The average tourist might not instantly recognize the name "Joe Smith" when encountering it along Hollywood's Walk of Fame, but music fans certainly will be familiar with many of the pop and rock stars whose careers Smith shepherded during his tenure at three of the music industry's biggest record labels: Capitol, Elektra/Asylum and Warner Bros. Records.
Those would include Jimi Hendrix, the Eagles, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, the Grateful Dead, Van Morrison and Garth Brooks, among many, many others.
Part of the group of so-called "record men" who rose to prominence in the '60s — along with his predecessor at Warner Bros., Mo Ostin, and mogul Clive Davis — Smith ran those labels during what often is considered the golden age of the record business, when record executives prized themselves on their passion for music, not just their business acumen.
Smith has remained widely revered by musicians as well as by his peers in the music business for his sensitivity to artists' needs as well as for a well-cultivated sense of humor. He once chided corporate-minded types for asking him to provide a five-year plan, saying, "Future planning in our business is where you're having lunch Thursday."
He started as a radio disc jockey on the East Coast, moving to Los Angeles in the 1950s. It was here that he took a job as a record promoter for Warner Bros.' newly formed record label, and during the '60s, helped usher in the era of the multimillion-selling album that became a hallmark of pop music in the '70s.
While writing his 1988 book, "Off the Record," he conducted interviews with dozens of pop stars he knew or worked with over the years, from Bob Dylan and Jerry Lee Lewis to Tina Turner and Jerry Garcia. In 2012, Smith donated the raw tapes of those interviews to the Library of Congress so they would be accessible to the public.
— Randy Lewis for The Los Angeles Times