I've talked about Bob Lefetz's Letter before and how if you're a hardcore fan of music it's a must subscribe. Of course he talked of the passing of Steve Popovich. And as is the case with Lefsetz readers, many wrote of their personal experiences with him.
These letters show what kind of guy Popovich was, a music lover, a talented promo man, a friend. I had to share.
There was something in the air-tonight of all nights - I was eating dinner with Southside Johnny in Asbury Park. At one point during the meal I said to Johnny remember Popovich's first rule-"the only rule is there is no rule." We laughed and were talking about how Boz and the Jukes went on tour and Pop made Boz/Jukes big blue buttons. We then drove to the Stone Pony where Johnny was going to sit in with a new band named "outside the box". While watching Southside discuss the set list with the band I received the email about Pop's passing. I freaked-showed the email to Southside and he immediately reached out to Miami Steve and then disappeared into the night and walked home. Steve was the first guy to give Southside a record deal. Many great Popovich stories-he was the ultimate music fan-he called me 2 weeks ago about a song idea he had for Marky Ramone. The man was a walking talking music promo machine that wouldn't take the word NO from the gatekeepers. I learned many great lessons from Steve and will miss his calls and visits. The ultimate mensch.
Local NPR piece on Steve Popovich.
This has really been an awful week. First Andrew Gold, and now Steve Popovich. I grew up in Cleveland, and I can tell you Steve was one of the nicest, most down to earth guys that I've ever met in the music business. He was ALL about the music. Not just Meat Loaf, but ALL MUSIC! He's another one of those guys who those of us in the business who had to deal with major labels were blessed to know. He wasn't a "major label" kind of guy. He was for the artist. All the way. He fought for you. He died for you. He believed in you, and he fought the major powers to help you. Shit, this is a depressing week! Damn! My heart goes out to his family.
Goodbye Steve, we all loved you.
My voice has been too present here in recent weeks, but these deaths are hitting so close to home that I feel compelled to write again. Steve Popovich was a friend for almost 50 years, from 1963 until today. TOM KING AND THE STARFIRES was one of a number of Cleveland bands in the early 1960s, and Steve played in others at the same time, first RONNIE AND THE SAVOYS and later TONY AND THE TWILIGHTERS (you can certainly tell the era by the names of the groups!). We all played the same gigs, rotating from venue to venue, mostly small local bars with an occasional teen dance thrown in, all playing the same type of music, to mainly the same people (everyone danced). Long before Steve was known as a great "record man", he was well-known around here as a great bass player...very solid, driving style, never missed a note, etc. The rivalries between bands were friendly in those days, probably because we all had the same goals, values, musical tastes, and so on. From then until today, Steve was a man totally without pretense. I think he was the same person at the end as he was at the beginning...honest, forthright, completely without bullshit of any kind. And then there were his golden ears. I learned early in his record career that if Steve ever said, "listen to this", you listened hard and got ready to hear something really GOOD. I remember the day he asked me to listen to his latest project, MEAT LOAF. He dropped the needle on "BAT OUT OF HELL", and my mind was completely blown. It was always like that, whether it was BOSTON, CHEAP TRICK, or whatever his latest project happened to be. Steve knew good music and good records when he heard them or made them, and the world is a richer place for the music he brought to it. He will be missed.
One of the finest human beings I have ever known.
He knew so much about the music business and always shared his insights with me.
Kindness and genuine caring for others unmatched in this world of ours.
RIP my friend
Yep, he and Phil Jr. gone all at once... FUCK! Even up until 3 months ago he would call me once a quarter just to check-in and shoot the shit. I have no juice in the business anymore but that wasn't the point, it was about the continuity, the connection, the sharing, the friendship. Back in the day every time we played the Agora Ballroom in Cleveland he would be there at 4 in the afternoon for sound check, even though he had nothing to do with my band, hell we were on Mercury but it didn't matter, he was there for the camaraderie, for the music, cementing the intangibles. From Rock to Polka he would simultaneously wax wacky and brilliant, making everyone feel engaged and hopeful. Something good, something solid would always come from a hang with Steve and he will be sorely missed; We miss all these sweet characters, huh?
