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A Rock Fan Who Made It Pay Off : But Jim Guerinot Still Steers Clear of System

February 05, 1989|RANDY LEWIS | Times Staff Writer

Jim Guerinot considers the most successful moment of his professional life to have been the day back in 1982 when he stopped going to work.

Oh, he still reports to an office regularly, and he draws a respectable salary: These days, he carries the imposing title of executive director of artist development at A&M Records in Hollywood.

But ever since the wide-eyed, curly-haired rock 'n' roll fan from Fullerton left his job stocking groceries on the night crew at Vons, nothing that he has done for a living--from independent concert promoting to band managing to now--has really felt like work .

"I'd be doing this stuff for free," Guerinot said over lunch recently at a Fullerton restaurant near the family home where he visits his parents every weekend.

The ambitious hotshot who always was in awe of the music industry's movers and shakers has a hard time accepting the notion that he is rapidly becoming one of them. So far, at least, he hasn't adopted the jaded tones of the typical privileged-but-bored power broker.

Wearing a get-a-load-of-this expression, Guerinot described an average weekend after he went to work in 1985 for Avalon Attractions, the giant Southland concert promoter that books the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre:

"I would go down to Newport and body surf or hang out at the beach, then get to Irvine Meadows about 3 o'clock and play basketball (on a backstage court) for a few hours. Then I'd shower up, eat dinner and do the show."

"That's Club Med," he said with a laugh. "That's what I would pay to do."

For a recent presentation on the new artists and records he will be helping to promote at A&M, label president Gil Friesen escorted him through a recording studio where he had an unexpected encounter.

"He said, 'Take a look at this girl singer.' I was watching this female singer doing something, and I realized the guy sitting next to (producer Jimmy) Iovine at the mixing board was Bono (Hewson, U2's lead singer). I'm not a huge U2 fan, by any means, but it was still a kick. It's not the kind of thing that will make or break my life, but still. . . ."

At 29, he still sounds like the kid who used to clip concert ads from newspapers and tack them up to a bedroom bulletin board along with his ticket stubs.

Millions of people grew up loving rock 'n' roll; few have parlayed that love into as dynamic a career, and as quickly, as Guerinot. His first paying job in the musicbiz was as concert chairman at Fullerton College in 1981-82. After a similar position at UC Irvine, he went to Avalon as a booking agent. A booking job with MCA/Universal Concerts was next and led to his current post at A&M.

Two key factors in his rise well may be his unflagging exuberance and that genuine absence of any show-biz affectation: He arrives for an interview wearing the same unassuming black T-shirt and jeans in which he usually is seen at concerts--or around the office.

But the guileless grin and baby-faced demeanor can be deceiving: Guerinot is also a seasoned and, when necessary, nervy businessman.

"The music business is simple: it's all about people," said Steve Rennie, Avalon's vice president. A former independent concert promoter, Rennie met Guerinot while he was handling concerts at UCI. When Rennie closed his own firm and went to work for Avalon, he brought Guerinot along.

"If you can play people," Rennie continued, "you can do all right in this business. . . . Just knowing the music isn't enough, not to succeed at a high level.

"When Jim went over to MCA, it was an absolute steal for them. You just don't get many guys with that kind of enthusiasm who understand music, who have an innate business sense, and who have the proper touch in any situation. There are times in this business when you have to be an absolute jerk and the next second you have to be a nice guy. Usually, you wind up being one or the other. Very few people can do both and be credible."

Before he jumped to the record industry side of the fence last year, Guerinot was among a handful of key players who shaped Orange County's live music scene during the '80s.

A tireless devotee and promoter of up-and-coming bands, Guerinot has pursued the shock of the new from Day One, when he signed punk band T.S.O.L. to play Fullerton College. That show was memorable not just as his maiden voyage as a promoter, but for the booking agent's nightmare it became: When a rowdy, over-capacity crowd showed up, police sealed off the campus and shut down the concert.

Nevertheless, Guerinot soon was hired to book shows at Ichabod's, a crusty bar that once (before the compelling need for Burger King stand No. 4908 brought the wrecking ball down on the place) hosted such cutting-edge bands as Suburban Lawns, the Dickies, the Alley Cats and, in one of those you-should-have-been-there billings, R.E.M. as the opening act for the Untouchables.

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