A long time ago, in a
pre-Internet universe far, far away, fanzine pioneer Greg Shaw laid out the
blueprint for today’s music fanatics.
BY REV. KEITH A. GORDON
OK, listen up kiddies! Back in the dark days before the electron-pushers
moved all the even remotely interesting content to websites and blogs, we old
folks used to have something known as a “fanzine,” kind of like a
magazine but usually published by an individual or small group of friends.
Grandpa won’t bore you all with the lengthy history of these “zines,”
as we called ’em, but they began circulating back in the 1930s among
science-fiction fans, and were instrumental in underwriting the homegrown,
hardcore punk rock movement of the ’80s once photocopying technology made the
damn things ubiquitous.
One of, if not the first, music zine publishers was an elfin
rock ‘n’ roll fanatic by the name of Greg Shaw. A rabid record collector, and a
pretty darn good writer for somebody that considered himself an amateur, Shaw
brought an insight to his work honed by thousands of hours listening to the right kind of music – ’60s-era
garage-rock, three-chord punk (think The Seeds, not the Sex Pistols), British
Invasion bands, classic soul, and R&B.
Shaw was also nothing if not a prolific publisher of various
zines, and little was beyond his bourgeoning publishing empire and seemingly
pathological need to put some words in print (an obsession shared by many of us
of a similar bent). A familiar figure among science-fiction circles, one of
Shaw’s earliest publishing efforts was a Lord
Of The Rings fanzine, and by the time that he graduated high school he had
cranked out over 200 issues of various zines on the trusty mimeograph machine he
had bought for just that purpose.
In 1966, however, influenced by the exploding San Francisco Bay area music scene, Shaw began
publishing the zine that would arguably launch this entire “music
journalism” thing. Mojo-Navigator
Rock & Roll News began as a mere two-page mimeographed gossip rag, but
quickly grew into a respectable full-color tabloid. Mojo-Navigator served a valuable purpose, documenting a vital music
scene and writing the rules for music criticism.
Shaw’s friend Jann Wenner would “borrow” heavily in
style and substance from Mojo-Navigator when launching Rolling Stone magazine
in 1967, and all sorts of out-of-the-mainstream music rags like Creem, Rock Magazine, and others would follow shortly. Meanwhile, Shaw
pulled the plug on Mojo-Navigator after a couple of years when it became too big to manage, but this was really
just the first step towards creating what would become the writer and
publisher’s lasting legacy – Bomp! magazine.
All of this, of course, is merely back story, a way of
letting you young ‘uns know that something IMPORTANT and EXCITING was happening long
before your dag-nabbed Internet, and the Jonas Brothers reaching puberty, and
all that Perez Hilton-approved rubbish. Greg Shaw moved from SF to LA and
around 1970 or so, and with that familiar itch rising up again like the black
cat moan that it is, he began publishing a new mimeo zine called Who Put The Bomp.
By this time, mind you, Shaw had become an in-demand
rockcrit writing for esteemed publications like Creem and Fusion and
others, as well as editing the beloved corporate music zine Phonograph Record Magazine, which was
published under the aegis, and with the checkbook of, United Artists Records
(yes, sometimes major record labels have gotten it right). Shaw still managed
to publish two or three issues of Who Put
The Bomp annually during the early-70s, featuring writers like Ken Barnes
and the legendary Lester Bangs.
Who Put The Bomp evolved into Bomp! and grew, albeit
slowly, throughout the 1970s until it became a full-fledged music magazine on
the newsstand alongside relative latecomers like Trouser Press. Exhibiting Shaw’s record-collecting interests, Bomp! often included full discographies
alongside artist interviews and album reviews, and the one-time fanzine spun
off a record label and a successful mail order business, both of which still
maintain a healthy existence today.
As for the magazine itself, it became a victim of its own
success, growing too large and popular and outgrowing Shaw’s fanzine roots, so
he pulled the plug on it in 1979. It was a wild ride while it lasted, however,
and for those of us who were loyal readers, much of what we knew of British
punk, new wave, American power-pop, 1960s garage-rock, and lots of other music
came from the pages of Bomp!.
