(Steve Popovich, a veteran music industry executive who played a key role in Meat Loaf's "Bat Out of Hell" as well as the careers of the Jackson 5, Cheap Trick, Boston and many others, died Wednesday morning at his apartment in Murfreesboro, Tenn., at the age of 68. He ran Cleveland International Records and was based in the city for much of his life; he also held posts at CBS and PolyGram Records. His friend Bob Sherwood spent many years working in radio before joining CBS, Mercury and Sony Music.)
There are a lot of very exceptional people who contributed massively to the extraordinary success of the golden era of the music business (from the 1960s to the early '90s), but I submit that with the possible exception of Ahmet Ertegun and Bruce Lundvall, there was no one who cared more passionately about his artists and their music than Steve Popovich.
If he wasn't the greatest promotion exec who ever lived, you can't make a top 5 list without including his name.
When I was still in Top 40 radio it was generally acknowledged that the staff that Tommy Noonan and Ronnie Records put together was the class of the industry and Steve-albeit lovingly-- drove them like a rented mule.
I cared about Columbia Records because of their artists but I also always gave their records an extra listen and evaluation because of Steve's credibility and that of his staff.
In 1980, I was running Mercury Records and signed Tom Jones via Jerry Kennedy and our Nashville office because Steve convinced me of his viability in live performances and in the country market. As usual, he was right and we all enjoyed a significant measure of success... which didn't prevent Steve from regularly torturing me as if I was still a Program Director in Sacramento!
Since I ultimately worked for Steve, I have a thousand and more memories but I want to pass on one in particular.
In early 1973 I was programming WGCL in Cleveland against AM Top 40 legend WIXY 1260 and Metromedia's FM monster WMMS, the Buzzard.
I got a call one morning at 3:30, which was about an hour before I normally arose to go to the station and do my air shift. Learning it was a promotion guy -- it was 3:30 in the bloody morning! -- I normally would've slammed the phone down after a string of obscenities and vowed never to speak to the miscreant again.
But it was Popovich.
So I halfway listened to his insistence that I had to hear "the greatest record ever recorded" while he trampled all over my need to get some sleep. As I desperately tried to continue making my handsome living in broadcasting, he compelled me to listen.
It was Paul Simon's "Kodachrome," and they had just done final mix in the studio. I wound up calling half the people I knew in radio to say that it was an unqualified smash.
Whatever came from that, it was all Popovich.
Steve will probably arrive at the Pearly Gates at about 3:30 am demanding that Meat Loaf, Frankie Yankovich and David Allan Coe be added to 'A' rotation on KHVN. I wouldn't bet against it!
Steve, old friend ... on your travels Northward, the bright light below is the fire from the candles I'm lighting at St. Mary's Church tomorrow. I'm sure the Ridgefield, Connecticut Fire Dep't. has sufficient staff to control the blaze.