Industry Profile: Susan Joseph
By Larry LeBlanc (CelebrityAccess MediaWire)
This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Susan Joseph, chairman/CEO, Justice Entertainment Group.
Brooklyn-native Susan Joseph, chairman and CEO of Justice Entertainment Group (JEG) In Las Vegas, possesses a persuasive personality, but she’s also a take-no-prisoners type, with a firm grasp of the realpolitik of entertainment.
Joseph began her career in 1969 working as a secretary at the International Famous Agency (IFA) in New York following her graduation from Emerson College in Boston.
Two years later, she moved to San Fernando, California to work at Day Five Productions, operated by manager Marcia Day, who was then handling Seals & Croft.
After four years with Day, Joseph struck out on her own as a personal manager. Under her company Twin Trumpets Productions, she made a significant mark overseeing the career of England Dan & John Ford Coley, one of the most popular pop acts of the ‘70s.
As president of Grand Trine Management, Joseph went on to represent Laura Branigan, Diane Warren, Eddie Kendricks, Ronnie Laws, Patrice Rushen, Tower of Power, Bobby Caldwell, and Nell Carter.
JEG is virtually a "one-stop" shop providing professional services to the entertainment and sports Industries. It specializes in personal artist management as well as producing, promoting and providing entertainment and sporting event content for arenas, stadiums, theaters, and clubs.
After a decade of being the executive dir. of the Thomas & Mack Center and Cox Pavilion on the campus of the University of Nevada, and the Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, Daren Libonati signed on to become the president/COO of JEG in Aug. 2010. Two months later, he was joined by Jason Finrock who was hired as VP. He had been the associate dir. of marketing and ticketing for the facilities.
JEG currently is the sole exclusive booker of the Thomas & Mack Center and also supervises shows at the other two venues as well.
Management isn’t an easy job.
Management is rough, but, it’s what I do. It’s very hard when your personality leads you into this. I really am a manager. I’m a nurturing person, and I guess that my personality fits into the whole paradigm of what a manager is supposed to be. Still, (what I do), it’s not what other people do as a manager. I’m like an old time manager. I’m very hands on.
What’s the allure of management to you?
The allure is seeing something that I believe in as talent being recognized. That’s very rewarding. It is very rewarding to know that I am looking at somebody or something and somebody else sees it the way that I see it. There’s something very magical about that. It’s something that I love, and I’ve been very lucky that I have been in a situation in my life where I was able to make money at something that I love. It’s rare.
Does it help having your personality? You are both aggressive as well as persuasive. You certainly cut to the chase.
I am definitely that person. Sometimes not everybody can deal with that. But it does help. I am very strong. I’m a person who believes in my own instincts. If I was a wimp or weak, it would never work. And I’m not. I’m very strong, I’m very opinionated, and I trust my own instincts.
Many acts want to hear a potential manager say, “It’s going to be easy to make it.”
They do. I have never dealt with a lot of people like that because I’m a brutally honest person. I say it like it is. I always work with people who are able to take that. If they weren’t able to take it, I wouldn’t be able to deal with them. It doesn’t mean that I’m stupid, but they have to know that if they have no patience…My motto in life is that I’m not in a rush to fail.
Personal management was hard for women in the music business when you were starting out.
It has changed, but I never felt oppressed or abused. I always walked into a record company like I owned the joint. I never felt oppressed because I never allowed that kind of behavior. It was never tough for me because I was as tough as anyone in the room. The major thing in life to be successful--in any business, but certainly in the music business--is to know and to understand people.
Why did you move from Los Angeles to Las Vegas two years ago?
It was by accident. If someone had told me I was moving to Vegas more than two years ago, I would have told them that they were nuts, that they were completely crazy. But somebody called me and my life partner (former Baltimore concert promoter Dick Klotzman) and said that there was a charity here that was in trouble. They were doing a T.I. date, and found out they really didn’t have T.I. (booked). They had been working with someone and really didn’t have the act and really didn’t have the venue, the Thomas & Mac Centre. They pretty much asked us to come and save them.
So we came to Vegas. We called William Morris, and got the act. We went to the Thomas & Mac Centre, and secured the venue. We had a successful show. We ended up having a relationship with T.I., and we did a show with him in Atlanta. And we ended up having a relation with the Thomas & Mac Centre.
You stayed in Las Vegas too.
When we got Las Vegas, we saw this building and decided to take a little office here to have a little base. We loved the building. But for the first five months here, we stayed in hotels because I was not really willing to move from Los Angeles. I had my kids, and my sister is there.
