by Laurel Fishman
It's all about the magic. It's always been about the magic. The magic was there the first time he ever heard the Beatles, when the song "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" took him somewhere else. Somewhere he never wanted to come back from.
The magic was there when he signed his first act, Foreigner. When he heard the final version of Aerosmith's Pump album as it was being mastered, he felt the magic again. It's there every time he turns on the radio and hears a song he was involved with becoming a hit. The magic happens whenever he stands in front of the stage at a huge concert, right there with the fans. All along the way, the magic has been there. John Kalodner not only finds the magic, he also helps to make the magic happen.
From his signature white suit and John Lennon glasses to his signature record-album credit which reads "John Kalodner : John Kalodner," he is one of a kind. The "John Kalodner : John Kalodner" credit printed on albums by everyone from Aerosmith to Shawn Colvin to Cher to Foreigner to Iron Maiden sums it up. He is his own one-man act when it comes to Artists & Repertoire.
His track record is second to none. It's said that he has a talent for talent, and Kalodner's expertise covers selecting the songs, producers, video directors and additional musicians. He supervises song arrangements, mixing, mastering, album artwork, marketing, promotion and merchandising. He approves the final masters. He determines the whys and wherefores of touring. He guides and counsels.
Kalodner's m.o. is a far cry from the "sign 'em and turn 'em over to someone else" mentality prevalent in his profession. Business-as-usual is never business-as-usual. If he's not in his office, he's out on the road, or at a concert, rehearsal or video shoot. Kalodner means it literally when he says he does everything from signing a band for two million dollars to taking medicine to the artist who's sick in bed.
His unwavering dedication to helping artists get great songs out to the world and to sustaining long musical careers means he won't pursue a flash-in-the-pan clone band or get into a bidding war against other record labels for the Next Big Thing. John Kalodner works -- and works hard -- with his chosen artists because he feels the magic in their music, believes in their potential for longevity, and knows a great song when he hears it. Period.
"He's completely different from other A & R men," says guitar virtuoso and solo artist Steve Vai. "John's got staying power, musical integrity, and a great ear." Vai is known for his perfectionism and rigorous standards in the studio, and he freely acknowledges, "When it comes to what I create, John is one of the few people I'll listen to. Vai affirms that Kalodner has genuine instincts when it comes to talent. "He has the ability to distinguish greatness from crap," says Vai, "and he's been able to pull a lot of crap out of what I do!"
It's true that when Kalodner enters the sanctity of the recording studio while his artists with whom he works are making their music, it’s in his capacity as a trusted advisor. Listening to his acts’ newest material as it is being created is still a magical experience for him, and hearing “Jaded” from Aerosmith’s Just Push Play album for the first time brought tears of joy to his eyes. Kalodner's passion for live shows never diminishes, either. At concerts, he shares the excitement of the fans -- because to this day, he is the ultimate fan himself.
Earlier in Kalodner's life, his love of music motivated him to take pictures of bands, manage a record store, and then land a job as pop music critic for the Philadelphia Bulletin. After two years at the newspaper, he joined the staff of the Atlantic Records New York publicity department in 1974.
As he does now, Kalodner wore many hats in those days. Whatever the record company asked him to do, whether during business hours, after-hours, or on the weekends, Kalodner was there. He wrote promotional materials, took photos -- even at producer Arif Mardin’s daughter's wedding, when asked to do so. And he performed the endless nuts-and-bolts tasks of Atlantic’s busy publicity department.
His eyes and ears were always open. A year later, he moved to Atlantic's A & R department, where he worked on the careers of Genesis and Yes, among others. Kalodner relished going on tour with these bands and encountering the magic of life on the road. In 1976, he was promoted to be Atlantic's first West Coast Director of A & R. In that position, he was key in bringing Foreigner, AC/DC, Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins to the label.
Although the A & R department at Atlantic had already passed on Foreigner, Kalodner believed in the band. When other industry insiders were discouraging Phil Collins from going solo, Kalodner was certain Collins could be a huge star and brought Collins to the label. AC/DC had been signed to Atlantic in the U.K., but there was resistance to picking up the band for the States. Kalodner was behind AC/DC and knew they could make it. He even physically cut and edited the band's recorded tapes together for them.
David Geffen became interested in him in 1980, after Kalodner had been instrumental in signing Survivor to Scotti Brothers. Geffen Records was a new business venture back then, and Geffen asked Kalodner to come on board as the label's first A & R executive -- before the record company had opened its offices. Kalodner agreed.
Kalodner continued working his magic at Geffen. He put together the supergroup Asia, and built the careers of acts including White Zombie, Madness, Wang Chung, XTC, Whitesnake and Aerosmith. He brought Jimmy Page and Sammy Hagar success as solo artists, discovered Berlin, and masterminded the musical collaboration of Jimmy Page and David Coverdale. Kalodner also placed songs on soundtracks of such films as To Live and Die in L.A., Top Gun and Footloose.
He had always wanted to work with Columbia Records, and Kalodner got his chance in 1994, when he was named the West Coast Senior VP of A & R for the label. Since then, Kalodner has worked with Santana, Journey, Manowar, Chicago, Shawn Colvin, Heart, Kenny Loggins, Iron Maiden, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Ted Nugent, REO Speedwagon and the Black Crowes, among many, many others.
Kalodner's determination brought success with Cher when no one else seemed to think she would, could or should sing again -- including Cher herself. He worked on the Runaway Bride, and Armageddon soundtracks. Continuing with Aerosmith, Kalodner helped them bring their magic back. With his support and skill, the band grows year after year in popularity and acclaim.
Since 1987, when Kalodner first became friends with the band Bon Jovi, he has also been a guiding force in their hugely successful career. Starting with their 1988 New Jersey release on Mercury Records, throughout their hit records of the 1990s, and up to this very day with Bon Jovi’s Crush album, Kalodner has always had great influence on the band – so much so, that today Jon Bon Jovi says Kalodner “has meant more to me as an A & R guy than anyone at my own label.”
Jon Bon Jovi also credits Kalodner as the one who originally convinced producer Bruce Fairbairn to take a chance on the group, as well as discovering “Always” sitting on a shelf in Jon’s basement. Kalodner’s intuition was correct about the song, and it became the band’s biggest single, ever.
With Aerosmith and Bon Jovi, as he does with all of his artists and projects, Kalodner unfailingly trusts his legendary instincts. He never consciously considers whether a song has commercial potential. If the magic is there for him, he trusts it will be there for the public, too. And Kalodner really listens to the fans' honest opinions when he's on the road. It's a formula that works.
Kalodner's mastery as an A & R executive lives on not only with Columbia, but with Epic acts as well.
So just what is the true story behind this multifaceted man's defining credit of "John Kalodner : John Kalodner"? The phrase originated with Foreigner's 1978 Double Vision album, when the album's producer, Keith Olsen, was wondering just how to credit Kalodner's involvement with the band and the album. In keeping with the double vision theme, Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones came up with idea of doubling Kalodner's name.
It set a perfect precedent for the credit that follows John Kalodner from one hit record to another, keeping the magic alive.