It seems we all live so close to that line
And so far from satisfaction
“Song For Sharon”
It’s hard to be an aging rocker. If you’ve got a fanbase, you can play your old hits in sheds, maybe arenas if you’re lucky, do endorsement deals, hell, even Iggy Pop has a clothing line, and live on the fumes, albeit financially lucrative fumes. But if you’re a fan…
I first met Gary Stewart in the Rhino Records store on Westwood Boulevard. It was a legendary place, because not only did they make recommendations, they’d insult you too, commenting on your taste. But if you went there long enough, you got to know Harold and Jeff and Gary.
And all three went on to further success. Harold Bronson created the Rhino Records label and with his partner Richard Foos they became the kings of reissues. And sometimes new stuff. They rereleased the Billy & the Beaters album, when the single “At This Moment” got airplay on TV. Harold was debating sending his gold record back to the RIAA, because the album never quite broke 500,000. That’s the kind of vibe that permeated the company, one of humor and seeing things from a skewed viewpoint. No one was puffed up, there was no attitude, and employees felt like it was home.
Jeff Gold went on to be a majordomo at A&M and Warner and then became the expert on rare records and memorabilia. He was into it from the beginning. Hell, he bid for a guest spot on “Seinfeld,” and you can see him sitting in the shvitz, and he also took a script that he gifted me.
And Gary Stewart…
Graduated from the Rhino store to the label, and I remember just after he got his job, being on the A&M lot, Gary pulling up in his car, thrilled that he had this new job, and giving me a copy of each title from his trunk.
Gary got excited. But he also liked to split the hairs. Sure, he was friendly, but if you wanted to argue about minutiae, he was the guy.
And eventually, he graduated to Apple, and then went out on his own, and then back to Apple. And when you went out, you saw him. And he always got into it with you immediately. He’d ask if you were going to the gig. He’d tell you to go to this other gig. I remember him telling me I had to see Jason Isbell. But whenever you bumped into him, it was never casual, you just fell right back into the groove.
And one year I went to his Christmas “Losers Party.” Talk about a record collection! It snaked throughout the entire house. And there were a lot of women there, but I never knew Gary to have a girlfriend. But everybody knew him. I remember twenty years ago, at the beginning of the internet, on Match.com, when it was still free, I got into a conversation with a woman and when I told her I was in the music business she asked me if I knew Gary Stewart. That was him, interacting, being known, out and about.
But now he’s no longer with us.
His second stint at Apple ended last year and he was confronted with the question…WHAT DO I DO NOW?
It’s hard to stay in the music business, where people are willing to work for free, and those without families 24/7. If you’re in touring, you can have a lifetime career. But if you’re in recordings? They throw you on the scrapheap and replace you without thinking twice.
Now when this happened in the eighties, you went into the video business.
And when this happened in the nineties, you went into real estate.
But now there’s no longer a video business. And real estate is really competitive. So what do you do?
Go independent. But the rewards are slimmer than ever. I tell these people to give up, get a straight job, but they lose everything and still try to promote records, that you’ve never heard of. Hell, the classic acts selling tickets have got no chance of succeeding with new music, what are the odds for these acts?
Some get regular jobs. And they adjust. They view their stint in the music business like going to college. Something they did long ago, that yielded stories and good times, but is now over.
And I don’t know the exact details of what was in Gary’s mind. But my source says he was depressed, and seeing a therapist and on medication, and was open about it.
But it still didn’t make a difference.
When you’re so down, it’s hard to ask for help. A zillion people would have stopped by Gary’s house if they’d known. But they didn’t. And the truth is now more than ever, everybody’s caught up in their own little world, focused on themselves, and when someone passes, the Earth still spins, people go on with their lives.
You get a text, or an e-mail, completely out of the blue. That’s how it always happens. Sure, some people are sick and in decline, but others… You know, like the rock stars who O.D. Like Tom Petty. Playing the Hollywood Bowl one week, deceased the next.
And the details are so horrific. Jumping at midnight from a parking garage. Imagine the torture, the state of mind. And then imagine the thoughts while you’re falling. And that parking garage ain’t that tall, maybe eight stories, what happens when you…
But Gary died.
