Book Review: Bomp! Saving The World One Record At A Time

“The point of a music revolution is not to replace today’s pop stars with a new slate; it is to kick out the jams! Riot in the streets! Do it now! Etc. It’s all about direct engagement, and the result of all that activity should be a better time for all, a party that will keep everyone coming back to do it some more. This is what rock & roll at its best can provide – leading to the idea that perhaps rock & roll itself should be seen not as a genre, not as a mere noun or even a verb, but also as a process.”

Greg Shaw

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Prophetic words from a man that embodied rock and roll, with all of its contradictions and complexities, pure and simple. I have actually quoted these words on this very blog before and it always gives me solace to read them in this day and age of niches and genres and sub-genres. That it was uttered by Greg Shaw, a poster boy for independent rock and roll if there ever was one makes it that much more poignant.

I can distinctly trace my introduction to rock and roll like it was yesterday. From my first pre-pubescent exposure to a live Beach Boys record in Grade 5 followed quickly thereafter by the hard rock blast of Cold Gin by KISS, what has stuck with me almost as much as the music has been those that have taught me along the way and introduced me to all kinds of amazing rock and roll. From KISS to the Rolling Stones, from Styx to Frank Zappa and from the Sex Pistols to Rush (niche-free even back then!), my desire and interest in not only listening to but reading about rock and roll grew in leaps and bounds.

As I look back at my musical journey through the rock and roll landscape, three people come to mind as being essential, not only to my enjoyment of rock and roll but to broadening my musical horizons: Keith Richards, Peter Buck and the incomparable Greg Shaw.

The first was Keith Richards. Ultra-cool and elegantly wasted, that was not what I found so fascinating about Keef. Here was a man living the rock and roll lifestyle to the hilt but would go on and on about guys named Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson and most of all Chuck Berry. He raved about records like The Harder They Come by Jimmy Cliff and record labels like Chess Records. Through him I discovered the blues and through him I began to understand not only rock’s roots but also to be more inclusive in the sounds that I let into my headphones.

Another huge influence was Peter Buck of R.E.M. Part-guitar player, part-rock and roll historian and record collector, Buck showed me that in the era of Journey and the Eagles there existed such little known (at least to my ears) bands like Husker Du and the Minutemen. His fanatic record collecting and embrace of almost every band and guitar player within 2000 miles of Athens, Georgia was inspiring because he cared as much for the feel and passion of the musicians as the music itself. It was through Peter Buck that I discovered the nascent “alternative/indie rock” movement and it was through following up on his suggestions out of some long-lost magazine that I discovered Bomp! Records and Greg Shaw for the first time.

greg-shaw-at-mimeograph.jpgGreg Shaw’s passion for rock and roll was legendary, especially when held against the examples of this day’s processed cheese, American Idol crap that attempts to pass for music. Co-creator and creator of the seminal Mojo Navigator Rock & Roll News and Who Put the Bomp magazines, chronicler of both 60’s rock and roll bands like the Doors and Grateful Dead in addition to garage rock originals like the Seeds and the Standells as well as the punk rock heyday of the Ramones, Sex Pistols and Iggy Pop. Arguably the inventor of the genre called Power-Pop which Greg described as a “hybrid style with the power and guts of punk, but drawing on a pop song tradition with wide popular appeal.” The man responsible for probably one of the greatest, true independent record labels in Bomp! Owner of the legendary Bomp Records store and mail order company (still ably run by Suzy Shaw for all these years) in LA, promoter and instigator of the original garage-rock revival through his Voxx record label and Cavern Club rock club. Compiler of obscure ‘60s garage bands in his voluminous Pebbles series and numerous other cool compilations, the man lived and breathed rock and roll to an extent few can comprehend and now you can get a sense of that passion with the publication of the brand new book Bomp! Saving The World One Record At A Time by Suzy Shaw and Mick Farren.

