Giorgio Gomelsky passed away in New York January 13, 2016, at the age of 81.
He was a film maker, impresario, music manager, songwriter (as Oscar Rasputin) and record producer. Despite his tremendous impact and influence in the world of rock, the New York underground and countless lives his name is not familiar to many. His colorful biography follows a young swiss boy whose love of jazz and blues sent him hitchhiking his way around Europe at the age of 13, looking for ‘Jazz scenes’. As a young teenager he started writing reviews for an Italian jazz magazine and organizing jam sessions. He started a “jazz society” as an adolescents’ at a Benedictine monks’ school he attended and in 1953 on returning to Switzerland helped organize the first open-air jazz festival in Zurich.
He left for London in 1955 to begin filming performances by the jazz traditionalist Chris Barber at the Royal Festival Hall for Italian television and subsequently filmed the second National Jazz Festival in 1960 through his work with the National Jazz Federation. Eventually he moved to London and opened a club, Crawdaddys, where in 1963, he gave the Rolling Stones their first gig, and later the Yardbirds their first break. He made a ‘lost’ film of the Rolling Stones that predates their first record contract. Wouldn’t that be a find!
He managed the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds, eventually losing the Stones to Andrew Oldham in a backdoor deal with Brian Jones. In 1963 the Beatles came to see the Stones at Giorgio’s request at his club, Crawdaddys and the Beatles in turn, invited Giorgio and the Stones to their show 4 days later at the Royal Albert Hall. Gomelsky pitched the Beatles and Brian Epstein a film treatment that eventually became ‘A Hard Days Night’ though he never received credit for it. Years later Brian Epstein apologized and gave Giorgio’s new band, the Yardbirds, slots opening for the Beatles. Epstein had not realized that he should not have given Giorgio’s treatment of the film to the larger company who ended up making the film.
In 1966, Mr Golmelsky launched Marmalade Records, working with Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & The Trinity, Blossom Toes, John McLaughlin, and The Soft Machine. In the following years he went on to work with fringe rockers Henry Cow, Gong and Magma.
Moving to New York in 1978, his townhouse in Chelsea became a creative center and performance space for musicians like John Zorn, Bill Laswell, Richard Hell and the Bad Brains. In the 1980s, he produced “Tonka Wonka Mondays,” at Tramps which featured new and under appreciated jazz, rock, world music, and avant-garde artists. In the 80’s and 90’s he was part of the active and passionate, arty user group that supported the Amiga computer platform along with Andy Warhol, Chris Stein (Blondie) and John Holstrom (Punk Magazine). More recently he was involved in the “Rock in New York: The Sounds & The Stories,” evening of storytelling and music at Bowery Ballroom and interviewed important, underground, music insiders like John Sinclair, Marty Thau and Jim Fouratt.
On how he fell in love with New York and his NY years – from the NY Press – Interview by John Strausbaugh & George Tabb, published April 26th 2000:
“…after living in England for 15 years, where everybody is so hoity-toity and ‘Where are you from?’ You’re condemned according to your accent. Classified. I thought it’s really very populist here. So I did a lot of walking. I had to wait forever between lawyer meetings… I fell in love with the city. That’s how it happens. Just walking around. I remember I had Dutch clogs, wooden shoes, you know, and I ran them down till there was almost nothing left. Walked and walked and walked and walked and walked…It wasn’t long before he was involved in the local music scene, hanging at CBGB, where he started meeting musicians like Bill Laswell… And I walked and walked and found this place. Early ’78.”
It had been a fashion display outfit, with mannequins on low platforms that still line the walls. With Gomelsky now living on the third floor, it became a music center and unofficial rock club. Untold numbers of New York bands have rehearsed and recorded, performed and partied there over the years. In the 80s it was known as the Plugg Club, with a logo designed by Punk magazine’s John Holmstrom; as a launchpad for avantist-downtown-No Wave musics, it was a precursor to and incubator for later spaces like the Knitting Factory. The first Green Door parties were thrown there in the late 80s as an alternative to the club scene by a teenage rocker, Jesse Malin, who’d go on to found the band D Generation; the last Green Door party was just a month ago.
Laswell lived there for a time, and old friends like Nico and French prog-rock entrepreneur Jean Karakos (BYG, Celluloid Records) would sleep on the floor when visiting New York. For a while the ground floor was occupied by an s&m club called Paddles; a whole generation of New York rockers has fond memories of filing past customers who were being whipped and nipple-clamped as the musicians headed upstairs to meet with Giorgio and hatch some scheme like Wonka Tonka Mondays, the local band showcases Gomelsky used to organize at Tramps. To this day, you can’t go visit Giorgio when there’s not some young rock band or lone guitarist or drummer practicing down in the basement or in the dark, narrow ground-floor hall, which he rents out for rehearsals.
In 1978, Gomelsky produced the avant-rock Zu New Music Manifestival at the Entermedia Theater on 2nd Ave. “My idea was to take a sort of progressive European approach to music. The Magma approach, Gong, which people didn’t really know about here. My idea was to bring that here, and find what the avant-garde thing was here…
“I did the organizing in like three weeks flat… It was funny, when I went to meet the guys who run the theater, they had a room in a kind of apartment house next door. I’m playing them the Gong records. ‘Well, what do you want to do, boy?’ ‘This is the music I’m into.’ I’m trying to spiel them, you know. And the door opens and this face comes in and says, ‘Oh, I know this music! That’s Gong.’ It was Philip Glass. Philip had worked with Gong in Paris…
“I remember Christgau said he couldn’t come because it was during the World Series. I wanted the critics to do a forum and talk about music and rock ‘n’ roll. And he said, ‘Giorgio, you don’t understand. In October you won’t get me there.’ He came in the end, and he was a disaster.”…
– See whole article here.
from the NY Press – Interview by John Strausbaugh & George Tabb, published April 26th 2000
Another great tribute to Giorgio Gomelsky by Marc Campbell of the Nails here.