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Joel Cherry plays keyboards, not guitar. In every other respect, however, he seems to have been custom-made for his new job as GC of Nashville’s storied Gibson Guitar Corp., maker of guitars played by the likes of Les Paul, Elvis Presley, and Pete Townsend. The 54-year-old Cherry has spent his life in music: listening, performing, and managing. At age 12, he and some friends formed a band, Road Apple. They eventually toured nationally, recorded some singles, and settled in Atlanta as southern rock was becoming big in the early 1970s. How good were they? “We didn’t suck,” Cherry says modestly. Along the way, he befriended a young entertainment lawyer, Joel Katz, who became a mentor. Katz urged Cherry to find a more reliable profession. After 14 years with his band, Cherry took Katz’s advice and enrolled at the University of Georgia School of Law. Unable to quit cold turkey, Cherry kept performing, four nights a week. But after graduation, he finally gave up playing and joined his mentor’s musician-focused practice in Atlanta. Katz and Cherry represented some high-profile artists but eventually parted. Cherry moved to New York to head up EMI Records Group North America’s business affairs group. After a few years representing “the other guys,” however, Cherry realized he missed working with the artists. He moved to Nashville to open Cherry Miller Kane Entertainment and began managing musicians, including country singers Tanya Tucker and Neal McCoy. But Cherry says he got tired of hand-holding. “With artists you’re on call 24 hours a day,” he explains. He also missed practicing law full-time. So when Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz called, Cherry saw an opportunity that was too good to pass up. In his new job, says Cherry, he looks forward to staying involved in music without experiencing the ups and downs of the recording industry. Gibson, which was without a GC for just over a year following Francis Wentworth, Jr.’s departure for Nashville Christian publisher Thomas Nelson, Inc., relies heavily on outside counsel for handling its litigation and IP matters. Cherry expects to focus on transactions and contracts, both of which are likely to proliferate as the company launches a digital guitar and the first digital Wurlitzer jukebox. Gibson, which acquired Wurlitzer, is working to revive the brand. It’s a goal that delights Cherry. His much-loved first instrument was a Wurlitzer keyboard.

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