Bob Krasnow, Revitalizer of Elektra Records, Dies at 82
By BEN SISARIODEC. 13, 2016
Bob Krasnow, right, when he was at Elektra Records. With him are, from left, Shep Gordon, Daniel Markus and Teddy Pendergrass, whose album “Joy” (1988) went gold. Gary Gershoff
Bob Krasnow, a well-traveled music executive credited with revitalizing Elektra Records in the 1980s and ’90s with a varied roster that included Metallica, Anita Baker and Björk, died on Sunday in Wellington, Fla. He was 82.
The cause was organ failure, his son, Mitchell, said.
In a career that began in the late 1950s, Mr. Krasnow worked with a wide array of talent, including James Brown, Captain Beefheart and George Benson. He developed a reputation as an all-around record man, with a keen eye for future stars and an instinctive marketing sense.
Like other executives in the go-go days of the music industry, he led a fast lifestyle of his own, and even in a business of strong personalities he stood out for his brusque, mercurial manner.
Mr. Krasnow’s résumé for the first half of his career was a hopscotch through some of the most influential record companies of the time, including King, Mr. Brown’s early home; the eclectic Blue Thumb, of which Mr. Krasnow was a founder; and Warner Bros., which, through Mr. Krasnow’s efforts in the late 1970s, expanded its portfolio to include black acts like Chaka Khan and George Clinton.
But Mr. Krasnow is best known for his time as the chairman of Elektra, which was struggling when he took it over in 1983. He moved the label from Los Angeles to its original home in New York, and remade its roster in a way that combined prestige talent with major hits.
Among the acts that were signed to the label under Mr. Krasnow, or broke through during his tenure there, were Metallica, Mötley Crüe, 10,000 Maniacs and the Cure, as well as Tracy Chapman and Ms. Baker, both of whom Mr. Krasnow signed personally.
“I’ve always been interested in introducing new ideas,” Mr. Krasnow told The Los Angeles Times in 1989. “I don’t see any value in simply making the same record again that you can already hear on the radio.”
In 1992, Natalie Cole’s Elektra album “Unforgettable … With Love,” a tribute to her father, Nat King Cole, won six Grammy Awards, including album of the year and both record and song of the year for “Unforgettable,” which Ms. Cole sang as a technology-enabled duet with her father.
Two years later, Mr. Krasnow left Elektra amid a wider executive shake-up at the label’s corporate parent, the Warner Music Group.
Robert Alan Krasnow was born in Rochester on July 20, 1934. At an early age he moved with his family to Los Angeles; his father, Ben, worked as an artist at MGM, and his mother, Gertrude, was a homemaker. As a young man, Mr. Krasnow haunted record stores and, he once recalled, fantasized about coaching his favorite singers in the studio on how to be even better.
After a few years in the Navy, he joined Decca Records in 1957 and King the next year. In 1964 he started a short-lived soul label, Loma, as an imprint of Warner Bros.
Mr. Krasnow was one of the producers of “Safe as Milk,” the 1967 debut album by Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, on the Buddah label. The next year he started Blue Thumb, taking on as partners the promotion executive Don Graham and the producer Tommy LiPuma.
Blue Thumb’s roster included Captain Beefheart, the Pointer Sisters and the zydeco performer Clifton Chenier. Although its sales were modest, the label became a connoisseur’s favorite, in part for its packaging; some copies of Dave Mason’s “Alone Together” (1970) came in an elaborate three-panel “kangaroo pack” in which the record — in marbled, multicolored vinyl — was tucked into one pocket.
For Ike and Tina Turner’s album “Outta Season” (1968), Mr. Krasnow conceived of artwork featuring the two performers in whiteface, each taking bites from a watermelon — Ike on the front cover, Tina on the back. The cover drew wide notoriety, just as Mr. Krasnow had hoped.
“Bob had absolutely no fear,” Mr. LiPuma said in an interview. “We were doing things so out of the box it was unbelievable.”
Mr. Krasnow sold Blue Thumb in 1974, and the next year joined Warner Bros. as a vice president in charge of talent. Besides bringing in more black artists, Mr. Krasnow was instrumental in securing a distribution deal with the jazz and classical label ECM, bringing some highbrow cachet.
Elektra, originally a folk label, found success in the 1960s with rock groups like the Doors and, after merging with Asylum in the ’70s, became known as a home for California singer-songwriters. But the label was in need of a new direction when Mr. Krasnow took it over. After leaving Elektra in 1994, Mr. Krasnow briefly ran Krasnow Entertainment, a label associated with MCA, and then retired.
In addition to his son, Mr. Krasnow’s survivors include a daughter, Debra, and a brother, Paul. His marriage to Sandra Krasnow ended in divorce, and his second wife, Nada Lantz Krasnow, died last year.