It was about the store on Sunset.
When you came to L.A., you went to the Whisky, the Troubadour, the Roxy and…
It was on Sunset, in the era when there were billboards for albums. And on the outside of the nondescript building were paintings of albums. This was where music lived.
And unlike every other emporium on Sunset, there was adequate parking. You could drop by on a whim.
And you never knew who you’d run into.
Close to midnight, Michael Caine and his wife. Another time the entire New York Knicks, I was standing next to Patrick Ewing, man was he tall.
But the key feature was the inventory. Who knows if they had everything, but they had more than everybody else, and at a reasonable price! And all the new releases were always cheap, as cheap as anywhere in town, and if you waited long enough you could pick up that catalog item at a low price too.
Now this was when Los Angeles was a bastion of neighborhood record stores. There was Aron’s in Hollywood and Rhino in Westwood. Being a company town you could buy promos in those stores. And they stocked used product. But if you wanted to see everything, if you wanted to feel on the pulse, if you wanted to go to where they opened up early for Elton John so he could fill up a shopping cart with albums…
You went to Tower.
Now right by the door were the rags, the throwaway magazines that have all been thrown away. You picked those up on your way out, you stuffed them into your yellow plastic bag.
And then in front of you, blocking your entrance, were the stacks. Hundreds of copies of new albums, not only the hits, but the obscure. You’d see all those copies of albums only you thought you knew about and feel included.
As for the help…
It wasn’t as insulting as Rhino, where they judged you by what you bought, but it was always aloof and never helpful. Ask for an item at Whole Foods and an employee will take you there. Ask for a record at Tower and they’d point you in the general direction as if they were too busy to be bothered and you should know better.
So you got to know the system.
Under the bins were shelves of overstock. Which sometimes contained items that never made it to the bins. You’d comb through and see LPs you’d only read about. Seems amazing now, but to find a store with all the Neil Young albums, or all the Zappa LPs, was impossible. But Tower had them.
Until there just wasn’t room for them anymore.
Sometime in the eighties, there were more SKUs than room.
And there was a switch from vinyl to cassettes to CDs. As freewheeling as the store was, the cassettes were in a walled-off section, to reduce theft, even though most of the stealing seemed to be done by employees, at least that’s the legend. Furthermore, they had a shrinkwrap machine in the back, so workers could borrow LPs and then return them, so product returned could be put right back on the shelves. That’s something that disappeared in the CD era, defective product, to get a good vinyl record was almost impossible.
There weren’t many events. This was not Amoeba, no, Tower was for EVERYBODY! You didn’t have to put on your look before you went, they sold no tchotchkes, it was only music, all the time.
And that’s where you got it, the store.
Radio was for discovery, but the passionate needed to own. And you didn’t want to go from store to store looking for your heart’s desire, you knew Tower had it. And buying was an addiction, however many records you had it was never enough, you needed more. And you bought ’em and played ’em, you had an investment, that’s why you knew all the album cuts.
And eventually there was a store in Westwood. With a ticket machine even. I remember lining up to buy tickets for the Boss at the Sports Arena.
And outlets in the Valley and Orange County, but they were never as big, never the same.
And, of course, Tower expanded to New York and Boston and although those stores were large, it came in the eighties, when music was in a cleanup mode, when MTV ruled and everybody knew all the acts, whereas in the seventies music still had a patina of exclusivity, you were in the know or you weren’t. And if you were…
You went to Tower.
Russ Solomon was a legend when retailers were a necessary component of the business. Now that role isn’t even played anymore. You kiss the ass of the streaming service, of which there are only a handful. And the issue is not getting your wares inside, but getting them listened to at all, the entire game has changed.
It won’t be long before Tower will be incomprehensible to the masses. You drove to a store to pay cash for only one album?
But we did.
And those times were so memorable because of the music itself, a magic elixir that drove the culture. It was what was on wax that mattered, not the amount of money made.
And it was all driven by recordings, the tour sold the album, not vice versa.
And the fact that a guy from Sacramento who was running a store could be so important…
But music always made strange heroes.
It’s not where you’re from or what you know so much as how much you care and what risks you’ll take.
Russ Solomon took tons of risk. Drove the chain to bankruptcy ultimately.
Then again, it was doomed by the internet.
But for a while there…
It all went down at Tower Records.
The Industry Responds (please note that these responses are unedited)
I was in one of my most frequent haunts, Tower Records on Sunset, one day when a customer mistook me for an employee. Holding up a Jimmy Reed album he said, “Hey — is this any good?” Glancing over, I saw that the customer was John Belushi. “It;s not bad, “I replied, but there are better.” I moved over to the Jimmy Reed bin and began flipping through. “Here’s one I think you’ll like,” I said, passing an album to John. “There’s also this double LP if you want a more comprehensive overview of his career.” Belushi was enthused. “Got any John Lee Hooker?” “Sure,” I smiled, as I began to help him pick out LPs by about a dozen blues stars over the next 20 minutes. John had a lot of questions about each artist and I answered every one of them. He was thrilled that a Tower “employee” was taking so much time to help him. He finally shook my hand with enthusiasm and grinned, “I’ll take all of these.” “Fine,” I said, pointing toward the registers.. “Just take ’em up to the counter.” I then watched as John gleefully purchased his LPs and, yellow Tower shopping bags in hand, strode out of the store to a car which had been idling in the parking lot the entire time. And just like that John Belushi was gone.
The next day I opened the L.A. Times to read of his death. With the story was a photo taken inside Belushi’s bungalow at the Chateau Marmont down the street from Tower Records. Scattered all over the floor were the very albums I had picked out for his pleasure.
I’ve alwyas wondered if John ever got the chance to hear any of them.
Bob: I loved Tower Records. My office was just two blocks away at Sherbourne and we lived at Tower. Knew Russ Soloman and he was always terrific to me. One of my most memorable moments was when the “We Are The World” album I’d organize hit the stores and I went to Tower to see how it would sell. People were literally buying 10-15 of that album at a time, knowing that all but $1 of the $9.98 price was going to save children’s lives in Africa. It was a thrilling sight to watch. I’d gotten everyone involved (except the cost of the vinyl) to wave their expenses and profits. Russ, like so many others sold the album at a loss. Amazing stuff. Miss those old days.
Going to Tower was always a unique experience, it had a cooler vibe than any other record store in the U.S., particularly the Sunset location. Living in NYC when I traveled to LA I’d always hit Tower and Aron’s, the latter for the cut out bins. When Tower finally came to NYC it lost some of its mojo, but w/ respect to inventory it had everything. One time I was walking home from work and stopped into Tower near Lincoln center. I guy was singing “Nights in White Satin” on an acoustic. “Damn, that guy sounds like Justin Hayward,” I said to myself. Sure enough as I got closer it was; Justin was doing a promo event for a solo release. You never knew who’d you run into or find rummaging through the bins at Tower, and that was all part of the experience.
Stuart K. Marvin
I sold Tower’s brand assets in it’s 2007 bankruptcy to a music distribution company that wanted better rankings on Amazon. The brand stood for “deep catalogue, deep expertise” but digital killed the experience.
I don’t think anything could compare with Tower Sunset, but going through a tough divorce at the end of the ’80s, I bought an apartment two blocks from the Greenwich Village store because I knew I’d be hanging out there late most nights. A great oasis of distraction.
A few years later when I was running Verve Records during the final Polygram years, Russ and Stan Goman were huge supporters of our label and indeed the whole Jazz record business from new recordings to the deepest of deep catalog. We never felt we were any less important to them than the pop and rock labels. When Tower bit the dust, it was unquestionably the beginning of the end of what had been a thriving and profitable Jazz business in the ’90s.
