Ah, the teen years when your whole life lies ahead of you and you’re invincible. No boundaries that can’t be breached. No rules that can’t be bent. Everything is possible. The only gear is forward and fast is the only speed.
Tucsonans Ray Lindstrom and Burt Schneider knew those feelings as 17-year-old Catalina High School students who loved music.
“Why not start our own record label for 45 rpm discs,” they thought and then proceeded to answer their own question by forming Zoom Records.
So obviously this didn’t just happen, but now looking back at it through the eyes of today’s multi-layered, technological, corporate approach to music making — it would be impossible. But Lindstrom and Schneider were two determined teens and they did it in 1959.
Their story came to light in a 33-minute film documentary titled “Zoom,” produced by Dan Kruse for a masters thesis in musicology and ethnomusicology at the University of Arizona. The documentary, shown to an invited guest list Oct. 13 at the Center for Creative at the UA Fine Arts complex, told the story of the tiny independent record label, Zoom, that recorded some of Tucson’s hottest young rock ‘n roll musicians during its brief seven-month lifespan.
“Music is an enormously powerful tool for human relations,” said Kruse. “In my research, I came across a quote that defined music as ‘a collective memory affirmed in time with the beat’,” a definition appropriate of the nine songs — four actual records — that were produced during Zoom’s heyday.
In the documentary, Kruse goes on to say, “Major record labels started being challenged by independents — hundreds, if not thousands of them — popping up and allowing local artists to experience some degree of stardom (like Pete Ronstadt and the Nightbeats who recorded on the Zoom label) — a microcosm of what was possible in the late 50s.”
Lindstrom describes how Zoom came to be. “We were 17-year-olds when we went to a school cafeteria dance where a local Elvis-type singer (Jack Wallace and the Hi-Tones) performed. Neither Burt nor I sang nor played a musical instrument, the only thing we played was the radio. We were just two kids with a common interest in music who impulsively decided to start a record label — eight days later we were in a recording studio and a week after that our record was playing on the radio.”
Recalling the famous Memphis label that launched Elvis Presley’s career, Lindstrom said, “We wanted to be like Sun Records and do what the other guys were doing even though we were probably younger than anybody else making records. We wanted to take this concept and make it into a huge deal, even though we didn’t have a clue how to accomplish it. We were naïve enough to not know we couldn’t do it. We didn’t know any better so we just charged ahead. We figured all we had to do was learn how records were made and we’d be successful. It was a neat era in the record business — you recorded it, got it pressed, got it played on the radio, and sold records — it was that simple.”
With only that love of music and a lot of chutzpah, the two teens got the band to agree on a record, called a recording studio in Phoenix (there were none in Tucson at the time) and made an appointment for a Saturday.
“We were still in high school at the time, so we could only make the trip on a weekend,” remembers Lindstrom.
Financing the project was also much simpler.
“I didn’t have more than $5 at any given time,” Lindstom says, “So we rounded up some fellow student investors and started the business for $35.”
Producing a record back then cost between 15 and 20 cents each and retailed for about $1.
“It was an empowering kind of thing,” says Schneider. “Starting the record label was a precursor for the rest of my life in commercial communications.”
Lindstrom must have felt the same because among sobriquets he earned in later life was “The Father of the Infomercial Industry.”
Historians will have to confirm it, but the two believe that Burt/Ray Music Publishing Company was a trendsetter as Southern Arizona’s first rock record label and perhaps the state’s first home-grown label, period.
According to Kruse in the documentary: “Zoom records gave a tip of the hat to rock ‘n roll, rhythm and blues, doo wop … it not only told about the sound of Tucson rock music, but told us about the era of rock ‘n roll that reached into every corner of America.”
Says Lindstrom: “It certainly wasn’t a money thing — we made no money whatsoever — but we made audio pictures of a moment that will linger on — and, at 53 years old, we haven’t gone out of business yet,” he says. “We just haven’t cut a record in awhile.”