Making Cleveland Rock
We're all familiar with Belkin Productions. It all started on April 30, 1931 when the first Belkin brother, Jules, was born. He was later joined by his younger brother Mike.
Jules attended Cleveland Heights High School and graduated mid-term in 1949. He went onto the University of Michigan where he received a degree in business in 1953.
Jules started law school at Western Reserve University but only attended for about a year before he was drafted into the Army. At the same time he was going to school he was working in his family's clothing store, "Belkin's Men's Shop."
He remembers sitting out in front of the store and watching all of the building going on. One summer he watched them start cutting windows into a brick wall - he watched as 93 windows were cut and he was intrigued.
The store moved to West 25th and Clark Avenue and it was with this move that Jules went into the business. Although he had worked in the downtown store as a youth, it was at the West Side store that he really became involved. The family sold the business in 1972, but the buyers retained the name. A fire claimed the store a few years ago.
So in addition to going to school, Jules was also working at the store. It was during the Korean War and the draft was on. He dropped out of school and was drafted into the Army where he served from 1954-1956. He was sent to Fort Knox Kentucky for his basic training.
He remembers that this was also the time of the Sam Shepherd case and he and his fellow soldiers could not get enough of the news about the case. From Fort Knox he went on to Chicago. The Korean War had just ended and he finished his time there in Chicago.
He spent a couple of great years in Chicago, but came back to work in the store. At the same time he opened a few discount stores. Three or four entrepreneurs doing different things would join under one roof, his store. There were a number of these sites, including Painesville and Ashtabula.
This went on for quite a few years. In late 1965, early 1966 he noticed that there was a theatrical series being produced in Akron by John Kenley. Although Jules had no experience he thought this was something that he'd like to do in Cleveland.
He talked to the Hanna Theater and realized he needed to raise about $100,000. He decided he would only proceed if he raised the $100,000 he needed. As it turned out, he raised substantially less and forgot about the idea.
In the meantime, the owner of the store brother Mike was involved with, was a very promotion-minded person. He brought in artists like Tommy Dorsey and Gene Krupa. Then he would tell people if they spent a certain amount of money in his store they would get a free ticket. The owner was getting tired of doing that and suggested that Mike start doing the bookings for the store.
Jules Belkin with Candace Bergen
Nobody in Cleveland was doing anything like that. So Mike and Jules started talking. They had no idea how to book a concert. "What's a stage hand, we asked. How do you sell tickets? Sure, it seems mundane now, but it's of vital importance and we had never done it before."
In 1966 their father passed away. The responsibility of the stores became more intense. But Mike and Jules were risk takers and decided to go ahead and try it anyway.
The very first show they booked was in February, 1966. It was at Music Hall starring the New Christy Minstrels and the 4 Freshman. They chose these performers because they liked their music and hoped other people would too.
They booked two shows for the same evening. The first show of the evening was a disaster. Very few people showed up. The second show was much better. Jules had made vacation plans quite awhile before the show was booked, so he was not there for the first concert. When all was said and done they made a net profit of $59.00.
"Remember men's socks were about 39 cents at the time. You'd have to sell a lot of men's socks to make $59.00 - so it looked pretty good to us."
Jules Belkin with Cher
They started to learn the ropes as they went along. They booked the Mamas and Papas for late March. Jules was doing ads and promotion, Mike was doing bookings. Two weeks before the show the Mamas and The Papas postponed - somebody was sick.
At the time the radio station that had all the clout in town was WJW. The Belkins had a great relationship with the station. Together they chose a new date and re-promoted the event.
Ten days before the show the band cancelled again. The Belkins felt they were being treated improperly. After all, there were expenses involved with each cancellation. So they requested to be reimbursed. The band refused.
"It was well known throughout the industry at the time that The Mamas and The Papas had some drug issues, but it wasn't public knowledge. So we did the only thing we could do to get our money, threaten to go public. They paid the expenses we requested."
The brothers were thoroughly disgusted with the music industry and decided to concentrate on the clothing stores.
Then in April 1966, Belkin Productions (aka Belkin Brothers) got a call from a radio station that they were looking for local promoters for George Wein, the largest impresario of jazz in the world. Jules recognized the name right away.
He knew there was going to be a big Jazz Festival in Cincinnati. He talked to Wein about bringing it to Cleveland and with a $25,000 investment they became partners on the show. "$25,000 was a huge amount at that time. It's still a lot now but in 1967 it was really a lot."
