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THE BIZ SALUTES
JOE SMITH

Joe Smith, left, flanked by Mo Ostin, Clive Davis and Berry Gordy.

Clive Davis:Joe Smith was truly one of a kind: intelligent, smart, witty, articulate and caring. He was a great husband, a great father and grandfather, a great record man and a great friend. He was a tough competitor with a sharp eye and, as a team with Mo Ostin at Warner Bros. Records, they created one of the most successful and special record companies of all time.

“What I will always cherish is that no matter how hard we competed for artists and executives, it was never at the expense of our friendship or the bond that existed between our respective families. We in the music industry will forever miss Joe. 

“He, more than anyone else, for many years made us look at our intense competition for hits and stars with incredible personalized humor, sharp sarcasm and a loving eye that always kept things in perspective. My heart goes out to Donnie, Jeff, Julie and all his offspring. Joe is irreplaceable, and their loss will always be felt and palpable. But they do have a wonderful lifetime of never to be forgotten memories and experiences that will keep the totally unique and special Joe alive inside of them and right beside them, forever.”

Sire Records co-founder Seymour Stein: Joe Smith was one of the greatest music men ever. It was his ears that set Warner’s to a great start and no doubt his years as a disc jockey were great training. His signing of The Grateful Dead changed WBR’s image from just being a Pop label. His work as master of ceremonies for TJ Martell dinner helped make it a great success. I was on the dais at first event. He introduced me and my then-partner Richard Gottehrer by saying, “What, you’ve never heard of Sire Records? Why, Sire Records is as important to the music business as surfing is to the state of Kansas.” After Sire got rolling, he called me several times to congratulate me on the success of The Ramones, Talking Heads, The Pretenders and other signings. I can’t think of anyone more entitled to induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He really wanted it. I nominated him several times. It would be great for his family if he could be inducted next year.

Capitol Chairman/CEO Steve Barnett: “Joe was one of the most important executives in the history of the music business, and one who made lasting contributions to Capitol’s legacy. I’m so glad I got to know Joe shortly after I arrived at Capitol; I’ll never forget how supportive and encouraging he was to all of us as we set out to rebuild the company that he had once helmed with a steady hand and great aplomb during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Joe was one of a kind and a true gentleman, and everyone at CMG joins me in sending condolences to his family and loved ones.” 

Manager Shep Gordon: “I first met Joe Smith in 1969. At the time, Alice Cooper was on Bizarre Records, and they turned us down for tour support. I never liked being told no, and we knew WB Records distributed Bizarre, and even though we hadn’t met anyone at WB, I thought they would be easier to get tour support from WB than from Bizarre, who were extremely hostile. I had done research and got the name Joe Smith and a diagram to his office. The five band members dressed in lamé dresses, high-heel boots and make-up and hair to their asses. We hitched to Burbank and bought $20 worth of Taco Bell's most fragrant food, went across the street to WB and waited till Joe left for lunch. We then went to his office and spread the tacos everywhere, so when his secretary showed up, we were lying on the floor and couches, and the place had a strong fragrance, plus a few beer cans. 

“She got Joe, and he was freaked out. I took him outside and explained we were a band on Bizarre and we had an opportunity to tour, which would sell records and make everyone money. He went from mad to laughing and said he didn’t know who we were, but he would pay to get us out of his office. He walked me to the comptroller’s office and had Ed West write a check for tour support for $25,000—and the first Alice Cooper tour began!”

Music entrepreneur Clarence Avant: “I’ve known Joe for at least 35-40 years, he was a great friend. I last saw him about a week ago when we had dinner together. I was totally surprised when I heard he died. My wife and I send our condolences to his wife and children.” 

Attorney Don Passman: “Joe was the Don Rickles of the music business, loved by artists, executives and professionals. One of my favorite stories was when an artist complained that his album wasn’t selling, and Joe said, ‘It’s in all the stores. Do you want me to hire people with Uzis to stand there and make people buy it?’”

Retired Epic Chairman Dave Glew: “Losing Joe is especially painful, because he was much more than a great record man, though he was one of the best. He was also a quintessentially All-American great guy. I first met Joe in the early ’70s, when I was at Atlantic and was charged with helping to set up the WEA distribution network. At that time, the Mo and Joe show ran Warner, so we were on the same team but also competitors. Joe was as smart and creative as anyone, but what really set him apart was his brilliant sense of humor, which he directed not only at his colleagues but also himself. When Joe was in the room, meetings were never boring!”

Attorney Joel Katz: “Joe Smith was an iconic record executive. He loved great music of all kinds and great vintages of great red wines, and most of all, Joe had a marvelous wit, which he shared with the entire music industry.” 

Bonnie Raitt (via Facebook): “For signing me to Warner Bros. Records in 1971 and then to Capitol Records in 1989, I owe both my start and later-career breakthrough to Joe Smith. Aside from being one of the most beloved and respected executives in the music business, his support of the more non-mainstream artists like Ry Cooder, Randy Newman, The Meters, Little Feat and myself was what drew me to Warners in the first place. In a business that became more preoccupied with short-term profits and commercial viability, what set Joe apart is that he believed in supporting artists for the long haul, allowing us to stretch and grow at our own pace and direction. Giving me that second chance for Nick of Time has made all the difference in my life and career. He was a dear friend and one of the least phony, most warm-hearted and loyal people any of us in this business will be blessed to know.”

Warner Records co-heads Tom Corson and Aaron Bay-Schuck: “Joe was loved throughout the industry, known for his wonderful wit, easy laugh and generous spirit. Above all, he was a passionate, irrepressible music fan. Joe’s influence on the course of our company and our industry cannot be overstated, and we should all be very proud to work at a place that carries on his legacy.” 

Attorney Jay Cooper: “Aside from the fact that Joe had one of the quickest wits I ever experienced and was a forthright, honest and straight-ahead man, he was a brilliant music executive, one of the best ever, in a rarefied class with Mo Ostin, Clive Davis and Ahmet Ertegun. He was a great family man (his wife Donnie is a treasure) and a wine connoisseur par excellence. Amongst other things I learned from him was, ‘No matter how great the wine, it is better if you drink it from the appropriate Riedel wine glass.’ He was special and will be missed.”

Doug Morris: “I was watching The Irishman last night, and it took me back to the old days, when the wise guys were everywhere and the music business was at its most colorful. When Joe was at Warner and Elektra and I was at Atlantic, we were fierce competitors, but we were also great friends. Everybody loved the guy—how could you not? He was warm, funny and sharp as a tack, always with a twinkle in his eye. And when a roomful of label heads and managers were screaming at each other at the top of their lungs—which happened all the time—Joe was the voice of reason, cutting the tension with the perfect wisecrack. Joe made the music business a better place every moment he was in it. He will be missed by many.”

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