Global music industry mourns passing of Rob Potts: “He didn’t take shit and you knew where you stood with him”
As a huge outpouring of grief swept through music communities in Australia and the United States, colleagues are discussing ways in which to permanently honour country music promoter and artist manager, Rob Potts.
Potts passed suddenly on Friday while out on his motorbike riding with a group of friends in regional Tasmania.
A number of initiatives are mooted, and a decision expected over the next few weeks. But until then, Potts will be remembered in Australia for his vibrant passionate way of working, and as someone who understood the psyche of the country music fan, tapped country music’s huge potential and saw the growth of the CMC Rocks festival to sell-out status in partnership with Michael Chugg Entertainment.
In America, he was acknowledged for the way he popularised American country music in the global market, and set up an international country music touring circuit in Australia.
At this year’s CMA Awards in Nashville, he was presented with the Jo Walker Meador International award, recognising his work advocating and supporting country music’s development outside the U.S.
Through his company Rob Potts Entertainment Edge, he and Chugg Entertainment broke US country stars as Zac Brown Band, Brooks and Dunn, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, Alan Jackson, Florida Georgia Line, Toby Keith, Jason Aldean, Kelsea Ballerini and The Dixie Chicks in Australia.
Their idea of partnering a festival with Foxtel country music TV channel CMC was also adopted throughout Europe.
“Ours really was a marriage made in heaven,” Chugg told TMN. “Rob was at the top of his game.
“Rob spent a lot of time in Nashville, and he had a greater idea of country music and the way the industry operated and thought than anyone in Australia.
“Ten years ago he was probably better known in America than in Australia.”
“He had a lot of contacts over there, and he was highly regarded. Managers trusted him and Chugg Entertainment to look after their acts when they came down here.”
For Chugg, his death came when Potts’s long-term strategies were falling into place.
CMC Rocks Queensland 2018 sold out its 18,500 tickets within an hour, bringing in more government and corporate support than before.
Singer-songwriter Morgan Evans, whom Potts managed and fervently believed could be as big a superstar as Keith Urban, is poised for a major breakthrough.
Signed to Warner Music Nashville earlier this year, his new single ‘Kiss Somebody’ has passed two million streams. Last month Evens featured on the cover of TMN’s Australian Singles Report.
In recent weeks, Potts, Evans and Anne Combe from Warner Music Australia worked at showcasing the singer in London for a group of global Warner executives and received a positive response
Potts’ own label Fangate, in partnership with Sony Music Australia, recently received a boost when it struck an agreement with Nashville music producer Keith Stegall’s Dreamlined Entertainment to be in a more powerful position to find and develop acts.
Denis Handlin AO, Chairman and CEO, Australia & NZ and President, Asia, Sony Music Entertainment, recounted to TMN, “He was a champion bloke and a great contributor to country music in Australia.
“Rob’s humble, thoughtful and honest approach to all that he did earned him the utmost respect of the industry here and abroad.
“He was the first Australian to spend the time in Nashville to build the relationships needed to bring the top country music names to Australia, leading so many wonderful concerts here for Australian country music fans.
“Through his continuing energy and enthusiasm we at Sony Music Australia had just formed a new JV label with Rob called Fangate Music to develop new and existing country music artists for the ever growing country music fans in Australia.
“From all of us in the music industry, our sincere condolences and deepest sympathies go to his family and friends.
“Rob was a great Australian and will be sorely missed by us all.”
Rob Potts initially had no interest in getting into the music industry, but he had friends in a rock band who needed a manager.
That led to him working as a booking agent and talent buyer, working with James Blundell, Keith Urban and Lee Kernaghan among others.
The contacts he developed in the U.S. saw him help Urban and Tommy Emmanuel get a foothold in the American market.
Potts served on the Nashville-based Country Music Association (CMA) board for many years, and more recently he was Chairman of the CMA International Committee and current Chair of the Australian CMA Advisory Group.
The Country Music Association’s CEO Sarah Trahern issued a statement: “The CMA Board and staff, as well as the Country Music community is devastated at the news of Rob’s passing.
“He was a key driver of our international expansion for the past years and waived the country flag proudly in Australia.
“On a personal note, my husband Wayne and I have lost a vibrant friend. Rob lived life to its fullest.”
Potts’ relationship with Michael Chugg began 35 years ago when Potts wandered into Chugg’s offices in Sydney unannounced and unknown, and asked for advice on a project.
Both were from Tasmania and both loved a flutter on the horses, and the friendship flourished.
Twelve years ago, Potts suggested to Chugg that they start a new country festival that would be the biggest in the southern hemisphere.
CMC Rocks’ success led to their partnership extended to another blues and roots festival, Deni Muster.
Other tributes include:
Peter Noble, Executive Chairman of Bluesfest Byron Bay: recalled, “I met him after two years at a Cold Chisel function, and within minutes I remembered why I really liked him.
“He was the life of the party, and a straight shooter. You knew exactly where you stood with him.
“He was a great promoter. CMC Rocks was his creation. He and (Michael) Chugg were partners in it, but Rob was the driving force.”
