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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Harry Sandler--An appreciation

Harry Sandler

Harry Sandler (on phone) and John Mellencamp making an impromptu stop with Ken Leslie to visit a homeless shelter while on the road. (Courtesy of

It’s not the most visible part of the music business—nor is tour management among the easiest. But thanks to his huge personality and professionalism, Harry Sandler made it seem that way.

A cuddly teddy bear of a man (“the gentle giant of the music biz,” said the Noise11 music news site yesterday), Sandler, who died Saturday of pancreatic cancer, was warmly remembered as one of the industry’s best-known and most-loved tour managers.

Also a renowned concert photographer who turned to gorgeous landscapes after ostensibly retiring from the road, Sandler handled the tours of such superstars as John Mellencamp, Bruce Springsteen, Barbra Streisand, The Eagles, and most recently Katy Perry.

“Words are inadequate to sum up what Harry Sandler meant to everyone he touched during his incredible life,” says Perry. “I will be forever honored he came out of retirement for me. We will all miss his unwavering warmth and kindness, which created a coziness only he could instill, making every new city stop feel just like home for us. We were all inspired by his constant curiosity and enthusiastic outlook on life displayed through his brilliant photographs as he documented tour life. He was the Papa Smurf of our tour family and a heart of gold to all. His spirit and smile will forever be our mantra, city after city.”

Perry’s manager Martin Kirkup places Sandler in “a very small echelon” of the very best tour managers.

“It was a complete privilege to work with him on Katy Perry’s Prismatic World Tour and everything that surrounded it,” says Kirkup. “My partner Steve Jensen asked Harry to just ‘help out’ with a few events in 2012, and his presence just raised everything several notches and finally he ‘came out of retirement’ to handle all 151 sold-out arena shows for Katy.

“Katy affectionately nicknamed Harry ‘Papa Smurf,’ and that really did capture his gentle, wise guidance very well. When you saw Harry waiting at the backstage entrance, or the airport, or the hotel, you always relaxed a little, because you could rest assured that he’d anticipated all of your needs, solved most of the problems, and was ready for the next challenge. He was a wise soul, and we’re all going to miss him deeply.”

Toledo’s Ken Leslie, meanwhile, points to Sandler’s charitable activities in recounting his involvement with Leslie’s efforts on behalf of the homeless.

“I met Harry in 2010 when we went up to John Mellencamp's Windsor [Ohio] stop to film some videos with John,” recalls Leslie. “Harry, fresh out of his third or fourth retirement to do John’s tour, was taken with the work we do with the homeless, just as I was taken by his incredible photography. A year later Harry was in Toledo for a gallery show of his rock photos, beautiful landscapes, and experimental photography to help us raise money.”

Sandler's show helped raise some $20,000 for Leslie's homeless awareness group, became a board member. When it spawned Veterans Matters in 2012 to fight veteran homelessness, Sandler, who was himself a veteran, quickly volunteered to raise funds and “work as our guide to further engage the music industry,” says Leslie.

“He felt passionate about it, and did so much over the last few years—doing shows and raising money to help his fellow veterans who are still in the street. After Katy Perry snatched him out of retirement to guide her tour in 2013, he found other ways to help us raise funds for the veterans, including auctioning meet-and-greets with Katy. Even after his diagnosis and before surgery he insisted he was still going to host his fifth show for us next month.”

Sandler had hoped to eventually publish a photo book tentatively titled Childhood and Other Neighborhoods.

Having contracted the photography bug after his father gave him a Polaroid camera when he was eight, he was also documenting what he described as “disappearing America”: Using his iPhone, camera and film to snap both landscape and music-related imagery, then employing platinum printing and other traditional techniques, he was creating a contemporary vintage-style postcard format that he called “alternative postcards.”

“I look at the urban landscape of today and worry that in 50 years it could be like the rest of the country," he explained. “So wherever I go I take pictures of old buildings and places that won’t be there forever.”

“Sometimes I dream of at last becoming a child,” he concluded.



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