This one hits very close to home as Steve was my mentor at Columbia Records when I first was hired for a real job as a kid out of the college rep program.
I became the local album promotion man for the LA Branch in 1971, replacing Bob Moering (another great record man who took me under his wing and taught me so much).
Steve taught me the true art form of promotion and more important, how to be a professional. His agenda was always about the artists and the people he worked with--not himself. He used to call me in the middle of the night to get me excited and talk about projects!!
I would have to assure him that I wasn't stoned, just sounded groggy cuz he'd woken me up at 3AM! Then he'd ask to speak to Sharon, my wife who, of course was sleeping right next to me.
"Hi Mrs. Rap! How you doin'?" And he'd have a conversation with her as if it was 3 in the afternoon!
Then he'd say, "Grab a pad to make some notes, I've got some ideas I want to bounce off you." We'd stay up all night, talking and scheming.
Steve was all about family and very inclusive--a huge father figure. Took care of his troops and took care to know their spouses and families as well.
And it was all about the hang with the artists. Go see Boz play a gig (who wouldn't have had the career he did if Steve didn't stand up for him and insist the label not drop him after a couple albums that didn't perform to expectations), go have drinks, wind up at La Rondolla restaurant in the Mission District of San Francisco hangin' with Boz 'till the wee hours of the morning. Talking music.
In LA, we'd see Loggins and Messina or Elvin Bishop, or Taj, hang out all night and wind up at Pinks for breakfast! Yup, breakfast! Pop would have two chili dogs. Don't know how he could do that at 5:00 AM--I had the very mellow tamales (haha) and large glass of milk.
The artists loved him so much. He knew it was about soul. Yeah, we all had to sell records but there was real glue between us and the artists we worked with and so much of that was the weaving together of us all by Pops.
One of the greatest record men in the history of the business--one of the best human beings I've ever known.
If there's a Pinks hot dog stand in heaven, Pops is there right now having a chili dog!
I love you Steve--I really do.
Oh man this is awful news. I really liked Steve Popovich. He used to come to my shows in Cleveland at The Beachland Tavern/Ballroom. We'd talk afterwards about the show and songs he liked and what he was working on. He was always very kind to me and said to call anytime. He had a certain charisma and charm about him. From the very first time I saw him from the side of the stage, I knew he was someone I would find interesting and I went right up to him and we started talking about everything under the sun. He'll be greatly missed.
Thoughts and prayers,
Just heard about Steve, as well. Knew him in our early promo years in Cleveland during the 60's. He was one of the best music men in the record business with a supreme knowledge of every pop song as well as every polka! Steve was a first class "pop music pioneer" and will be missed big-time in every tempo!
Jerry F. Sharell
oh man..............POP! i loved that cat, as did just about everyone else who was part of the mid 70s crew at CBS, (EPIC Records & the Associated Labels in my case, following a College Rep stint that included Columbia). Pop was a true music man. approachable, sweet, funny, cool and ALWAYS ready to talk music. he had no boundaries. another great Cleveland Record man...
and then sadly, he became the classic example of how a company you bleed for can turn around and bleed you. staggering to think
how he got hosed and what he went through after delivering one of the company's biggest successes ever.
i loved that later he turned his passion toward Polka, and blew that up too!
RIP, Pop and thanks for ALL the great sounds, you will be missed bro'
I am truly sadden by this news ! I worked with Steve several times over the years while I was a Epic local in Buffalo NY in the late 70s early 80s .
Truly one of the greatest promo men in the history of the business .
Cheers Kevin F. Sutter
Yetnikoff and I were talking about him at lunch today. OMG.
Yeah, Popovich was never a "suit." It was all about the music and, if he had something he believed in under his watch, he'd knock down doors for them.
