Dell Furano, a pioneer in rock merchandising as the co-founder of Winterland Productions and later founder of Epic Rights, an entertainment agency and brand management company, has died. He was 69. The cause of death was not immediately revealed.
Furano started in the merchandising and licensing business co-founding Bill Graham’s Winterland Productions. He would go on to work with some of the top names in music, including John Lennon, the Rolling Stones, AC/DC, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Led Zeppelin, Coldplay, Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z, Maroon 5 and Aerosmith.
“In the ’70s, it was not cool selling merchandise, so we had to be careful,” Furano once told Billboard. “Groups would say, ‘OK, you can sell, but don’t embarrass us. Stand in a corner.’”
Born in Nevada City, Calif., near Lake Tahoe, Furano graduated from Stanford University in 1972 with a degree in political science and government, taking a year off to learn the concert business from Graham before a plan to attend law school. Working part-time at the San Francisco Winterland venue with his brother Dave, a well-known promoter, while still at college, Furano was enlisted to do merchandising when Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann’s wife legendarily asked Graham whom she should talk to about T-shirts and Graham replied, “Go talk to Dell.”
Another variation of his story has Dell stenciling Rolling Stones on a collection of psychedelic tie-dyed T-shirts and selling hundreds of them outside the venue. That was the start of Winterland Productions, co-founded by the brothers with Graham, which soon became the leading merchandising and licensing company in the earliest days of the modern concert business. Graham and the Furanos eventually sold Winterland Productions to CBS Records in 1985, then to MCA/Universal three years later.
In 1993, Furano became the CEO of Sony Signatures, the entertainment merchandise licensing and consumer products division of Sony Corp. directing the merchandise licensing programs for Columbia and Tri-Star Pictures, as well as the concert and retail sales of a number of top music artists. He was instrumental in the company’s successful merchandise program for the 1998 World Cup in France, with record sales for FIFA merchandise.
Furano then started Signatures Network, Inc. in 1999, expanding the enterprise into working on musicians’ online presence, including the management of official websites, social media pages, VIP ticketing/fan club programs and e-commerce sites. Live Nation acquired Signature Neworks in 2008, with Furano serving as CEO of Live Nation Merchandise through 2012.
In 2014, Furano and his wife Kym founded Epic Rights, a full-service entertainment agency and brand management company based in West Hollywood, which also offers services in celebrity, retail fashion and lifestyle branding, e-commerce sales, VIP ticketing, digital fan communities, and global tour merchandising. In February 2019, Universal Music Group’s Bravado, the company’s consumer, lifestyle and brand management division, acquired Epic Rights and, along with it, licensing deals for Madonna’s skincare line, Celine Dion’s handbag collection, an apparel deal featuring the lyrics of Lennon and McCartney, Kiss waffle makers, a CBGB/Dr. Marten’s tie-in and Funko Def Leppard and Duran Duran figures.
Furano was a board member of the trade organization International Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association (LIMA). He was inducted into the LIMA Hall of Fame in 2017, the first member of the music industry to be so honored.
Ozzy Osbourne tweeted, “So sad to hear of the passing of Dell Furano. He was a legend in the merchandising business, a great friend and above all, a true gentleman. Much love and respect to his wife and family.”
Motley Crue manager Allen Kovac said of Furano, whose Epic Rights is handling the merchandising for the band’s upcoming stadium tour with Def Leppard, Poison and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts: “Dell was a trailblazer in the merchandising world. Always smiling as if he had a special gift, something new he would bring you didn’t know you needed.”
Rob Light, head of music at CAA, wrote on Instagram that Furano was “the true king of rock and roll merch. He took an embryonic business and made it part of the infrastructure of Live Music. He always found a way to get a deal done. And always made the artist money. All while being a decent, good person, who always had a smile and lived live music. RIP”
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