Music exec Johnny Bienstock died Jan. 20 in Naples, Fla. He was 83.
Bienstock was an exec at Big Top and Atlantic Records and then headed RSO Records, where he worked with artists including the Bee Gees, Eric Clapton and Meat Loaf.
Born in Vienna, Austria, he escaped the Nazi occupation of Austria in 1938 with his younger brother Freddy, who is also active in the music biz. Moving to the U.S., he served in the Army before entering the music biz.
In 1944, Bienstock and his brother joined their cousins Jean and Julian Aberbach in music publishing, working with the Aberbach-owned Hill & Range Music company, which signed country stars such as Ernest Tubb, Hank Snow, Eddy Arnold and Elvis Presley.
When the Aberbachs launched Big Top Records in 1958, he was appointed general manager and supervised hits by Del Shannon, Johnny & the Hurricanes, Andrea Carroll and Lou Johnson. Big Top producers included Leiber & Stoller, Burt Bacharach and Phil Spector.
After Big Top, he joined Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records in 1965 where Percy Sledge and Aretha Franklin were among his first signings. When Atlantic was acquired by the Warner group, the label continued to operate publishing firms Cotillion Music, Pronto Music and Walden Music, which Bienstock headed for two years. He then headed Cotillion Records, which released successes including the “Woodstock” concert soundtrack album and Brook Benton’s “Rainy Night in Georgia.”
He then moved to Ahmet Ertegun and Robert Stigwood’s RSO Records, where helped launch the careers of Eric Clapton, Derek & the Dominos and helped boost the Bee Gees to superstar status. He was instrumental in making Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out of Hell,” which led to relationships with Bonnie Tyler and Air Supply.
He rejoined his brother in 1978 after buying the Moss Rose Music country music catalog. Five years after, he became general manager of the E.B. Marks Music Company, now a Bienstock subsidiary, and in 1993 was a publishing partner behind “Bat Out of Hell II,” Meat Loaf’s follow-up album.
He is survived by his wife of 15 years, Nichola; two daughters; a stepson; brother Freddy; four grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.