A woman I knew just drowned herself
The well was deep and muddy
She was just shaking off futility
Or punishing somebody
My friends were calling up all day yesterday
All emotions and abstractions
On Twitter. Then obits at the end of the day in “Billboard,” and “Deadline” and “Variety” and the L.A. “Times.” If only Gary had seen the love.
But he won’t. Death is final.
And then I got a DM this afternoon that Bobby Gale was killed in a car wreck, last night coming home from a gig in Montreal.
I met Bobby the first time I went to Toronto, in ’89. He’d graduated from being a deejay to working promo for Polygram. Bobby was so passionate, and the kind of guy I connected with, that I could talk to.
But then his wife left him and his bank account was nearly empty…
But Bobby soldiered on. Never losing the passion. Always working independent records. Going back to radio, sending me the playlist. I won’t say Bobby was ecstatic, but he was devoted, he still believed. God, if I knew he was gonna pass I would have had Bryan Ferry call him. Bryan was his idol, he fashioned his look to imitate him, all these years later, still.
Now earlier today I was listening to a seventies rock playlist on Apple Music. One with some deeper cuts beyond the hits, but I knew every song by heart. And listening on headphones…I was astounded how good they sounded. Listen to the Eagles’ “Out On The Border,” with the guitar parts in each ear, whew! And it’s not even one of my favorite Eagles songs. And Rod Stewart’s version of “(I Know) I’m Losing You.” God, the keyboard intro.
And last night on the satellite I heard “Miss You.” Most disco has been forgotten, but ironically the rockers’ foray still stands.
And I was thinking about rockers crossing over into hip-hop today. Old acts, established acts, not new ones. People would laugh, they’d be excoriated.
And we read all about hip-hop, but there are so many people lost, who are not fans of those beats, wondering how to discover new music. And how many times can you see the warhorses trot out their old material anyway.
So you spin the old records and…
You watch TV. Maybe get into food and…
There’s no place for the record junkies anymore, certainly not “Record Store Day.” That’s all about collectibles. Going to the record store used to be a religious experience. You came home, broke the shrinkwrap and heard notes you’d never heard before. Speaking of the Eagles, I bought “Hotel California” on the day it came out. And played it on my giant stereo I’d purchased less than a month before. With the JBL L100s and the Technics direct drive turntable and two channels of 110 watt power from the Sansui integrated amp, that sound was pure, it was before the loudness wars.
I was shocked. I was instantly into it.
Your discovery happened in your bedroom.
But now… You’ve heard the tunes already online, and most people’s stereos are a joke.
And you read the magazines, you were hungry for information. You were interested in what the players had to SAY! No one did endorsements, sponsorships were taboo, it messed with the music.
And you went to see bands no one had ever heard of in clubs, and you followed them into bigger rooms, if they ever got there.
You were tuned in. Music was everything.
But it’s not like that today.
It could come back, but maybe not.
I was talking to Jack Douglas the other day and he was saying how early sixties music sucked, where was Chuck Berry? And then came the Beatles.
We’re still waiting. The last time we had that spirit here was in 1991, with the release of Nirvana’s “Nevermind.”
And the last hurrah was Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill,” back in ’95, but just recently a female writer criticized the album for being out of touch with the times, the woman not having power, but what’s wrong with giving head in a theatre?
We’ve scrubbed all the rough edges from the music. There could be no Aerosmith or Led Zeppelin today. And if you want to compare Ariana Grande or Rihanna to them, you’re probably at Coachella people-watching, where the music is secondary.
Yes, times have changed.
And some of us just can’t handle it.
It appears Gary Stewart could not.
But he will be remembered for his passion for the music, creating all those boxed sets, curation being king.
As Bad Company, an act he probably hated, once so simply sang:
I’m gonna live for the music
Give it everything you got
Live for the music
You know you’re gonna find a lot
To ease your mind
That was Gary Stewart.
The industry responds – please note, these comments are unedited for grammar or content.
What tragic news regarding Bobby Gayle.
I recall Bobby mostly from those early 80’s days in Toronto, not so long after he joined Polygram as a promo guy.
Back then Simple Minds were very much still finding our way in North America and needing all the support we could muster. Luckily, we got plenty of that from Bobby Gayle.
I have vivid memories of being in the car with Bobby as we travelled to the various radio stations. I also recall stopping at his house back then and meeting his young family.
