Landslide Records captured Atlanta’s roots rock music history on vinyl

Blues guitarist Tinsley Ellis was among the early artists signed to the Landslide label by president and founder Michael Rothschild. Courtesy of Elaine Thomas Campbell
Caption
Blues guitarist Tinsley Ellis was among the early artists signed to the Landslide label by president and founder Michael Rothschild. Courtesy of Elaine Thomas Campbell

Credit: Elaine Thomas Campbell

Credit: Elaine Thomas Campbell

Compilation compact disc will have 33 tracks from label’s catalog

Bruce Hampton was a brilliant bandleader but perhaps the last musician who should give business advice.

“You should start a record label,” he told friend Michael Rothschild, who already had a job in the film distribution business.

“Hampton also assured me that consequently ‘we would all be riding around in limousines,’” Rothschild wrote recently.

This was in 1981. Ten years earlier Hampton and his bandmates had released the legendary “Music to Eat.” That double album featured side-length songs with Hampton screaming Dada lyrics over free-form jazz-noodle-rock. It got producer Tom McNamee fired from Columbia Records and became, purportedly, the second-lowest selling album in the Columbia catalog. (It probably wasn’t.)

Bruce Hampton (recording as Hampton B. Coles) provided the first album released on the Landslide label. Album cover: James Flournoy Holmes
Caption
Bruce Hampton (recording as Hampton B. Coles) provided the first album released on the Landslide label. Album cover: James Flournoy Holmes

Credit: Flournoy Holmes

Credit: Flournoy Holmes

“I should have learned what not to do,” from “Music to Eat,” said Rothschild recently. Or he could have taken heed from the lyrics in the songs Hampton was shopping, with such non-linear verses as “The annexed vortex tranquiled an address thief’s grief.”

But the music was intriguing and Rothschild jumped in, creating Landslide Records and releasing “Outside Looking Out” by Hampton and multi-instrumentalist Billy McPherson’s ensemble, the Late Bronze Age.

The album immediately received a glowing review in the Sunday New York Times by noted critic Robert Palmer.

Hey, this can’t be too difficult, thought Rothschild. “It made the record business look like ‘a real easy deal,’” he told journalist Jerry Grillo, author of “The Music and Mythocracy of Col. Bruce Hampton.”

Well, the business part of the music business is not an easy deal. Rothschild told Grillo he probably sold two copies of Hampton’s record in every state. But, miraculously, Landslide Records is still in business and celebrating its 40th year on Friday, with a double compact disc compilation that includes “King Greed” from “Outside Looking Out,” and 32 other tracks.

Many of the artists signed by Rothschild had never recorded before, such as Widespread Panic (”Space Wrangler” from 1987) and Derek Trucks (”The Derek Trucks Band” from 1997). Both went on to huge careers.

Both also had a rootsy, unaffected quality that drew inspiration from the musical springs of folk, blues and jazz. This became a hallmark of Landslide artists, including child prodigy Sean Costello and elder statesman Piano Red. Even the pop-influenced “Dancing Under Streetlights” by the Brains, another early Landslide release, deployed its synthesizers alongside a literary sensibility.

Guitar prodigy Sean Costello was among the musicians signed to the independent label Landslide Records, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this week with a compilation double-disc. Photos: courtesy Landslide Records
Caption
Guitar prodigy Sean Costello was among the musicians signed to the independent label Landslide Records, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this week with a compilation double-disc. Photos: courtesy Landslide Records

Credit: Landslide Records

Credit: Landslide Records

The common thread was Rothschild’s ears. He only released music that he loved. With a catalog of 607 songs and more than 52 albums and EPs, Landslide tells the history of a certain branch of Atlanta music, and provides a snapshot of a very exciting time in the city’s cultural life.

“Atlanta needed to have a Michael Rothschild,” said music journalist Ron Currens, who published the jam band journal Hittin’ the Note for 24 years. “Without him our music would have been a much poorer place.”

