Obituaries

Joseph Rascoff; brought money management to rock ‘n’ roll

NEW YORK — Joseph Rascoff, an accountant who exhibited little passion for rock ‘n’ roll but became the powerful business manager and tour producer for a roster of music powerhouses, including the Rolling Stones, U2, and Paul Simon, died April 6 in Los Angeles. He was 71.

His son Spencer said the cause was prostate cancer.

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Mr. Rascoff was a partner at the Manhattan accounting firm Hurdman & Cranstoun in 1974 when he had a serendipitous encounter at an office urinal with Prince Rupert zu Loewenstein, the financial adviser for the Rolling Stones.

“The prince lamented that Hurdman & Cranstoun wouldn’t take on the Stones as an accounting client because they had a history of drug abuse and mismanagement,” Spencer Rascoff said. “My dad then and there took a leave of absence and became the Stones’ road accountant, and then became their tour producer.”

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He never returned to the firm. But he also never stopped being an accountant.

Although Joseph Rascoff preferred classical music, he immersed himself in the rock ‘n’ roll business, which “had never had real professionals attempt to get it under control,” his longtime partner, Bill Zysblat, said in an interview.

Mr. Rascoff was fascinated by the complexities of managing the business affairs of rock artists and the myriad elements of orchestrating long multicity tours.

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His company pioneered tour management that oversaw nearly everything but the artistic side — from lighting and hotel bookings to arena scheduling, trucking, sponsorship, and merchandising — thus taking the logistical details out of the artists’ hands.

“It used to be an artist would tour and take on all the responsibilities,” said Zysblat, a onetime friendly competitor who merged his company with Mr. Rascoff’s to form the Rascoff/Zysblat Organization in 1988. “We would contract out for all the services, and the artists just had to play. And they would end up better financially than they would have been while not having to run the tours.”

The merged company also represented David Bowie, Sting, the Allman Brothers Band, and the Elvis Presley estate. Mr. Rascoff pitched the Presley estate with an analysis of record-industry economics on a blackboard.

“He said, ‘I walked them through a lesson in royalties in records and music publishing, where the record companies had their edge, and how we went after them on audits,’ ” Zysblat said, recalling the conversations he had with Mr. Rascoff as he dealt with the estate.

Two weeks later, Mr. Rascoff got the job, beating out two major accounting firms.

Joseph Fishel Rascoff was born in Brooklyn to Henry Rascoff, a pediatrician, and the former Minna Martz, a criminal lawyer, and grew up in Queens. He began working for Hurdman & Cranstoun almost immediately after graduating from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, becoming an audit partner.

Mr. Rascoff sometimes tried to convince his rock-star clients that they did not need excessive perks.

‘Whatever insanity the band came up with in terms of how we can outdo the next tour . . . it had to be within constraints. For Joe, it was art and business.’

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“He moaned like it was his money,” Zysblat recalled. “So if an artist wanted a two-bedroom suite, he’d say, ‘But it’s just you — you only need one room.’ Or, ‘Really, do you need audience lights? Why don’t you turn on the house lights?’ ”

Mick Jagger and the Stones, with their penchant for producing electrifying and extravagant shows befitting their branding as the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band, were not exempt from Mr. Rascoff’s determined attention to expenses.

“What was most spectacular about Joe,” Michael Cohl, the Stones’ former longtime tour director and promoter, said “was that whatever insanity the band came up with in terms of how we can outdo the next tour and the next tour, it had to be within constraints. For Joe, it was art and business.”

Still, Mr. Rascoff could not help cringing at some of the lavish costs. One day in Berlin in 1990, Spencer Rascoff said, he was watching a Stones concert with his father “where there were these massive inflatable dolls that Mick punched and danced with as fireworks went off during ‘Honky Tonk Women.’” Joseph Rascoff shook his head in disapproval because the fireworks had cost the tour $3 million and the “inflatable dragon woman Mick was gyrating on cost $100,000.”

In addition to his son Spencer, Mr. Rascoff leaves his wife, the former Jane Schaps; a daughter, Brooke; and another son, Jake. A third son, Justin, died in 1991.

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