Ralph Records was an independent record label founded by Residents, Uninc. in 1972. In 1976, management of the company was taken over by The Cryptic Corporation, who proceeded to lead it into a period of success from the late 1970s to the mid 1980s.
Ralph Records ceased functioning officially in 1988, though it has since operated in various forms and guises intermittently to the present day. Its current incarnation is New Ralph Too, founded in 2017.
- 1 History
- 1.1 Founding by Residents, Uninc.
- 1.2 First releases (1972-1976)
- 1.3 Founding of The Cryptic Corporation and move to Grove Street (1976-1977)
- 1.4 Peak success (1977-1983)
- 1.5 New Ralph, Ralph America and Euro Ralph (1983-1993)
- 1.6 Revival and New Ralph Too (2010-present)
- 2 List of releases
- 3 Artist roster
- 4 Offices
- 5 See also
- 6 External links and references
Founding by Residents, Uninc.
Ralph Records was founded in early 1972, when the loose group of creatives and eccentrics then known as Residents, Uninc. moved from a small apartment in San Mateo, California, to a much larger two-floor studio space on Sycamore Street in San Francisco. The new studio significantly enhanced the group's ability to record experimental music and create art, even allowing them to create a sound-stage for a feature film.
Intended originally as a small independent record label which would only handle releases by the fledgling Residents, Ralph was named after the colorful expression "calling Ralph on the porcelain telephone". The Sycamore Street studio was similarly named "El Ralpho", a name which would also be associated with the group's growing archive of recorded material.
Letter from Hal Halverstadt
Following their move to San Francisco and the foundation of Ralph, the group received a congratulatory letter from their occasional correspondent Hal Halverstadt, then director of merchandising at Warner Bros. Records.
Halverstadt had earlier offered the group polite encouragement despite rejecting their demo recordings The W***** B*** Album and B.S., even inadvertently inspiring their name when returning The W***** B*** Album addressed to "Residents, 167½ 17th Avenue, San Mateo".
The letter reads:
"Listen, you wierdo,
What's all this shit about warm hugs and deep admiration? I'm a tough, commercial record business executive and don't you forget it. Growl. Snort. Belch. Scratch the balls. Fart. Burp. AND WHEN I TALK ON THE PHONE, I TALK LOUD!!! GODDAMNIT!!!
Actually... actually... I'm your basic Mr. Empathy. And I was touched by your kind words of thanks (for what, I'm still not sure) and stimulated by what sounds like PROGRESS for the guys who comprise Residents, Uninc.
Congratulations (you knew I'd give in and say it) and please feed my name to Ralph.
If and when a party materializes to celebrate the opening of your new art factory, do put my name at the top of the list. In the meantime, if you can stand it, a bundle from Burbank is on its way with a pick of the past two months' crop - hopefully enough variety for every musical taste.
P.S. Stop wasting your money on Special Delivery."
First releases (1972-1976)
The first release on Ralph Records was the double 7" EP Santa Dog, the debut recording by Residents, Uninc., in December 1972. The EP was not released to the general public; it was instead mailed in limited numbers to selected recipients (including Richard Nixon and Frank Zappa).
After releasing their first album Meet The Residents to little attention in 1974, The Residents decided they wanted to focus solely on their recording projects. To this end, they unincorporated themselves as Residents, Uninc., handing the day to day operations of Ralph over to four friends; Homer Flynn (who had already operated the group's graphic design wing, Porno Graphics, for some years), Hardy Fox (the primary engineer of their recordings), Jay Clem and John Kennedy.
The four also assisted The Residents with their work on the troubled film production Vileness Fats, directing, building sets, and acting in various roles until the project was abandoned completely in 1976.
Founding of The Cryptic Corporation and move to Grove Street (1976-1977)
Shortly before the abandonment of Vileness Fats and the release of The Residents' third album The Third Reich 'n Roll in 1976, The Cryptic Corporation was formed by Flynn, Fox, Clem and Kennedy, to manage The Residents, operate Ralph Records, and pursue other business interests (as well as act as a tax haven for the independently wealthy Kennedy).
One of the Cryptics' first actions as managers of Ralph was to move The Residents and Ralph Records out of the Sycamore Street studio to a larger, double-warehouse complex at 444 Grove Street in the Hayes Valley neighborhood of San Francisco. They also hired more employees for Ralph, and found other artists to sign to the label.
The first artists other than The Residents to release music on Ralph Records were Schwump in 1976 with the single "Aphids In The Hall", featuring production and musical accompaniment by The Residents, and The Residents' frequent collaborator Snakefinger, who released a single, "The Spot" in 1978, followed by an album, Chewing Hides The Sound in 1979. Both releases were also produced by The Residents.
Peak success (1977-1983)
Ralph continued to expand under the guidance of The Cryptic Corporation; in February 1977, Ralph published a catalogue, listing albums, singles, and merchandise (including Meet The Residents t-shirts and the limited edition Third Reich 'n Roll collectors' box set). The catalogue also included a small card which the customer could return to Ralph for further information on upcoming releases.
The catalogue was a success, with Ralph having to reprint it in April due to the demand. By that time, there were no copies of Santa Dog, "Satisfaction" or "Aphids in the Hall" left in stock. The second catalogue came out in August, and featured The Residents' new EP, The Beatles Play The Residents and The Residents Play The Beatles.
