On Sunday March 4, while watching the Academy Awards with a glass of whiskey, Russ Solomon–the founding father of Tower Records–had a massive heart attack and died at home at age 92. It was another historic day when the music died again for many of us Tower Records employees and fans of Solomon. I never met Solomon, but I worked for him at the Costa Mesa location of Tower Records in a former skating rink at the narrow strange plot of land by a Del Taco by 17th Street and Newport Blvd. en route to the Balboa Peninsula. I am sure he visited as I heard he loved each store‘s grand openings. Our longtime West Coast PR extraordinare Curt Wada would have had lots of Russ stories for me but he passed on in 2008 at Christmas time. Before Curt passed away of pancreatic cancer he was the stage manager at the House of Blues Anaheim once his time was up with Tower.
We were all the survivors of a changing record store industry. Ironically our company was selling CDs to both the big chains and the still standing independent stores. In a twisted way, we were part of the bigger issue of giving ammo to the big box stores that were diminishing the neighborhood record stores. A strange alliance which I was only part of for eleven months and then I was laid off with ten other employees due to the recession right before Christmas though the day before my onsite female supervisor told me I was safe. In three months, thirty employees were laid off to keep alive a lean financial fit distribution machine. The night before I was laid off I was working the excel layout of content for the weekly Discussions magazine. On that unbeknowst last night there I put out a microwave fire by a tired Hispanic night shift employee who accidentally left his metal twistee around the plastic bag of his dinner to microwave. He was afraid he would lose his job over it but I said ‘don’t worry, the fire is out’. I caught the fire in time before it exploded in the product full warehouse of boxes and CDs.
Years later when I saw one of the two owners at the NARM/Music Biz annual music convention in San Diego I told him about the fire and how I possibly saved the building. He said if he had known that I would not have been laid off.
So within two Christmases over three years, my holiday memories were very sad with the closing of Tower in Dec. 2006 and the 2008 recession taking away my full time job writing for a music distribution company . Van Morrison was right about his quote about ‘loving music yet hating the business of music’. Every year as the Christmas chipmunk song comes on, it is like a wound that reopens. Yet I have #RockNRollResilience as the music matters and life keeps spinning as I change my attitude by listening to music to improve my spirits.
Russ Solomon was our Captain of the Carribean of this motley music crew of record pirates and swashbuckling sales crew. This man’s love of music gave so many music lovers a place to work and a place for music fans to get music. Yet it was so much more. Surgeons at Hoag Hospital came in for music to operate to. Classical music fans came to see Fred the kind older British jazz historian who had worked with jazz greats like Miles Davis. Bereaved family members searched for their loved ones favourite music for their funerals. Patrons bought music for weddings, raves, birthday parties, retirements, birthday gifts, etc. Also Tower was a matchmaking service where Cupid drew his bow to several employees who found the love of their lives. Somehow Cupid’s arrow missed me.
Friday and Saturday night at Tower we were open till midnight. For over three years I would work Thursday nights till 9pm then catch the weekly comedy show by Doug James at Gallagher’s Pub in HB. Up on Friday for my job, then Friday nights working Tower with a meal run for the crew to Carls Jr and Oh So Donuts then lock up the record store for a late night pint of Guinness at the Harp Inn, get some sleep for an 8am wakeup for the 9am employee time for the possible sale at Tower Records by 10 am. All this for $10 an hour. Worth every penny.
It was not unusual to see well known shoppers at Tower Costa Mesa. Mike Ness of Social Distortion shopped there and a young loss prevention agent tried to see if he was really Mike Ness which he denied. Yet when Mike came to the counter to make his purchase with his credit card, I told him that I didn’t need to see his ID as I know who he is but I would appreciate an autograph on a small Tower yellow with red letters bag for my teenagers which he did smiling.
Dennis Rodman often shopped there and one night he arrived ten minutes after we closed and he even tried to bribe us with $20 to get his needed CD. Sorry, Dennis the registers were closed. One of the Baldwin brothers was spotted there plus bluesman Walter Trout was seen on a Sunday afternoon with his child in a stroller as he checked out his own CDs and dvds. I was told that Reggae legend Yellowman opened the store with a music performance.
In 2008 I had a radio show at KUCI 88.9 FM called Record Store Memories. It was an hour weekly interview format with guests sharing their memories of their childhood and teenage years record store experiences and how music matters in their lives all these years. I had guests from all walks of life and countries like musicians J.D. Southerner, Jerry McLean, Peter Moore, Dave Rayburn, Jezzebelle, and more. Sadly internal politics shut down my show due to my supporting a well meaning musician guest, Darrell Jones, who wanted to play his first 45 rpm that he bought which was a cover song called ‘Anna’ played by four Liverpool musicians. Even being UCI alumni was no help to save my show as the station student manager for the year wanted to make an example out of me and the longtime only station employee needed his paycheck as he had a wife and child so I was left defenseless. Yes, I am a lawbreaker playing a Beatle song on a public affair time slot radio show on at 8am on a Monday morning. UC Regents doesn’t allow Billboard Top 200 artists to play on their airwaves yet I have heard B.B. King and Talking Heads played on the station.
Life as a music fan is a slew of twists and turns, but the music plays on in one way or another. We rock onwards and upwards. ‘I am a rocker. Watch me roll baby’ as Phil Lynott from Thin Lizzy sings whom I met at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium in 1978. In Dublin’s Fair City where my parents were born and raised is one of the last remaining Tower Records loving run by longtime Tower Records manager Gerry Browne who keeps the music flame lit for Tower and who introduced in 2012 to Texas Dublin music transplant Stevo Berube who worked at Tower too. These record rogues are the best company to shop talk about Tower Records over pints upstairs in the private aftershow lounge in Whelans in Dublin on the 4th of July. Music fans are akin to the same energy as musicians at the annual NAMM convention in Anaheim. Talking about music fan chat, I spent an afternoon with legendary Good Vibrations record store and record label owner Terri Hooley in Belfast in 2017. A story for another day. Buy me a pint after my future Geeks Who Drink quizmaster training or open mic at the Harp, Anchor Bar or Gallaghers and I can tell more tales. Hopefully my upcoming full time corporate job works out but my love of music and entertainment are my lifeblood which is why I write freelance and help run TheHollywoodTimes.net plus being a member of Central Casting. Yes this is what happens to an ex wife of a rock star.