Accidental Genius

Bomp! Records celebrates 25 years of personal and creative craziness

Casablanca -- the home of KISS and Donna Summer -- was the closest thing to an indie label at the time, but over the next 25 years, approximately 500 artists would somehow get tangled up with Bomp! and its family of labels (Voxx, Alive, Total Energy) by either recording for them, appearing on various compilations, licensing old material to the labels, or simply seeking Bomp!'s help with distribution. Among them: Iggy Pop, Spacemen 3, the Weirdos, Devo, Stiv Bators, 20/20, the Brian Jonestown Massacre, Bobby Fuller, Ray Campi, the Germs, Redd Kross, the Fuzztones, DMZ, the Dead Boys, Beachwood Sparks, the Plimsouls, the MC5, the Romantics, Josie Cotton, the Pandoras, the Flesheaters, Tell-tale Hearts, the Dwarves, the Streetwalkin' Cheetahs, the Barracudas, Kim Fowley, the Modern Lovers, the Shoes, the Dils, the Zeros, Tav Falco, the Lazy Cowgirls, U.S. Bombs, and Davie Allan. And that's just the proverbial tip.

In addition to the label, magazine, distribution company and mail-order company (which Suzy began running in 1971 to sell hard-to-find records to collectors), Greg and Suzy eventually opened a Bomp! record store. Greg even made brief jaunts into the worlds of nightclubs (the garage revival-scene hangout the Cavern Club, which attracted several national news crews, including ABC-TV's 20/20, during its 1985 to '86 heyday) and band management (the Flamin' Groovies, the Dickies). Only the label and the mail-order business remain in 1999, but all the ventures -- no matter how brief or disastrous -- seemed to give the couple peculiar insight into how the music business works and how to survive in it. They've never grown rich doing it -- unlike most of the indies that followed in their wake, they've never joined forces with any of the major labels -- but they've endured longer than any independent rock label in the country.

Bomp! co-founder Greg Shaw: Responsible for inventing punk, garage and power pop?
Wild Don Lewis
Bomp! co-founder Greg Shaw: Responsible for inventing punk, garage and power pop?
Greg Shaw: "I've always viewed myself as a developer of scenes. I don't really look for isolated bands."
Wild Don Lewis
Greg Shaw: "I've always viewed myself as a developer of scenes. I don't really look for isolated bands."

I've always viewed myself as a developer of scenes. I don't really look for isolated bands. I look for a movement that I think is going in the right direction, and then I put my energy behind it.

-- Greg Shaw

After recording punk bands -- like the Weirdos, the Germs, and Devo -- that no other label would touch at the time, Greg and Suzy opened the Bomp! retail store in 1977. It was pretty much the only L.A. store where fans could buy punk records. Weekly in-store appearances by the likes of the Damned, Blondie, Cheap Trick, the Dead Boys, Eddie and the Hot Rods, Devo, and the Weirdos made it "a gathering place for everybody who was into this scene," recalls Greg. Future cult icons Kid Congo Powers (the Cramps, Gun Club) and the late Jeffrey Lee Pierce (Gun Club) worked at the store. (Suzy recalls that Pierce was a terror. "I'd go into the back of the store and ask him to turn down the music, and he'd scream, 'Fuck you, bitch.'") When other record stores started carrying punk records, the couple felt they had served their purpose, and since the Bomp! store never made any money at all, it was closed after a year.

Lee Joseph, president of L.A.'s Dionysus Records (which he launched with the help of Bomp!'s line of credit), says, "Greg will refute this, [but] he invented the term 'punk rock.' He claims that some record collectors were using the term in the early '70s to describe '60s garage bands like the Standells. But Bomp! magazine ran a feature article on regional punk bands in 1972. So others maybe used the term before, but he was the first to print it."

Ironically, many music fans view Greg as a sort of Mr. '60s, thanks to his endless series of Pebbles compilations featuring '60s garage obscurities that he's been putting out since 1979. But Greg says he simply viewed many of the later punk bands as a natural progression from the earlier garage scene. In the wake of the Pebbles series (originally planned as a Sire one-off project titled Nuggets 2, a sequel to Lenny Kaye's 1972 seminal garage compilation), many labels started popping up to mine the vaults. "If it wasn't for Greg Shaw, there wouldn't be a Dionysus, there wouldn't be a Crypt, there wouldn't be a Norton," claims Joseph. "The whole '60s garage thing that won't die really traces itself back to Greg's research, even more than to Lenny Kaye's."

In an article titled "The Scorn Papers," Lester Bangs listed Greg Shaw as one of the possible inventors of punk rock, but definitely the inventor of a thing called power-pop. In fact, a feature on power-pop graced the cover of Bomp! magazine in 1978. But, again, Shaw issues a denial: "I don't claim credit for the term. In the magazine itself, we credited Pete Townshend with introducing the term. I will say that I was the first one to try to popularize it at the time."

Unfortunately, the move got him crucified in the punk community. Many thought Greg had wimped out, especially after scores of God-awful skinny-tie bands on the Sunset Strip adopted the term and tried to infiltrate the airwaves. Greg says he was never talking about those bands. He saw the form as "a hybrid style with the power and guts of punk, but drawing on pop songcraft." Yes, he considers 20/20 and the Shoes to be power-pop, but the Sex Pistols fit his description as well.

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