When celebrating a 25th anniversary, the traditional gift is silver. But when the celebrants are Charlotte’s premier talent agency, the gold standard is more appropriate.
To celebrate a quarter-century in business, Rick Booth of Charlotte-based Intrepid Artists Int’l agency mined ore from the highest-yielding blues and rock veins to set up a two-night throwdown featuring an array of the agency’s shiniest talent. Kenny Neal, John Nemeth, Albert Castiglia, Vanessa Collier, Toronzo Cannon and Davy Knowles head up the crew on what Intrepid is calling “Rock n’ Roll, Soul & Blues Revival … The Sequel” to be held at the new Amos’ Southend location on Nov. 8 and then at Neighborhood Theatre on Nov. 9.
Intrepid founder, owner and president Booth was born and raised in Charlotte, and his love for music came at a young age — specifically his 10th birthday, when his godmother gifted him a copy of Elton John’s Greatest Hits. His love for music continued through high school, when he would sneak into bars as an early ’80s teen — but not for the same reasons his peers were.
“It wasn’t about drinking, it was about seeing the music,” Booth said recently by phone from his Charlotte headquarters.
He started booking bands for his Sigma Alpha Epsilon frat while pursuing a degree in Sociology at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
“Everybody always told me, ‘You’re gonna be a booking agent,’ and I laughed because it was already predetermined that I was gonna go in the hardware biz with my dad,” he said.
Booth tried that route from ‘87 to ‘90 but couldn’t make it work. He eventually branched out on his own, and while his sociology degree didn’t hurt, he credits his father with instilling most of his managerial skills.
“Best thing [my dad] ever did was tell me to find another job. I wanted to find something unique rather than wrap a rope around my neck and go work in a big tall glass building Uptown.”
In 1990, Booth took a job working for a regional music agency, Hit Attractions, booking mainly cover bands and college bands. Weary of that company’s business practices, he decided to leave after only about four months on the job.
When Steve Hecht moved to Charlotte from Boston and started Piedmont Talent in 1990, Booth jumped onboard, working for Hecht for four-and-a-half years before branching out to start Intrepid in 1994.
Since then, he’s taken the agency to a level beyond anything he expected when he set out 25 years ago. Intrepid and Intrepid agents have received the Blues Foundation’s prestigious Keeping The Blues Alive Award a record three times — in 1997, 2002 and 2011. Since 2008, Intrepid artists have received more than 100 Blues Music Award nominations and numerous wins, as well as four Grammy nominations and one Grammy win.
Booth said his agency’s success stems from his unique service: “Reliability, accountability, honesty and straight talk, that’s what I offer that nobody else offers in this business.”
He based his business model on the opposite of what he saw practitioners of his craft passing off as normal business behavior.
“I truly believe, treat other people the way you want to be treated, and I didn’t see that being done in the music business when I got in here,” Booth says. “They just didn’t do things the way my dad taught me to run a business. And that was why I felt I needed to go out and change things. I believe do unto others the way you’d have them do unto you. That’s my motto … and I didn’t get that. I saw a lot of yelling and screaming and hanging up on people. I don’t do business like that.”
His solution is a basic one: “If people are rude to me, I kill ‘em with kindness. They usually come around. And that’s what I do, man. I’m a communicator. I’m accountable. I will always call you back, I will always answer your email. As of right now it might take a few days, I’m backed up,” he laughs. “But I’ve been here since 6 o’clock this morning booking bands so I can get caught up. I do what it takes.”
Booth’s common-sense approach, reliability and decency have made him successful in a business not known for an abundance of any of those things.
Saxophonist Jimmy Carpenter has been on both sides of the Intrepid fence, as a performer and a booker. Starting with the Greensboro-based road demon hellraisers the Alkaphonics in the ‘80s, Carpenter wound his way from regional success with Charlie Pastorfield and the Believers to touring nationally with Tinsley Ellis before joining Jimmy Thackery and the Drivers, eventually relocating to New Orleans for a stint with Walter “Wolfman” Washington. He then hired on with Mike Zito and the Wheel in 2012.
Now a Las Vegas resident, Carpenter leads his own band when not playing with the Las Vegas Strip Kings. He’s also the musical director and assistant talent buyer for the annual blues showcase in Vegas called The Big Blues Bender, and he leads the Bender’s house band, the Bender Brass.
Carpenter ran his own agency between the Pastorfield and Ellis stints, later worked as an agent for Booth’s rival agency, Hugh Southard’s Blue Mountain Artists, and now does most of the booking for the Big Blues Bender as well as perform in and arrange music for it.
“An agent’s job — I don’t know if it’s the hardest job in the food chain, but it’s certainly close,” Carpenter said. “A good day as an agent is nothing like a good day as a saxophone player,” he chortles.
But now he’s on both sides simultaneously.
“What makes it difficult for me is that being a musician, I identified with all the people I was representing. I knew them all and they called me and they had hopes and dreams and desires and needs and I was directly connected with meeting all that. A lot of pressure.”
It’s a difficult thing to pull off, even if you’re only concentrating on the booking part, he said.
“You’re ultimately working for the musicians,” Carpenter continued. “You need to keep enough going to keep your business flush, but you have to also have enough time to give these guys and women the attention they need. It’s a tricky balance. Rick has done a really great job.”
Carpenter isn’t part of the booking process for the anniversary show, but he will perform as the sax man for the “Intrepid Does the Stones” segment of Saturday’s show.
“It’s a set of Stones music The Steepwater Band is hosting and I’m gonna go be Bobby Keys for a set,” Carpenter said, chuckling as he recalled the way the gig came to his attention. “That’s right up my alley. Rick called me and said ‘We’re doing this Stones set.’ I said, ‘Dude, you understand that Bobby Keys is one of my big time idols? I am Bobby Keys.’ I based my entire thing on Bobby Keys. So that’ll be a lot of fun, and that’s just one part of it.”
Booth calls it a Stones retrospective.
“It’s not gonna be just blues or anything like that, it’s gonna be the Rolling Stones, man! The Steepwater Band, they have a Get Your Ya Ya’s Out show, we started thinking we’ve got a lot of artists, let’s get everybody included in this, then I can have all these special guests come sit in. Jimmy’s gonna be sitting in all night on sax.”
He’s also got a local fixture whose resume reflects stints with over 100 local bands sitting in on keys as well: Jason Atkins, aka Greazy Keys, organist for the Calder Cup champion Charlotte Checkers and staple at the jam sessions next door to the Checkers’ home rink at Smokey Joe’s Cafe.
Friday night features Albert Castiglia and Vanessa Collier on sax and dobro, respectively, for what Booth describes as the total package. Steepwater will play a set, as will Asheville’s Empire Strikes Brass.
Another performer at the show will be Greensboro’s Eric Gales. Once hailed as a child prodigy, Gales has recorded 18 albums with major record labels.
Though he’s renowned for his work as a blues-rock guitarist, hip-hop fans might also recognize Gales as Lil’ E, a collaborator with Three 6 Mafia in Memphis.
“He’s the closest thing I’ve ever seen to Jimi Hendrix, and he’s not an impersonator, he’s just Eric Gales,” Booth said, before continuing to list off acts that will hit the stage during the two-night showcase. “Gary Hoey, Mike Zito, Jimmy Carpenter, I’m not sure who else is gonna show up. We’ve got so many artists here, it’s gonna be a full night of music, I can assure you of that.”