Wayne's World

Less than three months after the death of Brad Singer, Zia Enterprises endures the summer of its discontent

When Zia Record Exchange's founder Brad Singer died in May, the official word from his family was that "business as usual" would be the order of the day for his empire. After all, by this point, Zia seemed to be such a sturdy, self-sustaining entity that it made little sense to tamper with it. The business has long since been much more than just a record-store chain. It's become a self-contained record-business enterprise with a distribution company, Impact Music, a graphic-art company, CHUD Graphics, and a record label, Epiphany Records, all housed under one roof.

Less than three months after Singer's death, the Zia empire is understandably still in the process of defining its future course, but many close to the company are shaken by the new atmosphere created by Singer's brother, Wayne, who has at least temporarily taken over the operations.

On Friday, July 17, Wayne pulled the plug on Epiphany Records, the record label that his brother had started with the hopes of creating a Tempe-based equivalent to Seattle's Sub Pop. In fairness, this move hardly qualifies as a shock, since Epiphany was never a profitable enterprise, and its direction had long been sustained by Brad Singer's own musical taste and pocketbook.

The curious part about the closing of Epiphany is that Wayne Singer has insisted that Epiphany's three remaining employees--who are all being reassigned within the company--refrain from speaking about the demise of the label, to create the illusion that Epiphany is still an ongoing enterprise. As one employee jokes, "It's kind of like the label with no staff." It's a decoy with dubious value, since the label has been stripped of a budget. Even before July 17, Epiphany employees had in recent months been forced to pay for ads and distribution deals out of their own less-than-deep pockets.

A more surprising change instituted by the new regime was the recent decision to remove Steve Wiley from his position as the general manager of Zia Enterprises, five and a half years after Brad Singer hand-picked him to run the show. Wiley received this bombshell over the phone while he was at the hospital, where his wife was giving birth to their son, Benjamin. Wiley is reluctant to talk about the situation because he's still in the "resolution stages" with Zia, and Wayne Singer refused to answer Soundcheck's questions about this or any other matter related to the company's new direction.

The timing of Wiley's removal from his position, the recent departure of other loyal staffers, and the veil of secrecy over the company's actions strikes more than a few people as a strange transformation from the casual, irreverent vibe that Brad Singer created at his workplace.

"Everyone was always so friendly over there, but everyone's all weirded out now," says an ex-employee who remains close to many Zia staffers. "I think no one really feels comfortable anymore; it doesn't seem like people feel happy there."

The low morale owes a lot to widespread concerns by employees that their jobs might be next on the chopping block. The company is cutting its advertising budget to such a degree that many think it will mean the end for CHUD Graphics, whose primary function is to create ads. Wayne Singer has already closed Zia's record store on the Arizona State campus, and some contend that one of the company's Tucson stores might be next.

Ultimately, insiders say the changes cut deeper than company cutbacks and personnel changes. They say that in an amazingly short time, the spirit of the company Brad Singer created has been lost. As the ex-employee says, citing the treatment of Wiley, "That's exemplary of what's happening now that sucks. That would have never happened under Brad."

Nita's Fallout: Anyone who attended Nita's final night on July 12 knows that it veered from eulogy to pure celebration to auto-destruct anarchy. When Nita's owner Nita Craddock came in the next day to survey the club she'd recently sold to a three-person collective who've renamed it The Heat, she says she was heartbroken. Chairs, barstools and signs were taken, ceiling tiles were strewn about the bar, and the whole place looked a bit like a nuclear casualty. Craddock says the fallout resulted in $5,000 worth of damage and loss for her.

Despite her disappointment and shock at the state of Nita's after it closed, Craddock does say that she genuinely wants to thank her loyal customers over the past 23 years, but she has a problem with the way they expressed their love. "If they'd hated the place, what would they have done to it?" she asks.

Although she wasn't there to see it happen, perhaps the best explanation for Nita's Hideaway's wild, cathartic last night comes from Craddock herself, who equates it with "tearing down the goal posts after you win the game." Actually, maybe it was more like tearing down the goal posts so that no one can ever play a game there again.

Mojo Rising: The Rhythm Room's July 23 benefit for Henry "Mojo" Thompson was just the latest example of how the local blues community unites to help one of its own. Thompson, one of the great unrecognized talents on the local music scene, first made his mark in the Valley four decades ago as a member of the revered vocal group The Tads. But he was recently hospitalized for diabetes, and will be forced to enter the hospital again in two weeks for more treatment. The Rhythm Room show was designed to raise money for Thompson's medical expenses and his time off work.

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