Music promoter took sales of local talent into orbit8th March 2021
After an impromptu performance of The Locomotion at a football charity event with the cast of Neighbours, Kylie Minogue signed with Mushroom, to some derision. Her recording of the song spent seven weeks at No.1 and she was packed off to England soon after. She has now sold over 70 million records, has become a beloved diva and had and remained close to Gudinski, now saying “my heart is broken”. Similar mainstream pop success in the midst of an otherwise cutting-edge rock environment would come soon after with the top five success of the late Christie Allen. Peter Andre, the Chantoozies, Dannii Minogue, Jason Donovan and Sister 2 Sister would also see them dabble in that genre.
So many of his relationships proved to be extraordinarily enduring in a cut-throat industry. Not just Kylie but Paul Kelly and Jimmy Barnes. With Kelly, Mushroom was there to support a brave 1982 album recorded in the Philippines and then saw him through his evolution to the position of beloved singer-songwriter.
The association with Barnes has seen well over a dozen No.1 albums, including Soul Deep, just behind John Farnham’s Whispering Jack as the biggest selling album in Australia by a singer. It was he who gave perhaps the most heartfelt tribute: “Today the heart of Australian music was ripped out. He stood with me through my darkest moments and my most joyous days. Michael was the rock I reached for when life tried to wash me away. He never closed his door or his heart to me and my family. I loved Michael, always will.”
Parallel to Gudinski‘s ever-waving antennae for promising new entities, was his ability to could also spot artists, often widely known, from whom there was still commercial life to be had. He would take on, after other labels had given them their best shot, people like the Angels, Renee Geyer, Rose Tattoo, Saints, Jo Jo Zep & the Falcons, Church, Hoodoo Gurus, Kate Ceberano, Russell Morris, Black Sorrows, Sunnyboys, Wedding Parties Anything and the Choirboys (who presented him with the pub rock ‘standard’ Run To Paradise). There were many major hits to be had from these ‘discards’.
The acts signed to Mushroom, to its subsidiary White Label, and to the Melodian imprint Gudinski established in 1988 with fellow St Kilda football team devotee Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum and Liberation Music, which he initiated with Warren Costello in 1999, reflected a keen awareness of what was happening in the rock and performance environment: Models, the Swingers, Birthday Party, Hunters & Collectors, Go-Betweens, Ian Moss, DD Smash, Mother Goose, Deborah Conway, the Mavis’s, Machine Gun Fellatio, Dynamic Hepnotics, Nick Barker & the Reptiles, Kings Of the Sun, Stems, Painters & Dockers, James Freud & the Radio Stars, Rockmelons, Deni Hines, Jane Clifton, Kids in the Kitchen, the Triffids, Big Pig, Paul Norton, Machinations, Christine Anu, the Someloves, Frente, My Friend The Chocolate Cake, Debra Byrne, Toni Pearen, Jo Beth Taylor, Vika & Linda, Swoop, Indecent Obsession, Roxus, Eskimo Joe, British India, Vance Joy and the Temper Trap.
Every one of them seems to have a cogent recollection of the experience. “Michael Gudinski was a raw flame in the wax museum” says Michael Spiby of the Badloves. “Music culture in this country got real as a direct result of his passion and those he inspired. He helped give Australian music a real sense of ourselves, as an authentic voice distinct from international copycat trends.
‘Michael Gudinski was a raw flame in the wax museum.’
Michael Spiby, the Badloves
“Blessed with a fierce loyalty to tribe, MG was a good man to have in your corner. He took the Badloves in when no one else would touch us and encouraged the band to do our own thing. That’s something I’m eternally grateful for.”
As is Archie Roach, who recorded his Charcoal Lane album for Mushroom 30 years ago. “He was a staunch supporter of the work we do. He championed First Nations musicians like Yothu Yindi, Troy Cassar-Daley and Dan Sultan to name a few, along with myself.”
He seemed to be everywhere in the music industry – no stone left unturned. To say that Michael, a man who filled every corner of the music industry in this country “did a lot for the music business” is very much an understatement. The words commonly used in the deluge of commentary that has followed his death: foundation, pivot, cornerstone, visionary, titan, powerhouse, trailblazer, supporter, father figure, formidable, loveable rogue, are all correct.
There was almost no area where Gudinski wasn’t a mover and shaker – not just with his record company but Mushroom Music, Premier Artists, Mushroom Pictures, Liberation and The Frontier Touring Company.
Frontier, which he established with his old comrade Michael Chugg in 1979, rose to become one of the most admired and competitive touring companies in the word, importingimported the likes of the Police, the Rolling Stones, Madonna, Elton John and Billy Joel, Bob Dylan with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Frank Sinatra, the Eagles, Foo Fighters, Taylor Swift, Bruce Springsteen, Faith No More, Alicia Keys and hundreds more. Indeed, it was Springsteen said of Gudinski: who was one of the global stars most moved, stating “I’ve toured the world for the last 50 years and never met a better promoter.”
In the early 1990s, Gudinski sold 49 per cent of Mushroom to News Ltd. He controversially sold his remaining 51 per cent share to News in 1999 for a reported $60 million. It gave him the capital to be truly diverse. He produced the 2000 film Chopper and was also a leading figure in the racing industry, co-owning three Melbourne Cup champions in a syndicate led by businessman Lloyd Williams.
Gudinski received several awards from the ARIA and APRA associations, in 2013 being acknowledged as the inaugural ARIA Industry Icon. In 2006 he was made a Member of the Order of Australia.
In 2020, Gudinski created The Sound for ABC TV, developed out of an online production called The State of Music, created to help Australian musicians during the COVID-19 lockdown. He was also behind the Music From The Homefont concert, which was organised in nine days, so that artists could perform in the concert on Anzac Day 2020. He was working on a series of shows with the Victorian government to assist struggling musicians when he died at home on March 1.
The last performance he attended was Frontier’s presentation of Midnight Oil at Sydney’s Enmore Theatre.
Michael is succeeded by his wife Sue and children Matthew and singer Kate Alexa.
Glenn A Baker