Ken Pittman got kicked out of his fraternity, flunked out of college and found a career in the music industry.
Pittman, a longtime industry executive and founder of Los Angeles-based MOTOR, had been studying broadcasting at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln when his desire to party – and not study – caught up with him.
Even so, Pittman decided to stick around campus and work at the college radio station for free if he could play his own music: The Cult, Trashcan Sinatras, The Smiths, Sisters of Mercy and other bands who were a far cry from the Top 40 pop darlings blowing up the Midwestern airwaves in the late 80s.
Pittman, now 48, made his pitch to the station manager.
“He was like, ‘Fuck no, you can’t play your own music,’” Pittman recalls. “I said, ‘Look man, nobody on campus is listening to your station because you aren’t playing music that matters to them.’ I wanted to play music I thought the campus could relate to.”
Pittman’s instincts were right. With his help, UNL established one of the first alternative radio stations in the Midwest. Pittman soon transitioned to commercial radio – he was hilariously known on the air as Bobby Camaro for a short time and, later, as Ken Williams, or Ken-O.
Working as a popular Top 40 DJ in a smaller market with a Sunday night alternative radio show ultimately helped land Pittman gigs at record labels around the country.
“I thought, ‘Man, if I can get free records and free concerts – that’s worth it,’” Pittman says.
He worked at big labels like MCA, Elektra and DreamWorks, with a client roster that included Elton John, Meat Loaf, the Ramones, Mary J. Blige, Live and Metallica.
Pittman and his family moved to LA in 2001, and he started MOTOR seven years later. Today, he develops artists, gets them on the radio and helps manage their careers. Cold War Kids, Dreamers and the WWE’s Chris Jericho’s metal band Fozzy are among Pittman’s list of clients.
Amplify caught up with Pittman to talk about the top five concerts that blew his mind – and helped influence what he does today.
Elvis Presley at Pershing Auditorium in Lincoln, Nebraska
June 20, 1977
This is such a hard one, because honestly live music has been a massive thing in my life for so long that choosing five is dang hard. The one show I can easily say comes to mind first, though, has to be Elvis.
My dad went to high school with Elvis and decided to take the whole family. Yes, I was only 8 years old, but I vividly recall a lady next us taking her top off and throwing it at the stage. I’m sitting there watching a very large Elvis, visibly intoxicated, stumble through a live set and thought right then and there that this was the kind of business I wanted to be in.
Pixies at Peony Park Ballroom in Omaha, Nebraska
Dec. 5, 1990
I’m 20 years old and doing nights on air at a Top 40 radio station, but the only way I can live with myself is by talking the owner of the station in to letting me do an alternative music show on Sunday night – which would be the only place in the state you could hear bands like the Pixies. This particular show stands out not only because the tickets were free, but I got tickets for my friends as well. On that frozen evening, we all made the trip up to Peony Park, and for a brief moment I was the coolest guy in town – not the guy who played Roxette and Taylor Dane on the radio to 12-year-olds.
Nirvana at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City
July 23, 1993
Nirvana was right in the middle of changing the cultural landscape of the times, and being stuck in the shoegazer movement at the time I wasn’t a big fan of the band. But I remember being completely blown away by the intensity and power of that live set and walked out of there a massive fan.
I was at the after party later and was introduced to Krist (Novoselic), but before I could meet the rest of the band there was some sort of argument between someone who I was later told was Kurt’s wife or girlfriend.
The Stone Roses at Webster Hall in New York City
May 22, 1995
You know those shows you’d hitchhike barefoot across the country to see? That was The Stone Roses at Webster Hall. It was their Second Coming tour and watching John (Squire) shred “Love Spreads” still gives me goosebumps. The Stone Roses were everything for me. Without The Stone Roses, you didn’t have The Verve and Oasis. That Stone Roses’ record was a revolution.
Barry Gibb at the Hollywood Bowl in California
July 2, 2014
I’ve got a 12-year-old kid who I’ve been dragging to shows since he was born: Cold War Kids, Coldplay, The Boxer Rebellion, even Paul McCartney. But the one show that really stands out was Barry Gibb. Seeing a then 9-year-old singing along to Bee Gees tracks is next-level awesome.
Honorable Mentions: Woodstock 94. It wasn’t seeing the Cranberries or Green Day. Instead, it was the torrential rain that turned this reboot of the summer of free love into “Apocalypse Now.” And, any of the half dozen Elliott Smith shows I covered.
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