Howie Klein (born 1950) is an American writer, concert promoter, disc jockey, music producer, record label founder, record label executive, progressive political activist, and adjunct professor of music. He is perhaps best known for his role as President of Reprise Records from 1989 to 2001. He appears occasionally as himself in music-related film documentaries and has received accolades for his stance against censorship and for his advocacy of free speech protection.
Howie Klein was born in Brooklyn in 1950. He is a writer and a fan of punk rock. He attended Stony Brook University in New York during the mid to late 1960s, where he first worked in the music industry by writing about bands and booking them for local performances. Notable acts he successfully promoted during those years included Big Brother, Byrds, Jackson Browne, Tim Buckley, Sandy Bull, Country Joe, The Doors, The Fugs, The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, John Hammond, Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, Pink Floyd, Otis Redding, The Who, and the Yardbirds.
He then spent several years exploring Afghanistan, India, Nepal, and Amsterdam, before moving to San Francisco. There, from 1976 to 1978, he co-hosted North America's first regular punk radio show, The Outcastes, with fellow program founders entrepreneur Norman Davis and Chris Knab, then-owner of Aquarius Records on Castro Street. They broadcast from San Francisco's Jive 95, KSAN, from 2-4am on Friday nights, hosting guest interviews with bands such as the Sex Pistols, Iggy Pop, Devo, The Cramps, The Dead Boys, The Nuns, and Roky Erickson. After Davis' departure from the trio in June 1978, later shows were retitiled The Heretics, and featured Davis' replacement, Sean Donahue. While Klein lived in San Francisco, he also hosted a long-running Sunday night radio program on KUSF.
In 1978, he and Knab, with Bruce Bridges, co-founded the San Francisco new wave record label, 415 Records. Klein discovered and signed The Units, Romeo Void, Translator and Wire Train among others.
Howie Klein joined Sire Records in 1987 and was President of Reprise/Warner Bros. Records between 1989 and 2001. During his tenure at Reprise, he attracted artists to the upscale label such as Lou Reed, with whom he had worked while at Sire. There, he oversaw the career development of recording artists such as Depeche Mode, The Talking Heads, Joni Mitchell, The Ramones, The Pretenders, Neil Young, Alanis Morissette, Barenaked Ladies, Eric Clapton, Green Day, Enya, Fleetwood Mac, The Smiths, Ice-T, and dozens of other major acts. Following the Time Warner merger with AOL, on June 29, 2001 Klein resigned; accepting a buyout. David Kahne, who had worked for Klein as 415 Records' A&R manager until 1982, now temporarily controlled Reprise as executive vice president of A&R for its parent company, Warner Bros. The same day Klein resigned, Kahne rejected Wilco's newly recorded album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, leading to the termination of Wilco's multi-album contract with Reprise. The Washington Post noted that the change marked a "seismic shift" from the label's former "artist-friendly" reputation.
During and after his work with Sire and Reprise, Klein distinguished himself as a stalwart opponent of censorship and a dedicated advocate of free speech. Reprise Records was started by Frank Sinatra in 1960, securing what he saw as artistic freedom from his former record label, Capitol Records. Klein carried Sinatra's tradition further, clearly articulating his even broader vision that creative freedom was not limited only to choosing one's business and music partners, but also encompassed the freedom to write, even about controversial topics, as one saw fit.
The 1992 United States presidential election saw Bill Clinton choose Senator Al Gore as his vice presidential running mate. This decision disturbed many democrats and music industry professionals, including Klein, because Gore's wife, Tipper Gore, with Susan Baker, had co-founded the Parents Music Resource Center. The PMRC had initiated senate hearings in 1985 on "potentially harmful lyrics", spearheading a five year effort that by 1990 had successfully forced the recording industry to implement a voluntary identification and labeling system to warn parents about music containing explicit lyrics. Tipper Gore's vocal and instrumental role in the PMRC was perceived by some as a campaign of outright censorship against musicians and the music industry itself. Klein took an active role in publicizing these concerns through speaking engagements and by becoming one of the most influential supporters of a very effective, multi-million dollar, industry-wide campaign to register and educate young music-loving voters, called Rock the Vote.
