Formation and the Grove Street studio (1976-1977) Edit
The Cryptic Corporation was formed in 1976 by four friends; John Kennedy (original President, production and administration), Jay Clem (business and publicity), Hardy Fox (sound engineer and A&R), and Homer Flynn (graphic design and advertising). The four had been long-time friends and occasional collaborators with The Residents, and had gradually joined them in San Francisco over the course of the early 1970s, forming Ralph Records in 1972 to release their work.
As The Residents came to embrace music theorist N. Senada's Theory of Obscurity over the earliest part of their recording history, they occasionally also found themselves in need of representatives to promote their efforts to the music press and the outside world in general, and so Ralph, Fox's independent production work for The Residents, and Flynn's graphic design company Porno Graphics were both re-purposed as wings of the greater Cryptic Corporation, around the time of the release of The Residents' second album The Third Reich 'n Roll in 1976.
The Cryptic Corporation's first action was to move The Residents and Ralph Records out of their studio at 20 Sycamore St. to a large warehouse at 444 Grove St. in Hays Valley. The building was large, with two fronts, but the Cryptics (largely bankrolled by the independently wealthy Kennedy) managed to buy it for only $100,000. Now that they were being managed, The Residents were finally able to give up the day jobs which restricted them from recording, and went full-time as independent artists and musicians.
The Ugly Gray Theater and Eskimo feud (1977-1979) Edit
After The Residents were settled at the Grove St. studio, The Cryptic Corporation bought an old run-down movie house at 11th & Howard which they planned to operate as a cinema, named The Ugly Gray Theater. The theater would be designed to exclusively show science fiction, horror, fantasy and cult films, and the Cryptics hoped it would help to cushion the costs of the production of The Residents' albums. Unfortunately, the residents of the neighborhood the theater was intended for mistakenly believed that it was to be used to show gay pornography, and petitioned the municipal government to refuse the Cryptics a permit, thus the Ugly Gray Theater never got off the ground.
The first album The Residents produced under the care of the Cryptic Corporation was Fingerprince in 1977. The following year, the group experienced an unprecedented success with their Duck Stab! EP, which finally began to drive sales of their previous albums and singles. The Residents began to enjoy a period of popularity like they'd never seen before. The Cryptics, wanting to cash in on this sudden interest, re-released the group's 1976 single Satisfaction with new cover art, and issued a variety of merchandise. This displeased The Residents, who felt the Cryptics were selling them out.
This conflict, among others, caused The Residents to disappear to England with the master tapes of their current project Eskimo, which had already experienced a troubled production and numerous delays. Desperate for an album to release, the Cryptic Corporation quickly released the group's 1974 album Not Available, which had been recorded with the intention that it remain unreleased, at least until they had forgotten it existed. Not Available sold well, and the Cryptics were ultimately able to retrieve the tapes for Eskimo and coax The Residents back home, where they presented the group with a brand new recording studio by means of apology. Eskimo was finally released in 1979 to wide critical acclaim.
Declining fortunes and split (1980-1984) Edit
The Residents' Commercial Album was released in 1980, and despite its seemingly cynical concept involving one-minute "commercial" songs, did not perform as well as expected. The sudden reversal of their fortunes depressed The Residents, who began work on an ambitious new project, The Mole Trilogy, to work off their frustration. Following the release of Mark of the Mole in 1981 and The Tunes of Two Cities in 1982, the previously reclusive group decided to create a touring performance based on the project, and set about creating The Mole Show, financed by Ralph Records' sales of albums by The Residents, as well as a steadily evolving roster of acts including Snakefinger, Renaldo and the Loaf, Tuxedomoon, Yello, and others.
In July 1982, as The Mole Show tour was beginning, Clem announced that he was leaving the Cryptic Corporation. Clem was dissatisfied with the independent music business and the chaos around Ralph Records, and went off to start his own management company right after the Ralph 10th Anniversary celebrations (though he stuck around to help with The Mole Show until October). The Cryptic Corporation was hit hard by his departure as Clem, who was a business school graduate, had done almost all of their business management as well as most of their interviews. He also took the US rights to Yello and Yello's first two albums with him.
Kennedy left a little while later, just after the Kabuki Theatre performances of The Mole Show. Kennedy was tired of putting his money into The Residents and seeing nothing substantial come back out and the huge expense of the Mole Show tour was the last straw. When Kennedy left the company he set the rent for the Grove Street studio at a rate too high for The Residents and the remaining Cryptics to pay, and they were forced to move to a new, much smaller property on Clementine St. They didn't have enough room to keep all of their archives, so they had to auction off such things as the Vileness Fats sets and costumes. All in all, The Cryptic Corporation lost five of its seven employees in 1982.
After The Residents returned from their disastrous tour having lost so much money that Ralph was in danger of bankruptcy, the Cryptics helped set up a studio in the new building, where the group recorded Title In Limbo and George & James in 1983 and 1984.
The end of Ralph Records and continued activity (1985-2016) Edit
Now reduced to primarily Fox (now President) and Flynn, The Cryptic Corporation continued to represent The Residents as their public relations and management, as well as producing and engineering their albums and art projects.
The 13th Anniversary Show tour followed in 1986, despite The Residents vowing never to tour again after the disastrous Mole Show which had almost caused them to split alongside the Cryptic Corporation. This tour, more frugal than the Mole Show tour, was a great success for the group at a much-needed time and allowed the Cryptics and The Residents to continue producing and releasing work at a highly prolific rate.
The Cryptic Corporation handed care of Ralph Records to Tom Timony in 1986 so that they could concentrate on managing and producing The Residents without being distracted by the wider record business. In 1991, ownership of Ralph reverted from Timony back to the Cryptics, but was re-established as a new company specializing in mail-order Residents merchandise. Since this point, Ralph has existed in various forms (and under various guises) but never as the independent record company it was in the 1970s and 1980s.
The retirement of Hardy Fox and new co-owners (2016-present) Edit
Fox and Flynn continued to run The Cryptic Corporation together until Fox retired in 2016, to focus on his own solo music career. Fox handed the complete archives of The Residents and The Cryptic Corporation to Flynn, and sold his share of the company, which ultimately ended up with Cherry Red Records, who continue to co-own and operate the company alongside Flynn, the current President and "Captain Doc" of The Cryptic Corporation.
Hardy Fox passed away on October 30th 2018 following a short illness.
Founding members Edit
- Homer Flynn (graphic design and advertising, President of The Cryptic Corporation 2016-present)
- Hardy Fox (sound engineering, A&R, President of The Cryptic Corporation 1982-2016) - retired in 2016
- Jay Clem (business and publicity) - left in 1982
- John Kennedy (production, administration, President of The Cryptic Corporation 1976-1982) - left in 1982