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"I'm not here trying to sell millions of copies of records," says Knot Known Records president and sole full-time employee Chris Richardson.
He says this between bites of a roast chicken sandwich at a Mill Avenue eatery staffed with nervous waiters and waitresses who look like next year's crop of bright young things on some hourlong Warner Bros. drama. "I'm just passionate about the bands I'm working with. I believe in them all. They call me up at all hours of the night. If something breaks down on the van, I am the one calling Triple A. That's why when I talk I am not trying to give this record-label pitch."
Such is the life of a junior indie Mo Ostin who takes a vested interest in the bands he personally signs to record deals on his Tempe-based label. Though his dialogue may at times smack of West Coast underassistant PR flack flunky, underlying earnestness speaks volumes for his cause. And there is a cause; at least that's how he sees it.
"I get sick of some [major label] idiot that knows nothing about music and what these lyrics were about and what it meant to this band," he continues. "And the next thing you know, the label made all this money and the band's made shit and they're dumped. I'm just sick of reading about bands getting screwed. It's their music; it's their lyrics. They're [major labels] just selling them like a hamburger. I hate seeing that happen, you know what I am saying?"
His lawyers think he's crazy. But then again, most lawyers don't think there needs to be a change in the way the record business is run. Besides, most lawyers can't very well vacation in Bali when working for a guy who exercises Good Samaritan tact with Record Biz shenanigans.
"I am a band-friendly label," he says, lifting his hands shoulder level and turning them palms up to emphasize his point. "I'm not greedy. If I can make a dollar profit and keep this thing going forever, I'll do it. I want to help bands."
Richardson, 28, grew up in the affluent northwest Chicago suburb of Glenview. His father was a tail gunner in a B-24 during WWII. Later he founded a plastics company that sprouted from a basement embryo into a multimillion-dollar corporation. Before Chris was born, his mother danced at the Playboy club in Chicago.
Like any kid, Richardson loved music but hated music lessons. He would often hide from the Beethoven-worshiping piano teacher his mother foisted upon him. Richardson was into Midwestern kid jive, like rock 'n' roll and hockey. Tunes on the radio got him through the adolescent twinges and provided him a place he could call his own. He knew he couldn't play, but he wanted to be involved in music somehow.
Yet it was his old man and not some rogue from his private school who gave Richardson his first taste of live music and the all-night parties that frequently ensued. His dad was a fan of the music and its players from the old country; Richardson spent many nights in low-rent clubs, digging the faithful and steadfast.
"He used to take me to clubs when I was a little kid, and we'd go see Lionel Hampton playing on the vibraphone in these seedy Chicago clubs, or Louie Belson and all these guys from the big-band era. I mean, that was his life. My dad would sometimes bring the bands home and they would set up and play all night at our house. Our neighbors hated us. The bands would be playing outside when the sun was coming up while the neighbors were getting up to go to work."
When Richardson was 12, his only sibling, 13-year-old brother Charles, was riding his go-cart in a church parking lot and was unintentionally run over and killed by a careless rookie cop.
Richardson was devastated and says his "family was really affected, my dad, the house, everything."
The family lasted three more years in Illinois, and in '86, Dad sold the business and retired to north Scottsdale.
"We were trying to erase the pain of the house and everything. I can only imagine that a parent losing a child is the worst thing that could ever happen to a parent. I saw it rip them apart. And, man, then again music really helped me get through that. Me and my brother were close."
Richard attended Scottsdale's Judson boarding school and graduated in 1990. Four years later, he held a degree from ASU. Richardson's father died last year.
During his time at ASU, Richardson did the beer-guzzle routine with college pals in local bars like Balboa Café and Long Wong's. Watching bands in the clubs planted the label idea. He figured that there must be a band like the Refreshments or Satellite in every town. He started visiting other college scenes where chums from Judson had gone. He found a college-type Mill Avenue scene everywhere. And existing in each was at least one good band. He wanted to be the guy who signed and promoted that one band.