After five months in Las Vegas, I’m saying to my boyfriend, “We need to get a place. I do not want to stay in one more hotel or I’m going to jump off a building. I don’t want to look at another lobby or hear the ‘cling-cling-cling’ of a slot machine. I have to get out of here.” So we did, we got a place. Slowly, and surely, we moved everything here, and it’s been wonderful.
You had had an office in Los Angeles.
I had downsized -- we still had a staff and an office, but, it was small. After Nell Carter died (in 2003), I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay in management. (Her death) was heart-breaking. I was very close to her; and I had to kind of take a breath after that happened. It was really horrible to me. She was young. (Her death) wasn’t a surprise in that she wasn’t healthy, but it was a shock. You don’t really think that someone you really care about is going to die. You just don’t.
[Having previously survived two brain aneurysms, singer/actress Nell Carter died Jan. 23, 2003 at the age of 54 from heart disease complicated by diabetes. She came to stardom by winning a Tony Award for her performance in the Broadway musical “Ain't Misbehavin’” as well as an Emmy Award for her reprisal of the role on television. She also starred in the long-running 1980s sitcom “Gimme a Break!”]
So you opted to stay and do business in Las Vegas.
We ended up not just with a relationship with Thomas & Mac Centre, we hired the person that we had developed a relationship with there, Daren Libonati, to be the president (and COO) of the company. He’s a smart guy, and a hard worker. He was someone we really wanted on our team. We didn’t know exactly how that was all going to work because he was the executive director of the Thomas & Mac Centre. Dick and I had decided early on that we were going to bring him in at one point.
As it turned out, we ended up with a contract to be the sole exclusive bookers of the Thomas & Mac. We brought him in, and we brought in Jason Finrock (as VP), who had been the head of marketing and advertising (associate dir. of marketing and ticketing) for Thomas & Mack. It all worked out.
You are basically a one-stop house for entertainment and sports events.
Exactly, correct. That’s what we are trying to accomplish, and so far it’s been really good. Jeff Flach is our vice chairman. He does movies and television. He used to work for Oliver Stone. He was everything from a location manager to a producer. He produced the TV series “Red Shoes Diaries" for Showtime.
The company is developing reality television shows, and TV shows as well?
I have never understood why there was any kind division between movies, television, and music. Why there wasn’t more of a co-operative effort between all (of the entertainment businesses). It just made sense to me that it should be. I think that there is now a recognition of people saying to themselves, “It’s stupid for us not to get together, and see how we can co-operate, especially given the problems in the music business.
Times were good in the music business in the past, and the music industry didn’t have to look outside.
No, not at all. Yes, exactly right. Now, it has to and, hopefully, people are clever enough, and they are beginning to understand, that they have to look outward. But it’s amazing to me that people still don’t 100% recognize how much everything has changed; and how much we have to do to compensate for the lack of a real record business anymore.
You are trying to be a one-stop house.
We are in every business that is entertainment-related. Everything from boxing to rugby to the rodeo to the circus to “Disney On Ice” to motocross. Everything you can think of. We do all of these events at the Thomas & Mack Center, or Sam Boyd Stadium.
Being a promoter is different a side of the business for you.
No. Not at all. But I don’t even purport to know that side of the business. That’s why I have Daren, and that’s why our consultant is my life partner, Dick Klotzman, who has done over 25,000 shows (in his career).
You are still managing talent as well.
I do what I have always done. I manage people. Right now, I’m managing a group from Las Vegas, the Fulcos. They come from a musical family. The girl Joei is 14, her bother Jesse is 12. Joei writes and plays electric and acoustic guitar, piano and sings. Jesse has been playing bass since he was five. They have played with Big Time Rush, H*Wood, the Spinners and Charice. I’ve been managing them for two years, just developing them.
How does it feel being based in Las Vegas?
It’s wonderful. What I found out about Vegas, which is amazing to me, is that while this is “the centre of entertainment” and all of that, there aren’t a lot of people here that have vast entertainment experience other than showrooms. They don’t really have a broad spectrum of experience here. It is remarkable to me because you would think that they would.
Is there an entertainment infrastructure in Las Vegas unconnected with the casino business?
Very little. We have a sound stage here, and we’ve had been doing some filming. A problem for Vegas is that there are no tax breaks for film and TV shows. So it makes it difficult for people who want to move here.
Acts stay in Las Vegas forever. The casino infrastructure makes it hard to break away.