Around this time, Ralph also compiled a promotional Residents sampler album titled Please Do Not Steal It!, which they mailed out to around 850 radio stations. They also arranged a Residents Radio Festival hosted by the group's friend Bill Reinhardt on KBOO-FM in Portland, Oregon, which helped promote awareness of the band.
In 1979, Ralph asked three bands, Chrome, Tuxedomoon and MX-80 Sound, to each join The Residents in composing a short suite for release on a various artists compilation album, Subterranean Modern. After this, Tuxedomoon and MX-80 Sound signed with Ralph, and the company continued to develop a stable roster of artists.
To assist in handling the new business, Ralph hired Tom Timony, a Residents fan since 1975. Timony came up with the idea of making 7" sampler EPs available with the label's catalogs, each of which would showcase selections from the company's new releases. About 12,000 to 15,000 copies of each Buy Or Die! EP (named after the catalogs) were pressed, and customers could order them for $1.00 including postage.
The first EP featured music by The Residents, Snakefinger, Tuxedomoon, and MX-80 Sound -- the four groups the label had at the time. Cover artwork for the Buy Or Die! EPs was supplied by Gary Panter, an artist and friend of the group. Ultimately three Buy Or Die! EPs were released, and they performed quite well, recouping the losses involved in selling and shipping them at a dollar each.
By this time, Ralph had begun to receive unsolicited demo tapes from artists hoping to gain the label's interest. One day, a German TV repairman named Boris Blank dropped a demo tape off at Ralph's Grove Street headquarters; his group Yello were quickly signed by Ralph, who released the group's debut album Solid Pleasure in 1980.
Around the same time, a visiting British Residents fan named Brian Poole dropped off a tape at Ralph headquarters, an independently distributed album titled Renaldo & The Loaf Play Struvé & Sneff. This tape was followed in 1980 by two further demos by Renaldo & The Loaf, titled Songs From The Surgery and Hats Off, Gentlemen!. Ralph signed Renaldo & The Loaf on the strength of the three tapes, and the duo released their first widely distributed album, Songs For Swinging Larvae, on the label in 1981.
Ralph was always very cautious in their treatment of the artists on their roster; they gave advances of $10,000 to $20,000, with contracts up to fifty pages long, ensuring that there were no loopholes which could be used against the artists. Over the next few years, the label signed a number of respected experimental artists, including guitarist Fred Frith and his group Art Bears.
In 1982 the label celebrated its 10th anniversary with the production of the Ralph 10th Anniversary Radio Special! with Penn Jillette, also producing a number of novelty souvenirs for the occasion, including golf balls, pizza pan holders, forehead thermometers, and a Santa Dog commemorative sponge.
In the same year, The Residents set out to begin their first live tour, The Mole Show with a test performance taking place in April of 1982. But by May of that year, Ralph was financially unstable, and had dropped all of it's bands except for Snakefinger, The Residents, Renaldo & The Loaf & Fred Frith, with Snakefinger quietly searching for a new label. Ralph Records and The Cryptic Corporation were unable to financially support the eight different bands they had signed since 1980, and had to drop them to assure that The Residents at least were able to survive. Around this same time, founding member Jay Clem retired from the group, taking with him the US distribution rights to Yello and their first two albums.
In 1983 Ralph Records financed The Residents' disastrous Mole Show, the expenses of which essentially bankrupted the company. That same year, John Kennedy retired from the corporation and took with him the deed to the Ralph Records headquarters, which also served as The Residents' creative space.
As a result, the group and label relocated too to a smaller space at 109 Minna Street. The downsized Cryptic Corporation, now unable to continue managing The Residents and Ralph Records at the same time, sold the label to it's former employee Tom Timmony, who continued to run it until the 1988 as 'New Ralph'
New Ralph, Ralph America and Euro Ralph (1983-1993)
Timony launched New Ralph with new albums from Fred Frith, The Residents & Renaldo & The Loaf, and started to release more cost effective compilations of old material, be it unreleased recordings by The Residents (Such as Mole Show & Residue), or best of albums from Snakefinger & Tuxedomoon. The label were unable to finance as many albums as they had before, but as the decade progressed they rebuilt an impressive catalogue of recording artists.
Ralph Records ceased operation as a proper independent record label in 1988 after being managed for a few years by Tom Timony. Timony later formed the sublabels 'T.E.C Tones' & 'Psycho Acoustic Sounds' out of Ralph, which by that point had grown largely defunct. T.E.C Tones signed notable acts such as Big City Orchestra, The Foo Foo Heads, Suckdog, Half Japanese, The Stinky Puffs, Jad Fair, Shonen Knife & Drums & Tuba.
Revival and New Ralph Too (2010-present)
Ralph Records operated again briefly from 2010 to 2011. It was then dormant again until 2017, when it reappeared as New Ralph Too following the retirement of Hardy Fox from The Cryptic Corporation in 2016 and his sale of his part of the company to Cherry Red Records and MVD Audio.
List of releases
- 20 Sycamore Street, San Francisco (1972-1976)
- 444 Grove Street, San Francisco (1976-1984)
- 109 Minna Street, San Francisco (1984-1988)
- The Cryptic Corporation
- Pore Know Graphix
- Buy! Or Die
- Ralph America
- Psycho-Acoustic Sounds
- Euro Ralph
- Santa Dog Records
- New Ralph Too
- Psychofon Records
- Cherry Red Records
- MVD Audio
- Ralph Records at The Residents Historical
- Ralph Records at RZWeb (archived via archive.org)
- New! Ralph Archives on Cherry Red Records
- Ralph Records on Discogs