June 25, 2019

THE SIDEMAN

Joel Tepp backs up music legends like Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne. In his day job, however, he performs for a different audience: Financial Investors.

By Rick Weinberg, Editor, California Business Journal.

Whenever Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne blow through the West Coast to perform at a downtown nightclub or charity event, Joel Tepp often  shows up.

Onstage.

Over the years, Tepp has backed up rock legends including the late Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, J.D. Souther, Little Feat and such blues greats as John Lee Hooker and Magic Sam.

By day, however, he performs for a different audience: Investors.

And while the ovations he receives as a financial advisor might not be as thunderous as those he gets at his evening gigs, Tepp has established quite a following. After 30 years as a financial planner, he oversees more than $100 million in assets for his clients.

The union of music and financial advisory may seem incongruous to some, but Tepp sees pure harmony.

“I like what is enduring,” he says of both his avocation and his vocation. “I like music that reaches you emotionally, transcends styles and sends a message. And I like long-range investment planning.”

Tepp says that some of the same attributes contribute to his success onstage and at work. For one thing, he is happy to stand back and accompany celebrities and clients, rather than hog the spotlight.

“Instead of being the star,” he says. “I am the well-respected sideman.”

As such, he tries to take his cues from the customers.

“I recommend investments that fit a client’s needs as defined by an analysis of their current situation and a gradual concern of what their long-term financial needs are,” he says. “The only biases I have are toward quality and away from gross speculation.”

The same holds true for music. He aims to please the musicians he’s playing with, rather than impose his sound on them.

Roots in Hollywood

Tepp’s joint interest in music and Wall Street date back to his youth in Hollywood, California. A fan of old movies, he was seduced by the musical scenes. He recalls one film, in particular, that convinced him to follow his dreams: In “Sun Valley Serenade,” with Glenn Miller, band members are sitting on a bus, playing their instruments.

“The lead singer is trucking up and down the aisle waving his finger,” Tepp says. “And I remember thinking, ‘That’s the way I want to live.’”

And he has — for the most part. In 1984, however, reality set in. The demands of raising a family (he is a single father of two children) convinced him to pursue a lucrative day job. And again, he remembered a youthful interest — stocks and bonds.

“Investing was a tradition in our family,” he says. “My grandfather was an engineer at GM and Ford and he accumulated company stock. He was a meticulous, fundamental investor, and I followed the market with him.”

Tepp also played the ponies. When touring with various bands, he says, he would spend days “at every major thoroughbred race track in every city I visited.” He studied betting strategies and theories to improve his results. “When I did that, I discovered this experience translated concretely to any systematic, disciplined approach to handling money.”

So he became a broker and started out by cold-calling. “Over time, my growth came from referrals from clients and professionals like CPAs and attorneys,” he says.

From Berkeley to LA

Tepp got his start as a musician while studying criminology at the University of California at Berkeley. But he realized the music action was in Los Angeles. So, after his sophomore year, he enrolled at UCLA as a music major.

Suddenly, at a time when students everywhere were freeing themselves from middle class convention, Tepp found himself smack in the middle of the musical revolution, playing in such famous LA spots as The Ash Grove and The Troubadour.

“I wanted to play with the original blues people while they were still around — guys like Earl and John Lee Hooker, Johnny Shines, Magic Sam,” he says. “And there I was, living a dream, living in Hollywood and half of my friends are singer/songwriters in an era of singer/songwriters.”

Tepp, who plays guitar, harmonica and clarinet, says he “strategically positioned” himself to work with as many of the great blues musicians as possible.

“You’d take a job and it lasts as long as it lasts, then you take another job,” he says. “It was a lot like being a broker. You don’t have one client. You trade with everyone who wants to trade.”

Tepp’s harmonica work has appeared on the soundtrack of several films, including “Walking Tall.” He also played backup music for cartoons with Mel Blanc (the voice behind the Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam characters) and has performed in several national product commercials.

Tepp has performed at benefits with Browne and Raitt for the Songbird Foundation, run by Danny O’Keefe, best known for the 1972 Top 10 hit, “Good Time Charlie Has The Blues.” O’Keefe started the nonprofit organization to help preserve migratory songbirds — of the avian variety.

O’Keefe is so fond of Tepp’s work as a musician that he invited him to play guitar on the track of “Well, Well, Well,” which O’Keefe wrote with Bob Dylan.

“Joel is a tremendous musician, very inventive, innovative, creative and versatile,” O’Keefe says. “He has a great deal of musical depth, particularly in a historical sense. For instance, Joel has tremendous knowledge of various styles of clarinet from early NewOrleans-style to klezmer [a Yiddish gypsy-like jazzy sound]. He can play a wide range of styles on any of his instruments.”

Tepp once played harmonica with John Lee Hooker before a crowd of about 75,000 at the Los Angeles Coliseum during the Watts Summer Festival in 1969. An internet search will produce an extensive list well known musicians with whom Tepp has performed or recorded over the years.

In a much more intimate setting, Tepp cared for his mother for over five years prior to her recent passing and through that process, learned to apply his musical skills to hospice and ICU situations.

As for his day job, Tepp is pleased with what he views as the industry’s increasing sophistication. “I have seen tremendous improvement in our industry with the focus shifting to clients’ needs rather than generating money for the broker by any means possible,” he says.

“The average new broker today is trained more appropriately, by learning the principles of financial planning. I’m happy the way it has changed and grown.”

[Rick Weinberg is Editor-in-Chief at California Business Journal. He is a well-known journalist, writer and reporter who has worked for the New York Times, FOX and ESPN. He launched CalBizJournal.com to focus on California businesses and business professionals and California business information and news.]

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