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Cover Story: Touch And Go Records At 25

| August 29, 2006 | 1 Comment

Touch & Go Records
Rusk Never Sleeps


“We attempted to celebrate 10 and failed. There was a coffee mug, I think that was as far as it got. We tried to do a 10th anniversary compilation and failed so miserably that we’d try to finish it and have a 13th anniversary celebration — ’cause that would be different. Well, we missed that one, too.”

Appearing: September 8th, 9th, & 10th at The Hideout.

Touch And Go Records owner Corey Rusk doesn’t act or think like a mogul. His above words would never fall out of the mouths of P. Diddy or Suge Knight, two people whose record company tactics include overexposure and assault. When they have anniversaries people wind up in bed, the hospital, and prison. Sometimes all three. But Touch And Go’s 25 anniversary is different. This year there will be a party. Bands are getting back together. Albums and EPs are being reproduced and sold — cheap.

But you can’t blame Rusk for not having partied before. He takes digs at hometown Toledo, Ohio, while having adopted some of its do-nothing strategy. “Toledo was horribly, culturally vacant. The guys in The Necros, we had maybe four or five other friends who liked the same music as us, and that was it for the whole city. Toledo’s not a big place, but it’s not a small place either. It’s plenty big enough yet smaller towns have had way more vibrant music scenes than Toledo has ever had. It’s astounding that to this day nothing happens in Toledo. Why?” he throws up hands. “No idea. Toledo’s one of those places that didn’t have it then, doesn’t have it now, and didn’t have it in between.”

Toledo, specifically Maumee, did have Rusk, however, who along with Dischord Records in Washington D.C., helped establish the model for operating outside of the mainstream music industry. As a member of teen punks The Necros, he began corresponding with Tesco Vee and Dave Stimson, who were running Touch And Go fanzine out of their apartment in Lansing, Michigan. The label was created as a companion to the ‘zine and released for Touch And Go number one, The Necros’ would eventually issue what’s known as the four-song Sex Drive single. Stimson had already departed and Vee, a member of The Meatmen, left for D.C., putting the nascent label in Rusk’s hands.

“I knew about Touch And Go before Corey ran the label,” says Ian MacKaye, Minor Threat/Fugazi frontman and Dischord co-founder. “Here in D.C., there was a couple small, independent record stores — what we used to call ‘import stores’ — and one of them had this Touch And Go magazine that had this picture of Penelope [Houston of The Avengers] on the cover. It was like, ‘Whoa, what is this magazine that would have this incredible band on the cover?’ And so we started to get to know those guys. We’d get their magazine and probably wrote to them — at that time you wrote letters. Shortly thereafter The Teen Idles, which was the first Dischord record, we put that together — that would have been in December of 1980 or so — we made a record and we had to come up with a label to put it out and mailed one of those records to Touch And Go because that’s a cool fanzine and maybe they’ll like the record.”

MacKaye says the record arrived in shards, but Vee and Stimson wrote back saying they tried to tape it together, but here’s two bucks for another one. Soon MacKaye was inviting the Lansing-Toldeo axis down for shows and staying with them when he was in Michigan. Rusk and MacKaye bonded quickly, and once the operation was in his hands he had Dischord to look to for ideas.

“At the time I think he said ‘How do you guys do it?'” MacKaye remembers. “So we explained to him how we did it. It was really rudimentary. The first 10,000 records [Dischord] did the sleeves were put together by hand. We just didn’t know because Washington D.C. is not a music industry town. So we approached it sort of like ‘All right, how do you make a record?’ You get one place to make the vinyl, print up these sleeves, you cut and fold them, insert ’em . . . we just didn’t know any other way. So we told Corey how we did things. I think he basically used as a template, in the beginning certainly, just used a similar approach. That was just the way people did things then. That was the punk way.”

DETROIT

“After those first two records came out,” Rusk says, “it somehow sparked something in my mind that there was an explosion happening of cool punk bands in the Detroit/Ann Arbor area and we were friends with lots of ’em. I think I just felt ‘Wow, I vaguely sort of understand how to get records made now. I wanna help my friends in these other bands have records, too, and I want us to put out another record.’ So I got a job loading trucks just to make money to record more records. The next two records on Touch And Go also came out in ’81, in the fall, was the nine-song Necros 7-inch and The Process Of Elimination, which was a compilation of Midwest bands. I got all the records pressed and distributed them and collected the money — did all the back-end stuff for the label and Tesco did all the promotion and sending stuff to get reviewed. That was really the way it went for the rest of ’81 and ’82 until Tesco moved to D.C.”

Deciding he needed to be somewhere with more resources, Rusk and then-girlfriend Lisa Pfahler packed up and moved to Detroit in 1983. He delivered pizzas for supplemental income and continued booking shows in the Motor City just as he had while still in Toledo (“Looking back on it, I’m amazed we never had any major problems or anything because there were hundreds of suburban punk white kids coming into really fucked-up inner-city neighborhoods in Detroit”). After a couple years there, a friend began insisting Touch And Go open an all-ages club in town. Reluctantly, Rusk agreed and The Graystone was born.

“We slept like two hours a night for two years because we were running the label, which was growing, and running this club, which was barely able to keep its doors open,” Rusk remembers. “I was house sound guy, we were the janitors, bartenders, door people, booking it, everything that needed doing was us and three or four close friends who would help us out for free or $20 or something. It was great times; we put on a lot of amazing shows. We lived in an apartment above the club and above us — it had a flat roof so we’d have barbeques up there all night with the bands after the show was over.” But The Graystone was not to last. “It just couldn’t survive in Detroit.”

Early on, the label was growing but was basically a network of friends’ bands. The first non-associated band on the roster was Die Kreuzen, who opened a show for The Necros in Milwaukee. The theory wasn’t to promote the local scene specifically, but Rusk’s core business ideal: “It’s gotta be music I like and people I feel I can work with, that would be fun to work with, and I want to hang around with. However we find them is however we find them: friend of a friend, or one band was touring and this cool band opened for them, or a band breaks up and one of the members does something else cool.” Touch And Go did not operate with contracts — sharing the ideal with Dischord — because, as MacKaye puts it, “The reason we don’t use contracts is we’re working with friends. And the reason we’re working with friends is we don’t use contracts.”

Touch And Go was issuing records with hardcore pioneers Negative Approach, Madison’s Killdozer, and The Virgin Prunes from Dublin. Soon, Rusk’s momentum would carry him out of Detroit. “Detroit’s a spectacular place — it’s not the place we wanted to live forever. We just started thinking about other cities that would be big enough cities to have the resources we needed to be a label, but weren’t Detroit. There was no real reason for Chicago being the next one, maybe just that it’s a huge city but it’s in the Midwest, which just felt familiar.”

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  1. Karl Bakla says:

    Touch & Go is a great label, I just got the Fix CD, kick butt
    -Karl Bakla

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