Concert Impresario Joe Sullivan Passes

Former Nashville concert, management and radio mogul Joe Sullivan died on Friday, June 22, at age 76. During the 1970s and 1980s, Sullivan’s Sound Seventy Corporation was a leading concert-promotion firm in the Southeast. His artist-management clients included Charlie Daniels, Wet Willie, Bobby Bare, Dobie Gray, Nicolette Larson and Dickie Betts.

Sullivan was a native of Manchester, Tennessee. He began his show-business career as a disc jockey on that city’s WMSR radio station. He spent 15 years in the radio industry. It was said that every station he was affiliated with earned its market’s No. 1 rating. By 1969, he was program director at WMAK, then Nashville’s top rock broadcaster.

At the time, most major rock acts bypassed Music City on tour. Sullivan booked Steppenwolf into Municipal Auditorium in early 1970, which launched Sound Seventy. The firm soon changed the face of live music in Nashville.

In 1973, Sullivan brought headliners such as The Rolling Stones, The Allman Brothers Band, Leon Russell and Alice Cooper to Nashville. Five years later, Sound Seventy was also promoting shows in Birmingham, Huntsville, Shreveport, Montgomery, Chattanooga, Dallas, Johnson City, Louisville, New Orleans, Knoxville, Baton Rouge, Jacksonville, New Orleans, Mobile and Pensacola.

But Nashville remained the impresario’s main focus. In 1978-79, alone, he brought to the city such superstars as David Bowie, Van Halen, Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen, The Doobie Brothers, The Jacksons, Elton John, The Eagles, Queen and Billy Joel. In addition to management and concert promotion, Sullivan expanded into song publishing, record promotion and tour merchandising. By the mid 1980s, Sound Seventy was a multi-million dollar Nashville company.

Journey, Tom Jones, Elvis Costello, Bob Hope, Jimmy Buffett, Rod Stewart, Kiss, Linda Ronstadt, Muhammad Ali, Bob Seger, The Beach Boys, Ozzy Osbourne, Bob Dylan, Chicago, James Taylor, Lionel Richie, Tina Turner, Neil Young, Cyndi Lauper, Don Henley and Heart had all enjoyed huge box office successes with Sound Seventy by the time the business celebrated its 15th anniversary in 1985.

So had such country superstars as Willie Nelson, Ronnie Milsap, Loretta Lynn, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Anne Murray, Emmylou Harris and Hank Williams Jr.
In the 1990s, Joe Sullivan moved to Branson, Missouri, and formed The Sullivan Company. In the 2000s, he worked with Larry Gatlin, Rick Springfield, The Fifth Dimension, The Lawrence Welk Orchestra, Billy Ray Cyrus and others in this new show-promotion venture. He had reportedly been in ill health for the past several years.

According to Nashville music industry veteran Steve Greil, Joe Sullivan’s body is being donated to a research hospital in Memphis. Services will take place in Branson and burial will be n Manchester.

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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