Founded Cleveland Int'l Records, fought epic legal battles with CBS

Veteran record man Steve Popovich, whose label Cleveland International fought and won long-running battles with CBS Records over profits from his top act Meat Loaf, died June 8 in Murfreesboro, TN. He was 68.

Popovich was found dead in his apartment, his son Steve Jr. told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The cause of death is unknown.

After getting his start as a regional promo man in Cleveland in the early ’60s, Popovich rapidly ascended through the promotion ranks at Columbia Records, whose top acts of the ’60s and early ’70s he helped break on radio. He rose to become vp of promotion at Columbia, then took the same post at sister label Epic.

In 1974, Popovich segued to talent scouting as vp of A&R at Epic. Acts he signed and developed included Boston, Cheap Trick, Wild Cherry, and the Jacksons, whom Popovich snapped up after they exited Motown.

Popovich left Epic to inaugurate Cleveland International Records in 1977. One of his first acts was Meat Loaf, a hefty former member of the “Rocky Horror Show” cast. The singer’s ’77 opus “Bat Out of Hell” became a smash, ultimately selling an estimated 43 million copies worldwide.

Meat Loaf’s success led to a protracted David-and-Goliath wrangle between distributor CBS and Popovich, who sued the company in 1995 for unpaid royalties and won a $7 million out-of-court judgment. After CBS failed to put Cleveland International’s logo on reissues of the album, Popovich sued again, winning another $5 million.

After serving as senior vp at PolyGram Nashville from 1986-95, Popovich re-started Cleveland International as an independently-distributed label. His bread and butter was polka music, and the label’s acts Brave Combo and Frankie Yankovic picked up Grammy Awards for their CI albums.

Popovich, who had relocated from Cleveland to Tennessee to be near his son’s family, is survived by his son and a daughter, Pamela.

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