I’m not one of those old guys who lives in the past. I’m a big fan of Spotify and what streaming is doing for music consumers. But I’ll always be a record man at heart, and Tower was my Mecca.
Spot on and brilliant! Tower had terrific managers as well, label house accounts and more. Steve Harmon in NYC was the best!
I remember. I grew up in Van Nuys, over the hill in the Valley, back in the ’70s. We had our own Tower on Van Nuys Blvd., and one on Ventura Blvd., too, but a trip over to the the one on Sunset was a special occasion.
Thanks for bringing it back!
San Rafael, CA
Across the street at Tower Classical, the help was profoundly knowledgeable and helpful. Were they judgmental? Sure. But that only meant you went home with the Landowska Bach you thought you wanted and the Gould Bach you needed.
You write that radio was for discovery, but I say that the Tower Records Annex on Lafayette in Manhattan was the best place for finding things you never knew existed, at prices so low that you would take the chance. Some of my favorite music was discovered there, from The Sons of the Pioneers to Fats Waller to Ravel. I sure miss that place.
Well, to us Brits, it was legendary – so thrilling to visit and so very sad when it closed. Thank you Russ Solomon, for your treasure trove; and for that priceless experience that was Tower Records
There was a time when I think I spent as much time at Tower as I did at home. Hell, it was a second home, but unlike “Cheers,” nobody knew my name.
I was there on Sunset in 67-68
you pegged it
needs to be a movie…
why don’t they re open tower?
the building is still standing there.
it was the best late night hang out in the city.
thanks for mentioning aron’s.
i worked at the original one on melrose.
the store opened at 10am and the fanatics
were lined up outside. when the doors opened,
they ran inside to the used bins. 5 cents, 19 cents,
29 cents bins filled with great albums. customers would ask
my opinion on what to listen to. one woman
said she was a painter. what would be relaxing
to listen while painting? i suggested brian eno.
who’s that? a few days later she came in and thanked me for the
suggestion. it was a community addicted
to music. i helped springsteen buy rockibilly
cassettes behind the glass case that was
under lock and key. i met lifelong friends there.
i know the industry has changed,
one constant, like the sun, remains the same.
i drove to vegas just to hear ahmet ertagun speak.
he only had one job in his life, president of atlantic records
for fifty years. to paraphrase, technology and distribution will change
and it’s gloom and doom.
write a great song and produce a great album.
everything will fall into place.
what else is there?
Tower was a revelation after so many years of dependency on EJ Korvettes.
Before Russ, there was record retail. Russ invented MUSIC retail.
Beautiful tribute to such a very special person. In his honor I’m cutting a neck tie in half as he did to so many of us.
Never understood why my first stop in LA was always Tower. Yeah I was a critic and had to show up on a professional level because you could get the jump on the competition back home with releases that had yet to show up in Canada. Still didn’t make a lot of sense in February when you could spend the time at the beach. But I guess by walking in you felt closer to the business itself, or at least the transactional heart of the music industry.
But like the “insider trading” you hinted at, it was all a little too inside and Solomon, as was stated quite clearly in the documentary, had more luck than skill. He caught one wave and rode it, ultimately ignoring the approaching tsunami that would wipe it all out (Surfaris playing in the BG). They had a brand that could have, with some visionary executives, owned the digital store but no…let’s keep leveraging ourselves on hard goods. Kind of like Blockbuster when they passed on buying Netflix for $50M.
Its never about today. Its always about tomorrow.
I worked at Tower Records for a summer. Not the glitzy Sunset store, no – I was at the Tower in Burlington, Massachusetts. I needed a job and I wanted to be close to music. I went in and they said “come back tomorrow for an interview”.
“What kind of music do you like?”
“U2, Soul Asylum, Patsy Cline, Jane’s Addiction, The Church, The Cult…”
“Wait, did you say ‘Patsy Cline’?”
“Yeah, she’s kind of the Morrissey of the 50’s.”
After the laughter subsided “I’m stealing that. You’re hired.”
I seem to remember there being a cat that had just had kittens living in the office.
Man oh man.
I loved Tower Records.
Sunset was the landmark, but I didn’t get there until the 90s.
I worked at 2 of them.
First on Ventura in Sherman Oaks. I sold music to Clinton Eastwood who was shopping with his daughter in 1985. She bought a Depeche Mode cassette and I had to ask Clint for his driver’s license to backup his American Express as company policy.
Moved to NY and worked at 66th and Broadway in 1986.
Worked with amazing musicians who got me out of my pop mentality.
I still keep in touch with folks I worked with at both outlets and happy that they turned me on to bands and music I wasn’t aware of.
The worst part of working at Tower? Doing inventory! They shut it down to count every fucking piece of whatever they sold.
Thanks Bob. Before Russ there were record stores; after Russ there were ‘Record Stores’
Awesome. They had one in Chicago too. Smashing Pumpkins did a live show there and it was huge, when they were huge. When Tower closed I got one of those big 4 ft x 4 ft particle board album cover posters. . It’s Bob Marley’s Kaya, we put a big piece of glass on it and use it as a coffee table. I still love it but always coveted the Eat A Peach poster. Thanks
For the memories Bob
OMG… Tower Records at 4th Street and Broadway was absolute mecca.
Literally hundreds of nights across so many years catching so so many incredible performances across every genre of music live at the Bottom Line – so many of those shows either preceded or followed by a visit to Tower Records one short block away – open til midnight seven days a week!
You nailed this one, Bob. I loved visiting the Sunset store every trip to LA, and every one of those visits I also had to jump across the boulevard to Book Soup (perhaps as dangerous as Tower).
But we here are New Yorkers, and the Tower store downtown was heaven for us music fanatics. And through all of those years, the different sections – pop rock and soul, soundtracks, jazz, classical, international (yes they had a separate department for world music before it existed), and so much more – each of those sections actually had wonderfully snarky informed staff who really knew their shit. You could throw seriously obscure tidbits out at them and they’d know what you were referencing, make a suggestion or three, and even toss you lost factoids you never knew about. Retail dudes and dudettes who studied liner notes like me and my pals.
I do miss those days terribly. I remember when digital downloads and then streaming all began to take over, I really wondered why there wasn’t anyone with the vision to create a new kind of brick and mortar retail store filled with long tables filled with banks of computers, dozens of comfy stools all lined up, and anyone could come and log into their account, surf, download, and stream music from all periods and styles with knowledgeable assistants all around serving as pop muses. And drinks and snacks would be served,. and it would be a new brand of community music center – a contemporary step from what the old retail stores once were in our lives.
It was THE anchor of the strip. The Whiskey etc. were important but day after day it was Tower. I found the staff always helpful and non judgmental. They knew the best of the new stuff. At Geffen, we had credit accounts there (okay maybe that got the staff’s attention), so you didn’t buy one album, you bought everything you wanted. It was like supermarket sweepstakes, only you sauntered through the aisles instead of running. You wanted to savior what was a music lover’s dream come true. From the perspective of being in the business and as someone who got all the WEA product for free, it was also about observing the consumer. Where the dollar met the counter. Looking at what people were lingering on. What was pulling them in. And, of course, what albums made the final cut as they walked up to the registers. I found that fascinating. You could talk to people in line and have a conversation about what we all had in common. There was passion.
The Billboards covering the exterior were part of a unique landscape. You knew you were at ground zero. It was art. No one drove by without looking to see what artists’ new albums adorned the outside walls. Who was being pushed. At Geffen, located just up the street from Tower, I had spearheaded the hiring of the first promotion staff and they were all coming in for our first label meetings. It was only for a few days, but we had the big billboard facing Sunset locked up and so, instead of the traditional artist feature, I put together a huge panel containing individual pictures of the entire promotion team with their names and cities. Indulgent, over the top, self serving? Absolutely, but when they all got in the vans at the airport, rode slowly down Sunset, eyes wide open and then stopped in front of the legendary Tower Records, they all shit their pants. They were up in lights. From then on we had a staff that would walk through walls to get the job done. It was the 80’s.
