“I guess I’d most like Bomp to be remembered as a label utterly dedicated to the people who care most about music: the fans and collectors.”
Very sad news, Greg Shaw, fanzine publisher, magazine editor, band manager, author, indie label owner (Bomp), and rock historian, died on Tuesday, October 19 from heart failure at the age of 55. There are fewer and fewer true believers around: those who dedicate their lives to getting the word out about the music they love – in Greg’s case, a particularly appealing blend of garage rock, retro-pop, psychedelia, and punk.
The label’s Shaw bio is here:
- Rumors about him range from the fabulous to the incriminating. He is believed by some to live in a large house filled with swinging go-go girls where he hosts an endless LSD party. Others think of him as something like “the Anti-Dick Clark”, a shadowy, behind-the-scenes character who has manipulative fingers in everything. To those who know mainly his background in punk (a Berlin newspaper in 1989 referred to Greg Shaw as “The Pope of Punk”) he may have a certain image, very different from that of ’60s cultists who have mainly felt his efforts to inspire a revival of garage-punk music. Other people, in other cults, hold still other views.
The fact is that he’s been involved in a hell of a lot of stuff, all growing out of his love for classic (but obscure) rock & roll, and his extraordinary level of activity in rock fandom over three decades.
Greg was born in San Francisco in 1949. He grew up with rock & roll, hearing it on the radio from early childhood. As soon as he could afford to, he began buying and collecting 45s by Elvis, Fats Domino, Little Richard, et al. By the time he was in high school he had hundreds of them, but that wasn’t the end of his penchant for collecting stuff. He had a room full of science fiction pulp magazines going back to the ’20s. As an active member of SF fandom he went to conventions, was friends with a lot of authors including Philip K. Dick and Robert Silverberg, and found a social life among fans many years his senior that he didn’t have with kids his own age. The mindset of “fandom” took hold, giving him a lifelong preference for dedicated amateurism (not to mention an ironic sense of humor combined with a chronic shyness that’s commonly misunderstood, or mistaken for aloofness). And as a fan, of course he bought himself a mimeograph machine (for younger readers, that’s a hand-cranked drum full of ink that you cover with a stencil, basically a sheet of wax that must be cut on a typewriter, to print up your own writings. In the days before xerox, this is how fanzines were made, right up to sometime in the early ’70s) and started cranking out zines.
When he got out of high school, he’d already published some 200 zines, and been written up in The Saturday Evening Post for his zine Entmoot, one of the first devoted to the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. But in 1966, these interests took a back seat to the music scene that was starting to erupt in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury.
ON LOVE STREET
With a couple of school chums, he started hanging out and getting to know the bands on this scene. Living on his own now and supposedly attending college, he started a new fanzine devoted to what was then still a very small scene, in which everyone knew each other. Mojo-Navigator Rock & Roll News started as a 2-page gossip sheet and by summer’s end was up to 32 pages and multi-color printing. It was more than a year before Rolling Stone was to begin (borrowing its early format completely from Mojo, it might be noted) so it filled a void and became the bible of the local music community. Soon his friends included people like Janis Joplin, Chet Helms, the Charlatans, the Dead, and Country Joe & the Fish. He was able to meet many of his musical heroes, from Jimi Hendrix to Syd Barrett.
He also took an interest in the cultural aspects of what was going on: the drug culture, the writings of people like Ginsberg, Burroughs and Watts, and certain radical thinkers in the new generation. He didn’t much care for the Oracle, but he was active in the same circles and gave them advice when they started. When the Underground Press Syndicate was launched, he was a founding member. He corresponded with John Sinclair in Detroit and Oz Magazine in England, and other alternative media moguls around the world, comparing notes and networking ideas. He was a member of the Communication Company, who did some very radical guerilla publishing in the Haight (with a mimeograph, of course). Jann Wenner became a fan of his, coming around to ask questions about how to start a magazine. He tripped with Tim Leary. He partied way too much. The magazine grew too big to manage, and folded. College was long-forgotten.
