21 Janvier 2016
Music promoter and club owner who helped launch the Rolling Stones.
Giorgio Gomelsky ran the Crawdaddy club in Richmond, where the Rolling Stones had a popular residency
Giorgio Gomelsky, who has died aged 81, played an important role in the British blues and R&B boom of the early 1960s. Later he moved to France, where he helped to nurture a new progressive rock movement, and in New York in the late 70s he was a catalyst for a new wave of experimental rock.
In Britain, Gomelsky will be best remembered for running the Crawdaddy club in Richmond, south-west London, initially in a back room of the Station hotel. The club, at first called BRRB, became the venue where the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds first built a following. Gomelsky instigated a series of regular music nights on Sundays, and in January 1963 the Dave Hunt Rhythm & Blues Band were given the residency, on the basis that Gomelsky believed that having a band playing regularly and building an audience would be more profitable than hosting different artists each week.
Within a month, the Rolling Stones replaced the Dave Hunt band, who failed to turn up one Sunday. They began drawing large crowds, and Gomelsky renamed the club the Crawdaddy because the Stones would end their shows with an extended version of Bo Diddley’s song Crawdad. However, the Ind Coope brewery, which owned the Station hotel, became alarmed by the noisy, sprawling audiences. Gomelsky was forced to move out, but found a much larger venue under the grandstand of the Athletic Ground in Richmond. As well as the Stones, the Moody Blues, the Animals, Led Zeppelin and Rod Stewart would play there. Gomelsky also booked the Stones to appear at the 1963 Richmond jazz festival.
Gomelsky adopted an informal advisory role with the Stones, but when they signed an official management contract with Andrew Loog Oldham, the group were whisked away to greater things. Gomelsky found a new house band in the Yardbirds, another blues-fixated outfit, and became their official manager and producer. In October 1963, Eric Clapton became the Yardbirds’ new guitarist, and Gomelsky was credited with inventing his nickname, Slowhand, which referred to the way the audience would slow-handclap while Eric changed his broken guitar strings.
Gomelsky produced or co-produced the first three Yardbirds albums. Clapton quit when he persuaded them to record the single For Your Love, which, being a diehard blues purist, he regarded as unacceptably commercial. Jeff Beck took Clapton’s place, but in 1966 the band replaced Gomelsky with a new manager, Simon Napier-Bell.
Although some versions of his life suggest that Gomelsky was born on a ship travelling from Odessa in Ukraine to Genoa in Italy, it seems most likely that he was born in Tiflis (now Tbilisi) in Georgia, then part of the Soviet Union, and that in 1938 his parents left to escape the Stalinist terror. After moving around the Middle East and living for a time in Italy, they settled in Switzerland in 1944, where his father worked as a doctor. Giorgio was educated at a Benedictine school in Ancona, Italy, and at the École d’Humanité in the Bernese Oberland.
His parents later divorced, and his mother, Eliane (nee Wust), a milliner, moved to the London showroom of the French hat-maker Claude Saint-Cyr. After spending several years travelling around postwar Europe, soaking up jazz music, playing drums with a jazz trio and doing the military service required of Swiss citizens, Giorgio came to London in 1955. He made films about the UK jazz scene and worked as a jazz reviewer, then developed an evangelical zeal for putting on jazz and blues gigs. After staging some events at the Marquee club in Wardour Street and the Cy Laurie jazz club in Ham Yard, he ventured outside central London and hit upon the Station hotel.
After being ousted by the Yardbirds, Gomelsky founded the short-lived Marmalade Records, which recorded obscure outfits such as the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, Blossom Toes and the Danish prog-rockers Savage Rose. It did, however, have a memorable Top 10 hit with This Wheel’s on Fire by Julie Driscoll with the Brian Auger Trinity. The label also recorded tracks with Graham Gouldman, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, future members of 10cc, and in 1969 Marmalade released the guitarist John McLaughlin’s Gomelsky-produced debut album, Extrapolation. In the same year Gomelsky had a falling out with Polydor, his corporate backers, and relocated to France.
He had met Daevid Allen in England when he produced some early tracks for Soft Machine, of which Allen was a member, and had then produced albums by Allen’s band Gong. Gomelsky subsequently became manager of the avant-rock band Magma, and helped to develop a network of concert venues for progressive music across France, giving opportunities to bands such as Can and Amon Duul II.
When he moved to New York in 1978, he landed a generous contract from RCA Records that allowed him to use his skills as an entrepreneur, talent spotter and scene-maker. He curated the Zu New Music Manifestival, aiming to bring together progressive European music with the New York avant garde, and nurtured Bill Laswell’s funk-dance-industrial band Material. He hosted his own cable TV show and became something of a digital guru, proselytising about the democratic opportunities offered by computers and the internet.
He is survived by his partner, Janice Daley, by a son, Sergio, and by two daughters, Alexandra and Donatella.