Gary Stewart, once of Apple Music and Rhino Records, has died at the age of 62. The news of Stewart’s sad passing was broken by Grammy-nominated producer, Andrew Sandoval, who wrote on Twitter on April 12, “RIP Gary Stewart, the man who brought me to @Rhino_Records to work on @TheMonkees & @ElvisCostello & the Nuggets series. There are a lot of people in Los Angeles who wouldn’t have a dollar in their pocket or a roof over their heads if it wasn’t for his generous spirit.” Stewart is survived by a brother. A 2005 Jewish Journal feature on his career said that “Without going into much detail, Stewart said he has made many sacrifices for his career. He has never married.”
Stewart was known as one of the most passionate and beloved A&R men in the music business, something that is reflected in the amount of social media tributes that have been made.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Stewart Was as Passionate About Social Activism as He Was About Music
In 2011, Stewart told Patch.com that he had lived in Santa Monica since 1994, Stewart grew up in Mar Vista, the son of an electrical engineer and an art teacher mother. That piece mentioned that Stewart served for two decades on the board of the Social Justice Foundation as well as being a volunteer with Santa Monica’s homeless community. Fast Company reported in 2000 that at one stage, all Rhino Records employees had to perform 16 hours of community service. While in 1997, on the fifth anniversary of the Los Angeles Riots, Rhino Records was closed while employees took a tour of the affected communities and met those who were working towards creating a safe environment.
2. Rhino Records Was ‘The MAD Magazine of the Music Business’
Stewart was in charge of the label’s pop-up record stores which were springing up in 2011, according to the Los Angeles Times Magazine. In 1991, the Los Angeles Times referred to Rhino Records as “the Mad magazine of the music industry.” At the time of that article, Rhino was a $33 million dollar a year business.
The company had begun life as a record store in the Westwood section of Los Angeles in 1973. It was founded by a social worker, Richard Foos, and a musician, Harold Bronson. Foos said of Stewart in 2005, “He has an amazing knowledge that blows my mind. From The Beatles on, he knows, in incredible detail, music from every year, whether popular or unpopular, underground, alternative, whatever.”
Stewart told the New York Times, while Rhino Records was in the process of issuing rare Elvis Costello tracks, that he had seen the Irish musician perform “more than 50” times. That Times article mentioned that despite working with Rhino on the Elvis Costello material, he had since left the label in order to become Apple’s chief music officer.
The store began distributing records in 1978. The store then began acquiring the back catalogs to other label’s artists, and thus the label was born. Stewart gave his advice to those wishing to make compilations of back catalogs to CNN in January 2005, “If you demonstrate a passion for music and do a little bit of deal-making, anybody who wants to can do it.” In 1998, Rhino Records was acquired by Time Warner.
3. Rhino Records’ First Billboard Chart Success Was on the Strength of a ‘Family Ties’ Episode
Rhino Records’ first appearance on the Billboard 100 came in 1987 on the strength of one of their artists, Vera and the Beaters, having their song played on an episode of the Michael J. Fox sitcom, “Family Ties.” The song, “At This Moment,” had been recorded in 1981 but was re-recorded at the behest of the “Family Ties” producers in 1986. At the time, Vera had been working with Stewart at Rhino Records. It was Rhino Records’ re-record that charted after the song appeared on the show on two-consecutive weeks.
4. Stewart Began Working at Rhino Records as a Sales Clerk in 1977
Stewart told the Chicago Tribune in 1993 that he was a college student at Cal State Northridge in the 1970s in Los Angeles when he began hanging out at record stores in the area, including Rhino Records. Stewart began at the store in 1977, according to “The Rhino Records Story: Revenge of the Music Nerds,” as a sales clerk before becoming store manager. When the label was launched, Stewart’s encyclopedic knowledge of music saw him installed as an A&R man with the burgeoning label. In 2000, Stewart told Fast Company that his mantra was “Change, not Charity.” While in 1990, Stewart was quoted as saying that he felt CDs had been used as an excuse for the record industry to raise prices.
5. Stewart Referred to Himself as a ‘Cultural Jew’
Stewart was the subject of a feature in the Jewish Journal in 2005 which said that he became a “disciple” of popular music after he built a radio in junior high, Stewart attended Venice High School. His first record was Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Cosmo’s Factory,” which he purchased when he was 13 years old. The Journal wrote that Stewart was “largely unknown outside the industry” but had “left an indelible mark on pop culture in the past quarter-century.” Stewart explained in the piece that he is a cultural Jew who went to Sunday School in his younger years.