Don Elford, GM of Marketing, Sports & Entertainment, AEG: “He didn’t take shit from anyone and you knew where you stood with him. He was a very good bloke and we had some good times together.
“CMC Rocks is his legacy. That it sold out in an hour is a testament to how he used his instincts to make decisions.
“He was revered by us at AEG because of what he achieved, and that he never went after anything unless he totally believed it.
“But he was a realist, and he never promised anything unless he could deliver. Once he gave his word, he went after it. And he looked after the audiences: they pay our bills, he’d say, so we do the right thing by them.”
Karen–lee Goody (Entertainment Consulting): “Rob has always been a champion not only of artists such as Tania Kernaghan, Drew McAlister and Amber Lawrence whom I’ve had the pleasure of managing over the years, but was always supportive of the managers and team around the artists.
“He always treated everyone with the same respect no matter where you were on the food chain.
“He’s proven that passion and belief – no matter how long it takes – can and does pay off.”
“The thriving Australian country music scene, artists’ careers and the doors he’s opened for Australian artists abroad would not be where it is today without Rob’s vision and dedication.”
Milly Petriella APRA AMCOS Director Member Relations: “I am heartbroken. Rob came to me over 20 years ago and introduced me to country music. His passion and dedication to the industry was infectious.
“He introduced me to the musical streets of Nashville and took me to my first major US country music concert.
“It was an honour to be asked to join him and the team on The Country Music Advisory Board.
“Rob had recently reached the heights of his career selling out CMC Rocks 2018 plus leading the global success of Morgan Evans career.
“We have lost a great man and friend. It is a truly sad day.”
Matthew Lazarus-Hall, CEO of CMC Rocks QLD: “It has been an honour and a privilege to have worked with Rob in delivering his dream of a sell-out country music festival in Australia.
“Rob’s passion and determination was never-ending. The industry has lost a great man and I have lost one of my dearest friends.”
Max Ellis, former CEO of the Tamworth-based Country Music Association of Australia when Potts was a board member: “Rob was involved in many of the CMAA’s major projects at the time, most notably our first series of credible national surveys that found strong listenership and popularity of country music in Australia including the Golden Guitar brand.”
Amber Lawrence (Golden Guitar & CMC Female Artist of the Year winner) told TMN: “Rob believed in me from the very start of my career and gave me opportunities that helped me have the career I have today. Very sad to hear of this tragic loss.”
Tommy Emmanuel: “He was a strong character who never judged harshly. I’ll miss him, I’ll miss our talks, our fun together but most of all I’ll miss his love.
“Rob, your friends and family will be gathering together to say farewell, I send my love out to you all, and wish there was a way to say ‘I love you’ now.”
John Williamson AM: “Extremely saddened to hear of the sudden loss of a colleague and friend in the industry, Rob Potts. A passionate trailblazer who steered his own ship and pathed his own way.
“My thoughts are with his family as we all comes to terms with this tragedy.”
Gina Mendello, former manager for Tommy Emmanuel: “I met Rob when I was the Country Music manager at Sony Music Australia in the early 90s. He was the agent for many of the popular artists at the time including Troy Cassar-Daley who was on the label. We worked on getting US artists over to Australia and were able to do so with LeAnn Rimes, setting up her career there. We were in constant contact, and always at the same functions on probably a weekly basis for years. And at the Tamworth Country Music Festival we would hang out nearly every night.
We shared many a dinner, breakfast, coffee, lunch and libation. We worked on so many things together. I remember his son Jeremy Dylan as a tiny boy playing his little guitar on stage in Tamworth. I remember so many shows we worked on together. And when I started managing Tommy Emmanuel, Rob came on board as his agent booking every tour since. So then we were in constant contact for that reason. And since he was on the CMA Board, he was then taking regular trips to Nashville and we would always meet up for dinner and visits mostly every time he came to town, if I was in town too.
We’re all in this together. He left us most likely in one of his happiest moments riding around the hills and valleys of his beloved Tasmania on his bike with the wind in his face. Deepest condolences to Jeremy and Sally and all his loved ones. We’ll all miss you, Rob. You’re a legend.”
Gavin Rayner, former venue owner: “Rob Potts helped turn my country music venue (The Yallah Woolshed in Wollongong) into the best, purpose-built Country venue in Australia during the period 1991 to 2007. The 1,000 seat premises was the host of virtually every major Country music and contemporary act in Australia and also featured over 100 iconic overseas acts such as Kris Kristofferson, Glen Campbell, Chris Issak, LeAnne Rimes, Don McLean, Keith Urban, Eric Burdon and The Animals just to name a few.
Rob was a no nonsense entrepreneur of the highest standard. A loyal and generous to his friends and business associates, Rob was also my great mate for 25 years. We spent many wonderful times together and I’m going to miss him greatly. RIP mate.”
Editor’s Note: This article will be updated as we receive more messages from the music industry. If you’d like to contribute, please email email@example.com. TMN would like to thank those who have already shared their fond memories and condolences.