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Tales From a Rocky Roadie : Pop music: Phil Kaufman, the Gram Parsons cremator and Charles Manson-album producer, signs his raucous memoirs in Anaheim today.

February 19, 1994|JIM WASHBURN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

ANAHEIM — "It is sort of a unique story, stealing a body and burning it in the desert," allows Phil Kaufman.

It's such little career highlights that permit Kaufman, a road manager, to have an autobiography out at a time when some of his former star clients don't even have active careers. Especially the ones he has torched.

OK, he only stole and cremated one body, and that was actually a noble, if thoroughly drunken, act of friendship toward his departed friend, country/rock pioneer Gram Parsons. But that's not the only event that makes "Road Mangler Deluxe" (written with Colin White, White/Boucke Publishing, $9.75) a rambunctious page-turner.

Kaufman also happened to produce the now-infamous "Lie" album by his onetime prison-mate Charles Manson. As one of the persons who defined the job of road manager , Kaufman has worked for Parsons, the Rolling Stones, Frank Zappa, Joe Cocker, Emmylou Harris and others, becoming an industry legend in the process.

He'll be sharing some of his road stories during a book-signing at Tower Records in Anaheim (220 N. Beach Blvd.) at 1 p.m. today and 11 a.m. Sunday at Bookstar in Torrance (2730 Pacific Coast Highway).

Recently at the Burbank "Tonight Show" studio, Kaufman was at work, though you'd scarcely know it by seeing the 58-year-old walrus-mustached, tattooed half-biker/half-cherub dancing down the halls, casting one-liners at the unwary celebrities and crew in his wake.

His longtime employer and friend Harris was appearing on the show, and he'd already done his work--"a 100% need-to-know-basis responsibility"--of making sure his client was at the gig and in working order.

That oftentimes is a major task. In the case of working for legendary imbiber Cocker, it meant:

"Take Joe to work on this shoulder, take Joe home on that shoulder," Kaufman recalls. "It was a very distasteful, menial job for me. But once I got Joe to work, it was almost worth it when he was onstage."

His job also entails having the foresight to deal with any contingency, so that when everyone was snowed-in once at the Denver airport, Harris and her band were among the very few to make it out, arriving at their gig in four-wheel drive vehicles he'd rented from a ski resort.

*

When Zappa's band missed a connecting flight, Kaufman scoured up private Lear jets to get them to the show.

Once he gets the logistics out of the way, the other big part of his job pretty much is the dancing and joking part.

"I kinda like me. I feel better than James Brown," he said, and he seems so at home, and relaxedly outrageous, in any situation, that it makes the gigs go smoother.

"If I may be so bold, I've made an art form of this job, in getting along with people and taking care of business. I've had guys tell me, "Hey, thanks man, you're really nice; most road managers are real asses. Usually, the bigger the star, the bigger the attitude of the road manager.' The way I see it, my job is not to make it difficult; it's to make it easy for the artists and everybody, but keep control. If you can make your point with humor, you don't lose a friend doing it."

Of course, there are those Kaufman doesn't especially care if he's friends with. He's extremely protective of his artists.

"If somebody's rude to Emmylou, he's gonna really hear it from me. In London once, this guy came up to Emmylou backstage at the Wembley Arena, and he grabbed me and said 'I got an artist here; she's better than Emmylou; she can sing better. . . . Emmylou's gonna be eatin' her shorts.' I said 'Excuse me, could you come with me for a second?' I walked him to the door and decked him."

He took a similar approach on an airliner once.

"The band's crew was having a food fight, really rowdy. The stewardess came up said to me, 'Look, I am gonna have them arrested at the airport unless you do something.' So I went up to the biggest guy in the crew, said 'stand up,' and (expletive) hit him right in the mouth, sat him down and said, "Now you (expletive) sit there and don't get out of that seat until we get to the airport." Boy that made it quiet in the cabin.

"See, something like that could have reflected poorly on Emmy. I don't think I'm as paternalistic toward my artists as I am pal-istic. I'm their pal. I'm not exactly a fatherly image, but if I can help them with something, I do."

Adds Harris: "I keep hiring Phil because he's the one who remembers all the funny anecdotes so I can tell them on the 'Tonight Show.' "

Their friendship stretches back over two decades to when she was a backup singer with Parsons.

Kaufman has his job wired pretty tight, considering that when Parsons first asked him to become a road manager, Kaufman's response was, "What's that?"

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