In Memoriam: Gerry Stickells, 1942-2019
by FOH Staff
LOS ANGELES — Gerry Stickells, tour and production manager for rock legends Jimi Hendrix, Queen, and Elton John, among many others, and a recipient of the 2007 Parnelli Lifetime Achievement Award, died March 6, 2019 after a long illness.
Born in Lydd, England, in 1942, Stickells was one of 10 children. He left school at 15 and became an apprentice mechanic, then a roadie for a then largely unknown Jimi Hendrix very early in the guitarist’s career.
Gerry Stickells and Jimi Hendrix
After the artist’s tragic death — and facing up to the grim responsibilities of identifying the body in London and taking the casket back to Seattle — Stickells moved to the U.S., returning to the road with Three Dog Night, Elton John and Queen.
Teaming up with Chris Lamb to form GLS (Gerry Lamb Stickells) in 1977, Stickells would help ensure that complex tours for Elton John, Queen, Rod Stewart, Fleetwood Mac, Michael Jackson, ABBA, Paul McCartney and Madonna, among many others, would go as smoothly as possible.
Lauded as an innovator, pioneer and above all — as tour manager Pat Morrow put it for Stickells’ 2007 biographical profile in PLSN — “his presence as a human being,” Stickells is remembered for his huge impact on how rock tours got done.
“He revolutionized South America for all the touring people in the 1980s,” recalls PLSN editor Nook Schoenfeld who crossed paths and became friends with Stickells in 1991, during a tour with Paul Simon.
Partner Chris Lamb, a 2015 Parnelli Lifetime honoree, agreed. For the 2007 profile of Stickells in PLSN, he noted, “When we took Queen there, that was a huge thing because it opened up those countries for everybody in the business. It gave people a lot more work, because now there was a place for bands to perform in the winter. The whole business profited from that.”
And as Stickells himself noted for that 2007 article, the region was not then a place for the faint of heart. “Brazil was still in military hands,” Stickells said. “It was very authoritarian, and they were restrictive of who they let in to perform. But the people were getting a little restless, and they decided to loosen it up and have some shows to calm them down. Of course it had the opposite effect — it hastened the decline of military rule.”
For the epic 10-day Rock in Rio event in Rio de Janeiro that ran from Jan. 11-20, 1985, an estimated 1.4 million people attended to see an eclectic lineup including Queen, James Taylor, Rod Stewart, AC/DC, Iron Maiden, George Benson and Ozzy Osbourne, among many others.
During Queen tours in the 1970s and 1980s, Stickells worked with lighting vendor TFA Electrotech, and that’s when he crossed paths with a crew chief named Rick O’Brien, nicknamed “Parnelli” for his truck driving exploits.
“He quickly became Gerry’s favorite crew chief,” noted Brian Croft, of O’Brien, the crew-chief-turned-production-manager whose nickname would become the namesake for the annual awards program. (Croft would end up receiving the inaugural Parnelli honor in 2001, a year after O’Brien’s death in 2000).
In Stickell’s 2007 tribute in PLSN and FOH, Croft lauded the honoree as being “one of the early innovating production managers and influenced the whole shape of gigging in the early years.”
In the same tribute, partner Chris Lamb added, “Gerry never panics. He always keeps things in perspective, and it’s always about the show. There’s also no putting blame on people. If something goes wrong, it’s simply, ‘What do we have to do to fix it?’”
Stickells faced tragedy again with the illness and death of Queen’s Freddie Mercury in 1991, and he organized the Freddie Mercury Tribute in 1992. He continued working with top acts throughout the 1990s and early 2000s including Paul McCartney and was on tour with McCartney in Moscow when Stickells suffered a small seizure.
After returning to the U.S., doctors found a benign tumor lodged between his brain stem and carotid artery. While benign, the tumor’s location was potentially life threatening, and efforts to remove it did not succeed.
Since those days, Stickells would have to cut back on his work schedule, and eventually stop working altogether. He lived far longer than doctors had expected, but his health continued to decline until his death March 6.
His wife Sylvia has been there for Stickells throughout this multi-year ordeal, and while funeral arrangements have not yet been announced, a go-fund me page that had been set up on the Stickells’ behalf is still active; it can be accessed via https://www.gofundme.com/u4zpz-quality-of-life-campaign or www.plsn.me/HelpGS.
Kevin M. Mitchell’s 2007 Parnelli Profile of Gerry Stickells is still on the PLSN.comwebsite; you can read it at http://plsn.com/newsroom/projection-connection/2007-parnelli-lifetime-achievement-honoree-gerry-stickells/ or www.plsn.me/GerryStickells.