Greg Shaw, 55; Rock Entrepreneur Was a Champion of Renegade Artists

By Richard Cromelin
(reprinted without permission)

Greg Shaw, a music entrepreneur whose passion for raw, spirited rock made him a pioneer in the independent record-label field and a prophet of the current “garage rock” resurgence, died of heart failure Tuesday in Los Angeles, his record company announced. He was 55.

“He was an extraordinarily important individual in the history of rock ‘n’ roll,” Steven Van Zandt, lead guitarist in Bruce Springsteen’s band and the host of the syndicated radio show “Little Steven’s Underground Garage,” said Friday. “He was literally responsible for the contemporary garage-rock movement, which he single-handedly started with the Bomp! label.”

As a journalist and record label head, Shaw always championed renegade artists regarded as too unruly for mainstream packaging. The Stooges, the Germs and Sky Saxon were among the acts he recorded.

But over the years his turf encompassed a wide stylistic range, from rockabilly to such ’60s-rooted sources as mod, girl groups, garage rock, surf music, psychedelia and power pop.

He founded Bomp! Records in 1974 to release a single by the San Francisco band the Flamin’ Groovies. Shaw’s real passion at the time was a brand of ’60s rock heavy on attitude and attack, the kind of music most famously compiled by writer-musician Lenny Kaye on the 1972 album “Nuggets,” two LPs full of cult classics by the 13th Floor Elevators, the Blues Magoos and others.

Shaw called the music “punk,” but when that term was appropriated by a whole new genre, Shaw dubbed it “garage rock,” a reference to the classic location for teenage band practices.

Shaw’s dissemination of the music helped turn it from ephemera into scripture, keeping it alive during years of mainstream indifference. In the last few years, young disciples such as the White Stripes, the Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have become upstart bestsellers, finally bringing the marginalized sound to the top of the charts.

Shaw was born in San Francisco and started collecting records in the late 1950s, eventually accumulating a trove of more than 1 million recordings. He immersed himself in the city’s fabled mid-’60s rock scene and started Mojo-Navigator Rock & Roll News, a magazine that predated Rolling Stone and featured such estimable critics as Lester Bangs, Greil Marcus and Dave Marsh.

In the early 1970s he started a fanzine called Who Put the Bomp, then moved to Los Angeles, where he wrote for several rock publications and worked for United Artists Records.

When the Flamin’ Groovies signed with Sire Records, Shaw became their manager and accompanied them to England, where, he said, he was the first American to see the Sex Pistols perform. A connoisseur of nascent music scenes, he also spent time in New York in the mid-’70s.

Bomp! continued to release singles from the Wackers, the Poppees, Willie Alexander and other regional acts, and covered the thriving L.A. scene by recording the Weirdos, 20/20, Devo and others. The label also became an advocate for such forceful “power pop” acts as the Plimsouls and the Shoes, and issued an influential series of archival garage-rock compilations called “Pebbles.”

Shaw always hoped that Bomp! could forge an alliance with a major label, but he said the large companies always wanted too much creative control. He folded Bomp! in 1979 and established a new label, Voxx, as a purist, low-budget home for ’60s garage-style bands, including the Crawdaddys, the Fuzztones, the Lyres and the Pandoras. Shaw gave the music a live platform for a time by opening a Hollywood showroom called the Cavern Club.

He revived Bomp! in the late 1980s, and in recent years the label has worked with a new generation of garage-rock bands, including the Brian Jonestown Massacre and the Warlocks.

“We were in touch as recently as last week talking about his new bands, so he never stopped,” said Van Zandt, who is also executive producer of the “Underground Garage” channel on Sirius Satellite Radio. “He was a real hero to me personally, and an extraordinarily important individual in the history of rock ‘n’ roll.”

Shaw, who had health problems in recent years and received a pancreas/kidney transplant in 1999, is survived by his wife, Phoebe; a son, Tristan; and a brother, Robbie.