Rick Szabo has been a prominent figure in the music industry especially in Queensland, Australia. Szabo is the Managing Director of Q-Live- Queensland’s number one promoter and events management company. Looking at the list of artists that Rick has promoted, you know that there will be stories to tell and lessons for those in the industry when speaking to him. Having an integral part in bringing live music to not only the main cities and towns of Queensland, but also the regional areas, Szabo has promoted some of the world’s best bands. But there is one question we all want to know: was he the promoter that split up Midnight Oil?
Our Queensland correspondent, Kelly Koolstra-Aplin sat down with Rick and got to hear some tales of life behind the Queensland music scene, his amazing career and front and centre – his extreme passion for the music industry.
KKA: So Rick in your own words what’s the true definition of rock and roll?
RS: It’s passion full stop. Rock and Roll is a passion. There is no other way to describe it. You live it. That’s it. You cannot manage it nine to five. So if you’re going to do it just do it. It’s a passion and if you’ve got a passion- it’s an old saying ‘if you’re lucky enough to work and love doing what you do and get paid for it, it’s a dream come true’. Well that is so true. It is an absolute passion and everything that you do for it, must be just as passionate.
KKA. Who would you say (and I know there’s lots of rock’n’roll bands out there in Australia) but who would be the top three in rock’n’roll bands in Australia in your opinion?
RS: There’s so many! Part of me goes what’s the right answer or what’s the real answer. So here’s the real answer [laughing]. There are bands that I’ve known and worked with and there are some that I haven’t yet but I know enough about them, and I would say the top the top three would have to be Cold Chisel, The [Midnight] Oils and wait for it ….John Farnham. John Farnham is a superstar. How he isn’t a global superstar is beyond me. He is the best singer and he puts 110 percent performance every time without a doubt. He’s just a ripper.
I was luckily recently involved in the reincarnation of The Oils on tour and they were just as good as what they were when I actually had the pleasure of being their last ever promoter when they finished back in ’98 I think it was ; That was the Redneck Wonderland tour. And I was the last promoter and they actually broke up on my tour. But we couldn’t do anything about it of course, but like broke up on my tour. I was present that day and I had to get the meeting room. I said ‘Well this is great! I’m going to be known as the promoter that promoted you when you break up” but luckily, I caught up with a few of them recently. You know, they were just as good as what I’d seen all those years before. I think Chisel again were just something else. Just something else, you know… something else.
KKA: What international bands have you worked with that you can tell me some stories about?
RS: Oh you know there’s been a few. One of the more memorable ones was once I worked with George Thorogood!. And he was superb and did he deliver. What a great bloke. Do you know the story of [song] ‘Get a haircut get a real job”?. So in a nutshell, there was a band here in Brisbane with The Avery brothers Brian and Dave Avery- ‘Boys of Noise‘ I think they were called..so Anyway so the two of them and Bill Birch, their bass player used to write songs which was difficult for us in the 70s and 80s because Brisbane was the cover band capital of the world. If you wrote original music you’d be lucky if six people showed up to watch you. So what they did, was they continued to write, which was a real good thing and they tried to push their own music which was another good thing. But there is a band called Big Red and they were mates of the boys and they played one of their songs and they were on a residency at the Pier Tavern in Cairns and at the end of his tour, Thorogood’s Tour Manager and Manager were staying in Cairns for a bit of a break after the tour and they were at the bar this night and this band Big Red played the song “Get a hair cut and get a real job”. So they went “who did this song? We’ve never heard it before” . And one thing led to another and they found the Avery’s by the publisher, and as history shows, the name of George’s last big ever hit single was ‘Get a haircut get a real job’ and the name of the album was the same. And that was those boys they wrote that song. That’s a real cool rock’n’roll story.
KKA: Who have been some of the biggest bands you have brought into Australia?
