The Rise and Fall of Rocshire Records and the loss of Stacy Davis

I received a contact a few days ago on an old blog I once operated before I joined up with the Times-Union.  And it brought back memories.  Both good memories and painful ones.

Once again, we have to climb into the WABAC machine.  It’s the spring of 1983, and the college radio station I worked at, WHCL at Hamilton College, had at the time a record library that was smaller than the collection I had in my dorm room.  That happened because WHCL’s graduating seniors always seemed fit to take a few “graduation presents” out of the record library, and the amount of records being sent to our little measly 2.5 watt station was barely a trickle. In fact, you couldn’t pick up WHCL on the other side of campus, that’s how puny the broadcast signal was.

But in 1983, myself and a class of “Young Turks” did whatever we could to get that station fully up to speed, and reverse the years of neglect the station endured.  We petitioned the college to allow us to increase the broadcast signal, thus increasing the station’s visibility on campus.  But we couldn’t play the same old records over and over again, so it was my job to get record companies to start sending us product once again.

With no contact information other than the addresses on the backs of the record albums, I was able in one day to snag promotional mailing contracts with RCA, Warner Bros., Columbia, Elektra/Asylum, Motown, and a tiny Anaheim-based label called Rocshire. Of the six labels, the most enthusiastic response came from Rocshire Records, who had just sprung into business barely a year earlier and wanted to crack into the college “progressive new music” markets.

Rocshire was breaking news all over the music industry.  They had signed several artists and groups, and were spending money like crazy to promote these artists.  Full-page ads were taken out in Billboard magazine to promote artists like Tony Carey and Suzy Andrews, to promote Cee Farrow and Caro and a whole phalanx of performers.  Rocshire’s albums were pressed on high-quality Teldec audiophile vinyl; the cassettes were recorded on chromium tape.  Rocshire Records was created by Rocky Davis and his wife Shirley, hence the “Roc” and “Shire” in the label’s name.

So while I had a decent verbal relationship with the various record companies regarding getting product for our station (Is your station playing our records? Great, here’s more product and maybe some tickets when they come to your region for concerts), for some odd reason I was able to strike up a fast friendship with the promotions person at Rocshire, Stacy Davis (no relation to Rocky or Shirley).

Stacy told me her father, Gary Davis (also not a relation to Rocky or Shirley), was once president of three different record labels, and was in on the ground floor with the audiophile record company Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab.  Before long, our conversations slowly drifted from record promotion to more esoteric matters that college-age people might discuss. She was cute, she was funny, and maybe I was fooling myself into thinking that this was actually more than it was – but we kept in touch during the summer, and had hoped to meet up in the fall when Rocshire would have a booth at the College Media Journal music promotion weekend in New York City in late October.  In fact, at that time WHCL was playing like crazy this one group on the Rocshire label, a ska-punk band called Din, and several of Rocshire’s other artists, like Tony Carey and Cee Farrow, were also getting plenty of spins.

Meanwhile, Rocshire was signing artists left and right – some for one-off novelty singles, some for full-fledged albums. Music videos were commissioned, including the one on YouTube for Tony Carey’s hit song “West Coast Summer Nights.” By the way, Stacy Davis is in the video as one of the volleyball players.

I arrived in New York for the CMJ music convention, but there was no word of Stacy or her record label arriving.  Originally I thought that she was either in another part of the convention hotel or, as my inferiority complex started to kick in, that maybe I was being played for a fool.  At the time, one of the CMJ promotions involved a private show at one of New York City’s clubs.  I arrived at the club, chatted up with some of the record company promotions people, and asked if any of them had seen Stacy Davis.

The general response was no.  Nobody had seen Stacy or any representative from Rocshire arrive.  And it wasn’t hard to find record company executives and promotions people in a nightclub – most of them were wearing satin jackets with the record company logo silkscreened or embroidered across the jacket back.

Eventually I ran into the record company promotions / president of QL Records, who was at the CMJ to promote his signing of the Milwaukee punk-rock band Einstein’s Riceboys.  I asked him if he had seen or heard anything regarding Stacy Davis.

“Chuck… I hate to tell you this… Stacy was killed on her way to the convention.”

That didn’t register with me.  “If you’re kidding around,” I said to him, “I’m not laughing.”

