The Man Who Keeps Legends Alive

09 Jan The Man Who Keeps Legends Alive

Jeff Jampol sees to it that stars like Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Tupac Shakur stay in the spotlight

The Wall Street Journal
Jan. 9, 2014 10:27 a.m. ET


Janis Joplin is having a big year. She is playing to standing ovations every night at New York’s Broadway Lyceum Theatre, where singer Mary Bridget Davies appears to be channeling the wild-child singer from the grave. She’s also the subject of a coming documentary film, has her own clothing line and is going to be on a stamp from the U.S. Postal Service.

Not too shabby for a woman who’s been dead since 1970.

Jeff Jampol, who manages the Janis Joplin estate, is positioning the queen of rock ‘n’ roll to have one of her best business years since, well, she was alive.

Mr. Jampol, who also manages the Doors, as well as the estates of Jim Morrison, Tupac Shakur, Henry Mancini, Otis Redding, Peter Tosh, the Ramones and Rick James, releases records, creates merchandising lines, and produces live theater, among other projects that expose the deceased legends to new audiences. “I manage these artists exactly as if they were alive still,” says Mr. Jampol. “The only thing we don’t do is tour and write new music.”

Since the artists can’t tour, Mr. Jampol is doing the next best thing—making inroads on Broadway, where actors can stand in for the singers, as in the case of Ms. Joplin, whose show, “A Night With Janis Joplin,” toured for two years before coming to Broadway this fall, where it’s doing respectable business. It just played its 100th performance and last week’s ticket sales were $370,000.

Mary Bridget Davies in ‘A Night With Janis Joplin’ at the Lyceum Theatre Joan Marcus

Ms. Joplin isn’t the only one having a Broadway debut. Mr. Shakur’s lyrics and music will make up the score to the Broadway show “Holler If Ya Hear Me,” opening in May. The show, produced by Eric Gold, Jessica Green and Afeni Shakur, and directed by Kenny Leon, tells the story of a man who, upon returning home from jail, has hard choices to face back on the street.

“We think of him like our Stephen Sondheim,” said Ms. Green. “Tupac wrote about universal themes, love, loss, violence, and the day-to-day struggles of humanity. It’s the stuff of Shakespeare—and the songs lend themselves perfectly to a Broadway show.”

Mr. Jampol, who lives in Los Angeles, is currently developing Broadway shows with the Doors and Henry Mancini that he says will respect their music, while exposing the artists’ catalogs to new ears.

In the early 2000s, Mr. Jampol was working as a music manager and teaching classes on the music industry at UCLA. Danny Sugerman, a friend of Mr. Jampol’s and the manager for the Doors, would come to him seeking career advice. In 2003, he asked Mr. Jampol to become his business partner managing the Doors. When Mr. Sugerman died in 2005, Mr. Jampol took over as their manager. A few years later, he took on the estate of Jim Morrison as well.

The three remaining members of the Doors at the time, Ray Manzarek (who has since died), Robby Krieger, and John Densmore, gave Mr. Jampol a history lesson in their music and its meaning. In turn, Mr. Jampol learned how to manage the band and Mr. Morrison’s estate without cashing in on dubious projects. Jim Morrison, for instance, turned down a Buick commercial when he was alive, and the band has, to date, only allowed one of their songs, “Riders on the Storm,” to be licensed, for an ad for Pirelli Tires. It ran in the U.K. for about a week in the ’70s. “I felt awful about it,” Mr. Densmore says of the licensing agreement. “Jim’s ghost got to me.”

There have been plenty of other business opportunities. Under Mr. Jampol’s guidance, the band has sold across all platforms: Album sales have increased 12% this year over last, said Mr. Jampol. Retail merchandise, including T-shirts, calendars and posters, has jumped by 25%, he said. On Facebook, the Doors have more than 14 million fans, with approximately 80,000 new fans a week. “Jeff has really good taste, so if something cheesy comes down the pike, he won’t even consider it,” says Mr. Densmore.

When Laura Joplin, Janis’s sister, a former educational consultant who lives in Northern California, heard about Mr. Jampol’s work with the Doors, she wanted to meet him. “We inherited this responsibility,” Ms. Joplin, who was 21 when her sister died, says of her sister’s legacy. “And it’s not like there’s a school or anything.”

She says a lot of people weren’t interested in handling her sister’s estate. They wanted a living artist whose career was still growing, she says. But Mr. Jampol, who considers Ms. Joplin one of his heroes, jumped at the chance.

Now he oversees an apparel line, Made for Pearl, which is owned by Laura’s brother, Michael, and offers clothing inspired by Ms. Joplin’s iconic boho-chic look. The estate has worked with the U.S. Postal Service to create a commemorative stamp, out later this year, according to Mr. Jampol. A documentary, produced by Alex Gibney, is in production, and the writer Holly George-Warren is working on a new biography.

And because Ms. Joplin was amenable to advertisers (she wrote to the president of Southern Comfort and asked the beverage manufacturer to sponsor her, which they did—giving her a lynx coat and matching hat, as per her request), her song “Mercedes Benz” was used for a Super Bowl ad in 2011, for, well, Mercedes-Benz.

Corrections & Amplifications
In an earlier version of this article Ray Manzarek’s last name was incorrectly spelled as Manzerek, Danny Sugerman’s last name was incorrectly spelled as Sugarman and Robby Krieger’s first name was incorrectly spelled as Robbie.

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