Deconstructing Pop Culture

Deconstructing Pop Culture header image

Dick Griffey RIP – Solar Records

September 25th, 2010 by David Kronemyer · No Comments

Dick Griffey passed on September 24, 2010. I had close interactions with him in the mid-1980s in connection with his label Solar Records. I also became friendly with Virgil Roberts, his head of business affairs. Roberts went on to become a successful Los Angeles attorney. Solar stood for “Sound of Los Angeles.” Some of Griffey’s early artists were Midnight Star, Shalamar, the Whispers, Lakeside and the Deele (with its founding members Tony “L.A.” Reid and Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, who later went on to considerable success).

There were some interesting twists and turns to the Solar story. I signed Solar to Capitol-EMI in 1986. At the time, Solar was engaged in a bitter dispute with Elektra Records over who had distribution rights. Below is a copy of Solar’s legal action against Elektra. The relationship between Solar and Elektra was complicated by the fact that Elektra had loaned Solar money to construct a $4 million office building located at 1635 N. Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood, not far from the Capitol Records tower. Elektra took back a mortgage as security, and had commenced foreclosure proceedings after Solar stopped paying on the loan. I finally was able to enter into a Settlement Agreement with Elektra. Below is a copy of the settlement agreement (this looks to be a penultimate draft).

Although Solar and Capitol had great hopes for a long-lasting relationship, it was not commercially successful. In 1989, Solar shifted distribution to CBS Records. Around 1991, Solar agreed to “sub-distribute” a new label, Death Row Records, through its deal with CBS. The Solar-Death Row agreement was structured as a kind of joint venture. Although Solar held a majority ownership interest, Death Row was the managing partner. Among other inducements, Death Row agreed to deliver (through Solar, to CBS) records produced by Dr. Dre and records recorded by other artists such as NWA and Easy E. Death Row moved into the Cahuenga building, which became its headquarters. It was the site of the famous confrontation between Suge Knight and Easy E over the label Ruthless Records, owned by E and Jerry Heller. Ruthless had artists that Death Row wanted. Knight allegedly threatened (or at least intimidated) E, until he agreed to sign a release. The history of this is partially recounted in Ronin Ro’s book Have Gun Will Travel – the Spectacular Rise and Violent Fall of Death Row Records (1998: Doubleday). I knew E and Heller pretty well as a result of other dealings, and made what in retrospect was a wise policy decision to stay out of the controversy. I later had direct dealings with Suge when he was trying to reorganize Death Row and in fact visited him once in jail.

The Solar – Death Row relationship also eventually precipitated litigation, primarily over who owned what and who owed money to whom. Ruthless sued Death Row, Solar sued Death Row, and CBS sued Solar. In the meanwhile Death Row entered into a new agreement with Interscope, owned by Ted Fields and Jimmy Iovine, which shored up its finances and rights somewhat. Death Row moved out of the Cahuenga building. While I am not sure of the intervening ownership and tenancies, after I started financing independent films, I met several times there with Tracy Edmonds, formerly wife of Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds. He must have known the building well, as a result of having been signed to Solar. And it was rather uncanny being back in Dick Griffey’s office again.

Capitol’s Settlement Agreement with Elektra

Solar Records v. Elektra Records