After New Wave, Punk and corporate rock turned the landscape into something he didn't recognize or care for, like so many other pop-rock expats, he took a shot at Nashville in the late '80s. Boy, did he have opinions; he would've been a great blogger. I got to enjoy several phlegmatic conversations with him, including one very memorable dinner with him and David Allan Coe where the best part of the conversation was all about 1950's rock and R&B. They didn't agree on much except Harvey & the Moonglows' "Ten Commandments of Love," which I believe Coe went on to cut on his next album.
By the way, Popovich said that one of the great, largely unheralded talents he had worked with was Bob Parisi, lead singer/guitarist of "Wild Cherry." "My white Ohio Players," as he referred to them.
Reeling now at the loss of Steve Popovich. What a larger-than-life guy and a true record man of the old school. Enjoyed his company in Cleveland where he took me out for a mountain of Slovenian food and, also, in Nashville. He had signed Frankie Yankovic (yeah, he was country; Slovenia is a country, right?) and had a whole room of music biz types doing the chicken dance in a most uninhibited way. Cleveland International lives!
Thank-you for this riveting notice. I struggle to hold back my tears in utter disbelief about the tragic loss of "Pop". What a heart of gold in a suit of armor.
Steve and I tangled on some releases from my small label in the late 70's. He was tough and lived the business even into his "retirement" from Cleveland to Nashville to be with the family he cherished so much.
His PA small town grassroots upbringing always made him remember and honor those who struggled and believed in their product. He certainly slaved for his artists and sought better for them. He saw unlimited potential.
We became closer friends later in life and I witnessed him helping countless others by sharing his vast wisdom and broad business acumen. He lived and loved the record business and respected all who were passionate about it.
I recently asked him that when he visited Cleveland again if he would be a VIP interview guest on my popular web TV music education show "Band Aid With Doc Rock" to share his history to inspire my young viewers. His response was "thrilled and honored to help young aspiring talents anytime." Pop deserves all honors and a salute to his valor in this business. What a soldier, mentor and dear friend we have lost.
Onward as I will share his story in loving memory of my friend Steve Popovich.
Christopher G. Axelrod
Band Aid With Doc Rock
I feel like I have just been kicked in the stomach.
Very sad news about Steve. Popovich was truly one of a kind, and easily one of the most memorable characters in the business. He lived the life and had the stories to prove it. Sadly I had not seen him in person in a couple of years, but, just a few of weeks back I received one of his classic voice messages (he always checked in), in his instantly recognizable voice, which I envisioned (and hoped) was his standard message to all: "Hey... it's POPOVICH! Give me a ring when yet get a chance, man. Alright, man, be well." Classic.
Great, no-bullshit guy. An industry legend who seemed to know everyone, who put the music and the people first, and will be missed by so many.
I can't believe it! I love Steve. He is one of the best ever. We spoke every other month. He was always plugged in, always thirsty for knowledge, always asking a ton of questions, and always listening. I hope to learn from all those great "good guy" qualities and become a better person as a result of the way he conducted himself.
He always inspired, encouraged, and knew all the players. I respect him.
My thoughts and prayers go out to his family, friends, and all the people who loved him.
Bye Steve, thanks for always being a friend. RIP.
I just saw a post by you on Twitter that Steve Popovich has died. Which is very weird, since he wrote an email to a group of ex-CBS folks who are all tracking Frank DiLeo's situation (he's been in a coma for a while now).
I lost my "guardian angel". Steve Popovich is singularly responsible for launching my career. After graduating from college, I couldn't land a gig in radio anywhere. I was toiling at a little AM station in Sharon, PA--doing overnights. The station owner didn't care what I played, he was only paying me two dollars an hour.
One night, Steve was driving from Pittsburgh to Cleveland after one of his artist's gigs. This was when he was the king of promotion at CBS Records. Bored, trying to stay awake, he scanned the AM dial, probably looking for some of his beloved polka music in the backwoods of PA, whe he came across that little AM at 1610 on the dial. He listened to my show, and I got a call on a request line that never rang. "Hey man", he said in that baritone , gravelly voice, "what are you doing out in the middle of nowhere? You're good, kid."