My first job was working at Tower back in the late 1970s and early 80’s. I loved every crazy minute of it. Listening to music all day, talking about music all day. The record company sales guys dropping off promos, tickets and drugs.
“Stack ’em High and Sell ’em Low” – RIP Russ
Great article and tribute to Russ. But as someone who has been involved with the Latino side of the rock world for 20+ years now, the key people running the Latino side of the Tower chain (Monica Ricardez, Roberto Lopez) made Tower a key outlet for not only selling alternativo CD’s, but featuring live performances of our artists, most frequently at the Monterey Park, CA store.. We miss Tower, but you are right, the music buying world has moved on. But thanks for giving Russ his due–it was a unique chain and he was brilliant for making it so successful.
Another masterpiece of written work. .
Oh what a shame ,those to young to know.
Thanks again for capturing it so eloquently.
Blessing , & Best of Health
Growing up on the Canadian prairies, it was just as likely to take a trip to the moon as it was to find yourself in Tower Records. But the “hunt” was the same for all of us. Every time we travelled to a different town I’d beg my parents to take me to the local music stores. I remember when i finally found a cassette copy of “Music From The Elder” after searching for several years! Then cracking it open and listening to it on my Walkman and wishing I could get my money back. There was no previewing in those days. As you said, you bought it and you listened to it because you were invested. And of course as time went on, I came to love The Elder. Wish I could say the same for “Berlin” after I found it. What a piece of shit that album is and always will be!
We literally have the history of music at our fingertips now, but I have to say, I do miss the “hunt”.
I’m probably the last generation of music lovers who got to see it go down at tower, this one on the upper west. I would cut tenth grade yeshiva to go get old clash records and buy the music magazines I consumed voraciously, having no computer at home. prob the last gen for that too, tho not in the community I’m from. but that’s another story.
Here’s how some business used to go down at Tower back in the good ol’ days.
I was the Los Angeles local album promotion man at Columbia Records in the early ’70’s. I used to hang with the LA Branch sales guys and visit their accounts with them so I could learn all aspects of the business and what these guys had to go through to sell our records.
We had a legendary sales force and one of those legendary guys was named Tom Rainey (I hope I’m spelling his name correctly). He had a southern accent so Tower Records was pronounced “Tar”” Records.
So one day Tom and I go down to “Tar” Records in San Diego. Here, word for word (because I never forgot how great it was) is a conversation between Tom and the head buyer at Tower San Diego.
“Hi Tom, how ya doing today?”
“Great, I’ve got a Miles Davis album coming out.”
“Well, is it old Miles stuff or new Miles stuff?”
“I don’t know, don’t you read your fucking Buyways?!!” (a one sheet for new album releases)
“Well, ya Tom sometimes but I just thought you’d know that’s all.”
“Why, does it make a difference if it’s old Miles stuff or new Miles stuff?’
“Well ya, the old Miles stuff sells way better than the new Miles stuff.”
“OK, then it’s the OLD Miles stuff!”
“Great, I’ll take two boxes, lets go to lunch!”
We did, and a few drinks into lunch Tom sold in the rest of what he needed. The Tower guys were GREAT partners, and that’s cuz Russ got it.
Great guy, greatest record store ever.
Fabulous Bob…God I spent HOURS at Tower Records…not sure if it was Palo Alto or Mt. View…either way…pretty much on the border…
I wrote you a couple years ago about a shitty employee who fucked over this poor lady looking for a record for her niece…you printed it too…
I had another story…they are blasting SOMETHING on a Friday night…early 80’s…probably punk but ear shattering volume…
This buffed dude asks what it was and an employee tells him…he picks it up…waits patiently in line…buys it…walks about 5 feet from the cashier after buying it…takes it out of the yellow bag…holds it at arms length with both arms.. and snaps the son of a bitch in two…drops it and walks out to a huge ovation…God I loved that place…
Proud to say that I am a graduate of the Russ Solomon School of Merchandising ~ Tower Records Sunset Store ~
~ RIP Russ ~
Bobby Boogie ~
he was famous in the book biz for cutting off the neckties of sales reps before they sat down to sell the list!
One of the few companies that actually paid my fledgling label. Many of the distributors took product and sold it but never paid Tower always paid. All around great stores. Still miss that buzz of going in there
James Lee Stanley
When I lived in Atlanta, I had a girlfriend who lived in the Buckhead area of town, and sometimes after I got done bartending, I’d stay at her place, sleep in the next morning after she’d gone to work, then get up, grab lunch, and spend the afternoon at Tower Records. I found out about a lot of really fantastic artists like Van Hunt, Common, Squarepusher, Azam Ali and many others that I’m not sure I would have gotten into had it not been for my frequent trips to Tower. Taking chances on albums or artists you didn’t know was pretty easy there because their prices were reasonable, at least in Atlanta they were.
I don’t know if I could go back to buying CDs after having a Spotify account, and I say this as someone who spent thousands of dollars on CDs growing up. I don’t miss searching through racks for stuff and I rarely go into record stores anymore, but Tower was an awesome experience for a music fan. I even visited one of the Tower locations in Tokyo when I went to Japan last year and it was cool seeing it over there. The Japanese love physical media so game/record/book/manga/etc stores are all over the place there, even in the smaller areas.
So even though it’s dead over here, as with a lot of things we create then leave behind when something “better” comes along, rest assured that Tower Records, even if it’s not owned by the Solomon family anymore, is being appreciated over in Japan.
Adam James Deiboldt
I got to LA as a permanent left coaster in July 2006. First stop, Tower Records. It was gone three months later, more or less. So sad, but such was the reality of an industry where music was headed for free, and could score top ten hits when being recorded on a device that sits in the pals of your hands. But for that brief time, when I was the King of Sunset Town, the million dollar studio recordings, Sunset Sound making magic with even albums like Steve Martin’s King Tut, waiting on line for a new CD was more than a way of life, it was an honor and kids today have no idea what the social aspect, the cultural aspect or the simple joy of obtaining a record was like. Every day was record store day, and every day was amazing.
Is there any musician or music executive or music fan whose love affair with Rock & Roll doesn’t involve a record store? The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has musicians, producers, label executives, concert promoters, and radio DJ’s among others. How about making room for one person from the music retail community? Induct Russ Solomon.
Bob! Love this story. You flooded my memory with images of Tower Records!! Ahh the yellow bag! And so true. I thought that “Overnite Sensation” was the only Zappa album. Until I pawed through ALL of them! Of course way before Joe’s Garage!
And I remember the first time. Going to the “R’s”. Nope not there. Ok ok went to the “S’s”. Nope. Hey where are The Rolling Stones? Oh. By the front. With the Beatles.
The two had there own special place at Tower!
And of course. To walk out with more than ONE record. Woah. How cool was that!!
I remember buying The Wall first day and eight other records in front of my girlfriend and her friends! Oh man did I feel cool!!
Few people in the music business have had as big of an impact as Tower Records founder Russ Solomon..and I was lucky enough to work for him for 3 years in the 80s. Working at Tower Sunset changed my life. I met so many friends that I still have today, I met ALL of my music heroes (Prince used my guitar to record Graffiti Bridge, Elton John would come in and have me go on fast CD shopping runs with him every couple months). Working there launched my music business career as well as my band, Green Jellö (we all worked there). Russ was always approachable and friendly and FUN. Of course he went out enjoying himself, having a drink, discussing the Oscars, being part of the conversation. The man fully enjoyed every minute to the end. Once we barged into his office in Sacramento just as the Green Jellö debut was launching, and I attacked him in my crazy, Shitman character costume. He laughed his head off. I’m so glad I got to hang with him at the screening for the Tower documentary All Things Must Pass at the Grammy Museum and again at the 2015 premiere party inside our old Sunset store #131! (where this pic was taken). He drank us all under table that night, and kept the party going til 1am. He was the king of retail, and he was the youngest person I’ve ever known…even at 92 years old! . Thank you, boss!!
