NEW YORK — Neil Reshen, a New Yorker whose fierce negotiating with record labels helped a couple of twangy Texans named Waylon and Willie become the iconoclastic voices of “outlaw” country music, died at 75 on Dec. 6 in New York.
His daughter Dawn Reshen-Doty said the cause was complications of Alzheimer’s disease.
By the early 1970s, Waylon Jennings had grown tired of the constraints of the so-called Nashville Sound — sweet strings, bland themes, hair spray. After 15 years in the music business, his star was fading and he was deep in debt.
Then a friend urged Jennings to talk to Mr. Reshen, warning that he might not actually like him. Mr. Reshen was not a lawyer, not a certified public account, and he was by no means Southern. He had studied accounting before working his way into the good graces of music executives and performers — including Ken Glancy, the president of RCA, and Miles Davis during his fusion phase — by preparing their taxes. In time, he began representing a diverse range of artists and entertainers, including Davis, Frank Zappa, the Velvet Underground and Peter Max.
However wary Jennings may have been, he was quickly convinced after he saw the fearlessness with which Mr. Reshen confronted executives at RCA. After a few memorable meetings — tense silences, the occasional outburst, and well-timed walkouts were among Mr. Reshen’s tactics — Jennings’s new manager helped him obtain a substantial advance and artistic freedom.
“He was,” Jennings wrote, “like a mad dog on a leash.”
Over the next several years, Jennings became a superstar, releasing a string of hit albums.
Not long after Mr. Reshen began working with Jennings, he also started managing Jennings’s good friend, a songwriter who had never made it big as a singer: Willie Nelson. He, too, wanted more freedom.
The first album Nelson recorded under a contract that Mr. Reshen helped negotiate with Columbia was “Red Headed Stranger.” Spare and dark and recorded in just four days in January 1975, the album was not well received by Columbia executives. They delayed its release, proposing changes to make it more marketable.
Jennings, concerned for his friend, joined Mr. Reshen in a meeting with the label, and they both walked out, demanding that the label release the record as it was. Released in May, “Red Headed Stranger” rose to No. 1 on the country charts and No. 28 on the pop charts. Nelson, too, became a superstar.
As the singers became more successful, their relationship with Mr. Reshen deteriorated.
In August 1977, federal agents intercepted a package sent from Mr. Reshen’s office to Jennings. It contained cocaine. Mr. Reshen and Jennings were never charged.
Jennings and Nelson soon fired Mr. Reshen. Nelson accused him of mishandling his money. They reached a settlement out of court.