Known to many as GODinski, Michael Gudinski is unquestionably the most powerful and influential figure in the Australian rock’n’roll music business. And has been for the last four decades.
Often referred to as ‘the father of the Australian music industry’, he has nurtured the careers of many artists – Kylie Minogue, Jimmy Barnes, Paul Kelly, Skyhooks, Split Enz, Yothu Yindi, to name just a few. But his reach isn’t limited to Australian artists. With his Frontier Touring Company, Gudinski has toured The Rolling Stones, Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Sting … pretty much a who’s who of the arena level international music scene.
To shine some light on the Aussie music icon, Stuart Coupe freelance journalist, author of the incredible book The Promoters: Inside Stories from the Australian Rock Industry, one-time band manager and independent record label boss (of Laughing Outlaw Record) decided it was time to cover the industry heavyweight that is Gudinski.
It’s an impressive feat but he’s done so with Gudinski: The Godfather Of Australian Rock ‘N’ Roll (out now via Hachette $32.99). To celebrate its release we chatted to Coupe about the how the book came to fruition, he’s also given us an exclusive except of the book, a chapter on Paul Kelly’s relationship with gudinski which you can check out below.
How The Book Came About
“When my The Promoters book came out in 2003 Gudinski really liked it – he’s bought 170 copies to date. I thought then that his story was the great un-told Australian music industry one that was begging for a book length examination.
Gudinski has always resisted having a book written about him – and I’m sure part of him still feels the same way with this coming out as it’s certainly not an authorized book. After a decade of me telling Gudinski there should be a book and him saying no, my publisher Matthew Kelly and I decided we’d just start work on it and see what happened. The book is what happened.”
The Research Undertaken
“I read or re-read every book and magazine and newspaper article I could find that in any way related to Gudinski and his universe. Then I set about tracking down important figures in the story – particularly those who hadn’t spoken either ever or at length about their time in Gudinski World.
Initially everyone I approached asked if the book was authorised. When I said no they weren’t keen to talk without Gudinski’s say so. Then long term Mushroom staffer Michelle Higgins agreed to chat and from there the dominos fell and I ended up speaking to pretty much everyone I wanted or needed to.”
Who Was Interviewed
“I spoke to a lot of key figures who still work within the Mushroom group of companies and a number were much more open and candid than I had expected. A number of people didn’t wish to be identified because of either the sensitivity of what they were telling me or as one person said “it’s OK for you, you don’t need to work in Melbourne in the music industry – I do.”
A fortnight before the book went to the printer I tracked down Ray Evans who was Gudinski’s partner in the early days of Mushroom Records and obviously the Evans Gudinski touring company.”
Photo: Michael and Jimmy Barnes (supplied)
Highlights From The Book Writing Experience
“I was totally fascinated to find out what happened in the 48 hours after the news of the suicide of Mick Jagger’s long term partner in New York in 2014. As people know the band had already landed in Australia and were rehearsing for the first concert in Perth.
It was the biggest tour Gudinski and Frontier had ever promoted and it was dangerously close to going pear-shaped. The opening of the book is an hour-by-hour account of that period and how, at 3.30am in the morning, with ten minutes to spare, Gudinski convinced the Stones to postpone the tour and not cancel it. I didn’t realize how big a difference there is between a cancellation and a postponement.”
Why It’s ‘Unauthorised’
“It’s not an authorized biography at all. As I mentioned earlier Gudinski has always resisted having a book written about him. And I didn’t have any interest in writing a sanctioned book. I simply can’t see the point in doing nothing but tell the subjects version of history.
No-one is going to take that seriously. Gudinski was given the right to read the manuscript and correct factual errors but not my interpretation of events. I was happy regarding the factual stuff as that makes for a more accurate book. The fact that he’s not at all happy with much of what’s in the book means I must have had a fair stab at doing my job. I’d have been disappointed if he’d said he loved it all.”
Was Michael Interviewed For The Book?
“I’d known Gudinski since I managed Paul Kelly in the mid 1980s so I knew a bit of his world. And I had talked to him for The Promoters. Towards the end of the process when he finally realized I and the book weren’t going away he sat for one three hour interview over dinner in Melbourne, another shorter one in his office, and then I travelled with him to and from the Hunter Valley for a Rod Stewart concert and he answered a lot of questions that day.
Then he spent hours telling me things once the book was pretty much completed and he was checking for factual errors. I was happy that he found very few real errors of fact.”
Photo: Michael With Hunters & Collectors (supplied)
How Long Took From Initial Concept To Publication
“About 18 months – roughly 10 months of reading, interviewing and note taking followed by 8 months of writing, editing, clarifying, re-writing, lawyers and so forth.
Gudinski is a big subject because his career ranges from the late 1960s till the present day and so many people have come in and out of his world. I had to constantly remind myself that I wasn’t writing a history of Mushroom Records or a history of Frontier Touring – but a book about Gudinski and trying to capture who he is, what he’s done and why he’s done it. Pinning down those three elements is far from easy with a character like Gudinski.”
What He Wished Could Have Been In The Book But didn’t Make It
“The book could easily have been twice the length. Easily. So inevitably there were things that had to be left out. Then there’s the matter of defamation – the laws on which are vey strict in this country. The notes from the lawyer alone could have made up another chapter or two!
Everyone has a Gudinski story – some are true, some partially true, and many totally fabricated and clearly having no basis in fact. I’d have liked to have included some of the extremely silly, fanciful ones that people swore were gospel – but if I did that I’d have been implying that they might be true!
