Jeff Jampol -- Estate Manager For The Ramones, Doors, Joplin, Otis and More -- Explains How Life After Death Can Be Profitable
In 1989, Jeff Jampol, a former punk-band manager and label promotions man, found himself in a hospital, "crazy on heroin," with doctors about to amputate his leg -- nerves damaged by injections -- when the anesthesiologist called for a crucial delay. "I would have needed a fatal level of opiates, because my tolerance was so high," recalls the 57-year-old founder of West Hollywood-based Jampol Artist Management, whose eight full-time employees promote and manage the estates of such acts as The Doors, The Ramones, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding and Muddy Waters. "The doctor said, 'Detox for seven to 10 days, then we'll amputate.' " Miraculously, Jampol's surgeon saw tissue growth soon after and opted for reconstructive surgery, thereby saving the leg.
Jampol cleaned up and, after four years, returned to the music business with renewed vigor. Through managing acts like Dimestore Hoods and Tal Bachman, he partnered with Danny Sugerman, The Doors' longtime manager, and discovered a niche -- "the pop-culture-legacy management business." Jampol figured out how to avoid Elvis Presley-style cash-ins, instead focusing on projects like A Night With Janis Joplin, the musical that, after 144 Broadway shows, sold out a 70-city tour; a recent three-disc, 40th-anniversary reissue of The Ramones' first album and a Grammy Museum exhibit in September called Hey! Ho! Let's Go: Ramones and the Birth of Punk; and a Doors iTunes digital box set that is part of a long-term reissue and merchandise campaign, boosting yearly sales over time from 300,000 to 1.5 million albums. "What connected Jim Morrison to a kid in 1967 will still connect him to a kid in 2016," says Jampol. "It's about carrying that magic forward."
Jampol talked to Billboard shortly after announcing a partnership with Shamrock Capital Advisors, which has established a $250 million fund to acquire entertainment-related intellectual property. Shamrock and JAM, Inc. will acquire assets and estates of pop culture icons, which JAM will oversee and manage.
Has artist-estate management been undervalued?
When rock 'n' roll first came along, in the '50s, everybody thought it was going to be a passing fad. Brian Epstein famously made a deal for [Beatles] merchandise in the U.S. at an absurdly low rate because no one thought they would be around so long. [Conversely,] David Bowie's estate was valued at $100 million when he passed.
How does Jam approach an artist's legacy differently?
The analogy I use is this big, huge, dark, cold, brick, empty fireplace, and on top of the fireplace is a mantel and on top of the mantel are six to eight matches, and matches are really rare and expensive and you can only replace them [every] 25 years. And they're hard to come by -- matches are books, biopics, apparel lines, etc. The beneficiary, or the heir, will grab one of these matches and strike the match and everybody goes, 'Ooh, look, life!' And after two or three minutes, the light goes out and you're left with a dark, cold, empty fireplace with a burned-out match. You do that seven or eight times, end of legacy. I want to stuff that fire with newspapers and woodchips and kindling and twigs and small log. Then I can strike a match and ignite a fire that will burn for decades.
What's an example of how not to manage a major artist's estate?
When we were looking at Elvis Presley, in the U.K. alone, there were over 300 albums on iTunes. It's the detritus of decades of management changes at these labels -- a guy comes in and [he's] not making his profit for the quarter and [he says], "Oh, let's put out a Very Best of the Greatest Hits, Volume 3 and drive some income." Then that guy leaves. It can grind an artist's legacy into the dust.
What type of deals do you avoid?
All kinds -- liquor deals with certain artists, or Fred Astaire in a Dirt Devil vacuum commercial. These [estates] are almost gossamer. They're very fragile and need to be carried forward and attended to intensely and carefully.
We got approached by a lot of private equity companies, hedge funds and venture capitalists, and even different labels and publishers -- and we talked to them all. It was apparent that a private equity model is not conducive to what I do. They're looking to purchase equities, grow them quickly and sell them at a huge profit. They'll strip-mine these companies and get rid of any "excess." For me, this is a long game. What Shamrock did was [create] a fund to buy entertainment intellectual property. The purpose of that fund -- and it had investors like pension funds and family offices -- was to buy and hold, much like when someone acquires a publishing catalog.
If you were managing Prince's estate, how would you approach it?
My guess is his vault contains some amalgam of music finished and intended for release, music that wasn't finished and intended someday for release and music not intended for release. If it's not out there, that means Prince didn't put it out -- is that because he didn't feel like there was a mature industry to compensate the artist? Or were these sketches? They're very important and heady questions and have to be guided with art and soul at the forefront, and money, deals and negotiations have to be secondary.
Danny Sugerman led you to The Doors and then to Janis Joplin. What did you learn from him?
When somebody comes into this business of legacy management, they suffer from what I call "Jackson Pollock Syndrome." They think they can do it, and they make near-fatal errors. I had a secret weapon: Danny. He was the guy who pulled me back from the cliff at least 100 times. I started looking at Danny and thinking, "If this works for The Doors, why wouldn't it work for The Beach Boys, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, any of these other artists?"
How did you get into this business in the first place?
When I was a little kid, I was a loner, I was a freakazoid, and I didn't have any male peers around me. So when I started to have different feelings and emotions for which I had no context, I felt completely adrift, and that's when I discovered rock 'n' roll. I was 6 or 7 years old, and listening to those artists and reading those lyrics, it gave me the context, and my rope to sanity. I studied media studies in college. I dropped out of college to manage punk bands. We started a management company in the Bay Area. I worked promotion for CBS Records, for Atlantic.
When did your drug addiction begin?
I first took acid at a Free and Mountain show when I was 12. I discovered cocaine in college. And then it grew progressively worse in that I found opiates and became a heroin addict during the punk scene in San Francisco. Part of the addiction is the behavior that goes along with it -- the dishonesty, the manipulation, the crass I'll-do-anything [mentality], the lying, the dirty, slovenly lack of self-esteem, the feelings of depression and hopelessness and wanting to die. I lived it.
Is it hard to talk about?
It's part of my story. It's what it took to get me here. I don't regret any of it. I now spend some 15 percent of my time working and volunteering with drug treatment and counseling. The therapeutic value of one addict helping another is unparalleled.
A version of this article originally appeared in the Aug. 20 issue of Billboard.