Gudinski – The Godfather of Australian Rock’ n’ Roll

Michael Gudinski is an epic icon of Australian music culture, if you have been to concerts in Australia over the last forty years you have probably heard his name. Gudinski – The Godfather of Australian Rock’ n’ Roll by Stuart Coupe is a biography that looks into the real man and also gives us a backstage pass to forty years of Australian music history. Gudinski – The Godfather of Australian Rock’ n’ Roll is out now from the fine folks at Hachette Australia, it is available in paperback or e-book HERE or you can track it down from most bookstores. Enjoy Kernel Fi’s fine review……..all the best……..JK.

 

Gudinski - The Godfather of Australian Rock' N' Roll Cover Image
Gudinski – The Godfather of Australian Rock’ N’ Roll | Stuart Coupe | Salty Popcorn Book Review | Cover Image

 

BY FIONA FYFE

There is no question that Michael Gudinski, the son of Russian Jews and  an entertainment mogul, is the most powerful figure in the Australian rock n’ roll music industry. Gudinski’s Frontier Touring Company has toured The Rolling Stones, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen and Taylor Swift to name just a few. He has also promoted the careers of Jimmy Barnes, Kylie and Paul Kelly. His name is synonymous with most well-known Australian artists and over the last forty years, he has discovered and nurtured a myriad of bands.

Stuart Coupe is a music journalist and one time band manager who now runs his own record label – Laughing Outlaw Records. In this book he takes us from Gudinski’s enterprising early life in Melbourne on a journey through a huge range of business interests within recording circles, record companies and eventually the movies. Along the way readers are given an up close and personal look at the excesses of celebrity.

Starting his foray into the music industry by selling watermelons at the 1972 Sunbury Music Festival may have been an inglorious start, but Michael Gudinski’s uncanny business acumen soon led him to form Mushroom Records. Originally backed by Festival Records, Festival was owned by Rupert Murdoch who had purchased it from LJ Hooker the real estate success, in 1961. With Gudinski’s careful knack for honing in on anything that smelt remotely like a sure thing, he started managing the careers of Renee Geyer and The Skyhooks.

Coupe regales the difficult relationship that existed for years between Skyhooks’ Red Symons and Gudinski with Red initially strongly opposed to having him as their manager. With some typical Gudinski coercion and a reasonable working relationship with lead singer Graeme “Shirley” Strachan, Mushroom managed to hold onto its contract with the band and Skyhooks gained Mushroom a firm foothold in the Australian music scene.

 

michael gudinski poster boy image
Gudinski – The Godfather of Australian Rock’ N’ Roll | Stuart Coupe | Salty Popcorn Book Review | Image Courtesy of: ABC.Net Poster Boy. Michael Gudinski on the job (David Cairn)

 

Gudinski was at this time only twenty two years old. The Rolling Stone (Australian edition) magazine described him as “the hottest Mr Ten Percent in the rock business.” His star continued to rise despite the disintegration of the Skyhooks and a growing resentment between the band and Mushroom. Gudinski quickly turned his attentions to other up and coming artists and launched his way into international concert promoting. This included forays into promoting AC/DC and a string of other notables. After a few minor disasters with bands such as Blondie, Gudinski’s original set up went into liquidation. Never one to be discouraged by set-backs, Gudinski, along with a bunch of new partners, set up the Frontier Touring Company.

Gudinski’s next project was Split Enz. At the start of their attack on Australian music, they were considered overly avant-garde with way too much make-up. Gudinski would help to turn public perceptions in their favour but ultimately his relationship with these punkish “weirdos” soured. Meanwhile the band split up with Tim Finn going solo and Neil Finn forming Crowded House.

In 1984 Gudinski discovered a new play thing in Jimmy Barnes. Barnes and Gudinski and their respective families were to become close friends. Paul Kelly was also on the up and soon to find themselves in the Gudinski camp were Hunters & Collectors and The Models. What Gudinski did and still does exceedingly well is spot great rock talent. Apart from Kylie, he has never been particularly tuned in to other vibes such as pop or the later grunge and indie movements. However, despite his flair for identifying a dead cert rock success story, even Gudinski has made some glaring mistakes; his most notable being Cold Chisel. Failing to recognise their ultimate potential he was gutted when they went on to become a roaring success with alternative management. Determined to learn from his mistakes, he made sure he didn’t miss the boat a second time when they later reformed.

How could a man as business savvy and so passionate about Rock have let Chisel slip through his fingers? It certainly seems to be the case that Michael likes to have his fingers in an endless number of pies and has spent a countless amount of time partying the night away with one celebrity or another. Maybe he was over committed to other ventures or maybe he just missed the vibe on that occasion?

I can recall living in a share house in Bellevue Hill back in my late teens while studying at Uni. A friend of mine had promised he could line up a band for my flatmate and I for an upcoming housewarming party. I was assured that the band, who were just starting out and a few of them recent students themselves, were on the cusp of stardom. The sound of some virtual unknowns who were calling themselves The Whitlams seemed like a lame option as compared to a bunch of techno cds and so I declined the offer. While I lived to regret that decision, at least there was no money riding on that choice. In Gudinski’s case, oodles of cash have been lost over the years with some poor choices, bad risks and bad luck.

 

 Image Courtesy of: SMH - Michael Gudinski at the 40 years of Mushroom exhibition. Photo: Eddie Jim
Gudinski – The Godfather of Australian Rock’ N’ Roll | Stuart Coupe | Salty Popcorn Book Review | Image Courtesy of: SMH – Michael Gudinski at the 40 years of Mushroom exhibition. Photo: Eddie Jim

 

Undoubtedly Stuart Coupe knows his stuff when it comes to the music industry and his writing style is upbeat and engaging but the amount of times throughout this book that he posed the question “what’s not to like?” became irritating. Perhaps this is the result of lazy editing of one of Coupe’s favourite catch-phrases? The repetition aside, Coupe adeptly traverses the Australian rock industry and the precious personalities that inhabit that world. Tales of a drunk Molly Meldrum having his head rammed into a microwave by a furious Gudinski, an after-tour party with Madonna at the Gudinski compound and wild partying with Barnsey are all part of the Gudinski legend.

Coupe brings the feverish energy that is Gudinski, to life. Apparently this is a man who hardly ever sits down, even when he’s eating. His days are hectic and he works at a hyperactive pace. His generosity to loyal staff members and his promotion of the female members amongst them, is commendable. While he might not have always had his finger on the pulse when it comes to certain genres of music that hold little interest for him such as grunge or teeny bop, he undeniably knows his stuff when it comes to good old fashioned rock n’ roll.  If you like a good rock bio or are simply a lover of music, you won’t be disappointed.

 

3 and a Half Pops

 

Kernel Fiona was a criminal defence lawyer in a former life and now critiques books and writes short stories. She can’t resist spending large tracts of time in libraries, book shops and at writer’s festivals. Hopelessly in love with the written word, she told JK when applying for a writing position that “I would rather read then breathe” – I knew I had my next reviewer right then. You can catch her and her tweets at @FionaJayneFyfe1

** All images courtesy of various sources on Google or the publisher – credit has been given to photographers but images will be removed on request