Don Zimmermann, the former President/COO of Capitol/EMI Records, died on Dec. 11. He was 85. The cause of death is as yet unknown, but according to his wife, Rosa, he had been battling a respiratory infection.
Zimmermann’s tenure at Capitol Records were during the gold and platinum era of success in the 1970s and 1980s, with a roster that included all four Beatles, Bob Seger, Glen Campbell, Natalie Cole, Duran Duran, Grand Funk, Sammy Hagar, Merle Haggard, Heart, Iron Maiden, Little River Band, Maze, Steve Miller, Anne Murray, Juice Newton, Pink Floyd, Helen Reddy, Linda Ronstadt. Sweet, Tavares, Tina Turner and more.
His colleagues called him “a natural-born leader, a highly accomplished music executive, a tireless supporter of creative talent and a loyal friend.” Zimmermann was praised for his authenticity, decency and humanity. With his trademark good humor and hearty laugh, his even-handed guidance made Capitol Records feel like a close-knit family.
Zimmermann started out with Capitol/EMI Records in numerous sales and marketing positions starting in the 1960s as a salesman and district sales manager in San Francisco, moving up through the ranks to Chicago, New York and finally, Capitol’s iconic Tower in Hollywood, where he was named EVP/COO in 1976. Zimmermann was named President of Capitol in 1982, had a stint as President Capitol/EMI North America and returned as President of Capitol Records in 1984. Zimmermann went on to become President of EMI International Marketing, based in London, in 1987, then left Capitol in 1989 to become an artist manager. Don loved the ocean, boating, scuba diving and tennis.
Bob Seger remembered the man nicknamed Zimm: “Without Don Zimmermann, there would have been no ‘Live Bullet.’ Don and his crew took a chance even though Frampton and KISS were releasing and working huge live records at that time. That faith he had in us made all the difference in the world. Whether we were recording or mastering or out on the road, he was a remarkable leader and a true friend.”
Said Heart’s Nancy Wilson: “Rest in power Don Zimmermann! He was an early door-opener and mentor for my soulmate Geoff Bywater and he opened the doors of Capitol Records to Heart in the ‘80s. Love is aloft for his wife and family. He was a classic wonderful man of such talent and generosity. He will be missed.”
Added Iron Maiden co-manager Rod Smallwood, “Zimm had a huge role in Iron Maiden’s breakthrough in the U.S. in the early ’80s. A real gent, a music man through and through and great company, he was also a wonderful team player and assembled a terrific gang at Capitol back then and it was a pleasure working with all of them. We were fortunate enough to continue the relationship when he moved on to head up EMI International. Marvelous memories. A great character and modest man, his achievements and character are recognized and admired by all.”
Steve Miller reflected: “As two young men who started working at Capitol as as kids we shared a similar journey as he worked his way through the ranks to became VP of sales and then president of the company. When I signed Allan Livingston had just been fired and Capitol Records was a mess and needed guidance and discipline. The Tower was full of young, ambitious, artists and executives all vying for attention and company resources to advance our careers. It was Don’s ability to marshal the forces, organize the troops, manufacture and sell the the art we created that saved the day. Thanks in a large part to Don’s patience and ability to lead, we all achieved great success. It was not an easy task and he put up with a lot from me. I’m thankful for his effort on my behalf. His life’s journey was an amazing story of determination and talent and hard work and in the end he presided over the one of the greatest sales periods in Capitol Records history. We had many great days together. He is missed.”
Zimmermann is survived by his wife Rosa, and their four children, Richard, Michele, Eva and Stephanie, six grandchildren, Hayley, Jack, Ashley, Daniel, Max and Mayaheul, and great grandchild, Abby.
A small family funeral is being held with a larger celebration of his life planned for when COVID-19 allows.