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Today is May 23, 2022

A Beatle, Bowie, and a Butcher Joe Dera trades big time for Bentonia

By Steven Ward

A Beatle, Bowie, and a Butcher Joe Dera trades big time for Bentonia

Joe Dera is happily living out his retirement in an antebellum home in Bentonia with his girlfriend and their seven rescue dogs. “I love Mississippi. I wish I would have done this 10 years ago,” Dera, 71, said while sitting in the dining room of his residence purchased in 2016 and powered by Yazoo Valley Electric.

Dera’s retirement is well earned. For 40 years, Dera worked in public relations as a publicist for some of the biggest acts in popular music.

For more than half of that time — 23 years — Dera worked with Paul McCartney.

“It’s funny because I was never really a big Beatles fan. I was always a Stones guy,” Dera said.

“Somebody asked me how I worked for him (McCartney) for
so long. Because it was a job. It was just work for me.”

Although Dera’s work relationship with the former Beatle was his longest with one client, McCartney was one of many superstar artists he did public relations for.

During various times in his career, Dera worked with The Who, Robert Palmer, The Bee Gees, David Bowie, ZZ Top, Beatles Ringo Starr and George Harrison, Clint Black, Barry Manilow, Peter Frampton, and UB40.

Dera’s story is one that begins internationally, moves to New Jersey and New York City where he garners an opportunity to work in the music industry, before landing in Mississippi for his later years.

Dera was born in the Netherlands before his family emigrated
to the U.S. with the help of an American soldier who became close to Dera’s father.

The family moved to Clifton, New Jersey, which gave Dera close proximity to New York City, home to much of the music industry at the time.

Dera, who loved music, had no grand plan to go into public relations.

“It just sort of happened. I was very lucky to be in the right place at the right time,” Dera said.

Dera started writing record reviews in college, partially, to get free music from the record companies in New York City.

During that time, Dera went to concerts in the city all the time, including a memorable night in 1969 seeing Led Zeppelin at Carnegie Hall after buying a ticket for $3.50.

Dera then started hanging out at a small public relations company called The Wartoke Concern. He got his foot in the door by, at first, offering to help out for free. That work turned into a paying job later.

That experience led to an opportunity to work at Track Records, a company owned by Pete Townshend of The Who, where he worked for $300 a week and helped promote the band’s classic album, “Who’s Next” in 1971. The Track Records work led to two other stints in publicity — doing PR and auditioning bands at the Mercer Arts Center, an off, off Broadway theater in Greenwich Village, and working at Levinson Associates Public Relations.

In April 1976, Dera was offered a job at the New York City offices of Rogers & Cowan, one of the biggest entertainment public relations firms in the world. As the new guy, one of his first assignments included working as an unofficial personal assistant to Paul McCartney, buying McCartney and his wife, Linda, vegetarian food, and handling travel logistics for the family.

“That was a time when McCartney wasn’t touring. So they sent me, the new guy,” Dera said.

The relationship with McCartney led to 23 years together. McCartney was one of Dera’s first clients when he launched his own public relations firm in 1989, Dera, Roslan & Campion, Inc.

Other projects Dera worked on while at Rogers & Cowan include doing publicity for The Bee Gees and their “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack; Peter Frampton’s “Frampton Comes Alive” album; and promoting David Bowie’s massive “Serious Moonlight” tour of the U.S. in 1983.

“We took Ticketmaster out of the loop, so people lined up around the block for tickets to the Madison Square Garden show,” Dera said.

After that, David Bowie wound up on the cover of Time magazine.

Later in life, Dera met a Mississippi woman when they were both living in Pennsylvania.

Dera started dating Suzy Case, who is from Madison, when she was working as a forensic psychologist in 2007.

The pair visited Mississippi often to spend time with Case’s family, who still lives in Madison.

Dera retired in 2011, and the couple decided to buy a house in Mississippi. The couple purchased their home, which was prefabricated in St. Louis in 1857 then moved to Yazoo County.

“I’m a sucker for old houses,” Dera said.

Dera said life in Mississippi is wonderful.

“I love the climate. I love the people. We’ve made great friends, and we are committed to giving back in some way,” Dera said.

One of the ways Dera gives back is doing free publicity for his Mississippi friends.

One of those friends is David Raines, owner, chef, and operator of The Flora Butcher, a high-end specialty meat shop and the Flora restaurant, Dave’s Triple B: Barbecue, Beer & Blues. Raines practices the local farm-to-table philosophy with his shop and restaurant.

A Michelin-trained chef originally from Monroe, Louisiana, Raines has worked all over the world including stints at Emeril Lagassee’s NOLA in New Orleans and Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Dera met Raines after he spotted a sign in Flora for the upcoming opening of The Flora Butcher.

“I was on the side of the shop, and Joe walked up, introduced himself, and said he was new to the area,” Raines said.

Dera told Raines he needed a press agent.

“I was just trying to pay it forward,” Dera said.

Dera said Raines is helping revitalize downtown Flora with his businesses, which is soon to include a third venture, a wine shop.

“I don’t consider this (publicity for Raines) work. If I like somebody, it’s not working,” Dera said.

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