Bob Biggs, the 74-year-old founder of Los Angeles independent label Slash Records, died on Saturday morning (Oct. 17) due to complications from his long battle suffering from Lewy body dementia, according to Slash’s former publicist Susan Clary. He is survived by his wife Kim and his son Monty.
A visual artist born in Whittier, California, Biggs worked with punk rock magazine Slash, published by Steve Samiof, Melanie Nissen, Claude Bessy and Philomena Winstanley, in 1977 before founding Slash Records in 1978, an independent label that originally specialized in local Los Angeles punk rock bands and launched the careers of seminal bands Germs and X.
In 1981, the label released the soundtrack to The Decline of American Civilization, a documentary by Biggs’ then-wife Penelope Spheeris (the couple married in 1977 and divorced in 1984) that chronicled the L.A. punk scene in 1979-1980. Bands featured in the film include Black Flag, Germs, X, the Circle Jerks and Fear.
Originally distributed by Jem Records until it went bankrupt in 1981, Slash signed a distribution deal with Warner Bros. in 1982. The Blasters, Violent Femmes, Los Lobos, Faith No More, L7, The Del Fuegos and Failure were among bands whose records were distributed by the label.
In 1987, Biggs talked to the Los Angeles Times about releasing records that he felt were essential. “I wouldn’t describe myself as a music fan and specific styles of music don’t interest me,” he said. “But I wouldn’t put out a record I didn’t find some merit in. I put out records I think are necessary and the challenge of getting a mass audience to agree they’re necessary is what’s fun for me.”
John Doe, singer/songwriter, guitarist, bassist and co-founder of punk rock quartet X, which formed in 1977 along with vocalist Exene Cervenka, guitarist Billy Zoom, and drummer D.J. Bonebrake, tells Billboard, over the phone, that “Bob did something that changed the music world in L.A. He was a great guy, and there’s plenty of people who didn’t step up like he did. He was representing what part of the music world was all about in L.A. He was determined to expose that to more than just the people in L.A. He had some money, and instead of just investing in something that was a sure return or something that would actually increase his wealth, he decided to do something that’s artistic. He was a rarity in that way. How many people are going to do something like that?”
Doe says he’s forever grateful for Biggs having put up $10,000 for the band to make their debut record, Los Angeles, (produced by The Doors’ keyboardist Ray Manzarek), and for the record’s staying power. It was the record’s 40th anniversary earlier this year.
In fact, it was Biggs who was responsible for the image on the record cover, a huge burning X. “We weren’t sure what we wanted to put on it, and so he built an 8-foot plywood X and took it out to the desert and coated it in rubber cement and set it on fire,” says Doe. “He used rubber cement because he knew that would burn slower and then, low and behold, one of the frames of this 8mm movie that he took of it was this weird kind of creature that was made out of the flames on the back of it.”
On Saturday, Randy Haecker, a publicist for Slash Records for two years, from 1988 to 1990, posted a message on Facebook, where he wrote about Biggs. “Days with Bob were typically light-hearted. He was enthusiastic about everything — you could describe him as a ‘big kid.’ He had a deep knowledge and appreciation of fine art, and he was an accomplished painter himself. I have so many wonderful memories of Bob. I took this photo of him in the late ’80s, captured grooving out with his Walkman. Bob brought a ton of great music to the world — X, Los Lobos, The Blasters, Violent Femmes, Faith No More, Fear, Rank and File, and The Germs, are among the bands he signed. Truly the best of times.”
“He was a visionary who not only ushered in the LA alternative music scene to national attention, but also gave our band, Los Lobos, a chance when no one else could figure out what to do with this peculiar bunch from East LA,” the band Los Lobos said in a statement. “We owe our entire career to him. Gracias, Bob.”
Speaking about Biggs’ passing to Billboard, Greg Edwards, bassist and guitarist from L.A. rock trio Failure, says, “It’s always extra sad to lose a music business guy who was really just a music guy at heart. Kind of a rare breed. Especially when it comes to heads of labels. My main memories of Bob are of sitting in his office at Slash throwing ideas around with him for artwork and album titles while he leaned back in his chair at his desk and nervously ran his hand through his hair. He was a unique character with a genuinely innocent enthusiasm for music and the whole process of making a record. He loved to be involved in the conceptual details and aesthetic direction of each album. He even designed the cover for our second record, Magnified.”
“Bob and Slash were the only label of over 100 who saw any potential in Violent Femmes,” the band’s co-founder and bassist Brian Ritchie tells Billboard. “This introduced three naive Milwaukee boys to the underbelly of the record business where weird things happened. Like the time Bob took our master tapes into a recording studio and overdubbed Beach Boys samples, inadvertently erasing parts of the basic track. Bob was a flawed visionary, but for a brief moment in musical history a dazzling array of talent orbited around Slash. In the past few years we’ve gigged with X and Los Lobos, and hung out with members of Fear, The Blasters, Faith No More and Dream Syndicate. It’s an exclusive club. We share war stories. It’s a testament to Bob’s instincts that those musicians have outlived the scene and continue to be heard.”
Musician reactions to Biggs’ death on social media include Dream Syndicate singer/songwriter Steve Wynn, who posted on Facebook: “I’m forever grateful that Slash head honcho Bob Biggs showed faith in a band like us and gave us a vaulted context amidst the best label mates to make the rest of the world pay attention to what we were doing. I remember the record release party for The Days of Wine and Roses at the One Way Bar in Silverlake. Bob and I were shooting pool. I said, ‘Let’s play double or nothing for our royalties.’ He said, ‘You’re on.’ I won but didn’t hold him to it. He had already done plenty for us. A good guy with a monumental legacy and impact on my hometown music scene — RIP Bob Biggs.”
Faith No More and Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea posted statements on Twitter.
“RIP Bob Biggs,” Faith No More wrote. “You and Slash had our backs when few others had any idea of what we were trying to do. We will miss you.”
“Ahhh RIP Bob Biggs,” Flea said. “My first ever record company affiliation was Slash Records, I was a snot nosed punk kid, and he treated be [sic] with dignity and respect.”
UPDATE: This article was updated Oct. 19 at 7:45 EST to include Ritchie’s quote.