MIKE KINNAMON - Helen Keller once said that the marvelous richness of human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were no limitations to overcome. Mike Kinnamon has spent his life overcoming limitations. Through dogged perseverance, unwavering focus, and a flair for business, Mike has helped catapult several superstar acts to the numerous platinum and gold albums that line his walls. But his true success lies not in his ability to follow his own dreams, but in the caring way in which he inspires others to turn their dreams into reality.
Mike’s life has not been a usual one. As a teenager, he learned to play the drums in a basement underneath a club by following the beats of the band playing above him. That band was the Allman Brothers. Those drums were his ticket to a better life, and he practiced every night. By the time he was 17, he had his own band—The Male Bachs—which garnered two successful 45s for the aspiring musician.
Former band member, Larry Steele, remembers those days in the late 60s fondly. “I was so envious of Mike. He was so talented. He knew everyone who was anyone, and he had perfect hair,” Steele laughs, before becoming very serious. “I was playing with the band that would become 38 Special when my brother died. My father owned a TV shop, which is how he supported our family. We were so devastated by my brother’s death that we couldn’t function. My father couldn’t go in to work. I couldn’t work. Mike Kinnamon stepped in and ran that shop until my family healed enough to function again. Mike kept my family going. I will never forget that as long as I live.”
That story has been repeated over and over by countless others in the intermittent 30 years. On October 20, 1977, the world of music experienced one of its greatest tragedies. A twin-engine airplane crashed just a few miles from McComb, Mississippi. The plane was carrying members of the southern rock band, Lynyrd Skynyrd. Six members of the band died in the crash, including lead singer Ronnie Van Zant.
Mike Kinnamon was one of the first people notified. Van Zant’s father called and asked that Mike go to Mississippi to handle all of the details, from making sure the surviving members got the care they needed to handling the media and the band’s business affairs. “He spent his own time and money to take care of us,” says Leslie Hawkins, former band member who survived the crash. “Mike retrieved our possessions. He handled the press. He handled our business. He held our hands. He was at our disposal for anything that needed to be done. In the midst of the most horrible experience of our lives, Mike was there for us. He is such a great guy. In this day and age and in this industry, it’s hard to trust anyone, but I totally trust Mike Kinnamon. He has the biggest heart in the world. Everyone who knows him just loves him.”
Mike has spent a lifetime helping those who have been fortunate enough to cross his path. He has lived life at the bottom of the barrel and has fought his way to the top over and over again with each obstacle an opportunity to turn another dream into reality. Through the years, he has helped new generations of musical talents reach for the stars and then become stars themselves. His mantra is to always move forward, to constantly craft new successes.
Most notable among his achievements is the band Bering Strait. In the 1990s, Mike had semi-retired from the music business and was running a successful company. A friend called him one night and asked him to come watch some Russian kids perform. Mike informed the caller that he wasn’t interested. His friend persisted, and Mike found himself heading to the venue—a pizza restaurant. Always one to spot talent instantly, Mike was impressed with the seven musical proteges he watched that night. The problem was that the kids had no place to live. Mike took them home with him—to raise. He built bunk beds in his house and set about shaping the future of the kids who had touched him that night. For several years, the band members lived with him while practicing and honing their skills. Those kids became the band Bering Strait, the first foreign band to earn a Grammy nomination in the history of country music. But Mike wasn’t finished.
Soon the band found itself making a movie, The Chronicle of Bering Strait, which featured Mike and the band’s struggle to become successful against incredible odds. The journey was not easy. Bringing Russian teenagers into a new culture and helping them adapt not only to life in the United States, but to the music industry and success was always a challenge. But Mike patiently taught them what they needed to know to achieve their dream. And through working with the band, Mike helped to form an international bridge of understanding between the United States and Russian governments.
Before long, the media recognized what Mike had spotted instantly, and every major news organization in the world was calling, eager to tell the incredible story of the man who had taken in so many Russian kids and carved for them a successful future in an industry notably hostile to newcomers, especially foreign ones. In 2003, Fortune Small Business Magazine shared Mike’s struggles and successes with the business world. Sixty Minutes interviewed Bering Strait on air three times in the span of just a few months. The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, CNN…the whole country was fascinated with the story. Mike Kinnamon had done it again, gambled on unknowns and won.
Mike’s success may be attributed to his total lack of fear and his ability to ignore established boundaries, a talent he developed early in life when he learned to walk the high wire. In his younger years, he traveled with world-famous John LeMoine of The LeMoines Troupe as well as The Nock Troupe before stepping out on his own to make eight trips on the high wire across The Great Falls in Patterson, New Jersey. Mike holds the distinction of being the first person to ever fake a fall off of the wire over The Great Falls. John LeMoine once said that his biggest fear was “watching this guy walk the wire. He’ll take you to the edge.”
And he’s not finished yet. Recently, he gambled on another unknown—this time a writer from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who handed him a manuscript about the South Louisiana Serial Killer, Derrick Todd Lee, who had roamed the area for more than a decade killing beautiful, successful women, many of whom were students at LSU. Mike read the manuscript and immediately recognized the talent of its authors. After agreeing to represent the book, he began working to secure a publishing deal for the authors. Because of his efforts, I’ve Been Watching You, a self-published book written by Susan D. Mustafa and Prosecutor Tony Clayton, was re-released by Kensington Publishing under its Pinnacle True Crime line in summer 2009. Once again, Mike believed in an unknown and turned it into a success.
Mustafa says that Kinnamon is one of the most incredible people she has ever known. “He believes in you to the point that you begin to believe in yourself. He is a man who makes dreams come true.”
In 2002, Mike created a new company called Music Central Management and set about developing musical talent that is apart from the mainstream. Never one to be limited by genre, Music Central Management also represents the Master Recordings rights to a new, arena-scale Irish musical called On Eagle’s Wing, which successfully toured the United States in 2006. The play aired on PBS nationwide in August 2005 as a pledge drive feature presentation, and Mike was the executive producer on the cast album for the show.
From producers like Grammy award-winning Peter Coleman and Brent Maher to heads of record labels like Tim DuBois, Mike has worked with everyone in the music industry and has earned their respect through his ethical business practices and his talent for making beautiful music.
In an industry where the odds are stacked so high against a successful outcome, Mike Kinnamon is a force that does accept those odds or those boundaries. He believes what he believes and follows his heart. Many artists have reaped the rewards of his unflinching dedication, and through Mike’s latest endeavors, the odds that many more talented hopefuls will experience success have dramatically increased. For Mike, the greatest reward of the human experience is to create dreams within talented young people and to manage and develop those who make beautiful music and art.
“Mike is the professional’s professional…a strong quiet man with a hammer of talent…”—J. Fox, Front Row Entertainment
“I always respect Mike’s opinions regarding the music business. He is one of the most trustworthy managers, and I wish there were more managers like Mike Kinnamon.” –Joe Meader, Grand Entertainment Group
“Mike leads from the heart. It is a rare gift from which his artists will benefit as it is from that place that all successes are born.” –Nina Gilden Seavey, award-winning filmmaker
Mike Kinnamon has a great heart. He is loyal and honest, and he is a great human being.” –Ron Baird, president, Creative Artists Agency