Jerry Brenner, 73, of Swampscott; legendary music promoter

Mr. Brenner with Joe Perry and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. He worked in the music industry more than 40 years.
Mr. Brenner with Joe Perry and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. He worked in the music industry more than 40 years.

To illustrate how big Jerry Brenner was in the Boston music industry, KISS-108 disc jockey Matt Siegel once asked him in the 1980s how many records on the station’s playlist he had promoted.

“All of them,” Mr. Brenner replied.

The top independent record promoter in Boston for decades, Mr. Brenner worked with such artists as U2, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Celine Dion, Prince, and Elton John to boost their airplay.


A graduate of Revere High School, but never of college, Mr. Brenner carved out a reputation as a street-smart legend and ended up with 125 gold records in his large, oceanfront home in Swampscott. He also became personal friends with Red Sox slugger Ted Williams and met three presidents, along with attending the Grammy Awards and hobnobbing with music industry royalty.

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Mr. Brenner, who spent more than 40 years in the music business, died of lung cancer Feb. 24 in Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He was 73 and had been diagnosed less than three weeks earlier.

To many in Boston’s music industry, his death signaled the end of an era.

“He was in the right place at the right time, back when record companies were making billions,” said George Skaubitis, a veteran regional promotion and marketing manager for Warner Bros.

Skaubitis recalled a time when major record labels such as CBS, Capitol, RCA, and Warner Bros. kept a local staff in Boston, often working with Jerry Brenner Promotions to get records played.


“It was always good to have that second voice in the ear of radio programmers,” Skaubitis said.

Mr. Brenner worked on major promotion projects for albums including the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” Paul Simon’s “Graceland,” Prince’s “1999,” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Tunnel of Love.”

“Jerry was a key part of the Boston music world for many, many years,” said Jon Landau, Springsteen’s manager. “I knew him pretty well back then, and we always got along great. He was a solid, likable guy who always did what he said he would.”

Mr. Brenner started out with the Dumont record distribution company in the 1960s before launching his own business.

“And you have to remember there were no computers or cellphones for most of that time. He sat with people and got things done that way,” said Andrew Govatsos, a promotional veteran for Reprise Records.


“Jerry believed in the three R’s, relationships, relationships, and relationships,” added Paul Barrett, who worked for Mr. Brenner for many years.

Mr. Brenner never sought celebrity for himself, however.

“He was the star behind the stars,” said Jonathan Lev, who worked with Mr. Brenner for 15 years in Jerry Brenner Promotions.

At various points, the company had offices in Winchester, Woburn, Brookline, and Reading, where Mr. Brenner started in the mid-1970s with his partner Carl Strube.

Born in Winthrop, Gerald N. Brenner grew up in Revere “and never forgot his roots,” said his sister, Beverly Brenner Shapiro of Swampscott.

Their father, Philip, worked for General Electric, and their mother, the former Sarah Patt, was a homemaker.

“We were a typical middle-class family,” Beverly said.

She added that “music was a love affair to Jerry” and said that when he was young, Mr. Brenner was a fan of early hits by Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, and Bill Haley.

“He had flipped-out hair, neon jackets, and looked right out of the movie ‘Grease,’ ” she said.

Friends said Mr. Brenner’s charm was dazzling, and so was his work ethic.

“He was a diminutive guy with a giant personality,” said Richie Balsbaugh, the former longtime owner of KISS-108.

When the famed KISS Concerts started in the 1980s, Mr. Brenner “did all the heavy lifting and got the acts to play,” Balsbaugh said. “He was always smiling and always laughing. You just liked him.”

Mr. Brenner’s career spanned significant changes in the music industry. These days, the role of independent record promoters who try to get music played on radio stations has diminished greatly because record labels no longer have the money to pay them and because radio’s influence has waned in the Internet age.

Although known as a Top-40 specialist, Mr. Brenner knew how to adapt. He started a rock division to approach Boston station WBCN-FM and later hired an alternative music representative to pitch music to WFNX-FM. The latter job went to Lev.

“As a boss, you couldn’t ask for a better guy than Jerry,” Lev said. “Jerry told me, ‘I don’t care if you’re at the beach as long as you get your job done.’ ”

Mr. Brenner also launched his own label, Critique records, and more recently tried to revive Menudo, a Puerto Rican teen-pop band.

“He bought the name Menudo,” said Brian Interland, who worked with Mr. Brenner for many years.

Colleagues and friends said Mr. Brenner was known for his generosity. If other promotion representatives lost their job, Mr. Brenner would offer free office space to help them find new work.

“He was a very powerful person, but never let his influence go to his head,” Skaubitis said.

In addition to his sister, Mr. Brenner leaves his wife, Gail Rubenstein ; four daughters, Nina Brenner Stuart of Tenafly, N.J., Nicole and Rachel of Swampscott, and Alana of New York City; three grandchildren; and his former wife, Geraldine Googley of Jupiter, Fla.

A service has been held, and friends plan to announce a celebration of his life and career for this summer.

“He lived for his family,” said Mr. Brenner’s daughter Nina, who added that recently, she wanted to see Elton John at Madison Square Garden in New York.

“Dad made one phone call, and I ended up with one of the best seats in the house,” she said.

“I texted him and said, ‘You’re still the man!’ ”

Steve Morse can be reached at