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Lenny Waronker

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Lenny Waronker
Leonard Waronker

(1941-10-03) October 3, 1941 (age 82)
Los Angeles, California, United States
Alma materUniversity of Southern California
Occupation(s)Music industry executive
Board member ofUSC Thornton School of Music
ChildrenJoey Waronker
Anna Waronker
Katie Waronker
Lily Waronker
Grace Waronker
Parent(s)Simon Waronker
Jeanette Waronker

Lenny Waronker (born October 3, 1941)[1] is an American record producer and music industry executive. As the president of Warner Bros. Records, and later, as the co-founder and co-chair of DreamWorks Records, Waronker was noted for his commitment to artists and his belief that "music, not money, was still number one."[2][3]

Early life and education[edit]

Waronker was born in 1941 in Los Angeles, California[1] and grew up in Pacific Palisades, California. His father, Simon Waronker, a classical violinist, performed with the 20th Century Fox Orchestra from 1936 through 1939, and served as the orchestra's contractor at the studio from 1939 to 1955. When Waronker was 13, his father founded Liberty Records (he was the inspiration for one of the Chipmunks being named "Simon"). With a roster that included Julie London, Johnny Burnette, Eddie Cochran, The Chipmunks, Bobby Vee, Jan and Dean, Johnny Duffy, the Ventures and the Fleetwoods, Liberty became one of the most successful independent labels of the post-World War II period.[4][5] Liberty's first release was an orchestral composition entitled "The Girl Upstairs" by Lionel Newman. Newman's nephew Randy Newman and Waronker – raised in the same neighborhood – were close friends.[6] They frequently visited the Liberty Records office, where they would watch recording sessions and study studio personnel. Waronker had little interest in becoming a musician, and gravitated instead towards production. "I remember going to Randy's house and saying 'why don't we figure out the arrangement for some standard?' And it was just amazing: He'd take any odd standard song and he'd sit down and mess with it and come up with a pop arrangement," he said in a 1994 interview with Billboard.[7]


Liberty Records, Metric[edit]

At his father's urging, Waronker – by then educated in songwriting, the music industry, and publishing – attended USC, where he studied music and business. As he had in high school, Waronker worked in the A&R department at Liberty during summer breaks. Notably, in addition to serving as a gofer, Waronker worked with staff producer Snuff Garrett. Garrett, who was legendary for his "shrewd ability to identify a good song and know what singer could do it justice"[8] heavily influenced Waronker as he learned about production.

Waronker was additionally exposed to songwriters including Burt Bacharach, Mort Shuman, Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, and Doc Pomus.[7]

After his college graduation in 1961, Waronker was employed by Liberty full-time, working in the label's promotion department. A year later, he transferred to Liberty's publishing arm, Metric Music, where he worked for Mike Gould and, briefly, as an assistant to Tommy LiPuma. At Metric, Waronker produced song demos; out of a fear that the producers would "mess up the song or the arrangement", Waronker learned how to make the demos sound like fully produced records with limited funds, and how to take advantage of "moments within a song".[9]

At Metric, Waronker pitched songs to Dick Glasser at Warner Bros. and Jimmy Bowen at Reprise. Impressed by his song demos, Bowen and Glasser recommended Waronker to Reprise label president Mo Ostin. Ostin subsequently hired him as a junior A&R representative for Reprise and for Warner Bros., which was then run by Joe Smith. Charged with developing artists who were originally on the roster of Autumn Records, a defunct label Reprise had acquired, Waronker produced the Mojo Men's "Sit Down, I Think I Love You," hiring Newman on piano and Van Dyke Parks as an arranger. He also produced Harpers Bizarre's "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)," which he hired Leon Russell to arrange. Both songs were hits.[7]

Warner/Reprise, relationship with Mo Ostin, head of A&R[edit]

At the time, Warner/Reprise was characterized by a roster which included Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Petula Clark, Peter, Paul & Mary, and Sonny and Cher.[10] The perception of the label shifted as Ostin and Smith signed artists including Jimi Hendrix, The Kinks, the Grateful Dead, and Van Morrison, among many others, and Waronker signed and/or produced artists including Newman, the Beau Brummels, James Taylor, Arlo Guthrie, Van Dyke Parks, Ry Cooder, Gordon Lightfoot, and Maria Muldaur.

