Last label loyalist in New York is gone

I’m sorry to hear of the death of Joe Dash, breezy head of CBS Masterworks until its takeover by Sony in 1987.

Joe joined CBS Records in 1969 and became General Manager of its classical music division in 1980. He signed Placido Domingo and made a fortune on his John Denver schmaltz album Perhaps Love. But he ignored an order from the Sony chief Norio Ohga to sign Daniel Barenboim as ‘the next Karajan’ and was gone soon after.

Full story in my book The Life and Death of Classical Music.

This is Joe, signing Liberace to Masterworks just before the roof fell in.

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  • Joe was on an NEA recording panel with me years ago and

    was great to work with and had stories and then some !!

  • Joe Dash was right.
    Barenboim is a reasonably good pianist who somehow got it into his head that he is the second coming of Furtwangler. He is not, nor is he anywhere near the level of Karajan.
    I do applaud DB’s efforts regarding the East-West Divan Orchestra, however.

    • Reasonably good pianist? Had Barenboim devoted himself to the piano and practiced enough, he could have been one of the greatest pianists ever.

  • Well, having worked with Joe at CBS for many years, I can confirm that he had a great passion for music, and that his passion far exceeded his musical expertise – yet he often confused the former for the latter. He was certainly a corporate climber, with his eyes ever fixed on the bottom line – more often than not at the expense of musical integrity. His idea of “great” was pairing Domingo with John Denver (ok, it sold well, but…). Also, he resorted to copy-cat A&R: when DGG cast West Side Story with opera singers, Joe shot back with an utterly tasteless South Pacific, inappropriately cast with Kiri Te Kanawa, Jose Carreras (2nd choice after Domingo refused), Sarah Vaughan, and Mandy Patinkin – great sales, but an artistic nightmare. Joe also thought that signing the Berlin Philharmonic without a conductor was a stroke of genius – only to find that, without von Karajan, consumers weren’t interested. Artists with poor sales were summarily chopped, with the exception of a certain conductor (a Bernstein protege) whose single and double-digit sales-figures in most territories Joe overlooked due to the bouquets of roses the conductor frequently showered him with. Joe’s pathological hatred of DGG culminated in his worst nightmare – when Sony took over CBS and installed his nemesis Guenter Breest over his head. But ultimately Joe’s tenure at Masterworks was marred by an inept A&R director whom he couldn’t dismiss, due to her affair with the chairman of CBS Inc. And when he finally had the opportunity to dismiss her, he replaced her with a buddy of his who was no better. But let it be said that he was a good manager who ran a tight ship.

    • I am wondering if the inept A&R director to whom you refer is the same individual who, at an international A&R meeting, suggested that CBS had better find and engage the singers for their upcoming recording of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. This is absolutely a true story!!!

  • Highly unlikely that Joe would have ignored an order from Norio Ohga (in the interest of saving his job), and besides, Barenboim was Joe’s go-to person when he suddenly realized he needed someone to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic. Barenboim complied, and those few recordings – done without benefit of prior performances, were flaccid and dull. Unfortunately, Decca’s Montreal-Dutoit Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique was realeased at the same time as the CBS Berlin-Barenboim recording – the latter was critically reviled and it died at retail, while the Decca recording sold like crazy and won awards.

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