"For me, being in the business for as long as I have, to be a part of something new, an 'instant major,' and to again be working closely with Clive and making music history It's exhilarating."


An Exclusive HITS Dialogue With J Records EVP Promotion Richard Palmese
A priest walks into an Urban radio station and hands the PD a record called "Virgin." He plays it and explains that it's a rock opera about a nun and a priest who, for obvious reasons, can't consummate their love for each other. A short while later, he exits the station's parking lot grinning ear-to-ear as he listens to the station broadcasting it on his car stereo.

It may sound like a joke, but that true story describes J Records Executive VP Richard Palmese's first foray into the world of promotion. The bug had bit and Palmese's intended career path went astray. He started off as a DJ, first at a classical station and later as morning personality at St. Louis' KSHE. Soon, Palmese's expertise led him to the attention of Clive Davis, who tapped him as Arista's Midwest Regional Promotion Director in 1975, eventually rising to Senior VP. His eight-year stint at Arista took a decade-long break when he moved west to head up MCA's Marketing and Promotion department, and he was appointed MCA President in 1990.

Palmese returned to Arista after Seagram's acquisition of MCA and its properties. Among his accomplishments was the remarkable return of Santana with the smash single, "Smooth."

In 2001 Palmese joined the newly-formed "instant major," J Records, and today sits to do the following chat with HITS' "instant loser," the wry and witty Shirley "Was never a member of the Algonquin Round Table" Halperin. For the entire interview click here.

What were some of the challenges coming into a start-up situation like J?
Our first priority was to hire great people. This may have seemed like a challenge, but the minute people heard that we were up and running, I had phone calls from so many promotion people wanting to work for Clive. In a matter of three months, I was able to put together a top-notch staff of real professionals who are really committed to music and are excited to be here. It was actually kind of fun—I was working out of my home or I'd go to Clive's apartment to use the phones. Sometimes, I'd go to the street corner, where I knew I got good cell service, to make calls to our promotion candidates or keep in touch with the artists that were coming over from Arista. It was really exciting. Even now, with a sizable staff, everybody pitches in—there's a real team spirit here. For me, being in the business for as long as I have, to be a part of something new, an "instant major," and to again be working closely with Clive and making music history It's exhilarating.

You've worked with Clive a long time. That must breed a certain level of confidence and comfort.
His track record speaks for itself. We knew that we were going to get great music and discover new stars. When I started at Arista, it was very exciting for me, since it was my first job in the business, and I was working with Clive—whose book I had just read. Our run was incredible. The second run at Arista was equally incredible, especially the last year, with all those hits from Santana, Whitney Houston and Sarah McLachlan. With J, I felt like Clive was building an even better roller-coaster—one that was going to be even more thrilling. And I have to say, it is. This first year has been phenomenal—the successes we're celebrating have been very rewarding.
I feel like a winning athlete and I truly believe we're going to continue winning for our artists. That's another thing that really makes us stand apart. There are times when I hear a certain record won't be released on a label because the promotion department says they don't "get it." I don't know what that means, but I would never take that position. Even if a song might not be what fits into the format, I wouldn't hold back from trying and believing. We really believe in our artists and their music; we go out knowing we're going to win. It all starts with the belief and that commitment is there from all of us at J—promotion, sales, marketing and artist development people. There's a great camaraderie and connection with the artists here.

Tell us about the set-up on the Alicia Keys record.
I'm not saying that we knew "Fallin'" was going to become the all-timer that it did, but we believed in it. Despite the fact that radio was leaning towards the "Girlfriend" track, which had more tempo, we felt that "Fallin'" was really her signature song. It's uniquely Alicia Keys, touching and relevant. But Clive also knew that radio would probably have a hard time accepting it without some help, so to his credit, we set up some very special evenings with Aliciafirst at a small club, Joe's Pub, then three nights at the Bottom Line, the Roxy, Chicago, Washington, Texas, Atlanta. We did the shows in intimate settings so that people could really experience Alicia and feel her touch. Then we began to work the record at R&B/Urban radio and it was a fight. PDs were saying that it was slow and a little left-of-center It certainly didn't have the tempo that the mixers liked. Pop radio was willing to sit back. And then the video came along; it was great. Clive personally went to MTV to present it and, no exaggeration, they were knocked out. Tom [Calderone] and his people love music, though they're also a tough group—they see lots of videos and are very discriminating—but after the video played, you could see several of the women were teary-eyed. As we were leaving, Judy [McGrath] and Van [Toffler] heard that we were there and asked us to come to her office to show them this video they had heard so much about. Judy said something that was so relevant and true. She said that Alicia was the "perfect role model for girls today." And they made a mighty commitment, [first by] putting it in Buzzworthy, and along with that came a strong commitment from BET and VH1. Because he was so touched by their reaction, Clive did something that he's never done before—he wrote a personal letter to Oprah. Alicia goes on her show and knocked everyone out. That, combined with the video play and the breaking radio picture, led to the album debuting at #1. Now we had everybody's attention.

The Republic empire grows. (2/28a)
There's gonna be an app for that. (2/28a)
Is a seismic shift occurring? (2/27a)
A talk with Top Dog's "Top Dawg." (2/28a)
Many servings of "Mac & Cheese." Yum. (2/28a)
Just kidding. But we'll get there.
How guitar music got big again.
Start digging out your formal wear and let's do this.
it's not what you think.

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