New York (AFP) – Russ Solomon, the founder of Tower Records who brought a cool factor to music retail until it was devastated by the internet revolution, has died, his son said. He was 92.
Solomon’s son Michael told the Sacramento Bee newspaper that his father died of an apparent heart attack while watching the Oscars on Sunday night at his home in the California capital.
“He was giving his opinion of what someone was wearing that he thought was ugly, then asked (his wife) Patti to refill his whisky,” Solomon said, adding that his father had died by the time she returned.
James Donio, president of the Music Business Association trade group, voiced sadness over his death and hailed his influence.
“Russ was quite outspoken and having a conversation with him about the music business was always a priceless education,” Donio said in a statement.
Solomon founded Tower Records at a time that records in the United States were mostly sold in the corners of stores much like clothing or snacks.
Creating a welcoming space for music lovers under the store’s yellow-and-red signs, Tower Records helped build a subculture of record stores, especially after opening branches in the heart of the music industry on Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard and on New York’s East Village.
In a 2015 documentary on Tower Records, “All Things Must Pass,” Elton John recalled heading every Tuesday morning to the Hollywood store, chatting to employees about music as he left with piles of vinyl.
Solomon’s father had run a drugstore named Tower in Sacramento that sold everything from candy to perfume to soft drinks.
The younger Solomon in the documentary recalled how he would buy used records for three cents each and found ready buyers when he resold them for 10 cents.
He soon decided to buy records wholesale in nearby San Francisco and in 1960 opened the first Tower Records in Sacramento.
But after decades of solid profits, Tower Records entered a crisis by the mid-1990s. It tried to expand but big retailers such as Walmart could sell CDs for lower prices, while iTunes and online retailers sapped the market for record stores even further.
Tower Records filed twice for bankruptcy protection and closed in 2006.
Its stores in Japan, one of the most resilient music markets, were unaffected and vast Tower shops remain open in prominent locations such as Tokyo’s Shibuya entertainment district.
Tower’s bankruptcy in the United States came before the recent rebirth of record stores fueled by new interest in vinyl, with several hundred shops opening in the past five years.