Turn and face the strange
Musicians provide easy comic targets. “What do you call a life-support system for a musician? A girlfriend.” Ba-da-dum.
A few musicians I’ve known have been couch-surfing, refrigerator-emptying deadbeats, but most people who play music aren’t. They—at least, the ones not propped up by record-label advances or trust funds—need to find another way to subsidize their gigging, and that usually means holding a day job.
Sacramento’s music scene is fortunate to have at least one large employer that, over the years, has provided jobs, along with benefits like health insurance, to musicians. Having Tower Records based in Sacramento has been a real asset to the local music community.
Of course, Tower hasn’t always been the perfect workplace. The jobs are non-union; most don’t pay as well as a state-worker gig. Still, those jobs have made it possible for many local musicians to keep from starving. And if they worked in one of the better stores, chances are they got exposed to many different musical genres, which not infrequently translated into an increased depth in their playing and writing.
For a while, around a decade ago, every other local musician you’d see out playing worked either for Tower—in a store or at the chain’s office/warehouse complex in West Sacramento—or else at the now-defunct one-stop distributor Valley Media in Woodland. (Disclosure: I worked at Tower music magazine Pulse! for many years.)
With the other Bruno Magli about to drop sometime next week, Tower employees will find out whether their company will be acquired by an investment group that will keep the chain operating (a best-case scenario) or whether their jobs will be eliminated by a liquidator or by a mall-store operator that specializes in acquiring distressed record-retail chains (not a best-case scenario). Perhaps this is a good place to show Tower Records a little love. So, to Russ Solomon, thank you for building a company that provided a day job for so many musicians over the years.
Change, it’s said, is inevitable. When I worked for Tower, one thing you could depend upon at any company function was a performance by the Beer Dawgs. It didn’t hurt that the band’s longtime guitar hero, Steve Wall, was married to the executive secretary of a company vice president. But the band’s bar-tested brand of rock and blues, which was strongly rooted in the music of such bands as Little Feat and ZZ Top, provided a near-perfect soundtrack to the kind of parties Tower liked to throw—many of which were, ahem, legendary.
And now the Dawgs are transitioning from a five-night-a-week local fixture to an occasional reunion-gig band because singer “Slim Bawb” Pearce and drummer James Curry will be moving to Texas, outside Austin. Wall and multi-instrumentalist Otis Mourning will remain in Northern California. The band’s farewell gig is Friday, October 13, at the Clarion Hotel. Pearce’s side band, Slim Bawb & Gator Bait, will sing its own version of “Happy Trails” as the featured guest on October 4 at Marilyn’s on K, at the Wednesday-night Americana Ramble.
After a fine 20-year run, these guys will be missed.