In 1970 Ostin promoted Waronker to head of A&R. Waronker assembled an A&R staff composed of acclaimed producers and artists including Tommy LiPuma, Ted Templeman, Russ Titelman, Steve Barri, Gary Katz, Michael Omartian and John Cale,[3] and by the early 1980s, Ostin, Smith and Waronker had transformed Warner/Reprise into a label known as a haven for artists.[11] Rickie Lee Jones, who Waronker signed on the strength of a four-song demo, was an example of the success of the Warner Bros. artist-centric philosophy; her debut album, which Waronker co-produced with Titelman, went multi-platinum, and was considered by many to be one of the best debut albums of all time. Although the singles charts at the time was dominated by disco and arena rock anthems, "Chuck E.'s In Love" was a Top 10 hit. Jones won the Grammy for Best New Artist in 1979 and Waronker was nominated for a Grammy in the Record of the Year category for his work as the record's producer.[12] (He was nominated in the same category in 1975 for Maria Muldaur's "Midnight at the Oasis.")

President of Warner/Reprise, REM, Prince, resignation from Warner[edit]

In 1982, Waronker determined that his A&R-focused role was limiting and "becoming tiresome." He went to Ostin, seeking to become more active as an executive at the label. Waronker was subsequently appointed president. Although he remained significantly involved in signing artists, and produced tracks including Rod Stewart's "Broken Arrow" and Eric Clapton's "Forever Man," he reduced the amount of time he spent in the studio, and instead worked closely with Ostin to run Warner/Reprise.[3][11]

With an emphasis on the quality of the records they released, under the joint leadership of Ostin and Waronker, Warner/Reprise entered a period of substantial commercial success. Although many of the label's artists failed to deliver records in 1983, in 1984, with multi-platinum records from Madonna, John Fogerty, and Prince, among others, the label posted a 51% increase in revenue.[13] Warner/Reprise continued to thrive throughout the 1980s, with releases from R.E.M. and Prince, both of whom Waronker signed, Eric Clapton, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Paul Simon, Madonna, Talking Heads, Van Halen, Neil Young, and Dire Straits, among others. Through meticulous A&R, Warner/Reprise continued to be recognized for the quality of their roster, and with aggressive marketing, the company remained a dominant force in the market during Waronker's tenure.[7][14]

In 1992, following the death of Time Warner Chairman Steve Ross, the Chairman of Warner Music Group, Robert J. Morgado, reorganized the corporate management structure. Under Ross, the Warner Music Groups were autonomous; Morgado, described as "a bean counter with little knowledge of music," required that the label heads report to him. Ostin declined to renew his contract as Chairman of Warner/Reprise, and resigned his position in August 1994.[15][16] Waronker rejected Morgado's offer to succeed Ostin as the chairman of Warner Bros./Reprise. "The way things are right now, it just doesn't feel right," he said.[17][18]

DreamWorks, return to Warner Records[edit]

In the months following their departure, Ostin and Waronker were pursued by more than a dozen entertainment companies, including Disney, Viacom, Fox, PolyGram and Time Warner. In October it was announced that they would co-chair DreamWorks Records, the newly created music arm of Steven Spielberg, David Geffen, and Jeffrey Katzenberg's DreamWorks.[19] Michael Ostin, Mo's son, was appointed president of the label.

Although he served in a leadership role at DreamWorks, Waronker continued to work closely with artists including Rufus Wainwright, the first artist he signed to DreamWorks, the Eels, Elliott Smith, and Newman, who he brought to the label in 1998. With artists such as Nelly Furtado, Morphine, and Propellerheads, DreamWorks embraced the same artist-first principles that Warner Bros. had become known for, and by 2003, despite the vast changes in the landscape of the music industry, DreamWorks had flourished, with 59 gold, platinum and multiplatinum sales certifications and 26 Grammy award-winning releases. The label was purchased by Universal Music Group for $100 million, and was subsequently folded into Geffen Records.[11][20][21] Waronker left DreamWorks several years later.