He told me to call him the next day at the Cleveland branch. I wasn't sure if it was a prank or real. So when I called and the receptionist answered, "CBS Records", I was shaken--this was a connection! Steve got on the phone and told me to meet him for lunch in Akron, he was bringing the PD of a station to meet me. Steve spent the lunch extolling my ability, and pleading with the PD to hire me. Which he did. Can you imagine an EVP of a major label making the time for someone he didn't know, to show that kind of commitment?
Through the years, with all the ups and downs one would face when they are an agent provocateur, in my darkest hours, the phone would ring. It would be Steve. "Hey man, I was thinking about you." The first time it happened, I thought it was a coincidence. But, it would occur, again, and again. It started to take on a cosmic timing. I told Steve, "this is getting to be unreal. Every time I face a real challenge, you 'just happen' to call. It seems you are my guardian angel".
The man taught me so much. He truly cared about artists, and mentoring young people in this industry. He regaled me with stories about working for Clive. How he and Ron Alexenburg would have to be at Clive's home on Tuesday nights, late into the night. As one ran Columbia, the other Epic's promotion department, they would have a weekly competition. Whoever got the most adds on a priority got to sleep on the guest bed. The other, the floor.
Later in his life, he dedicated himself to artists that no one believed in. Rebels, Polka kings. He also stayed dedicated to the people he knew all those years. I am sure you will get a lot of emails from people like me. People that owe a massive debt of gratitude to Steve.
His heart was too big for this world. But that doesn't mean he's gone. He will figure out a way to call from beyond. He has always been an angel....
Steve was one of the Best record guys that this Industry has ever seen. His legacy of artists who's careers he was responsible for would take days to list and I'm sure will be written about some day. ?
I had the good fortune to work for Steve a few different times and credit him to be my first Mentor! I've work along side some of the best over the years, but Steve inspired me to be a promotion guy back in the early years at Columbia records in Cleveland. It was watching his passion and love for the music as well as the artists, that taught me about Integrity and how you earned respect. I watched him field calls for years from artist that weren't even on the label, because they knew he'd tell them straight.?
I can recall dropping by the office in NY one night to hang with Steve, who at around Midnight convinced me to drive home with to see wife Maureen. 2 and half hours later we made it to the house in Jersey! 2 hours later we turned around and drove back to Black rock!! Steve did this everyday. It was on that drive Steve first talked to me about his dream to move back to Cleveland and start his own label. He later called and asked me, along with our late friend and promotion genius Marty Mooney to join him to launch his label Cleveland International. It was an easy decision to move back home to be part of what we all felt at the time ......a no brainer with Steve at the Helm. Even before Meat came along we were releasing projects by The legendary Ronnie Spector with the E Street band; Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes and Linda McCartney with Paul sitting in.....better known as Suzy and the Red stripes. We signed Ian Hunter of Hoople fame to a management deal and placed him with Chrysalis, who later coined the phrase and song Cleveland Rocks! Meat Loaf came along and we the rest was History....but not the end of the story.??
Love and miss you already Big Steve!
Very sad news. Met Steve in the mid 90's when I was working int'l affairs at William Haighton's VAN Records in The Hague. For the 2nd album of The Watchman (whom I also managed) we asked Cowboy Jack Clement to produce the album. Went to Nashville to record. Jack introduced us to his good friend Steve who loved the album and also came to Holland to meet us, ending up releasing the album on Cleveland International in the US. Always kept in touch, as you wrote "he called on a regular basis". He was one of a kind! Wishing his kids & family lot's of strength in the time to come.
a dear friend who never forgot where he came from,,, other than you, i cant think of another person who loved music more, and what it did for his life and the lives of others... it was what Steve lived for every moment of his life... my life was always better every time i talked or saw steve no matter where i was... just a wonderful guy in every way... will miss him...
The key for me is "he called on a regular basis". I've been out of radio for nearly 10 years now and dealt exclusively with progressive electronic dance for 10 years before that, but Steve never stopped calling...just to say hello. The most recent call came out of the blue just a couple of months ago, and we had a nice chat about nothing in particular, just catching up as old friendly acquaintances do who speak to each other every few years. I had absolutely nothing I could do for him, but that's not why he called; it was never why he called. I always will appreciate how he saw me as more than a PD or MD who could play music he had something to do with-believe me, he was one of the very few.