Jules Belkin with Stevie Nicks from Fleetwood Mac
They booked the show at the old Cleveland Arena. In the meantime the Hough riots took place. The jazz audience was a mix of black and white people, but they decided to continue on. There was no Ticket Master at the time. Tickets were sold at Burrows Book Stores and Richmond Brothers Clothing Stores. Jules had to physically take tickets to each outlet and then pick up the money and sales information.
A week before the show there were very few tickets sold and things were looking pretty scary. As the show got closer, ticket sales increased. The Richmond Brothers at Severance Center had a line in front of the store. It was then that Belkin realized people were buying their tickets on the payday closest to the show. The concert with such starts as Sarah Vaughn, Joe Williams and Miles Davis, sold out!
"The evening was magical. All those great jazz names. Black and white getting together, not thinking about Hough or anything else - just enjoying the music. There were no problems at all."
This was the first time Belkin actually made some money and was the true start of the business.
That year they booked Johnny Mathis and three or four other shows and they were all successful. They started to take the whole thing more seriously and knew that in order to expand they would have to do some concerts in other cities.
Jules Belkin with Steven Tyler from Aerosmith
They booked Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. The sound man, Roy Clair (of the largest sound company in the world, Claire Brothers) suggested to Jules that they consider doing Rock n' Roll. He advised them that, in his opinion, the big business was going to be in Rock n' Roll. They started doing shows in Toledo and Akron, in addition to Cleveland and to this day Jules and Roy have a great friendship.
At that time there were only 6-7 places in the country doing what the Belkins were doing. They were mainly in San Francisco, Detroit, Chicago, and Boston. The whole Midwest, including places like Indianapolis and St. Louis, were untapped. So the Belkins started expanding and it wasn't until about five years later that others started following in their path.
The Belkins first office was a small 6 x 8 room where they built a little desk. They were there for about 3 years. The next move was to get an office in a building across the street from the store.
As they continued to grow, they continued to move. Next to 30th and Euclid right next to WEWS, then to Chagrin and Brainard and now in Chagrin Falls.
"The first few years were all about learning the business. Things weren't as sophisticated then as they are now. Relationships and deals were not as difficult as they have become."
Jules Belkin with Dee Snider
of Twisted Sister
In their office they still have a few of the original box office forms from Public Hall and Music Hall. They were framed by the office staff as a gift to Jules and Mike.
Jules successfully promoted Johnny Carson, Tiny Tim, Janis Joplin and hundreds of others. To give you an idea of how times have changed, Johnny Carson tickets went for $7.50-6.50 and 5.50. But that was because he was such a big name. The New Christy Minstrels tickets were $5.50-4.50 and 3.50, which was about standard.
In 1972 Belkin did one of only 2 outdoor musical series in the country. San Francisco had "Day on the Green" and Belkin had The Akron Rubber Bowl. There was a series of artists including The Beatles, Yes, Rod Stewart and Faces, Allman Brothers, Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, Black Sabbath, 3 Dog Night, Chicago, Osmond Brothers and the James Gang. The groups loved playing outdoors.
Who can forget the World Series of Rock held right here at Cleveland Municipal Stadium? The series went on for about 5 years with 4 or 5 concerts a year.
Rolling Stones concert at World Series of Rock
at Cleveland Municipal Stadium
All World Series of Rock seats were general admission.
Starting in 1972 they had (among others) Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, The Band, Rolling Stones, AC-DC, Aerosmith and Bob Seger.
Rolling Stones concert at World Series of Rock
at Cleveland Municipal Stadium
In 1976-77 there were 82,500 people at the Rolling Stones Concert; prompting the now famous t-shirt "82-5 ain't no jive"!
Rolling Stones concert at World Series of Rock
at Cleveland Municipal Stadium
"I grew up with classical music. I played violin for 6 or 7 years. My mother took me to the opera as a young boy and I also love jazz. Mike had a better ear for this kind of music than I had."
Jules Belkin and his brother Michael were also responsible for the careers of a number of local artists. They worked with Wild Cherry (Play That Funky Music White Boy), Joe Walsh, Maureen McGovern, The James Gang and of course, The Michael Stanley Band. Michael still manages Michael Stanley.
Jules went on to become involved with Nautica and The Tower City Amphitheater. Things were beginning to change. A large marketing company was buying up a lot of the smaller companies and promoting events around the country, not just in a few venues. Belkin was approached but at the time was not interested in getting involved.