RS: So with my knowledge, I’ve worked with some of the big big promoters like Michael Chugg, Gary van Egmond and your Frontiers and McManus of all those sort of guys who would use my expertise on the ground here. That’s where I get connected to these bands. So they come to me and they go Rick, we need to do some shows. This is what we need. These are the sort of capacity’s and then I go back to them and go here’s a list of what I think we should do and these are the reasons why and trust is a big word. They trust my judgment as long as I deliver. So the two biggest acts to date for me was the back in 2012, I was fortunate enough to do a Guns and Roses and Korn up in Townsville. Now that’s Guns and Roses with Axl Rose and the rest of them were all ring-ins pretty much. It was a Tuesday night and twelve and a half thousand people at the race track. It was awesome. But Axl Rose was everything I was told he was going to be and thought he was going to be, when he was an hour and three quarters late. He wouldn’t let the international promoter to his room to say hello, which I just thought was bullshit especially if he was paying you. To imagine Korn went on and kill it and they were a great band, and for Townsville people they never would have had that opportunity, So it was a big event. What happened was slowly but surely the crowd started going in riot phase. So the promoter said to me “well you’ve just earned the privilege , it’s your state you put this gig together Ricko. Can you handle this for me”. I mean I went “What. What do I need to handle?” and he said “You’ve got to think of a way to keep this fucking crowd calm”. So what I did , was I knew the two local DJ’s in town who run the breaky show and I said “boys you better make a career for yourselves or get lost” and they went “What do you want us to do”. I said you need to go up there and just talk to the crowd for a little bit and then I managed to convince him to do that and let me tell you it was the first time for me personally, but to walk on to a stage and hear 12 and a half thousand people come at you. At that point of time, all made sense why these bands get so addicted to it because it was something religious. It was like oh my God. I just felt the power of all these people which was really good. And then when we came off the stage, the promoters are going “great job” and I’m like “well hang on they could die out there. So don’t tell me it’s a great job. They might get killed. These poor fellers.”. And then he’s going ” I have another problem. Can you deal with the local cop?” And I said “the local cop” and he said its actually the State Police Chief and he said he needs to talk. He’s talking about if we don’t go on in a few minutes we’re gonna have to cut the performance short. And I said he you going to don’t do that. And he said well we can’t. Axel wont cut it short for anybody, but you know one thing led to another and I pacified this dude, pacified him. So when I say pacify, I guess it’s people skills too. You need to be able to talk and one of the things I was blessed with I suppose, is that I have the ability to talk to anybody. And I really I’m proud of that. You know, I can talk to a bloke that loads the bins and the boxes and he’s there and he looks buggered. I’ll talk to him the same way I talk to the top of the tree. And it’s a good feeling to be able to do that.
KKA: Can you say that’s why you or your business has been so successful because you can do that?
RS: It would have a major part of it. Yeah absolutely. Because like I said, its based on trust. Trust certainly has got to do with your ability to talk to everybody and really everybody’s perception of who you are and also the fact that I don’t like to say former, but I’m a musician as well. So I used to be on the road. I’d fronted a band, so yeah I get it. So I loaded the boxes in and I did all that shit too boys and once they get that there’s a different camaraderie about it. You know what I mean? It not just about, he’s there making millions of dollars. That’s just bullshit. That don’t happen.
KKA: What would you say (in your opinion) to these kids that are coming up through the ranks with their bands and they they’re going to all their local gigs before jumping on to a big music festival like you know like when they win a competition- Would you suggest going up and down the coast getting as much experience as they can, before throwing themselves into like The X Factor or that when they get known really quickly?
