After 34 years of providing a steady diet of the country’s finest folk, blues, Americana, and roots music to listeners around the world, the revered St. Paul label Red House Records has been acquired by the Nashville-based Compass Records Group and will relocate to the bustling Tennessee music industry hub, shuttering their St. Paul office.
Red House Records was founded in 1983 by Bob Feldman and the Iowa folk artist Greg Brown; Brown was having trouble finding a larger audience for his work, and Feldman was a passionate music fan who wanted to find a way to distribute his songs to the world. The label was primarily focused on supporting artists from the Midwest region like Spider John Koerner, Prudence Johnson, and John Gorka, but they would eventually expand to work with artists from across the country like Loudon Wainwright III and Utah Phillips, picking up many independent music awards and Grammy nominations along the way. In recent years they seemed to turn their attention back toward their immediate music community, signing rising artists like Charlie Parr, Chastity Brown, Davina and the Vagabonds, and the Cactus Blossoms.
Over the years the staff at Red House had formed a close relationship with the people at Compass Records (home of Colin Hay, the Proclaimers, and Ron Sexsmith), and the musician Alison Brown and producer Garry West turned to Feldman for advice as they got their label off the ground in the mid-’90s. Their friendship would endure through the years, up until Feldman sadly passed away in 2006 at the age of 56. Since then, the label has been run by Feldman’s widow, Beth Friend, and longtime president Eric Peltoniemi, who retired last year.
“This was a very personal and very difficult decision for me to make,” says Beth Friend. “It’s simply time for me to bring this chapter of my life to a close and move on. Compass founders Garry West and Alison Brown were friends of Bob’s and have often commented on how his mentorship helped them in the early days of launching their own label. I know they will bring a level of care to the Red House imprint that I don’t believe I could have found in another buyer.”
According to Billboard, who broke the news today, “current plans call for Red House Records to be completely integrated into Compass Records Group’s offices in Nashville, but at press time there was still no word on which Red House employees (if any) would be joining the Compass team.” An employee reached today at the Red House offices said that this was “a sad day” for the St. Paul staff.
The sale raises questions for the artists associated with the label, some of whom have projects currently in the works. John Gorka, a longtime Red House artist, has a new album due out in early 2018, and he spoke to Billboard today about the acquisition: “I hope Red House will continue to be a great label, and I’ll miss the people there,” he said. “I understand the economics and I think Compass is the best place to go. Compass has a lot of artists I admire and respect, and I think Red House will be in good company.”