Chip Hooper Was 'A Force Of Nature': Friends and Colleagues Honor the Industry Veteran
Some of the many who were influenced by the veteran executive remember his outsize impact on the industry he loved.
The March 5 passing of Chip Hooper at 53 after a long battle with cancer delivers a huge blow to not only Paradigm Talent, where Hooper was worldwide head of music, but also the live music industry at large, where Hooper was widely considered one of the most creative, passionate execs in the business, influencing countless artists and agents over a 30-year career.
A perennial on Billboard's annual Power 100 list, Hooper was the personal agent for Dave Matthews Band and Phish, among others, and oversaw Paradigm's 115-agent team. Hooper played a key role in building Paradigm's music division into one of the world's largest, with a roster of over 2,000 artists across all genres.
"Chip was a giant of a man with a heart of gold, who never in his life uttered the word 'impossible,' and who inspired greatness," says Marty Diamond, who leads Paradigm's New York operation and whose Little Big Man agency was the first acquired by Paradigm when its Hooper-steered growth began more than a decade ago. "My life and all the lives he touched were blessed."
Known as an eternal optimist with a penchant for sweating the details, Hooper was, "the best long-term chess player that's ever been seen on this planet," says Dan Weiner, who, with Fred Bohlander, founded Monterrey Peninsula Artists, the foundation of Paradigm's music division. "He believed in relationships and honesty and treating people right, without exception."
Hooper developed some of music's biggest touring careers, forging lasting relationships with both clients and industry professionals, including the promoters with whom Hooper often had to hammer out deals. "We will sincerely miss Chip," says Rick Franks, co-president of North American Concerts for Live Nation. "He was one of the touring business's greats, taken way too young."
Born in 1962 in Miami, Fla., Hooper grew up in Chicago before attending Missouri State University. He began his music business career at the Minneapolis-based Good Music Agency, and in 1988 convinced Monterey Peninsula Artists founders Weiner and Bohlander to take a shot on him. Hooper joined their office in Carmel, Calif., where he would spend the next 28 years building his roster and developing multiple generations of outstanding music agents to follow in his footsteps.
"Chip hired us," is how an emotional Weiner puts it. "He made it really clear he wanted to work here, and it changed our lives."
While Paradigm's roster covered virtually all genres, Hooper's rise to the elite agents was largely spurred by the early '90s jam band scene. Hooper was instrumental in developing the careers of many acts that emerged from the era, including Dave Mattthews Band and Phish, both of which he represented early in their careers. Both of these bands have generated hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office and remain among the most consistent touring acts in music.
Calling Hooper "universally well-liked," longtime associate and friend Coran Capshaw, founder of Red Light Management and manager of DMB and Phish, speaks of Hooper's limitless passion and energy. "He lived life," Capshaw tells Billboard. "Whether it was being an agent, his son's basketball, his daughter's rock climbing, photography, wine... he lived to the fullest, and inspired everyone around him."
A fierce negotiator, Hooper was "a big personality, a force of nature, totally driven 24/7, and a man always on a mission for his clients," says Franks, who sat across the negotiating table from Hooper countless times over the past quarter century. "He would pound you for the toughest of deals, and when the deal was done, you always knew he got a little more than he should have. But, somehow, you also knew he had great soul, he loved music, and he would always have your back if you needed him."
Weiner calls Hooper, "undoubtedly the best agent there's even been in this contemporary music world. He was really tough, but most people who are tough aren't loved, and he was loved."
Beyond his ability to find and develop artists, Hooper possessed a keen eye for executive talent, mentoring scores of young agents over the course of his career, and playing a leading role in the growth of Paradigm's music division. Already a successful film, television and literary agency, Paradigm entered the live entertainment realm in 2004 when Paradigm chairman/CEO Sam Gores, made the leap into music with the acquisition of Monterey Peninsula Artists. The acquisition of New York-based Little Big Man soon followed, a deal that Hooper was deeply engaged in. Other key agencies weren't far behind, including Ellis Industries and Third Coast Artists Agency.
"Chip was one of the most unique and passionate people I have ever met," says Gores on Hooper's passing. "His care for the artists he represented was surpassed only by the meticulousness of his efforts on their behalf."
The move to Paradigm and growth that followed, "would not have happened without [Hooper]," Weiner says. "He always felt that people had to be ready for each other. The notion that something can work wasn't enough. When Chip signed off on all these groups, that's when it happened. We had our retreat in January, all of us in one place, and we just all fit together. It was Chip that put that puzzle together."
"When it came time to align my business with another agency, meeting Chip made the choice easy," AM Only founder Paul Morris tells Billboard. "He was real, and delivered on all of his promises -- and then some."
Morris says he formed "an incredibly deep bond" in the "relatively short time I had the privilege of knowing Chip. Simply put, Chip made me a better person. I've lost a colleague, a mentor, a friend, a brother, and his passing will leave a tremendous void in my life."
The most recent Paradigm merger was with leading independent firm The Windish Agency, which joined Paradigm in August. Windish founder Tom Windish says he sees Hooper's vision coming to bear as the diverse group of agents and agencies moves forward. "We have a call every week, and we talk to each other a lot," says Tom Windish of how the various agents and division heads work together. "Chip would remind us to focus on the important stuff like, 'is this a good person, are we treating our own the best we can?' and that kind of stuff. He was really awesome."
Fiercely loyal to his clients and fellow agents, and protective of those under his watch, Hooper was the consummate motivator -- virtually all of those who worked with him cited his "leadership by example" style. As agencies and agents entered the Paradigm fold, without fail those joining named Hooper as a huge factor in making the move, and he mentored countless agents as his career progressed.
"Chip was a mentor to many generations of Paradigm agents, always generous with his time, intellect, charm and charisma," says Gores. "His standards were very high, and we will all honor his legacy by continuing to maintain such high standards."
While each new addition to the Paradigm group was a strategic fit for the agency, Hooper always stressed that he was more concerned with the types of people who came on board. "I don't know that there's ever been a group -- in any business, not just our business -- that was put together with such care," says Weiner. "And that's why it works."
Hooper was a loving and active father to Max, 24, and Valerie, 21, who attended Harvard and Duke University, respectively. "The only thing Chip loved more than music and doing deals were his two kids Max and Val," says Franks. "He was a tremendous father."
A well-respected photographer, Hooper's works have been published in books and hung in prestigious galleries all over the world. His favorite subjects were the waters of the Pacific Ocean along the Big Sur coast, and Hooper made it his goal to photograph every major sea and ocean in the world.
Adds Diamond, "In the words of Bruce Springsteen from 'Terry's Song'... 'When they built you brother, they broke the mold.'"