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'Time of the Season' Benefit Concert Celebrates a Record Industry Hero:
Paul Atkinson
By The G-Man
(more articles from this author)
2004-03-01
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The record business showed its human side recently when it came together to honor a lifetime of achievement by legendary A&R executive Paul Atkinson, while rocking out to finely-crafted music from the sixties through the nineties.

In his nearly four decades of success, Atkinson displayed a rare level of taste, wit, style, charm, and good will. He began as part of the most inventive of the British Invasion bands, The Zombies, whose gorgeous harmonies, infectious hooks and intriguing jazz-pop blend made huge sellers of "She's Not There," "Tell Her No" and "Time of the Season."

TOP TEN TO TOP A&R

Switching from top ten artist to industry executive, Atkinson went on to head the A&R departments of three of the top five major labels, and his contributions range from artist development and production to global marketing and catalog development in both the U.S. and Europe.

He signed ABBA, Bruce Hornsby, Mr. Mister, and Michael Penn, among many others, and worked with Paul McCartney, Aerosmith, Eurythmics, The Beach Boys, Lyle Lovett, B.B. King, Elton John, Tom Petty and Pink Floyd.

As several people noted during the evening, "He has ears."

Atkinson also launched Gamble & Huff's Philadelphia International label (O'Jays, Three Degrees, Billy Paul) in the UK, supervised the UK early campaigns for Bruce Springsteen, managed marketing plans for The Clash and all CBS UK artists, partnered in a syndicated radio programming firm, and co-founded the first nationally distributed Internet-based enhanced CD record label and production studio.

Tess Taylor, President of the National Association of Record Industry Professionals and a member of the blue-ribbon event committee which produced the tribute, noted that "Paul Atkinson is the epitome of class, one of the truly kind, talented and honest people in the record business which makes him rare enough. He also achieved top-tier success as both an artist and an executive which he then sustained for over three decades, a phenomenal accomplishment." This is a testament to his tenacity, skill and ability to be flexible, maneuver with changes over the years and stay in the game when so many others - artists and executives - have fallen by the wayside.

Many would be content to rest on such high laurels, but currently Atkinson consults Warner Strategic Marketing on the Frank Sinatra Reprise catalogue. He also produced a 101-song Nat King Cole Classic Singles Collection boxed set for EMI/Capitol Records, and has guided several independent labels on talent acquisition.

PERSONAL TRAGEDY

Health has become a huge issue for Atkinson in recent years, having undergone two liver transplants, kidney failure (he's on dialysis and awaits a transplant) and has been diagnosed with biliary cancer. Medical bills have skyrocketed, hence the need for a benefit concert.

With the committee of industry professionals working at a feverish pace, a fundraising concert and silent auction were assembled in just six weeks. Performers, each of whom has reason to thank Atkinson for help or guidance during their careers, included Brian Wilson, Michael Penn, Patty Smyth, Richard Page of Mr. Mister, Colin Blunstone with Rod Argent, Mickey Thomas, and opener Bruce Hornsby. Great as many of their performances were, there was a singular event that transcended everything else.

HEART-STOPPING PERFORMANCE

For the first time on stage in America since 1965, Paul Atkinson strapped on his guitar and joined vocalist Colin Blunstone, keyboardist Rod Argent, bassist Chris White and drummer Hugh Grundy, thus reuniting all five original members of The Zombies. MONaturally, a standing ovation greeted them, but there was more than anticipation in the air; there were concerns, too. Could they pull off those sleek harmonies? Are they still able to mix pop, jazz, and rock? Hell, some even wondered if they would be any good at all.

Good did not begin to describe it. They were magnificent. Blunstone sounds like an ethereal choirboy. White, Grundy and Atkinson created enticing rhythms. And Argent is a fluid dynamo on organ. They played just two songs, but it was ten minutes of magic that no one in the room is likely to forget. Launching into "Time of the Season," there was a gasp from many in the audience at how brilliant the band sounded. The song reached intoxicating heights of emotion. At the final chord, the crowd rose to its feet with a roar of approval.

With barely time to catch our breath, they unleashed "She's Not There" and we were on another rollercoaster ride of melody and elation. And yes, there was a third standing ovation afterwards.

To say that The Zombies were the hit of the evening is an understatement, but there were other superb performances during the evening, including those of Page and Smyth, plus a 30-minute mini-concert from Brian Wilson and his 9-piece ensemble. Sometimes cacophonous but often enthralling, their new take on Beach Boys classics is a complete delight.

SMOOTH PRESENTATION

With emcee Shadoe Stevens smoothly guiding the event, there was a non-stop outpouring of accolades for Atkinson. This culminated in Neil Portnow presenting The Recording Academy President's Merit Award to Atkinson. In addition, dozens of industry professionals praised Atkinson's character and accomplishments via video, including Adam White, VP of Communications for Universal Music International, Walter Yetnikoff, the legendary head of CBS Records, and Paul Shaffer, currently musical director for David Letterman but a member of Scandal when Atkinson first signed that band.

JOINING IN THE CAUSE

While the event raised a considerable sum and the silent auction raised an additional twenty-five thousand dollars, this still falls short of what is going to be needed. Which is why Warner Strategic Marketing is spearheading efforts to continue the auction online via eBay. Watch this space for details on the eBay auction to follow soon.

Meanwhile, proceeds will benefit the Atkinson Family Trust to assist with the extreme financial burden placed upon the family by Atkinson's long continuing illness, with funding also provided to The Gift of Life of Foundation and United Network For Organ Sharing [www.unos.org ], both of which promote organ donor awareness.

To take part in helping all these worthy causes, please make monetary donations to: "Atkinson Family Trust," c/o Klein & Company, 11726 San Vicente Boulevard, Suite 420, Los Angeles, CA 90049.


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