Despite the modest success of “Outside Looking Out” and its follow‐up, the orthographically challenged “Isles of Langerhan” (with its Flournoy Holmes-designed album cover), Landslide did well enough that Rothschild opened up an office on 14th street, got some marketing help from publicist Mark Pucci, developed a relationship with national distributors and began frequenting clubs and bars, listening to bands and signing more artists.

One of those was blues guitarist Tinsley Ellis, a bar band warrior, known for strolling into the crowd and sometimes into the street during his solos. The compilation package includes “Walkin’ Thru the Park,” a cut from a 1983 live album by Ellis and his band, the Heartfixers, recorded at the venerable Moonshadow.

Rothschild was also a regular at the Great Southeast Music Hall and the 688 Club; at the latter he encountered the rockabilly legend Webb Wilber, whose self-released album “It Came From Nashville,” had yet to lure an American label.

In the typical Rothschild fashion, his contract with Wilder began with conversation and a personal relationship. “It kind of fell together,” said Rothschild. “We all got along well, we (liked) the same kind of music. It makes me feel good that we’re still selling that record.”

Michael Rothschild (from the left) founder of Landslide Records, poses in his office with rockabilly artist Webb Wilder and publicist Mark Pucci. Landslide captured Atlanta’s rock and roots music history on vinyl. Photo: courtesy Landslide Records
Caption
Michael Rothschild (from the left) founder of Landslide Records, poses in his office with rockabilly artist Webb Wilder and publicist Mark Pucci. Landslide captured Atlanta’s rock and roots music history on vinyl. Photo: courtesy Landslide Records

Credit: Landslide Records

Credit: Landslide Records

“Michael is very smart, but also in the best possible way, he’s a gentle guy,” said Alligator Records founder Bruce Iglauer. “It’s hard to be that, and be in the very competitive record business. It’s one of the reasons the artists like him so much.”

When Iglauer complimented Rothschild on a 1986 Tinsley Ellis album, “Cool On It,” Rothschild invited the Chicago record man to Atlanta to hear Ellis play. “Michael immediately expressed interest to do something together to advance (Ellis’) career,” said Iglauer.

Tinsley ended up on the larger Alligator label, and Iglauer licensed his older Landslide recordings. This was fine with Rothschild, who was more interested in promoting his artist, not his label. “His biggest commitment was to Tinsley,” said Iglauer. “That’s unheard of.”

Rothschild still gives Ellis advice. “You always want to be with somebody like Michael,” said Ellis. “He’s a record man, who would get involved in all aspects of the record: the album covers, the repertoire and wardrobe, like Phil Walden or Leonard Chess or Bruce Iglauer.”

Rothschild grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, and went to college at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he heard Dave Bartholomew’s band play jump blues and proto-rock ‘n’ roll at fraternity parties (A jazz trumpeter, Bartholomew also wrote million-selling hits for Fats Domino, like “Ain’t That a Shame.”).

After two years in the Army and living in Boston and New York City, Rothschild moved to Atlanta in 1973. He would eventually re-visit New Orleans, and scout out Bartholomew, who was between record deals. He fondly recalls being squired around the city in Bartholomew’s car, a cassette tape playing the songwriter’s latest compositions, the ink on a deal with Landslide not yet dry.

Landslide Records celebrates its 40th anniversary with a compilation double-disc. Photos: courtesy Landslide Records
Caption
Landslide Records celebrates its 40th anniversary with a compilation double-disc. Photos: courtesy Landslide Records

Credit: Landslide Records

Credit: Landslide Records

Rothschild is 78 now and moved back to Jacksonville 14 years ago, but “he still goes out to the bars to scout talent,” Ellis said.

He still gets a thrill when he discovers a new band that plays music he likes. “I’m a music fan,” said Rothschild. “I have no ability musically, or much else. I just love listening and I love the history of music.”

The history of Atlanta’s music, with some Nashville, New Orleans and South Carolina beach music thrown in, can be sampled in “Landslide Records, 40th Anniversary,” available at landsliderecords.com, on Amazon, and independent distributor Select-O-Hits.

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