Yes, it’s a record label known for quality reissues…but it began as, and it remains, a record store in Los Angeles.
At first, there wasn’t even a store, just record collector Richard Foos buying old albums at swap meets and then selling them out of the trunk of his car. It’s hard to get a business license that way, so in 1973, Foos became nice and legal by opening an actual store, Rhino Records, in the Westwood section of Los Angeles, California, near the UCLA campus.
The store quickly became popular, with new records in addition to the used albums from Foos’s collection and the collections of others. A second store opened out in another college town, Claremont, in the eastern suburbs of L.A.
Foos hired salespeople at Rhino based on their musical knowledge. Frequent customer Harold Bronson was hired that way, and worked his way up to manager. It was in this capacity that, when L.A. street performer and record store habitué Wild Man Fischer walked in one day in 1975 screaming his latest song, “Go to Rhino Records,” Bronson did not throw him out of the store, but instead called a sales clerk who owned a tape recorder, took Fischer into the back room, and used the borrowed machine to record “Go to Rhino Records” for posterity. Foos and Bronson had the song pressed on vinyl and gave away the record to customers; word of mouth spread, and due to the demand, future pressings of the single were offered for sale instead.
Foos and Bronson knew a good thing when they saw it, and in 1977, Rhino Records put out its first full-length album, Wild Man Fischer’s “Wildmania!” A second album on the Rhino label followed in 1978, a compilation of contemporary novelty songs called “Rhino Royale.” Among the artists featured were Fred Blassie and Rockin’ Ritchie Ray; other Rhino “discoveries” of the late ‘70s included the Temple City Kazoo Orchestra (actually a group Rhino employees playing kazoos), Big Daddy, and Barnes & Barnes.
Along with the novelty records, Foos and Branson realized that, instead of merely selling used copies of old records at the Rhino stores, the Rhino Records label could reissue old records and albums that were hard to find. The first group to get the Rhino reissue treatment was ‘60s pop group The Turtles, whose hit songs were still being frequently heard on oldies radio but whose albums had gone out of print. Other album releases soon followed.
As a reissue label, Rhino was in the right place at the right time when the compact disc came along in the early 1980s. Now not only did Rhino have an excuse to reissue hard-to-find albums, the label could guarantee huge sales of a CD reissue even if the original album was readily available, purely based on people upgrading to the new music format. Rhino also created new “greatest hits” compilations for a wide variety of artists, in addition to coming out with plenty of various artists single-CD, double-CD, and box set compilations of various styles and genres, most with copious, scrupulously researched liner notes. (Various Rhino releases have won Grammys for their liner notes.)
Rhino’s greatest chart success came in early 1987, with the song “At This Moment” by the group Billy Vera and the Beaters. A producer for the hit sitcom “Family Ties” saw the group performing “At This Moment” live and used the song in a 1985 episode of the show. Vera’s two albums, released in the early ‘80s, had gone out of print; he tried to parlay the TV use of “At This Moment” into a new record deal, but struck out everywhere but at Rhino. In 1986, Rhino released “By Request,” a compilation of songs from Vera’s first two albums, and that fall, a second “Family Ties” episode used “At This Moment.” Rhino put out a single, and it went to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
In the early 1990s, Rhino expanded its offerings beyond CDs to include videotape reissues of TV shows and movies; to reflect the new items, Rhino Records was renamed Rhino Entertainment.
Then, in the mid-1990s, Rhino started getting chummy with the Warner Music Group division of Warner Bros., signing a distribution deal and a blanket deal to reissue items from the back catalog of Warner-owned label Atlantic Records. It was therefore not too much of a surprise when, in 1998, Rhino was bought out by the Time Warner monolith, becoming a part of the Warner Music Group division with the ultra-corporate name, Warner Strategic Marketing. Things remained pretty much business as usual for Rhino, though, since the acquisition allowed them to continue to license songs from other record labels for compilations.
Meanwhile, the Rhino Records stores are still in business, selling new and used CDs, albums, and DVDs; in fact, in early 2001, the Westwood store moved out of its longtime storefront location to its own building, about three times larger, three blocks south.
2028 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles (just south of Santa Monica Blvd.)
310-474-8685 or 800-555-8095
235 Yale Ave. (downtown Claremont, corner of Bonita Avenue)
- Rhino Records (the label) web site at rhino.com
- Rhino Records (the store) web site at rhinowestwood.com
- BBC article about Rhino at www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/arts/highlights/000816_rhino.shtml
- Wild Man Fischer site at www.erie.net/~bbelovar/wildman/
- Discography of early Rhino novelty albums at www.davesfunstuff.com/funnycity/aaarhino.htm
- Billy Vera and the Beaters page at billyvera.com
- The approximately 15 billion Rhino compilations in my CD collection, including but not limited to, seven volumes of “The Disco Years,” fifteen volumes of “Just Can’t Get Enough: New Wave Hits of the ‘80s,” and Rhino’s later-day CD novelty song compilations with Dr. Demento’s imprimatur