Tower Records founder Russ Solomon dead at 92

He started selling records at his dad's pharmacy

By CHARLES RILEY
David Livingston/Getty Images

Tower Records founder Russ Solomon

LONDON (CNNMoney) - The freewheeling entrepreneur who built Tower Records into a global business and pioneered a new way to sell music has died at 92.

Russ Solomon, who started selling records at his father's pharmacy in the 1950s, passed away on Sunday at his home near Sacramento, California.

The founder of Tower Records died while watching the Academy Awards, his son Michael Solomon told the Sacramento Bee.

"He was giving his opinion of what someone was wearing that he thought was ugly, then asked [his wife] Patti to refill his whiskey," Michael Solomon told the newspaper.

Solomon had passed away by the time his wife returned.

The first Tower Records opened in Sacramento in 1960, and by 1968 the company had expanded to San Francisco. Its iconic yellow and red signs would later be seen as far away as London and Tokyo.

Fans flocked to the stores, attracted by a relaxed atmosphere where it was easy to bond with other music aficionados. Solomon did not have a dress code for employees, who mixed easily with customers.

"If you came into town, you went into Tower Records," Bruce Springsteen said in a documentary about the company called "All Things Must Pass."

Solomon told Billboard Magazine in 2015 that his favorite regular was Elton John.

"He probably was the best customer we ever had," Solomon said of the pop star. "He was in one of our stores every week, literally, wherever he was -- in L.A., in Atlanta when he lived in Atlanta, and in New York."

The chain thrived on massive demand for physical music -- first records and then CDs. Solomon built sprawling mega stores where fans could find everything from pop hits to obscure albums.

But the retailer was soon undermined by dramatic changes in the music industry.

The rise of music sharing sites such as Napster put it under pressure, and the company's debt ballooned. Tower declared bankruptcy in 2004, and was liquidated in 2006.

"The banks said 'we don't need a visionary,'" Solomon lamented in "All Things Must Pass," which was directed by Colin Hanks.

"When we met Russ," Hanks told Billboard in 2015, "it took less than a second to realize this guy is a great character and one of the most humble people I had ever met."

-- CNN's Joe Sutton contributed reporting.

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