Steve Popovich, who died Wednesday, was one of those old-fashioned guys who started at the bottom and worked his way up to the top but never forgot why he got into the music business. It might sound like a cliché but it's true, and it's a good story. Popovich died in Tennessee, where he lived. He was 68 years old.
Popovich is probably best known for doggedly making Meat Loaf a star. Take that for what you will - for my money, Popovich's own story is far more interesting. His father was a Pennsylvania coal miner and his mother a union organizer. After his father died, the family moved to Cleveland, and Popovich eventually landed a job unloading trucks at the Columbia Records warehouse. He worked his way up through the label's promotions department and by the time he was 26, he was a VP for CBS Records, working out of New York.
He signed The Jackson 5 after the group left Motown but left CBS a year later to form Cleveland International Records. There he took a chance on a singer who was the antithesis of 1970s style – the overweight, un-videogenic Meat Loaf. In a Billboard obituary, Popovich is quoted thusly:
"Every major label passed on Bat Out of Hell before Cleveland International picked it up," Popovich said in 2002. "It was the day and age of the wimpy-looking, Peter Frampton types. Then here comes Meat Loaf, this huge guy with an amazing voice."
Popovich pushed Bat Out of Hell relentlessly — contacting countless radio stations himself for more than a year. His determination and fingers-in-the-dirt work ethic paid off. The album went on to sell more than 14 million copies in the U.S. alone. He won two lawsuits against Sony (which bought CBS – the company that had distributed Bat Out of Hell) for unpaid royalties.
Popovich moved to Nashville in the mid-'80s, becoming a senior VP with Polygram Records, working with such "over-the-hill" acts as Johnny Cash – before he became hip again. He moved back to Cleveland a decade later and continued recording and producing.
Music industry blogger Bob Lefsetz, who knew Popovich, put it this way, "They don't need him up there..."