Record label

Dan Einstein is dead: co-founder of John Prine’s label was 61

Dan Einstein, a Grammy winner who co-founded independent record labels with singer-songwriters John Prine and Steve Goodman, only to quit the business and open a bakery that became an East Nashville community center , died Saturday in Nashville at age 61.

The cause of death was not given, but family members said he suffered from a prolonged illness. A GoFundMe was set up last week after Einstein was transferred to Alive Hospice and raised $140,000 in six days.

In the music industry, Einstein – a Los Angeles native who moved to Nashville – was best known for helping Prine start Oh Boy Records and, before that, starting Red Pajamas Records with folksinger Goodman. valued. Both labels were formed in the 80s at a time when it was considered risky and unglamorous for artists who had gained notoriety with major labels in the past to release records on their own.

In his adopted Nashville, the focus on Einstein’s death was not so much his background in the music industry as his ownership of a restaurant he and wife Ellen opened in 2004 after dropping out. the music industry. Einstein’s obituary in the Tennessean was topped with a title that described him as “beloved owner of Sweet 16th Bakery” first, and a “music industry veteran” second.

Born and raised in Connecticut, Einstein’s family moved to Los Angeles in 1978, where he attended UCLA but dropped out after three years, already immersed in booking acts at venues from that university to Madame Wong’s and the Masque. He soon went to work for Al Bunetta Management, working out of Wilshire Blvd. office for more than a dozen years, before he and the rest of the company were transplanted to Tennessee in the early 1990s. The move marked a milestone in the history of Nashville, known as a basis for what was soon to be known as the Americana movement and not just mainstream country.

Bunetta and Einstein launched Red Pajamas Records for Goodman in 1981 and Oh Boy for Prine in 1982, considerable moxie acts in a pre-internet era when there was little infrastructure for distributors to accept independent labels of any kind. , not to mention the artist-prints owned.

“Nothing says ‘over’ then quite like not being on a major label — not even Rounder or Sugar Hill,” recalls Holly Gleason, a Nashville journalist and former executive who was an Einstein confidante for four decades. . “It was a different world. No distributor would deal with an artist owned/distributed label, so it was mail order only, no longer sold at shows. Dan went to work to try to build this distribution network; a chain or a distributor would come on their own, and independent record stores would get involved… I remember the day when Tower Records agreed to sell their records. It was amazing. We went to Lucy’s El Adobe to celebrate.

Prine was making a deliberate choice to go independent; Goodman may have had fewer options. “Dan started Red Pajamas because you can’t get a record deal for a guy who has leukemia,” Gleason points out. With Prine, she says, “John, seeing that Stevie wasn’t dealing with the record company people, decided he wanted in. Dan said ‘Okay’ and started making a label for an artist. living with a future.”

Vindication came quickly – albeit partially posthumously for Goodman, who died in 1984. In the very first year the Grammys introduced a contemporary folk category, 1986, labels Red Pajamas and Oh Boy landed two of the five nominations. Prine’s “German Afternoons” was up for the award, but the winner was “A Tribute to Steve Goodman,” which earned Einstein a Grammy Award as the collection’s executive producer. The album praised the late Goodman by Prine, Richie Havens, Arlo Guthrie, John Hartford and other contemporaries.

Gleason recalls Einstein’s humble reaction when he learned that two records he was responsible for had been nominated in the category’s inaugural year: “Well, I guess that means it works.”

Dan Einstein (right) celebrates a Grammy win with Hank Neuberger and Al Bunetta

This category also belonged to Goodman and Red Pajamas the following year, as “Unfinished Business”, an Einstein-produced record that finished what Goodman had been working on before his death, won the second Contemporary Folk Grammy.

The Oh Boy label would have to wait its turn to win, but Prine was again nominated multiple times and won the first of several times in 1991 for “The Missing Years.” This album saw Prine move away from a purely acoustic base and go in a more rock direction under the production of Heartbreaker Howie Epstein, with Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and others seated.

“When they moved the labels and the management company to Nashville in the early 90s, they sort of became ground zero for roots music, says Gleason. “Suddenly Nashville was validated” for a hip crowd that had previously considered Austin and LA to be their main bases. When Americana came along, Dan was the young man who helped anchor the movement.

Einstein’s two decades with Oh Boy saw him tackle not only the Prine product, but artists such as Kris Kristofferson, Todd Snider and Janis Ian, as well as establishing an Oh Boy imprint. Boy Classics which published vault material from Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and Roger Miller. The Oh Boy label continued to be active after Einstein’s release and, indeed, is releasing new releases even now, after Prine’s death.

Prine’s widow, Fiona Whelan Prine, paid tribute to Einstein in a tweet. “Dan was truly one of the most beautiful and intelligent men I have ever met,” she wrote. “He was sweet, kind, funny, honest and he loved Ellen to the moon and back. We will miss you Dan. So grateful to have been honored by your generosity.

Einstein continued to win awards after leaving the music industry to open the Sweet 16th Bakery. The restaurant’s favorite breakfast was named one of Food + Wine’s 10 Best Breakfast Sandwiches in America. And Sweet 16th won the Nashville Stage Award for Best Cupcake so many times that it was eventually dropped from the competition.

But more than anything, the bakery has become a community hub in the Lockeland Springs area, having opened at a time “when East Nashville was even more spooky than hip,” says Gleason. “He pioneered the concept of creating something for his community, a place that gave back and gave refuge. He knew how much the little things changed lives, so he figured he and she could create a place that offered that to people in a way everyone could share. He and the restaurant were, above all, known for their little kindnesses towards children and dogs.

There was one final award to come: He and Ellen Einstein were named “East Nashvillians of the Year” by the East Nashvillian publication in 2021, for providing free meals to local residents after the community was hit hard by the 2020 tornado. “”We had survived the tornado [of 1998] so we felt like we had to claim our claim and bring something back to the neighborhood,” he told the publication. “Seeing the kindness of people in the neighborhood and the way everyone came together. Our thing was to make a living, pay our bills and give back to the people who live around us.

Funeral services will be private due to COVID, but a virtual celebration of his life will take place here On Wednesday, an in-person public memorial is planned for later in the year.