Greg Shaw

Early promoter of garage rock, punk and power pop
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Greg Shaw, writer, publisher, record label owner, rock historian and record collector: born San Francisco 31 January 1949; four times married (one son); died Los Angeles 19 October 2004.

Greg Shaw, the American rock writer, magazine publisher and label owner, worked tirelessly and selflessly to promote his favourite bands and genres and was the perfect example of the gentleman entrepreneur.

In the mid-Sixties, his fanzine Mojo-Navigator Rock'n'Roll News inspired the launch of Rolling Stone magazine, while Bomp!, the influential publication and record label he founded in the Seventies, helped the careers of Iggy Pop, the Flamin' Groovies and Devo and launched the power pop of 20/20, the Shoes, the Romantics, the Plimsouls and the Barracudas.

Over four decades of obsessive collecting, Shaw amassed more than a million singles and albums and regularly put together compilations of obscure Sixties garage, punk, psychedelic, surf, freakbeat and teen trash recordings for the long-running "Pebbles" album series. More recently, he had been instrumental in the revival of interest in the United States garage-rock scene.

Born in San Francisco in 1949, Greg Shaw was an avid collector from an early age. He started buying records by Elvis Presley, Fats Domino and Little Richard, but he also read science fiction and had a room full of pulp magazines going back to the 1920s. At the age of 13, he began contributing to other people's sci-fi fanzines and was soon printing his own on a mimeograph machine.

In 1966, he moved out of his parents' house into the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, supposedly attending college. Instead, with two flatmates, he started documenting the local music scene in a two-page gossip sheet, Mojo-Navigator Rock'n'Roll News, which grew into a 32-page colour magazine, featuring interviews with the Grateful Dead, Country Joe & the Fish and Big Brother & the Holding Company and their new singer Janis Joplin.

The following year, Jann Wenner came to Shaw for advice about launching Rolling Stone but, despite its going nationwide, by the end of that year Mojo-Navigator had folded because of cashflow problems. Shaw worked for the post office in Marin County, California, until the early Seventies while freelancing for various publications such as Rolling Stone, Zigzag and Creem, for which he wrote a monthly column dedicated to 45s, "Juke Box Jury".

In 1970, Shaw published the first issue of a new magazine called Who Put the Bomp? - soon shortened to just Bomp! - the title inspired by the Barry Mann and Gerry Goffin composition "Who Put the Bomp (In the Bomp-a-Bomp-a-Bomp)". In the beginning, Bomp! looked back to the origins of rock'n'roll, the British Invasion, US girl groups and the garage bands of the Sixties and published articles by Lester Bangs (a Troggs piece controversially titled "James Taylor Marked for Death"), Greil Marcus (on Buddy Holly), Dave Marsh, Richard Meltzer and the Briton Charlie Gillett.

Over its 21 issues spanning most of the Seventies, the magazine grew to sell 30,000 copies and covered the Flamin' Groovies, Dave Edmunds and the Runaways - the all-girl group assembled by Kim Fowley around Joan Jett and Lita Ford after a contest in the pages of Bomp! to find "the female Beatles" - as well as the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, Blondie and Talking Heads.

Publication remained haphazard because Shaw combined editing Bomp! with a variety of other jobs. Between 1972 and 1974, he was Assistant Head of Creative Services with United Artists Records in Los Angeles, running their press office, compiling the Legendary Masters Series of reissues (Jan & Dean, Ricky Nelson, Eddie Cochran, etc) and editing Phonograph Record Magazine.

It was during his time that Shaw met the Flamin' Groovies, who were signed to United Artists' UK operation for a couple of singles. In 1974, every label had turned down the Groovies' track "You Tore Me Down", produced by Dave Edmunds, and their guitarist, Cyril Jordan, asked Shaw for help. "The idea was compelling, but I had no idea how to be a record company," Shaw admitted:

But I knew of oldies fanzines that pressed up rare 45s for their subscribers and I figured I could probably break even on a small pressing. I was also thinking here was a way to do more than just complain about the dismal state of Seventies rock.

With its distinctive yellow label and colour picture sleeve, "You Tore Me Down" appeared at the end of 1974 and landed the Flamin' Groovies a record deal with Sire Records. Seymour Stein, the label's founder, insisted that Shaw come on board as manager. He accompanied the group to the UK to complete the album Shake Some Action with Dave Edmunds at Rockfield Studios. Shaw used his time in Europe wisely, interviewing Edmunds and Nick Lowe for lengthy profiles and observing the emerging punk scenes in London and Paris.

"I witnessed first-hand how a few visionaries can conjure up a vital scene when the timing is right," he recalled:

This inspired in me the hope the same could happen in America. Scenes were emerging, but we lacked the UK's centralised media and distribution and it was a slow process.

After two years with the Groovies, Shaw threw all his energy into Bomp! In 1977, he issued singles by the Los Angeles punk groups the Weirdos, the Germs and the Zeros. "I think [LA punk] was a more authentic expression of the real intrinsic spirit of Hollywood than English punk was of England," he said.

He helped the avant-garde group Devo release "Satisfaction"/"Sloppy" on their own label, Booji Boi, before they moved on to Stiff and Virgin. In 1978, Bomp! also released Kill City, an album recorded by Iggy Pop and the guitarist James Williamson, but Shaw had already heralded the arrival of what he called "power pop". "I saw it as a hybrid style with the power and guts of punk, but drawing on a pop-song tradition with a wider popular appeal," he said:

I had in mind bands like The Who and the Easybeats but, much to my chagrin, the term was snapped up by legions of limp, second-rate bands hoping the majors would see them as a safe alternative to punk.

At the same time, some good bands came through and, Shaw said,

Bomp! worked with many of them, including Shoes, 20/20, Paul Collins & the Beat, the Plimsouls and the Romantics. These all went from Bomp! to major labels and made some great records. Kim Fowley, who once dubbed me "the H.G. Wells of rock'n'roll" was now comparing me to Sam Phillips, who discovered Elvis Presley.

Shaw could have capitalised on Bomp!'s credibility, but he refused to surrender creative control. In the Eighties he abandoned Bomp! and spent most of the decade promoting garage music via the Cavern Club in Los Angeles, his "Pebbles" archival collections and the imprint Voxx, which issued albums by the Crawdaddys and the Barracudas. "It was a pleasure to tell pestering managers: 'We're only signing neo-psychedelic garage punk'," he said mischievously.

Eventually, Shaw revived Bomp! (also launching a website, www.bomp.com) and worked with the UK outfit Spacemen 3, the Brian Jonestown Massacre and the Black Keys, through his involvement with the triumvirate of "modern punk with the old-school edge" labels Alive, Total Energy and Marilyn Records.

Never given to self-aggrandising and actually rather shy, Greg Shaw was happy to share his knowledge and love of rock'n'roll minutiae with anyone. His label, he said in 1994, was "utterly dedicated" to fans and collectors:

Bomp! is an outgrowth of my love for music. Where many would view it as a marginal business that barely breaks even, I prefer to see it as a hobby that's profitable enough to allow me to build my life around it. It's like a mission to try and get the cool music to the people. If nothing else, maybe we've set an example that might offer an alternative to this increasingly corporate, impersonal society. Or maybe not. At least we had a good time trying . . .

He requested that his memory should be honoured "with anything but a moment of silence".

Pierre Perrone

Comments