His anti-censorship efforts earned him one of two Spirit of Liberty Awards bestowed in 1999 by People for the American Way; co-honored that year was filmmaker and actor Rob Reiner. Klein created a CD for the awards ceremony, demonstrating his unflinching support for protection of the artistic freedom to convey important social and political ideas in ways that might scare the establishment. Fuck Censorship was a compilation of censored and off-color songs celebrating everything from cannabis to cross-dressing; the liner notes of which contained a pointed message from Klein, "Sometimes protecting freedom of speech isn't pretty." In 2000, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California honored him with its "Bill of Rights Award" for his activism in the protection of free speech. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for People for the American Way.
Klein has appeared (as himself) in three music documentary films: Lifestyles of the Ramones (2001), a George Seminara film about The Ramones; I Am Trying to Break Your Heart (2002), a Sam Jones film about Wilco; and Fix (2011), a Doug Freel film about Ministry.
In early 2005, he was appointed to the board of directors of JamBase.com, a San Francisco-based internet search engine company focused on concert and tour date information, whose founder and CEO Andy Gadiel cited Klein's reputation as "a true artist's advocate".
On August 25, 2011, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum archived a gift from Klein, the Howie Klein Collection, consisting of research materials evidencing a broad cross-section of musical acts that appeared on Sire, Reprise, and Warner Brothers labels and spanning his tenure as a record company executive between 1983-2001. The collection comprises several videocassettes of electronic press kits, tubed posters, artist itineraries, and a three-ring binder containing the Warner/Chappell "Mighty Three Music Catalog". It also contains a certificate for 1000 shares of 415 Records, Ltd.. While copyright interests in the collection were not transferred, its contents are open for research. Housed in the collection are materials related to all three record companies and to bands and musical artists including B-52's, Babes in Toyland, Barenaked Ladies, BoDeans, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Kasey Chambers, Eric Clapton, The Cult, Depeche Mode, Tanya Donelly, Erasure, Faith No More, Filter, Fleetwood Mac, Chris Isaak, Rikki Lee Jones, Chaka Khan, Living End, Joni Mitchell, Modey Lemon, Nu Flavor, Orgy, Recoil, Lou Reed, The Replacements, Snake River Conspiracy, Steely Dan, Temple of Hiphop, Videodrone, Neil Young, and Zwan.
Klein now lives in Los Angeles, where he writes the progressive political blog, DownWithTyranny! and regularly guest blogs on Crooks and Liars.com's Late Night Music Club feature and on Firedoglake.com. He is the Founder and Treasurer of Blue America PAC, serves on the Board of Directors for the Progressive Congress Action Fund, and is a member of the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy's Netroots Advisory Council. He is also an adjunct professor of music at McGill University in Montreal, where he sometimes lectures.
References In Popular Culture
- "Eworldwire: JamBase".
- "Rock's Backpages Writers: Howie Klein".
- "Huffington Post: Howie Klein".
- "The Outcastes". Retrieved 2012-02-29.
- Levitin, Daniel. "A Brief History of 415 Records". Retrieved 2011-06-26.[dead link]
- "Lou Reed Signs With Reprise". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2007-09-09.
- "Howie Klein: The Impact of Corporatization of the Music Business".
- Jim DeRogatis (December 2001). Spin Magazine. Retrieved 2012-02-29.
- Zac Crain. "Sunken Treasure". Dallas Observer.
- Greg Kot (July 24, 2004). "'A rock & roll swindle'". Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Retrieved 2007-09-09.[dead link]
- Richard Harrington (August 9, 2002). "And the Band Played On". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-09-09.
- James Sullivan (January 9, 2000). "Reprise's Klein Fights Censorship". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2012-03-01.
- Chuck Phillips (1992-09-27). "Pop Eye: Rock Industry Heavyweights Tussle Over Tipper". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-03-01.
- Warner Bros. Records. "ACLU honors Reprise president Howie Klein". URL accessed February 28, 2012.
- "People for the American Way Board of Directors".
- "IMDB "Lifestyles of The Ramones"". IMDB. Retrieved 2012-02-29.
- "IMDB "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart"". IMDB. Retrieved 2012-02-29.
- "IMDB "Fix"". IMDB. Retrieved 2012-02-29.
- "Howie Klein Collection".
- "Firedoglake: Howie Klein".
- "OpenSecrets.org Center for Responsive Politics: Blue America PAC".
- "Progressive Congress Action Fund Board of Directors".
- "Announcing a think tank first-- DMI's Netroots Advisory Council".
- "John Wesley Harding: God Made Me Do It".