RS: It’s about what they want to do. There is a method to the madness. It’s like anything. If you stay true to who you are and you play the music you want to play, that to me is the fundamental theme of rock’n’roll, if you can do it, because it’s your choice and you hone your skill to be good at what you do. Right now the true rock’n’roll meaning to me is I don’t give a fuck if Mr and Mrs Smith don’t like it, they can turn the channel off or not buy my record. But if they do, great, jump on board. Have a great time with us. But the moment you start wavering away from what you are is the moment, it’s a message right. So let’s go back. 1955 is the year of our … you know how they say in the religious circle the Year of Our Lord is blah blah… – ’55 to me is the year of rock’n’roll. That’s when it was born. I call ’55 to ’90 like Hollywood sees the Golden Age of Hollywood. I called ’55 to ’90 the golden years of rock’n’roll. I don’t think they’ll ever be repeated. They can’t be. There will never been bands like that again because there’ll never be the attitude of the world back then. The revolution of the ’60s will never happen again. None of that. It happened then. Rock’n’roll was a major part of everything that happened to the world. Everything that happened to the world. Rock’n’roll can be attributed to it because rock’n’roll is all about not conforming. So rock’n’roll- the first thing you think about with rock’n’roll is not conforming. The second thing because I’m younger , the second thing rock’n’roll meant to me was growing my fucking hair long and that’s what it was. I went to a fucking private school and all this sort of shit that I didn’t like and they hated it-They had a choir- Fuck Off to a choir (laughing) What about a Rock’n’Roll band? No I wasn’t allowed to do that. If my hair hit the collar, they would send me to the barber, cut the fucker and then charge my mum which made me even more rebellious. So you go back then, you can see that pivotal moment where The Beatles started and they were all in suits and they all looked good, but that they had that little bit longer hair and were called mods or rockers and all these types of ideals and standards. But then you saw them at the back end of the 60s and they had hair halfway, beards.- that was called. “we dont give a fuck, we can do that, we are who we are.
KKA: So growing up who were your favourite bands?
RS: Everything. Australian pub were my bands and then you know I suppose you could call it metal but to me it was hard rock really. So I was Van Halen, Whitesnake then Led Zeppelin back from there and everything and then some great bands like Toto, Rush, Journey some great anthemic rock band. They were big. You know, I mean there are so many and they came out all the same period.
KKA: So what was your band called.
RS: Oh look I had a cover band cause it was the only way you could get played here. And then that nasty little word called tribute came out in the back end of the 80s and I was a much bigger man than I am now and grew my hair long and I could sing like Meatloaf. So I did this Meatloaf show with an eight piece band. I was always a big Jim Steinman fan cause he was an anthemic rock guy and I did that and everyone loved it. I couldn’t believe how everyone loved it so much but if you listened to that Bat Out of Hell album, Its a fucking masterpiece and he sang on that like he could never sing like that again for the rest of his life What he did on that album was purely amazing. There’s still another whole story to go with that too (laughs) but that really took me to another world. I basically lived on the road for about four years with my mates. All my mates from the north side of Brisbane, who we all played together since we were like 18 or 19. I just said hey we should do this, let’s do it and we’re still good mates now. We did it, we went on the road and fuck did we learn about shit on the road. We learned ‘oh that’s what happens’. ‘Oh we have to pay for the speaker that blows up or the light can that blows. What do you mean there is only 250 bucks left this week’, you know. So you learned hard. Its like anything and I’m a big believer in that and that’s why (I’ll get to these TV shows it eventually) is effective in anything. You’ve got to serve your time. Its an apprenticeship you know. Rock’n’roll doesn’t have though after four years you’re a tradesman. There’s no such thing but you’ve got an opportunity if you’re good at it, but if you don’t want to learn, you’re never going to make it. You’ve got to learn and mostly you’ve got to learn from mistakes and get shoved up the arse, fucked over and being cold and hungry- You learn. So we did that for three or four years. But what we wanted to do with the band was we wanted to write our own material so what we did is we saved money and we built purpose built studio and bought digital decks and all of this sort of shit and then when we wrote and recorded probably 50 songs of our own material.
KKA: So is that when you realised you wanted to do Q-Live? That you want to help all these other bands?
