues to do so—I mean the person, Dave Meniketti. He’s an honest man, who has the best morals of anyone I know. And he always has sage advice. Here we are, nearly 35 years on, and I still admire him . . . on many levels.
LEIGHSA: Who is your favorite writer of all-time, and why?
Yikes, that’s like asking me my favorite movie or my favorite Y&T song—it’s impossible for me to pick just one!
LINDA: Do you play an instrument or sing, or are you just a lover of music?
All of the above. But since managing Y&T is a more-than full-time job, it leaves me no time at all to play these days. I always tell myself I’ll sit down at my harp after I finish (fill in task), but there’s always too much work to tackle before I can get to that. So I incorporate it into my stories, instead. 😉
LEIGHSA: Are there any publications that interest you, rock or any other genre or topic?
I stopped reading magazines long ago. Other than books, I read pretty much everything else online, where I enjoy the wide range of topics and sources.
LINDA: I know you are not crazy (only somewhat since you manage a rock band), but would you ever want to run for public office?
Oh, hell no.
LEIGHSA: What are a few of your favorite songs?
That actually varies depending on my mood. I like so many genres, including R&B (real R&B—sorry, not much of a hip-hop fan), classical, jazz, and good old fashioned “classic rock.” I’m a sucker for melody and beautiful ballads. I can tell you that at Y&T shows on tour, I never tire of hearing “I Believe in You.” Dave just oozes passion on that tune, and his guitar solo on that one gives me chills every time . . . still, even 35 years later.
LINDA: Tell us something unknown about yourself that would surprise us?
No degree of cussing fazes me. I work with all men, so I’ve heard it all.
Also, I despise lying. Can I underscore that any more strongly? Unfortunately, in the entertainment business, I encounter it more than I’d prefer; I’ve heard so many ridiculously tall tales. The truth is so much easier, and very liberating—liars ought to give it a try.
LEIGHSA: Do you have an exercise regimen or way you stay present with yourself?
At home I try to carve out time to work out daily; unfortunately, I had to drastically pare back two years ago when I tore cartilage in my hip and had to have it surgically stitched, which was a big ordeal. Then the following year I developed a herniated disc. It’s so frustrating because I really enjoy working out. Dave and I also love to hike, although, lately we haven’t been doing as much as we’d like.
LINDA: What advice would you give a young band starting out?
Be yourselves, don’t copy. Work your asses off. And always be professional. Practice, practice, practice. And get as many live performances under your belt as you can. Playing live is the best way to hone your chops.
LEIGHSA: What are two interesting stories about the band Y&T from the early days and these present days?
Anything from the ’70s would just be hearsay since I wasn’t there then, so I’ll stick with the stories where I was present.
In 1983, when Y&T toured with Ozzy Osbourne in Europe, the fan reaction at the Paris show floored me. I’d never before seen an arena full of rock fans singing—in unison—Dave’s Dirty Girl guitar melody. It was a phenomenal experience that visibly moved Dave onstage, and I was mesmerized watching it all from the sidelines.
More recently, when Phil was still alive, after playing a show at B.B. King in New York City, I hailed a taxi and took the band over to Eddie Trunk’s syndicated radio show for an interview. As soon as we got upstairs to the station, Dave realized that he’d left his brand new Nikon camera (and camera bag) in the taxi. I tried contacting the taxi company, to no avail. Moments later, I received a phone call (good thing I put luggage tags on everything!) from a man with a South African accent who said he and his friends had found the bag when they climbed into a taxi; they figured they ought to grab it before someone else stole it. I arranged to meet up with them at a bar after the band’s radio interview with Eddie. At a commercial break, I went into the control room and explained that the camera was safe, and Eddie shared the story on-air. Afterward, we all jumped into a taxi and rendezvoused at the designated bar for the hand-off. These good souls were so nice: one from South Africa, the other from Switzerland, and one New Yorker. They refused any remuneration for saving the camera. After parting ways, we moved on to the next stop, and when Dave checked the camera he began laughing. The finders had snapped photos of themselves having fun at various NYC bars. That night, those three kind people gave me renewed hope for humanity.
LINDA: What advice would you give another woman who aspires to manage a band (other than “DON’T DO IT” LOL)?
Haha! That might be my first inclination.
First, grow yourself a big set of balls. Seriously, you need some thick skin to work in this business. You’re dealing mostly with men, so if you’re prudish, this business is not for you. Gain respect from your artists, or else you’ll be in for a rough time. Always be professional. If you dress like a hooker, don’t expect to be taken seriously or to earn respect. Be tenacious, but not a pain in the ass; nobody likes those. Prima donna attitudes don’t go very far (there’s no crying in baseball!). Remember that this is a team. Learn to delegate (I’m still learning that one).
LEIGHSA: When you have “me” time, how do you spend it?
I don’t have much of that, but when I do end up with a few moments to myself that’s when I work out or read. I most cherish my alone-time with Dave, whether enjoying nature on a hike, or sitting at home watching a good movie with a great bottle of wine.
LINDA: You told me when we first met that you want to be the old lady with crazy hair some day! What constitutes “old” these days? It certainly isn’t what it used to be!
Surely, I’m already that person to kids these days! 🙂
When the Internet was fairly new, I recall some trolls saying that 30-something was too old to rock. So, what—all musicians should just give it up once they turn 30? Some people are such asses.
It’s all relative, isn’t it? I remember overhearing a (male) fan gagging over the “40-something” women rocking out to the music at a Y&T show. I’m quite sure that once he turned 40 he no longer felt that way about the women “shaking their thang” around him—certainly not his lovely wife. 😉
I think rock ’n’ roll keeps us all young . . . at least at heart.
LINDA: Are you happy?
Very! I get to travel the world with the love of my life, enjoy a stellar rock show every night on tour, work my ass off to make it all happen, and enjoy plenty of laughs and good wine around the globe. What more could I want?
B.B. King, Dave Meniketti, David Coverdale, Dirty Girl, Eddie Trunk, Foghat, Foghat Cellars, Gary Moore, George Plimpton, Jackie Collins, Joey Alves, John Nymann, Leonard Haze, Meniketti Wines, Monsters of Rock, Monstrose, Ozzy Osbourne, Phil Kennemore, Rock Star, Ronnie Monstrose, Sharon Osbourne, Testarossa, Testarossa Winery, There’s no crying in baseball!, Whitesnake