Very difficult. The money is so good that it just lures acts into staying in one place. It makes it impossible for anyone to want to leave that place. Look at someone like (the late) Danny Gans. He was a tremendous success in Las Vegas, but was never successful outside of this town.
[After stints at the Stratosphere, and the Rio, singer/comedian and vocal impressionist Danny Gans had an 8 year headlining run at the Mirage, where he reigned in his self-titled theater. Before his death in May, 2009 Gans had moved across the street, and into the new Encore Theatre.]
Is Las Vegas a magnet for attracting talent?
I don’t know if this is necessarily like a magnet to come here but there are a lot of people here who are very, very talented.
It’s certainly not known as a music market.
No it isn’t. Not at all. That’s so crazy.
You’re from Brooklyn?
Oh yeah, I’m a Brooklyn girl. I came to California always believing that I was going back to New York. I never thought I would stay out there. It's impossible to even think I would stay out there. But things went well.
What part of Brooklyn are you from?
Brownsville (in eastern Brooklyn). The same street as (boxer) Mike Tyson. I had parents that were Holocaust survivors. I was a rough kid.
How did you get into the music business in New York?
I graduated in theatre and English from Emerson College in Boston; I wanted to be an actress and a singer. I came back to New York after I graduated. My roommate and I took an apartment in Manhattan. Of course, I had to find a job to eat while I was pursuing this career of mine. I got a job at IFA (International Famous Agency). I started out as a secretary. Although I wanted to be in the department that covered Broadway shows, they stuck me in the music department with all of the contemporary bands.
IFA had a lot of rock stuff.
They had everything in the world. They had a lot of rock stuff like the Grateful Dead, and had the more mellow kind of acts like Cat Stevens, and Elton John. But basically, (the agency) was rock and roll.
Who were the agents at IFA at the time?
It was Ed Rubin, Abby Hoffer, Ken Martel, Shelly Schultz, Ron Rainey, and Andy Kaufman.
Your relationship with Seals & Croft developed at IFA.
One of the first acts that they introduced me to there was Seals & Croft, who were signed to IFA. Nobody there want to pay any attention to them. Nobody. I fell in love with them and became friendly with their manager, Marcia Day.
That led to you working with Marcia in Los Angeles for 4 1/2 years.
She’s the reason I moved to California. Marcia said, “C’mon to California, and work for me.” I thought that was a great idea.
What would convince you to go to California to work with Marcia?
It was complete instinct. It was nothing more than she said it, and I said “yes” and I was gone. It really was that simple. I loved the group. I thought that there was a career and a future there for me. I just felt, “What am I waiting for?” In life, it’s good to take chances, especially when you are young. Why not take chances? What do you have to lose?
Seals & Croft was a big act at the time.
They were huge and wonderful people. We had a great time. It was wonderful.
Did you become a Baha'i?
I’ve been a Baha'i since 1971.
Many people felt like outsiders dealing Seals & Croft and their management because of their Baha'i faith.
I say this about any religion, “Never judge a religion by the people.” Or, forget about it. Nobody would be anything. I was so opposed to even thinking about the Baha'i faith when I first met them that I was reading the material just to show them how stupid it was and how cultish it was. Jimmy and Dash would come over to IFA and quote things from the Baha'i writings. I was like, “Oh my gawd, I’m going to die. I’m from Brooklyn. This is the last thing in the world that I want to hear.” But as I was going through the process, I starting thinking that this makes a lot of sense.
[Seals and Crofts--Jim Seals and Dash Crofts--were one of the most successful musical acts of the 1970s. Earlier, the pair were members of the Champs, which recorded the 1958 #1 hit “Tequila.” As Seals and Crofts, their Top 10 hits included "Summer Breeze" "Diamond Girl,” And “Get Closer.”
After converting to the Bahá'í faith in 1969, the duo became part of a family-style religious community and business conglomerate in San Fernando managed by Crofts' mother-in-law, Marcia Day. All five of her daughters were active in the operation, as were Day’s four other sons-in-law who played backup or production roles with the duo. Seals and Crofts disbanded in 1980, and both members went on to become public advocates of the Bahá'í faith.]
What did you learn from working for the late Marcia Day?
I learned about what to do, and a lot of what not to do with Marcia. She was a tough lady. She was very tough. I think that when she was a manager that it was a time that female managers thought that they had to be tougher than the guys to do whatever they had to do.
There weren’t many female managers in the music industry in L.A. back then.
