Russ Thyret, Record Label Executive Who Signed Prince, Dead at 76
Russ Thyret, a former top executive at Warner Bros. Records and the man who signed Prince to the label, has died at the age of 76.
Warner Bros. was the only label Thyret worked for across his 30 year career. He started with the company in 1971, working as a sales rep before steadily making his way up the ranks.
He was head of promotion in 1976 when Owen Husney, a musician and former ad agency founder, called to let Thyret know about a new prodigy he was managing: Prince.
“I always knew that I was gonna go to Warners. They were just the top artist-friendly label of that era,” Husney later admitted to Vice, adding that he leveraged other meeting by saying Warner was keen to sign Prince. “The other labels seemed cold. So I lied my way into appointments at all of the labels.”
Thyret listened to Prince’s demo and knew he had something special. He’d share the music with Warner Bros. CEO Mo Ostin, who reacted similarly. “We were absolutely blown away and wanted to sign him immediately,” Ostin later admitted to Billboard.
Though Prince was leaning towards Warner Bros., the deal still needed to be sealed. To that end, Thyret’s congenial personality proved convincing.
“After Prince and I met Russ and hung out with him, there was no doubt where we’d wind up,” Husney noted to Variety. “Russ was a man of great instinct and heart. When other labels were taking us to fabulous restaurants to get us to sign, Russ drove us to his house, where we’d sit on the floor, listen to music and he’d explain the business to us. He gave of himself 1000% and that meant the world from two neophytes from Minneapolis.”
Prince would sign with Warner Bros. and remain with them for the better part of two decades. His tenure at the label was highlighted by the biggest albums of his career, including 1999, Purple Rain, Sign ‘o the Times and Diamonds and Pearls.
Thyret would eventually become Chairman/CEO in 1995, taking over following Ostin’s departure. Though unrelated, his ascent to top position coincided with Prince’s messy divorce from the label. The musician would leave Warner Bros. in 1996 following the release of Chaos and Disorder (the label would sit on another Prince album, The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale, for another three years).
Thyret remained the head of Warner Bros. Records until 2001. “My strongest ambition has always been to serve Warner artists well, and I leave Warner Bros. hoping I accomplished that,” the record executive declared upon his departure from the company. “I was in awe of Warner Bros. Records the first day I walked in the door, and in so many ways, I leave even more in awe. It will forever be a magical memory.”
R.E.M., Madonna, Devo and John Fogerty were among the many other artists with whom Thyret worked in his impressive career. Variety notes that Thyret had been battling an undisclosed “long illness” prior to his passing.