He may be a quietly spoken giant of a man whose kindly smile and firm-but-not-terrifying handshake suggests a quiet confidence, but Michael ‘Danny’ Francis has spent the best part of 40 years saving rock stars from all manner of perilous situations.
He is, without question, the bodyguard’s bodyguard. The only man on the planet who has hung out with a coke-addled Elvis Presley, chaperoned Cher, saved Bad Company’s Paul Rodgers from getting the kicking of a lifetime (several times), and been at Jon Bon Jovi’s side all the way from playing the humble Ipswich Odeon to the high-altitude, rather more salubrious world of groupie-stuffed private jets.
As his no-holds-barred 2005 autobiography, Star Man: The Right Hand Man Of Rock ’N’ Roll – published under the name Michael Francis – indicates, in his time this North London grandfather has seen, and done, pretty much everything. And, if you were to shape up tricky, could probably snap you like a twig.
I started working as a bodyguard when Paul McCartney offered me a job. My father was a boxing trainer, and his first ever world champion was John Conteh, and Paul used to come and watch him train. John had been on the cover of Band On The Run, and Paul was a good supporter of John’s. One night he just asked me to work for him.
McCartney was incredibly famous at that point, but he was always a fantastic bloke. I stayed at their house, with Linda and the kids, and he was one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. Through him I was introduced to Led Zeppelin’s manager, Peter Grant, and I ended up working for him for about eight years.
When I met Peter Grant and started working for Led Zeppelin, suddenly it was like the Wild West. They made up the rules as they went along, because back then there were no rules. Led Zeppelin were the first band ever to throw TVs out of windows. The excess was outrageous. I remember we’d get five grand a week for expenses and you never ever had to put in any receipts. When it was spent you’d just go back and get some more money.
It was an amazing time. I loved Peter Grant, and he was a very close friend until the day he died. And he was a genius. He made the decision to put everything he had into Zeppelin, and no one was going to rip them off. He was a pussycat at heart, but when it came to his band he was like a lion. That worked very well until he succumbed to the hard drugs, like everybody else did. Then it became total mayhem and every day was a fight for survival. Just getting the band on stage was tough.
Peter was scary if you weren’t on his side. If you were on the team, he’d back you up 100 per cent. If not, he was a scary character. And he could back it up – he was 400 pounds and six-foot-five.
I’ve had some incredible experiences over the years. I’d only just started working for Peter Grant when I met Elvis Presley. Led Zeppelin were in Vegas and we spent two days with Elvis. He was just larger than life. All he ever did during the two days we were there was give people presents, like watches, robes and jewellery.
With Elvis, he must have had 20 people around him all the time; everybody was saying yes. And he was doing cocaine then, so you could see the end coming. We all thought we’d probably meet him again and again, but it was never gonna happen.
We met [Elvis’s manager] Colonel Tom Parker too. He was the biggest crook who ever walked. When he died he owed the casinos $20 million. Most of Elvis’s movie deals were done to pay off the Colonel’s gambling debts. The rumour is that he killed a lady in Holland, and that’s why he was always scared to leave America. And that didn’t do Elvis much good. But that’s rock’n’roll. It’s all about the characters. The managers are always a lot more interesting than the rock stars.
Paul Rodgers was a bloody nightmare – and that was how Peter Grant described him [laughs]. I’d served my apprenticeship with Led Zeppelin, but if I hadn’t I wouldn’t have lasted one day with Paul Rodgers. Paul was a fantastic bloke as long as he never had a drink. When he had a drink he was a handful, because he could kick anyone’s arse. We went through America with Bad Company and probably ended up in a fight of some sort every night.
I knew it was going to be a nightmare on the first night. The band were rehearsing in Dallas, Texas, and we finished at 10pm and then went out for something to eat and ended up in a bikers’ club. Within two hours Paul was drunk and arm-wrestling the bikers. So I spread a few $100 bills around to people so that we could leave without getting killed. That was only the first night. And it got worse. I felt sorry for the other guys in the band because they were all gentle hippies. They’ve all sobered up and get along great now, thankfully.
