Albert Bernard Grossman (May 21, 1926 – January 25, 1986) was an American entrepreneur and manager in the American folk music scene and rock and roll. He was famous as the manager of many of the most popular and successful performers of folk and folk-rock music, including Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Peter, Paul and Mary, the Band, Odetta, Gordon Lightfoot and Ian & Sylvia.
Albert Grossman was born in Chicago on May 21, 1926, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants who worked as tailors. He attended Lane Technical High School and graduated from Roosevelt University, Chicago, with a degree in economics.
After finishing college Grossman worked for the Chicago Housing Authority, leaving in the late 1950s to go into the club business. Seeing folk star Bob Gibson perform at the Off Beat Room in 1956 prompted Grossman's idea of a 'listening room' to showcase Gibson and other talent, as the American folk-music revival movement grew. The result was the Gate of Horn in the basement of the Rice Hotel, where Jim (later Roger) McGuinn began his career as a 12-string guitarist. Grossman moved into managing some of the acts who appeared at his club — including an eighteen-year-old Joan Baez, who got her first major break with him — and in 1959 he joined forces with George Wein, who had founded the Newport Jazz Festival, to start up the Newport Folk Festival. At the first Newport Folk Festival, Grossman told The New York Times critic Robert Shelton: "The American public is like Sleeping Beauty, waiting to be kissed awake by the prince of folk music."
In 1961, Grossman put together Mary Travers, Noel Stookey, and Peter Yarrow as the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary. They achieved success the following year when their eponymous first album entered the Billboard Top Ten. The group had been avidly pursued by Atlantic Records, who were on the verge of signing them when the deal inexplicably fell through. The group signed with Warner Bros. Records instead and Atlantic's executives later discovered that it was because music publisher Artie Mogull had introduced Grossman to Warner executive Herman Starr, from whom Grossman was able to extract an unprecedented deal that gave the trio complete creative control over the recording and packaging of their music.
On August 20, 1962, Bob Dylan signed a contract which made Grossman his manager. Grossman also extended hospitality to Dylan at his home in Woodstock in upstate New York. Dylan liked the area so much he purchased a house there in 1965. The cover of Dylan's album Bringing It All Back Home, which includes Dylan and Grossman's wife, Sally wearing a red trouser suit, was photographed at the Grossman Woodstock home. Having returned to Woodstock at the end of his 1966 World Tour, Dylan was on his way home from Grossman's house in West Saugerties when he suffered the motorcycle accident that precipitated his eight-year withdrawal from touring.
When managing both Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary, Grossman brought the trio Dylan's song "Blowin' in the Wind" which they promptly recorded (on a single take) and successfully released.
When Bob Dylan was about to perform at the Isle of Wight Festival in August 1969, English critic Michael Gray asked Grossman about the rumor that The Beatles might appear on-stage with Dylan. Grossman replied, sotto voce: "Of course the Beatles would like to join Bob Dylan on stage. I should like to fly to the moon." The contracts between Dylan and Grossman were officially dissolved on July 17, 1970, prompted by Dylan's earlier realization that Grossman had taken 50% of his song publishing rights in a hastily-signed contract.
When Grossman signed Janis Joplin and her four bandmates from Big Brother and the Holding Company in 1967, he told them he would not tolerate any intravenous drug use, and all five agreed to abide by the rule. When he discovered, in the spring of 1969, that Joplin was injecting drugs anyway, he did not confront her. Instead, in June 1969 he took out a life insurance policy guaranteeing him $200,000 in the event she died in an accident. His yearly premium was $3,500.
On October 4, 1970, two-and-a-half months after Grossman was dealt a blow by the dissolution of his contracts with Dylan, his most famous remaining client, Janis Joplin, died suddenly from a heroin overdose. Grossman refused to speak about her death to journalists or colleagues in the music business, leaving his employee Myra Friedman to handle the phone calls that flooded their office. According to Joplin biographer Ellis Amburn, Grossman's "feelings about the loss of his most valuable client are not known." What is known is that in 1974, by which time his only living clients were the members of The Band, he kept busy with Joplin's legacy. The San Francisco Associated Indemnity Corporation challenged him on his collection of $200,000 from his life insurance policy, which led to a bizarre civil trial in the spring of that year, covered by the New York Post, in which the insurer tried to prove that the singer's death was a suicide, not an accidental overdose as had been determined by Dr. Thomas Noguchi. Grossman testified that he had never known the extent of Joplin's substance abuse when she was alive, and that he secured the accidental death policy "with air crashes in mind." He won the case and collected $112,000. In 1974 he also assisted Howard Alk with the creation of the feature-length documentary Janis, locating and using black and white film footage in which the singer says she is satisfied with Grossman as her manager.
Over the course of his career, Grossman's client list included Todd Rundgren, Odetta, Peter, Paul and Mary, John Lee Hooker, Ian and Sylvia, Phil Ochs (early in his career), Gordon Lightfoot, Richie Havens, The Pozo Seco Singers, The Band, the Electric Flag, Jesse Winchester, and Janis Joplin.