NEW YORK — Gary Stewart, a scholarly music fan whose enthusiasm and attention to detail helped make Rhino Records the much-emulated gold standard for reissue compilations of the great, the faded, and the forgotten, died April 11 in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 62.
His death was ruled a suicide by the Los Angeles County medical examiner’s office. His younger brother, Mark, said their family had a history of depression.
Gary Stewart, as senior vice president of artists and repertoire, wedded his deep knowledge of rock, pop, soul, and other genres to the idiosyncratic Rhino label’s mission of producing definitive boxed sets and anthologies, including lengthy liner notes and high-quality artwork. Unlike major labels, whose reissues contain mostly music from their own catalogs, Rhino licensed material from many labels, allowing it to produce more inclusive packages.
“He loved deep cuts — little-known songs that were as good as the hits but were never pushed as singles,” David Gorman, a colleague of Mr. Stewart’s at Rhino, said in a telephone interview. “If we did a boxed set or anthology, he’d always sneak in little B-sides that he loved.”
Mr. Stewart’s best-known projects included “Have a Nice Day,” a series devoted to pop songs from the 1970s, mainly by one-hit wonders; “Hey Ho Let’s Go!,” a Ramones anthology; and “Farewells & Fantasies,” a collection of the work of 1960s singer-songwriter Phil Ochs.
He also played a major role in Rhino’s reissues of Elvis Costello’s Columbia and Warner Bros. catalogs in 2001.
“With his help, I was encouraged to tell a broader tale,” Costello wrote on Facebook after Mr. Stewart’s death, “augmenting the original albums with every outtake, sketch, and mistake that I could find, all annotated until I’d run out of paper and ink. Our work together was clearly superior to both prior and subsequent editions.”
Mr. Stewart recalled in an interview in 2005 with Jewish Journal, a weekly newspaper in Los Angeles, that his colleagues had lobbied him to include songs by the Bangles and Squeeze on a collection of alternative rock from the 1980s, but he resisted, he said, because they weren’t alternative enough.
“I’m a ‘no thank you’ kind of bully,” Mr. Stewart told the newspaper. “In the end, I’ll say this is how it’s going to be, which I think is a necessary ingredient for good art.”
Gary Lee Stewart was born Feb. 10, 1957, in Chicago and moved with his family to Los Angeles when he was about 5. His father, Ralph, was a mechanical engineer, and his mother, Charlyne (Jaffe) Stewart, was an artist and art teacher.
His brother said in an interview that Gary had been bullied in school but that collecting records and displaying his knowledge of music had helped make him popular.
“Music saved his life,” Mark Stewart said.
Gary built his record collection during shopping sprees at Los Angeles shops, including Rhino Records, which opened in 1973 and began its own label in 1978.
“What drew him to the store is, we were turning him on to music and he wanted to soak it all up,” Harold Bronson, who managed the store and founded the label with Richard Foos, said in an interview. “We were all so knowledgeable.”
Gary Stewart began working at the store in 1977 as a salesman. After graduating from California State University Northridge, with a bachelor’s degree in marketing, he replaced Bronson as store manager. He shifted to the Rhino label in 1981 and worked his way up to senior vice president of artists and repertoire.
Mark Pinkus, the president of Rhino, described Mr. Stewart in a statement as “the architect and guiding spirit of Rhino” and said that he “defined what it meant to be a catalog label.”
In addition to his work on reissues, Mr. Stewart signed some new acts to Rhino, including singer-songwriter Cindy Lee Berryhill, a key figure in the anti-folk movement, in 1987.
“He was a ‘convincer,’” Berryhill said in an e-mail. “If Gary liked your music, he could probably talk others into it, including the guys that signed the checks.”
Mr. Stewart remained at Rhino until 2003, several years after its full acquisition by the Warner Music Group, and the next year began a seven-year stint at Apple, where he curated music for the expanding digital market. He was hired by the company’s chairman, Steve Jobs, as the chief music officer, with a mandate to organize the vast iTunes catalog into playlists for a download market. He left in 2011 and returned in 2016, to help organize the catalog for streaming.
In an interview in 2015 on the podcast “The Music Biz Weekly,” Mr. Stewart said he did not believe in relying on an algorithm or on personal preferences to produce a strong playlist. Asked how he created a playlist, he said he was guided by many factors, including airplay, concert set lists, greatest hits and how they charted, and what hard-core fans and music bloggers say about the artist.
“Curation, at its best,” he said, “is not just how you like something, which is the most dangerous place to go, but what the music means to the band, what it means to the fans, and whether it should be part of how someone first connects” with the artist.
After leaving Apple last year, Gorman said, Mr. Stewart was “feeling lost career-wise and wondering what his place in the music economy was.”
Mr. Stewart’s brother is his only immediate survivor.