Ted Gardner, the late artist manager, promoter, entrepreneur and road warrior, handled some of the biggest, heaviest acts on the planet, and helped build the model of a modern music festival.

He reached dizzying heights in the U.S. that few Australian music industry professionals will reach, or even reach for.

You wouldn’t know it, unless you spent time with the man.

Like so many behind-the-scenes operators, Gardner, who died Dec. 28, at the age of 74, didn’t pursue fame. That was reserved for the artists he guided, a list that included heavyweight U.S. rockers Jane’s Addiction and Tool, Brits The Verve, and Men at Work.

His story is a remarkable one, especially for an Australian who left for America in 1982, and returned home a quarter century later, disillusioned with the music industry and the majors, in particular, before finding new energy and launching a platform for new discoveries, artists he believed in, with Cross Section Management and Records.

With Colin Hay and Co., Gardner set the groundwork for a brilliant breakthrough in 1983 which saw Men at Work bag simultaneous No. 1s singles and albums on both sides of the Atlantic, and snag Best New Artist at the Grammy Awards.

It was heady stuff for a band from Down Under.

Arguably greater achievements would come.

With Jane’s frontman Perry Farrell, Gardner launched Lollapalooza in 1991, the Chicago festival brand that would one become one of the largest and most iconic music events on the planet, and one of the longest-running shows of its kind in the States.

Following a tip-off from Nick O’Byrne, the-then general manager of AIR, I sought out an interview with Gardner, a man who, I was reliably told, had the best stories of anyone in the Australian music industry. A guy with an extraordinary career, who didn’t go in for self-promotion.

Gardner didn’t disappointment. We had a lengthy chat in October 2011, covering anything and everything from his early fish-out-of-water experiences in the U.S. (“two months you were on the road, living on a strange diet which you wouldn’t consider. Everything is bad cheese, everything is Kraft”), family, working with the controversial Anton Newcombe from Brian Jonestown Massacre, and making it big in the biggest market of them all.

If advice was asked for, it was shared.

For emerging bands, he had this to say: “You’ve got to be who you are. You can’t be another band. You can’t follow the trend, ‘oh they’ve been a success let’s be like them.’ It doesn’t work. There’s only one KISS, there was only one Beatles, Rolling Stones. All of those bands were great bands, and they were unique to themselves. The same holds true today.

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“It’s learning your craft. Practicing so you can be the best guitarist, drummer, bass player, singer. Because an audience is what really tells you the direction you’re going. When that happens, find yourself good people. Find yourself people who are passionate about you. And it isn’t your mum and dad, and it isn’t your best mate, because they will lie to you. You need a good crew guy. You start with someone who can do your backline, a good soundman that will also move shit around. And then find yourself a good accountant, before you find a lawyer and before you find a manager.

“Build your foundation of your band, yourself, the best you can be, good crew guy. Start with one, you don’t need all three.”

And on his own journey, he “became involved by the mere fact that you’re the complement most artists are looking for as their manager. They’ll say things to you that they’d never say to their mothers, fathers, girlfriends, their band mates,” he explained.

“There’s a lot you have to do to be involved through all of this if you are really the calm in what can be the storm. You can lose your temper occasionally, for dramatic effect. Ted Gardner losing his temper is an amazing things to see. It’s like torching a piece of paper, let it explode and then it’s gone. Like letting a cracker go. That’s Ted Gardner.

“You’ve got to be there, be involved. You don’t have to live together, get married. But you have to consult them, and console them. You’re constantly rebuilding fractured egos. And artists have big egos. They must to. Otherwise they wouldn’t be artists.”

Gardner was a founding father in the golden age of music festivals, an unsung Aussie hero of heavy music. Here was a music man who went big, and made it happen without the hype and hubris.

For journalists, Gardner had a special place: he was also a gifted raconteur with all the best stories.

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