No there weren’t. There was Susan Maneo, and Marcia and later on came Trudy Green and me. That was it. That really was the whole lot.
Marcia made a lot of enemies.
Marcia was tough, but she was also abrasive. She had a way of making people not like her. I learned a long time ago that you never alienate people where there could be a future potential relationship.
When Marcia was no longer managing Seal & Croft, she couldn’t make any headway with any of the record companies. She’d made too many enemies. When she no longer had power, it wasn’t like she could go and use the talent. When you don’t have power, you have to use your talent. You have to use something to get by, and around (obstacles). She never did it. But her whole focus in life was Seals & Croft. I’m not sure she wanted to do something (else) at the end of the day. She was so locked into the (Bahá'í) faith, and doing (management) for the faith.
The first act you managed was England Dan and John Ford Coley with Jimmy Seals’ younger brother Dan.
They had a magical sound together. Like Seals & Croft. They had a harmony that just touched me. It was something that hit me on a visceral level, and on a spiritual level. This (act) was just something that I was going to stick with no matter what. I loved their music. And I loved them as people as well.
They did three albums for A&M Records.
Herb Alpert signed them. (A&M co-owners) Herb and Jerry (Moss) loved the group. They had a hit “Simone” in Japan (reached #1 there; the track was popular in France as well). At that time, Japan was a really good market. By the third album, (the relationship with A&M) just wasn’t working.
[Dan Seals and John Coley first met in high school, in Dallas, Texas. They were both working in a Texas band called Southwest F.O.B. (Freight On Board). The band released one album (since reissued by the Sundazed label) and enjoyed regional success with the single “Smell of Incense.” Southwest F.O.B., however, broke up in 1969. Seals and Coley re-connected again in Los Angeles when Susan Joseph heard Southwest F.O.B.'s album and suggested that the pair try to make it on their own. Seals then called Coley, who was still in Dallas, and encouraged him to come out to Los Angeles. The duo was signed to A&M Records, and recorded three albums there.]
The A&M lot was a magical place in those days.
It was fantastic. Those days, unfortunately, are gone. But those were such wonderful, and amazing days. I don’t even know how you describe it to people who haven’t experienced it.
Who signed England Dan and John Ford Coley to Big Tree Records?
It was Doug Morris. That’s a good story. I was playing (senior VP) Bob Greenberg at Atlantic (music by) England Dan. I kept playing them to him over the course of the year. He said he loved them but that he just needed that one song. So when I found “I’d Really Love To See You Tonight” and we cut it, I brought it to Bob. He said, “That’s it. We’re signing you.” The next morning I get a call from a lawyer, Eric Kronfeld, who said, “You have a record that my client wants.” I asked, “Who’s your client?” He said, “Doug Morris from Big Tree Records.”
I had never heard of Big Tree Records or Doug Morris. I told him that we had a deal with Atlantic. He said, “Not exactly, I think that this is the deal from Atlantic.” I said, “No, no, no! I don’t even know what you are talking about!” He said that Doug was interested in signing a singles deal. I wasn’t interested in a singles deal. I wanted a record deal.
The next day Doug Morris calls me. Well, we were on the phone for five hours--five hours. At the end of the call, I said, “I’m going to sign my group to you because I believe that you are going to break this record.”
[Doug Morris ran Big Tree Records from 1970 to 1978 when he sold the company to Atlantic Records and became president of Atco and Atlantic’s custom labels. His singles-based label released recordings by April Wine, the Neighborhood, Suzi Quatro, Brownsville Station, Lobo, the Magic Lanterns, and Hot Chocolate.]
Now you had to tell England Dan and John Ford Coley that they weren’t being signed by a major label.
Right. That they weren’t being signed by Columbia or Atlantic. Oh my gawd, they were going to assassinate me. They were so angry. They were flipping out. Then Jimmy Seals came over, because he’s Danny’s brother, “How could you do this to my brother?” I said to everybody, “Back off. This is the right decision, and it’s going to work.”
After you agreed to sign with Big Tree, Doug Morris didn’t return your calls.
I couldn’t get him on the phone for two weeks. I started calling him three times a day. He still wouldn’t take my call. So I flew to New York. I went to the Atlantic Building (where Big Tree was) and I went up to his office. I looked in his room and I saw this guy, and I said, “Are you Doug Morris?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “I’m Susan Joseph. I’m here to make my record deal.” I walked in, and we did the deal. It was a great song, and the rest is history.
