Promoter/ manager/ agency Miki Mulvehill van Tyn talks about Luther Allison, Syl Johnson...with "Heart & Soul"

"Your word is what you have at the end of every day. Be honest with people, ne respectful of everyone you come across and people give back."

Miki Mulvehill van Tyn: Peace, Love & Joy

Miki brings years of artist management to the table and started her career running and booking the legendary Blues Saloon in Minneapolis.  From this, she ended up managing the legendary Syl Johnson, Luther Allison, Jimmy Thackery, and Tommy Castro.  She later was a founding partner of Blue Sky Artists which was behind the careers of G.B. Leighton, Double Trouble, Susan Tedeschi and Jonny Lang.  She also started and currently runs Under The Radar music group, which is an umbrella label services and distribution company for new and emerging artists.

Miki's last achievement, "Heart & Soul artist management" is a labor of heart and soul between two long time friends and colleagues, Miki Mulvehill van Tyn and Beth Tallman.
Both Miki and Beth have spent their careers empowering artists and helping to implement our artist’s vision. We believe the combination of nurturing relationships and doing the work creates long and satisfying careers.

Combined, the two bring a diverse history and decades of experience in artist management, booking, radio promotion and tour press, operations, online and traditional marketing, within the major label, indie label and management/consulting world.

Interview by Michael Limnios

Miki, when was your first desire to become involved in the music & from whom have you have learned the most secrets about the music?
I have loved music since my earliest memory. Getting into the music business was sort of an accident…it just seemed every thing lined up so it just sort of happened!

What does music offered you & what do you learn about yourself from the music?
Music offers me peace of mind and great joy. No matter how crabby a person is as soon as you hear music that touches your soul and makes you want to dance, you can’t help but smile and get in a better mind set. It is the one way people communicate and touch one another and unites all people, regardless of the language of the lyrics.

(Photo: Yvonne Staples, Beverly McClellan, Mavis Staples and Miki)

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?
There are too many amazing moments to pick one…I have been blessed to have had the privilege of working with some amazing people. I would say Luther Allison had the biggest effect on my life in the music world. He and Rocky, his life partner and my”sister of spirit” really gave me the opportunity to grow in the business. There was a harmony and respect between Rocky, Luther, Thomas (Ruf) and I that was both rare and magical. Working with Luther and Syl Johnson, (who I still have the honor of managing) was the springboard to an amazing journey working with and managing artist were not only incredibly talented but really good people, Jonny Lang, Susan Tedeschi, Double Trouble, Tommy Castro and one of my favorite bands ever who I still have the privilege of managing GB Leighton and now our Girls form The Voice, Vicci Martinez and Beverly McClellan - wow how very lucky am I! I sometimes stop and think is this really my life? I have gotten to be a part of my bands journeys on amazing tours like BB King, Aerosmith, The Rolling Stones, John Mellencamp, seeing my bands play the coolest small club to Madison square garden to The White House and to see most of the world because of this.
The worst moment was Luther dying; it was too soon and has left a large void that hasn’t been filled yet. He is definitely still around, an angel watching and listening, well when not jammin’ with the all stars in the next place

What advice Luther Allison given to you, which memory from him makes you smile?
Luther taught me through example how important it is to appreciate everyone for who they are. Luther was a so elegant and then could be such a goof and just bust a gut laughing that you had to laugh with him.
He also never asked how much money he was being offered, it was always what is the better play for his career which is a really valuable lesson. Be true to your artists vision and not the money and the right things will come together.
Thinking about Luther always makes me smile. It was awesome to watch him play and just transcend into this other world, He just absorbed energy from the fans, he hated to stop playing and often didn’t. No One ever got short setted by Luther. Rocky, Luther and I were on The Mediterranean Ultimate Rhythm and blues Cruise Luther would jam til dawn and got the other band guys up, it was fabulous, and it started what is now The Pro jam on the LRBC. My luggage was missing until the last day so I had to wear Luther’s Zubas yes Zuba’s ! and T-shirts, Rocky’s were too small so needless to say I was quite the fashion statement and  it was quite a trip

What characterize your philosophy about the music business?
Your word is what you have at the end of every day. Be honest with people, ne respectful of everyone you come across and people give back. Luther and BB are the best examples in my opinion, Luther did and BB continues to treat every person they encounter, whether a fan, a fellow musician, a promoter, or the janitor like the most important person in the room. If we all did that the world would be a pretty fabulous place to be.

