Tower Records founder Russ Solomon dies at 92

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The music industry has lost one of its legends -- famous not for making music, but for selling it. (Photo courtesy of Showtime)

The music industry has lost one of its legends -- famous not for making music, but for selling it.

Russ Solomon, who founded Tower Records, died Sunday night at the age of 92. A family member told the Sacramento Bee that Solomon died of an apparent heart attack while drinking whiskey and watching the Oscars.

"He was a big kid," recalled Karen Lyberger, who worked with Solomon for 20 years. "And laughed and was fun to be around."

In fact, Solomon was practically a kid when he started Tower Records.

"He grew this business from a counter in the corner in the back of his father's pharmacy in Sacramento," said rock journalist Ben Fong-Torres. "And it became almost 60 magnificent stores around the globe."

Fong-Torres credits Solomon's love of fun for helping him make Tower Records not just a store, but a central part of the music world.

"He was the one who had parking lot concerts featuring rock bands. He had murals painted of the best selling albums along the outer walls," he said.

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From the iconic stores in Sacramento and San Francisco, Tower Records branched out all over the world. But in building a global chain, Solomon wanted each store to be a neighborhood business.

"I had a bunch of different stores, and they would be completely different," said Lyberger, who worked as a regional manager for Tower's books division. "Within six months, they would be their own personality. Even though the furniture was the same, it would be its own personality."

Lyberger said Solomon hired smart managers, and trusted them to decide what merchandise to carry in their stores.

"People that had to be told exactly what to do didn't function really well in that environment," Lyberger said.

The Showtime documentary "All Things Must Pass" looked at what was an unconventional business with a charismatic founder -- and the ultimate downfall of Tower Records as music went digital.

Even when Fong-Torres met him in 1997, he said Solomon was beginning to feel pressure from the advent of downloadable music.

"And he was saying things like the industry has got to adapt to the changes. We're losing the kids," Fong-Torres said.

Tower Records went bankrupt, and ultimately closed, leaving behind fond memories of its stores -- and now, its founder.

"He was a great guy and we'll miss him," Lyberger said.
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