Larry Sherman, whose record label Trax changed the face of dance music, has died of heart failure. The news was confirmed by the current head of Trax, Rachael Cain, via Facebook. Producer Marshall Jefferson was among those paying tribute, writing on social media: “RIP … sending love.”
Sherman was originally a collector of vintage jukeboxes, and, frustrated with the limited range of records, he bought Music Products, a pressing plant in Bridgeport, Illinois, to press up tracks for them. “I got tired of listening to the Andrew Sisters and Tommy Dorsey,” he once said. “So I decided to do things the hard way.”
He was then approached by house music artists Jesse Saunders and Vince Lawrence who wanted him to release their music. He pressed up Saunders’ On and On – regarded by some as the first house music record – and created the Precision label, before founding Trax.
Via Trax, Sherman released the futuristic, bass-driven music that defined Chicago house style, such as Can U Feel It by Mr Fingers, Your Love by Frankie Knuckles, Bringing Down the Walls by Robert Owens, and Jefferson’s Move Your Body.
Phuture’s Acid Tracks was released by the label and helped coin the term “acid house”, which caused a sensation in the UK in 1988.
Sherman was criticised for poor-quality vinyl pressings, missed royalty payments, and a lack of interaction with the artists on his roster. “There could be a house music convention here and no one on Trax would say to you, ‘You guys should come’,” house producer Merwyn Sanders told the Guardian in 2011. “We didn’t realise there was a following in Europe. Up until a year ago, we were clueless.”
DJ Pierre of Phuture once claimed “Trax never paid me royalties”, and Jamie Principle, who sang Your Love, alleged he wasn’t properly signed to the label, saying they “literally just stole my stuff”.
In a 2014 statement, the former creative director Jorge Cruz acknowledged the numerous disputes, saying: “The reality is that the Trax Records name is making money but much of the money is not reaching the label or the artists. We cannot change the past or the legal battles that are tied to it.”