Bomp! is an incredible read because it brings out the passion that rock and roll can instill in, not only Greg Shaw but his ex-wife and long time business partner Suzy Shaw and writers like the legendary Lester Bangs and Greil Marcus. Featuring priceless original reproductions from the pages of both Mojo Navigator (which predated Rolling Stone by a year) to Who Put The Bomp and interspersed with essays from those who worked closely with Shaw, the enthusiasm contained in these pages is infectious. While some may bemoan the era covered by the majority of this book as rock’s “Golden Age” I would have to beg to differ. In some ways, this age of blogs, podcasts and MySpace are breathing much needed fresh air into rock and roll and allowing widely dispersed groups of music fans the opportunity to share in, discover and converse about the music that turns their crank, much the way fanzines functioned in Greg’s day.

While we have moved light-years beyond the simple, $100.00 mimeograph machine that Greg put to such good, though some may argue subversive use, I still pick up that passion that is evidenced in the pages of this book today through the multitude of blogs and podcasts that I currently subscribe to and I have no doubt that rock and roll continues to be kept in good stead. One of the coolest things I can recall is getting a response to an email I sent to Greg in which I explained how his Mojo Navigator and Bomp! record label acted as a direct inspiration for The Rock and Roll Report. He responded to my surprise with some very kind words about the blog and some sage words of advice and encouragement.

Music by necessity has to operate in a capitalist economy and money does indeed make the world go round but money is only necessary for the functioning of the support system that rock and roll needs to operate within, it is not the driving motivation for creating the music. Greg understood that the best rock and roll could only be created by those so passionate about what they are doing that they are willing to create for the sake of creating and if commercial success happens to hit than so much the better. This vision still survives at the heart of Bomp! and Alive Natural Sound Records today as it does in the countless independent record labels that exist today throughout the world, the problem is just getting access to them and Greg just wanted to get the word out about all this incredible music that he knew not enough people were championing.

“I know how to find good music that isn’t getting any exposure, and I can give it a little bit of exposure, and that gives me more pleasure and satisfaction than anything else I can think of doing. I’ve always felt that way since I was 15 or 16; it’s never really deviated.”

who-put-the-bomp.jpgGreg Shaw was a man with a mission and probably his reach at times exceeded his grasp but that was what was so impressive about the man. His single-minded desire to turn on as many people to the music he championed through his multitude of rock and roll ventures should be a lesson to those of us who might feel frustrated and fed up with the current state of the music biz. Flipping through the pages of Bomp! Saving The World One Record At A Time should give any music fan reason for hope as Greg Shaw proved time and time again that not only could one man influence others to experience what we haphazardly today refer to as “alternative or indie” music but one man could still inspire others to carry the torch and investigate the hidden nooks and crannies that are suddenly present before their eyes and ears. Rock and Roll isn’t rocket science, it doesn’t require a university degree to comprehend or enjoy, it merely requires open ears and the desire to experiment, preferably guided by an enthusiastic and passionate guide. Greg Shaw was just such a guide. While he may be gone, his legacy lives on in the hearts of the hundreds if not thousands of bands, label execs, indie label owners, radio and podcast hosts, writers, bloggers and music fans that heeded his call to listen to something which was perhaps just a bit different and certainly not mainstream but most definitively rock and roll.

This book is a wonderfully refreshing read. It is low tech in this high tech world yet the message then as now remains the same. Great music continues to be made no matter what the era. Bomp! with Greg Shaw at the helm was a rock and roll prophet with impeccable if eclectic tastes and an insatiable desire to document what he thought was the true spirit of rock and roll. Bomp! Saving The World One Record At A Time amply documents the mind of a fervent rock and roll disciple and it truly is required rock and roll reading.

Bomp! and Greg Shaw are perfect illustrations that the music biz is not populated merely by assholes who cater merely to the bottom line but by passionate exponents of the art and artistry that continues to percolate on the fringes of the music industry today. For that we should all give thanks. I know that I do. Thanks Greg for the inspiration, the sounds and the words. You were indeed one of a kind.

For more info on Bomp! Records and Bomp! Saving The World One Record At A Time check out these links:

http://www.bomp.com/
http://www.myspace.com/bomprecords
http://www.myspace.com/bompbook

(All photos courtesy of Bomp!)

Later.

Mark

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