Russ was a true retail visionary, of which, we will likely never see again. His love of art flowed through to his stores. He gave opportunities to those that others ignored. I was lucky enough to spend 20 years working for Tower including opening many of the stores in North America and Asia in the 80’s and 90’s. RIP, Russ! Thanks for the memories!
Nice piece Bob, and your story describes an era and a period of bonding and fellowship that we probably won’t get back. Record stores were my life and livelihood. I started selling records out of the trunk of my car, door to door, party to party in the 70s. The owner of Valley distribution told me one time at a NARM convention that the people that really know about music were the ones that ran the used record stores, because you had to know everything. Many of those cats were the people working at Tower. If they weren’t looking down their nose at you, they certainly had specialist that could help you in any area… Not bad for a primarily new record store.
When I jumped out and sold my interest in 2002, we had 29 stores. I’m lucky that I landed in the booking agency side, otherwise I might as well be in the typewriter business. We could never of dreamed in those days that we would have something like Spotify or our iPhones & Sonos, with such a world of music at our fingertips. Still the fellowship that we had with so many fantastic people sharing incredible music with each other day in and day out is gone…
I can only smile, as I know YOU get it. My kids do too, as they grew up there… but most will never understand.
Very sorry to hear about Russ.
I had a chance to spend a couple of hours with him and he was a genuine record guy who loved the music.
Elton John would have them open the Sunset store a couple of hours early for him and fill a trunk full of records including multiple copies of stuff he really liked.
“It all went down at Tower Records.”
Oh indeed it did.
Oh what memories!
I used to travel to LA from London almost every month in those days.
A late night visit was always the highlight of my trip. I used to sneak off all on my own. Way better than all the in restaurants and bars, most of whom I frequented.
Closed the store on many occasions looking through the racks to find an album I could not get elsewhere. The selection was amazingly, to me it was almost a physical Spotify.
The vibe walking into the store was like going to a major gig. I was the proverbial kid in a candy store!
I love how you remember it all so vividly
You took me back there for a minute and the hours I spent in there
Yeah Bob. Being a New Yorker , touring in the 80’s ( till 5 yrs ago) and playing Los Angeles meant I can go to Tower. Way before that, in the late 60’s & 70’s , I think it was called Titus Oaks in Brooklyn. Two floors , and I’d spend hours there. Literally flipping through every lp in the store. Used records as well. Eventually a few Tower Record stores opened in the NY/NJ area. Los Angeles was the special store. The vibe. The inventory. Oh how I miss those days. Thanks Bob.
“It was about the store on Sunset.”
Maybe it came to be about the store on Sunset, but before that, it was about the store at Columbus and Bay.
I love your nostalgia trips. We even had a Tower Records in London. But Virgin Records was the place to go. I worked for them in their office for a few months, until I got fired after I went back to Vernon Yard ( after an evening with other staff in the local pub ) to help load a van that was driving to Scotland to open a new store. All very noble, except that I decided in my drunken and stoned state to go to Scotland in the van, rather than turning up for work in the office the next day, and it took me several days to get back to London. All turned out for the best, because I then got a job working for a management company, and that gave me my first taste of tour accounting.
I first walked into Tower as a teenager the year it opened in San Francisco on Bay & Columbus. Stacks of album titles piled on the floor. I saw monaural copies of the first five Rolling Stones albums for $1.33 apiece. Leaning up against the cash register was a half dozen copies of the Beatles Yesterday & Today with a little sign reading “original censored baby doll cover underneath” so you could try to steam off the current cover.
Never got a chance to thank him for helping finance early bug music.
I was once laying in bed with a girl after fucking her and began giving her shit how she was too easy. She said she wasn’t screwing anybody else except for Russ. I said great, the total ages for all the guys you’re screwing isn’t over a hundred.
I still remember the first time I walked into Tower on Sunset and saw the stacks of Allman Brothers Band “Brothers & Sisters” lp’s stacked at the front door in factory shipping boxes. Quite a sight for us Southern boys out on tour promoting it.
When I was growing up here in N.J., we had a Tower Records in Paramus. I can’t tell you the amount of nights I spent in there wandering around taking my time searching and checking this out. I’d pick up a music magazine and see an ad that caught my attention and rummage through the bins looking for the disc. That’s how I found out about Smashing Pumpkins and Siamese Dream, a cool ad. I would get there on new release day and grab what I wanted and always ended up being there much longer than anticipated. How many Saturday nights were spent there just so my friends and I would stay out of trouble? Like any person today, I do enjoy having music at my fingertips on demand but I would go back to those days in a heartbeat. I miss it.
Lou in N.J.
To some of your points on Tower Sunset:
We did have a shrinkwrap machine.
There were obscure labels whose product came in without being covered, as well as albums on the floor that got tattered and needed to be re-wrapped.
With that being said, it got the most usage because….
Even though we were the most famous record store on the planet, we received very few promos for in-store play.
(A quiet record store is just plain wrong)
Most promo albums around L.A. went to radio, the trades, other promo reps, etc.
And eventually, they would end up at Aron’s.
Tower employees would choose a stock copy of an album and bring it to the front.
It would be placed into a pile of records that would be carefully played in-store.
At the end of the day, it would get wrapped and re-stocked.
No harm, no foul.
The cassette section was a semi-contained area.
What most people didn’t know was that there was a long, slanted mirror at the far end of the aisle.
It was a two-way mirror with security folks looking down at the tape shoppers.
A tape going into a pocket was communicated by two-way to other security people on the flloor.
The second someone stepped out if the store, they were nabbed.
And yes, we caught some ‘famous’ people as well as their offspring and friends.
As far as the lack of help…well I was always willing to be of assistance:
—Getting Orson Welles a weird ethnological album
—A children’s 45rpm for Andy Kaufman
—Vintage jazz for Woody Allen
—Escorting Robin Williams to the ‘restroom’
—A pack of matches for Keith Richards
—And after hours, taking Tom Waits to the “R” section where he picked out and bought. “Metal Machine Music.”
To this day…the only time I ever saw it purchased.
At times, I’m certain that I was born in the wrong era. I think about how music was the weave of everything and that you didn’t breath without sucking in musical notes and sheet music. The days when Tower was young and the business end of music was just starting to crawl out from the dark.
I grew up in a bunch of tiny wide spots in the road and didn’t get my musical education until I found my way to Sacramento in the 80’s, and got hired at Tower Watt Ave (yes, THE original and FIRST storefront). And then I learned everything. Sure, there were still small bits of the early days of the business, but you only got to hear about the glory days. The store(s) were full of characters, misfits, weirdos, straight-laced and uptight conservatives. Experts as well. Jazz, talk to Mike. Classical, talk to Neil. Rap and R&B, that’s Kevin “24K Magic”. I’ve been incredibly lucky to make a life of this and I owe it to Russ for building a place where I could belong, learn, live and thrive. You’re right, it all happened at Tower Records. Russ In Peace.
PS. I met my wife of 26 years at Tower, she was a store artist-that mythic creature that made the stores look so damn good, like a record store should.
PSS. There were dark days in the end and while I wasn’t there when the doors shut for the final time, I still died a little bit when it was over.
