LOS ANGELES (CelebrityAccess) Gary Stweart, 62, who brought the world the “Nuggets” compilations from Rhino Records among other gems, died Thursday.
Stewart’s vast musical knowledge, as noted by Billboard, was applied to such compilations as Have A Nice Day ’70s and the psychedelic songs on the Nuggets albums plus other sets like Shout Factory’s Doctors, Professors, Kings & Queens.
Stewart rose to the level of senior A&R before taking a break and joining Apple Music where as chief music officer of iTunes. He left Apple music last year.
A longtime advocate for charitable causes, his life was celebrated by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who tweeted that he was “one of the funniest, most humble people we knew. A true champion of justice. A model of modesty, and most of all, our dear friend. L.A. is better off for everything he did. We miss you, Gary.”
Stewart served on the boards of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy and the Social Venture Network, according to the Los Angeles Times, as well as being an active member of the Community Coalition and the Liberty Hill Foundation.
“During the unprecedented canonization of all types of pop music that occurred during the CD boom of the 1980s and ’90s, Gary Stewart was the single most important individual,” S-Curve Records Founder Steve Greenberg said in a statement. “Through his work at Rhino, he organized our knowledge and provided context for genres as diverse as doo-wop and punk, girl groups and ’50s rock. What Lenny Kaye[who started the Nuggets series] was to garage rock, Gary Stewart was to a hundred different musical styles. In his Have a Nice Day series, he rescued the entire genre of AM Radio pure pop singles from the historical dustbin, making the music available for the first time in many years, while shaping our understanding of why that music was, in fact, important. Because of Gary Stewart, we collectively know more about a wide variety of musical eras and styles and were exposed to a lot of great music that had previously been ignored or forgotten. The music community owes him a great debt.”
“The idea of turning people onto music or TV shows, it relates back to Rhino when we did the compilations,” Rhino Co-Founder Harold Bronson added. “It wasn’t just, ‘Here’s the hits that you know, so buy it for that.’ It was, ‘Here’s some really great music that you might not have heard and we’re including that with the hits.’ That continued to a different level with the trunk.”
Stewart would ride his bicycle to the new Rhino’s retail store in Los Angeles in 1974.
“He wondered in our store and never left,” says Rhino co-founder Richard Foos. “He’d found his home because we were a bunch of crazed record nerds.” A few years later, after Foos and Bronson started the record label (which eventually sold to Time Warner in 1998) and Stewart graduated from college, he managed the store before becoming head of sales for the label. He quickly moved to A&R, but continued to work at the record store for years afterwards.
“We had him oversee the compilation of every album we ever did after the first year or so,” says Foos. “If he was compiling a record, he would always make sure — whether it was a 20-song compilation or a box set — it was the definitive songs of that genre. He would sometimes have five or six friends or experts come over and they would have screaming sessions on what tracks could or could not go on. He and his team would go through hundreds and hundreds and thousands of songs and whittle it down to where it was a great listening experience. [In addition to] all the hits, he’d always make sure there were undiscovered gems.”
Stewart was known for a volunteer program where he would allow employees the week off between Christmas and New Year’s Day with pay if they donated 18 hours during the year, according to Billboard.
“He changed what Rhino was, not only as a compilation company, but with the idea of social responsibility and doing the right thing,” says former Rhino Entertainment exec vp Bob Emmer, who is now co-founder and co-CEO at Shout! Factory. “When we started Shout! Factory Records 16 years ago, we brought the program with us. It was totally a case of passing it on. Gary was so influential.”
“Gary was a really, really good person. He cared passionately and equally about music and social change, and loved to share his knowledge and excitement about both topics,” says Concord CEO Scott Pascucci. “I met Gary in 2001 when I was put in charge of Rhino. I was received with suspicion and fear by many at the company, but Gary (and Richard Foos) chose to engage and give me a chance. He loved that company and all of its people and artists, and made me see that its soul was comprised of equal parts musical passion and community activism and helped me set the right course for my time there. And he led by example. He volunteered his time, he served on the boards of multiple L.A. groups committed to social change, he wrote a lot of checks — and he motivated many of us to do the same. He changed my life in profound ways, and he made the world a better place. We will all miss him.”
Rhino president Mark Pinkus said in a statement, “Gary Stewart was a great man and a dear friend. He was truly the architect and guiding spirit of Rhino. He defined what it meant to be a catalog label… not only for Rhino, but for the entire industry. He was not only the creative backbone of Rhino, but he also set the standard for our social consciousness. If you have ever enjoyed a rare demo or B-side that you never knew existed, or marveled at holding a beautiful boxed set from one of your favorite artists, then you owe a debt of gratitude to Gary Stewart.”