The Gal Behind The Guy: An Interview With Annie Lawlor

Annie-2When you see Buddy Guy perform live, it is easy to imagine that he simply teleported onto the stage, propelled there by his own energy and enthusiasm. It is so obvious that Buddy loves what he does, it almost seems plausible that if you wish for it hard enough, he may simply materialize in front of you, mid-guitar solo, beaming that billion-watt smile.

Unfortunately for all of us, getting Buddy where he needs to be when he needs to be there is actually a much more complicated process that involves the hard work and cooperation of a talented squad of impossibly hard working professionals. One of these tireless warriors is Buddy’s assistant, Annie Lawlor. As you might imagine, Buddy is bombarded with a ceaseless stream of requests for interviews, meet-and-greets, and public appearances on a daily basis. It is Annie’s job to discern whether or not Buddy can do something (because he’s probably already booked),
and whether or not Buddy should do something (because even Buddy Guy needs a day off every once in awhile).

Basically, Annie does her best to make sure that all Buddy has to worry about is playing the blues. But much like her boss, she is incredibly modest. Annie will be the first person to tell you that she is a very small part of the very large machine that makes it possible for Mr. Guy to be performing soon at a town near you.

I caught up with Annie at her South Loop condo and talked to her about what it’s like to work for Buddy Guy, how she got started in the music business, the most rewarding parts of her job, and what it’s like to be a woman working in the industry.

So what is your actual job title?

I’m Buddy Guy’s personal assistant and publicist under GBG Artist Management.

And what does that mean?

I’m the first person anybody talks to when they call GBG Artist Management, so I’m kind of like an air traffic controller–directing all of the messages to the proper people. My main job is PR, so I intercept all of the interview requests, sort through them, figure out what we can do and when we can do it, handle all the logistics, and hook up the phone calls. And then I get to sit and listen to all of Buddy’s interviews, which is really cool because every interview he gives is basically a history lesson directly from Buddy Guy, and I get to learn a lot.

I also handle contracts for all of his gigs on the road, keep track of his royalties, some file-keeping, a little bit of accounting. I handle Buddy’s social media–his official accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I would say the coolest part about all of it is that because I’m the first person most people talk to when they’re trying to get in touch with Buddy, I have no idea what I’m going to get over the course of a day. It could be anything under the sun. It definitely keeps me on my toes.

What made you choose artist management as a career?

From the time that I was 15 years old and going to concerts–making my parents drag me all over the place to different shows, getting there hours early so my sister and I could be in the front row at these general admission shows–and I’d look into the backstage corners and see little groups of people standing there and I’d think to myself, “What are they doing back there, how did they get back there, and how can I be one of them one day!?” It w
as pretty much all I ever wanted to do–go to concerts and have a reason to be in the front row. So I got into music business management at Columbia College.

How did your relationship with Buddy start?

Well, the first time I heard about Buddy was when I took guitar lessons in high school. My guitar teacher was awesome; he really was the first person to ever introduce me to the blues, so I did know about Buddy and his legacy before I started working for him, which makes it even cooler–even now.

Do you remember meeting Buddy?

The first time I ever met Buddy was the first or second day after I got hired at the old club. It was in the staircase – I remember I walked to the top of the staircase, and he was coming out of the office, and he said “Hey! How are you?” and I said “Hi, Mr. Guy!” and then he said, “Alright now,” and then walked on and I thought, “Okay, so that’s him… Okay, great!” That’s just kind of how it goes. He’s very low-key and easy to work for. He’s got his routine, it’s set, you don’t deviate from the routine–he’s a creature of habit.

How would you describe your working relationship?

It’s very friendly. Friendly, but at the same time very professional. He’s really involved in every aspect of his business and he takes it really seriously. So there’s time for business, and then there’s time for a sip of cognac at the end of the night, but during the day it’s all business.

What are some of the perks of being Buddy’s assistant?

12885748_10101484590860297_6393118365813272912_oObviously, you get to tag along to some pretty cool events, and he’s got a lot of really cool friends. So meeting his friends–and when I say “friends,” I mean the Rolling Stones, Jeff Beck, Carlos Santana. You know, so… that’s a big perk!

Also more recently, the Experience Hendrix Tour. That was the first time I’d ever been on the road with Buddy and I’ve been working him for almost seven years now. Until then, I’d just gone to meet them at certain gigs where a publicist would be necessary, if there were lots of interviews, or sometimes just for fun.

Going on tour is a totally different experience than working in the management office. It’s something you just can’t understand until you actually do it, and see how hard it is on the band and the crew–but also how much fun it is. You get to see exactly why, even though it’s such hard work, all those guys want to do it, and want to keep doing it. The Hendrix tour is a little different because it’s an all-star tour, not just a Buddy tour. It’s basically a giant guitar summer camp. I couldn’t have asked for a better first tour experience.

How did you start working for Buddy?

After I graduated from Columbia College, a mutual friend, Megan Murphy, introduced me to Buddy’s former assistant at the time, and she hired me to be her assistant. I’m eternally grateful for that–her name is Isabelle, and she rocks.

I started as Isabelle’s assistant, working part-time, and then she moved out West about a year after she hired me. When she left, they actually split her job in two–she was also the event coordinator for the club. She worked really hard! So they ended up hiring an event coordinator, and splitting off the GBG management part of her job and giving that to me full-time. That was right when we moved from the old club to the new club. So I worked at the old club for nine or ten months before we moved to the new space.

How did you hear about the job opening for Isabelle’s assistant?