And yes, his love for Roxy Music was even bigger than mine. This he would show by allowing me to listen to various Roxy bootleg recordings as we put in the miles covering Ontario.
I liked Bobby very much and was delighted to meet him again backstage in Montreal not so long ago.
It gave me the chance to look him in the eye and say thanks for all that he had done for Simple Minds.
My thoughts are with his family and friends today.
Best to you,
Bobby and I were co-Music Directors at CHOM in 1978. He was doing pm drive and I was 22:00 to 02:00. He was brought in to raise the professionalism bar amongst the on-air staff. Pretty sure it was our fearless leader, John Mackie, who hired him. He had lots of radio experience and mixed some laid back but clearly top 40 chops on top of a more interesting and eclectic music mix than was available anywhere else in Canada.
To say Bobby was a Brian Ferry fan would be a sharp understatement. He was a super fan. Even dressed the part.
The music he played on CHOM was edgy, mostly British and leading edge. I remember some of the record stores were pissed at him because they could not get their hands on the imports he was playing and folks were coming in to ask for them.
Gary Slaight hired him away from us and moved him to Q 107 where he put in some of his best years.
I’ve known a lot of music fans in my life but really can’t think of a more devoted one than Bobby. If there’s a rock and roll heaven he’ll be the leader of the band. And they’ll be looking great!!!!
On behalf of our Canadian Music Industry, thank you, for your kind words regarding the one-and-only, Bobby Gale.
We are all still reeling from the news of his tragic death, as word passes from musician to musician to agent to publisher etc As a matter of fact the strangest thing happened. Michael McCarty of SOCAN and I were together last night and Bobby’s name came up in our conversation and yet, today, as we commiserated over his loss, for the life of us, we couldn’t quite remember why. Just one of those eerie, human, connections I guess.
And now, he is gone.
Bobby as you well know, was one of the most colourful of characters. He ate, breathed and yes, shit, music. It was his life. You made me smile when you mentioned his love of Bryan Ferry and how he emulated his look. All of us here just kind of “went with it” and it never fazed on us, that even although Bobby was no “spring chicken” he left this world still looking like the Bryan Ferry of 1985!!
Bobby will be sadly missed, and when you are up here very soon, for Canadian Music Week, and you are interviewing my dear pal, Michael McCarty, regarding his induction into the Canadian Music & Broadcast Industry Hall of Fame, I am sure Bobby’s name may pop up. He will be missed.
Alan Frew ( Glass Tiger)
I didn’t know about Bobby Gale. Knew him 40 years at least. I’m in shock
When I was a critic way the hell back and Bobby Gale was a deejay at Q107 in Toronto I described his shift as “nighttime cool” and always referred to that fondly even a few months ago when we spoke on the phone. It’s one thing to mourn what was once for us. Quite another to mourn one of us.
What a day.
Worked with the guy for the entire 80s at PolyGram..
We had a rough time, but also a lot of laughs, and fun..
Ultimately, after we were both out of the business, we made peace and became friends..
We both loved pop music and that was part of our ongoing connection–but also we had history you can’t replicate with anyone else.
He loved pop music and had an incredible ear. Not only that, he really had a connection to it and a knack for it in a way that many people wish they had, but don’t..
I know I should write something meaningful, but frankly it’s too hard right now..
I feel like I’ve entered the twilight zone. I know people eventually die, but this is too soon.
And it’s all still sinking in.
Thanks for mentioning Bobby Gale.
He was one-of-a-kind, a passionate record nerd who literally died because of his love of music. And, we had been talking only a month ago about Bryan Ferry’s upcoming Avalon tour and how we were going to work on getting tickets so he could come to NY and we’d go together.
Bobby Gale turned me on to you and “The Lefsetz Letter” right around the time you were transitioning from a faxed newsletter to viral email. In classic Bobby fashion he ranted so passionately and so long about “The Lefsetz Letter” that I knew if I started reading it two things would happen:
1. He would stop hounding me.
2. Maybe I would learn or enjoy something.
Of course both came true. Such was everyone’s relationship with him. Like nearly everyone who knew him, our initial connection was a result of his passion for music we had in common. He was drawn like a moth to a flame to a record I was involved with that Bob Ezrin produced – The Kings “This Beat Goes On/Switchin’ To Glide”. We became friends and he would surface once in a while raving about a new record.
