VOL. 113 | NO. 228 | Friday, December 3, 1999
By SUZANNE THOMPSON
Jerry Schilling, president of the Memphis & Shelby County Music
Commission, embraces the challenge of learning through life
By SUZANNE THOMPSON
The Daily News
For Jerry Schilling its all about the music.
"Im here because of music," he said.
It was music that took him away from his hometown when he went to work for Elvis Presley in 1964.
And it is music that has brought him back home.
Schilling, who moved from his home in the Hollywood hills to Memphis in June, is president of the Memphis and Shelby County Music Commission.
As a college athlete, Schilling attended Arkansas State University for two years on a football scholarship.
After sustaining an injury, he returned to Memphis, where he studied history and education.
During the second semester of his senior year, Elvis, whom he had been friends with for 10 years, made Schilling an offer he couldnt refuse, so he left college that day and moved to Los Angeles.
There, he worked as a personal aide and traveling companion for the King of Rock n Roll.
In addition to working as a movie stand-in for Elvis, Schilling set out to learn everything he could about the film and music industry.
His voracious appetite for knowledge led him to quit working for Elvis to take a job with ABC as a film editor.
"I felt editing would give me an overview of the industry," he said.
Schilling went from living in Elvis Bel Air, Calif., mansion to living in a small apartment in Culver City, Calif., where Schilling said he "paid his dues" for a year.
He eventually returned to work with Elvis. But by 1975, Schilling formed a professional management company, Jerry Schilling Management, and he once again left Elvis to pursue his own dreams.
This time, he was ready to learn everything he could about promoting musicians, and began working with Tom Hulett, who managed the rock band Led Zeppelin.
Schilling began working with Caribou Records, a small record label. He also started working as tour manager for an up-and-coming artist named Billy Joel.
Working with Joel and Elvis helped Schillings reputation as a manager of professional musicians grow. Soon, he was approached by a member of the Beach Boys, who despite their widespread popularity, was in one of the most troubled times of their career because of unrest among band members.
When Schilling first started working with the Beach Boys, they were playing for thousands. Within three years, they were playing for millions.
During the 10 years Schilling acted as the bands manager, they became one of the first bands to partner with corporate sponsors . The band contracted with companies including Jeep, Hawaiian Tropic and others as sponsors.
The Beach Boys also launched a line of clothing under the brand name Hobo while Schilling worked as their manager.
"We had to step out of success, and thats the way to go out," he said.
Schilling looks back on this time as a golden age in his life.
"It was like the ultimate of both ends of the spectrum to be raised here in the Delta and knowing Elvis and Jerry Lee (Lewis), and then managing the premiere band of the West Coast, the Beach Boys."
Still, Schilling said being a manager is a fairly lonely job, and a stressful one, too. He said hes handled everything from booking concert tours to arranging for luggage pickup and limousines. On some occasions, hes had to meet with artists who refused to go onstage, and he has taken care of crises everywhere in between.
But to Schilling, its all been a learning experience.
"A manager learns a lot from his artists," he said.
Schilling said some of his friends expressed dismay that he would leave the home Elvis purchased for him in the Hollywood Hills to come back to his hometown, but he said hes glad to be back, and he plans to stay.
"After all this, its like I just started out 30 years later. I saw the potential of what this job can do," he said.
One of his first undertakings as president of the Memphis & Shelby County Music Commission has been to organize a health care insurance plan for working musicians.
"To be at this stage in my career, its a real blessing. I didnt come home to fail."
name: Jerry Schilling
place of birth: Memphis
marital status: engaged
hobbies: music; playing with Chase, his dog