[“I'd Really Like to See You Again” reached #2 on The Billboard Hot 100. England Dan and John Ford Coley’s follow-up hits on the Billboard Hot 100 included “Nights Are Forever Without You” (#10), “We’ll Never Have To Say Goodbye Again” (#9), and “Love is The Answer” (#10)]
You had a great run with England Dan and John Ford Coley.
It was a great time with great people, and they had such great songs. These were very good people who really always tried to do the right thing. It was a shame that Danny and John broke up, but when you are with somebody for that long, it’s like a bad marriage. After a while you are saying to yourself, “I can’t breathe. If I see this person one more time, I’m going to die.”
At what point did you start managing Laura Branigan?
It was after her deal (was made) with Atlantic Records. I had met her because Jack White, who was producing her, brought me into the studio. I was managing one of his acts, Stevie Woods, that Doug Morris had also signed. So, Jack wanted me to come and meet her. At that point, Laura was being managed by Sid Bernstein. I came in and listened to the music. Her husband asked me what I thought was going to happen with the record. They weren’t releasing “Gloria.” They were releasing another record (“All Night With Me”). I said, “I think the record is going to go to number 69, and drop dead.”
Sure enough, the single went to number 69, and dropped dead, and I got a call from Laura asking me to come to New York, because she wanted me to manage her. She said her contract with Sid Bernstein was up, so I flew to New York. I got the red-eye (flight), and got to their apartment at 9 A.M. She said, “I have to go to Sid Bernstein’s right now, and tell him.” I went, “Whoa. I just flew here all night young lady. You told me that this contract is over.” She said, “Well, we had a little extension. I’m really not signed.” Blah, blah, blah. I said, “You solve it.” She got out of (the contract), and came back, and we worked together. Laura had a phenomenal voice. She really did have a beautiful voice. I loved her voice.
[Despite her big ‘80s hits, like "Gloria,” "Self Control", "Solitaire" and "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You” Laura Branigan is often overlooked today. She died at her home on Long Island, New York, on August 26, 2004. Her death was attributed to a previously undiagnosed brain aneurysm.]
Jack White was working with Diane Warren around the same time.
I signed Diane to Jack White. I was managing Diane and I signed that (publishing) deal. Nobody in the entire world would give Diane Warren a publishing deal. Nobody. A major publisher told me that her music gave him hives. So nobody would step up. Isn’t that horrible?
She was then quite young and, by some accounts, very precocious.
She was very precocious. She also had the talent. We finally convinced Jack to sign her. It didn’t take too much convincing for him to sign her. He started by giving her translations (of Italian songs) to do in English. She worked with Laura Branigan.
[ After producing hits in Germany for Tony Marshal, Andrea Jürgens, and Lena Valaitis, Cologne-born White (aka Horst Nussbaum) hit the international pop music sweepstakes by producing Laura Branigan's ‘80s hits "Gloria," Ti Amo,” and "Self Control.” Diane Warren was signed to White’s publishing company, and Arista Publishing administered his catalog. Through them, Warren had her first hit in 1983, writing the lyrics to Branigan's “Solitaire.” Then, Warren’s song “Rhythm Of The Night” provided a 1985 breakthrough for DeBarge, reaching #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, and was featured in Berry Gordy’s film “The Last Dragon.”]
Management has broadened over the years to now include marketing and other things.
Managers have everything today (in-house), but I’m my entire department when it comes to that because I’ve done it all. When you have done it all, you really can guide people. Even though the business has changed, it still has the same allure for me.
With the popularity of “American Idol” and other talent shows, everybody now thinks they can be a star.
I know. But the lesson to learn from “Idol” is that there isn’t anyone but Carrie Underwood who won “American Idol” who has really stayed around. We have Jennifer Hudson, and she didn’t win. Daughtry didn’t win. Other than Kelly Clarkson, who I am not a fan of, it’s Carrie Underwood. I think that she’s one of the greatest talents ever. She would have made it anyway. The lesson learned is that real talent always rises to the top, as it should.
Do these talent shows unrealistically raise expectations for those involved?
Probably. It probably does raise the expectation, but at the end of the day people from “Star Search” to “The Gong Show” to “American Idol” and whatever, people are always dreaming. People always have, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If we dream, we are kind of in good shape. Our kids are lucky that they live in a place where we do have “American Idol” and can think, “I may be able to make this happen in my life.” That is kind of exciting. More power to them. “American Idol” is a great show. I just don’t always agree with their choices.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record. He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide: Celebrating 40 Years Of The Juno Awards.”