As confirmed by The Sacramento Bee (via Variety), Tower Records founder Russ Solomon died on Sunday night from an apparent heart attack, supposedly while drinking whiskey and making jokey comments about the Academy Awards with his family—a moment that, as The Sacramento Bee notes, seems like “the perfect coda” for a guy who created a record store empire known for its freewheeling attitudes toward everything. Solomon was 92, and he’s survived by his son Michael and his wife Patti Drosins.
These days, the story of Solomon and Tower Records might be more famous than the record stores themselves, which have now been gone for more than a decade. Solomon started what would eventually become Tower Records in his father’s drug store when he was still a teenager, selling used records to the regular customers. With some loans and credit, he was eventually able to open a proper Tower Records retail store in 1960, catering to as many different tastes as possible and staffing the store with knowledgeable music fans.
The original Sacramento location proved to be so popular that Solomon quickly opened a San Francisco location, then Los Angeles, and then another 26 locations between the ‘70s and ‘80s—including locations in Japan, one of which still stands to this day. During this period, the Tower operation was so successful that it sometimes pulled in more than $1 billion annually, with its popularity bolstered by the way it and Solomon embraced the attitudes of music lovers by keeping stores open late, keeping artists’ entire catalogs in stock, and bringing hard-to-find items like singles or international releases to locations outside of major cities.
Unfortunately, Tower couldn’t maintain this rapid international expansion, with Solomon taking on more loans to grow the company in the late-’90s just as internet piracy began to take off. Interest payments began to crush Tower, and buy 2006 the company was forced to liquidate its assets and shut down. Not one to give up, Solomon quickly bounced back and opened a new record store near the original Tower location in Sacramento called R5 Records. The store was a Tower in everything but name, but it was also forced to shut down after only three years when local competitor Dimple Records bought Solomon out.
Solomon told his story in Colin Hanks’ 2015 documentary All Things Must Pass, which featured interviews with the people who were instrumental in building Tower Records as well as famous customers like Elton John, David Geffen, Bruce Springsteen, and Dave Grohl.