Then he told me the whole story, or at least what he had heard.  Years later, I was able to piece everything together from news reports from the Los Angeles Times archives.

Stacy was driving her 1976 Honda Civic CVCC on Laguna Canyon Road, and was about one mile north of the intersection with El Toro Road when, on October 18, 1983, a car driven by 16-year-old Samantha Shannon was coming from the other direction.  Samantha Shannon’s car, a 1974 Audi, was speeding, and Shannon’s driver’s license was barely two months old.  Whether through driver inexperience, or neglect, or a hundred other factors, Shannon’s car crossed over the center line of Laurel Canyon Road, and collided head-on with Stacy’s Honda.

Stacy Davis was just 18 years old.  She died instantly.  She never had a chance.  A passenger in Shannon’s car, 16-year-old Leesa Snyder, died a day later.  Shannon survived the crash, but was in the hospital for months after the accident.

Needless to say, I was devastated. I could not think clearly throughout the entire radio convention, and for months afterward I couldn’t come to grips with what had happened to her – why did a wonderful young girl have to die like that? I came back from the CMJ convention, and those who knew me at the radio station asked if I met up with Stacy at the convention.  I quickly changed the subject.  I kept talking about anything – ANYTHING – other than Stacy.

And it wasn’t until a month later, when Rocshire Records printed a two-page full-color “In Memory” advertisement in Billboard, that people knew what had happened and how I felt.

As time went on, I was able to balance out my emotions, and was able to remember Stacy for all the fun conversations we had. I eventually acquired some Rocshire 45’s for my own personal record collection, but acquiring that vintage vinyl wasn’t easy. Barely a year after Stacy died, Rocshire Records was involved in a major controversy of its own.

See, Shirley Davis’ primary job was in the insurance department at Hughes Aircraft.  While there, she wrote thousands of checks from Hughes Aircraft’s accounts to Dr. C. L. Davis, Jr.  The checks were going to Clyde L. “Rocky” Davis.

The feds swooped in to Rocshire’s offices, confiscating everything that wasn’t nailed down.  The artists on that label lost everything – their master tapes, their recording equipment, the momentum of their careers – when Rocshire’s doors were locked forever.  Rocky and Shirley went to jail.  They stayed there, taking their secrets with them.  Both have since passed on.

Even years after Stacy’s passing and Rocshire’s collapse, people were still scared to talk about what happened to the record company.  At one time, someone had put some vintage Rocshire materials on eBay – mostly some demo tapes and a couple of 45’s.  I found out that the person worked at Rocshire, and hoped that he could shed some light on what happened with the company, and maybe if he remembered Stacy or anything else from that time.

Unfortunately, he saw that my eBay bidding handle was “chuckthewriter,” and immediately froze up.  He was afraid that I might write something that would get traced back to him, and even with Rocky and Shirley behind bars, he couldn’t take a chance.  I never heard from him again.

Some of the artists were able to escape the madness at Rocshire and have success on their own. Tony Carey moved to MCA records and had a top 40 hit with “A Fine, Fine Day.” The metal group Alcatrazz didn’t survive the Rocshire implosion, but its guitarist, Yngwie Malmsteen, moved on to a successful solo career.  Butch Patrick, one of the actors involved in the 1960’s TV series The Munsters, had a one-off novelty single on Rocshire with “Whatever Happened To Eddie?”, while the 1960’s pop duo Chad & Jeremy recorded a reunion album with Rocshire that disappeared in the record company’s FBI seizure.

In fact, at one time Rocshire almost had one of the greatest metal bands of all time on their roster. Until the group wised up. As the story goes, the unsigned band met up with Kenny Kane, whose High Velocity label was a subsidiary of Rocshire. Kane wanted the band to record an LP, so the group recorded several songs at an 8-track studio, and Rocshire would fund the recording session. But after hearing the tapes, Kane discovered this band was a metal band – not a punk band, as he had hoped – and the band was not signed. Undaunted, the band – Metallica – signed with another label, and the recording sessions were later released as their “No Life Till Leather” EP.

It’s been 26 years. I can buy some of Tony Carey’s songs on iTunes.  I’ve converted the song “Reptiles” by the band Din into an mp3 and added it to my iPod.  But even after all that… 26 years later … it still takes the cold chill of an autumn wind to instantly remind me that she’s gone.

Far too soon.