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VIProfile: Steve Popovich, Jr

President, Cleveland International Records
Chairman and President, Steve Popovich Legacy Foundation

By Lee Rennick

Steve Popovich, Jr. makes a point of living his father’s greatest advice, “Be stubbornly passionate about your beliefs.” He is totally devoted to his music and his family. Mention either and you can hear the intensity of feeling in his voice.

Popovich is the son of music producer and promoter Steve Popovich, Sr. who received many industry awards for his work for Columbia, CBS and Polygram Records in the 1970s and 1980s, including six Grammy nominations, with two wins, for label and/or co-producer. He worked with artists such as The Byrds, The Jackson 5, Johnny Cash, Frank Yankovic (yes of polka fame), Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel and Santana. Under his own label, Cleveland International, his most famous project is Meatloaf ’s “Bat Out of Hell” album.

Following in his father’s footsteps into the music business, yet taking his own path, Steve Popovich, Jr. worked for many years as a Producer of Specialty Programming/Outlaw Country for Sirius Radio. He also started his own business, Wrecking Ball Entertainment.

After his father passed away in 2011, it took eight years to close out the estate and Popovich has chosen to relaunch the Cleveland International label in his father’s honor. He has started the label relaunch with the release of a remastered Cleveland Rocks, a compilation of artists from the label’s glory years in the 1970s and originally brought together in 1995. The album contains songs like Meatloaf ’s “Love by the Light of the Dashboard,” and Ronnie Spector and the E Street Band’s “Say Goodbye to Hollywood,” featuring Bruce Springsteen.

Enjoying work with legacy acts, Popovich promoted country great Ray Price’s last album, produced by Fred Foster. He created a special program through Amazon and Cracker Barrel restaurants. The album, Beauty Is…The Final Sessions, honors Price’s wife of 43 years and the eloquence of small moments in a marriage.

Cracker Barrel customers hit the album’s target market and it did quite well according to Popovich. “Every artist is different,” notes Popovich. “But marketing starts with great music, a great song. Then you have to have a good story. It doesn’t happen over-night. It is a process like anything else. The music business is more of a marathon than a sprint.”

While in high school, Popovich worked for his father at Cleveland International and many of the acts his father promoted became family friends, including Meatloaf and Steve Van Zandt. Van Zandt now sits on the board of Steve Popovich Legacy Foundation. The Foundation was started to preserve and promote the arts. It’s first projecthas been the creation of a music scholarship. The first two students were awarded scholarships earlier in 2020 to go to Tri-C College in Cleveland, Ohio.

“We want to expand the scholarship to Middle Tennessee State University, one of the leading music industry business schools in the nation,” said Popovich. Because of his history in the business, Popovich has seen a lot of changes. He says that the business used to be about having promoters and producers with a great ear for music out in the clubs. It was about live music. Now, much of the industry is driven by social media. Yet, Popovich says that there is nothing like live music.

“I hope when this (COVID-19) is all over,” said Popovich, “that we can go back to live music. It is good for the soul.”

The other thing that is good for Popovich’s soul is family. His own two sons, who are both Oakland High School graduates, their little girl who is three and two foster children.

“I have always wanted to work with foster children,” said Popovich. “When I was a kid we took care of my grandmother who had ALS. That is one horrible disease for anyone to have to go through. But it instilled in me the desire to take care of others in need.”

He and his wife, feeling blessed to have so much, decided to become foster parents once they felt they had a more settled life. They wanted to do what they could to help change other people’s lives for the better. In 2012, they were offered their first placement, a special needs child. It was hard, but Popovich says it is not about what you can do for the child, but what the child ends up doing for you.

“We had Dylan for one and a half years,” said Popovich. “He and my wife had a special bond. After he found a forever home, we took a break. It was very hard to let go emotionally.”

Then, in 2015, they got a call about a little girl who was at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital that they were not sure would make it. She needed around the clock care. They prayed about it and decided to take her in. She had to have heart surgery. And they had to have training on how to care for her.

“She made it and we brought her home,” said Popovich. “On the same day, a car pulled up with a little boy. She had a little brother we never knew about.” Both children are now part of the Popovich family, having officially adopted them in June of this year.

“There are so many children in Murfreesboro who have no families,” said Popovich. “We want to do our part to do what we can to help these beautiful children.”

Eventually, they plan on expanding their family, but for now, Popovich is enjoying his life as it is.

“I’m working on a documentary about my father,” added Popovich, “and I am getting into other parts of the music industry. I have just purchased 10,000 negatives from 1964 to 1975 of The Doors, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding and many more for licensing.”

Yes. This is a man with a zeal for music, family and life. “It never felt so good, it never felt so right…”

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