What are some of the most memorable project you’ve had like agency and promoter?
I would say the most amazing moments are always shows that benefit children. For many years we had a festival founded by Mick Sterling in Mpls that benefitted children HIV positive and AIDS affected, the outpouring of love from the musicians was indescribable… the bands all played for free and everyone volunteered and the kids all got to camp and be just regular kids….
I got very sick three years ago, a virus randomly attacked my heart and they didn’t think it would get better. I was and continue to be humbled by the selflessness and generosity of my village and the music community that is so an extended family. Everyone rallied together and got my family through it.

Are there any memories of all GREAT MUSICIANS you meet which you’d like to share with us?
I think I have a vault full of fabulous memories, most of the bands that played at the Blues Saloon stayed at my house so we cooked and shared meals together. I make some fabulous jambalaya thanks to The Neal Bros teaching me their Mom’s recipe. We watched TV in our jammies, and I heard some of the most amazing stories just sitting around talking.

If you go back to the past what things you would do better and what things you would a void to do again?
Oh I am known there are many many things that I could have done better, I have made many mistakes along the way. I can only hope that I have learned and will continue to learn from them and to use those lessons to enjoy each moment and be sure each person that crosses my path knows that they are valued. Sometimes the people I love the most get the least attention and that is something to work on always.

Which of historical music personalities would you like to meet and work with?
I would love to spend some time with Stevie Wonder and Tina Turner and if being alive wasn’t an issue Billie Holiday and Janis!

Did you help many artist in the meantime did you found any gratitude from them?
I think most of the artists have good thoughts about the time we worked together and I am happy to say our friendships didn’t end just because our working relationship did. I think we all take pride in the things we accomplished together.

Which of the artists were the most difficult and which was the most gifted?
I think that would depend on the day

Any comments about your experiences with Syl Johnson?
I adore Syl, we have worked together for almost three decades and as I affectionately say, I manage Syl when he wants to be managed Syl came out of retirement for me because he got tired of me begging him to come and sing at the bar I managed. We made it fun and he decided to come back Thank God-could you imagine the world without Syl’s voice in it! Syl wrote a song for my wedding and sang and played. He dropped everything and flew up to play the benefit for my heart. He and my Dad are great pals, I actually had my dad road manage Syl in Israel-they had an incredible time-I am sure that the two charmers left a trail of memorized women. I have joined Syl and the band on tour on The Chitlin Circuit, Japan, Australia, Russia, and Kazakhstan I mean really how lucky am I! He is one of my dearest and most eccentric artists and friends.

Of all the people you’ve meeting with, who do you admire the most & which do you consider the good friend?
I couldn’t begin to make that list I am extremely lucky to have an amazing “Village”, I am fortunate to have the greatest teachers in this business, Rocky, Henri (Musselwhite), Bob Porter, Dick Waterman. They have shared so much and I have learned much by their example. Keb Mo and Charlie Musselwhite’s are like older brothers, Robert Jr Lockwood & Annie and Willie Dixon were very influential in my life. My business partner Beth is yin to my yang. These are a few of the many wonderful people in my life I am honored to be able to call a friend.

(Photo: Charlie Musselwhite and Syl Johnson at Miki's dock)

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us.  Why do think that is? Give one wish for the BLUES
The Blues is the story of life; it is the one music that touches everyone because we all experience Life, love, sorrow, and great joy. WE would be hard pressed to find any genre of music that isn’t somehow founded in the Blues; Young rappers have no idea rapping started in the church generations ago. I wish that people would become educated as to what the Blues is and that is just great music!

