When New Frontier Touring’s Paul Lohr needed to make some money growing up in Southeastern Pennsylvania, he had to be creative. Luckily for Lohr, his father happened to make friends with a local shop owner who could offer his son a position.
“There was a tombstone shop near where I lived and the owner of the shop met my dad because they were both into radio controlled planes,” Lohr explained, adding that Lohr was immediately hired to carve tombstones during the summer.
“I had an artistic leaning and it was something that came easily to me. Not a lot of people out there can do it and I wasn’t big on mowing grass,” Lohr told Amplify. “Rock has always been a part of my world.”
By the time Lohr went to college at the University of Missouri, Columbia, his interest in rock turned to playing the guitar in a cover band.
“It really wasn’t until college that I got into music,” Lohr said. “I was on the concert committee. That was the period in my life that flipped the switch and I became engrossed in music.”
Lohr took it upon himself to get his band, the Thursday Night Club Band, booked around the city. They played everything from the Grateful Dead to traditional bluegrass to Broadway show tunes to disco. According to Lohr: “It was probably the most god-awful mess you ever heard.”
“We made the cover of The Maneater, which was the college weekly student newspaper,” Lohr said. “It was all downhill from there. It was fortunate because I couldn’t play the guitar and I was doing the business getting our gigs around Columbia. That’s what led to becoming an agent.”
Amplify sat down with Lohr to learn how his work with rock developed into Nashville’s New Frontier Touring.
Was your band how you got started in the industry?
I put my degree to use. I got a Bachelors in journalism and my emphasis was in advertising sales. When I graduated, I went to work for a radio station back near where I grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, WLAN. That was my real job. In the evening, I had another cover band that played the tri-state area.
Where did you go from there?
The night time music passion led to starting a booking agency with another fellow. I eventually left the radio station to open up a full time regional booking agency. We had a roster of maybe eight bands, but it was a pretty robust club scene in the Delaware Valley back in the early 80s. I took it as far as I could given the area. One of my bands, kind of the cornerstone of my roster, was the Johnny Neel Band. Johnny got an opportunity to move to Nashville where he was going to do studio work and songwriting. He said ‘I am breaking up the band and moving to Nashville.’ I said, ‘Well, heck if you’re going, I’m going to go too.’ So I put together a little music resume and went down and interviewed with the booking agencies. I got an offer from Buddy Lee Attractions. In August of 1984, I loaded up the truck and moved to Tennessee.
Buddy Lee must have been an exciting job opportunity?
They weren’t the biggest agency at the time, but they did have Willie Nelson which I thought was pretty cool. Between when I joined and when I left, the company had grown tremendously. We had Garth Brooks for a while. We had the Dixie Chicks there for a while. It was a completely different company from 1984 to 2003 when I left there and started at The Agency Group in Nashville. We did that for a year and a half. Then Neil Warnock decided to close the Nashville office and basically I just changed the sign outside the door to New Frontier Touring and continued on. Now here we are, almost 15 years later with a roster of about 80 artists.
Do you mainly deal with country since you are in Nashville?
No. We have no country. Country, by the definition of being played on Top 40 country radio. Most of our roster is split between rock and pop artists and Americana artists. There are some artists that are like Riders in the Sky that are members of the Grand Ole Opry, they play comedy and western, but are not a country artist per say. Rodney Crowell was on country radio in the 80s and 90s but now is considered a cornerstone of the Americana scene. One of my favorites. I represented Rodney three different times.
Is the idea that Nashville is strictly country an outdated idea in 2017?
I wouldn’t say it is outdated because it is still the capital of country music. All the country labels are right here. All the country labels and agencies are thriving. It’s still Country Music USA, but what has happened is that it is one of the fastest growing cities in the country. In the past 30 years, more and more pop and rock artists have either moved here or grown up here and it’s got a vibrant rock scene. Jack White lives here. The Black Keys live here. Sheryl Crow moved here. Steve Winwood may have been the first to move here. It’s not as big a rock scene as New York or LA, but you can make an argument that it’s the Americana capital.
Is there any music right now that you’re really into?
On my roster, some of the new records that came out this year that are my favorite and are in heavy rotation, would be the new ones by the band the Heathens, Rodney Crowell, and the new Chris Hillman album that was produced by Tom Petty. We were pretty shocked by the news about Tom Petty. It was a really sad day.
Outside of my roster there isn’t a lot of new music that I find compelling. When I have my Spotify queued up I’m typically going back in time. I listen to the Grateful Dead, the Beatles, John Hiatt, Los Lobos, Emmylou Harris, and Asleep at the Wheel. I’m a western swing nut.
Were these bands you were listening to when you were younger?
Yup. I remember getting the Rodney Crowell “Ain’t Living Long Like This” in college because Emmylou was singing on it. I was an Emmylou fan from day one. That album would still be one of my desert island favorites. I’m a deadhead. I saw the Grateful Dead over 35 times probably back in the Jerry days. I’m a rank amateur compared to some of the others.
If you weren’t working in music, is there another job you think you’d be good at?
Well, I got my degree in journalism. That’s always a solid trade. And I carved tombstones as a summer job. You know why they put fences around cemeteries? Because people are dying to get in there. There will always be a demand for tombstones.
Do you see any challenges ahead for the music industry?
Technology is always going to steer the recorded aspect. What is good about the live music business is that human beings by nature are pack animals. We like to hang out with our buds. Sharing a live music experience with our friends where there is a common thread in the music we relate to is what makes it special. You can’t replace that. I’m glad that when I came to Nashville that I got into the live music, not the recorded side. I interviewed at record labels, thought I might make a good A&R man. But the booking agency world had the first openings.
The live music industry is getting tougher because there are so many performers out there who want to give it a shot. It has to be really tough for the talent buyers to sift through the mounds of the submissions they get. Back in the day when popularity was somewhat predicated on radio airplay. With the new technology, there are more and more channels for the fans to find new artists. There is a lot out there competing for bandwidth.
Do you have any music memorabilia you’re proud of?
I collect vintage rock posters. I’m a big fan of the Family Dog and Bill Graham posters from the 1960s. I also collect contemporary posters. I have just about every Avett Brothers poster that has ever been made. A lot of those are framed and displayed on our office walls. The majority of them I kept in flat, blueprint-style cabinets. I definitely have 1,000 posters. If the Avett Brothers did 80 days a year in the last 10 years that would be 800 posters right there. I have at least 100 of the 1960s San Francisco posters and a couple dozen of the Austin Armadillo Ballroom posters. Then there are certain contemporary poster artists that I like. Gary Houston out of Oregon. Chuck Sperry out of California. Ken Taylor from Australian is tremendous.
Do you think it is most difficult to be an independent agency in 2017?
Like I told my wife, I didn’t expect to be working this hard at this point in my career. But I think it depends on the individual. Some people are entrepreneurs. Some folks prefer to work for somebody else and not have to worry about the big picture. If you’re an independent, you can theoretically be a little more nimble. You don’t have to wait for a committee or a board of directors to render a decision on something. The bigger companies have their advantages as well. It’s not getting easier for anybody. You don’t have to work hard, you have to work steady.
If there was one thing you could change about the music industry today, what would it be?
I wish that after 2019, automobile makers would still have a CD player in the car. I like the convenience of a CD and having the liner notes and the song tracking on something physical.