Music News

Accidental Genius

Page 3 of 4

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.

In fact, Greg considered the late Stiv Bators' post-Dead Boys career as a Bomp! solo artist to be a perfect example of power-pop. (And if anyone's heard Stiv's Bomp!-released cover of the Choir's "It's Cold Outside," it's easy to understand why.) Perhaps this appreciation has something to do with the fact that Bators also provided the label with endless sources of amusement. He'd appear on L.A.'s KROQ and tell listeners to call the label for free records; he'd call various Bomp! employees' homes at 4 a.m. to make sure they were asleep; and he'd order them C.O.D. sets of Time-Life books and plumbing manuals (the latter of which Suzy admits to using). Yet they could never really stay mad at the charming punk power-popper for long. "This guy who used to work here," recalls longtime Bomp! employee Paul Grant, "once called us up, sounding broken, and told us: 'I just paid for Stiv's plane ticket and I don't know why!'"

Suzy and Greg's marriage died before the Bomp! record label was even born, although they "forgot" to get divorced until '78. Nevertheless, their odd partnership has remained unbreakable. They haven't spoken in five years (Greg works out of his home; Suzy in the company's Burbank warehouse) and communicate exclusively via fax. And yet their business relationship endures out of a respect for each other's role in the grand scheme of things. Greg has learned not to interfere with the business side; Suzy has never wanted to get involved in the creative side. "If I was arguing with Greg, saying, 'Wait a second, I don't think I like that record,' it would be chaos," she admits. For his part, Greg acknowledges that Suzy "pays the bills, gets the records made, collects the money, and sells everything. That's 90 percent of it. I do the creative side, but anyone can go out and say, 'Hey, that's a cool band.'"

According to former workmate Fancher: "If there was just Greg Shaw but no Suzy, there would be no Bomp!. Because she puts out all the fires that he starts. Greg's intelligence hovers around the 200 mark, but he has no people skills at all." But, of course, without Greg's passion for music, the company obviously wouldn't exist either. Fancher, the label's self-professed "prodigal daughter" (who has continued to return to the label for brief spells up through last year and who penned the liner notes to Straight Outta Burbank), says Greg "turned me on to pretty much every band that I've ever liked." Perhaps Dionysus' Joseph hits the mark best when he describes Greg and Suzy's continued pairing as "accidental genius."

When asked why she has stayed in the music business so long when she doesn't give a damn about music, Suzy takes a practical stand: "I've been doing it all my life and I'm good at it. What else am I going to do? Flip burgers? What are my other qualifications?" Actually, any company would be more than lucky to have her. "It's shocking the people she gets paid by -- people that nobody gets paid by," reveals an in-awe Fancher. Suzy's secret? "It's the cookies, man." Every Christmas, she bakes thousands of cookies in a dozen different varieties that Bomp! then ships to a list of all of its good business associates. "Believe me, nobody stiffs us in November!" she says, laughing.

"A lot of times, people who collect money don't get their calls taken. But I know these people, and they all take my calls because I'm nice to them," she continues. "I think that I've gotten further that way than I would with screaming and yelling, which is what most guys end up doing. Maybe it's better for someone who's more gentle -- a woman, perhaps -- to collect the money." And when charm and baked goods don't work? When dealing with one particularly delinquent client, Suzy explains that she "took a potato, put a label and stamp on it, and fixed a little note to the back that read, 'Please send money; we don't even have money for paper anymore.' I got paid the next day, because it made them laugh."

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Sabrina Kaleta