Walter James “Herbie” Herbert II, a Bill Graham protégé who began as a roadie for Santana and ended up managing Journey for 20 years, died at his home in Orinda, California on Monday, Oct. 25, of natural causes. He was 73.
Herbert is the third Graham business associate to have died over the past few months, following Mick Brigden, the ex-Rolling Stones tour manager who headed the management side of Bill Graham Presents, and Dell Furano, founder of Winterland Productions merchandising, both of whom passed in September. Ironically, Herbert died on the 30th anniversary of Graham’s death, which occurred on Oct. 25, 1991.
A native of Berkeley, California, Herbert was a self-described hippie and unregenerate Grateful Dead supporter who began working for Graham as a roadie for Santana (where he first met future Journey members Neal Schon and Gregg Rolie). He managed Frumious Bandersnatch, a psychedelic San Francisco rock band named after a character from the Lewis Carroll poem, “Jabberwocky,” whose members included soon-to-be Journey stalwarts Ross Valory and George Tickner. Their independently released three-song EP produced a minor underground hit in “Hearts to Cry.”
After leaving Santana, he put together the original Journey line-up in 1973, remaining as manager until 1993. He fully immersed himself in the band’s business, traveling with them as their road manager. A savvy entrepreneur, he established an in-house Nightmare Productions to make the records, pioneering the use of large-scale videos through Nocturne Productions which revolutionized state-of-the-art lighting and sound for the stadiums that bands were now playing, establishing the foundation for today’s live concert industry. An avid San Francisco 49ers fan, he was the first to book rock acts to play halftime shows and had a luxury box right next to owner Eddie DeBartolo’s.
As a seasoned businessman, Herbert parlayed Journey’s real estate holdings into a sizable income. With the band’s art director Jim Welch, Herbert’s creative marketing plan used underground artists Stanley Mouse and Alton Kelly, one-word album titles and expert point-of-purchase branding long before it became standard practice in the music business. A reported personality conflict with lead singer Steve Perry led to Herbert leaving the band in 1993.
In a 2017 interview with San Francisco radio station KQED at the time of Journey’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Herbert didn’t hesitate to comment on the band’s increasing dysfunction, pointing to Schon as the divisive factor Steve Perry once was. “It’s a tragedy,” he said. “It’s all rooted in financial issues, and it’s too bad because it could be the undoing of what is a great business.”
Herbert also managed the Steve Miller Band and co-managed Swedish groups Roxette and Europe, along with Mr. Big, Enuff Z’Nuff and Journey splinter groups The Storm and Hardline. In the late ‘90s, Herbert moved from behind the stage into the spotlight, recording three albums as Sy Klopps, performing sold-out shows at the Fillmore with a band that included current and former Journey band members Neal Schon, Gregg Rolie, Prairie Prince and Ross Valory.
Herbert took many lesser-known artists under his wing and was a prominent supporter of the local Bay Area music scene.
“He made so many people’s lives and careers truly better, and as a manager, he always made decisions based on what was for the greater good,” said his wife Maya.
“I’ll cherish all the incredible times and trials and tribulations we experienced together,” Schon posted on Instagram. “Herbie was an incredible hands-on manager and fought like a motherf–er for all of us every step of the way. I can easily say that without his vision there would have never been many of the innovative things that we shared. I hold the greatest times in my heart forever.”
Added his longtime friend, veteran San Francisco Chronicle journalist Joel Selvin: “He had one of those personalities that tended toward teaching, coaching, sharing and encouraging. It was in his DNA. Journey was always Herbie’s idea, it was his band. The musicians didn’t have a vision; they wanted to make money, and Herbie steered them in that direction. He was the complete guiding hand. I always called him the military-industrial complex of rock, and he took that as a compliment. He had an enormous spirit. Seeing him in action was awesome.”
After the recent death of Dell Furano, Herbert posted on his friend’s Facebook page: “The goal isn’t to live forever, it’s to create something that will. That’s what Dell did.”
So, too, did Herbie Herbert, who is survived by his devoted wife Maya, daughters Seaya and Katherine, brother Robert and sister Katherine.
There is a documentary in the works about Herbert’s life that began production before he died. Plans for a memorial celebration will be announced.