RS: What happened on the road with this Meatloaf thing, is I found out (obvious I was a singer as well) but I also found out that I was pretty good at organising things and I realised that I was paying someone to manage all this shit and I’m going “he gets this for that! I can do that” So I mean why wouldn’t I do that? . So I started doing it and I started learning that but then stupid me was doing two jobs at once trying to sing and manage but what I did like is, is that I had a passion for that as well as the singing but you can’t do both, but I know that, you can only do one at a time. But what I learnt was, that I had a had a bit of a thing for that and then I actually started to talk to guys who were doing that for a living and I basically started my own business to do a bit of stuff like booking bands and stuff like that and then another promoter/agent noticed me and then he asked me it worked for him and he was Mr. sex drugs and rock’n’roll full stop. So I’m talking, I’d walk into the office on a Monday morning and there would be topless girls walking around and Im going “what am I learning from this? – not much!” and so as it as it turned out, I realised that he knew how good I was, and just paid me to fucking run everything for him and he would kick back and have fun. Then one day a senior Australian agent who still works today- So this is 20 something years ago- he just said to me his his raspy voice, “listen young fella wise up! You’re not bad at what you fucking do, but right now you’re fucking running this guy’s company, get out on your own and ring me.” And I did.. I just did it and the rest is why I am here today. I just went fuck you, I am going to do it on my own`.
KKA: Would you do anything different if you had the time?
RS: Great question. That’s a great question Kel. I firmly believe its always good to go ‘would you change anything? You can’t. You can’t change anything. A wise old fucking Chinese guy told me this once, after he ripped me to pieces with of all sorts of needles and shit and that he just said ‘it should be simple. It’s really simple”. He said it’s about keeping it simple. And he just said yesterday you can’t change, tomorrow… Who the fuck knows… he said today- be happy and It’s not bad is it? Its simple. Just try and just be happy and then everything else works. Everything falls into place. I get sidetracked, but to know what I know now and where I am now and if you hadn’t experienced pain, you wouldn’t be where you are today. You couldn’t.
KKA: I believe the other night when we had a quick chat before I flew down here and you were in Mackay, there’s something very big and exciting happening in Mackay.
RS: Going back to what you said before was with Gunners and Korn was a big one. I did Kiss, Motley Crue and Thin Lizzy. up there. That was me and that event won ‘Best Australian regional event’ of the year. It was voted at an awards night which was very special. So that was cool and then we announced when I was just up there, three great Australian acts; Pete Murray, Birds of Tokyo and The Living End are going to be doing a big gig up there now. I feel like I’ve had a hand in convincing people to come to regional Queensland. The gates are open now. I’ve always said why can’t they get it? Why do they always have to come to Brisbane? Why?. Its not fair and its costly. I was really chuffed with Kiss. Shannon Tweed was on the road with Gene and she sourced me out and their Tour Manager came up and said that Shannon Tweed wants to say hello and I went Ok, I would like to say hello to her and she came out and I met her outside their room and she said, ‘you’re the guy that put all this together and you’re the guy that said we should come here’ and I went ‘yeah’ and she said that was the best thing you’ve ever done because she said we didn’t know anything about it. And the other footnote to this which I was really chuffed about, was the people here and in Queensland Australia will remember there was a horrible murder up there a few years ago of Shandee (Blackburn). So what we did is, we got Shandee’s parents to the gig. What we did was talk to their (Kiss) PR team in the States and we said, listen , and we told them the story of Shandee and how her parents named her after the song. They were huge Kiss fans, and they (Kiss PR) said thank you and they were they were like “we can’t tell you . It’s up to Gene and Paul with what they do but they know” and I went ‘okay.’ And then they stopped the show and did an acoustic version of it and that was good for me that I just went ‘If I’ve had anything to do that which I did, I was just blown away” It’s a beautiful song . And there is so much power in rock’n’roll. I’m was a big fucking comic fan and fan of superheroes when I was a kid, and the big line they would always use in Spiderman and Batman was “with great power comes great responsibility” and ok you are watching a cartoon come to life But it’s true. You can’t abuse the power. I should be a politician if I wanted to abuse the power (laughs).
