He stands behind the star and is proud of it
King Errisson says he has no trouble being an unsung hero.
ABOUT KING ERRISSON
• Born and raised in Nassu, Bahamas, where he inherited a 3 mile-long island. Has lived in Las Vegas for 18 years.
• Big break came at 23 when he played the congas in a night-club scene in the James Bond movie Thunderball.
• Married five times, most recently to Agnes, “a beautiful Chinese girl.”
• Early riser, up between 5 and 6 a.m., in bed by 10 or 11 p.m. On the road, he goes to bed between 1 and 2 a.m. “But I’m still up by 6.”
• Favorite Neil Diamond songs: I’ve Been This Way Before and I Am . . . I Said.
• Golfs four to five times a week. Best score: 84 but rarely shoots higher than the 80s.
• New album, Nice, is available at www.kingerrisson.com.
• Treat the star boss as an equal, nothing more.
• Understand that he or she is lonely. Honesty will gain their trust.
• Help others both above and below. Take pride in their success. Your chance will come.
• Understand that stars work under more pressure than you do.
• Advice to stars: Share the stage with deserving unsung heroes.
Few people outside of the music industry know King Errisson, but they know the hall-of-famers he’s worked for. He’s toured with Neil Diamond since 1976, and Diamond introduces him as the best percussionist in the world. He’s played with Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, Michael Jackson, Doc Severinsen, Ringo Starr, Barbra Streisand, Johnny Mathis, Lou Rawls, Barry White and The Carpenters. Like everyone in business from a chief operating officer on down, Errisson knows what it is to be the unsung hero. Errisson, 64, spoke to USA TODAY corporate management reporter Del Jones about coping in a world where the stars take the bows.
Q: CEOs and other business leaders rely on unsung heroes for their success. How do they keep unsung heroes happy?
A: Diana Ross put me up front. My percussion was one foot behind her and she gave me the stage for 15 or 20 minutes to play my heart out. Some stars have no qualms about sharing the stage with someone good enough to handle it.
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Q: On the other hand, how do unsung heroes keep the stars happy? They suck up, right?
A: No, no, no. That’s the gofer’s job. Neil has a few of them around, and I won’t say their names (laughs). They know who they are. Every star has some of them. Treat stars like they’re human beings. That’s what they are. Because Neil sells 10 million records doesn’t make him better than I am. He’s just a lucky guy who got a big break. He might not get a contract if he were starting today. People are smart enough to put his songs in moves like Pulp Fiction, so he’s selling to young people.
Q: So unsung heroes are treated poorly because they treat the boss as superior?
A: Yes. Most people walk on eggshells around stars. They tiptoe around Neil. They see him coming and turn their backs because they don’t want to look him in the face. He’s not a god. If you treat him like a human being, he’s going to treat you like one. Some people treat stars like they have leprosy, the plague, or something, and you can’t hug them or shake their hand. I feel comfortable around stars, and they feel comfortable around me.
Q: Diamond sang Solitary Man and lyrics such as “I never cared for the sound of being alone.” It sounds like it is lonely at the top.
A: I’ve played with a lot of lonely people. They don’t trust, they don’t know who their friends are. Diana Ross was the best girl in the world, but most didn’t see her that way. If she cussed at me, I cussed back. Others would look at me and say, “Wow, did you hear what you said?” I treated her as an equal. If you put people on a pedestal, that’s your problem. You’re creating a monster. Stars may make more money, but remember you’re one of the reasons they’re making the money.
Q: What about the money? CEOs make $10 million, sometimes $100 million vs. $27,485 for the average worker. You’ve made a nice living, but stars make a lot more than the supporting cast. Does that cause friction?
A: When you look into the arena and see 65,000 people at $100 each, you say “Wow, the star is doing well.” But the unsung hero is guaranteed X amount come rain or shine. I’d love to sell a million copies of my next CD and go on the road, but I don’t know if I want to be responsible for 60 people. Unsung heroes don’t have the burden of the Neil Diamonds and the Barbra Streisands.
Q: Does Diamond let you know that he appreciates your contribution?
A: Oh, yeah, very generously. I’ve made over seven figures with him through the years. I’ve worked the circuit on $700 a week for four people driving a truck 1,000 miles to the next gig. When I got hooked up in recording sessions, I said, “This is it. No more foolishness.”
Q: How do you build trust with stars?
A: Be honest and upfront at all times. Neil allows me on his stage because he trusts my judgment enough to know that I’m not going to take the microphone out of his hand. But I’m going to be kickass, you know. I’m going to show off, I’m going to be King Errisson because that’s what I am.
Q: Don’t unsung heroes by definition have to self-sacrifice?
A: I played on almost 100 albums before they put my name on one. Sometimes I think that if I had been selfish and greedy, I’d be better off. I feel good for the people I’ve helped along the way. I’m not too religious, I just know there’s a God and I always give thanks because I’m one of the most talented people in the world and I know that didn’t come from luck. It came from God. I feel obligated to help.
Q: Many in the business world see people with less talent get promoted ahead of them. You see star entertainers who seem relatively untalented. How do you deal with that?
A: Some of these people can’t sing notes. My advice is to be ready. If I get passed over this time, I’m going to be ready the next time. I have a beautiful 23-year-old son who is one of the most talented people I know. He graduated from UC-Santa Cruz. He’s a percussionist, piano player, singer, writer, producer, actor. When there’s a knock on the door, he’s going to be able to answer it. When the chance comes, be ready, because it will come.
Q: You’ve observed a lot of stars. What is the difference between them and equally talented unsung heroes?
A: I call unsung heroes canners. We can the sardines, and stars don’t care once it’s canned. They go on about their business. That’s why they’re alone. They sit in their rooms and drink and smoke their dope. Glen Campbell was one of the finest studio musicians. He escaped the unsung hero thing. But unsung heroes make the stars. That’s in the movies and everything. I’m sure it’s true in business.
Q: Don’t stars refuse to settle for being No. 2?
A: I don’t think some would be able to accept my role. Unsung heroes help people get somewhere. You don’t find that in the big stars. Stars are too busy being big stars and don’t have time to help anybody. I don’t see them reaching out. None of them are reaching out.
Q: What’ about being a part of someone else’s success? What’s the payoff?
A: It’s sort of rewarding to know that I helped make them what they are. I helped make them look good. I believe I showed that with Neil or he wouldn’t have kept me in the band for the last 30 years. In our band, we have a lot of unsung heroes. We’ve all been there for a long time, and I know he knows that we’ve all contributed to his success.