RockCritics.com
 


Tributes to Greg Shaw
(1949 - 2004)


In August, 1966, Greg Shaw helped launch the very idea of rock criticism with his mimeographed publication, Mojo-Navigator Rock & Roll News. A few years later, he started up what was to become the extremely influential network of Bomp (or, as we prefer, Bomp!): a magazine, a record store, and a record label, all of which helped sow the seeds of punk and new wave. Over the course of the next four decades, Shaw was an instrumental figure in the careers of numerous musicians and writers. His death on October 19 from heart failure has touched a deep nerve within the music community.

Some of the writers who worked with Shaw, and others who grew up reading him, offer their tributes below.

At the bottom of this page, there are more links to writing by and about Greg Shaw. Also, click here for Greg Shaw quotations (taken from his column, "Juke Box Jury"), and here for a visual tribute to Bomp! magazine--just a small sampling of the ads and ephemera found in those pages during its new wave heyday.


-  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -

Five Things About Greg
By Ken Barnes

Greg Shaw had an incalculable influence in at least five major music/journalism areas. He gets credit for some but is overlooked or unfairly de-emphasized in others.

1. The beginning of music journalism as we know it. He and a partner wrote and published Mojo-Navigator in San Francisco in 1966. It wasn't the first publication to look at rock with a critical perspective and a serious approach, but it certainly had an influence on Rolling Stone, Crawdaddy!, and the acknowledged godfather publications in the field.

2. Music fanzines. There may have been some before Who Put the Bomp started in 1970, but Bomp! is correctly regarded as the launching pad for a culture that continues to proliferate 35 years later. Possessing a strong background in science-fiction fanzine culture, Greg knew all the techniques for self-publication and distribution, down to the collating party to assemble finished issues to send out. (It was at one of these that I first met him in Fairfax, CA.) Hundreds of writers, from Mark Shipper to Alan Betrock to Billy Miller and Miriam Linna, were inspired by Bomp! to air their own views in memorable 'zines.

3. The enshrinement of '60s rock. Although Greg was conversant in rockabilly, blues, New Orleans R&B, doo-wop, early-'60s pop and more, he was one of the very first to create the legend of '60s garage rock, directly leading to the Nuggets/Pebbles anthology explosion and indirectly to the punk/new wave revolution and the '80s-till-whenever garage-rock revival.

4. Taking music journalism as we know it to a new level. In what passes for the chronicle of rock journalism, Creem is generally given the credit for forging a new approach from the Rolling Stone/Hit Parader stance mixed with the fanzines/Crawdaddy! personal style, adding a massive jolt of irreverence and craziness. And it deserves it--incredible magazine, incredible writers, great institutional sense of humor. But at the same time Creem was breaking down the walls from Walls Lake, MI, Phonograph Record Magazine in L.A., edited by Greg and the late and mostly forgotten Marty Cerf, was doing the same thing. It had most of the stars of Creem contributing, plus the cream of the West Coast's best writers--John Mendelssohn, Mark Shipper, Gene Sculatti, Tom Nolan, Richard Cromelin and Greg himself--who equalled or surpassed the East Coast elite of the day and measured up pretty well against the Bangses and Marshes and Uhelzskis from Creem.

5. Helping to launch the worldwide rock underground/alternative scene. Bomp! the magazine was quick to jump on the Ramones and the New York scene of the early '70s, its L.A. equivalent, and the punk movement in the UK. Bomp! the retail store and label provided encouragement and a place for artists to sell their wares. And cherished Shaw projects such as the Flamin' Groovies and Plimsouls served as a blueprint for generations of bands. Greg certainly couldn't be called the godfather of alternative (not that he would have sought out that appellation), but he was a key figure in its gestation.

Besides all that, he had great taste in music, a missionary zeal to let others know about the great records and bands he knew or learned about, a generosity of spirit that encouraged many other writers and musicians, and a huge and often-overlooked gift for writing--he had a clear, conversational style that brought the music he loved to life with great eloquence and zest.

He was an enormous help to me when I was getting started, and a great friend. We fell out of touch long ago, but I will always remember him with admiration and affection.


