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Not Like Everybody Else

Greg Shaw

By Bret McCabe | Posted 12/29/2004

It’s too easy to come away from Ondi Timoner’s 2004 documentary DiG! thinking Greg Shaw was just another Los Angeles music-industry businessman. After some of Brian Jonestown Massacre force-of-nature Anton Newcombe’s temper tantrums, Shaw, the owner of the Bomp Records imprint that released BJM’s 1995 Methodrone debut, grows more and more fed up with the bandleader, and eventually verbally backhands Newcombe to the camera with, “He’s more than just a jerk.”

It’s exactly the sort of thing you expect to hear from a label honcho who views his artist as just another investment biting the hand that feeds. But what DiG! doesn’t say is that Shaw was one of the very, very few people in the industry, independent or otherwise, who supported Newcombe through BJM’s careening ups and downs, no matter what. What DiG! doesn’t say is that Shaw, who died of heart failure Oct. 19 at 55, was doing what he’s always tirelessly done since the mid-1960s: helping obscure bands make obscure music simply because he was down with the sound.

Editor, writer, label owner, promoter, club owner, band manager, rock historian, graphic designer, and above all enthusiast, Greg Shaw didn’t invent the fanzine, but if any one person shaped the attitude that became the rock magazine/fanzine journalism that emerged in the late 1960s and flowered through the ’70s and ’80s (and, eventually, every rockwriting blog out there), Shaw was that guy. Born in San Francisco in 1949, a young Shaw discovered fandom in science fiction and 45s, but he met his future as the 17-year-old co-creator (with David Harris) of the Mojo-Navigator Rock and Roll News.

The Aug. 8, 1966, debut issue was but a two-page free mimeograph full of everything that would come to define the music rag: an announcement of an upcoming Howlin’ Wolf appearance and albums from Jefferson Airplane and Country Joe and the Fish, a blurb about Bob Dylan’s career-sidelining motorcycle accident, record reviews. Shaw himself penned a lengthy piece about a singularly strange and unique radio announcer from XERB radio in Chula Vista, Calif., who went by the handle Wolfman Jack.

The Mojo-Navigator only lasted another 12 issues and one year (No. 13 dates August 1967, and is a 38-page booklet of record reviews, an interview with the Doors, and ads), but Shaw had discovered his place. He was the West Coast editor for Creem and contributor to just about every other rock-writing outlet, and in 1970 he started his next publication, Who Put the Bomp, later shortened to Bomp.

A 1972 job offer at United Artists (as ’70s music mover/shaker Marty Cerf’s assistant) sparked a move to Los Angeles, where Bomp grew into a full-fledged magazine—Shaw published Lester Bangs’ immortal Troggs fume “James Taylor Marked for Death”; a 1975 Kim Fowley-sponsored Bomp contest resulted in the Runaways—and Shaw became an ubiquitous music presence for the next 30 years. He used his UA gig to midwife Lenny Kaye’s 1960s obscurities-glorifying Nuggets compilation, an archeological enterprise Shaw eventually continued with his endless Pebbles and Highs in the Mid-Sixties series. And in 1974 he met the Flamin’ Groovies Cyril Jordan, who shared some unreleased sessions that included the song “You Tore Me Down,” the first release on the Bomp Records imprint. Eventually, Bomp ceased publication and Shaw turned his energies to the label, turning out singles and LPs from the Weirdos, the Germs, the Zeros, Devo, Iggy Pop (his solo debut, Kill City), the Modern Lovers, Stiv Bators, the Plimsouls, and Spaceman 3.

Shaw’s career started in rock’s fecund late ’60s and survived bloated ’70s rock, punk, power pop, new wave, and on into the ’90s garage-rock revival that revered the 1960s (an idolatry that Shaw helped stoke). And the defining rudder through it all was Shaw’s fearless taste to like what he liked: He got ecstatic over the pure pop of the Rasberries and Gary Glitter as quickly as the gritty thrust of the Standells or the Pandoras. All that mattered is that it had a vibe that did something for him. Greg Shaw probably forgot more intoxicatingly alive rock ’n’ roll than most of us will ever know, and somewhere right now he and John Peel are making a mix-tape for which any sane man would gladly relinquish a testicle.

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