Book Review: Becoming Elektra

Becoming Elektra: The True Story of Jac Holzman’s Visionary Record Label
By Mick Houghton
Jawbone Press
Review by David Chiu

Sixty years ago, a St. John’s College student named Jac Holzman founded a record label called Elektra and the rest as they say is history. Along with Columbia and Atlantic, Elektra would forge an amazing path of musical artistry spanning from the label’s folk beginnings in the ‘50s and early ‘60s through today’s artists like Cee-Lo and Bruno Mars. Elektra’s legendary career is the subject of this fascinating book by music journalist Mick Houghton. Covering the years of Holzman’s tenure at the label from 1950 to 1973, Becoming Elektra tells the story of how Holzman, a technology geek, started the label at a time when the LP record was changing the how music was not only recorded but also distributed, giving independent entrepreneurs a chance. Its first album was 1951’s “New Songs” by John Gruen and then Elektra became a preeminent folk music label through artists like Jean Ritchie and Theodore Bikel and it continued in the ‘early-mid ‘60s with Judy Collins. But then the label moved towards electric music first with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and then hit the commercial rock jackpot with the Doors. In addition to those aforementioned acts, other sections of the book talk about the important label artists of the period including Love, Tim Buckley, Fred Neil, Carly Simon, the Stooges, MC5 and Bread. Former Elektra artists and most importantly Holzman himself offer insight about how the label was founded and treated its the artists along with the stories behind the music and the business. The book concludes with the end of Holzman’s time at Elektra, which fell into good hands for the next 37 years and continues to thrive. Becoming Elektra is a reminder of past glories when it comes to the business of music as well as a fitting tribute to the genius of Holzman.


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