Steven DePaul ’73 has known his share of famous people. He tuned guitars for Joni Mitchell, kept the books for Bruce Springsteen, and learned the secrets of making good television from “NYPD Blue” creator Steven Bochco.
They all had an impact on him. But so did Joe Bailey.
Bailey was a custodian at Clark in the 1960s and early ’70s when Atwood Hall throbbed and shook with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, and James Brown. When DePaul arrived at Clark in the fall of ’68 and joined the Social Affairs Board, he helped stage shows in Atwood, and quickly discovered that Joe was the students’ best ally for making those productions hum. He gave them access to the lightboard and let them prowl the auditorium before and during the concerts.
“Joe was a really great man,” DePaul remembers. “He put up with us, even when our eyes were dancing.”
His experiences with both the Joe Baileys and the James Browns of the world helped nudge DePaul toward a career that gave him a front-row seat and a backstage pass to legendary music acts, and eventually led him into a career in television.
Before he’d even enrolled, DePaul was familiar with the Clark music scene thanks to his brother David ’69, who was active in the Social Affairs Board. Steven would take the bus to Clark from their home in Manhattan to see some of the greats perform. (Not long after graduating, David, who worked for a music agency, died in an accident while driving a band to a New Hampshire gig during a snowstorm.)
Steven had been at Clark only a day when Bob Echter ’69, the head of the Social Affairs Board, asked him to recruit some guys to set up for a show in Little Commons featuring Chuck Berry and J. Geils. Then there were Ray Charles, Janis Joplin, and Procol Harum. Frank Zappa played in the Women’s Gym; jazz and folk artists from Charles Mingus to Maria Muldaur performed on campus. With Holy Cross students, the SAB co-produced a performance by The Who in the Holy Cross field house in 1969. “They played ‘Tommy’ all the way through. That concert was insane.”
“The first time I was ever on a tour bus was the day after the Flying Burrito Brothers played at Clark. I rode with the band to a bank at Webster Square to help them cash their check so they could get to the next venue,” he recalls. A few years later, DePaul wound up working for the band’s co-originator, Chris Hillman.
After Clark, DePaul took graduate courses in Boulder, Colorado, but left school to join the road crew of the country rock band Poco alongside Clark friend Jimmy Collins. That work got him connected to other bands, and he and Collins, while living in Worcester, routinely went on tour, driving trucks, unloading gear, and doing whatever needed to be done to set up and break down a show.
“It was a gamble on their part, but we made relationships and people trusted us,” he says. “They knew we’d show up at the gig and that we wouldn’t crash the truck — that we’d do the job they were paying us to do.”
When an amplifier blew, he fixed it. He navigated heavy equipment into cramped college auditoriums and vast sports arenas. He bridged the cultural divide between the road crew and unionized stagehands.
DePaul also had access to seminal rock moments, including the first live performances of the Eagles’ “Hotel California” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA.”
“The first time Bruce played ‘Born in the USA’ — well, who knew? You might not know at the time how special that moment is, but you look back and can say, ‘That was pretty cool.’”
In 1981, DePaul bought an Apple II computer, intrigued by the possibilities of the nascent technology. Using primitive spreadsheet software, he taught himself how to build a financial model for a concert, something not yet being done in concert circles. Word got around. “I became ‘the guy with the computer,’” he laughs.
His facility with numbers earned him work as production manager for Crosby, Stills, and Nash, and as tour accountant for Dan Fogelberg. In 1984, DePaul was recruited as tour accountant for Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” tour (he would do three tours in total with Springsteen).
“Sometimes you do something, and it becomes what you compare everything else to,” he says about the Springsteen tour. “Beth (Rendeiro ’76) and I got married during the tour and celebrated our anniversary on the tour’s last night. It became a period of my life that was just so special; it was such an adventure, and it was with great people.”
Springsteen was a relentless promoter of, and donor to, local food banks, which gave DePaul the pleasure of cutting checks to food banks in every city the tour visited.
“I have the highest respect for Bruce,” he says. “This was a person I was proud to work for — never mind that his music was insanely good. He had these rowdy audiences, and he would stop the show to speak to them — about a food bank! And when he spoke, it didn’t matter how rowdy they were — the audience shut up and listened. You realize what effect one person can have for the greater good.”
DePaul traveled the world with Springsteen, but it was a 1988 concert in Los Angeles that helped launch his television career. While in the city, he hooked up fellow Clarkie Bill Finkelstein ’75, a writer/producer on the hit Steven Bochco series “L.A. Law,” with Springsteen tickets for himself and friends from the show. A year later, Finkelstein and Steven Bochco were planning a radical new series called “Cop Rock” that blended a police procedural with musical numbers. Bochco suggested Finkelstein bring in DePaul to manage the unit responsible for the music scenes. “I flew out to meet with them, and I asked, ‘So, what’s the job? They said, ‘We don’t know — you’ve got to figure it out.’ I said, ‘Great. That’s what I do.’”
His move into television gave DePaul a path out of the music business. By now, he and Beth were preparing for a move to L.A., and he was eager to come off the road. The couple later had two children, Nicky and Rosy.
“At a certain point, you just know it’s time,” he says. “I could work the 15-hour days — that’s all I ever did. The difference is, now I could go home at night.”
Though “Cop Rock” was short-lived, Finkelstein and Bochco recruited DePaul to be an associate producer on a show they were developing about divorce lawyers called “Civil Wars,” where he learned post-production skills.
His New York roots brought him to the attention of David Milch, creator of “NYPD Blue,” who made DePaul a second-unit director on the show, responsible for shooting New York footage that would be incorporated into the narrative. After a couple of years on the second unit and doing post-production work, he was given the opportunity to direct.
“I directed two or three episodes a year, and worked as a producer who sat on set and made sure other directors stayed within our guidelines,” he says. “And I got to learn from the best. When you sat in a story meeting with Steven and David, or watched cuts of shows that other people shot, it’s like going to grad school. These guys are like giants.”
DePaul has directed dozens of episodes of popular series, including “Bones,” “Grimm,” “The Good Doctor,” and the “NCIS” and “CSI” franchises.
Recently, he was back in New York directing episodes of a new NBC series, “The Village,” which chronicles the intersecting lives of residents in a city apartment building. The show is similar in spirit to the network’s hit series, “This Is Us,” building on the notion that family — including the family we create from friends and neighbors — presents us with our stiffest challenges and deepest joys.
“All you can do is bring all your knowledge about your life and your craft with you,” he says of directing. “And then you make the best show you can.”