Once upon a time there were huge record stores that roamed the earth. All decked out in bright orange and yellow. They were called Tower Records and you couldn’t miss them. Russ Solomon was the man who had a dream and vision selling about recorded music and he started the chain in a corner of his family drugstore in Sacramento. On Sunday while watching the Oscar ceremonies he asked his wife for a glass of Scotch whiskey and moments later made his transition. He was 92. His record retail journey is quite a story.
Granted, there are still some record stores around. And with vinyl’s resurgence they’re doing better than they have in years. But there was nothing like hitting Tower back in the day. There seemed to be been one on every block, like Dunkin Donuts in New England. Over the last few days through emails, Facebook and Twitter there’s been one great story after another about these record and CD superstores with their awesome inventory, passionate (almost always friendly) clerks and that industrial lighting. Spending all your paycheck at Tower on payday, meeting a future spouse in the aisles of Tower or running into music stars (especially at the Sunset store in LA). The old philosopher Bruce Springsteen once said “everyone is your friend for 20 minutes.”
In 2015 an indie film saluting the chain came out called All Things Must Pass. Directed by Collin Hanks (Tom Hanks’ son) it’s a terrific documentary about the history and loyal employees that worked for their charming founder Russ. It’s part love letter, as well as a truly fascinating tale and a delicious bit of music biz history. It’s all there; the humble start, the mighty expansion and the breathtaking collapse.
So, how could this company fail? Thanks to director Hanks we get the whole back story to this invincible, musical Titantic cruising toward it’s rendezvous with the big iceberg called the internet (Napster). If that wasn’t enough, the record companies were dying and management had opened too many stores. We meet the charming founder Russ Solomon and his loyal and lovable staff as well as some very famous Tower customers like Elton John, Bruce Springsteen and Dave Grohl (who used to work for the chain in Seattle). You’ll love their comments about hanging around Tower’s miles of CD and record bins.
Whether it be the original San Francisco shop on Columbus (with the classical annex across the street), the star-studded outlet on Sunset, their giant eight story superstore in Shibuya, Tokyo, the packed outlet in Austin, Texas or NYC’s uptown and downtown stores it was always a fun (and expensive!!) hang.
Thank you Russ Solomon. I have so many memories of talking music in the aisles amongst the bins of your stores. Vinyl may live on but there will never be another Tower Records (unless you go to Japan where they still exist).