Don Daily, a founding partner of Cactus Records and member of Houston's legendary Daily family, passed away July 31. He was 81, according to his Houston Chronicle obituary, which indicated a long struggle with Parkinson's disease but said Daily had died "peacefully."
"Don was a tremendously sweet and caring person with a truly wonderful sense of humor that was very dry in a manner not unlike Bob Newhart," says current Cactus Music partner and general manager Quinn Bishop, who worked for the Dailys from 1987 through "tying up loose ends" after the old store at Shepherd and Alabama closed in early 2006.
Daily's nephew Wes of Glad Music Company remembers Don as "very creative," with a keen ear for music. Bishop says sometimes Daily would ask him to help him evaluate songs that had been sent to Glad, which still controls the rights to many of George Jones' and the Big Bopper's better-known songs.
"He would pick some of the absolutely worst of the submissions to play for me and not crack a smile while he waited for me to comment on them," Bishop recalls. "Just awful stuff. I don't know how he didn't break into laughter."
In the mid-'70s, Don was credited as producer on three singles by George Strait, a fledgling Western Swing singer from San Marcos, for D Records, the label owned by Don's father, H.W. "Pappy" Daily. Twenty years later, the singles were re-released on the 1996 set Strait Out of the Box after Strait had sold several million more records.
Born in 1902, Pappy Daily worked as an accountant for the Southern Pacific railroad for 14 years before leaving to before leaving in 1931 to become a distributor of coin-operated phonographs. He built an empire that eventually touched on nearly every aspect of the music business in Southeast Texas: retail, management, record labels, publishing, distribution and even performance; Wes' cousin Mike Daily is an original member of Strait's Ace In the Hole Band.
The elder Daily, who died in 1987, sold his wholesale business to sons Don and brother Bud (Wes' father) in 1959 and kept running Starday Records, which had a string of hits including George Jones' "White Lightnin'" and the Big Bopper's "Chantilly Lace." Don and Bud opened Cactus Records next to the old Alabama Theatre on Shepherd in 1975.
"Since we were distributors for major independent record labels back in the day, they all were pressuring dad and Don to open a superstore," says Wes. "We had gone out to Tower Records and Peaches Records in Atlanta to get some ideas. The original Cactus store at West Alabama and Shepherd was an old A&P grocery store."
The family also owned Houston's Tower Records franchise (which they registered as Tower of Texas), including a flagship store that was once the city's largest record store - as well as the Record Factory chain. But, Daily says, as Houston expanded and new freeway construction forced these stores out of business, eventually there was just Cactus. By some accounts, it became the No. 1 record store in the nation; Wes remembers it as being "a very creative store."
Wes Daily says Bud Daily (who passed in 2010) "had a lot of PR in him" and was instrumental in getting ZZ Top signed to London Records, due to his warm relationship to labels at the time like A&M, London and Motown. The softer-spoken Don handled the bookkeeping and accounting, and cultivated a family-like atmosphere among the store's employees. Don, Bishop remembers, loved photography.
"He would get downright giddy talking about the subject or about a visit to a vintage camera store," he says. "It was Don's photographs of Hank Williams at the original Record Ranch [the store Pappy Daily opened on 11th St. in the Heights] that were featured on the walls of our West Alabama location, and he was thrilled when those images were included in the lavish 10-CD Complete Hank Williams collection that Mercury produced."
Says Wes: "Basically that store put a lot of employees through college, and paid a good payroll, and fortunately Quinn was able to take his longtime employees and open up the new location."
Of Don Daily, Bishop says, "he was proud, but very unassuming about the Dailys' contribution to [Houston's] musical heritage.
"Don kept a hardback book on his desk that was embossed with "Everything I Know About the Music Business" with his name listed as the author," he adds. "There was nothing written on the pages.
"He would always crack a smile when someone would pick it up and flip through the pages, not sure what to make of it."
A Reagan High School graduate and veteran of both the U.S. Army and Navy, Daily was a widower who had been married to his late wife Helen for 35 years. He is survived by five children, several grandchildren and numerous other relatives.
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A memorial service is planned for 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Addison Funeral Home, 18630 Kuykendahl, in Spring.