May 8, 2013

Denis Tomassetti

Esoteric Records Interior

Denis James TomassettiRemembering The Noted Sacramento Record Store Owner Who Defied The Digital Age

By Harvey Kubernik


his past April the Sacramento, California area lost, not only a citizen but, an avid music supporter and collector when journalist Robert D. Davila of The Sacramento Bee reported the car accident death of Denis James Tomassetti, readers of Record Collector News also lost one of their own.

“Denis James Tomassetti, a Sacramento business owner who defied the digital age and delighted music collectors with a well-stocked selection of vinyl records, CDs and tapes at his Esoteric Records store, died in a traffic collision Wednesday. He was 60,” wrote Davila in the April 9th edition of The Sacramento Bee.

“He was killed when a tow truck crashed into the pickup he was driving at Carlson Drive and H Street in Sacramento. The collision is under investigation, police said.”

Born October 26, 1952 in Sacramento, Tomassetti was involved in the Esoteric business operation while also working for a decade and a half at The Sacramento Bee,” in their finance and circulation departments.

Denis Tomassetti once told Valley Community Newspapers that he enjoyed working in music and being part of a tradition selling vinyl records in a store in the iTunes age. “I don’t know if I’d want to do anything else,” he said. “It’s like the last man standing. I enjoy it, and I’ll keep doing it as long as I can.”

He leaves a wife, Mary Rhea, and daughter Maura.

Rick Daprato, a former business partner of Tomassetti offered background information on his friend and the history of Esoteric Records.

“The store was first a business that opened in the early seventies (1974) as John Hogue Books and Records when it was located on Alhambra Boulevard,” he remembered.

“Then the store was called Esoteric Records Service. A guy bought it named Brian Williams, and he changed the name to Dancing Bear Records. I bought it from Brian in 1978 and I changed the name back to Esoteric Records,” volunteered Deprato.

“It was a flagship, used record shop in the area. Denis was initially a customer for a few years, I was also doing some other things, and I suggested a partnership. I sold him half around 1981 or 1982. Then I ended up whole selling out to him,” he continued.

“He was a good friend. I’ve been a musician since the sixties and Denis was a music appreciator. We were on Broadway and it was busy street and mixed as far as socio-economics. Bands would come in and it always seemed like there was always a record collector in the group… and Denis would relate to them.

Sometimes if Tower Records nearby didn’t have a record or an album they would steer customers to us. Denis was a real rock guy. That was his expertise. He loved the Kinks.

“Sacramento lost and we all lost someone who owned, and co-owned a record store for the love of it more than for the money. As for Denis Tomassetti’s legacy, he and I talked on the phone as recently as a few weeks before he passed. I just can’t imagine anybody having a bad word to say about him. When my son getting interested in music and musicals. Knew him as Uncle Denis. Always a good-hearted soul,” he concluded.

“At his funeral in the hall, you didn’t realize how many flowers were there. My wife said, ‘I’ve never see that many flowers.’ Just packed with people, records, photos of Denis, and memorabilia from Esoteric. I saw all these people I hadn’t seen since the eighties,” he sighed.”

Another Sacramento resident, Ron Jellison, also knew Tomassetti.

“I probably met him around 1982, ’83. Understand that Sacramento is the home of Tower Records and early on it was a mecca for some of the music bands to always include it on a tour stop. We had Pink Floyd, early. The Beach Boys did their live album at the Memorial Auditorium in 1964.

“I knew Denis through records and shows. He was a great guy and always up to promoting. He was super knowledgeable about the whole idea of collecting. He had business savvy and promotional skills and a passion, but he really had great people skills, too. Anybody could go into Esoteric and talk to Dennis about anything and he always had time to sit and talk and be personable.

“I got Denis involved with some of the shows that have turned into Hot August Nights.

“Denis was a mover. Back in the day things we thought were extremely rare are not so rare anymore because you can go online. There were a number of punk bands that started out in Sacramento and he was always a promoter. Like so many of us he was hooked on music. And back in the day when looking for vinyl, you know Esoteric Records was on the shopping list.”

Ed Castro, former owner of Sounds Enjoyable, now the proprietor of Ed’s Threads, had ties with Tomassetti for nearly a third of a century.

“I knew him for over 32 years. I had just opened a record shop, Sounds Enjoyable. And Dennis had Esoteric at the time. When I opened up he came down and introduced himself to me. One of the things I remember vividly, I started with $1,500.00 had to pay the first and last month’s rent and had to get a phone. I used my personal record collection. I was telling Denis, ‘I hope I can hang in here and make it. I’m on a very limited budget.’ And he replied, ‘Don’t worry you’ll make it.’ I’ve never really forgotten that.

“As it turned out it was very insightful and very encouraging. We both knew the area could support stores. Vinyl was vinyl back then. And tapes. Cassettes never got the popularity vinyl had at the time. We were also both seeking out more collector type items. Through the years we retained a friendship,” he stressed.

“Denis was more into the contemporary scene than I was. I’m older. My thing was jazz, blues, country and things like Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Sinatra. I like music in general. Dennis was really into the rock scene. Kinks, Rolling Stones, Beatles. That was the difference, I think, really in our stores to be honest with you.

