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JOE SMITH REMEMBERED

A throng of industry veterans filled The Wallis in Beverly Hills Tuesday for the memorial celebration honoring legendary Warner, Elektra and Capitol exec and music-biz toastmaster general Joe Smith.

In a program filled with music, warm memories and uproarious stories, speaker after speaker recalled Smith’s generosity of spirit, passionate dedication to his artists (and wine and hoops), his  joie de vivre and his rapier wit. Jeff Smith served as master of ceremonies and did his dad proud as host and raconteur.

Mo Ostin offered an affectionate tribute and vivid memories of the golden age of Warner, and noted that he and Joe ushered the label into the rock era with two signings: Mo’s of Hendrix and Joe’s of The Grateful Dead. Mel Brooks recalled how Joe got him into wine collecting and fondly remembered collaborating on The 2013 Year Old Man. “I begged him to quit his stupid fucking job and become a sportscaster,” Brooks added. Irving Azoff brought the house down with tales of charging up Joe’s personal credit card and hiding his favorite loafers in the fridge.

There was music from Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne, America, Dave Koz and—via video—The Eagles. Also chiming in by video: Clive Davis, James Taylor and a particularly effusive and tearful Garth Brooks.

An amazing assemblage of clips and photos tracked Joe from his early DJ days to his label-boss peak, teasing Morris Levy from the dais of an industry gathering. We heard of how he hired Don Rickles to pretend to be a finance exec and roasted a gathering of distributors. We heard how Jimmy Durante called him The Wizard. We heard that even after a five-hour champagne tasting, Joe was fresh as a daisy in his box to watch the Lakers.

Jeff spoke movingly of his dad’s devotion to family and his joy in life—and brought out his mom, Donnie, whom he said Joe had referred to as “a three-point shot at the buzzer.” She was greeted with a standing ovation, and invited the assembled faithful to gather on the Wallis patio for a glass of wine.

Here’s to the toastmaster.

 

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