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, "He was one of the good guys. They don't need him up there..."