by Dave Chamberlain
Funk the Stones
Catching the phattest show in town
Isaac Tigrett's mojo apparently stopped working. The House of Blues co-founder and CEO of House of Blues Entertainment was stripped of his title by the board of directors September 25. Boston Globe reporters Steve Bailey and Steven Syre broke the story in the paper's business section September 30. Since then, there's been nary a peep about Tigrett in the press -- and for good reason. Getting the corporate types at House of Blues in Los Angeles to talk was harder than getting a drink at the Chicago club on a jam-packed Saturday night.
Tigrett, who hails from a family of old money in Tennessee (he's good pals with Al Gore), first made a name for himself as co-founder of the Hard Rock Cafe in 1971. After his partnership with restaurateur Peter Morton went sour, the Hard Rock chain was divided, leaving Tigrett rights to the name east of the Mississippi. In 1988, he sold his part of company for a reported $32 million.
In 1992, Tigrett founded the House of Blues in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and his Hard Rock connections and notoriety helped increase the club's profile and attract a herd of big-name investors. Eventually, House of Blues clubs were built in seven U.S. cities, including, most recently, Chicago and Orlando, Florida.
Through the years, press accounts and the people who know him have labeled Tigrett a visionary. Unfortunately, according to the Globe story, it was not his vision, but his lavish lifestyle and the lack of profitable returns, that led to his dismissal as chief executive. House of Blues Entertainment lost an estimated $14 million last year. Without the $15-million debacle that was the HOB spectacular at the Atlanta Olympic Games, the company might have turned a profit for the first time in its five-year history.
But despite the fact that the board stripped Tigrett of his title, he might yet carve out a future for himself at the company. Reached via phone in L.A. Monday, an HOB spokesperson read a prepared statement: "At this point in time, the House of Blues is in negotiation with Mr. Tigrett." She then called the Boston Globe story "inaccurate," but declined to offer further details.
Nigel Shanley, Tigrett's right-hand man and HOB's Director of Public Awareness, cordially directed me to the corporate PR department, adding only, "Honestly, I have no comment."
But Globe reporter Bailey didn't back down from his report, saying, "We're perfectly happy with our story and we're perfectly happy with our sources."
One of those sources, Judy Belushi Pisano -- the widow of John Belushi and, along with her husband Victor, a HOB investor -- confirmed Tigrett's departure as chief executive, but added that he might remain with the company in some capacity. "There's still potential that he could serve an alternate position, or any number of things could still happen," Pisano said from her home on Martha's Vinyard. "Perhaps it's best to have a quiet period before something is done. We're also waiting to see what happens. Isaac really was a visionary. We support him being involved in the company."
Like Tigrett, who travels the country in a private train car he had refurbished for millions of dollars, the House of Blues hasn't been afraid to lay out cash for lavishly appointed clubs and superstar acts such as Aretha Franklin and James Brown. Nearly every night for its first six months of operation, for instance, the Chicago club featured particularly strong lineups as it sought to compete against concert promoter JAM Productions and venues such as the Metro. The city's rock clubs were forced to tighten their belts while the House of Blues set about making a name for itself. But the club hasn't been competing quite so fiercely for every rock booking of late.
A spokesman for the Metro who has witnessed the HOB booking fluctuations confirmed that the North Side club was challenged when the downtown venue opened. "There was a time, right after they opened, when we lost a lot of the acts we were getting regularly, and some other acts we really wanted -- like Spearhead," the source said, referencing a hotly contested show that was eventually canceled. "When [House of Blues] first started booking, they went after bands with an open wallet."
But with HOB moderating its booking stance, acts that once deserted clubs such as Metro, Double Door and even JAM-produced events aren't playing the House of Blues with the same frequency. Said the Metro spokesman, "They spent a lot of money early on, which in the end comes back to haunt you." That's a lesson Isaac Tigrett is now learning in spades.
Copyright 1997 New City Communications, Inc.