He moved out of San Francisco in 1968, first to Marin County, where he had further adventures not particularly relevant to this chronicle (though excellent grift for the autobiography he’ll probably never get around to), and then to Los Angeles in 1972, when he received a job offer to work at United Artists. To backtrack a bit, after a couple years apart from the music scene, the itch came back and he started writing reviews and articles for the rock press. There was an explosion of rock magazines at the time, and he was a major contributor to them all, from Fusion to New York Rock Press to Vibrations to Creem, of which he became West Coast Editor, and wrote a monthly column devoted to singles, from about 1971 to about 1974. In the meantime he had launched another fanzine, called Who Put The Bomp. Starting in 1970 from the old Mojo subscription list, it picked up new readers after Ed Ward wrote a glowing article about it in Rolling Stone, and became a favorite of rock writers and people at record companies. This led to the job offer.
The job at UA was to be Assistant Head of Creative Services, under “house freak” Marty Cerf. This meant, among other things, writing all the artist bios and press materials (for everyone from Bobby Vee to the Hawkwind), running the press office, organizing reviews and interviews for UA’s artists, even writing radio spots. On top of these normal chores, Marty had the idea of starting an in-house magazine that would cover the whole spectrum of music, not just the UA roster, and hire the best writers to give it credibility. Greg was to be the editor. Phonograph Record Magazine grew to have a circulation around 200,000 (rivaling Rolling Stone for a couple years) distributed around the country via a network of leading FM rock stations, and because it was given away free as promotion for the stations, there were no commercial considerations and Greg was able to turn it into a kind of fanzine, covering all kinds of obscure music, cult favorites, critics’ bands and new trends. The glam trend was very popular in its pages, and it was one of the first to put the New York Dolls on the cover. Writers like Lester Bangs, Nick Kent, and other “stars” loved it because they could write about whatever they liked, and all this glory redounded to the good name of UA, who were footing quite a large bill for it each month.
In addition to editing and art-directing PRM, Greg was also typesetting it and doing all the paste-ups. You might think he would be busy enough, but somehow he managed to continue publishing Bomp at the same time (though he never managed more than 2 or 3 issues per year of his “quarterly” schedule). There had been some substantial pieces in the zine already, like Lester Bangs’ classic 70-page rant on the Troggs, (written on a 3-day binge of amphetamine and booze and cheap sex with the alcoholic slut next door, at Greg’s house in Marin in 1971), but after the move to L.A., Bomp expanded considerably, and began to feature lengthy discographies and rock history pieces, exhaustive reviews of obscure 60s records and new things of interest, and beginning The Encyclopedia of British Rock, an A-Z history of everything recorded in England from 1960 to 1970, with band bios, photos, and complete discographies. (It only got up to “F” before the magazine folded, but it’s still more complete in some respects than anything else published to date). In addition, songwriters like Mann & Weil, Pam Sawyer and Jackie DeShannon were profiled (with complete song-ographies), a lengthy surf discography was published, histories of the recording scenes of Sweden and Holland, and on and on. In 1975, Kim Fowley sponsored a contest in Bomp’s pages to assemble a band he hoped to make “the female Beatles”, the result being the Runaways.
During the early 1970s, rock was in one of its serious lulls, so many were looking to the past for inspiration, discovering stuff like rockabilly and doo wop; and in the pages of Bomp, the ’60s began to take on its lustre as a source for lots of great music nobody had heard yet. There were other collectors’ zines, such as Rock Marketplace, doing similar things, but Bomp held a special place at the hub of a network of thousands of serious rock fans who had nowhere else to turn for a sense that they were part of some kind of community that cared about the real stuff. Bomp’s always-popular letter column kept expanding, and became a meeting ground for all sorts of people: names from John Peel to Gene Simmons can be found in those back pages, and when punk rock started up, the people who started it emerged from that same community. It was a special time, in which a magazine like this could make a difference. Such a time will never come again.
SHAKIN’ SOME ACTION
It was at UA in 1974 that Greg met up with Cyril Jordan, whose band The Flamin’ Groovies had been recording for UA’s British label, and was now back to L.A. with some amazing unreleased masters, including “Shake Some Action”. Incredibly, the were out of a deal and looking for a label. And nobody would sign them! Greg was shocked and stunned because it was some of the best music he’d ever heard. One thing led to another and a plan was made to release a single thru Bomp Magazine, just to get the stuff on vinyl. This single was “You Tore Me Down” and it became the launching pad for Bomp Records.
