Russ Never Sleeps…Sharing Memories of Tower Records
The other day I heard that Tower Records founder Russ Solomon had finally decided to retire at age eighty-four. After the chain he founded in 1960 was liquidated back in late 2006, he had been running the R5 record shop in Sacramento at one of his former locations. Last May he decided to throw in the towel and sold it off to Dimples Records whose owners threw Russ a retirement party on July 17.
If I was a real writer or journalist I’d probably say something here about the history of Tower, how they grew from one store in California’s state capitol to an international iconic retailer of music and lifestyle products, and then explain how their world came crashing down. But I’m not so I won’t.
I’ll guess that almost everyone here at No Depression has been touched in some way by Tower…either as a consumer, an artist, a former employee or business partner, a magazine publisher, whatever. And I’d venture to say that all of us misses the opportunity to head over to one of their stores for browsing, listening, learning, people watching and knowing that you were in a space surrounded with other people like yourself, who value and support music.
Before Tower spread it’s wings and flew beyond the Golden State, there were a few regional stores that also offered the size and selection. In New York and other eastern cities we had the (original) Sam Goody chain which had similarities in offering customer service albeit while wearing white shirts and ties. Down in Atlanta Peaches was a store noted for a more organic feel with their unpainted wood shelves and crates, and a laid back staff. And there were others. But as time went on, only Tower Records was able to survive as a stand alone privately held company of it’s size, and it resisted becoming a cookie-cutter rubber-stamped retailer which was simultaneously their greatest asset and liability.
Russ has often been identified as a “music man”…which carries the implication that he cared more about his customers, his employees and the music that sat on his shelves than he did about making a buck. Now while that may not be completely truthful, I’d say that Russ always has exhibited a passion for music and all other art (he is a collector who also ran a gallery or two in his time) that set him apart from other executives. He’d rather talk jazz than spreadsheets. And if you ever showed up in his office wearing a tie, he’d get up, come around the desk, take a scissors and cut the damn thing off.
Most of my memories of Tower were as a business partner. For many years I called on dozens of their stores as a salesperson representing hundreds of independent labels, and later moved into a corporate position that took me often to their headquarters in Sacramento. More than any other client, the Tower folks were just plain fun to deal with. There were days where I’d laugh to myself because I actually got paid to have such a good time; where I got to travel, hang with good people, break bread, share laughs, hear new music and usually come home with a yellow bag filled with new tunes.
Today as a consumer, I’m fortunate to be only ninety minutes from Amoeba in Hollywood if I need that non-online experience. And when I’m down there it’s great to see so many former Tower employees still in the game (as well as folks who worked at Virgin, Arons, Rhino, Music Plus, Wherehouse and all of the other retail dinosaurs). And as much as I love Amoeba and Waterloo and Music Millennium and Electric Fetus and the rest of the survivors, it was that first Tower store opened in 1960 in Sacramento that set it all in motion. I miss them.
And so it seems like a good time to say “thanks Russ…enjoy that retirement”. We’ll see if this gets anywhere, but perhaps if you have a Tower story or memory to share, you can feel free to add a comment.