When I was at Columbia I worked at a media production company the summer between my junior and senior year. The Vice President of the company, Megan Murphy, who I mentioned earlier–she’s awesome, I absolutely loved working for her–she helped me put together my resume after I graduated. Then, she made a list of people to introduce me to in the industry, and Isabelle was on that list. She just so happened to be looking for an assistant at the time, and that was three months after I graduated. It was very good timing–a combination of good timing, and being prepared, and having awesome people around me supporting my goals.

Since you’ve mentioned Isabelle and Megan Murphy, can you speak a little to your experience of being a woman in this industry?

Well, the music industry is definitely dominated by men. You need a thick skin and you can’t take any shit where shit isn’t due, but
you’ve also got to be easy to work with. That goes for everyone, not just women. If you give respect, chances are you’ll get it back in return and you won’t need to stomp around demanding it. For the most part, my experiences have all been really positive. But people also know that I’m Buddy’s assistant, so they’re usually really respectful.

At a local level, speaking in terms of Chicago and the blues as a whole, there are actually a lot of women professionally involved. There are women who run blues clubs, who handle promotions and PR for the artists, photographers, graphic designers, all who are directly involved, and all who do it because they really love it. There’s also a huge amount of female talent in Chicago, which is always great to see on stage. But as you go further into the upper echelon of the music industry (major labels, major tours, etc) on a national level, there are definitely less and less women involved.

Have you ever met another woman who does your job?

12087729_10101341818407437_2292562972674954473_oI have, and I think she’s probably one of the more inspirational figures in artist management. Jane Rose is Keith Richards’ manager of 30 years, and she is a badass. I mean, you kind of have to be. I met her when Keith was in town with the Rolling Stones and Buddy opened for them at Summerfest in Milwaukee. Keith came to the club to interview Buddy for his Netflix documentary “Under The Influence.” Jane was with him, and that was the first time I ever saw another woman working for an artist of that caliber in my role, doing the same kinds of things I do for Buddy. It was really cool to see. She’s got a little fluffy white dog named Ruby Tuesday. She goes with her everywhere, it’s great. So definitely one of the most inspirational, badass women I’ve ever met.

Do you have advice for young people who want to do what you do?

I would say there’s no point in pursuing anything that’s not going to make you happy. This is literally the only thing I ever wanted to do. From there, it’s a question of finding the right path. There are so many different jobs that you can do in this industry, and you really have to try a lot of them. When I was in college I did a lot of internships, did a little bit of talent agency work, did a little bit of production management, a little bit of event planning – you just really have to find the path that you like, and figure out how you can get your foot in that door.

The opportunity is often going to come from someone who’s already in that industry, so you really have to network. When you’re in school, people always tell you, “Make sure you’re networking when you’re out there,” and it sounds so cliché, but you just never know who you’re going to meet. It’s really the people that you meet, the people that you already know, who are going to give you the job you want. It’s not going to be from filling out an application and blindly sending it in online. It’s really rare that people get their dream jobs that way.

You have to focus on the people you’re meeting, and maintaining relationships with those people. Continuously. Checking in with them, even if they don’t have a job that they can give you right now. You can constantly be doing little informational interviews here and there, checking in with them, seeing what their professional life is like at the moment–because you never know who they’re talking to, or who they know that might be looking for somebody. You just never know.

I thought it might also be cool to talk about your new client–what can you tell us about that?

So I still work full-time for Buddy, and will continue to do so. It’s my favorite thing! But in addition to that, my best friend/college roommate and I have taken on a freelance client. The two of us have started doing some management work for Earl Slick, who was David Bowie’s live and session guitar player for over 40 years. Slick had been self-managing for the last couple of years and recently he’s found himself in a spot where he needs some extra help right now, and we’re really excited to do that for him.

He’s someone I met through Legends; he came to a Buddy show and we formed a friendship, and I maintained that relationship with him, and now it’s evolved into some freelance management work. So that just circles right back to networking and maintaining your relationships. That’s how things happen.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I think we should talk about the team of people – because it’s certainly not just me–Team BG. Buddy’s management company, GBG Artist Management, consists of myself and Buddy’s tour manager, Michael “Max” Maxson. Max is the road guy, which is a huge responsibility. He takes care of all of the moving parts, all of the tour logistics, getting the whole band and crew from A to B. The band and crew themselves are part of that equation too–Gilbert who’s Buddy’s guitar tech, and Mike Tomaskovic who is Buddy’s monitor technician. In addition to being tour manager, Max is also Buddy’s live sound engineer. And then you have all the band members: Orlando, Rick, Marty and Tim. These guys work so incredibly hard, they do over 150 shows a year, and they’re away from their families for months at a time. We’re all part of the same team.

That team also includes all of the club managers, some of whom are also Buddy’s family members, and the club staff – they’re a huge part of Team BG. The management company portion of things and the club side of things – everyone works together to support Buddy. It really is a team effort; it wouldn’t be possible without everybody busting their asses like they do. Everyone takes this personally, it’s very important to all of us.

And finally: Will you ever get tired of opening up boxes and 12957680_10101506832917037_8681492428521424772_ofinding Grammys inside?

Absolutely not. And I will take a selfie every single time.

Mark Augustine

Mark Augustine

Mark Augustine is a faculty member at Columbia College Chicago and a staff writer at BG: Blues And Music News.

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Mark Augustine

Mark Augustine

Mark Augustine is a faculty member at Columbia College Chicago and a staff writer at BG: Blues And Music News.