Lost Classics: Bobsled Records

tapem200bThey’re nobody’s buzz bands anymore. But since 1993, MAGNET has discovered and documented more great music than memory will allow. The groups may have broken up or the albums may be out of print, but this time, history is written by the losers. Here are some of the finest albums that time forgot but we remembered in issue #75, plus all-new additions to our list of Lost Classics.

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Like restaurants and dot-coms, record labels fail at an alarming rate. So it isn’t exactly newsworthy that Bobsled Records lasted only five years. What’s notable is that the Aurora, Ill., indie burned so brightly and left a vapor trail of mini-myths. At the center of it all was Bob Salerno, a former tennis pro. One of the great characters in the indie-label world, the mutton-chopped, Motown-loving Salerno founded Bobsled with friend and financial backer Jeff Slay (the label name is a play on “Bob” and “Slay/Sleigh”).

Initially operating from his basement, Salerno attracted bands by releasing music on 180-gram, colored vinyl. Scottish outfit Adventures In Stereo (featuring Primal Scream’s Jim Beattie) was the label’s inaugural signing in 1997, notably followed by Chicago’s orchestral-pop Chamber Strings, French/German disco-punk duo Stereo Total and power-pop vets Velvet Crush. A true believer in his roster’s hit-making potential, Salerno poured money into radio promotion, retail campaigns and label-sponsored tours.

“There didn’t seem to be any middle ground with Bob,” says one former associate who wishes to remain anonymous. “He was shooting straight for the top. He always talked about the possibility of his releases going platinum. Not even gold.”

By 2002, however, Salerno’s zealous drive became a fatal flaw: Following a show by flagship Bobsled band the Waxwings (pictured), he penned a scathing letter to the Detroit retro-rockers that was later posted on the Internet. Salerno criticized the group’s lack of preparation and singer/guitarist Dean Fertita’s failure to exude a rock-star persona: “Mick Jagger wouldn’t be hangin’ out in the club before HIS RECORD RELEASE show!” he wrote. “Bush leagues!!! Dean, you’re just fuckin’ hangin’ out by the fuckin’ entrance before the show, AND SOMETIMES ALONE! PATHETIC!!! A REAL rock ‘n’ roll band would have been backstage getting psyched up for the greatest show of their entire lives!!!”

“The band stopped trying,” says Salerno, who changed his name to Björn Forsell and ran the Giant Pecker label. “[Bobsled’s] philosophy was equal effort—which they gave on their first record, but then they lost perspective on the second. We guaranteed them—and all our artists—around $10,000 to $12,000 per record, and we ended up spending roughly $200,000 on each at the end. So when they stopped trying and copped the attitude that it was all owed to them, I got pissed. And rightfully so, I still believe.”

Bobsled never produced a hit album, and the label folded after the release of the Waxwings’ second album, 2002’s Shadows Of The Waxwings.

:: THE WAXWINGS
Low To The Ground // Bobsled, 2000

The Waxwings apparently didn’t get the central-casting memo that required all Detroit bands to be immersed in the garage legacy of the Stooges and the MC5. The Byrds-via-R.E.M. jangle of the Waxwings’ debut was a refreshing change of pace from the carbon-monoxide-marinated angst of their Motor City peers.

“Keeping The Sparks”:

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