Ten years later while I was running EMI Music Publishing Canada, he helped Barb Sedun and I build our first artist development success story with the band Moist. He had left Polygram and was looking for work. We had signed Moist and wanted to help them release a single and album independently. I said “come over here and you can be the radio promoter, manufacturer, and distributor!”
Now in those days (early ‘90s), a commercially successful indie record was nearly unheard of, and at first he struggled to get radio traction on the single “Push”. Luckily then the band made a low-cost but devastatingly brilliant video of it. When he saw it, Bobby started levitating, and ran off to storm the gates of Much Music, determined to get them to play this “historic” video, or die trying. I fully expected to flip on the news and see some sort of hostage incident, and was considering purging our files of any reference to him working for us. Instead, he came rushing back to the office with an incredible story. According to Bobby, during their staff meeting to assess the video, Much Music head Denise Donlon switched it off before it was finished, turned to her staff and declared “we’re going to make this band happen”.
A few weeks later, with the video and single rocketing towards #1, Bobby came in my office clutching a stack of papers that he said were orders for the album. ‘’Michael, I cant keep up with the orders. We can’t press and ship them fast enough. We are going to hold back the band. We have to hand this over to a major label”. EMI Records signed them and took it to 4X Platinum.
I will miss him and his passion.
Nice to see your kind words about Bobby Gale. First met him, when we worked at Q-107 in Toronto. He was quirky, in a charming way. Of the countless time’s he made me laugh, was an occasion – decades before the internet – when I arrived at work, greeted by a mischievous smile. I didn’t want to give him the pleasure of asking, what was up. Finally, I gave in. He said, “Have you seen the new phone book?” After the obvious answer, he slapped it down and said, “Look me up.” There it was … in bold face: Bobby Gale. Of course, in those days, most people with a public profile had unlisted phone numbers. Not Bobby! I’m having a good laugh typing this note. Ironically, years later, he’d be one of my few contact’s who’s call display says, “Unknown Caller.” It happened two weeks ago.
“Hello, Lee … It’s Bobby.”
94.9 The Rock, Toronto
I first met Bobby back in the early to mid 90’s when I was just a few years in radio, and all these years later I still vividly remember a night at The Horseshoe Tavern circa 1996.
The Matthew Good Band were playing and getting some traction with their single “Alabama Motel Room” and Bobby was pushing them on the radio.
This was my first time seeing MGB but I did like the single…but live: I was blown away. This was one of those nights where I felt like I was seeing something special. They were tearing up the room and I remember saying to Bobby how I was instantly hooked! You don’t forget shows like that….those gigs that remind you how much you love music and seeing a band live.
The next day, Bobby shows up at the office and pops by my studio with a copy of the “Last of the Ghetto Astronauts” album.
He said “Rob…I’m so glad you enjoyed the show last night and I wanted to come by and make sure you had a copy of the album. Thanks for being there and thanks for the support. It really means a lot”.
I had no pull or influence for the band on radio…and Bobby knew that.
But he was genuine in his appreciation.
And 23 years later…I’ve never forgotten that small token of appreciation from Bobby.
Kind of tells you everything you need to know about the man.
Rest in Peace Bobby….the music will play on!
You could tell when Bobby believed in a project. He was relentless, sometimes to the point of annoyance, and worked the phone like no one else. But he was always, always professional and I discovered many gems because of him. Sad news. He will be missed.
Been following you for a few years. I was/am devastated by the news of Bobby Gale. I worked with him at PolyGram in the late 80’s and he took me under his wing. I was in sales but had an equal amount of devotion to the music. Bobby stayed in touch with me until the early 2000’s as I progressed into a songwriter myself. He was always truthful and encouraging, even when it hurt to hear the truth. He was a pioneer and music fan to the core. RIP Bobby
Black Summer Season 1
RIP Gary Stewart, he was a lovely man, and I have as many records in my collection – albeit lovingly put together reissues – with his name on them than just about anyone else I can think of. I’d like to particularly thank you for mentioning Bobby Gale. He was as devoted to music and Bryan Ferry as you say. No one flew the flag for the latter higher and no one loved to discover a new band more . . . provided they had a recording he could play on the radio!