-  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -


What the British Call 'Flash'
By John Mendelssohn

I'd suggested in the then-exalted pages of Rolling Stone that the Faces, as represented by their just-released Ooh La La album, were no match for the memory of the Small Faces, but that didn't keep me from attending the big party Warner Bros threw for the group on one of their sound stages in Burbank in February, 1971. While trying to ignore the daggers Rod and the boys were staring at my jugular, I was introduced to Greg Shaw. He had the too-long stringy hair of a San Francisco hippie. I'd seen the shoes he was wearing at Zeidler & Zeidler on Crescent Heights Blvd. in West Hollywood, and spurned them as lame. His look and manner were those of one who'd taken too many hallucinogens. For those reasons--and much more because my hauteur was my own great shyness in an unpleasant disguise--I was haughty to him and his wife Suzie, who seemed unnervingly impressed to be meeting me. Greg was kind enough to accept the apology I tendered a few months later, going so far as to suggest that hauteur suited one in my position (at the time, King of L.A.).

We flew side by side across the country together in May, 1974 to a symposium of rock critics put on by students at a university in Buffalo. Patti Smith performed. I thought she was embarrassingly awful. Greg said she was terrific, and that he wished he were her manager. It was his impression that history validated. He kindly expressed great enthusiasm for and then published some of my stuff in Phonograph Record Magazine. I seduced and abandoned a record company publicist for whom he expressed great enthusiasm just to demonstrate that I could.

Within two years, on the strength of Seymour Stein's patronage, he'd become what the British call flash. He drove a big Mercedes and lived in a big house and gloated gleefully about both. I'd have hated him for it except for the fact that he turned out to like my music too. The '80s dawned and he and Suzie took me to lunch. He let me use a crude typesetting machine Bomp! Records owned to set all the body type for a catalogue I was designing for a Los Angeles new wave boutique. (He wasn't the only rock critic to discover that graphic design is glorious fun, especially after it went digital.) I encountered him in the mid-80s in front of Aron Records on Melrose--he now fully as stylish and cool as he'd been clueless-looking at the Faces party. I was delighted to see him. He seemed less than delighted to see me, but that may have been his famous shyness at work. He said extraordinarily kind things about my writing.

I can't say that we ever achieved major traction, Greg and I, ever became big pals. But I never knew him to be anything other than kind, gentle, and generous, and I'm very sorry to hear of his passing.


-  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -

Praising the Unheralded
By Jason Gross

On a personal level, I only traded a few e-mails with Greg and he was nice enough but that doesn't matter much because the fact is that I owe him a lot, even if he never knew that. It wasn't just that he started a rock 'zine in the mid-60's when such an audacious idea was totally laughable and heroic. And it wasn't just that he put his money where his musical taste was and started his own indie label (years before punk sprang up) to document some of his favorite music that probably wouldn't have gotten an airing otherwise (and which included such seminal geniuses like Iggy Pop and Jonathan Richman and brilliant torch-bearers like Brian Jonestown Massacre and Flamin' Groovies). And it wasn't even the wonderful Legendary Masters series he did while he was at United Artists (I still have my Fats Domino and Ricky Nelson albums from then).

The fact is, I owe Shaw so much just because of his spirit. Someone said that he and Lenny Kaye represented the cheerleader division of the rock crit game where they'd build up and sing the praises of their favorite (usually unheralded or under-heralded) artists. I know that's not a particularly hip notion now as music scribing still operates in the land of irony and winks. But screw that shit. Greg and Lenny knew what time it is. When I started my own 'zine, I had the same idea in mind--most gold/platinum acts already had enough press thank you and going around snarking acts to look cool and score points was, and is, total horseshit.

Already, music mailing lists are filing up with testimonials to Greg from musicians and writers who he helped out, each of them full of glowing words for the man. What better tribute could you ask for than that?


-  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -


Bargain Bin Grooviness
By Richard Riegel

I was saddened to hear of the death of Greg Shaw. I'd been out of touch with him for years, but he was instrumental in launching my own rockwriting career, first by publishing Lester Bangs' monumental "James Taylor Marked for Death" monograph (the piece that more than any other made me want to do this writing myself) in his Who Put the Bomp fanzine in 1971, and then by giving me my very first paid rockwriting publication, my review of an Allman Bros. concert, in Phonograph Record Magazine in 1973. I received a $15 cheque from PRM, and I was on my way.

