Burt Goldstein, Veteran Music Retail and Distribution Executive, Dies at 73

Burt Goldstein, a colorful music industry character and executive who headed up two music retailing operations and three independent distribution companies across his more than three-decade career, died peacefully in his sleep at his home in Albuquerque, NM on Oct. 9. on, his birthday. He was 73.

Goldstein’s career spanned from the early 1970s, when he opened his first Musical Maze store in Manhattan, to the 1980s, when he served as the top music retail executive for the Crazy Eddie appliance retail chain. Later that decade, he pivoted to indie distribution — first with his own company Impact Distribution, opened in 1988; then by heading up Profile Records’ Landmark Distributors. He later started his own distribution company Big Daddy in 1996, which he sold in 2007 to Music Video Distributors (MVD). Along the way he mentored a number of executives who went on to music industry careers of their own.

While Goldstein could be a hard-nosed business executive and a tough negotiator — as the major label executives who had to deal with him during the 1980s when he oversaw the Crazy Eddie music department can attest — he was also known for having plenty of fun along the way, often in a tongue-in-cheek manner, former colleagues recall. In fact, when he became a distributor, he would often begin sales calls by performing a magic trick, testifies his Big Daddy partner Doug Bail, who also worked with him at Benel Distributors. 

In fact, at one NARM convention (now called Music Biz), Goldstein cornered the keynote speaker —Google’s then-head of new business development Chris Sacca — and pointed out that Goldstein’s shoes had a multi-color weave containing all of Google’s corporate colors. He then proceeded to try and talk Sacca into buying thousands of pairs of shoes for all of Google’s employees. At another NARM convention, Goldstein got in trouble with the trade organization by breaking the rules and selling CDs on display at the Big Daddy’s trade booth. But Goldstein was donating all the sales to Bob Benjamin’s Light Of Day charity and wouldn’t be deterred. After they shut him down the first time, he continued to sell the CDs before being stopped once again.


Harry Spero, who nowadays heads up his own ad agency, Spero Media, recalls his days working alongside Goldstein at Crazy Eddie, where he experienced both sides of Goldstein — the hard-nosed businessman and his omnipresent joy-of-life attitude. “One week, he would have a war with CBS until he got what he wanted, then the next week he would have a war with WEA, followed the next week with PolyGram. He was always at war with one of the labels.”

Jay Rosenberg, who also worked at Crazy Eddie, echoes Spero, remembering that during his days at the chain, “We had epic battles with the labels.” Rich Masio, who worked at Big Daddy, quoted two Goldstein sayings that displayed the executive’s take no prisoner’s style — “You eat what you kill” and “Good luck to you, my friend and the horse you rode in on” — the latter of which would be inscribed on the Big Daddy company t-shirt. The first saying was to remind the sales team to keep selling, and the second was for when he was done with you, Masio explains.

Goldstein was born in 1949 and grew up in Brooklyn, graduating from Long Island University in 1971 with a B.S. in Sociology. But while going to school, he began working at the Uni Sonic record store across the street from the LIU Brooklyn campus. After graduating, he stayed on to manage the store, ​thus launching his music industry career. By 1973, he moved on and opened his first Musical Maze in the Gramercy Park area of Manhattan, around the corner from Baruch College and the School of Visual Arts. In 2006, Goldstein told MusicMorselsonline.com that by age 15 he knew he was going to open a record store. 

The Musical Maze enterprise would soon grow to four stores and a pop-up store or two. Along the way, the original Musical Maze, located between 23rd Street and 22nd Street on Third Avenue, seemed to employ a who’s-who from the downtown New York music scene of Max’s Kansas City and CBGB’s. At one time or another, Musical Maze staffers included George Scott from James Chance and the Contortions, Peter Holsapple from The dB’s, Jimi “Quidd” Hatzidimitriou from the Dots, Ed Ryan from The Rudies and, very briefly, Lance Loud from the Mumps as well as Drew Wheeler, a New York Rocker contributor and future Billboard copy editor.

During his Musical Maze days, Goldstein married his girlfriend Jan DeGeer Goldstein, who worked with him at the small indie chain, on March 2, 1984, in Las Vegas, according to an item in Billboard‘s “Lifelines” column. In addition to being his partner in life, DeGeer Goldstein also worked with him during the Crazy Eddie days and later on at Big Daddy.

The local Musical Maze chain would continue on even as Goldstein began his next retailing adventure in 1979, running the music sections for the then-rapidly growing Crazy Eddie electronics chain, whose commercials were infamous for using a fast-talking DJ Jerry Carroll as the chain’s pitchman, touting the stores “insane prices.”

Goldstein actually worked for the Crazy Eddie chain’s sister company Benel Distributors — also known as the Record and Tape Asylum, an operation that supplied and operated the music presence in the chain’s 43 stores — at its peak. At Benel, Goldstein held the title of executive vp, and was the key person negotiating with the major record labels on marketing dollars and promotional campaigns for new releases. 

While there, Goldstein hired Rosenberg as a buyer for the chain, and within a couple of years Rosenberg became head buyer. Rosenberg says Goldstein “helped shape my music industry career. I learned a lot from Burt on how to deal with labels and distribution.” In fact, Goldstein, in his own inimitable way, would often remind Rosenberg of that. As Rosenberg recalls — and posted on his Facebook page — “Burt used to tell people, ‘I taught Jay everything he knows, but not everything I know.’”

After Crazy Eddie imploded in the late 1980s due to financial trouble detailed in a recently issued book on the chain and its owner Eddie Antar, Goldstein’s career went in a different direction when he opened up an indie music distribution operation, Impact Distribution, in Chicago in 1988. That would launch the next phase of his career. Soon, he was also working with Landmark, the distribution arm owned by the Profile Records principals, first opening a branch in Los Angeles while maintaining the Impact branch in Chicago. In 1991, Impact was merged under the Landmark banner and, in the process, stood at the forefront of a trend that would sweep the indie music sector: the end of regional distribution networks for indie labels and the move to national distribution.

Still, Orchard senior vp of product development Alan Becker remembers Goldstein more for his retail days. “Burt was a very colorful guy and a throwback to the retail guys of a bygone era,” Becker says.

Landmark eventually blew up due to infighting between the two Profile principals, which indirectly evolved into an unsuccessful involuntary Chapter 11 filing against Landmark by three of its labels. That filing nevertheless spelled the end of Landmark, as it made the other Landmark-distributed labels and its retail account base skittish. In the aftermath, Goldstein started Big Daddy, his most successful distribution company. After merging Big Daddy into MVD in 2007, Goldstein retired from the music industry.

Larry Germack, who worked at Big Daddy, recalls his days on Goldstein’s staff. “He was a great record man; the headmaster of the old school record business, who pressed the flesh to the end, ” Germack says. “I am really saddened by his passing. Burt’s personality and verve were strong. He was an entertainer, had a good vibe about him; and he was one-of-a kind in the true sense of the word.”

On his last day, the Goldstein family and friends went out to dinner at a restaurant to celebrate his birthday. Some of his former staffers recalled that on his birthday, it was Goldstein’s way to encourage a roomful of strangers to sing “Happy Birthday” to him, leading them like a conductor. His friends wondered if that happened on his last night too. 

In an e-mail informing friends of Goldstein’s passing, his wife Jan wrote that her husband “was happy…and often said he had such a great life.”

In addition to his wife, Goldstein is survived by his daughters, Ali and Jessie, and his brother Steve.

Inspired by his father-in-law’s example, Goldstein generously donated his body to the University of New Mexico School of Medicine.  To make a charitable donation, visit UNMfund.org.

Chris Eggertsen