Music News

Accidental Genius

When Bomp! Records manufactured promo tee shirts a couple of years ago that proclaimed: "Bomp! The label that invented punk, garage, power-pop . . . and possibly everything else in the last 30 years," some people were pissed off by the bold claim. The label meant it as a joke, but the really funny thing is that others have indeed given the label credit, not completely undeservedly, for all those things throughout the years. Bomp!'s celebrating 25 years as a record label this month, but the saga really begins much earlier than that.

It all started with the chance meeting of founding partners Greg and Suzy Shaw in San Francisco more than 30 years ago. "I was a runaway," recalls Suzy, "and I met Greg when I was walking down the street and asked him for a quarter. The next thing you know, I'm in the music business." This is a woman who has never had any particular affection for music. (She actually holds some notoriety in certain circles for falling asleep at a Ramones concert during the '70s.) Greg only remembers: "When I met Suzy, she kinda liked the Beatles." But he has no idea if she still likes them -- or anyone else -- these days. If pressed to reveal what she thinks of a certain new product, she's been known to reply: "It's okay for music." Fittingly, a photo of a young Suzy with her fingers in her ears is imprinted on one of the CDs of the label's new anniversary compilation, Straight Outta Burbank, a double-disc collection that features material from the past five years; the label's previous anniversary compilation, Destination Bomp!, covered the first 20.

Greg, on the other hand, is the ultimate music fan. His record collection would take up the entire square footage of most people's homes. Beginning in 1966, when he was still in the Bay Area, he began what was possibly the world's first rock fanzine, Mojo Navigator, featuring the first interviews ever with the likes of the Grateful Dead, the Doors, and Janis Joplin. Aspiring rock critic Jann Wenner frequently showed up at the 'zine's collating parties, asking for Greg's advice. Wenner soon used that advice to start a little magazine called Rolling Stone.

Mojo Navigator folded in '68, and Greg and Suzy (who had since married) fled the Haight-Ashbury hippie scene for the wilds of Marin County, just outside San Francisco. It was there that Greg started Who Put the Bomp! magazine (named after the 1961 Barry Mann hit) in 1970, quickly attracting some of the era's best writers -- Greil Marcus, Dave Marsh, Ken Barnes, and the patron saint of all rock critics, the late Lester Bangs. It was at Greg's house, in fact, that Bangs wrote his famous 70-page essay on the Troggs, titled "James Taylor Marked for Death" (reprinted in the Bangs anthology book Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung) during a several-day speed and alcohol binge. "He had only heard 'Wild Thing' before that, so I played him all nine Troggs albums, and he went nuts," reveals Greg. Not surprisingly, Greg was the only person who would publish the piece at the time, believing that Who Put the Bomp! (later just Bomp!) magazine "was the one place where professional rock critics could write about the things they really loved."

In 1972, Greg and Suzy headed to Los Angeles after Greg accepted a job at U.A. Records, where he handled a variety of tasks, including publicity, A&R, compiling the label's Legendary Masters series of albums, and editing the label's in-house publication, P.R.M. (or Phonograph Record Magazine). He turned the new magazine into more of a consumer rather than a trade publication, and its circulation soon rivaled Rolling Stone. Lisa Fancher, a former Bomp! employee ('77 to '81) and owner of her own successful indie label, Frontier Records (which she founded in 1980), remembers P.R.M. fondly as "the greatest free magazine in the world." Many of the writers from Bomp! magazine (which continued publishing until March 1979) followed Greg to P.R.M., along with some new ones, including the Turtles' Flo & Eddie, soon-to-be Angry Samoan Metal Mike Saunders, and pioneering female rock critic Jaan Uhelzski. Throughout this time, Greg also freelanced for several other publications, including Creem and Rolling Stone, though he claims his five-year tenure as the singles columnist for Creem ended in 1974 when he was fired for refusing to name the Allman Brothers' "Ramblin' Man" his Record of the Year.

1974 was also the year that begat the Bomp! Records label. Although he was certainly busy enough already (in addition to his other duties, Greg had started working on projects for Sire Records, including the History of British Rock album series), Greg couldn't deny a request from the Flamin' Groovies (who were having no luck getting signed, despite their Dave Edmunds-produced demos) to put out their record. The band's single "You Tore Me Down" became Bomp!'s first release. Eventually, Greg would help get the Groovies, the Pretenders, Talking Heads, and Ramones all signed to Sire, although the label rejected his two other choices -- the Sex Pistols and Devo. (He also later sent R.E.M. out of his office and over to I.R.S. Records, because he felt they could do more for the band than he could with his limited funds.)