NEW YORK — Frank Barsalona — a New York talent agent who was as a virtual quartermaster for the British Invasion, booking the first American concert tours of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and who later created a concert circuit that served as a farm system for a generation of rockers including the Ramones, the Clash, the Pretenders, and U2 — died Nov. 22 at home in Manhattan. Born on Staten Island, he was 74.
The cause was complications of Alzheimer’s disease.
Little known to the general public, Mr. Barsalona was revered in the rock business. He was considered the shrewdest rock ’n’ roll booking agent in the world in the 1960s and the most dominant one in the decades after. Among his clients were many artists who helped redefine rock ’n’ roll, including the Who, the Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin, and Jimi Hendrix.
The small company he founded in 1964, Premier Talent, was the first established exclusively for rock acts, whichhad been represented mainly by long-established firms catering to traditional entertainers like nightclub singers and comedians. In the uncharted territory that was then the rock business, Mr. Barsalona was the first to draw a map for success.
While record companies in the 1950s and 1960s rarely booked tours for performers without a hit record, Mr. Barsalona established a different business model, a sort of independent concert system uncoupled from the record companies. He created a network of young, rock-savvy concert promoters around the country — Bill Graham in San Francisco, Ron Delsener in New York, and Don Law in Boston — who could raise the large sums of money necessary to back rock acts’ tours, hit or no hit.
The tours he scheduled, which proved hugely successful, provided his clients with freelance income (10 percent of which was his), functioned as a farm system for artists in need of seasoning, and established the basic landscape of the rock concert circuit as it now exists.
“You cannot exaggerate the role Frank played in creating the infrastructure of the rock ’n’ roll world,’’ said Steven Van Zandt, guitarist with Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band . ‘‘It was his unique vision that rock ’n’ roll was here to stay, and that it wasn’t just going to be about records, but about how good a band plays live.’’
In 2005, when Mr. Barsalona was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Van Zandt credited him with seeing beyond conventional wisdom in the ’60s music business. His innovations — risky, but highly profitable — signaled the music’s viability and ‘‘created stability and consistency.’’
Mr. Barsalona retired in 2002 and sold his company to the William Morris Agency.