He's a blues musician who opens for the Eagles, gets covered by Willie Nelson and is managed by Irving Azoff. And he also happens to have a day job running Cablevision, the Madison Square Garden Co., the New York Knicks and the New York Rangers and is a director of AMC Networks, home of "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad."
Yes, James Dolan, executive chairman/president/CEO of Cablevision and lead singer/founder of JD & the Straight Shot, has many jobs. But he's been making more time lately to prioritize his hobby as a musician, with the release of his band's new EP, Midnight Run, last month (the trio's fourth release since 2000) and an upcoming gig at Voodoo Fest in New Orleans (broadcast by MSG cable network Fuse).
"I squeeze it in wherever I can," Dolan says on the phone from his office in Madison Square Garden. "A lot of times I go from the office, change from a suit to the blue jeans, warm up and just hit the stage. I love music so much and it's always been a big part of my life. It's something I could never see not doing and it provides balance to me, too. When you have something like that you don't give it up."
In a rare interview, Dolan, who's better known as "Jim" in the cable industry, spoke with Billboard about his band's new music, scoring synchs from Harvey Weinstein and his thoughts on Brooklyn's new Barclays Arena.
1 What were you looking to accomplish musically with Midnight Run?
It's an evolution from the previous albums. We're headed in a direction that is really good for us. This EP really begins to define a sound for the band that is unique and is a signature of the band. It's very authentic, has a country-Cajun thing going on. We're moving away from a hard-pounding rock sound we had on our earlier records and moving to that Cajun, shuffly kind of beat. It fits better with my voice and I find it easier to write to.
2 You've opened several times for the Eagles, through whom you've inherited Irving Azoff as a manager. What's that been like?
I'm like a pet project, or a pro bono project, or a poverty project for him [laughs]. Irving doesn't normally take on bands that haven't already had a certain level of success. He also really likes our music. He's intrigued with the combination of what I do during the day and this in the evening. He gives me the same advice he gives all his artists, which is basically, "Stay true to the music and do the work that's necessary to keep your fans happy."
3 Your song "Can't Make Tears" is the theme song to "Hell on Wheels" on AMC, a network spun off from Cablevision that your family still controls. And you also had a song in the movie "Lawless." How did that come about?
One of my friends is Harvey Weinstein, and he sent me the movie early on and said, "Can you write something for this?" So I watched it and he asked me particularly of a song that would be fast-paced that might be used in a chase scene or something. So we watched it and came up with Midnight Run's title track and a song called "Holy Water," which really encompasses the whole spirit of the movie. We sent the tracks over to the producers and they weren't as keen on "Holy Water" but they loved "Midnight Run" and they said, "We don't want you to perform it, we want a star to perform it." So they got Willie Nelson and he does a good job with it.
4 Jay-Z recently expressed an openness to Rolling Stone to feature your music in upcoming projects. What's your take on the new Barclays Arena in Brooklyn?
There's no real replacement for Madison Square Garden, but there's room for a Barclays Arena in New York, and they'll be a good venue. I haven't been there but I hear it's very nice, and that's good. I wish them well-except the basketball-but we're just finishing a three-year transformation of Madison Square Garden and you won't believe what the place looks like. It's like a brand-new arena.
5 Are you concerned that Barclays might compete with you for bookings?
My biggest problem right now is the [NHL] hockey strike, which could put a lot of holes in our calendar. But assuming we have a whole hockey season, we're booked-we don't have any dates [for 2013]. So I mean, in this marketplace there's room for other venues to do well and they seem to be. It's a nice venue-if it makes concert-going more appealing to the marketplace, great. That just makes the pie bigger.
6 Your company has also reinvested in Fuse to make it a destination for music programming on cable. What value do you see in that model from a business perspective?
They're continuing to focus on the music category, and they're getting closer to being a programming outlet for that genre. They're closer to what the fan base looks for. They have new programming that is going to make it even more attractive-especially when all the channels that are supposed to be about music are running cartoons. They're sticking to their guns, and they're going to be successful.