Eventually the large company, Clear Channel Communications, approached Belkin again and in 2001 the brothers decided to sell. Jules is still a major part of the company working on individual productions and shows. He is less in the music part of the business and more in the promotion end now.
One of the many feathers in Belkins cap was their diversity. Although they put on the finest rock n' roll shows they were not limited to that. They also brought in the Moscow Circus and Ballet. They also brought in "La Cage Aux Follies" when "it was not the thing to do in the Midwest". They were one of the first to promote a one man show "Male Intellect - an Oxymoron" which is now doing very well nationally.
One of Jules' proudest endeavors is his work to bring the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame to Cleveland. "I am very proud of this achievement and the feeling of being part of something new and big and really wonderful!"
Jules says he will always be aware of what's going on in the entertainment world, but he is not actively paying attention to the new bands of today. "People like Josh Groban and Diana Krall are coming into their own today and that's very good."
"Things are different now. Radio is not supporting enough new bands. Some blame Clear Channel because it's so big and one DJ is doing a whole region of radio. I think it's because the creativity is not there. Everything is extremely commercial now. Radio just doesn't break bands like they used to in the '70's."
Amid all of this Jules Belkin had a personal life as well. He married Fran in 1962.
Jules and Fran Belkin
Fran was from Cleveland, moved to L.A. and only came back for a visit when she was introduced to Jules by a friend.
Their first date was April 1st. Then she went back to L.A. and they wrote a little and he went out to visit her on her birthday on May 22 (she's 9 years younger than Jules). While he was out there he proposed - she accepted and by July they were married. "We really only had 2-3 real dates before we got married."
They drove throughout the East for their honeymoon - Maine, Rhode Island etc. and found they had very little to talk about. But they've stayed together over 42 years, so they must have done a good job getting to know each other!
They had their first child, a son, Steven, in 1963. Then a few years later, along came daughter Jaime.
Steve now has three children of his own. He produces his own television show "Quick Witz" the forerunner to "Whose Line Is It Anyway". "Whose Line" star Wayne Brady has appeared on Steve's show and is a close friend.
Daughter Jaime is also married and has two children of her own.
Jules and Fran are very involved in community and charity work. Jules was on the Board of The International Children's Games held this year in Cleveland and has been on the Board of the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame since it's inception.
He was also on the Board of the Cleveland Jewish News and is active in the Jewish Community and the United Way. He is also on the Board of the Cleveland Film Society and the Siegel College of Judaic Studies. Jules is the son of Russian born Jews and takes family and cultural commitments seriously.
He has done extensive traveling throughout the world; Cuba, India, Berlin, Copenhagen. Just recently he took the entire family to Italy.
Jules Belkin family in Florence, Italy
He's been on the cover of the Plain Dealer's Friday and Sunday magazine and various trade magazines. He's traveled with Sonny & Cher and Liza Minelli. He's seen the world and he's been part of the history of music.
All in all you could say Jules Belkin is the American dream come true. The son of immigrant parents he worked hard, had a dream, took some risks and made it happen.
His is not a story of luck; it is a story of a good man with a good work ethic. He is a man of tremendous class and character and this shows in everything he does.
When you see that an event is "A Belkin Production" you can rest assured that it will be quality - just like the man behind the show.
Profiled by Debbie Hanson
Update November 2018. Fran Belkin has publsihed a wonderful book called Rock This Town! Backstage in Cleveland: Stories you never heard & swag you never saw.
As the blurb says: "Fran Belkin's collection of t-shirts wound up in boxes in the attic, until one day she realized these mementos chronicling over thirty years of Cleveland rock and roll history could illustrate the incredible story of a most unusual family business: Belkin Productions.The shirts and swag paint a picture of the times, the music, the bands and the concert promotion company her husband Jules and his brother Mike built into a powerhouse on the national music scene. In Rock This Town!, Fran's collection is artfully woven together with vintage snapshots, concert photography and intimate stories shared by the Belkin Productions crew who lived them. This book is for those of us who were out front, standing drenched in a World Series of Rock downpour, singing along to every word of our favorite song, Bic lighters in the air, screaming for another encore. This is a love letter to every fan of rock and roll."
Do you know somebody with an interesting story to tell?
E-Mail us at:
Top of Page
Back to Profiles of Cleveland Seniors