In 2010, at the invitation of then-Chairman Tom Whalley, Waronker returned to Warner Bros. as a consultant, and works in partnership with the company's A&R staff on selected projects which have included records by Gary Clark Jr., Kimbra, and Jenny Lewis.[22]

Personal life[edit]

Waronker lives in Los Angeles. He was married to Shindig! star Donna Loren, with whom he had three children, including songwriter and That Dog founder, Anna Waronker, and drummer, Joey, as well as a second daughter, Katie. His second marriage to jewelry designer, Cathleen Waronker, with whom he had two children, Lily and Grace, ended in divorce. He has five grandchildren.[23][24]

Waronker serves on the board of directors of the USC Thornton School of Music.[25]

Selected discography[edit]

Year Album Artist Credit Notable Tracks
2017 Dark Matter Randy Newman Producer
2014 Live Gary Clark Jr. A&R
The Golden Echo Kimbra A&R
The Voyager Jenny Lewis A&R
2012 Black and Blu Gary Clark Jr. A&R
3 Pears Dwight Yoakam Executive Producer
2011 Vows Kimbra A&R
2010 We Walk This Road Robert Randolph and the Family Band A&R and Co-producer
2008 Harps and Angels Randy Newman Producer
2004 Want Two Rufus Wainwright A&R
2003 Want One Rufus Wainwright A&R, Executive Producer
Shootenanny! The Eels Executive A&R
2001 Poses Rufus Wainwright Executive Producer
Souljacker The Eels Executive A&R
2000 Daisies of the Galaxy The Eels Executive A&R
Figure 8 Elliott Smith Executive A&R
1998 Electro-Shock Blues The Eels Executive A&R
Rufus Wainwright Rufus Wainwright Executive Producer
XO Elliott Smith Executive A&R
1996 Beautiful Freak The Eels Executive A&R
1992 Little Village Little Village Executive Producer
1991 "Broken Arrow" (single) Rod Stewart Producer "Broken Arrow"
1988 Brian Wilson Brian Wilson Executive A&R
1985 Behind the Sun Eric Clapton Executive Producer "Forever Man"
1983 Hearts and Bones Paul Simon Producer
Trouble in Paradise Randy Newman Producer "I Love L.A."
1982 If That's What It Takes Michael McDonald Producer "I Keep Forgetting"
Shadows Gordon Lightfoot Executive Producer
1981 Pirates Rickie Lee Jones Producer
Ragtime (Music from the Motion Picture) Randy Newman Producer
1980 Dream Street Rose Gordon Lightfoot Executive Producer
1979 Rickie Lee Jones Rickie Lee Jones Producer "Chuck E.'s In Love"
Born Again Randy Newman Producer
1978 Endless Wire Gordon Lightfoot Producer
1977 Little Criminals Randy Newman Producer "Short People"
1976 Amigo Arlo Guthrie Producer
Sweet Harmony Maria Muldaur Producer
In the Pocket James Taylor Producer "Shower the People"
Summertime Dream Gordon Lightfoot Producer "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald"
1975 Gorilla James Taylor Producer "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)"
Gord's Gold Gordon Lightfoot Producer
The Beau Brummels The Beau Brummels Audio production
Cold on the Shoulder Gordon Lightfoot Producer
1974 Maria Muldaur Maria Muldaur Producer "I'm A Woman"
"Midnight at the Oasis"
Paradise and Lunch Ry Cooder Producer
Arlo Guthrie Arlo Guthrie Producer
Sundown Gordon Lightfoot Producer "Sundown"
"Carefree Highway"
Good Old Boys Randy Newman Producer
1973 The Last of the Brooklyn Cowboys Arlo Guthrie Producer
1972 Sailin’ Shoes Little Feat Executive A&R
Sail Away Randy Newman Producer
Boomer Story Ry Cooder Producer
Don Quixote Gordon Lightfoot Producer
Hobo's Lullaby Arlo Guthrie Producer "City of New Orleans"
Old Dan's Records Gordon Lightfoot Producer
1971 The Doobie Brothers The Doobie Brothers Producer
Into the Purple Valley Ry Cooder Producer
Randy Newman Live Randy Newman Producer
1970 12 Songs Randy Newman Producer
Sit Down Young Stranger Gordon Lightfoot Producer "If You Could Read My Mind"
Washington County Arlo Guthrie Producer
Ry Cooder Ry Cooder Producer
1969 Harpers Bizarre 4 Harpers Bizarre Producer "Witchi Tai To"
Running Down the Road Arlo Guthrie Producer
1968 Bradley's Barn The Beau Brummels Producer
Randy Newman Randy Newman Producer
Roots The Everly Brothers Producer
Secret Life of Harpers Bizarre Harpers Bizarre Producer
Song Cycle Van Dyke Parks Producer
1967 Anything Goes Harpers Bizarre Producer "Anything Goes"
Feelin' Groovy Harpers Bizarre Producer "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)"
"Come to the Sunshine"
Triangle The Beau Brummels Producer
"Sit Down, I Think I Love You" (single) The Mojo Men Producer "Sit Down, I Think I Love You"


