Herb Cohen

This article is about the music manager. For the negotiation expert, see Herb Cohen (negotiator).

Herbert "Herb" Cohen (December 30, 1932 March 16, 2010) was an American personal manager, record company executive, and music publisher, best known as the manager of Linda Ronstadt, Frank Zappa, Tim Buckley, Odetta, Tom Waits, George Duke and many other Los Angeles-based musicians in the 1960s and 1970s.

Life and career

Cohen was born in New York. After a period in the army in 1952, he moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1950s, and started to put on concerts with folk singers such as Pete Seeger and Odetta.[1] He began running coffee bars and folk clubs, such as the Unicorn and Cosmo Alley, during the late 1950s and early 1960s.[2][3]

He began acting as manager for many artists, his eventual roster including George Duke, Alice Cooper, Tom Waits, Tim Buckley, Lenny Bruce, and Linda Ronstadt. He also managed the all-girl band Fanny in the late 1960s and got them signed to Warner Bros. after a performance at the Troubadour. He was best known as the manager of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention from 1965, arranging their first club dates and, after encouraging record producer Tom Wilson to see them perform, securing their first record deal. He and Zappa went on to set up and jointly own the Straight, Bizarre, and DiscReet Records labels. After a ten-year association, he and Zappa parted company amid litigation in 1976. Zappa claimed that Cohen and his brother Martin "Mutt" Cohen were profiting unduly from his earnings, and Cohen countersued, claiming that Zappa had taken his album Zoot Allures to a rival record label contrary to a contract between them.[2][4]

He also handled Montreux Jazz Festival tours of Japan and the US, and produced the US portion of the Nelson Mandela concert in Wembley Stadium upon Mandela's release.[1] Cohen managed Tom Waits until 1982, and, after that time, his main management client was jazz musician George Duke. Cohen reactivated the Bizarre and Straight labels in 1988, calling it "Bizarre/Straight Records," which was distributed by Enigma Records, and, later, Rhino Records. Bizarre/Straight released early recordings of both Waits and Tim Buckley.[2] Some of the Bizarre/Straight releases were later released by Manifesto Records, a label formed in 1995 and run by his nephew, Evan Cohen, who is also a music lawyer.

In 1989–1991 Herb Cohen managed the Russian rock group Autograph (who appeared at Live Aid for Africa) and oversaw the recording of their debut American album Tear Down the Border, produced by Bob Duffey and released in 1991 on the Bizarre/Straight label, distributed by Rhino Records.

In 2009, Cohen filed suit for libel against British journalist Barney Hoskyns and his publisher, Random House, Inc., with regard to statements in Hoskyns' book Lowside of the Road, A Life of Tom Waits.[1]


Cohen died in 2010, in Napa, California, of complications from cancer. He was 77 years old.[2][5]


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