It’s no big thing to release an indie 45 these days, but in 1974 it was another matter. There was no way to distribute or promote it, no market at all except the readers of Bomp Magazine, who bought enough to help the record break even. Thru his contacts at the FM stations who distributed PRM, Greg managed to stir up a good deal of airplay even though the record wasn’t in stores, and it was enough to convince Seymour Stein at Sire Records to sign the band.
Greg knew Seymour already. When he joined UA, another of his duties was to supervise the company’s oldies releases, and he was responsible for the Legendary Masters Series, which at the time were the first really deluxe reissues that anyone had done, with booklets, discographies, and in-depth liner notes by some of the best writers, plus rare and unreleased tracks. The series of gatefold albums featured Jan & Dean, Ricky Nelson, Shirley & Lee, Fats Domino, Eddie Cochran and others, and it was applauded throughout the industry. Among the people impressed by it was Seymour Stein, who hired Greg to put together another reissue series for his Sire label. Beginning with The History of British Rock (which had several volumes) the series went on to encompass artists like the Turtles, the Pretty Things, the Troggs, and Paul Anka. Greg had done all these projects, and had often been at Sire’s offices in New York, so it’s perhaps not surprising that he was able to get the Groovies signed. Nonetheless, Stein had a condition: he wouldn’t do the deal unless Greg came aboard as manager, presumably to protect Sire’s investment.
Being manager meant he was able to go along to England when the band went over to record the “Shake Some Action” album with Dave Edmunds at Rockfield. One result was a feature article and history of Edmunds in Bomp; another was that Greg travelled all over Europe on tour with the band in 1975 and ’76, when he was to meet pretty much everybody who was at the ground floor of the emerging punk scene. He was also in New York constantly, enough to be considered a regular part of the scene that was growing there as well. It gave him a network of friends, and a matchless wealth of experience, that enabled him to develop his own label in the years ahead.
This time with the Groovies was the most exciting two years of his life. One day it would be New York, hanging out with Andy Warhol and Angie Bowie at Max’s. (click here for a photo of Greg with the Max’s in-crowd) The next day he could be in London, where he was to be the first American to see the Sex Pistols, at one of their early gigs in the 100 Club. Or knocking about the streets with friends like Chrissy Hynde. Then it would be on to Paris, where he might meet up with Elton John.
It was during this time that Sire also engaged him to edit a series of rock books. He ended up doing about 8 of them, featuring such artists as the Beach Boys, Carole King, the Kinks, Paul Simon. He wrote the one on Elton himself, though it’s not something he ranks among his better efforts. During this time he also served on the editorial board of the first international encyclopedia of rock, writing about 1/3 of the first edition.
When the Groovies played at Dingwalls in London, in 1976, the guys from the Pistols were there to see them, and later in the dressing room it was noticed that a suitcase was missing, along with all the band’s plane tickets. An emergency meeting with McLaren was called, and the stuff was eventually returned. Meanwhile Greg and Malcolm had become buddies. When he returned to the States, Greg tried to interest Sire in the band, but failed. Back in L.A. he set up meetings for Malcolm with Warner Bros and other labels, and offered what advice he could. Speaking of Warners, when they picked up Sire and decided to get behind punk in a real way, they asked Greg to come in and give a pep talk to their executives, explaining what punk was and why they should support it. It provided one of his more surreal memories, not less for the fact that it gave him the opportunity to meet Derek Taylor, a personal hero.
TIME TO TRY SOMETHING ELSE
Greg and the Groovies parted company at the end of 1976, when he left a frozen-in London to return to L.A. and pick up the threads of his old business. Suzy had been running Bomp’s mailorder department in his absence, but work on the magazine and the label had fallen far behind, and he had his work cut out.