While I tended to identify more with Lester's rockwriting-as-pure-writing approach than Greg's pure-pop-record-collector orientation, and thus gravitated to Creem for the long haul, I corresponded with Greg for several years in the mid-1970s, and found him to be a consistently dedicated and generous guy. Many of us who joined the rockwriting game in the early '70s had been deep within our teen impressionability when the British Invasion hit, and then as The Sixties really started accelerating, it seemed like time went by too fast--there were too many groovy things going on at once to grab at all of them. That was a big impetus of the bargain-bin/garage-band rockwriting movement of the early '70s, to try to recapture and re-live the '60s, within an alternative history in which the Standells were rightfully recognized as superior to the counterculturally-correct Grateful Dead (as indeed they remain.)

Greg Shaw was at the heart of this movement in all his writing and collecting activities. He would often espouse his 10-year-cycle messianic theory of pop-music watersheds: Frank Sinatra and the bobby-soxer movement began in 1944, Elvis Presley and rock'n'roll in 1954, and the Beatles of course reached America in 1964, so Greg confidently expected a comparable pop upheaval around 1974, one that would vindicate all the '60s garage bands we'd unearthed, and make music overwhelmingly exciting again. And it came to pass (more or less) that punk began around that target year, and really did change the whole scene by the end of the decade--though the punk/new wave revolution didn't turn out to be quite as apocalyptic and thoroughgoing as Greg had eagerly predicted. The Ramones were brilliant in all the ways we critics had wanted, but the execrable Christopher Cross still sold many more records, at least temporarily.

Greg seemed more low-key in his promotion of the pop aesthetic after the 1970s ended, at least from my vantage point, and I sometimes wondered if MTV and all the nuttiness that followed had somehow taken the edge off his messianic pop hopes. But Greg's ideas and enthusiasm and generosity meant an infinite amount to all of us in the '70s, and I join in mourning his passing and in recalling him fondly.

In looking back through my folder of our letters now, I discovered that in August 1974, I traded Greg a Weasels album (a circa-'64 faux-Beatles cash-in-band LP he hadn't been able to find in California--I'd picked it up for 39 cents at a cutout sale in Cincinnati) for a copy of the November 1971 PRM, as it included Lester's "San Francisco on 2 Cents a Day" confessional, which I'd heard about and wanted to read. Both parties were happy with their end of the transaction.


-  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -


Heart Full of Soul
By Mark Boudreau

When I think back on all the accomplishments that Greg Shaw achieved in his lifetime, I choose not to focus on the record collector whose massive record collection is the stuff of legend. Nor do I focus on the writer who was responsible for the seminal Mojo Navigator Rock and Roll News, the essential Bomp! magazine or the countless liner notes, magazine articles, and contributions to various rock and roll literary anthologies scattered through the last couple of decades. I choose not to dwell on the rock and roll club promoter or band manager rocking countless nights away at the legendary L.A. Cavern Club. Finally, and probably most surprisingly, my overriding impression is not of the record label founder and main talent scout that created Bomp! Records out of a complete and total love of music and the innate desire to publicize and promote the music that he instinctively knew was great. Any one of these accomplishments is impressive enough on its own, but the fact that he did all of it is almost unbelievable to most of us.

To me though, the most impressive legacy of Greg Shaw was the inspiration that he gave to other people, often total strangers. In reading the numerous tributes far and wide on the Internet, it is astounding to see how many people Greg inspired to either start a band, buy a particular record, support a particular group, or be introduced to a new genre of music, be it garage rock, punk, power pop or some weird psychedelic drone rock hybrid that nobody else had heard of. He inspired all kinds of people to start record labels, rock and roll clubs, and fanzines to spread the good word that, yes, rock and roll is still alive and thriving all over the world in great local scenes, just bubbling under the mainstream and you should get up off your ass and go check it out for yourself. He encouraged music lovers to do something and not to just passively consume. When I e-mailed him and told him that I was inspired to start The Rock and Roll Report partially due to his "Revolution Now!" editorial on the Bomp! web site, he wrote back and expressed some concern that "the real problem is that people would rather be consumers than doers. Even those who say they want to help often don't have a clue how to actually do anything, without being shown step by step." Rock and roll is not, and should not be, a passive activity. We have to go out and create the music, write about it, promote it, and record it if it is to continue to flourish in the little nooks and crannies of our musical world. Greg did it and did it exceedingly well.