Now one has to wonder, however, where the fascinating book is that he could have written.
When I started to work at Columbia in 1971 at 21 years old, Steve was one of the"older" guys who mentored me. I used to sit in his office after work listening to records while he explained why such and such a record would or wouldn't be a hit. Steve was passionate about records and completely unbiased towards any type of music. He took the same joy in a Lynn Anderson single as he did in a Billy Joel record or the 70's R&B classics-to-be that were just starting to emerge at Columbia and Epic in those early 70's days. Top Forty was still on the AM dial back them and when Steve would talk about the great AM powerhouse stations and the men and women who programmed them, he brought an almost mythological aura to the format that was an inspiration and made me want to find a way to be part of that universe of hits.
I was never a promotion guy but much of what I learned about promoting records came from Steve. As a result, he made me a better A&R guy and later a better manager. He was a mentor to so many guys I grew up with and I am sure you will hear from many of them.
He will be missed by many. Rest in peace Steve.
Bob: I am just shocked about Steve Popovich because I was in contact with him via email last week. We go back to his days at CBS/Epic when I was handling publicity for David Clayton-Thomas who was with Blood Sweat and Tears.
We quickly bonded (everybody bonded with Steve) and became good friends over the years.
As "Bat Out Of Hell" was being put together I got a blow-by-blow play from Steve about the album which, incidentally went through a number of labels, before being put out by his own Cleveland International in a distribution deal with Epic (leading to a legal battle to this very day).
One of my most cherished artifacts is a test pressing of "Bat Out Of Hell" Steve sent me. I was the first to play it in Canada on my "Backstage Pass" show on Q107.
Last week Steve and I were reminicing about him coming to Toronto with Meat and Steinman and taking me to supper and trying to get me to go on the road with Meatloaf as a road manager. I watched as Meat hevved down a number of drinks and Steinman, than a stoner, kinda slumped in the booth. Then I said, "Are you crazy Steve?"
Another golden moment with Steve was at MIDEM in the late '70s. He introduced me to the great George Goldner. We had a wonderful lunch with George telling wonderful stories about being in the recording studio with the Chantels recording the classic "Maybe" and keeping the teenaged Arlene Smith at the mike singing until she was practically begging to get out.
I have dozens and dozens of Popovich stories from him signing Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis and him championing the great David Allan Coe when he was down-and-out after his fame ride.
Steve watched Canada closely after he left CBS. At one point, he championed childrens' entertainer Raffi in the US before he broke there. Steve practically beat down Jerry Moss' door at A&M to get A&M to distribute Raffi's albums which were being produced by Daniel Lanois at the time
One of Popovich's dreams was to make a record with America's polka king Frankie Yankovic with contemporary rockers. Little Steven--a Popovich friend--signed on immediately and Bruce Springsteen said he'd do it. The sessions never did happen but Popovich did record Frankie Yankovic for Cleveland International.
P.S. Popovich signed Brave Combo, a polka band, which won a Grammy for its 1999 Cleveland International release, “Polkasonic.”
Popovich was inducted into the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame in 1997.
I am in absolute shock. I was on the phone with Steve for over an hour on Tuesday (June 7) late afternoon and he sounded fine and said he felt great. You know he went to Rice U. to lose the weight and kept it off! Lenny Silver and I will greatly miss one wonderful, caring, truly independent record person.
You're right, they don't need him up there. RIP Steve you will be missed.
David E. Parker
Loved his spirit against the monster!!!
The Polish White Knight and one of the finest gentlemen in the record business. He will be sorely missed.
Ride on Steve....The push is on!
He certainly was a great guy! You are right – he was always willing to do a favor and always supportive. Thanks for letting us know Bob.