All of which brings us around to the fine tome Bomp! 2 – Born In The Garage (Bomp!/Ugly
Things Publishing; www.bomp.com), the second
collection of material culled from Greg Shaw’s many publications. The first
volume, Bomp! Saving The World One Record
At A Time, was published in 2007, edited by Mick Farren and overseen by
Shaw’s ex-wife Suzy. A beautiful hardback collection, it included reproductions
of pages from Mojo-Navigator Rock &
Roll News and Who Put The Bomp mixed in with a lot of photos and commentary and such, all laid out rather
artfully edgy, a design befitting a coffee table book meant to be seen and
admired, but seldom read.
For Bomp! 2, Suzy
Shaw has enlisted the help of editor Mike Stax, publisher of the obviously Bomp!-influenced music zine Ugly Things. The differences between
this second, paperback collection and the abovementioned hardback tome are like
those between a favorite indie-label rock album and a slick, overproduced major
label release. Befitting its garage-rock roots, the pages of Bomp! 2 are untarnished by artifice and
pretension, instead presenting pages and articles from Shaw’s various zines in
all their lo-fi glory! This is a book meant to be pored over, read and re-read
until the wheels fall off.
The core of the book is, naturally, bits and pieces of
issues of Who Put The Bomp and the
wealth of material that Shaw published during the zine’s tenure. Guided by the
acronym “R.I.A.W.O.L.” (rock is a way of life), Shaw offered
commentary on favored bands, often assisted by readers like future Patti Smith
Band guitarist and rock historian Lenny Kaye, and many others. Bomp! 2 also includes segments of zines
like Shaw’s personalized Karnis Bottle’s
Metanoia and zines within zines like Liquid
Love and Alligator Wine.
The importance of Bomp! was in its early, prescient musical coverage of artists now considered as
important touchstones in the evolution of rock music. Shaw was the consummate
fan, and his writing brims over with enthusiasm, while long-time contributor
Ken Barnes offers a perspective and insight in his contributions that is too often
missing from his more recent work for the USA
Folks like Dave Marsh, Nick Tosches, Greil Marcus, Richard
Meltzer, and Lester Bangs – the first generation of honest-to-god rock critics
– often wrote interesting and sometimes lengthy letters that appeared in the
zine’s “Feedback” section, while articles like “Ahead of his
Time: Gene Vincent’s Influence in Rock & Roll” and “The British
Invasion,” featuring bands like the Pretty Things, the Dave Clark Five,
and the Nashville Teens, helped readers get a handle on the music in this
As the fanzine evolved into a bona-fide music magazine, Who Put The Bomp expanded its coverage
of bands like the Kinks, the Standells, Sky Saxon & the Seeds, the
Easybeats, the Flamin’ Groovies (who Shaw briefly managed during this time),
and many others, all of which can be found in Bomp! 2. Articles providing comprehensive overviews of
city-specific “scenes” in places like San Francisco, Chicago,
Detroit, and Boston not only offered invaluable glimpses into young local bands
(many of which would go “national”), but were also accompanied by
lengthy discographies. Surf music (Dick Dale, etc), “Girl Groups”
(The Shangri-Las), power-pop (Dwight Twilley), even Abba and Mexican punk music
were all grist for Shaw and company’s diverse and far-reaching musical tastes.
The many bands covered by the publication are timeless, and
Greg Shaw’s biggest strengths were his recognition of talents that were often
unheralded at the time, and his unyielding belief in the music. Shaw was never
trying to sell ads on his blog, nor was he angling for an appearance on a
reality TV show. He never lost sight of the music he revered, collected, and
fretted over for decades. This unbridled passion infects both his writing and
that of his contributors through the years which, freed from the expectations
of their journalistic “day jobs” at typical music magazines and
newspapers, allowed them to pursue their own musical passions in Bomp!
Bottom line: if you care a whit about rock ‘n’ roll music
prior to 1980, Bomp! 2 belongs on
your bookshelf. This is vital, exciting music writing for the rock ‘n’ roll fan
in all of us, and hopefully a modest success for Bomp! 2 will lead to the publication of a third book offering more
great stuff from the Greg Shaw archives.
Note: A word should be
said about Suzy Shaw, Greg’s ex-wife and long-time friend and the person
responsible for keeping the Bomp! legacy alive. Suzy took the reins of Greg’s
early record mail order business when he lost interest in the late-‘60s, and it
has been her commitment and business sense that supported the magazine, and
kept the Bomp! family of record labels and the accompanying mail order business
going strong all these years. If not for Ms. Shaw, Bomp! zine might have been
lost to the ages. Thanks, Suzy!