Those who banged heads, clapped hands or danced in the aisles during one of the thousands of transformative rock concerts in Southern California over the past half century, including the era-defining hard rock concert California Jam in 1974, were able to do so in part through the behind-the-scenes efforts of Brian Murphy.
The concert promoter, who most recently served as AEG Presents and Goldenvoice's West Coast president, died due to complications from respiratory disease at age 70. His death was confirmed by a representative for AEG.
In Murphy’s time promoting concerts in Southern California, he helped bring to the main stages acts including Black Sabbath, Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Eagles, AC/DC and hundreds more, in the process developing crucial connections in a business and city fueled by relationships.
As co-founder of Avalon Attractions, Murphy built a buzzing concert company that in its prime was the most powerful promoter in the region. After selling Avalon in 1998 to SFX, Murphy went on to become a key executive at Live Nation, where he oversaw the renovations of the Wiltern Theatre and the Hollywood Palladium while pushing tickets across the region.
“Working in this town is like being in a big fish bowl,” he told The Times in a 1984 profile centered on a Forum concert by then-superstars Duran Duran. “Record companies, agencies, managers and groups are based here, and everything we do is magnified all out of proportion. We misspell a name in a Times ad and it’s a joke on the street for two weeks.”
Before the waves of consolidation that created the current concert promotion behemoths Live Nation and AEG Live, Southern California was a fragmented market and virtual Wild West for Murphy and others.
Murphy saw an opportunity. Relocating from Seattle after college, he landed a job at Pacific Presentations, one of a handful of promoters booking venues such as the Wiltern, the Forum, the Los Angeles Sports Arena and the Palladium in the Los Angeles area. While at Pacific, Murphy was instrumental in planning California Jam, which drew more than 250,000 fans to the Ontario Motor Speedway in Ontario for a bill that included Earth, Wind & Fire; the Eagles; Black Oak Arkansas; Black Sabbath; Emerson, Lake & Palmer; and others.
Murphy left Pacific to co-found Avalon in 1977. In doing so, he recalled to The Times, his status declined to what he described as “the No. 4 company in town.” The business barely survived the first six months, he added, “but support from Rod Stewart, Queen and George Carlin kept us alive.”
He said of those lean years: “The Forum looks real bad with 8,000. They show up, look around and are almost embarrassed they bought a ticket.”
Ultimately, Avalon established itself and went on to promote hundreds of concerts annually in the market. As it did so, Murphy established himself as a tastemaker who was able to fill seats.
"I've always thought he's the most solid promoter out there," Goldenvoice President Paul Tollett told The Times during a 2011 profile of Murphy. "His relationships span generations to the biggest names in touring.”
Murphy’s 2011 news-making departure from Live Nation to competitor AEG Live underscored the intensity of the competition for fans’ dollars. At the time, he called the move “the toughest decision I've ever had to make in business."
In a written statement, Jay Marciano, chairman and chief executive of AEG Presents, said: “Brian Murphy was a promoter’s promoter and one of Southern California’s most influential music titans. He also happened to be one of the good guys, which is a rare combination.”
He added: “Our industry has lost a giant and a friend. We will deeply miss him.”
In a 2011 news story, Murphy remained passionate about his life’s work. "I love promoting concerts, every aspect of it,” he told The Times. “I'm a very hands-on promoter: working out marketing, ticketing, promotions, right down to night of show. Bands that work with me deserve my undivided attention."
Murphy is survived by his wife, Judy; daughter Shannon; and two grandchildren.