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Ira Heilicher, longtime behind-scenes force in MN music, dies at 65

Posted by: Jon Bream under Music, Behind the scenes, Minnesota musicians Updated: August 4, 2011 - 5:44 PM

He played the hip son to his dad’s music-biz baron. While Amos Heilicher made big deals and socialized with stars, son Ira was in the studio making such records as "Liar Liar" with the Castaways, a Twin Cities garage band.

Ira Heilicher, a force in the Minnesota music scene since the 1960s, died Tuesday, reportedly of complications from COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). He was 65.

 

Ira Heilicher co-founded the Twin Cities' first record supermarket, Great American Music Co., in 1978. (Star Tribune photo by Charles Bjorgen)

 

Starting in 1933 with jukeboxes, the Heilicher family was heavily involved in record distribution and later retail outlets, including the mighty Musicland chain. In their heyday in the 1970s, the Heilichers handled about 20 percent of all records sold in the United States.

In high school in the early 1960s, Ira had a band booking agency. His dad started a record label, Soma (Amos spelled backwards), but being the boss’ son didn’t mean carte blanche for Ira at Soma. A committee consisting of the buying, sales and promotion staffs as well as Amos voted on which acts the label would take on.

Ira got particularly excited about a band who invited him to their recording session even though he’d never seen them perform. He stayed in the studio with the Castaways until 4 a.m., offering ad hoc advice on the recording and money to cover the session. In a 1998 interview, Ira said: "I was standing at [Amos’] door at 6, going ‘You gotta listen to this.’ He didn’t say ‘Yes’ right away, and he brought it in to the group and they listened to it."

"Liar Liar" reached No. 12 on Billboard in 1965. Soma also handled such hits as Dave Dudley’s "Six Days on the Road" and the Trashmen’s "Surfin’ Bird."

After working at Heilicher Brothers distribution company for many years, Ira founded and ran the Great American Music retail chain of 17 stores in the 1970s-80s, and also became involved with the Circus Pizza chain, a logical extension of the family's involvement with arcade games. The Heilichers transitioned into real estate, co-owning bars, including William's Pub and shopping centers, including part of St. Anthony Main. Amos Heilicher died in 2008 at age 90. Ira was most recently involved with Pracna on Main, Tuggs and Vic’s, among other properties.

Heilicher is survived by his wife, Jackie, and two daughters, two grandchildren and a sister. Services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Friday at Adath Jeshurun Congregation in Minnetonka.

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