Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Higgins: Music store owner’s 20-year romance with Tucson is Toxic

Bill Sassenberger, owner of Toxic Ranch, 424 E. Sixth St., is celebrating 20 years of doing business in Tucson.

Bill Sassenberger, owner of Toxic Ranch, 424 E. Sixth St., is celebrating 20 years of doing business in Tucson.

Inside the purple building on East Sixth Street that has housed Toxic Ranch Records since the summer of 1991, three teenagers are flipping through CDs and vinyl.

“Customers – a rarity,” owner Bill Sassenberger says while The Jesus and Mary Chain play over the speakers. He laughs – he’s a good-natured guy – but business has been far from easy for this independent record purveyor.

Which is why his celebration of 20 years in Tucson deserves two nights of music, with Sassenberger’s longtime friends in Italy’s Raw Power playing Sunday at Vaudeville Cabaret and Monday at Dry River Collective. (It also shows Sassenberger’s commitment to the kids – Dry River is all ages.)

Ebbs and flows seem built into the life of a place like Toxic Ranch, even though its owners (it’s co-owned by Julianna Towns, Sassenberger’s wife) have infused it with personality. Rock and political T-shirts fight for space on the walls – everything from Johnny Rotten’s mug to a “Bush hates me” tee – as do Misfits and Rancid posters. The selection of books and magazines/ zines is dense and focused, and CDs for locals are right on the counter. The indie rock stock ranges from a Captain Beefheart vinyl reissue to the newest Wolf Parade, which later plays in the store.

The life of independent record stores is dependent largely upon the genres in vogue, and recent years have seen the closings of CD City and Hear’s Music. It was partly a shift in tastes that brought Sassenberger and Towns to Tucson in 1988. They’d had a store in Pomona, Calif., since 1980, a time when Sassenberger’s favorite punk bands, such as the Dead Kennedys, were at their peak.

But later in the ’80s, he recalls, the Dead Kennedys broke up. Black Flag broke up. “Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane’s Addiction were the big things. And I didn’t like that,” he says, adding that the fatigue brought on by L.A.’s freeways didn’t help keep him in the area, either. So they moved their mail-order business and label Toxic Shock and it wasn’t long before the indie rock lover in Sassenberger embraced Tucson’s music scene, putting out records by Feast Upon Cactus Thorns, The Fells, Mondo Guano, Doo Rag, Al Perry. The label spanned about 1983 to 1998, Sassenberger says.

The current recession and the closing of the Fourth Avenue underpass certainly haven’t helped the business, but, “We’re managing,” says Sassenberger, who balances his store with a part-time job as an airline reservationist.

One bright spot, he notes, is a resurgence in vinyl over the past two years. “It’s not just old people getting their records back. It’s younger folks, too.” Sassenberger estimates that he sells two vinyl LPs for every one CD, and that includes everything from reissues to such currents as The Shins. (He sells used records, too.) Toxic Ranch will be at the second Hotel Congress Record Show, Aug. 30.

“This is just kind of a labor of love,” he says.

It’s the same for customers, who will hopefully continue to head to 424 E. Sixth St. for years to come.



What: Raw Power, Feast Upon Cactus Thorns, Swing Ding Amigos, Limbless Torso

When: 9 p.m. Sunday

Where: Vaudeville Cabaret

Price: $10

What: Raw Power, Terezodu, Skull Stomp, Prosthetics, Walrus, Dahmer Effect, Bloodied Up Knuckles

When: 7 p.m. Monday

Where: Dry River Collective, 740 N. Main Ave.

Price: $7

Info: Contact Toxic Ranch at 623-2008 or visit its Web site, ToxicRanchRecords.com

Citizen Online Archive, 2006-2009

This archive contains all the stories that appeared on the Tucson Citizen's website from mid-2006 to June 1, 2009.

In 2010, a power surge fried a server that contained all of videos linked to dozens of stories in this archive. Also, a server that contained all of the databases for dozens of stories was accidentally erased, so all of those links are broken as well. However, all of the text and photos that accompanied some stories have been preserved.

For all of the stories that were archived by the Tucson Citizen newspaper's library in a digital archive between 1993 and 2009, go to Morgue Part 2

Search site | Terms of service