The early history of Bomp Records is covered pretty well in Destination Bomp. Greg had resigned from UA and Phonograph Record in 1975 when he got involved with the Groovies; now he poured his energy into chronicling the new punk movement in the pages of Bomp, based on his travels and observations. The magazine grew at an accelerated pace, with circulation up to about 25,000, and was nationally distributed on newsstands. As the new music spread, Bomp grew with it, and Greg had brought in Gary Sperazza to share his editing chores.
But by 1979 a turning point had been reached. The magazine was now so expensive to print ($15,000 cash needed on delivery at the printers, though ad money would take 60 days to collect and distributors generally never paid at all) that it was almost beyond his means. Meetings were taken with a bigger company that wanted to finance the growth, but they insisted on regular monthly publication, which was not realistic. At the same time, he was souring on the music scene, which had become corporate and mercenary, a far cry from the early days of cult bands and punk. It wasn’t fun anymore, so he ended it.
His new enthusiasm was the garage music of the ’60s. People told him he had coined the term “punk rock” back in Creem while writing about this music, predicting it would make a comeback someday. Something like this seemed to be happening in the early days of New York’s punk scene, but when the spike-haired English punks took over the word, Greg decided the nomenclature was getting confusing, and began referring to the ’60s stuff as “garage”. Now that there was nothing else cool going on, he launched into promoting greater awareness of the glories of garage.
One of the projects that has passed through Sire during his tenure there had been Lenny Kaye’s “Nuggets” album, which had been deleted on Elektra when Sire reissued it in 1976, just in time for it to became a huge influence on all the new punk bands. Lenny and Greg wanted to do a second volume, and work went ahead on it until it became clear that some of the best tracks could not be obtained, because the original labels were obscure and nobody knew where to find the masters. A couple years later, Greg took his notes for the project and put together the album he saw as the sequel “Nuggets” deserved. Because it wasn’t “Nuggets”, he called it “Pebbles”. Where master tapes couldn’t be found, he mastered from records, and hoped nobody would mind.
Well, the idea caught on, and soon everyone was doing their own ’60s compilations. Pebbles, meanwhile, continued on for more volumes, until by the end of the ’80s it had reached 30. There was also an affiliated series, Highs in the Mid-Sixties, which the music with reference to its regional origins. This series had 23 volumes. All the records came from Greg’s own collection. Did we mention that he never stopped collecting records? By this time he had a million or more, including virtually everything released from the ’50s through the ’70s. He loved collecting; it gave him a secret thrill to have every release on certain cool labels like Philles and Sun. And it helped him compile all those discographies the magazine had been full of. Now the collection had found a new use.
One effect of all these reissues was a groundswell of interest in the period. New bands appeared, performing songs learned from Pebbles. Even such big-time acts as Echo & the Bunnymen were doing Pebbles covers! Greg had hoped that making the roots available would prove a positive influence on contemporary bands, but the results far surpassed his aspirations. Now he could devote himself to the role of producer, working with new bands like the Pandoras and the Miracle Workers to make the kind of records he’d always wished he’d been around to make in the ’60s. He was having fun again!
For most of the ’80s the garage revival occupied his attention. Together with studio wizard Gary Stern, he co-produced a series of bands whose legacy speaks for itself, from the Miracle Workers and Tell-Tale Hearts to the Gravedigger V, Pandoras, and countless others. In 1985, noticing that bands of this kind seemed out of place and were rarely booked in most existing clubs, he decided to open a small club where it would be the main attraction. Another person had started an underground club with a ’60s theme called The Cavern Club, and Greg became his partner, then after awhile ran it on his own. The club lasted two years in a small venue overlooking Hollywood Blvd, featuring an array of bands, both well known and new, all doing ’60s music in a roots-conscious form. The bands and the audience were mostly quite young, with Mod leanings. Bands from all over the country and even Europe played at the Cavern, and it was written up in People Magazine with a full-page photo of Greg and some of the regulars; TV crews from local stations as well as national shows like “20/20” did documentaries on the club, so apparently newsworthy was it that a hundred or so teenagers could possibly be into anything more esoteric than Madonna.
