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A TASTE OF RAINMAKERS:
JIMMY IOVINE

Not many current music-biz figures get feature films made about them, but then, Jimmy Iovine is hardly your garden-variety mogul. Part Zelig, part visionary, the colorful, raspy-voiced producer-turned-label head-turned-streaming crusader has consistently found himself in the middle of some of the biggest industry stories of the last four decades-plus—and sometimes it appears that this hyper-driven force of nature has willed his narrative into existence. He’s also parlayed his knowledge and savvy into ventures that have made him the third billionaire in the history of the music biz.

“Jimmy happens to you like a virus,” according to no less an authority than Bono. The U2 frontman has also described his onetime producer and label head as “a heat-seeking missile,” while Iovine’s longtime partner Dr. Dre has noted, “Jimmy has this term: ‘I smell blood.’ When he says that, I know he’s on to something.” Part of what makes Jimmy run is metabolic, it seems. “I am blessed with the energy of a chimpanzee,” he offers. Maybe it’s all that tea he drinks.

As an upstart engineer/producer, Iovine was deeply involved in the creation of landmark albums from John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Stevie Nicks and U2, for starters.

“My nickname was Moochie,” Iovine revealed in a 2014 interview with GQ. “My father was incredible, a longshoreman; my mother was a secretary. Very ‘go to work’ people. That’s how I saw things. I loved music, and I wanted to do something different.” He snagged an entry-level gig in the business at 19, sweeping floors in New York’s Record Plant and keeping his eyes peeled for an opportunity.

It came, magically enough, in 1973, when Jimmy wormed his way into a John Lennon session and made himself useful, whereupon the Smart Beatle ordered, “Stay in the chair.” Two years later, he’d become sufficiently adept and wily to be entrusted with chief engineering duties on the Born to Run project by Springsteen and producer/manager Jon Landau. Through the 1970s and ’80s, Iovine’s profile and bank account grew as his stack of hit albums accumulated: Smith’s Easter, Petty’s Damn the Torpedoes, Dire StraitsMaking Movies, Nicks’ Bella Donna, Simple MindsOnce Upon a Time, U2’s Rattle and Hum.

Iovine has said more than once that he cared just as much about the music his artist clients were making as they did themselves. “When I was in there with them,” he recalled in the GQ piece, “there was nothing else I gave a shit about in life. Nothing. Not even myself.” As time went on, his perfectionism caused him to become increasingly demanding. “Jimmy set a standard in commitment I still look for,” Petty told Rolling Stone’s David Fricke in 2012. “He would throw himself on a grenade to get the track. He also had this saying, when we finished a take and asked how it was, he’d go, ‘You’re a million miles away.’ Jimmy wouldn’t give you anything until you really gave him something.”

When not in the studio, Jimmy—with his ever-present baseball cap and fidgety demeanor—made the rounds of the major labels, trade-talking with Arista’s Clive Davis at the latter’s Beverly Hills Hotel bungalow, swapping anecdotes with Doug Morris at Atlantic HQ in NYC and shooting the shit with Irving Azoff in MCA’s Universal City high-rise.

Those experiences with his artists and executive mentors—whom the ever-inquisitive Iovine pressed for insights, which they readily supplied—progressively fueled his ambition. “I’m a sponge,” he said in GQ. “I can’t learn in school, but I can learn from somebody who I think is cool and great. I have a gift: I’m very lucky to be able to spot when a person is special. I’m good at casting my life, you know?”

At 38, Iovine knew it was time to make his next move. “Producing is too small a hole,” Iovine explained to Fricke. “What I felt in my 20s, I stopped hearing in my 30s. I didn’t feel a thing. I felt it again when I started working with Dre and Trent Reznor. But they wouldn’t have asked me to produce their albums. They didn’t need to sound like Tom Petty.”

Check out the entire Iovine profile here.

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