Tower Records founder remembered as community-minded visionary | Crain's

Tower Records founder remembered as community-minded visionary

Russ Solomon, Sacramento’s iconic music businessman, has called it a life. The founder of Tower Records died Sunday from heart failure at age 92.

As local businesses and officials react, it’s clear that the area lost more than just a man who went from selling records out of his dad’s drug store to running a $1.1 billion empire of nearly 200 stores on five continents.

“We’ve lost a Sacramento and National icon,” Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg tweeted. “[His] contributions to our community will last another 92 years and more.”

Solomon, who attended C.K. McClatchy High School and Sacramento City College, had a habit of helping out his fellow music store owners. This continued even after the digital age sent Tower Records into bankruptcy in 2006 and Solomon closed his last brick-and-mortar store – the original Tower Records on Watt Avenue – after 46 years.

Dilyn Radakovitz, co-owner of Dimple Records – which inherited the mantle of largest independent record store chain in the Sacramento region – says Solomon would always step up to help when she and her husband John wanted to promote their business. “One time, I had arranged to have [John and Solomon] interviewed on the air, to promote our event,” she recalls. “Russ didn’t agree readily – he could be a big tease – and he asked why he should help me out. I said, ‘It’s for the record industry to keep music alive.’ Of course, he was there to tape the show, and they had one of their best conversations together. He was just that kind of guy – always there for us!”

Sacramento resident Colin Hanks, son of actor Tom Hanks and producer/director of the 2015 documentary “All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records,” notes that Solomon’s “big is beautiful” formula of very large, almost warehouse-sized stores with huge selection of music – and later, books and videos – spawned other mega-store chains like Virgin and HMV.

The fact they were also demographically tailored stores with a mom-and-pop feel made them the place young people went to simply hang out in the age before Starbucks, texting and the internet, according to Hanks.

“I remember as a kid going into Tower Records to listen to the latest music, and I now see what an influence that experience had on me,” says Scott Mandeville, who went on to found Tim’s Music in Sacramento. “[Solomon] had a profound effect on society through his actions as an entrepreneur, and his contributions to society by making music available throughout the world.”

Solomon’s success also became an inspiration for numerous other entrepreneurs to start their own businesses. Tim Jordan attributes the opening of Old Soul Co., a coffee roastery and bakery in Midtown, largely to his days as a Tower Records employee. “He gave me confidence that Sacramento was cool,” Jordan notes. “And if Russ Solomon said Sacramento was cool, Sacramento was cool.”

In 2016, Solomon was inducted into the California Hall of Fame; an exhibit in his name appears in the California Museum’s Hall of Fame wing. In 2017, he was given placement on the Sacramento Walk of Stars. The Tower Records Project has a fundraising campaign to help make more than 200 boxes of donated Tower-related memorabilia available for public display and research at the Center for Sacramento History. The Golden 1 Center has a Tower Records neon sign displayed in its main lobby. And, of course, the Tower Theater in Land Park – near where that all-important dad’s drug store existed, which later became one of Solomon’s most-iconic stores until its closure in 2006 – continues to this day.

His business life may have ended a bit off-key – Solomon opened another Tower Records-style store, R5, in 2008, only see it fold within two years – but he went out the way you pretty much expected him to. According to his son, former Tower CEO Michael Solomon, dad passed away with a drink in his hand and one last bit of sarcasm for the world.

While at home watching the Academy Awards, “he was giving his opinion of what someone was wearing that he thought was ugly, then asked his wife Patti to refill his whiskey,” Solomon told the Sacramento Bee. “When she came back, he had died.”

No memorial service is planned. Instead, Solomon’s friends and family will have a private party to celebrate his life. “I am absolutely proud of my father,” Solomon told CBS-Sacramento. “He deserves the legacy he seems to have.”

March 7, 2018 - 10:12am