One of the longest-running and most widely known record labels in the Twin Cities, roots/folk imprint Red House Records has been sold to a kindred Nashville company and will shut down its offices in St. Paul.
The Grammy-winning independent outlet, founded in 1983 by the late Bob Feldman, has been bought up by Compass Records Group, an eclectic company that counts the Proclaimers, Colin Hay, Bobby Long, A.J. Croce and Shannon McNally among its stable of acts.
It’s not clear what will happen to the employees who work for Red House, but a statement said the Minnesota musicians affiliated with the label will stay on under the Red House banner as part of the Compass roster, including John Gorka, the Cactus Blossoms, Charlie Parr, the Pines and Chastity Brown.
The founders of Compass, producer Garry West and musician Alison Brown, were mentored by Feldman when they started their label in 1996. Their friendship with the Red House guru apparently eased the hard conclusion made by his widow, Beth Friend, who has kept the label going with help from some dedicated staffers after her husband’s death in 2006.
“This was a very personal and very difficult decision for me to make,” Friend said in a statement, declining interview requests. “It’s simply time for me to bring this chapter of my life to a close and move on.”
While vinyl sales have been a modest boon to some independent labels, Red House relied more on CD sales, which are in decline, and streaming and downloading services, which notoriously pay a lot less to labels and artists.
“The harsh reality of it is there’s a lot of consolidation going on in this business right now,” said Compass co-founder West, who did not sugar-coat the likelihood of layoffs among the half-dozen or so St. Paul employees but pledged to “maintain the legacy that Bob created.”
“We are very mindful of Red House being a St. Paul/Minneapolis-centric operation, and we will do our best to integrate its own unique identity into our business operations here,” West added.
One of the company’s best-known artists, Gorka, told Billboard magazine he believes Red House “will continue to be a great label.”
“I understand the economics, and I think Compass is the best place to go,” said the veteran folk tunesmith, who has a new album due for release next year. “Compass has a lot of artists I admire and respect, and I think Red House will be in good company.”
Gorka is one of the longest-tenured artists at Red House, which started out with Iowa folk hero Greg Brown as its flagship artist and grew to include the likes of Lucy Kaplansky, the Wailin’ Jennys, Loudon Wainwright III, husband/wife duo Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams and a lot more acts frequently heard for decades on its hometown radio show “A Prairie Home Companion.” The 1995 album “South Coast” by Ramblin’ Jack Elliott won the label a Grammy Award for best traditional folk album.
From start to finish, Red House remained a great resource for Twin Cities musicians, lending a home to Bob Dylan’s old cronies Spider John Koerner, Dave Ray, Tony Glover and Willie Murphy along with such virtuosic acoustic acts as Peter Ostroushko and Dean Magraw. In recent years, the label fostered the budding careers of the Cactus Blossoms, the Pines, Chastity Brown and Actual Wolf.
Friend remains optimistic about the label’s future. “I know [Compass] will bring a level of care to the Red House imprint that I don’t believe I could have found in another buyer,” she said.