Remember you too are loved Bob!
Gary never asked me to put him on the guest list at The Teragram Ballroom. He was too supportive. When he was there a couple of weeks ago I realized I hadn’t seen him since the Christmas party. He told me that it was probably the last one. When I asked why, he just said it was getting to be a lot of work.
Thanks for writing about my long-time friend and mentor, Gary Stewart. I think you gave him short shrift about Bad Company; Gary was an equal opportunity music lover. If it was good, he dug it. I had the honor and the pleasure of being a member of his crew in the Rhino A&R Department, which he helmed for somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 years. He was either directly responsible for or oversaw about 700 Rhino compilations, either single-artist Best-Of’s or various-artists genre compilations. His immense generosity and caring for the wellbeing of others was unparalleled by any human being I have ever known. He touched the lives of so many, and the outpouring of sorrow on Facebook reflects that. Along with Rhino founders Richard Foos and Harold Bronson, he made the corporate culture at Rhino a unique and wonderful place to work. He fostered social consciousness in us all. The company shared it’s wealth with underprivileged and needy communities — because of Gary.
So why did a man who was loved by so many — and he knew he was loved — take his own life? Depression. Yeah, he lived alone, he never had a long-time relationship that I know of, his expertise as a music archivist was no longer valued in the new music paradigm. But were those the reasons? Depression is an illness. He knew he had it, but kept it hidden from his huge circle of friends (myself included). From the few people he opened up to, I’ve gathered that he knew what was happening and took the appropriate measures to combat it: therapy, antidepressants. But Depression is a disease, and a formidable one. I have it. I live alone. I take antidepressants. The one saving grace is that I have children and a grandchild. What keeps me from pulling the plug? I’ve seen what Gary’s suicide has done to so many of my long-time friends and comrades, and I imagine what mine might do to my kids. So, I abide.
RIP GARY STEWART.
A true music man…an A&R Visionary.
He once loved an artist I had and he took it from a re-issue at Rhino to a 3 Album deal which I personally negotiated with Richard Foos.
Harold Bronson was looking over our shoulder and always seemed to be chewing a carrot in his office. This was about the time Billy Vera broke Rhino to #1. Very exciting to be in that building at that time and experience how those three worked together. Gary described Rhino to me like this: Were cheap and we recycle old garbage.”
Gary Stewart was the eyes and ears of Rhino and one thing is for sure. The philosopy they brought forth reinvented the music business. Gary was all about the music and getting what deserved to be out there, out there. You could not help but learn a lot.
Big Blue Ocean Recordings, LLC
Gary Stewart’s passion for music was unrivaled in a business where it counts less than which law school you attended. I first met Gary back in the days when Rhino had just structured a licensing and distribution deal with EMI.
It was a poor fit because the EMI bigwigs didn’t understand catalog. It was constantly being fought over among various entities at EMI. Sure they loved the Beatles, but who the hell is Fats Domino and why is he important? The deal garnered some much-needed market share for Rhino and a certain amount of respect – though at Capitol, many hated the young upstart brand.
“What gives them the right to release our artists?” one executive asked.
“Uh, an executed contract”, I volunteered.
The ugly truth was that Rhino was ten times better at producing reissues and box sets than EMI, which was hamstrung ruined by the bean counters who, in the interests of the balance sheet, would employ tactics like deleting a track from a reissue to save a few pennies. Or ban the use of product stickers because so much money was being spent annually. It was like demanding employees use less toilet paper.
But led by Gary and the rest of the Rhino gang, their releases were the gold standard. Some of us at EMI knew this of course, and it was embarrassing.
“How can a little upstart do such great work?”, the heads of EMI demanded.
The truth, of course, was that Rhino’s standard for quality was Porsche-like, while we were still trying to achieve Chevy’s.
Gary Stewart advanced the passion for music. It was an obsession, and we music geeks were all the better for it – as were the artists, producers and everyone else who loved music.
Thank you for the eulogy for dear Gary Stewart, the kindest friend any of us ever had in the music business. Boy oh boy is this a loss for us all. He was someone I really wanted to make records for, because he knew so much and cared so much.
CHARLES KENNEDY invisible hands music
Thanks for this Bob.
