By far the majority of artist-run record labels exist as mere vanity imprints, releasing an album or two by the musician/would-be entrepreneur him/herself, and that’s that. Noteworthy exceptions are certainly around—Trent Reznor’s Nothing Records and Null Corporation, Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe, and Jack White’s Third Man are a few artist-run labels that have achieved significant successes.
An early example of such an artist using his own label to bypass the strictures of major label deals is, unsurprisingly, the iconoclastically independent-minded Frank Zappa. In the late ‘60s, when Verve Records inexplicably missed their deadline to re-up Zappa’s contract, he and his manager Herb Cohen used that leverage to establish their own production company and label, to retain creative control, and to release artists they favored. The labels they established were Straight Records and Bizarre Records. Between them, in a mere five years of existence, the labels released albums by Lenny Bruce and Wild Man Fischer, and now-immortal recordings like Alice Cooper’s Love It to Death, Tim Buckley’s Starsailor, and Captain Beefheart essentials like Trout Mask Replica and Lick My Decals Off, Baby.
Tom O’Dell’s 2011 documentary From Straight to Bizarre tells the labels’ story in detail, through interviews with Pamela Des Barres, John “Drumbo” French, Sandy “Essra Mohawk” Hurvitz, Kim Fowley, Alice Cooper’s Dennis Dunaway and the Mothers of Invention’s Jeff Simmons, among many others. YouTube user Treble Clef has broken the feature-length doc into short chunks for your piecemeal viewing convenience. There’s a lot of illuminating stuff herein, so please, enjoy.
More after the jump…