A former Slash Records employee pays homage to the founder of the most influential label in Los Angeles punk history
In late May of 1988, I put out feelers for a job in the music industry.
I was 23 years old with a newly earned journalism degree from Southwest Texas State University. I had immersed myself in music throughout my college years, working in record stores, co-hosting a radio show in San Antonio, and reviewing concerts and interviewing bands for my campus newspaper and various indie magazines.
My first potential job lead for a publicity position came from Slash Records. I was tipped to call Bob Biggs, the label’s founder and president. The call went well and boosted my hopes. The only problem — and it was a BIG one — was that Slash was based in Los Angeles and I was living in South Texas. I badly wanted the job. I had loved the Slash roster of artists since buying X’s Wild Gift in 1981. I told Bob I could be there in a week for a face-to-face interview. I’m certain he had doubts about the feasibility of the situation, but to his credit he said he wouldn’t hire anyone until he met me the following week. I packed as much as I could fit into my red Mazda 323 hatchback and started off on the longest road trip of my young life. My parents waved as I headed out the driveway and my mom playfully shouted “See you in two weeks!”
I made my appointment right on time. Slash’s receptionist came downstairs from the label’s second-story offices when I rang the door buzzer. She was a propitious harbinger of what was to come — she was a punk chick with parakeet yellow hair, dressed in cut-off shorts and Doc Martens, and her gregarious nature was plainly evident in her rapid-fire conversation. I marveled as I walked under the massive The Decline of Western Civilization soundtrack poster that was framed at the top of the staircase.
As he caught sight of Corey and I walking down the hall to his office, Bob leapt from his chair and declared, “You made it!” The interview was casual and cordial. Bob seemed impressed by the thick stack of my music features and reviews that I presented as part of the interview. At the top of the stack, I had strategically placed articles on Slash artists — Los Lobos, X, Dream Syndicate, Green on Red. Bob took the time to read each one carefully. He said, “You certainly know the history of the label.” A few days later I got the call to let me know I was hired. I was thrilled. Though in all fairness, I later learned that Slash’s VP, Mark Trilling, had pulled the final strings in getting me hired. Mark had told Bob, “You had final say in our last three hirings. This kid is a solid writer, he lives and breathes music, and he had the initiative to drive all the way from Texas. Why would you even think about it? HIRE HIM.”
My first day on the job, Corey and Slash’s production manager gave me a tour. I was impressed by the USA and UK mounted platinum record displays for Los Lobos’ La Bamba soundtrack and the gold record for the Violent Femmes’ debut. I was told that the steady sales for the Femmes was the main source of cash keeping the label from going out of business. My eyes grew WIDE as I entered Slash’s promo room and saw the rows of vinyl records and cassette tapes lining the shelves and tubes of rolled promotional posters. Eventually, the production manager caught me staring at an erasable bulletin board on the wall. The board featured a handwritten column of the names of all the Slash employees — decorated with a pink triangle or a blue circle next to each name. He laughed, “Oh, that’s just where we keep track of everybody’s sexual preferences. Don’t worry, we don’t expect you to divulge everything on your first day!”
Over time, I realized that the pink and blue chart was likely some days-old gag that hadn’t yet been erased, or perhaps it was a prank especially created to test the new kid’s reaction. I hadn’t taken the bait in any significant way, and I quickly learned that such mischief was to be the order of the day. Laughter came easy at Slash — a result of the general sense of camaraderie and a handful of skilled staff jesters.
Despite the pink and blue chart, it was obvious that Slash was a “safe space” for members of the LGBTQ community. In fact, a third of the label’s dozen employees were out and proud. Sexuality was a non-issue. Everybody was treated with the same level of respect and co-workers’ partners were all welcomed as part of the Slash family. This proved to be just one example of Slash’s egalitarian ethos. At our weekly marketing meetings, Bob welcomed and encouraged everyone’s opinions. He was a careful listener and was quick to get excited and award praise to good ideas, while also being careful not to hurt anyone’s feelings when a not-so-great idea was presented. As someone who went on to work for nearly two decades at major labels, I can tell you that Bob’s empathy for people was an exception to the standard playbook.
I approached my publicity director gig with gusto. I was soon writing album press releases and band bios for Los Lobos, Violent Femmes, Faith No More, and BoDeans. This was the late 1980s and personal computers hadn’t yet arrived in the Slash office, so everything was done on typewriters with correction ribbon. Compact discs were still brand new and deemed too expensive to mail out as advance promotional music. Instead, I mailed out thousands of advance cassette tapes bearing the Slash logo. While it’s true the employees didn’t have personal computers, we did have a lone computer to generate labels for publicity and radio station mailings. Such mailings were time-consuming affairs and required a gathering of the troops to get the work done on time. Large mailings were done via “bulk mail” to save money, which basically required that all packages needed to be sorted and bundled in specific quantities based on zip codes. The labor could be tedious, but bulk mailing “parties” afforded the majority of the Slash staff an opportunity to gather around a giant circular table cracking jokes, and gossiping about our bands and other acts in the indie scene. Bob would buy us pizza and Cokes and maybe sit down and stuff two or three packages to demonstrate his “team spirit” before moving on to more pressing duties.
Bob was savvy in populating his tiny Slash staff with young people from all over the country. He wisely felt it was important to have staffers with regional expertise and didn’t want Slash to do business in a “California bubble.” I worked alongside radio, marketing, finance and art department staffers from Albuquerque, Baton Rouge, Boston, Minneapolis and Portland.
For a president of a record label, Bob had a surprisingly even temperament. Faced with the realities of paying bills, making payroll every two weeks, and keeping records coming out on schedule, it’s only natural that he would occasionally appear frustrated. To his credit, there were few times that I actually saw him angry. Quite the opposite, his standard operating mode was positive and enthusiastic. His big passions were his own paintings that he did in his spare time, and the global art scene. He was constantly recommending gallery exhibitions that we should check out, or articles on emerging local talent in The Los Angeles Times. This carried over to his activities at Slash where he approached each new signing and album evolution as art projects.
By 1990, Bob’s artistic vision was being more fully embraced by the upper echelons of the music industry. In January 1990, Slash recording artists Burning Spear, Los Lobos and Faith No More were all nominated for Grammy Awards. Los Lobos ended up taking home the prize for “Best Mexican-American Performance” for their La Pistola y El Corazón LP. By November, Faith No More’s The Real Thing was at #11 on the Billboard Album chart and on its way to platinum sales in the U.S., and similarly impressive global sales rankings.
I left Slash in November 1990 as new opportunities beckoned. As I’ve flipped through my mental scrapbook since learning of Bob’s passing, one particular memory keeps coming back. For residents of Los Angeles, it’s always a special day when the air quality is so clean that you can actually see Catalina Island from the Palisades Highlands. On such days, Bob would have an ear-to-ear grin that extended to the pile of brown curls atop his head. He would excitedly tell his Slash team, “You can see Catalina Island today!”
Bob, I hope the sun is shining, the skies are clear, and you can see forever.