Herb Cohen, the tough, litigious manager and label operator who introduced such notables as the Mothers of Invention and Tom Waits during the '60s and '70s, died Tuesday of unknown causes in Napa, Calif. He was 77.
After beginning his professional career as an L.A. club booker and operator, Cohen branched into management in the mid-'60s. His biggest clients were Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention, the outre band that became a top attraction in venues on the Sunset Strip.
After the Mothers released their initial albums on Verve, Cohen and Zappa established their own imprints, Straight, Bizarre and Discreet. The labels issued material by the Mothers and such off-the-wall, Zappa-produced L.A. acts as Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, groupie unit the G.T.O.'s and itinerant songsmith Wild Man Fischer, as well as singer-songwriter Tim Buckley, hard rock unit Alice Cooper and comic Lenny Bruce. The partners' association collapsed amid an exchange of lawsuits in 1976.
Cohen also handled beat-styled singer-songwriter Waits, who secured a contract with David Geffen's Asylum Records in 1972.