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The Hot 'Tag Team' of Rock Management : Rob Kahane's faith in George Michael and Michael Lippman's belief in record producers have made them an industry force

April 08, 1990|ROBERT HILBURN

"They are both battlers and that can rub some people the wrong way," said one long-time industry observer who asked not to be identified because he doesn't want to anger either Lippman or Kahane.

"The fact that there are two of them gives them a chance to play good-cop/bad-cop--and whenever you get involved with people who feel as passionately about what they do as Lippman and Kahane, you are going to have some people shouting 'bad cop'. "

Whatever the individual dynamics of the team, the success of Lippman Kahane Entertainment is reflected in the rows of gold and platinum albums found throughout the firm's maze of offices.

While it's artists such as George Michael and Neneh Cherry that would cause the most commotion if they walked across the street to Tower Records, a study of the names on the award plaques underscores that the foundation of the company was built on an imaginative concept: representing producers and songwriters rather than performers.

During his tenure as West Coast head of Arista Records in the late '70s, Lippman, a Rochester, N.Y. native, realized the importance of writers and producers in the making of hit records.

"Having spent so much time with (Arista Records chief) Clive Davis and hearing him say, 'We've got to get this producer or that songwriter' for whatever project we were working on, I saw how vital these people are," said Lippman, who lives with his wife and their two pre-teen sons in Beverly Hills.

"I also noticed a lot of writers and producers seemed on their own a lot in terms of business and career decisions."

From an early producer-writer stable of Bernie Taupin, best known as the lyricist for Elton John, and Ron Nevison, a producer who had worked with such acts as the Babys and Heart, Lippman--and, later, Kahane--built a roster of non-performers that now totals more than 30.

Among them: Mike Clink (whose credits include Guns N' Roses and Whitesnake), Don Gehman (John Mellencamp and R.E.M.), Giorgio Moroder (Donna Summer, the "Midnight Express" sound track), Keith Olsen (Whitesnake, Fleetwood Mac), Narada Michael Walden (Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin), David Z (Fine Young Cannibals, Jody Watley), Richie Zito (Heart, Bad English).

All together, Lippman Kahane Entertainment clients have been involved in albums that have sold more than an estimated $700 million.

About the Lippman-Kahane partnership, one industry insider who also asked not to be identified, said, "They've done a tremendous job with the producers and writers, but the verdict is still out on them as managers of (performers) because their track record is based mainly on George Michael.

"The test is whether they can also be successful with other clients. But they are definitely on the list when someone is thinking about finding a manager.

"Their relationship with all those producers gives them special clout. Record company executives and artists need those producers, so they want to keep on Michael and Rob's good side."

When Lippman left Arista in the late '70s to start his management company, Kahane, a New York City native, was a student at University of San Diego, helping put together a campus concert series.

Kahane smiled during lunch with Lippman at Le Dome, which is virtually next door to their office, when he recalled the near-riot that resulted during the first show he booked at the school.

"The band was Steppenwolf, but when they arrived we discovered that only three of the members had ever been in Steppenwolf and none was around for any of their hit records," he said. "About half of the people at the show were bikers and they realized halfway through the show that this wasn't Steppenwolf.

"Remember now: This is a private, Catholic college that doesn't allow any liquor on campus, and the bikers brought in as much liquor and drugs as you could imagine. They got real upset and started demanding their money back. Needless to say the concert program was off to a shaky start. I made sure the next booking was a lot safer. It was Bob Hope."

Attracted to the music business, Kahane got a job after college with superstar agent Tom Ross at ICM, where he eventually worked with such acts as Robert Palmer and Kenny Loggins. Kahane, who lives in Encino with is wife and their 4-year-old daughter, then joined Triad, where he eventually worked with the British pop-rock duo Wham!, which included George Michael.

When Michael went solo after the duo's 1985 tour, he didn't have any manager for a while. After a few months, however, he asked Kahane if he'd assume that responsibility. That's when Kahane joined with Lippman.

Since then, Lippman Kahane Entertainment has started a record company, a publishing company and a new wing to represent concert lighting directors. MIKA, the record company, is moving modestely, having released just two records in its first year--but one, Deon Estus' "Heaven Help Me," was a Top 5 pop hit last year.

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