RIP, Russ Solomon (1925-2018)

A brief remembrance of the late Tower Records founder

A little Russ Solomon (RIP) story from my years at Tower Records: I worked as an editor at Pulse!, the magazine published by Tower, full time from 1989 to 1996, and I continued to freelance for Tower after I left to take another job. The Tower corporate offices were in West Sacramento, and during my time as a Tower employee I lived in Sacramento (and briefly Davis), having moved out from Brooklyn for the job in 1989 after writing a few freelance pieces for the magazine. (Those articles’ subjects included electronically mediated cellist Hank Roberts, soul-punk band 24-7 Spyz, and alt-country act Souled American.)

After my first few months at Pulse!, the magazine’s office was moved across the parking lot from the main Tower corporate office building. This move meant a load of improvements: more space, better light, less noise, fewer interruptions. The move also further established what was already a solid editorial separation between the magazine and the company’s retail business.

Pulse!, of course, reflected Tower’s merchandising ethos, in that it covered as wide a range as possible of music. That was the point. We didn’t just cover the pop, rock, r&b, and hip-hop of most music magazines at the time. We had a classical columnist, and a separate opera columnist, and a Christian contemporary columnist, and a variety of jazz columnists, among many others. We kept on retainer reporters in cities around the world to contribute brief local scene reports. These days, having “big ears” — an appreciation for music across genres, with an emphasis on the connections between those genres — is an everyday occurrence, a listening norm, in our post-streaming, niche-market era, but back in the early 1990s the breadth of coverage in Pulse! distinguished it from most other music magazines.

In my time at Tower, the range of its publications expanded. I co-founded its classical magazine, Classical Pulse!, with the opera critic Bob Levine. And then in 1994 I created Tower’s first email publication. That’s what is now called a newsletter. Named epulse (everything back then was e-this and e-that, the way later it was i-this and i-that), the epulse newsletter ran weekly, more or less, for 8 years up until 2002.

Then Pulse! closed down fairly suddenly in 2002, after 19 years of publication. The closure was due to Tower’s financial instability. When in 1996 I left Pulse!, I had stopped editing the epulse newsletter for awhile, but then I picked up the responsibilities again later on. I ended up writing the final cover story for Pulse!, about rapper/producer Missy Elliott, before any of us knew it would be the magazine’s last issue. And when Pulse! shut down in 2002, we shut down epulse, too, naturally.

Or so we thought.

Because the very next week I got a call magazines’ (newly former) publisher. Apparently Russ Solomon had called him and asked why epulse hadn’t come out. Pulse! had been shut due to financial matters, he explained, but epulse was such a low-budget thing that Russ wanted it to continue. And so it did. Editorial coverage of music was core to Russ Solomon’s idea of what Tower was about. Little old epulse kept it going as long as possible. Epulse continued to be published, at his request, for another year or so, until bankruptcy finally shut down Tower for good.

This is lightly adapted from a thread I posted at the day after Russ Solomon died.

One thought on “RIP, Russ Solomon (1925-2018)

  1. Classical Pulse had slipped my mine. I remember at the time thinking that Robert Levine listened to a lot of opera and his opinions were informed and in a way I enjoyed reading. And I’m not at all an opera fan. I suppose this is a case where a publication expanded my horizons in ways I would not have foreseen.

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