KKA: What would you say to the younger generation? To the ones that are still trying to make it. To the ones that want to give up?
RS: Look, I think you know when we we’re younger, it was always about a trade. You had to have a trade to fall back on, or this to fall back on. Yeah, that was actually pretty good advice from your parents. Of course, I never listened and I just went, that’s boring as bat shit and I’m just lucky. I know how just how lucky I am but I’ve worked really hard. The opportunities were there and I took them. But if you’re playing today, just keep playing. The law of averages are actually on your side. If you stay together long enough and deliver that message that you’ve got but nobody else has got, and if it’s what other people like, they’ll tap into it. It’s real simple, go back to the golden years again from 55 to 90 and familiarise yourself with what those guys did and how they did it. If you listen to this The Beatles or The Stones or Zeppelin or any of these dudes as soon as you heard their new song, even if you didn’t know it, you knew it was them. Why is that the case? Because you know the message they’re trying to send to you. It’s nothing subliminal. Its none of this bullshit. It’s just “hey that’s The Stones” or “that’s The Beatles man” and they had a message. So that applies to the great Australian bands. You knew who Chisel were or who The Oils were, even before before Garrett opened his mouth, you knew it was an Oils song. The Living End is another great Aussie band that they just deliver and you just know who they are. I always say they’ve all got a message. They might not be absolutely sitting down and trying to give you a message, they’re just doing their thing. Like The Eagles did. And back then record companies were proactive and would actually back a band for a minimum of 10 to 15 years and give them a go. Nowadays we’ll get to that (laughs) But nowadays, these kids are gonna hit harder than that cause this is what a lot of people do.. they say that there are not any good bands around. There is none of fucking this or none of fucking that but you know what? Its fucking ten times harder. Mr. 18 year old male and Miss 18 year old girl, they’ve got 25 things to do when they wake up in the morning most of its revolved around these fucking stupid phones and then they have got their Facebook and this and that, when we woke up, I’ll tell you it was just I’m going to go to work and what band am I going to see this weekend and in the meantime, I listen to tape in the car or I’d be fucking playing it at night. They’ve got too many other things now at their disposal, so you get big brother as they say, is eating in. It’s not about money it’s about time. The big big brothers come into the world and taking everyone’s time of them. When we were younger, no one would fucking pay anyone to mow your lawn or to wash your fucking car. Now they go ‘don’t worry about mowing your lawns, spend time with your family we will do it for you. Pay us. Pay Us.. Pay us.. Pay us’
KKA: So what else? I believe there are some other exciting things happening for you coming up with other other festivals next year?
RS: Yeah there is. We certainly do. To to do what you do well in this state, in this country, you’ve got a bit of everything. So we’re looking at some festivals to do ourselves and present as Q-Live now in different regions with some big name Australian acts which we’re very excited about. I
KKA: In your opinion what has been your greatest achievement. So something that you’re so proud of that you’ve done.
RS: Okay well then I’ll go on record; my two greatest achievements are my two children full stop. My two girls but I get what you’re saying. My greatest achievement has been able to get paid to do what I love the most. That’s it. So every day Im lucky. Im lucky. I’m just trying to do it. If they want it, I can do it. So we deliver. You have to pride yourself on that. So I if we get engaged, we’ll deliver. We always do.
KKA: Do you any up and coming bands coming onto any of your line ups at all?
RS: I’ve see them all the time when we try but it’s been hard because it’s so cutthroat out there. So when a band announces a national tour everyone wants to open for them which is fair enough. That’s great.
KKS: So did you get bombarded?
RS: Yeah I do. We get bombarded a lot but they get bombarded a lot because social media.
KKA: Oh so they (social media) say go look at this band.
RS: Yeah. Sometimes it doesn’t even happen like that. It’s decided before they even leave home so they’ll announce it or with the support already in place. And that’s been difficult because I have to tell my local acts “Sorry guys, but there are coming with their own support” We don’t get an opener opportunity because it is so cutthroat.
