In Tribute to a Legend
Frank Ursoleo had among the best ears in the business. When a music executive is celebrated for having great ears, it is usually in reference to their ability to pick hit singles or discover future stars. Frank believed that an artist’s hits were frequently their least interesting material, and his true passion was catalog. No, Frank’s ears were best at Listening. Deeply. Profoundly. To every song, on every album. Letting only his own ears guide his tastes and never relying on critical mass or public perception. When he was with Buddha Records, a BMG A&R guy quickly lost all credibility with Frank by casually dismissing Back to the Egg; Frank believed the man had never actually listened to the album and was simply parroting the received “wisdom.” Worse still was the RCA executive who claimed to have The Guess Who’s American Woman album active in the label’s catalog. “He doesn’t have American Woman in print,” Frank roared, “He has American Woman, These Eyes and Other Hits in print.” Not the same thing at all. The sin of not knowing one’s own catalog while being in a position of power was unforgivable to Frank. Those executives had never truly LISTENED.
Frank’s passion and knowledge, developed through decades of deep listening, found its fullest expression at Iconoclassic Records. Here, he reissued Laura Nyro’s mid and late career work, to bust the myth that she peaked early. Here, he reissued The Guess Who’s original album catalog, to finally celebrate the group for what he knew them to be: album rock artists, not mere pop singles craftsmen. Making this music readily available was a mission for Frank. If others had the opportunity to listen to these albums, then they too could hear what Frank heard. It was his way of giving back to artists for the enrichment their music had given his life, while simultaneously paying it forward.
Frank’s years as a listener developed him into one of the truly great A&R men. Iconoclassic Records quickly developed a reputation for the quality of its masterings. Much of that acclaim is due to the engineers with whom Frank chose to work. He was a great fan of their talent, and some of his favorite moments at the label were spent attending mastering sessions. Yet unsung until now was Frank’s own contribution to the sound of Iconoclassic’s releases. He personally reviewed and approved nearly all the masterings throughout the label’s first incarnation, and he almost always had notes for the engineers. Here again, his notes were a result of him listening deeply to a ref and approving a master only when it met or beat the original LP with which he was so familiar. Not only sonically but in terms of how it made the listener feel.
Frank Ursoleo had a rock and roll heart. He was a legend to his family, friends and those with whom he worked. Tragically, Frank passed away unexpectedly earlier this week. Our continued work is in dedication and celebration of Frank’s life and legacy, just as Frank dedicated his work to celebrating the lives and legacies of the giants that he most admired.