HITS Daily Double

Presenting another excerpt from our recent special issue, History of the Music Biz Two, featuring a panoply of player profiles penned by the prolific Michael Sigman. In this installment, we hear from giant of music retail Russ Solomon. Russ takes up the story...

Solomon toasts the golden age of retail with Cher, Russ Thyret, Dave Mount and Chris Isaak

“I went down to San Francisco on a date with this gal. I got up the next morning with a hangover and found the empty building that became Tower. We didn’t have any money but the labels financed us. By 1968, we had two stores in Sacramento that were chuggin’ along—we sort of dominated that market—and we had a good rep with distributors. But the guy who really helped me out was Sammy Ricklin of California Music Los Angeles [a one-stop on Pico Boulevard in L.A.]. A sweetheart of a guy and a jukebox operator, he gave me credit and one after another the other guys were more liberal. Of course it helped that we had great titles, and the store opened with a bang.”

Tower Records San Francisco quickly became the center of a pop music revolution. Russ says, “There wasn’t a better place in the world at that time. The Fillmore was cooking, The Avalon was cooking, the whole Haight Ashbury thing was happening. All those bands were there and Rolling Stone magazine was just starting; for a while we were the biggest seller of Rolling Stone.

“It took time for the rest of the country to catch up with what was happening in San Francisco, and of course then it began to happen in L.A. and we went down there a couple of years later, which was great for us because the scene was moving there.”

Tower Sunset became more than a monumentally successful business. It came into its own just as the music industry’s center of gravity shifted to The Coast from Manhattan. The coolest labels—Casablanca, Asylum, Chrysalis—were within walking distance of the store. Legions of famous musicians lived in the neighborhood, and top execs, artists and managers haunted the store at all hours in a hassle-free, creative environment where it was hard to tell the employees from the customers.

“Music was the fundamental criterion for hiring someone. They were all kids and they ran it, not me. What a great job to have—to rummage around and listen to all the great music you want and hang out with your peers. The people behind the counter were the same people shopping for records. They invented merchandising ideas. It wasn’t like the other chains, which had dress codes and rules and somebody gave you a dirty look if you didn’t buy something.

“There was competition in the early days—Wherehouse, Discount Records—but the chains didn’t have the inventory depth we had, and they had sort of rigid centralized controls on buying. At Tower, all the buying was local. The people in our stores were engaged in the process of running the stores and were in touch with what was happening in their area. On top of that, we were probably the only ones who stayed open seven days a week till midnight and on holidays. Being open on Christmas Day was great because kids want to get out and spend their Christmas money.”

To order a copy of The History of the Music Biz Two: The Mike Sigman Interviews, go here.