Read an excerpt of the book on the next page.”
‘I’ll give you $60,000 – now, get the fuck out of here.’ Gudinski is standing up behind his desk and barking. He gives good bark. It’s intense, in-your-face and arrogant. It’s towards the conclusion of a meeting regarding the recording and budget for the fourth Paul Kelly album.
I’m intimidated and that’s exactly what Gudinski wants. I’m new to his world and it’s a frightening place. Meetings are loud, fast and provocative. You try to get a few words in as Gudinski tells you how things are going to be. On his feet and swaying, eyes glancing everywhere but at you. It’s unpredictable. But one thing’s certain: how things are going to be is how he wants them to be. There is no other way. It’s Gudinski World. Deal with it. If you can.
Both of Kelly’s first two albums sold like shit and Gudinski was rapidly losing interest and vibe in his version of ‘the new Dylan’. It would be fair to say that Kelly wasn’t on his list of favourite Mushroom artists, and he wasn’t betting any money on Kelly making him or the label wealthy anytime soon.
Kelly called me and we met at a hotel in Victoria Street, Kings Cross. Kelly wasn’t sure what to do. He told me he’d saved up $1500 and was thinking of recording a single. I suggested he find another $1500 and make an album. So with ex-Sherbet member Clive Shakespeare co-producing he recorded Post in January and February of 1985.
With no deal on the table and me officially installed as manager, we started shopping around and met enthusiasm from Martin Fabinyi and his successful independent label Regular Records. Terms were agreed and a signing party organized.
Enter Michelle Higgins, whom Gudinski by now considered one of his most valuable staff assets. She’d heard the news and she didn’t like it. She loved Kelly and those first two albums, believing totally that it was only a matter of time before he broke – and broke big. At the time, Higgins was working in national publicity and also A&R at the White label and was as essential as anyone to the running of Mushroom Records. I was with Kelly early one morning in my office above a café in Kings Cross. Higgins had rung and asked if she could come over and talk to us. She walked in, burst into tears and said to Kelly, ‘You are not leaving Mushroom.’Both of Kelly’s first two albums sold like shit and Gudinski was rapidly losing interest and vibe in his version of ‘the new Dylan’.
In one of the most celebrated ‘you lose this artist you lose me’ stories in the annals of Australian music, Higgins called Gudinski and insisted that he re-sign Kelly. She also told him that she had booked into the music industry hotel of choice (and decadent behaviour), the Sebel Townhouse in Elizabeth Bay – on his dime – and would stay there until the deal was finalised. If it had been anyone less indispensable to Mushroom they would have probably been fired on the spot – if they’d even had the audacity to try such a play on Gudinski in the first place.
Gudinski and I talked and negotiated deal points – first on the phone and then in the bathroom at a Neil Young press conference in Sydney while we both relieved ourselves and argued about percentages. With what appeared to be great reluctance from him, a deal was hammered out.
I sensed that Gudinski wanted a victory over a precocious up-and-coming independent label in Regular and Fabinyi more than he actually wanted Kelly. ‘Tell Fabinyi to shove his party pies,’ he grinned after we’d finally agreed on a deal mid-afternoon on the day the contract with Regular was meant to be signed at a small gathering. He really couldn’t care less about Kelly. It wasn’t Kelly he was negotiating for – it was Higgins and her future at the company. Oh, and a little ‘fuck you’ to Regular along the way wouldn’t hurt either.
Nothing about Gudinski’s attitude betrayed even the slightest enthusiasm for Kelly and his music. Until then, as far as Gudinski had been concerned, Kelly had had his stab at success with Mushroom and now they and Kelly were no longer dancing together. If it hadn’t been for Michelle Higgins it would certainly have stayed that way. Naturally, Kelly and I knew we had the upper hand in the negotiations as Gudinski’s respect (and need) for Higgins was so great. In 1985 Post was released on the Mushroom offshoot White label.
Then Kelly decided that he wanted his next outing to be a double album. This was an audacious idea given the commercial failures of his first three albums.
Anyway, I was dispatched to Melbourne to sort this out with Gudinski. When I managed to stammer out the words ‘Paul Kelly . . . new album . . . double album,’ Gudinski exploded: ‘You’ve got to be fucking joking. Get out of here. I’m not doing a fucking double album.’
Gudinski in that mood is almost impossible to talk to. You just soak up the verbiage. You feel like a young, vulnerable boxer thrown into the ring as sparring practice for a belt-wearing champion. You walk in exuding tentative optimism only to be hammered into submission by a formidable figure, one that isn’t much older than you but acts like he’s on his fifth life and knows everything while you know nothing.
[include_post id=”363028″]I summoned up what attitude I could muster and tried not to let him see that I was shaking with nervousness. ‘Michael, what will you give me to make a single album?’
That’s where the $60,000 came in, an acceptable but hardly generous budget for an album in the mid 1980s, when Mushroom was consistently spending $200,000–$300,000 on albums by artists they believed in.
I managed to come back at Gudinski: ‘OK, we’ll take the $60,000 and give you a double album. If we do I want you to agree to sell it for the price of a single album.’
Gudinski snapped back: ‘OK, now get out.’ Meeting over.
The result was indeed a double album. Gossip was recorded at Trafalgar Studios in Sydney’s inner west with producer Alan Thorne. Gudinski was true to his word and the album came out in September 1986 for $14.99. And as history attests, it was the record that broke Kelly.
This is an excerpt from Stuart Coupe’s new book Gudinski: The Godfather Of Australian Rock ‘N’ Roll out now via Hachette $32.99