The third incarnation of the label that gave us everyone from Ronnie Spector & The E Street Band to Meat Loaf to America’s polka king Frank Yankovic is being guided by Steve Popovich, Jr. a veteran satellite radio and industry executive whose father, the late famed record industry exec Steve Popovich, founded the label in the mid-70s. Prior to launching Cleveland International, the elder Popovich rose through the ranks at CBS Records, becoming their youngest ever VP of Promotion for Columbia Records.
Steve Popovich, Sr. was twice named Billboard magazine’s National Promotion Man of the Year and won the Clive Davis Award for Promotion Excellence. His successes included Simon & Garfunkel, Boz Scaggs, Loggins & Messina, Bob Dylan, The Byrds, Santana, Janis Joplin, Dave Mason, Mahavishnu Orchestra, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Johnny Mathis, Chicago, Tony Bennett, Earth Wind & Fire, Taj Mahal, Miles Davis, Mott the Hoople, Johnny Winter and The Chambers Brothers.
After his history making run as head of promotion, Popovich Sr. became VP of A&R at Epic Records and built a team that launched the careers of Boston, Ted Nugent, Cheap Trick, Jaco Pastorius, Wild Cherry, Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, The Hollies, Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck. He was also a key member of the A&R team that signed and brought the Jacksons, including Michael and Janet, to Epic.
“My dad’s story is pretty fascinating, here’s this guy who grew up in a small coal mining town in Pennsylvania to becoming one of the most beloved and respected people in the history of the record business,” says Popovich, Jr., who began working at the label out of high school during its second incarnation (1995-2003) Over the years, his roles included everything from handling inventory control to overseeing the catalog including production, artwork, manufacturing, distribution, promotion and marketing of the Cleveland Int’l catalog and its subsidiaries. “We were a two man company for the better part of those last few years so working that closely with him on a daily basis with that down in it tenacity was like getting a masters degree in this business.” Says Popovich Jr. He will run Cleveland International out of his home base of Nashville.
“The idea to relaunch had been simmering for a while,” he adds, “when my father’s estate was finally settled after seven in a half years after his passing, it seemed like the perfect segue to me transitioning away from my company, Wrecking Ball Entertainment to relaunching Cleveland International. Home is where the heart is and it was time for me to pick up where he left off. This means everything to me. I knew how much this label meant to him so to now be in this position is quite an honor. This isn’t about me, it’s about him, an opportunity to pick up that torch and carry on his legacy.”
On April 5, Cleveland International is set to re-release their Cleveland Rocks compilation on both LP and CD. In addition to Meat Loaf’s “Paradise By The Dashboard Light,” the 13 track collection includes classics by Ian Hunter of Mott The Hoople (the anthem “Cleveland Rocks”), Ronnie Spector & the E Street Band (“Say Goodbye to Hollywood”), Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes (“I Don’t Wanna Go Home”), Just Us Girls (“Time Warp”), Iron City Houserockers (“Have a Good Time But Get Out Alive”), Euclid Beach Band (“There’s No Surf in Cleveland”), The Boyzz (“Too Wild To Tame”), Essence (“Sweet Fools”), Mike Berry (“I Am A Rocker”), The Rovers (“Wasn’t That A Party”) and Bat out of Hell collaborators Jim Steinman (“Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through”) and Ellen Foley (“We Belong To the Night”).
Also in 2019, the label will re-issue on digital platforms for the first time 10 to 15 albums from its back catalog. Though the release schedule is not finalized, it will likely include recordings by David Allan Coe, Frank Yankovic, Iron City Houserockers and Brave Combo, among others.
In addition to working on a documentary about his father’s life, Popovich, Jr. says that the label will launch an apparel line and other creative projects unrelated to the signing and recording of new artists and digital releases. “There are several opportunities we are looking at,” Popovich Jr. says. “Am extremely excited to relaunch the label and for people to know that we are back in business.”
Cleveland International’s original heyday ran from 1977-83. In 1986, Popovich Sr. became Senior VP of Mercury/Polygram Records in Nashville, having worked with Tom T. Hall and The Statler Brothers as well as signing such notable artists as Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Paycheck, The Everly Brothers, Kathy Mattea, Donna Fargo, David Lynn Jones, Lynn Anderson, Wayne Toups and Frank Yankovic in which he won the first ever Polka Grammy in 1986. Relocating back to Cleveland in 1995, Popovich resurrected the label. Becoming more eclectic, the label expanded from its pop-rock roots into such genres as polka, country, hip hop and rock. Cleveland International scored a Grammy Award in 1999 for Best Polka Album by Brave Combo with their album Polaksonic. A portion of the net proceeds from the sales of the Cleveland Rocks release will benefit the Steve Popovich Scholarship Fund at Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) to benefit students enrolled in the schools music program.