There is no reason why we cannot pick up the torch and carry on with his vision. Think global, rock locally, and make sure it sounds good loud would be as good a motto as any. I was never lucky enough to meet Greg Shaw personally but like many people who listened to the music on his record labels or read his inspiring words, I felt I knew him all my life, and I am thankful that he was there to shine a light on some incredible people and wonderful music. He will be dearly missed but his legacy will live on both at Bomp! and in the numerous record labels, fanzines, bands, and web sites that he so innocently inspired. Thanks for the music and the muse Greg, I think you and John Peel have a lot to talk about.


-  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -


A Whole Lotta Good Records (and More)
By Don Waller

Everybody knows about Greg Shaw's founding of Mojo Navigator News and Who Put The Bomp, which brought the world of fanzines from sci-fi to music and expanded the scope of rock music collectors from doo-wop, blues, and rockabilly to surf, girl groups, and "garage rock." (Bomp!'s British Invasion issue remains an indispensible resource AND who else would've dared to print Lester Bangs's legendary "James Taylor Marked For Death" screed? Surely no "commercial" publication, then or now.)

Less has been said about Greg's involvement with (the United Artists Records-backed) Phonograph Record Magazine, which gave many, many writers an opportunity to reach a national audience, notably Ken Barnes (now Pop Music Editor at USA Today), Gene Sculatti (noted for editing The Catalog Of Cool and Too Cool and now "Acting Managing Editor" at ICE), and the reclusive Mark Shipper (whose savage "Pipeline" column led to his parodic Beatles bio, Paperback Writer, and now writes a syndicated show-prep service for morning DJs). PRM's yearly issues that rounded up what was happening in various local scenes were also important sources of information in those halcyon (pre-Internet) daze as well.

And everybody knows that Bomp! was one of the first U.S. indie labels, which released--or distributed--a whole lotta good records: the Flamin' Groovies, the Weirdos, the Zeros, the Last, D.M.Z., the Plimsouls' "A Million Miles Away," Josie Cotton's "Johnny Are You Queer," and all that post-Raw Power Iggy Pop stuff, for openers. That the label and its Total Energy/Alive subsidiaries continue to put out worthwhile records--archival as well as current releases--is not-so-mute testimony to its original vision, too. And aside from Greg's ex-wife Suzy, Lisa Fancher of Frontier Records, among others, got her start in the record biz under the Bomp! incubator. Bomp!'s success also inspired a lot of other entrerprenurial types to start their own labels--many times, as in the case of the SST Records crew, 'cause they didn't like the terms of the deals they were offered--or fanzines, as everyone from Back Door Man founder Phast Phreddie Patterson on down will attest. (Even if us BDM staffers took every opportunity to take the piss out of Greg.)

Lotta people will tell you that Greg wasn't the fastest cat on the draw when he owed you money--and he wasn't the greatest guy to trade records or tapes with either--but it wasn't like he got rich off this stuff. All in all, he did far, far, FAR more good than bad--even if that infamous "power-pop" issue of Bomp! was incredibly divisive back in the day. And he died without owing me any money, so why would I say anything bad about him? (The simple fact that I wrote all this blah blah blah offa the top of my pointed little head without getting paid for it, tells you everything you need to know about the R-E-S-P-E-C-T that I have for what he accomplished in his sweet short life.) Sic transit gloria mundi--and the Duchess, her gorgeous sister...



-  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -


Gnostic Apocrypha
By Greil Marcus

I loved reading and writing for Greg Shaw's Who Put the Bomp. I waited desperately for each issue, which was hard to do, since you had no idea when one might appear. I remember one cover as if it appeared yesterday: a cartoon of two teenagers parked somewhere, the guy listening wide-eyed to a radio report of the Buddy Holly-Ritchie Valens-Big Bopper plane crash, the single word "Gosh!" coming out of his mouth while the girl tries to get his hand out from under her sweater.