I met Steve when I was 13 and working on my Dad's Upbeat Show. Steve was a fixture there, bringing in all the Columbia acts from Paul Revere and the Raiders to The Buckinghams, Simon & Garfunkel, Billy Joe Royal, Aretha etc. He was always in great spirits, all about his acts and how big they would be. In later days he signed the first band I managed, The Michael Stanley Band, to Epic. Now he was OUR supporter. As an also proud Clevelander I ran into Steve often. We talked frequently on the phone. He was always hyping me on a record, a health break through, a diet plan. We were to catch up in Nashville next week. The irony being he'll be in Cleveland, surrounded by those that loved him, as they say good bye. RIP old friend. Thanks for the great times and the memories. I miss you
I met Steve in 1972 when I was a young kid working at Billboard in LA and Steve was the young head of Columbia promotions. I called and said I was coming to New York (my hometown) for a vacation and he invited me for lunch.
I went to his office (hanging behind the door were five changes of clothing--he lived in his office during the week) and he said, "Before lunch, let's have some fun. We have a singles meeting for Columbia people only but I'm going to take you in and not introduce you and no one will say anything." And that's what happened. Steve ran the meeting. They talked strategies and analyzed each record and after an hour the meeting was over and Steve and I went to some little deli to eat. He treated me like I was a big deal, not a new kid in town.
From then on we were pals. He'd call before he came to LA and we'd meet for 7:00 "what's going on" breakfasts. When I became Billboard's Record Review editor he was the only label exec who'd call and say a particular record was important to him. Sometimes he'd be pissed off at a review. But that was just business. He introduced me to I don't know how many people. I never went to New York wothout seeing him.
We kept in touch through his days running Epic A&R and Cleveland International and the Sony legal problems. We talked about personal situations. We never lost touch. He was a genuine friend. I loved it when he ran Mercury in Nashville where I now live. He told me, "I know everyone thinks I'm a fool for signing a bunch of old acts, but they'll give me some juke box cash flow and allow me to build." I talked to him last about a month ago.
Throughout his career Steve signed all kinds of major acts. But to me, he was a friend. He always asked about my family and my folks. I never heard anyone say an unkind word about Steve. I know you'll get a ton of letters like this. There should be a million. Let's all remember a truly kind and decent man who also happened to be one of the best record men ever.
May God bless him wherever he may be, I'm certain it's a good place.
I absolutely can't believe it. Yes, it is much to soon for Popovich. He was terrific. A great record man. I have such wonderful memories with him, so many laughs over decades. I first met Popovich in the 70s when he released Ronnie Spector's "It's A Heartache" through one of Henry Stone's TK labels, then a client of mine. I recall that because of a publishing issue Bonnie Tyler's RCA release of the same song had a release lead, but the second Ronnie's record could ship he and I and others literally helped pack the records by hand, laughing hysterically, for hours, because we believed. Several years later I tracked down Ronnie and was her co-manager for a number of years with Jonathan Greenfield, who is still her manager today - and she still has that great voice. I will miss Popovich - I always knew that when we spoke on the phone it would be up and enthusiastic about the business of the business that we both love.
thanks for your kind words..steve was one of a kind, a friend for 40 years or more....many acts other then Meatloaf would be unknown, but not for steve,....very sad...thanks again...
David S. Chackler
This absolutely sucks. Like when anyone we know passes away. He was one of the great guys. I will miss him.
Steve was one of the most dedicated and inspiring music executives I ever worked with. The passion and instinct he brought to everything he did was truly remarkable. They broke the mold with Steve, and although I only spoke to him occasionally over recent years, I will forever remember his spirit.
Steve Popovich epitomized Kipling's, "IF"
He was always a street guy--always.
Dandy Don Whittemore
From: John Gorman
Steve Popovich funeral information: Monreal Funeral Home; 35400 Curtis Blvd., East of Rte. 91, Eastlake, OH. 440.951.1220.
Visitation: Sunday, June 12: 1-4 PM & 5-8 PM. Service: Monday, June 13, 10 AM.
Cemetery: Western Reserve Memorial Gardens, Chesterland, OH.
There will be a designated charity for donations in lieu of flowers, but it has not been determined yet.