When Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne blow through Seattle to perform at a downtown nightclub or charity event, First Union Securities rep Joel Tepp often shows up.
Over the years, Tepp has backed up rock legends including the Spencer Davis Group, Jerry Garcia, J.D. Souther 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 an advisor might not be as thunderous as those he gets at his evening gigs, Tepp has established quite a following. After 18 years in the business, he oversees more than $80 million in assets for nearly 500 clients.
The union of music and financial planning 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 financial planning.”
Tepp, 53, says that some of the same attributes contribute to his success onstage and at First Union. 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.”
Keep the Customer Satisfied
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,” Tepp 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.
Tepp's joint interest in music and Wall Street date back to his youth. In Hollywood. 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. 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 take. “When I did that, I discovered that translated concretely to commodity futures trading,” he says.
So he moved from Los Angeles — not the ideal place to raise a family, he says now — to a small town outside Seattle and became a futures broker for Kemper (which became Everen and was bought by First Union). He started out by cold-calling. “Over time, my growth came from referrals from clients and professionals like CPAs and attorneys,” he says.
Tepp got his start as a musician while studying criminology at the University of California at Berkeley and performing on the school's NCAA championship gymnastics team. But he realized the blues action was in Los Angeles. So, after his sophomore year, 1969, 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 Sunset Strip spots as The Asbury 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,” Tepp 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.”
A Triple Threat
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 “Walking Tall” and other films. 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 McDonald's 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. Tepp, who also handled the organizaion's finances, says he has a number of celebrities as clients, though he wouldn't name them.
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, he has tremendous knowledge of various styles of clarinet from early New Orleans-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. He also played in the popular '60s band, the Spencer Davis Group. Steve Winwood, the band's most famous musician, had already departed to start his own group, Blind Faith, by the time Tepp joined. “My job,” Tepp says, “was to stand there and play, have people throw garbage at me and yell, ‘Hey you're not Stevie Winwood!’ And I'd go, ‘Yeah, you're right,’ and we'd move on to another city. Not exactly a glamour job.”
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.”