Flashing Sounds

An e-mail interaction with Rykodisc label founder and former Toledoan Don Rose

by Steve Howell

S: Were you born in Kalamazoo, Mich.? If so, what year were you born?

D: Yes, 1955.

S: Did you grow up in a musical family? If so, did you realize at an early age that you wanted to have some type of job in the music industry, whether it was as a performer or as a businessman?

D: Not musical family; I was manager of Jr. High rock band. But it may be 'in the blood' -- Brian Epstein (manager of The Beatles) was my 4th cousin...

S: If you were born in Kalamazoo, how did you wind up in Toledo?

D: We (Pat [O'Connor, owner of Boogie Records] and I) had to leave town to start a record store -- our friends already had the cool store in Kalamazoo. Toledo was populated only by mall stores at the time.

S: What year did you arrive in Ohio?

D: 1973.

S: When you moved to Toledo, were you performing in any bands?

D: No -- aside from having no musical talent, we were sleeping on the floor of the original Boogie shop, under the racks.

S: When, and how, did you get a job with Boogie Records? Had you known Pat O'Connor from your days in Kalamazoo?

D: Pat and I (along with a third partner, Jim Rodbard) were all friends from Kalamazoo and started the store together.

S: Had you been involved working for any other stores or labels prior to Boogie?

D: Yes, from the age of 16, at the original Boogie Records in Kalamazoo (RIP)

S: Pat mentioned that you and Sub Pop co-founder Jon Poneman knew each other. Was that during the time that you were living in Northwest Ohio, or after you'd both departed from the area?

D: We knew Jonathan in Toledo, but only as a rabid 14-year old kid, who came into the shop every Wednesday with his mom. It was only much later (a generation) that we reconnected as 'peers.'

S: Did you and Jon help each other in communicating ideas about how a label should be run?

D: Commiserated; mainly after the facts.

S: It's somewhat bizarre that such a mainstream, politically correct city as Toledo gave birth to such a significant amount of indie record label moguls. Why do you think that is? Was there a thriving music scene here when you were around that you feel contributed at all to this phenomenon?

D: Funny, I never thought of Toledo as 'politically correct.'

S: What was your main source of inspiration for getting involved with music?

D: AM radio 1965; FM radio 1970.

S: Did you leave Boogie in 1979 to start Eat Records?

D: Yes.

S: Where was Eat based out of? Did it start in Toledo?

D: No -- Boston.

S: How did you find the bands that comprised the roster?

D: Didn't know any better -- just read everything and saw everything.

S: Were you targeting a specific audience with Eat, or was it created to release diverse material, similar to what you'd do with Rykodisc?

D: Eat was meant to be a rock label, contemporary with the punk/new wave/DIY movement.

S: Did Eat Records evolve into Rykodisc, or were the two of them completely separate entities?

D: Totally separate, but the second could not have existed without the first.

S: Am I correct that you began Rykodisc in Massachusetts in 1983?

D: Yes.

S: How do you feel the meaning of Ryko ("sound from a flash of light") related to what you were doing at the birth of the label as far as the releases went?

D: Rykodisc began as a 'CD-only' label.

S: Were Rykodisc's initial releases Japanese imports? If so, what kind of material -- stylistically -- were you putting out?

D: We only manufactured in Japan, because that's where virtually all the CD plants were at the outset. Stylistically, there was no common thread, inspired by Island Records (circa 1970s).

S: How did you get the money to start Rykodisc? If you had financial backers, did they display any hesitancy toward your idea?

D: Ryko began on a shoestring, along with bank debt. We used to demand and get prepayment on CDs from our distributors.

S: Although Rykodisc began to release cassettes and LPs in its latter years, what was the main idea behind initially introducing the label as a CD-only releases label? Was it mainly due to the fact that compact discs and digital recording were fairly new developments at that time?

D: Our own particular 'genius' at the time was to perceive CDs as mainstream, rather than audiophile gadgetry.

S: I'd imagine that one of the first major acquisitions for the label was the Frank Zappa catalog in 1986. Were you still the proprietor of the label at that time, or had Chris Blackwell taken over?

D: Rykodisc was wholly independent until it was acquired by Blackwell/Palm in 1998 -- over 15 years.

S: Why did you decide to part ways with Rykodisc? It seemed as though things were going well with the addition of various labels, such as folk/world imprint Hannibal and jazz/funk label Gramavision.

D: After the acquisition, and once Ryko was no longer 'my baby' I was offered the opportunity to develop new business relationships with Palm, then a move to the U.K. Still an adventure...

S: I thought that you started your most recent endeavor, Palm Pictures, but I read that Chris Blackwell founded the company in 1998. Was it a combined effort, or did you sign on after it was created?

D: Palm is Blackwell's company -- I have always admired him and Island Records, and have been grateful for the opportunity to work with him.

S: Palm seems to be much more focused on multi-media and technology than Rykodisc, with Palm DVD, Palm Pictures Film, Palm Publishing and Palm Music. Technologically speaking, what do you see as far as advancements in terms of the future of the music industry?

D: Rykodisc was formed at the intersection of music and technology, and Palm's activities reflect that viewpoint going forward. The music business will change radically with the challenges of digital age -- it may already be doomed in its current incarnation. But, music will continue to evolve in positive directions, and at the end of the day, that is all that matters.

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