“Just before Denis’ passing he happened to come by my store. He’d visit periodically. Each time I saw him he was driving a pickup. I told him I used to have one got rid of it but have sedan now. I really miss the pickup. And he said to me, ‘Listen. You’ve got my phone number. You have my cell number. If ever you need the pickup let me know.’ And I have a very lasting remembrance of that. And that was what he was driving (when hit).”

Jimmy “Tony” Larejeno, Tomassetti’s partner and current owner of Esoteric, assuming the business in 2011, further touted Tomassetti’s abilities and provided some and insightful reflections about Tomassetti.

“I’ve been getting all sorts of comments from friends and customers.

“Denis is not around to ask for advice for things. That’s kind of hard. Even like pricing an item. Advice in general. It’s always two heads are better than one. Whether about pricing or ordering or grading something another person.

“Now it’s weird,” he admitted. “You come to work. I don’t know how to describe it. I would always be here at 10:00 am and Denis would show up at 1:30 or 2:00. So it’s funny, you look out the window and you don’t see him pulling up here. When I go home I would usually go home before him ‘cause he got here later. There’s nobody to say goodbye too. You know what? It was rough.

“There is nothing you could do about it. It was a tragic accident that happened. And I figure, if he was here, heard a voice, or he was here to tell me, Denis would say, ‘You know what? I’m not here anymore. That means you have to be a little bit stronger and have to continue to move on without me.’ You know what I mean? I think that’s the best way to sum it up.”

Larejeno went on to cite Tomassetti’s favorite bands: “The Kinks, Who. Stones Elvis Costello. Beatles, XTV, Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe, Talking Heads, Kinks were number one with him.

“Right now it’s a little bit premature to say what my goals are and the goals of the store,” he reiterated.

“An idea would be to carry new vinyl and sell more records. A funny thing Denis would say to me, ‘You priced that record too cheap.’

In his understandable time of sadness, Jimmy discussed the 2013 state of retail that continues to display the vendor vision he and Tomassetti established at Esoteric.

“Records are selling better than they have in years. A plus for this business. I noticed the increase in vinyl. I think people are just tired of downloading music and they just enjoy the sound of vinyl. They enjoy the artwork. 25 years ago CDs sold well, They were just coming out. Now it’s completely changed. And the sound on vinyl now is more pure than a CD or download. Buying and seeking out and try and find good records. Continue to sell it.

“Denis and I in the store always stocked and sold blues. I think because of the diverse culture we have here. Sacramento has many, many different nationalities here that have a lot to do with it. Culturally, Sacramento is an artsy town. Always has been and it lends itself to music like blues and jazz. Where other places don’t have that.”

The sudden death of Tomassetti also impacted Carol Schofield, owner of Foothill Records in La Canada, and head of Ms Music Productions, Schofield, who formerly lived in Sacramento, knew Tomassetti well.

“Years ago I used to beg Denis to buy records from me ‘cause I needed gas money or I needed to pay my phone bill. I was just getting started,” she revealed.
“I came from Modesto. Denis was a friend and always generous to me and always non-judgmental even though he had a streak of friendly sarcasm. His humor was always acceptable because he was insulting in a very stylish and friendly way sometimes. He, like the Sacramento record people were intricate in my life.
“I then had my own store and Denis was always supportive and listening. He liked old and new stuff. He was hip but at the same time had his conservative business sense, which was helpful. Listening to him was beneficial. He would buy up some of my excess stock that were really good records.

“After I left Sacramento we got closer,” she disclosed. “He would purchase some of my label releases. He was always there for me. We eventually bought out his inventory a decade ago and put it here. And we’re still sorting through stuff from Esoteric,” she laughed.

“He was an all-out wonderful being. Denis wasn’t greedy. He was business-like and he did what was good for his business growth but at the same time he was down-to-earth. His business sense he didn’t even put it in peoples’ faces. He was that sort of a person. He was caring, patient and passionate.

“’I wanted to be just like you when I grow up.’ That’s what he used to say.

“Denis and I never talked about the fairly recent increase in vinyl sales or the format returning to the consumer. We never lost vinyl. And vinyl never lost the world. The world keeps revolving around it,” suggested Schofield who will have new vinyl pressings (and CDs) n 2013, with albums scheduled from Stephen J. Kalinich, “Volume Two California Feeling,” and a second Kalinich and Jon Tiven Yo Mama group collaboration for her record label.


  1. robbie

    one of the best friend anyone could ask for.For the last 20 some years I stopped at Esoteric every time I passed through Sac. No matter when it was Denis had time for a joke a beer and to listen to my crazy stories of the road. Denis would always buy something from me even when he didn’t need it to keep me going thru the hard times. I would always tell him when I sell my book and movie option we would go on a huge cruise. Now that i am close to those dreams there will be an empty place on the ship and in my heart.

  2. Don Savignano

    The first time I read about Denis passing I was shocked. I’ve known Denis for decades. I’ve known jimmy even longer. I’m gonna miss Denis. R.I.P. buddy.

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