Running the club on weekends, publishing the club newsletter Caveman News every week, recording many of the bands he discovered there, and living in a big house with 6 other people from the scene, including his colleague Lee Joseph of Dionysus Records fame, gave Greg an exhausting, exciting lifestyle, filled with music, parties, an orgy of cultic activity in his favorite neck of the woods, and a wild series of romantic ups and downs. When it was all over, he found himself living alone again, coming out of a heart-wrenching divorce, and disenchanted with the new generation of kids, who had not seized the opportunity offered by the Cavern to create a vital new scene of their own, but had been content to criticize each other over the “correctness” of their hair and clothes. Rather than being the start of a new youth rebellion, the Cavern fizzled out in redundancy and ennui. Many of the regulars drifted off into Goth, Industrial and other scenes.
Greg had no interest in anything happening musically in L.A. at the time, but England seemed to offer some interesting bands, such as Spacemen 3. He ended up spending a lot of time, and even considered buying a flat and living there. With the help of his London friend Mike Spenser (of the Cannibals) he started a UK label called Ubik, and released a number of records that he hoped would create a niche for him in the British scene. But as fate would have it, just as Ubik was getting off the ground, Rough Trade was going bankrupt, and its fall took down the whole independent distribution industry. It was more than the fledgling label could survive, and despite well-received albums by the Modern Lovers, Sacred Miracle Cave, the Green Pajamas, and a Swedish band called the Submarine Prophets, Ubik was discontinued and Greg came back to California.
There was still nothing happening musically, but he contented himself to work with Spacemen 3, whom he had meanwhile signed. For the most part, however, this was the time when it became clear that CDs would be the future in music, and Bomp with over 200 albums on vinyl was very late getting into the new medium. It was Greg’s job now to reissue the back catalog on CD, starting with the most popular titles, in every case creating new package designs, finding new bonus tracks, and taking every opportunity to improve the products as much as possible. It was a task to which he devoted himself throughout the early ’90s, and which is only just complete.
This was also the time that computers entered the world of Bomp, with the purchase of their first Mac Plus in 1989. Greg realized he had to make up for lost time, and devoted most of a couple of years to learning the software and mastering the mechanics of creating album artwork and doing color separations via computer. This technical and often arcane knowledge came only with difficulty, but in the end it left him with a new function. Now his role at Bomp would primarily be as a graphic designer, which provided unforeseen creative satisfactions and an outlet for talents he’d never suspected, and the job of redesigning the label’s backlog has kept him busy to the present day, although he has taken on a couple of new bands every year–most notably the Brian Jonestown Massacre, whom he has supported and encourage for some five years and who now seem poised for greater success. If so, it would be a first for Bomp. Also, in 1995 he found time to put together a 4-CD box set, for K-Tel’s Era label, of the history of the Brill Building and its songwriting greats. The massive article and individual histories of the songs set a new precedent by approaching the music from the point of view of the songwriters, rather than the artists. Since this was probably his favorite period in music, it was a job he took on with gusto.
There was still not much happening in the music scene that truly interested him, during the ’90s, except The Brian Jonestown Massacre and their various spinoffs and associated groups, many of which he recorded, while also releasing archive material from Spacemen 3 and more ’60s garage compilations. In 1998 he experienced severe kidney failure, leading to a year or more on dialysis, which really took a toll on his energy; fortunately Patrick Boissel of Alive/ Total Energy Records took time aside to help prepare some Bomp projects, including Dead Boys and Iggy Pop releases and a couple of compilations. In May of ’99 Greg received the pancreas/kidney transplant he’s been waiting for all his life, which turned out to be a very traumatic operation requiring many months of gradual recuperation. Fortunately his struggle was lightened by his beloved son, Tristan, born in 1992, who despite problems of his own , is as beautiful and clever as any parent could wish, and with whom Greg enjoys the many pleasures of parenthood….
Miami Steve mourns him:
- “He was an extraordinarily important individual in the history of rock ‘n’ roll,” Steven Van Zandt, lead guitarist in Bruce Springsteen’s band and the host of the syndicated radio show “Little Steven’s Underground Garage,” said Friday. “He was literally responsible for the contemporary garage-rock movement, which he single-handedly started with the Bomp! label.”
“However you choose to honor Greg’s memory– do it with anything but a moment of silence” – Suzy Shaw