Gary was a lovely person and perhaps my only real friend in Hollywood.
And he always had some CDs he thought you should hear, and he gave you a copy.
Billy Bragg phoned me about the loss.
He more than anyone was LA for us Billy and I (and the travelling team).
The good news is that there is really no need for me to ever go to LA again.
Thanks for all your great work and insights.
Hope to see you again somewhere on our travels.
Three things. Most importantly Gary Stewart. This was a guy who had an unbridled passion for great rock and roll, an unquenchable thirst for more of it, and a deep knowledge about it all. Yes, he was also about TV, movies, DVD’s, books. But music was the driving force in his life. As it has been for so many of us of a certain age. I’d known him since the Rhino store days as well, again, like so many of us. His career arc was amazing and well-deserved. He earned it with his passion and his ability and his perseverence. His parties (the July picnics in Elysian Park, some of which I attended) and the Xmas “Losers Party,” none of which I ever attended, are the stuff of legends. Started on shoestrings and then the Xmas parties growing and growing and growing. I never heard anyone say an unkind word about him, and I never heard him say an unkind word about anyone else. Yes, his opinions were firm and well-articulated. I worked on a few Rhino compilations, mostly with Harold but also of course to some extent with Gary. You might not see him or talk to him for a while, years even, but whenever you did, it was as if it had been maybe a coupla days, you picked up right where you’d left off. I know there is a tendency to glorify folks when they pass away, but in this case, all the tributes are sincere, not puffery. Because Gary has no agenda except to share his passions with his friends, and make new friends by sharing his passions with strangers.
As for the Billy Vera record, Rhino had released a compilation album five years earlier with “At This Moment,” and when it was used in a climactic scene on “Family Ties,” NBC’s switchboard lit up like an Xmas tree on fire. I was helping out at Rhino at the time on some stuff, and had actually called NBC earlier that week to let them know about the Rhino album in case they got any phone calls from viewers. This was, of course, long before Google or internet searches or Amazon or YouTube. And I’d suggested in a marketing meeting that Rhino try to get more copies of the album into stores in case the TV show created some additional demand. But nobody anticipated the insane response that took place. So it wasn’t like Rhino rush-released a record. They HAD the record. And they sold a lot of copies!
And, finally, “early Sixties music sucked, where was Chuck Berry?” Um, in JAIL on trumped up racist charges.
I met Gary Stewart in the spring of 2005. Steve had asked him to come to iTunes but he didn’t want to leave his LA homebase and team, so he hired me to be the full time Cupertino part of the Stewart operation. He was the only other person at iTunes with as extensive a record store background as mine, and we spent the entire job interview nerding out on Os Mutantes, Jeff Lynne, Todd Rundgren, and power pop and I guess that conversation never really ended. God, we made such good work back then, thousands and thousands of playlists constructed, designed, articulated, and maintained with meticulous detail, all with the aim of turning everyone onto the most important thing: the music. Gary’s mere presence was a steady reminder that music and art are the most important things, and the reason we were there, while others with no culture cred played office politics and cutthroat career moves. Those were beneath him. When Gary mentioned donating to his foundation, you did it. When he thought he might like to compile movies and TV, you were all in. His moral and artistic compass was always unerringly aimed at the heart, and it made me believe in him totally.
When Gary left iTunes the first time, we had a small party for him. I remember standing in the parking lot with him after it, clutching the framed T-shirt we had all signed (David Sams had written “IN GARY WE TRUST”) as a memento, just uncontrollably sobbing all over him because I couldn’t imagine Gary not in my daily life, and what a loss it was for iTunes to have let him go. I left iTunes soon after, I think, and joined the App Store, but the work that I made with Gary and the iTunes Essentials team remains what I am most proud of during my time at Apple.
Gary was so lovely, so human, so palpably vulnerable and kind. He made you want to do your best work for him. And we did.
For Gary, success and resources meant that he could spread the word just a little farther, with more reach, and also to help those who lacked resources. His ego never ever came into it, and in his eyes, each person, no matter who you were, was a fan to connect with, or a Freaks and Geeks completist waiting to happen.
Gary was a mentor, friend, collaborator. The loss -not just for me but the entire artistic community- is massive. There’ll never be another like this wise, caring, generous man. I love you, Gary.
– Windy Chien