When I was in college, the campus bookstore in Hanover NH was the best place around to browse for LPs. I made many decisions on new artists based on details from the back of the album. Geoff Muldaur or Bruce Langhorne on guitar? Bill Lee on bass? I’ll risk a few bucks. After I graduated and wandered back across the river to Vermont, it was Sam the Record Man, on Yonge Street, in Toronto. I did business by mail with them for many years, and they never disappointed. In northern New England, we had to improvise.
state of mind.It had everything. Downstairs they had every pop and rock record available – every one. Upstairs the classical department was a treasure for those of us who searched the European markets only to find what they were looking for right in lower manhattan. Jazz, folk, Broadway – they had it all, and they had it first. Better than Sam Goody, better than King Karol. They even had the bootlegs
The anxiety of going to Tower and the joy of finding what you were looking for. Not around any more. Searching is very ho hum now. I know…Im old
but that was part of the discovery of new “stuff”.
I know…who cares…
Incredibly written…my office was 8911 Sunset two doors to left of the Whiskey…right between those haunts. And don’t forget the Rainbow with Mike and Tony and the r n r waitresses…..well written Bob…..damn I miss those days….and incredibly I survived from them
This was a beautiful missive. A time when music ruled! God dam do i miss Sam goody and all those stores. Tuesdays was the day. New albums released. Thanks bob for bringing me back to a better time.
I remember 15 or 20 years ago I took the family out to California for Thanksgiving or something and my son who is also a music head was demanding a trip to Amoeba records and he and I drove there at 6:00, stayed for 2 hours and spent 300 bucks on CDs. Record stores had already been pretty much bastardized by then. Growing up in St. Louis we got the Peaches Chain but the cool local chain of stores was Streetside records. Anyway, it is hard to explain to people who never got to wonder the shelves of a record store… or a book store…about the hunt and the excitement of the find.
Michael A. Becker
Tower had all the imports too. The Ace and Bear Family boxes, the perfectly packaged and pressed OBI stripped Japanese pressings (that like CDs were “perfect” in terms of what was not there-noise, pops and clicks- but usually didn’t sound that great), but once the “long boxes” started replacing the vinyl the store lost its soul and it was all over even though it took more than a decade for it to die.
Both the city of Sacramento & the music biz are infused in my blood forever; those two things merged perfectly in the years I worked at the offices of Tower Records and PULSE! Magazine (both held as “MTS, Inc.”).
Having already done a fairly brief stint as an artist on Priority Records and a producer gig in Sacramento morning radio, I relished the opportunity to continue working “in the music biz” and also enjoy the stability and benefits of the corporate world–however hard Tower tried to eschew that aesthetic. Russ was Chairman Emeritus by this time, only dropping by the corporate offices semi-regularly…but generating the same level of excitement that accompanied musical stars when they would stop in!
After the bankruptcy, when Russ started from scratch at the age of 82 (!!), I was honored to be a small part of a passionate effort to get R5 Records up & running at that familiar corner of 16th & Broadway in Sacramento. Tasked with building an “Urban” section over the course of a month, I witnessed skeptical labels and nervous distributors reluctantly re-establish old credit lines simply because they believed in one thing: Russ’ incredible vision.
Music made him a wealthy man, but Russ was never pretentious–he’d show up at the back door of R5 in shorts, worn-out tie dye shirt, socks halfway to his knees, & running shoes, armed with multiple foot-long Sub sandwiches that he would help devour in the dusty back room.
Inevitably, R5 was fleeting–it had a respectable, but ultimately uphill existence (Dimple Records now thankfully sits in it’s place). But dude was a genius and would drop some gems of knowledge if you got him started.
Well played, Mr. Solomon–what a good ride! #NoMusicNoLife
J. Quintella (“j.fresh”)
Yup…that’s where it was…and in that part of the industry I was…and that part of the industry will always be in me. Like it was for Russ.
Except not on his scale. Nobody was on his scale. Well, maybe Alan Levenson or Barrie Bergman or Sam Gutowitz.
From 1978-1996, I was there. Got out when the writing began to appear on the walls.
But I didn’t want to. Nobody did.
Especially not RS.
Rest in peace, fellow record hippie.
It was where I got my education. Trawling through the singles racks, finding rare 45s that were impossible to get anywhere else. And ordering English import LPs, when they were almost impossible to get. Once I was standing in the line to the till with about 50 LPs in my arms and I slowly noticed the guy behind me had even more LPs than me. My eyes raised upwards and there was Keith Richards, patiently waiting like everyone else. It was a holy shrine.
Russ was a true legend. While in mid / upper management with Licorice Pizza / Musicland / Sam Goody, and later Virgin Megastores, I learned quickly how formidable he was. As for his “appearances” at the NARM conventions, forget about it!
In 1995, I guess Richard Branson thought it funny to open our third Megastore in Tower’s backyard in Sacramento. Shortly after
opening it, Virgin transferred my new family from the Costa Mesa (store #2) to make sure we gave them some good competition.
Every couple of weeks, Russ (sometimes with Stan Goman) would pop in, look around, and say “Wow. You guys are still here!”
Oh man – I was working in NYC with lots of trips to LA and would always book a hotel on Sunset – specifically to walk to Tower. An institution. And somehow different than NYC Tower? There were always boxes of new records around – it always felt like a new shipment of the latest and greatest and/or obscure was on the shelf or underneath as you say or in a box about to leap out. And the not-friendly ultimately knowledgeable staff was part of the “charm”. I love where we are in the digital world – so fun- the new renaissance – but I miss records and record stores and Tower!
Peter van Roden
Ouch…worked at Tower in DC and I guess I wasn’t a true Tower employee in that I loved the customers, walked them to the music, talked to them, educated them, got educated by them. Opening up that store on 9AM on a Sunday morning, hungover as hell, working in the Jazz, Folk and World Music floor and putting on my music, from Michael Franks to Gilberto Gil to Charles Mingus to Phil Ochs…heaven for a 22 year old.
Thanks for the post on Tower…as much for the take on the old LA as anything else…
Nice ode to the good ol’ days, Bob!
Looking back is much more comfortable than looking forward
In the ’60’s I bought only “English pressings” at Tower. They had a higher percentage of vinyl.
I still have them! Some only played once to make a cassette copy.
A few have been played again, to burn a CD.
Thanks for this, Bob. Reading it made me miss Tower even more than I thought I did. Especially the Sunset store. I moved to LA in the early 90s to work on a film and didn’t know a soul. But I knew Tower and it became a welcome home in my time off. Midnight sales for big albums, finding an obscure metal CD I had been hunting. Then over to Tower video for a laserdisc (!) Time went by and the formats changed, but the store never did. Always a haven for the music fiends of the city and usually a pit stop before a show on the strip. RIP Russ. You brought us the tunes, but you also brought us a home.
I’m a kid from Jersey or should I say I was a kid from New Jersey – I’m 57 now.
Married in 1982 I had to go to LA during my honeymoon to visit exactly what you described below- Tower and the Strip back then was magic. We had to stay at the Hyatt on Sunset given all the stories I read about the mayhem occurring there in the 70s.
In New Jersey/New York we’ve always had a great live music scene and still do -but the vibe was so different and I had to see the LA scene and specially– I had to walk thru the doors of Tower myself.
Bands in Jersey were making hundreds of dollars per night playing covers and bands in LA were paying hundreds just to play one set of originals at the Troubadour, the Whisky or the Rainbow.
It was a weird vibe to me back then in those clubs, And interestingly I met a number of fellow musicians from New Jersey there just trying to look cool. Imagine that – flying 3,000 miles in 1982 just to have your picture taken at the Rainbow bar.
