For almost a decade, music business insiders thought Jac Holzman was a nut. A college student at the time he founded independent label Elektra Records in 1950, Holzman released only folk and international music on his imprint, plowing every cent he made from titles like Kentucky Mountain Family by Jean Ritchie and Mexican Folk Songs by Cynthia Gooding into subsequent releases. Ten years and 200 or so releases later Holzman and Elektra were cast in a different light, suddenly making tons of money with the Authentic Sound Effects series, discs packed with short segments featuring the sounds of door buzzers, whip cracks, avalanches, car crashes and just about any other conceivable action sound. The source material came from field recordings made around New York City and elsewhere, and was basically free so Elektra had no royalties or artist fees to pay; with everyone from audiophiles to closet stoners wanting a copy it was like printing money. The story of the stroke of genius that took Elektra from labor of love to budding power player is just one of many recounted in detail in Becoming Elektra: The True Story of Jac Holzman’s Visionary Record Label, the latest title from music publicist and rock journalist Mick Houghton. Houghton covers the label’s folk era thoroughly but it’s the period after the sound effects coup that most readers will be more familiar with; that’s when money from the sales of more than a million Authentic Sound Effects records gave Elektra enough cash to sign the Doors and break on through to rock ‘n’ roll. In 1973 Holzman left Elektra, by then a major label affiliated with Warner Bros. and home to seminal groups like the Stooges and Queen, and that’s where the Becoming Elektra story ends. Presented here as a coffee table book and rich with photos, album cover graphics and label documents like royalty statements (monetarily quaint by today’s standards) and a letter to Iggy Pop, Becoming Elektra will further enlighten those who have the liner notes from their old Harry Chapin and Atomic Rooster albums memorized as well as inspire anyone involved with a fledgling indie label.
Becoming Elektra: The True Story of Jac Holzman’s Visionary Record Label
Kevin Wierzbicki is a music and travel writer based in Arizona. His articles about music, travel and music-related travel have been published in the likes of USA Today, The Arizona Republic, Desert Living Magazine, Campus Circle in Los Angeles and Antimusic.com.