March 19, 2015—Austin TX—If you’re a music fan, Jeff Nolan is the man to know. His official title is Music and Memorabilia Historian at Hard Rock International, but unofficially Jeff Nolan is just super cool. His respect of music and the artistry (not to sound too Kanye West) is apparent in every word Jeff Nolan utters.
I was lucky enough to grab 20 minutes of his time during the very hectic week of SXSW after he set up a cool Fender display (see photo below) at Hard Rock Presents Culture Collide at Container Bar, a music showcase on Rainey Street that hosted hot acts like Cairo Knife Fight, Elliphant, The Cribs (see photos below), and The Vaccines.
Jeff talks about his favorite (at the moment) piece of memorabilia in the Hard Rock collection, the Gram Parsons journal which he says proves that Gram Parsons wrote “Wild Horses” and the Jimi Hendrix Flying V that is awe inspiring. (See the gallery below for photos of this memorabilia provided by Jeff Nolan.)
Hard Rock Hotels amenity program called “The Sound of your Stay” sets the hotel apart from others by offering some cool features. “If you stay at a Hard Rock you literally have a menu of guitars—there’s like 20 guitars all Fenders—and you can call down to the concierge and they will bring you any guitar you want,” explains Jeff. “You can rent it for the day?” I ask. “It’s free,” he replies. “It’s one of the amenities. And a very cool head phone amp that’s got all kinds of tones that you can access and it’s a really unique and cool thing.”
“Has anyone famous recorded in one of your rooms?” I ask Jeff. “You know we just started very recently doing a series of sessions in our rooms and it’s a program that we’re going to expand a lot. We just did a thing in San Diego with a band Tennis and with Young The Giant. We really like to be—I mean those bands are well established—but we really like to be supportive of emerging acts and you know bands that are in a van and just trying to make it from gig to gig. We try to hook them up in hotels, we try to hook them up in our cafes, you know, just be supportive because it’s a hard thing to do and it just has gotten harder and harder for young musicians. So if we can help we help.”
“I think that’s a lot of what I’ve found. I focus a lot on the indie bands and emerging bands and one of their hugest burdens or not burden but…” I pause to correct myself and Jeff helps, “Hurdles?” “Yes! Hurdle!” I concur, “it used to be a very different route. It used to be through a record label,” I say. “Absolutely,” Jeff agrees. “It is no longer that way so now what they have to do is connect with someone like you, a brand and that is how I see the ones who are making it getting there,” I comment. “It’s strange, isn’t it?” Jeff asks, then adds, “It’s a different world.” “Twenty years ago if you did a commercial you were a sell out,” I say. “You were the evilest,” Jeff confirms. Adding, “It’s true. Absolutely, that’s why we have a little record label that we do that’s really just a support structure. It’s not a label in the sense of what maybe you and I think of in the traditional record label, it’s just more of a support structure for young acts.”
“Do you have a submission process so that bands can try to become a band you’re aware of?” I ask Jeff. He explains, “Yeah, it’s just a matter of just contacting us and just being visible. Doing things like playing our events and participating in our Hard Rock Rising global contest every year. You know we have the world’s largest Battle of the Bands which is a lot of fun to do because a lot of Western—Western European bands—are very cynical about that kind of thing. I understand. But what excites me are the bands that we get turned onto from Kazakhstan and Pacific Rim. There is a really hot rock scene in Singapore, Malaysia, Bali—just like a hot rock scene. Latin America is blowing up young bands. So with our Battle of the Bands with Hard Rock Rising it’s exciting to find those groups.”
“That’s what I love about music festivals, seeing the international bands,” I say. “The band that’s on right now is from Israel,” Jeff responds referencing Diwan Saz [see photo gallery]. “I love that you show up and support that at music festivals,” I tell him. “It’s important,” Jeff replies, “it’s what we do. We did something like 28,000 live music events in 2014. [The Zimmerman Agency confirmed this number.] But I mean, we’re global and between our hotels, casinos and cafes there’s hundreds of live music events going on at Hard Rock globally every single day. ”
“How does memorabilia play a role in the Hard Rock world?” I ask. “It’s our biggest differentiator. Our memorabilia collection is so far and away the largest collection—rock and roll memorabilia,” he replies. “And you’re in charge of that?” I ask. “No, don’t give me that much credit,” he smiles and laughs. “I have the distinct pleasure of being Hard Rock’s music and memorabilia historian. I’m like the story teller, I’m the researcher. We have a memorabilia team for acquisitions and things like that are the best in the world,” he says.
“Well, you’re doing the fun part, you’re explaining the history behind it!” I comment. “Well, I’m a big dork,” Jeff replies making me laugh because he is far from that and he possesses a dream job. “Like a lot of people that are here in Austin this week, I am super super passionate about music and history and the minutia of it and the instruments, the clothing. I’m just fascinated by all of that stuff. The hand written stuff. But our collection now is over…we’ve cracked I think over 77,000 pieces. And we’ve been doing it for so long. But what I love about our memorabilia collection is that it’s kind of an accident,” Jeff says and then he shares the story of how it all began.