Tower was different – a positive vibe, everyone in the store at any time of day was passionate about music regardless of the style or band you were into. Vinyl is and was emotional. You feel it, you touch it. You can hold it up and show it to someone. You could look across the aisle in the store to see what others were looking at. You could share a cool discovery. It was the place to be – a record store. You might even run into Elton John getting his weekly vinyl fix there.
Tower in Manhattan never had that vibe nor did any other location – LA was the original and it never got better than that first store.
My memories are as clear today as they were then. A few months ago I was in town with my wife (still married!) and went to the site of the original store and all these memories flooded back and I felt happy and sad at the same time.
Long live Tower and Russ.
I thought I died and gone to Heaven when they opened a Tower Records in Dallas, TX (Oak Lawn @ Lemmon). Best selection ever!!!
Thanks for this Bob,
I knew Russ pretty well, and considered him a friend. He certainly treated me well, much like I saw him treat others. Russ was terrific. He was open minded. He loved music and art, and fun with people.
I never did lose a tie to him, though I came close. He called me kid long after that moniker could stick. We worked on a bunch of marketing efforts together, some very successful, others long forgotten.
Sadly, decades of change came quickly, and both Tower and the record industry had too much inertia, pride, hubris you name it to take account of it. Jim Urie has it right in “All Things Must Pass”. If they had only lowered pricing perhaps things would have been different.
Meanwhile, i will cherish my time knowing Russ. His formulas were often simple. Most record stores were selective, but Russ would sell it all. By taking catalog in that way he made Tower stand out. All he asked from the labels was dating on the bills and generous stock balancing. Considering the opportunity this gave them, the labels were happy to accommodate.
In my many years of knowing Russ, I competed with him, cooperated with him, partied with him and thoroughly enjoyed knowing him and his team. RIP Russ. Peace.
Part of the experience of music was going to the record store on your own
or with friends to browse hell it was even an acceptable place to take a
date. I live in the East Bay Area so everyone went to Telegraph Ave. in
Berkeley and we?d make our rounds; Tower, Ameoba and Rasputin’s, you’d always have to got to either Blondie’s or Fat Slice while you were there too. Those truly in the know hit up Mod Lang where Aaron Axelson
(program director for Live 105) worked which was a little off the beaten
path but still near the UC campus. I embrace technology but we definitely
lost a major part of the social aspect of music by the closing of the
brick and mortar stores it’s a shame we are losing many of our social
outlets due to digital content delivery, and we wonder why our kids spend
99% of their time in front of a screen and can’t interact in a social
Nice!! Lucky enough (and old enough) to be able to say I shopped there, and the Tower in Manhattan. Miss them!
Wow that was fun.
Brought me right back to 1992.
Here in Philly it was Tower South Street – not as glamorous as Sunset but just as much the Mecca.
Questlove and King Britt both worked there as did all of Philly’s tastemakers.
The second floor was for the serious heads with Jazz on the balcony and Classical in the back room separated by glass doors.
I was just telling my kids about it as we passed by (now an arts supply store) how i used to go every Friday and shop with a
shopping cart like the ones they have in the super market!
They looked at me like I was talking old-guy shit – might as well have told them I could fly when I was young – that would have been more believable!
Long live the yellow bag.
Andy Blackman Hurwitz
Hey Bob, love the Tower Records piece, it brought back a lot of good memories, and not just about music and records.
As a musician and avid buyer of music (then and now), of course I loved Tower. But I was also in another dying business: magazine distribution. I handled lots of ultra-specialized, oddball and just plain goofy publications (some just a notch above what would be considered “zines”). And we LOVED Tower. They’d take anything! For underground publishers, Tower’s magazine racks were as comprehensive as any on earth.
No matter how obscure a potential new publisher/client’s magazine was, we knew we could get them “national coverage” in at least the 200-or-so Tower stores. There were also some Tower Books stores! In my opinion, the almost-unregulated outlet they provided for all kinds of published thought and art might outweigh their importance as a record seller (especially important in those pre-internet days).
Anyway, may they, and Mr. Solomon, rest in piece.
Russ went out like a rockstar with a whiskey in his hand! I used to walk to the Original Tower location from our house in South Land Park, Sacramento, sift through the glorious vinyl and dream about what might be in store for me one day as a musician.
Sacramento was the crossroads between the San Francisco flower children music scene and the commercial pop one going on up at the casinos in Tahoe. We also had the iconic Tower Theater across the street and Tower Bridge spanning over the river. We used to get Tom Donahue in SFO on the first Nor Cal pirate FM radio station KMPX which debuted in May ’67 coming up the delta from “The City” as we called it late at night. This is where I heard my first real delta blues at 12 years old. I thought The Stones and and Yardbirds had invented it! Haha! Suburban radio programming seclusion had cut me off from reality and the real roots of rock.
KMPX is also where I first heard Steve Miller’s first album Children if the Future which the station would play a whole side of while I listened on my Dave Clarke headphones under my sheets and cry. I bought the album at Tower, opened it up, nailed it to my bedroom wall, made an oscillating red/blue spot strobe light out of an old fan with a vari speed motor control. When you got the speed right, the wings on the Angel Art inside the LP would appear to flap in time with the music. (We actually had giant ones doing that in our stage design last year for our 50th anniversary tour!) I threw in a black light and checked out into my dungeon away from my Depression Era parents and the Viet Nam War.
This was big stuff back then. A year later KZAP FM debuted in Sacto and with better reception, us hippies were off to the races with great music and Tower had every record.
Thanks Russ for the great service, vibe and prices. Bought Are You Experienced -Jim Hendrix on sale for $3.67 there with my Sacramento Bee paperboy profits!
RIP to an iconic visionary who helped me make it through those crazy times and gave me a career. Peace
Kenny Lee Lewis-Steve Miller Band
While reading your article on Tower Records I was transported back to my youth. I worked at Tower in Panorama City and then in Westwood. It was my first job in LA after moving there from Texas with a head full of dreams and about 100 bucks to my name. My boss at Tower PC was Greg Schmit, brother of TImothy B.Schmit from the Eagles. So we got our fair share of celebrity through our doors …more at Westwood of course and not near as much as the Sunset store. Looking back on the the years I spent with Tower, it was such a great education in music, marketing and how to deal with the labels. We were a family there, I still have friends today that I made in those stores and I cherish each one of them. We were there when they shipped ( and over shipped lol) some of the best records of our time. I was a singles buyer and Billboard reporter for Tower so I found out really quickly how the game worked with the labels and how to get your single through the trenches. I met with the merchandising reps from all the labels and spoke to all the radio stations. I learned fast and thank God I did…my next job was as Production Coordinator to producer Rick Nowels on Stevie Nick’s record “Rock a Little”. And after working on that record so much at Image Recording (John Van Nest’s and Harry Maslin’s Studio) in Hollywood on Sycamore, I was offered the job of Studio Manager which I held there for many years in the 80’s. Best time of my life, I wish I would have know it then! The records we did were iconic. And I also managed Tree Sound Studios here in Atlanta for many years as well in the 90’s and 2000’s. Over these many years at these two studios I was front and center to the music production of some of the best artists, and met the most talented of producers, engineers, players and crew on the planet. I have the utmost of respect of each and every one of them. I actually was able to help “grow” some engineers into producers who now have gold records of their own adorning their private studio walls. I have so many stories from my run in the music business that I am considering writing a book…I was thinking of calling it ” I worked with Famous People- My journey through the Heyday of the Music Industry” The stories I could tell….and those I never will! But it all started at Tower….a fire in my belly was ignited there where the music met the people and the excitement was always palpable. Every time those stacks of LP’s went out onto the floor you could feel it. And fyi I held the record (no pun intended) at the cash register at Westwood! The fastest in the store at that! Ah the memories. Kudos to all who made their way up at Tower and thanks Russ Soloman , rest in peace dear friend…my life would have been very different without the opportunity you gave me at Tower.
