Tag Archives: Steve Popovich

Rock and Rap Confidential

Yep, it used to be Rock and Roll Confidential. Times change.

Still an amazing read, and it’s free by email, although a donation to the tip jar wouldn’t be a bad thing. Interesting pieces, good links, some decent truths…albeit skeptical, but really, what truths aren’t?

You can read the classic Steve Albini piece about major label deals, often reprinted as “Some of your friends are probably already this fucked“. In a recurring column called “Why Do We Need The Music Industry?” you can read comments about the state of the industry from Tom Petty and Tommy Womack and Ice-T.

And there’s often a brilliant piece, like the essay that Holly Gleason wrote about the late Steve Popovich. I thought I paid him a nice tribute, but Gleason’s essay blew me out of the water:

I’m in a shitty hotel room, chattering and chilled to the bone. I’ve driven all day, and it doesn’t even matter. Sometimes you do what you have to do – even when it doesn’t make sense to the people that know you. It’s not irrational. I know exactly why I’m here — shivering, waiting for the heat to actually kick in. And it’s not just the funeral for an iconoclast with a huge heart and bigger balls, even though that’s why I’m here. It is about the world in which we live, the vineyard in which I’ve toiled going on thirty years. It’s the way I spent my life and the beliefs I’ve held. Especially at a time when doing the right thing, fighting for greatness, believing the music matters is at best quaint, but most likely is viewed – no matter what “they” say – as chump stuff.
Steve Popovich, who passed away June 8th in Murfreesboro, TN, would disagree. He’d tell you to fight for what’s right, to stand up for what’s different, believe in the music, not the business or the politics or the egos… to know great, no matter the guise, and make sure it gets heard. Steve Popovich was that kind of guy. That’s how he lived… right til he died.
That kinda guy… big, bottomless heart. True believer. Fearless advocate for what he believed. Tireless in pursuit of great music – be it progressive polka bands like Brave Combo or Michael Jackson, Boston or David Allen Coe. When Meatloaf sold 200,000 copies of his first album and Epic Records informed him they’d done all they could do, Popovich went market-by-market and created a sensation, making Bat Out of Hell the biggest selling record that year.
That’s the thing about true hearts and big dreams… they don’t let go. They’ll haunt you. Take hold and keep holding. Rarer than rubies, when you encounter one, you never forget. They will make you do things you can’t believe you’re doing…Like driving 10 hours dead exhausted at the end of a record launch and an Oscar winner on a red carpet… to sit in a church where I know barely anyone… to honor a legacy so many would never understand. Because it’s just not done that way. Not any more. Not to the point where people even understand why it matters.And yet, if you know, experienced, saw or even glimpsed Steve Popovich in action, there was no way you could turn away. How could you? To see passion, raw and unfiltered, 250 proof and looking for matches… that was the kind of thing that left people speechless.Only Steve Popovich would never settle for that. He wouldn’t let people stand by mute. He’d cajole and engage and encourage. He wanted you to know… for sure… but he wanted to know. All about you. And every single you in the room, the street, the world. What did you think? need? feel? what makes you thrill? ache? rage?

And that’s just an excerpt. Things like this get emailed to subscribers all the time. Email me if you want the whole piece, because it’s not on the website yet. Or subscribe for free and ask them to send it to you. It’s a great read. It gives me faith that in an age of content, there are still writers who give a shit.

Kudos, Holly Gleason. Gotta love someone who once wrote “…in the end, there is no substitute. You can talk all you want, but you either rock or you don’t.” And that’s why you come here, right? For the occasional moment when I earn your support with a decent essay? So today I repay your faith by asking you to sign up – for free – and double your odds.

As of today, 900 posts in the Prescription, and I’m still going. Please keep visiting. I’ll try to get my batting average higher.