Do you have any amusing tales to tell from your experience with Blue Sky Artists?
We had a wonderful ride. Everything just sort of fell together. Thankfully we didn’t have a plan or it never would have happened! It really is hard to top having Luther, Syl, Jonny, Susan, GB Leighton, Tommy Castro, Albert Cummings, Jimmy Thackery and Double Trouble most at the same time and all in the same decade! We were lucky in that we had great teams for all of our artists. Monterey Artists, Moonsong, Al Cafaro and David Anderle, and Beth! and A&M, Jerry & Edward and Blind Pig, Bruce and Nora, and the Alligators, Rosie and Dave at Tone Cool, Don Passman and Helen Stotler, Thomas Ruf, and we had Holly Sharp, We were working with the A Teams.

How has the music business changed over the years since you first started in music?
A lot! Record companies have merged, dissolved reformed and now I think one of the best things that has come out of all the changes is that there are a lot more opportunities for the artist to put out great product that they have control of and they and own!
Radio has completely changed and has become even more difficult for a “Blues” release.
It remains to be seen whether music will gain back a real monetary value to people, I am always amazed at how many people think music should be free, it doesn’t seem to occur to them that then the musicians don’t get paid. Would you expect to eat free because your friend is a waitress, or get your clothes for free because your know someone who works at Macy’s or better you would that same person expect you not to pay them for what they do?
There is no other profession that I know of that people expect not to pay for someone’s craft….and it is often those that closest to them!
Obviously this is a pet peeve of mine
TV has also really come into play as a viable and influential platform. Shows like American Idol, The X Factor, America’s got Talent and my favorite-yes I am biased The Voice are really making an impact on how musicians are being discovered and marketed.

Photo: Miki's partner, Beth Tallman - Heart & Soul artist management

Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?
I would say the last decade because my granddaughter Nikya arrived! Being a Nana is my favorite role in life. Of Course she has threatened to be a rock star since she was two, we shall see
Career wise it is great right now, after being sick and taking a break, I am really enthused to be back and feel really lucky ot have my business partner Beth and the incredible artists we have.
Being back in with all the new dynamics like The Voice and needing to more creative in marketing your artists and their product, a lot of the traditional ways are gone or pared down. The internet is this vast world and well, Thank God for Beth!
I am thrilled to working with GB Leighton again, he is not only one of my favorite musicians, and he is one of my favorite people on the planet. He has a lot to say that we all can relate to. Syl’s new box set being up for two Grammy’s is awesome, Beverly McClellan is one of the kindest people ot ever walk the planet, every hone is beautiful just the way they are in her eyes and you feel it the minute you talk to her and talent OMG Fear Nothing is one of the best projects I have ever had the privilege of working with an artist on. Vicci is amazing she just soaked up every experience and is on fire, the new CD will blow you away!

(Photo: Syl Johnson, Miki, Bill, Nikya and Vicci Martinez)
What is your “secret” MUSIC DREAM? What mistake of the music business, would you wish to correct?
I think I am living it short of miraculously waking up with Etta’s voice….

Why did you think that Miki continues to generate such a devoted following?
WOW how nice that you said that. I think that might be big overstatement but it really made me smile. I hope it is because they know I truly love the people I am fortunate to have in my life. I have the most amazing village and I will never take them for granted. And I am a pretty good hugger :0

What do you think is the main characteristic of you personality that made you a promoter & manager?
I love people and I love music

(Photo: Candye Kane And Miki Mulvehill van Tyn)

What are the secrets to a good management / publicity? What is the word "seal" of your work?
I think being honest and only working with bands you really believe in.
I also think the most important thing is to remember you work for your artist. Our job is to implement our artists vision and be their champion to all the people who will want to change them.
I think your word is what you have left at the end of the day; we do a lot without signed contracts because people know we will honor our agreement. If we absolutely have to move things we make it right with everyone.
and know that No one stays on top forever so you better be nice at every level so people don’t want to help you hit bottom faster!

What advice would you give to aspiring manager, promoter, and agency thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?
Be patient, only work with bands you really believe in, stick to your word,  and be able to walk away-uh not my strong suit  The business changes but you need to stay consistent in who you are
Most of all it takes a village to raise a band and I hope they find one as awesome as mine.
And lastly if you can live by Luther’s creed, you will have it made
Leave your EGO, Play the MUSIC, Love the PEOPLE - Luther Allison

Heart & Soul Artist Management

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