Nina King- (now) Baldridge
Fast Forward Management Atlanta
Artist Development / Vocal Production
Many good memories of Tower in Nashville. So many late night runs, searching for the perfect music to suit the night.
It was in Pulse! magazine, picked up at Tower in and among those stacks of rags, that I discovered your column for the first time.
The Boston Tower Records store was located in a ridiculously conspicuous location on the corner of Massachusetts Ave. and Newbury Street in a building whose exterior was designed by Frank Gehry. The location added to the store’s importance- so much so that they created a mini, music stars only “walk of fame” in front, complete with bronze stars embedded in the sidewalk!
It was THE place to go for music, and it wass o big it covered three of the way-too-expensive floors (even escalators). I was teaching a class in the Music Industry at Northeastern around the time of the store’s closing, and among the major topics were Napster, file-sharing and the future of music. When the Tower Records store closed, it was not only the new hot topic for discussion, it was the writing on the wall for the future of recorded music. One of those major moments…
I have a 21-year-old son. When he comes home from college, one of the visits he makes is to The Record Archive on the other side of Rochester. He pokes around for hours and almost always comes home with albums. Vinyl. I don’t think it’s dead yet. There will always be music lovers.
After Elekta opened it’s offices and studio on La Cienega I found myself coming to California for ever longer stays and I asked Russ if I could work in the Sunset Blvd. store as a salesperson on Saturdays to get the feel of the people, their taste and electricity of the place.
It was so much fun to shut up and listen to the committed fans who had strong opinions and made what we did possible. Russ and I would have “follow-up” conversations and we became close. At one point, accompanied by the vice-Chariman of Warner Communication Marty Payson. we visited Russ to sound him out on an idea we had in mind..
We knew that Russ was in financial difficulty and we hated to lose something as valuable as Tower, so we offered offer to buy the buy a controlling interest in the company, with Russ running but with certain safeguards built into the deal.. Russ was happy to sell us the troubled assets and keep the profitable units (mostly Japan and selected stores). For us it was a controlling interest that let us safeguard our investment.
Many years late, while I was visiting Russ at his Sacramento home- with music and books stacked in piles and totally commanding the attention in his living room, he offered me a drink, slid into his most comfortable chair and said. “I should have taken your deal. We’d still be alive.”
And perhaps, together, we could have nursed his dream to a happier ending.
It was at Tower on Sunset that I ran into a radio program director with whom I’d interviewed earlier in the week… It hadn’t gone well. Later he mentioned it was THAT day, running into me at Tower Records, and the candid conversation about music in the record store, that turned him around and made him decide to offer me a gig…
I also got chills reading Gary Theroux’s memory of John Belushi.
Tower Records was church. Growing up in north Jersey, we rode our skateboards to indie record shops to pick up the latest new wave and punk imports and as a general rule favored locally owned shops. Until one day my dad took me to Tower Records and everything slowed down. We’d spend hours scouring thru the bins, going the listening stations. Thats back in the days when listening to music was an activity. No distractions. No smartphones. The Tower on West 4th and Broadway was the ultimate meeting spot and melting pot. Everyone from celebrities to gutter punks hung out there. After college, my band (The Booda Velvets), got a record deal on a small indie label with major label distribution which meant our album was in EVERY TOWER RECORDS IN THE COUNTRY!!! That was HUGE. On tour, we’d visit local Tower Records and pull our album to the front of the bin. Seeing our record in the bins at Tower made us feel that we’d made it.
Thanks for bringing me back.
I started working at Tower in the DC burbs around 2004, just in time before it was too late to get the experience. I had grown up shopping there and when I got hired felt like I ‘made it’ in life. For $6.25 an hour it sure made me feel rich!
I came in pretty late for my shift on the day after Thanksgiving (before I knew what Black Friday was) and the manager told me he was letting me go. I didn’t understand why, I just wanted to know if I could still come in and shop. He said OK and that’s what I did until one day the sign on the front door said “TOWER EST MORT.”
I first met Russ Soloman in Sept. 1990 in Tower’s Sacramento
headquarters. I was there to introduce our MUZE computer system that
allowed customers to search for recordings by artist, song title etc.
Russ was running late because of a flight delay, the meeting was well
underway when he arrived in a flurry, first thing I thought was he’s
Santa Clause on LSD. The meeting lasted another 30 minutes, we shook
hands on a test installation in NYC and if it went well he would
install our systems in all Tower stores. The hand shake was all that
was needed, he was very supportive and did what he promised, Muze was
I bought the Steely Dan Aja album cover billboard when they took it down.
Hey, hey, hey….let’s not forget the Tower Records’ northern store…..no, not store, happening in San Francisco on the corner of Bay & Columbus! I worked there in 1973-4 while going to Cal Berkeley, before working for Tom Donahue at KSAN. I loved the Saturday night shift because that’s when all the real music lovers would come in. Tower Records had soul, was a place to be, no copycat could ever come close to Tower’s profound impact in the City. Oh and the monthly new album covers on the outside wall always drew a huge crowd.
Thanks for bringing it alive so eloquently. I used to travel from Lonon
to LA regularly and arrived off the flight at about 6pm on a Sunday. No
matter how tired I felt Tower on Sunset was always my first stop. I
didnt feel I’d arrived until I’d been to the store. It was the smell of
the vinls that I can remember as if it was yesterday.
I still miss the ours of browsing and the deep dive into that world.
I’m an old guy, pushing 60, and I’ve always loved music, and records – but I never liked record stores. I’d always walk out in a crappy mood – even after I found and bought for what I was looking for. And it took me a long time to figure out why – it’s because there were so many records I could never own. Because you can’t buy EVERYTHING. I wanted to hear it all! Funny/strange…but true.
I keep hearing chat about the staff at Tower Sunset being aloof, uninterested or whatever the case may have been.
Truth be told the consumer whom frequented said location, held as much if not more knowledge of the mainstream or inherently obscure songs patrons where in search of. It was a two way street. I found Mr. Epp and the Calculation.
Thanks You Bob,
Beautiful memories, of such a wonderful man. Tower Sunset, among others, has so many memories. Who can forget the Artist appearances to sign records?!
In the early 90’s, the usual was when you had so many fans lined up out the back, through the parking lot, and up the side street, it caused traffic jams on Sunset, a California Highway, and the CHP would close the event due to safety concerns. The Publicity Departments loved that, and it made good ink. For the Artist’s it meant not being able to see their fans.
We at Virgin Records, had an In-store for Boy George at that time. George had fans from 8 to 80, and I literally took him to every station format, except classical and country, and he had legions of fans show up at each station. At the in-store at Tower Sunset, we had a huge crowd, and typically they were going to shut us down. In one of my crazier ideas, I plucked a Boy George fan, about 15, who actually looked like George, out of the crowd.
I introduced him to George, and he agreed to the plan. We pulled the limo up to the front door. The crowd nervously watched, thinking he was about leave. I was nervously at the door with a couple of yellow jackets, and at the right moment, we grabbed the kid and hustled him into the limo, and took off! One of the security guys accidentally jumped in with us! The crowd rushed the car, and probably two-thirds of the crowd left. Those that stayed, were able to meet George over the next four hours. He chatted with each one, looked through their scrapbooks, and signed autographs. That young man was taken to The Virgin offices and we piled him with CDs. He had quite a story!
Joyce Castagnola, our Regional Sales, was delighted! And through her, I met Russ many times and always had his name on our guest lists. As most, I miss those days at Tower Records on the Sunset Strip. God Bless you Russ!