Jon Bon Jovi
When I first started working for Jon he was still travelling on a tour bus, but within six months he had his own jet with his name on it. Bon Jovi were about to get dropped by the record company, and then Slippery When Wet was released and that went to number one when we were doing the Ipswich Odeon [the band played at the Gaumont in Ipswich on this tour - Ed.]
Slippery When Wet became the best rock’n’roll tour of all time. The drugs, the women, it was all done in proportion. We never missed a show, we never lost anyone along the way and no one really knew what we were doing. There were more groupies on that tour than on any tour in rock’n’roll history. About 75 per cent of the audience at every show – and we were doing 25,000 a night – were girls aged between 16 and 25 and they all came to the show with one thing in mind: they wanted to fuck Jon.
Jon has survived because he’s a prick. But he’s the hardest-working prick in show business. He won’t mind me saying that.
We came across Axl back in the 80s when Bon Jovi were at their biggest. Him and Jon never got on at all. They were always sparring to be number one. I just thought Axl was a complete fake. I grew up with the English school of music, with singers like Robert Plant and Roger Daltrey, real rock stars. This guy was a fake. He wrote some great stuff but, fuck me, that was never the right way to act. You build core your reputation on the things you do on stage, and I’m afraid he fell well short, especially when you compare him to Jon, who was the best frontman in the world at that point.
We managed to keep them apart by the skin of our teeth. But then we were all ready to pound Axl anyway, so it would’ve been no contest.
Skid Row supported Bon Jovi for eight months on their first ever tour. They were getting bigger and bigger and tensions were high. One night, Sebastian said something on stage. Me and Jon were in the dressing room, and Jon took offence to it and was waiting for Sebastian when he came off stage. They stood toe-to-toe and Jon held his ground. And, considering he was giving weight and height away, he didn’t do so bad.
We dragged him away and that was that. It was exciting stuff and livened the tour up a bit [laughs]. Jon went on to do the best show of his life that night. The next night we bushwhacked Skid Row on stage, held them down and gaffa-taped them to chairs, so we got our own back.
Working with Cher was the best job I’ve ever had. She’s just a special person. And still is, in and out of music. She’s probably the nicest person and most genuine person I’ve ever met, and the most talented too. When I first met her it was in a famous restaurant in Chicago called Gene And Georgetti’s. She was just starting to go out with Richie Sambora. They had a private room, and they came down and Richie introduced me as Reggie Kray; me and Jon used to book ourselves into hotels as Reggie and Ronnie.
And Cher said: “I’m glad you’re Reggie and not Ronnie!” She’d done her homework and knew all about them. I ended up living with Cher on a beach in Malibu for three years, so we got very close. And we’re still friends today.
Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley are total professionals. They’re always up before everybody else and they work their arses off, even at their age. That’s why they’re still around and 90 per cent of the other bands from that era are not. They never have an off night. They always come out of the dressing room and give 100 per cent – and they ain’t just sitting on stools and playing the guitar, like Sting. They’re flying up in the air, they’re breathing fire, they spit blood…
When Kiss did the reunion tour in 1996 with the original line-up, Ace and Peter were the total opposite of Gene and Paul. They were totally unprofessional and not very nice people to be around. If you could counteract that with, ‘Oh, he’s a great guitarist!’ or ‘He’s a great drummer!’ it wouldn’t have been so bad, but you couldn’t even do that.
We went to see The Who during that tour and [The Who’s manager] Bill Curbishley grabbed hold of me and said: “I want you to see something…” And he made me watch John Entwistle’s bass solo. It was outrageous. So then we made Bill come to see Kiss and we made him watch Peter’s drum solo. Bill watched him for a minute and then said: “Get me a policeman. I want him arrested for impersonating a drummer.”
Danny's new book ‘Roll With The Punches’ will be published in spring 2023.