Terry Tolkin — a veteran A&R executive for Elektra Records, Touch and Go Records and his own No. 6 label, who signed or worked closely with such acts as Luna, Afghan Whigs, Stereolab, Scrawl and Nada Surf — has died, a rep for his family confirmed to Variety. He was 62; the cause was not disclosed, although he had been seriously ill for several years.
A pivotal figure during the alternative era, Tolkin had a multifaceted early career: working in New York’s legendary 99 Records store, writing for the trade publication Rockpool and working as a DJ and booker for such New York clubs as Danceteria, CBGB and the Limelight. At Touch & Go he signed the Butthole Surfers and the Virgin Prunes, and over the course of several years running No. 6, he released records by the Tindersticks, Unrest, Luna’s Dean Wareham and others.
While Tolkin is frequently credited with coining the term “alternative rock” in an article for Rockpool — which he did not necessarily dispute — the accuracy of that claim is uncertain.
In 1988 he curated and produced one of the first — and certainly one of the best — modern major tribute albums, “The Bridge: A Tribute To Neil Young,” the lineup of which spoke to his reach and importance to the indie-rock scene of the time: the Pixies, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., the Flaming Lips, Soul Asylum, Nick Cave, Psychic TV, Victoria Williams and others contributed tracks (with Sonic Youth characteristically covering a song from “Trans,” possibly Young’s least-popular album). A majority of the profits from the album went to the Bridge School for children suffering from cerebral palsy, which was founded by Young and his then-wife Pegi.
After leaving Elektra in 1996, Tolkin returned to his native Kansas for a time and eventually settled in New Orleans. He fell on hard times and became seriously ill several years ago; Wareham posted several early Luna demos on Bandcamp to help raise money for his medical funds. Teenbeat Records released a compilation of the entire No.6 Records 7″ singles discography in 2009 called “Speed Dating: The No.6 Records Compendium.”
A lively and charismatic character, Tolkin was renowned for his generosity and high-spirited lifestyle.
“Terry was a wonderful storyteller and bon vivant, and people loved being around him,” Wareham tells Variety. “We were the musical artists, but he was the one who lived like a rock star, running up hotel and restaurant tabs, riding in limos, getting in trouble, and sharing everything he had.”