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REMEMBERING RUSS

Russ and Rebecca at their wedding reception, with Tom Ross and Lenny Beer

We’ve lost a giant. Russ Thyret—a music-biz legend, an archetypal record exec and a close friend for decades—has left the building.

Russ, who had been in ill health for some time, passed away at 3:30am on 2/12 at the age of 75. His wife, Rebecca, said that Russ’ message for his Warner family was that he wants us all to be happy and to be good to each other.

Warner Bros. was the mother lode—by far the best company pound for pound, with excellent executive talent and the smartest promo strategist of the era in Thyret.

Russ was a true gentleman, statesmanlike and the most loyal exec we’ve ever met—he loved Mo and Lenny and would do anything to carry out their wishes. He was there standing up to the suits on behalf of WB’s artists and employees—an incredibly honest man of the greatest integrity who possessed nerves of steel. For many of us, he’d be the guy we’d want next to us in a foxhole.

Warner Bros. had more hits than anyone else by a mile, and Thyret went on to become chairman (1995-2001) after Mo and Lenny left the company, succeeding Danny Goldberg, and he passionately perpetuated their legacy.

Thyret dubbed his weekly marketing meetings “Korea” because they lasted so long, like that unwinnable war. He was rumored to have won the California lottery not once but twice, and although neither payday was mammoth, those two windfalls must have given him some financial independence. He loved the horses, fishing and his great Labrador Retriever.

We’ll never forget sitting in his office as he played us unforgettable records by The Doobie Brothers, Fleetwood Mac, Paul Simon, Madonna, Talking Heads and other future hall of famers on that amazing roster.

We weren’t a magazine yet when Russ called in 1979 and said he wanted to play us a track he thought was special. At the time, we were a national promotion and marketing company called MusicVision, and Russ' Warner Bros. was one of our clients.

Thyret was an impressive individual; brilliant and enigmatic, he was far more than a promotion head, though he did that job as well as anyone ever has. A strategic mastermind and marketing innovator, he was a key member of the Warner think tank impeccably managed by Mo Ostin.


A ski lodge summit meeting with Steven Baker, Don Henley and Irving Azoff

Russ was super-artist-friendly, and he’d made it clear to us that he was on a mission to break this act, Prince, whom he’d brought to the label two years earlier. The dedicated exec fervently believed this track, “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” from Prince's self-titled second album, was strong enough to put the then-20-year-old artist over the top. “I Wanna Be Your Lover” didn’t make Prince a star, but it became his first hit, peaking at #9 on the Radio & Records airplay chart. He subsequently took a radical left turn with 1980’s provocative Dirty Mind, but two years later, “Little Red Corvette,” from the next LP, 1999, began the breakthrough Thyret had long envisioned, hitting #5 on the R&R chart, while the now-iconic title track got to #12. In 1984, Prince scored his first sales and airplay chart-topper with the wildly original “When Doves Cry,” opening the floodgates for the landmark album and film Purple Rain.

Along with CBS and sister labels Elektra and Atlantic, Warners dominated the musical landscape of the ’70s and ’80s. We’d long viewed WB as a special place, and during the years we worked for the label—from 1978 to ’86—we got a close-up look at what made it unique and why the Burbank ski lodge was the place to be, a major with the heart of an indie. Russ was not only integral in creating that vital culture; he, as much as anyone, personified it.

A virtual celebration of his life will take place in the near future.

Rest in power, Russ. Love, honor, respect.

Russ shares a WEA Convention table with Bud Prager and Henry Droz.

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