“Hard Rock didn’t open with the idea that, ‘we’re gonna have music memorabilia on the walls.’ In 1971 when it opened it, was just a place where to sort of ex-pat hippies from the states living in London we’re like, ‘Oh man you can’t get a good burger in London. Let’s make like a diner. You know? And they had a couple of bucks between and so they opened up this diner kind of thing and it got very popular in the early 70’s with really hip London and a lot of rock stars went there just because they liked to party there.”
“Well,” he continues, “Eric Clapton—who was a regular regular—came in one day and the place he liked to sit was occupied. He said to Isaac Tigrett, the founder of Hard Rock, ‘You should put a plaque there that says Clapton’s Table.’ And Isaac just sort of joking said, ‘Plaque? Just give me a guitar, I’ll nail it to the wall.’ And he did. Three days later, Pete Townshend from The Who—drunk as a skunk—sent over this gorgeous custom Les Paul. He sent a little roadie over with it, and it had a little note that said, ‘Mine’s as good as Eric’s any day. Get it on the wall.”
“There’s nothing like competitive spirit,” I say transfixed by Jeff’s story. “Right?” he replies. And he—Pete Townshend—wrote us another note not that long ago when we were celebrating our 40th anniversary. He said, ‘Back in the 70s in a fit of drunken idiocy I gave you one of the best guitars I ever had.'” (laughing) “It pretty much said, ‘And I’m happy that it helped.’ It established this amazing thing. Then he put, ‘P.S. Mine’s still as good as E.C.’s any day.’ And the thing just snowballed.”
“Then notes like that become part of—” I begin to say and Jeff injects, “Oh! Absolutely! The hand written stuff for me personally is my favorite type of memorabilia. I’m obsessive about instruments and things but hand written stuff is just so special and you just don’t see it anymore. A young artist, a contemporary artist, what are you gonna do? Print out their lyric sheet that they typed in a Word Document?” “I see people grabbing set lists all the time, but they’re printed out,” I comment. “Yeah,” Jeff shakes his head, “they’re printed out. We have set lists—we have a ton of them—but we have [Bruce] Springsteen’s set lists form like pre- Born To Run pre superstardom when he was just really starting to happen and they’re all hand written by Bruce in this really sort of meticulous hand. Those sort of things are treasures. They’re absolutely amazing.”
“Tell me about your very favorite piece,” I ask well knowing he would struggle to choose one. “You know,” he replies, “you ask me that on any given day and it’ll change. I’m really really for a while now I’ve been really enamored—we have a leather bound journal that’s all lyrics and notes and set lists. It belonged to Gram Parsons. It is an absolute treasure trove. Hard Rock got it in an auction in the late 80s I believe. It is a stunning document for one of the most important artists of all time. Especially now with the rise of this kind of with Americana type music. …With bands like Wilco, Mumford and Sons, Avett Brothers, The Lumineers, these bands that have that kind of DNA to them. That line goes straight back to Gram Parsons. And the thing is stunning.”
Jeff Nolan goes on, “Personally, I think it has concrete proof that Gram Parsons wrote “Wild Horses,” which has always been a theory. There’s three pages of the lyrics to “Wild Horses” in that journal with lines crossed out and replaced with what became the actual lyrics. Chord changes written above and that song was initially released—even though it was credited to Jagger / Richards [songwriting partnership of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards]—Gram’s version came out before the Stones’ version did.”
He adds, “And it just sounds like a Gram Parson’s song. And I know they were all hanging out and influencing each other and that stuff, but why would Gram Parson’s write the lyrics to “Wild Horses” down three times all different with chord changes? It sounds to me like it’s Exhibit A. It’s a treasure.”
“We have a ton of stuff like that,” Jeff adds. “I’m a fanatic for guitars and we have the black Gibson Flying V that Jimi Hendrix played at the Isle of Wight Festival. Holy Moly!” “Do you ever just want to pet it?” I ask with a huge smile on my face as his enthusiasm over memorabilia is contagious. “Absolutely! Absolutely!”
Special thanks to Daniella Delaosa of The Zimmerman Agency.
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About Hard Rock International
With a total of 191 venues in 59 countries, including 145 cafes, 21 hotels and 10 casinos, Hard Rock International (HRI) is one of the most globally recognized companies. Beginning with an Eric Clapton guitar, Hard Rock owns the world’s greatest collection of music memorabilia, which is displayed at its locations around the globe. Hard Rock is also known for its collectible fashion and music-related merchandise, Hard Rock Live performance venues and an award-winning website. HRI owns the global trademark for all Hard Rock brands. The company owns, operates and franchises Cafes in iconic cities including London, New York, San Francisco, Sydney and Dubai. HRI also owns, licenses and/or manages hotel/casino properties worldwide. Destinations include the company’s two most successful Hotel and Casino properties in Tampa and Hollywood, Fl., both owned and operated by HRI parent company The Seminole Tribe of Florida, as well as other exciting locations including Bali, Biloxi, Chicago, Cancun, Ibiza, Las Vegas, Palm Springs, San Diego and Singapore. Upcoming new Hard Rock Cafe locations include San Juan, Asuncion and Marseille. New Hard Rock Hotel projects include Daytona Beach, Los Cabos, Dallas-Fort Worth, Abu Dhabi, and Shenzhen and Haikou in China. For more information on Hard Rock International, visit www.hardrock.com.
By Nicole Hanratty
Posted April 3, 2015