Rock and Rap Confidential

Holly Gleason’s website

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R.I.P. Steve Popovich

In the 70s and 8os, when record companies warred against each other like lumbering dinosaurs, there were some real unsavory characters in the business. I’ve met and worked with quite a few of them, and to say I counted my fingers after a handshake is putting it mildly.

But among the stories of the ridiculously rich and powerful were the occasional feel-good stories of when David beat Goliath. Of course these days, that happens daily – the major label stranglehold on music is all but dead.

But when little Cleveland International Records started up, they could have never imagined that they would stumble across one of the most monumental albums of the rock era, especially after most of the supposedly smarter majors passed on it.

Steve Popovich had the career I thought I wanted a the time, a VP of a major label in his twenties with the ability to sign artists and help share them with the world. Any of us who are fans of music have our truckload of underappreciated musicians and writers and singers who would surely be megastars if only given the break. Working under Clive Davis at Columbia Records and then A&R with Ron Alexexburg at their sister label Epic, he was able to help launch or maximize the careers of artists like Cheap Trick, Brice Springsteen, Mott The Hoople, Johnny Winter, Southside Johnny and many of my favorites.

When he struck out to form Cleveland International Records, he used his old school local promotion skills to work an odd and obtuse album called Bat Out Of Hell month after month, slowly building an expanding regional base until radio finally fanned the spark into a flame. I was working in a record store at the time, and I remember how often labels would get all excited about a new record only to ignore it three months later if it didn’t catch on. Popovich believed in the record, believed in Meat Loaf, believed in Jim Steinman. He followed his gut instincts, and the rest is history.

He also gave us Ellen Foley’s majestic Night Out, and when Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson wanted assistance post-Mott, it was Steve they turned to for direction. He had the reputation as a man who would invest in the artist in ways far beyond financial.

Steve Popovich passed away today at the age of 69.

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New Album! Joe Grushecky

 

When Joe Grushecky first came pumping out of my car radio, two things immediately caught my attention. First, here was a real blue-collar rocker with a soulful sound and a band that played straight from the heart, and the songs were exciting. And second…was this really being played on the radio in Syracuse, New York in 1979? 

I guess you could say Bruce Springsteen had most recently kicked the door down, although local rockers like The Works and Joe Whiting had been stirring up the same kind of bar room fury on local stages for years. Like the mythical Eddie and The Cruisers, these bands had been lighting up shot-and-beer joints night after night, piling into vans and crisscrossing the East Coast. It wasn’t easy; you had to pull and keep a crowd on a Tuesday and Wednesday night because the weekend money just wasn’t quite enough to get you by. And like Eddie and that mythical band, what drove you and kept you alive was the camaraderie with your band mates and an unbending faith that if you kept punching over and over and over again, one day it would be worth it. 

In Pittsburgh, that band was Joe Grushecky and the Iron City Houserockers, and that day did come, albeit temporarily. A documentary about Joe and his career was released in 2007 called A Good Life: The Joe Grushecky Story and is now available on DVD. While the film is interesting and heartfelt, the real treasure in the package is a bonus live CD from a 1985 hometown show, featuring friend and fan Bruce Springsteen

While not quite a rags-to-riches story, we learn how the band followed the usual path of becoming the big fish in the small pond, friends in a rock ‘n’ roll brotherhood with huge dreams. How “Heroes are Hard to Find” caught the ear of Cleveland International’s Steve Popovich, who believed in Joe and financed some sessions that led to the first album getting released. How the lengthy process of working the record one town and one AOR station at a time led to five-star reviews for Have A Good Time But Get Out Alive and what looked like the start of a lifelong ride at the top…only to be derailed by a changing industry, an imploding label (MCA) and a few poor and impatient personal decisions. 

Read the rest of my review at PopMatters 

Joe’s website

The Grushecky/Houserockers Wikipedia page

“Pumping Iron”  and “Little Queenie” (live in 1988) 

“Have A Good Time But Get Out Alive” (live in 2005) 

Steel Rocking

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