  1. ^ a b "Lenny Waronker Biography, Songs, & Albums". AllMusic. Retrieved October 17, 2021.
  2. ^ Selvin, Joel (June 4, 1995). "A Record Executive's Pride and Joy / Warner Bros. re-releases Lenny Waronker's early masterpieces". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved November 11, 2014.
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  4. ^ "THE MEN BEHIND THREE LABELS". The New York Times. November 28, 1982. Retrieved November 13, 2014.
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  6. ^ Chilton, Martin (December 2013). "Political Science (1972) – Randy Newman: 20 essential songs". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved November 12, 2014.
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  8. ^ Garcia, Gilbert (September 3, 1998). "Happy Trails". Phoenix New Times. Retrieved November 20, 2014.
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  11. ^ a b c Willonsky, Robert (December 10, 1998). "The music man". Dallas Observer. Retrieved November 13, 2014.
  12. ^ Morse, Tim. "Classic Tracks: Rickie Lee Jones' "Chuck E.'s In Love"". Mix Magazine. Retrieved November 14, 2014.
  13. ^ Knoedelseder Jr., William K. (February 14, 1985). "Turnaround After 2 Years of Setbacks : Warner Bros. Records Plays a Happier Tune". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 15, 2014.
  14. ^ Knodelseder Jr., William K. (March 20, 1989). "MUSIC TO WARNER'S EARS : Profit from Records Unit, the Industry Leader, Far Outstrips High-Profile Movie Division". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 15, 2014.
  15. ^ Farr, Jory (July 23, 2001). Moguls and Madmen. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. p. 18. ISBN 0743228936.
  16. ^ Phillips, Chuck (August 16, 1994). "COMPANY TOWN : At Warner Bros. Records, Mo Ostin Loyal to the End". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 15, 2014.
  17. ^ Hofmeister, Sally (October 25, 1994). "THE MEDIA BUSINESS; Turmoil Grows Worse At Time Warner Music". The New York Times. Retrieved November 15, 2014.
  18. ^ Phillips, Chuck (October 25, 1994). "Company Town : Waronker Turns Down Offer of Top Job When Ostin Leaves Warner Records in '95". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 18, 2014.
  19. ^ Phillips, Chuck (October 5, 1995). "Together Again : DreamWorks Lures an Industry Titan to Run Its Pop Music Division". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 17, 2014.
  20. ^ "UMG To Acquire DreamWorks Records". Billboard. October 31, 2003. Retrieved November 18, 2014.
  21. ^ "DREAMWORKS AND UNIVERSAL MUSIC GROUP REACH AGREEMENT FOR UMG TO ACQUIRE DREAMWORKS RECORDS". Universalmusic.com. UMG Corporate (Press release). November 11, 2003. Retrieved November 18, 2014.
  22. ^ Roberts, Randall (April 30, 2011). "Kin tight act". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 18, 2014.
  23. ^ "Classic Rock Almanac October 3, 2014". Wncx.cbslocal.com. CBS. October 3, 2014. Retrieved November 18, 2014.
  24. ^ Davidow, Audrey (Spring 2009). "Mini Spree". Modern Luxury. Retrieved November 18, 2014.
  25. ^ "Leonard Waronker". Music.usc.edu. USC Thornton School of Music. Retrieved November 18, 2014.