KKA: So these ones that you wanted to give a go, you just cant
RS: And some that do get a go, shouldn’t (laughs). There’s been some touch and go ones. The other problem is too, you are playing to a heritage market which is our market. Then you are getting a young band that is a bit thrashy and they can’t sing or play that well.
KKA: Do you ever sometimes think, that you have this big act, that you know, that you have been promoting for how many months and then the support act doesn’t even go with that act at all?
RS: Totally. All of the time. I hate it. I hate it cause I don’t want to put the support act down, but you go there are horses for courses. They don’t marry with their market. So when you do a show when you’re a promoter , you’re promoting a show. So what used to be the norm when we were younger, support acts, and I’ve done plenty of them myself, where who’s going to load the truck out with our crew. Who’s going to load it back up at the night. If you’re a lighting guy that’s 100 bucks, There were rorts everywhere back in the early days. Yeah but nowadays, the show if someone’s paying 40 or 50 bucks to see a show at the pub, the support act is just as important as the main act. Remember they used to be called warmup act. They were call warm up acts for a reason. They warm the crowd up for the main act.
KKA: That’s what I thought . You go to Motley Crue, Steel Panther whoever, you want that first act to get your crowd going
RS: At the beginning of rock’n’roll, fucking Johnny O’Keefe warmed up for fucking Roy Orbison, So he warmed them up, but nowadays it gets political. So it’s not that easy to get a band on an opening slot like it used to be
KKA: So who in your opinion would be one of the greatest rock n roll chicks.
RS: Chrissy Amphlett was it for me and I challenge anyone. But I tell you this, there’s another one. An unsung girl who’s no longer with us Carol Lloyd from Railroad Gin Brisbane. She was a groundbreaking front lady, probably officially Australia’s first Lady of Rock. She was younger than then Chrissie and all that but Chrissie to me was it. She had a unique style of singing and the songs that her and (Mark) McEntee wrote were just fucking world class. Yeah I remember Madonna, I read an interview at her peak and they asked who is your favourite female vocalist? and she said Chrissy Amphlett from the Divinyls. But she was it and I was fortunate enough to see one her last shows and she still gave it all and she did things differently. She did originally and a lot of people don’t know, like she would calve you to pieces with her vocal talents but also in the way that if you pissed her off or someone tried to get the better of her, she would rip you to pieces. Suzi DeMarchi, She’s a world first for us here I reckon. She is one of the best. Yeah I do a lot of work with them. They are a great band.
KKA: On stage.. she has still got it for me.
RS: Oh She has.. Sarah McLeoad is another one from The SuperJesus. Those women as far as rock, they rock. You know it’s like when I was fucking younger, Joan Jett was it. My uncles loves Suzi Quatro and then there was Lita Ford from The Runaways. But the two of my favourite of all time are Anne and Nancy Wilson of Heart. They are the greatest rock chicks of all time.
KKA: So tell me do you have any side projects going on?
RS: Ive always got something personally going on. Me personally, we have rekindled the old band to do some original music and re-record them and with the people that I now know, are going to help us produce it and re-record so that’s going to be a buzz. So that’s a buzz project for me.
KKA: ‘m loving all the bands coming back in. like doing their thing
RS: Yeah they’re all coming.
KKA: And most of them have still got it in my eyes.
RS: Yeah they have, it’s quite a jam. Its amazing you say that. I’ll tell you , I tell this to Rick and John Brewster from The Angels every time I see them , and I said it to Todd Hunter recently the Dragon gig, I said ” you guys are making fucking history every time you step on stage. You actually should not be here” What they went through, probably defies a bit of living logic but you know the fact that they can’t put their feet up. They do it every night and still do it. These guys are blessed. They they are in the backend of their 60’s. The world tells us all to retire. Yeah not these guys. There is no retirement.. (laughs)
KKA: Thank you so much and cant wait to work with your further
RS: Thank you for taking time. Thanks Kelly
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