Tower Records in Yonkers NY was a suburban Mecca. One of my best memories was hearing the song “Rolling in My Sweet Baby’s Arms” on WFUV while driving over the tappan zee bridge, having never even heard of Leon Russell before, I knew that if I didnt go then and there I was going to forget this name. I knew I was going to be late for work but I high tailed it to tower and bought Leon’s anthology, then took a chance on Sly and the Family Stone on an employees recommendation, two records that changed my life. I bought more albums there the morning they were released, CDs in Longboxes.
Right when Ten was released , Pearl Jam did an instore appearance in Yonkers and I MISSED IT. Life regret.
I did meet all of Phish for instore at the Greenwich Village Location, and Gregg Allman too! I saw Lenny Kravitz browsing the aisles at Lincoln Center. But truly, in New York City, the low key place where you’d see more famous musicians doing their shopping was J&R Music World by city hall, another defunct institution which was no frills but you could also find ANYTHING, and the staff truly knew all.
When my late partner Ed Cobb ( writer Tainted love/my Partner and Co Producer “Dirty Water”) and I were told our product was in Tower Records we said we have arrived”
When I met him at A NARM convention and told him how we felt he laughed and wished me more luck..Russ was a Visionary…it was sad when he closed down.
I wish he would have seen that the new e-Distribution was on the horizon.
I’m pretty sure you know, but many of your readers may not know, that the original Tower Records was in Sacramento. It was right next to the Tower Theater, which is how it got its name. The theater is still there and was shown briefly in a montage in “Lady Bird.” After growing up in L.A., playing in bands and hanging at the Troubadour and McCabe’s through the late 60s and early 70s, I suffered extreme culture shock when I landed in Sacramento in 1974 for three years of law school. Tower Records (the original) was my savior: my go-to place to recharge, peruse all the new releases and remind myself of the cultural/musical world back home that I so dearly missed.
Doug Knoll, Santa Monica
As a Gen-X guy who was a high-school and college radio DJ, Tower was my home away from home in cities from DC to NYC, to London and beyond. The only other record store that even came close was Newbury Comics, but that’s a distraction. To really tell you how I felt about Tower, in those young years, my bedroom walls were filled with three things: a few band posters, a number of cutout long boxes from favorite CDs, and a number of Tower bags from exotic locations I had been fortune enough to visit. Yes, those empty yellow bags became wall art for me.
Twenty years ago, I couldn’t have been happier to have a grocery store in my Upper West Side neighborhood closed, especially once Tower opened in that location.
A few years ago, I was happy to take my daughter to the Amoeba in Downtown LA, if only so she might know what Tower once felt like, sorta.
This fellow Russ was a legend, and if I could tell you what I loved the most: Russ made the best record store ever, rode hard and put up wet. But those happy memories and appreciations will live as long as I do.
I worked at Tower Records/Video when I was in high school. It was the BEST job to have! Even though it was long hours – taking up much of my weekend – for a high school kid, it was a thrill!
Also, it was retail, so it could be super boring. However, I had a lot of freedom and could sometimes do weird things and get away with it, like once I wore a black scarf over my entire face while checking people out at the register. None of the customers blinked. LOL!!
It being a small town on the east coast, probably the hippest people in town worked there or hung out there. I seem to remember a number of the managers relocated to open our store, so they were DEFINITELY the coolest people in town. Many of them had funky hairdos and dressed however. Again, our little conservative town was … I don’t know HOW they decided to open a store there.
I mean, the managers at Tower knew what the next big music act was gonna be be. They seemed to have a direct line to the “cool” things in LA and NYC and SanFran, and knew about the happening shit in Seattle …. it was the early 90s.
But, the cherry on top was my manager – a 30-something African American gay woman, btw, who told me about Pearl Jam before ANYONE in our tiny town had heard of them – encouraged me to apply for a college scholarship that I was eligible for as an employee of a “video store.”
When I GOT the scholarship, Russ flew me, and my mom and dad to Las Vegas to receive the award and meet us. It was Vegas because that’s where the scholarship sponsor, a trade association – “Video Software Dealership Association”, I think it was called – was gathering.
I just remember feeling like I was meeting Jerry Garcia – Russ, to me, looked a lot like the Grateful Dead icon. Haha!
He seemed genuinely proud that some distant entry-level employee was getting $6k to put toward college. But, Russ had rockstar status in his own right, because he was responsible for one of the coolest things to ever arrive in our little town.
So RIP Russ! And, thank you!!
Been reading your columns now for many years and enjoy your old school musical reflections and personalized geographic locations when hearing a memorable song. We all remember where we were when we first heard Sgt. Pepper, Purple Haze, Light My Fire, Satisfaction, etc.
I worked in the record biz in the SF Bay area from 1970 through 1982. Started in retail and then got hired by a brand new distribution company, Warner Elektra Atlantic in 1973. Our office at 680 Beach St. was two blocks away from Columbus and Bay, the legendary location of Tower Records, the “largest record store in the known world” as the sign proclaimed. Bill Graham Presents was doing shows at about 6 venues in the SF Bay Area and most of the acts that played here all went to Tower. We did many in store promos with artists from our labels. They were all pretty impressed with the “staggering amount of albums in the store.”
I did a lot of inventories at Tower Records right after I started. My boss at WEA, Bill Perasso, had us inventory all of our “catalog” as about 40% of the records that Tower sold were on WEA’s vast roster of artists. I remember meeting Stan Goman, the manager at the Columbus and Bay store in 1974. I was trying to talk him into ordering copies of the entire catalog of Nonesuch Records, a great eclectic world music label. He said, “I will if you can tell me the album number of Scott Joplin Piano Rags, Volume 1 right now.” Well, when you do as many inventories as I did you memorize the numbers of the top selling albums; I immediately answered Nonesuch 71248. He went to the bin, got a copy and said “shit, you’re right. I’ll take a box of each”! Only at Tower.
Over the years I worked my way up in sales and eventually got 3 Tower Records stores as my accounts. Pretty much made my monthly billings alone. You didn’t just drop in and take an order at Tower, you did a full day of inventories, took out the manager, ass’t. manager, employees, etc. to dinner that night, got up the next day and did the order when the manager came in. I used to sit for hours in a bar next door to Tower, Watt Avenue in Sacramento and do all my orders with Kenny Sokolov, the store manager.
I remember tasting wine with Russ Solomon at the Broadway store in Sacramento. Russ loved good white wine and I’d drop off different types of California Chardonnays and French Sauvingon Blanc’s for him every so often. Six months later I’d see him in one of the stores and he’d say, “I loved that wine, thanks.” Easy man to talk to and so dedicated to music. They broke the mold when he was born.
A true legend and pioneer in the glory days of Vinyl. Here’s to you Russ Cheers
Kinda crazy how I was up late tonight, reading through story after story about Russ & Tower. My Tower (I was a consumer, never an employee) was a location in Ann Arbor, opened during the CD boom. It all came back to me, the main reason I have been reading your e-mails, opinions, and these stories all these years was because I used to make that monthly pilgrimage there to Ann Arbor to get that new issue of Pulse!, that featured your work. A big, glossy, well-written sales circular, that ALWAYS had an artist on the cover that had a HUGE album coming out soon (way before “surprise new releases”, new albums were talked about and often mythical and mysterious before release day). I even subscribed to it (a free magazine), just so it would show up on my doorstep. I used to go to midnight sales there, driving from some miles away, when you couldn’t wait till Tuesday morning to get your hands, and ears, on the new stuff! I always remembered they had the best magazines, as well. As the years have gone by, my buying habits have changed, but I still love my CD’s, books, mags and movies, and still buy them all the time. Like all great things, there’ll never be another Tower or Russ.
Warmest Regards, Brian Friel