Music and DVD sales continue their downward spiral, but San Diego–based video archive company Reelin’ in the Years has had a banner 2011. Over the past two months, RITY has released nine DVDs, including titles from the Hollies, Miles Davis, Ray Charles, and six volumes of their Jazz Icons series.
Founded in 1992, RITY represents more than 35 television stations and independent archives in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S. Last month, the company signed one of its biggest deals yet, adding to their library of over 20,000 hours of music footage all the interviews and performances of the musical guests that appeared on the Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson from 1962–1992. Plans include licensing the material for use in television programs and documentaries.
While there is footage included of artists such as David Bowie, Paul McCartney, and ZZ Top, RITY president David Peck notes the typical Tonight Show musical guests were softer-edged acts. “There’s more soul, R&B, and country than rock,” Peck said. “Rock was not a specialty.” Although the 30-year span covers thousands of Tonight Show episodes, Peck notes quite a bit is missing from the Carson archive. “The first ten years is mostly gone,” he explained. In 1972 Carson looked for past clips to include in a tenth-anniversary special, only to find much had been wiped. “Tape was expensive. They were erased two or three times,” Peck reports. “From that point forward everything was saved, and [Carson] wound up getting control of the entire show, going back to 1962.” Any eventual rediscoveries of lost tapes are included in the deal? “Absolutely, any musical guest who was on that show from that time period,” Peck said.
RITY has released more than 70 titles, with only one documentary — on ’60s R&B band the Pretty Things — not finding distribution. The film had its only screening to date at Carlsbad’s Museum of Making Music on January 22. Meanwhile, DVD pre-release screenings in Los Angeles for the Hollies (September 22 at the Aero Theatre) and Ray Charles (October 22 at the Egyptian Theatre) drew luminaries including Graham Nash, Tom Petty, and songwriter Jackie DeShannon.
Peck notes a DVD’s production can run into six figures, taking in everything from song clearances to international travel for artist interviews.
“There’s profit of the heart and profit of the bank account,” Peck said. “I try not to look at things I do solely in the terms of money, although it’s important. You can’t just do DVDs all day and never make a penny back.”