Russ Solomon, founder of Tower Records, dies at 92

Randy Lewis, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

LOS ANGELES -- Tower Records long boasted of being "the largest record store in the known world," a boast that few of the old retail chain's regulars would have debated.

The slogan was characteristic of Tower's colorfully eccentric, larger-than-life founder: Sacramento businessman Russ Solomon, long known and admired for his passion for music, a quality that often trumped his business acumen, and personal idiosyncrasies such as confiscating neckties of employees, salespeople or customers.

"What happened was that all these record guys came out from the East wearing suits and ties and I'd say, 'Hey, this is California. You can't dress like that here,' " he told the Los Angeles Times in 1980. "And then I'd rip the ties off and put them on the wall."

True to form, Solomon died at 92 on Sunday at his home in the state's capital, while watching the Academy Awards telecast with his family and sharing his thoughts on what he liked about what he was seeing -- and what he didn't.

"Ironically, he was giving his opinion of what someone was wearing that he thought was ugly, then asked (his wife) Patti to refill his whiskey," his son and former business partner Michael Solomon told the Sacramento Bee on Monday. "When she returned, he had died."

Solomon nurtured Tower Records from a side business in which he started selling records out of his father's drugstore to a mammoth international concern that posted sales of more than $1 billion in 1999.

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Its growth mirrored the recording industry's transformation in the 1960s and '70s from a wild and woolly singles-dominated business run by similarly individualistic entrepreneurs into a powerful global force built around the sales of albums.

At its height, Tower had stores across the U.S., Central and South America, Europe and Japan, and expanded its offerings beyond the comprehensive music selection to similarly wide-ranging sections filled with books and videos.

It won the loyalty of rank-and-file music fans as well as celebrities such as Elton John, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger and superstar producer-music executives including Rick Rubin and Jimmy Iovine. Nirvana/Foo Fighters member Dave Grohl was once a Tower employee.

"I could have probably bought Los Angeles for the money I spent in Tower Records," veteran English rocker John said during a free concert two years ago in the West Hollywood parking lot of Tower's former Sunset Strip store.


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