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.

waxwings365Like 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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6 Comments

  1. jeff
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    I delivered a pizza to bob at his home in aurora, and for a tip i recieved all of the records he had produced at the time. I would like to say that he was one of the most pleasant customers i ever had. Bob, you are not a dick and i still listen to your music to this day.

  2. Posted July 13, 2010 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    It’s great that Bob was nice to the pizza delivery guy, but Bob “produced” records about as much as that pizza guy actually “made” that pizza. Not saying Bob didn’t recognize excellent music…but PRODUCED? He RELEASED & delivered them, just like pizzas. Don’t believe everything you read in liner notes.

    Where is Dean Fertita today? Playing in a band (Dead Weather) with Jack White. Karma is a wonderful thing.

  3. Mike Salerno
    Posted November 23, 2010 at 3:35 am | Permalink

    Yeah man he’s an awesome individual and he’s my father as well ! Oh and hey dick head above me if you actually knew what happened you wouldn’t be saying karma is a bitch and he did produce the records scumbag he spent so many fucking hours doing soo. You will find out what karma is after you see what Dean Fertita has coming to him for fucking my father over and myself in a way too.

  4. David Anderson
    Posted February 17, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Bob Salerno was a good guy, I took tennis lessons from him back in the day. The world would be a better place with more people like him. I hope he is happy these days.

  5. Kevin Junior
    Posted July 5, 2011 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

    Well, Bob didn’t produce my records, I did. The Chamber Strings, that is. But it hardly matters. Bob was always there to help out in whatever way he could. He released my records in grand fashion. My point is this: Bob was the first person to really believe in me as a musician and songwriter and the first to put serious money behind me in order to attempt to make me a household name. I’ll never forget him for doing that. It was a wonderful time being on Bobsled. I can’t speak for the others, but Bob treated me like a king. Or maybe I should say, a rockstar, when I was far from being an actual rock star. I don’t know what happened between him & the other bands, and I wasn’t involved in any of it, thank God. I hear rumours of deals gone bad, secrets, lies, etc..but I don’t care. I made great records, traveled the world in style, and lived comfortably for a few years due to the huge budgets he gave us. So who am I to complain? I’ve been broke ever since and do things on a much smaller budget now! Thanks Bob for the memories..
    Kevin Junior
    Chicago 2011

  6. Jim Beattie
    Posted May 25, 2013 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    Just stubbled across this, I agree with Kev, Bob treated his bands like superstars
    and I can only thank him for everything he did , which was enormous, so I will
    not hear a bad word against him , or I WILL KILL the fuckers who do not have a clue and weren’t part of a magical time.
    cheers Bob.

    jim