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An Insider's Guide to the Royal Court

October 25, 1987

Naming the members of Los Angeles rock's royal court is a tricky proposition. In this high-stakes field, careers rise and fall on the whims of radio programmers and public taste--and knowing last year's names can be worse than knowing no names at all.

Five pop music reporters and critics whose work appears regularly in The Times--Richard Cromelin, Patrick Goldstein, Paul Grein, Robert Hilburn and William Knoedelseder Jr.--were asked to name and profile 1987's rock royalty in Los Angeles.

Here are their choices--the people whose telephone calls are always returned and those special artists whose music adds character and flavor to the Los Angeles scene. At least this year.


They recently were named co-managing directors of Virgin Records America, the new U.S. arm of the British firm owned by flamboyant entrepreneur Richard Branson. Formerly creative services director at A & M Records and head of creative marketing at Warner Bros. Records, Ayeroff is considered one of the most imaginative image shapers in the business. His video campaign for Madonna three years ago helped the Material Girl sell close to 4 million records before she ever performed in front of a live audience. As senior vice president of artists and repertoire at A & M, Harris had a hand in signing such acts as Simple Minds and Suzanne Vega. With all that experience and Branson's money to spend, Ayeroff-Harris is a team to watch. They've already signed Steve Winwood, Warren Zevon and Keith Richards.


The feisty bantamweight made his name as rock's most formidable--and feared--manager, baby-sitting such super-talents as the Eagles, Dan Fogelberg, Stevie Nicks and the Go-Go's. Now he runs MCA Records, once the laughingstock of the industry because of its weak leadership and lackluster roster. Never known as a graceful loser, Azoff has been spending lots of money trying to revive the label with a catchy blend of powerhouse sound-track albums and an influx of young black singers. A shrewd, volatile kingmaker, Azoff courts the press, soothes tender superstar egos and relishes outsmarting his rivals. His feuds are legendary. After a falling-out with a top manager in town, Azoff livened up his rival's 40th birthday party with a surprise gift--a live snake.


In 1981, Branca joined the powerful entertainment firm of Ziffren, Brittenham & Gullen, bringing along a special client, Michael Jackson. Now, at age 36, he is considered one of the most powerful of the entertainment elite--a status saluted in 1985 by his becoming a partner in the firm. He also represents Don Johnson, Peter Gabriel, Mick Jagger, David Lee Roth, the Beach Boys, Giorgio Moroder and Stevie Nicks, among numerous others. Major coups: He masterminded Jackson's nearly $50-million purchase of Lennon and McCartney's songs and the $125-million purchase of CBS Songs by SBK Entertainment. Branca, who enjoys close ties with label heads, specializes in renegotiating contracts for superstars.


As MCA Records' president of black music and executive vice president, A&R, Busby has transformed a company with virtually no black artists to one with such young hit makers as Jody Watley, the Jets, New Edition and Ready for the World. As a reward, Busby now also oversees all the label's acquisitions, making him the industry's most powerful black exec--and perhaps the first in line to run a major label. Having worked in sales, marketing, A&R and promotion before joining MCA, Busby sees the big picture, which is why he gets high marks for long-term career planning as well as for shrewd talent scouting. Busby doesn't have to check his ego at the door. A handmade sign behind his desk reads: "Will you still love me when I'm cold?"


Fired four years ago by Michael Jackson, DeMann has rebounded to become the hottest manager in town. He now guides the careers of Madonna, Lionel Richie, Billy Idol, Peter Cetera and former Bruce Springsteen sidekick Little Steven. Genteel and unassuming, he's the kind of guy who gets what he wants without yelling. He produced a few records in the early '70s, then became a middle-level exec at Elektra Records before teaming with former partner Ron Weisner and establishing Jackson as a force in the industry with his "Off the Wall" album.


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