But Mojo-Navigator was something else. It was strange, insular, spooky. It gave off just the slightest smell of danger. There was almost nowhere to read about rock & roll in 1966: movie magazines, sometimes, the radio station giveaway The Beat, in the Bay Area Ralph J. Gleason's daily columns in the San Francisco Chronicle. The first printed issues of Paul Williams' homemade Crawdaddy! were showing up on the west coast near the end of the year, but Greg Shaw's weird, smudgy, messianic little booklet made Crawdaddy! feel like Newsweek. Always the charismatic fan, Paul Williams nevertheless made rational arguments about, say, the Doors' "Light My Fire" versus the Yardbirds' "I'm a Man" or the greatness of Beach Boys Party! ("Music that is easy to relate to!"); Mojo-Navigator was all secret handshakes. That name--what did it mean? "Mojo," yes, "navigator," I guess, but what is mojo navigating, or who is navigating mojo, and do you know the way out of this cave? I'd still like to know what the "experimental jazz records" were that Greg named as the only analogue to the Doors' "The End"--prefacing an interview with the band, the entire band, that seemed to rest on the premise that after finishing the article the band itself would vanish into the air as if it had never been, and in a way it did. It's the only interview with the Doors I remember anything about, including their judgment on their first, at the time only, album: "Only a map of our music," when compared to every album after it The Doors was the territory itself.

As a rock & roll magazine Mojo-Navigator was gnostic apocrypha from a forgotten bible without a name. Behind every page there seemed to be a theory, an incantation disguised as a question: this music is a secret. It is born in secret and it makes itself public as a secret a few initiates can tell--and once they have told enough people that the music is no longer a secret, will it still be music at all? There wasn't a hint of an answer, just the affirmation of the irreducible thrill of hearing the secret before everybody else did, and the irresistible thrill of passing it on.

Bye, Greg.


-  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -


A Ray of Light
By Al Wagenaar

Every week I read the rock n roll obits, so to speak, and I have to admit that Greg Shaw's sudden passing has affected me more than any music related death in my lifetime. I'm 51, so that says a lot...I've lived thru the passing of Elvis, Lennon, Harrison etc.

Greg Shaw is virtually the bedrock for my current musical passions. As a child of the sixties I of course loved Top 40 radio. In the early seventies I followed along to the FM trend of prog and singer songwriters. It was a bit tedious to say the least. Then a ray of light...Greg Shaws column "Juke Box Jury" in the back of Creem...My god, he was gushing on about Big Star, the Raspberries, the Hollies and even Lobo!!! Later I picked up a 2 LP British Invasion Set, and the liner notes by Greg offered a sample British Invasion issue of Bomp! for $1.00. It took forever to read--there was so much cool info...I was hooked. From there I awaited each new issue.

Eventually Greg and I got to know each other. We traded 45s (he wanted those Fentons I could find while I lived in Michigan), I started to write a column for Goldmine (Greg cheered me on and gave great advice), even had a small article placed in Bomp! And each wave of passion that Greg expressed for the music carried me forward: Power Pop , '60s garage, surf, obscure 45s, punk, new wave...it was all so exciting, in a large part thanks to Greg. Finally met Greg at a Romantics concert in Detroit.

In the '80s we lost touch. I didnt see much of his writing and I moved on to other work. But the music passion burned on in me thanks to Greg's invaluable influence. I will miss Greg for sure, but in a way he will be with me for the rest of my life. I owe my music life to him.


-  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -


Links to Greg Shaw

  • Bomp web site: Home of Garage, Punk, and Psychedelic Music.
  • Excellent, comprehensive biography of Greg Shaw in PDF form.
  • Greg Shaw Message Board
  • Scram magazine interview with Greg Shaw, by Kim Cooper.
  • Black to Comm interview by Ken Shimamoto
  • Original issues of Mojo-Navigator, hosted in PDF form by Rockmine Archives.
  • Greg Shaw Remembers: An interview in Supersphere.com.
  • Revolution Now! A Bomp! editorial by Greg Shaw.
  • A History of Bomp!. (With some great cover scans of the original 'zine.)


    Also...

  • Power to the Pimple: Quotations from "Jukebox Jury," 1972 - 1974.
  • rockcritics.com's visual tribute to Bomp!'s new wave years.