I heard today via my friend David Wolin that another old co-conspirator has left the crease.
Does the name Gary Sperrazza! (with exclamation mark) ring any bells? He latterly ran a store called Apollo Records in Buffalo, NY and quite possibly continued to sell records after it closed. We started off as pen/type-pals when he wrote for Bomp! and established a friendship over the years. His zine, The Shakin Street Gazette was a magazine that covered great music before pigeonholes ruined things. If I remember correctly, and this is a big thing – he was the one that introduced me to what was going on down Springfield way in Missouri as well as a host of other things. He was a huge soul fan and I discovered all manner of gems through Gary.
I may never have hooked up with Lou and co if it hadn't been for this guy.
Sperrazza! was a character and on paper he seemed like a very decent geezer. I went to his home town of Buffalo to meet him during my first trip to the USA with my then wife Gail. Big mistake. That was the end right there because we were treated pretty shabbily. It was the rudeness more than anything else. However, I learned a valuable lesson out of that experience. I learned that if someone takes time to meet with you then one should give him, her or them full attention. To always go that extra mile to make sure they had a good time. It was sad because I really hate to lose friends for whatever reason.
There was a positive outcome however, because after that 36 or 48 hours of relative hell (it was good to see David who really was a youngster back then when he was in The Splatcats), Gail and I hopped on the bus to Rochester and hooked up with my lifelong pals Kevin and Corinne Patrick. That was when I also met the Rt. Hon. Greg Prevost at the fabled House of Guitars too.
So all was well that ended well.
Gary was a complicated person and according to reports not always that easy to get along with. One comes to learn that people are people and sometimes they have a reason for acting the way they do. I don't know whether he did or not but I plan to unearth some of the cassette tapes he sent me this weekend and will endeavour to remember him the way I thought he was before we met.
My condolences to any friends and family that might stumble upon this. I don’t know if he had any but I know that you can read some of his writing on Rock’s Backpages.
I worked for him at Apollo for a few years in the mid 90's and he was a caustic personality yes. I did spend enough time with him to see other sides of his personality though and his bitterness was pretty thorough when it came to dealing with people who didn't have the same scholarly approach to music that he did. He was stuck in a post industrial shit hole, Buffalo (where I'm proudly from btw) and had to deal with people who didn't want to know anything beyond the latest 'flavor of the minute'rap releases. This was around 92-93 when hip-Hop had pretty much gone the way of MC Hammer and that sort of nonsense. The genre he introduced to Buffalo and had made his store something of note had essentially died and his business with it, not to mention the rise of CD's and little interest in vinyl in those days made his store more a novelty shop than a fun place to shop and hang out. Only a few hard cores would come by on a Friday night, after hours to hear deep cuts and some of those 'Money Records' would come down off the wall and there were magical moments and experiences to be shared therein. He managed to have a giant ego without somehow making it about himself, it was always about the music and digging deeper and he didn't tolerate anyone who wasn't, or didn't seem as passionate in that regard. He was misunderstood and often hated but will be sorely misses by those that knew him.
Agree, Jeff. His influence on me personally and the music world at large is significant. Most of you know about his struggles with the disease of alcoholism, and also what an asshole he could be to people, but for some reason it never changed the fact that he was a hero to me and lived the musical life of 15 men. I somehow just want to thank him publicly for deepening my understanding of Rock ‘n’ Roll because I missed my chance before he died.
I’ll leave you with just one example out of hundreds – the tiny tip of the iceberg – of Peter Buck from REM claiming that Gary was responsible for getting REM signed to a record deal (just google REM Sperrazza). But to put it in better perspective, there are also classic rap groups like Gang Starr, Nas, Fatboy Slim and Main Source that all claim the same and even notable indie punks like Steve Albini and Vincent Gallo will credit him for their first big break in music. While the whole world using the internet is finally catching up to all the same conclusions on today’s master list of what’s classic – as a rock critic, record boutique owner and true fan, Gary already proclaimed today’s classics with incredible prescience and freakish accuracy before the 1980’s were even over. His only downfall as a tastemaker of American and British underground rock, and then early in the advent of hip hop, is that he was 20 years too far ahead of his time, and I’m very sad that he didn’t live long enough or have enough business acumen to see his ship come in.
Gary always said that his accolades “couldn’t even buy him a cup of coffee”, so I was especially proud to see Lester Bangs’ piece ”How to Be a Rock Critic” (originally published in Gary’s “Shakin’ Street Gazette”) get used in a real Hollywood hit movie “Almost Famous”. It just validated all the poorly paid hours of musical obsession and research, that we actually were what Rock ‘n’ Roll and art is all about.
I worked at Apollo during the "Renaissance" of my life 1990-1994. It was the biggest growth I have ever undergone as a person (with the only exception being having kids). It was also a miserable time of being broke and taking constant bullshit from Gary all in the name of Rock 'n' Roll.
I loved that time, and cling on to it. I created my first truly original songs, my true identity came out, I was mighty high on confidence, I didn't give a fuck, I made the best music of my life, hung out and acted cool all over the "City". All of this and much more I learned from being in the presence of one of the Greats showing me how to strive for greatness...
It just occurred to me how appropriate name Apollo was in the hands of a card-carrying Wigan soul fan. Gary stood behind the idea that criticism can make the world better – especially in the hands of a demanding audience such as Apollo’s.
So long G.
Thanks for posting your memories on here. These counter my recollections for a more well-rounded consideration of a guy that made a difference on his own terms. Maybe I'll revisit mine after I find some of these tapes. One of them includes a message from Lux and Ivy that he recorded for me in 1981.
I'd love to hear that message!
Hey Marc! I plan to do a blog post soon, do you mind if I quote you or share some of what you said here? Same for you Lindsay, I'd love to share some of these experiences as Gary's importance should be known.
This is my Blog: https://alphastare.wordpress.com/
Sure Jeff. I looked on your blog for an e-mail but couldn't find one. Mine is lhnbt (at) hotmail.com
I found some tapes with tiny annotation and also another of him talking to Greg Shaw. I could scan those for you to use if you like.
I sent you an email, mine is firstname.lastname@example.org in case that didn't reach you.
Any or all of it. I'd be pleased to share my memory with anyone interested. I also spent time with "G" in Berkeley. The brief stuff I mentioned is only a tiny sliver of the story.
Great Marc thanks, and that reminds me, I have been working in Berkeley at Rasputin's and I'm guessing you're still out that way, we need to get together soon man! My email: email@example.com
Like Gary used to say 'The waters are rising and the island is getting smaller, us folks gotta stick together! Something to that effect!
Love and Light Marc!
I grew up in Buffalo in the 1980s, where I too was a shopper at Bop Street Records and later Apollo Records. In those early days, Gary was more into Power Pop than hip hop, and he sold me the Ardent Records pressings of Big Star's albums and singles--and also the Roky Erickson bootleg LPs--that are still the jewels of my record collection today. I now host a weekly radio show in Cincinnati. On air this week, I read an essay of Gary's from an early (1973) issue of Shakin' Street Gazette. https://soundcloud.com/trashflow/gary-sperazza-the-revival-of-teenage-music-1973
Here's my blog post: https://alphastare.wordpress.com/2016/05/30/rip-gary-apollo/
TFR: That's just it, though. He participated in the actual giving rise to Power pop by theorizing, writing about, naming and helping manage half the now-hallowed bands - like the Shoes, 20/20 etc. "Power Pop" has a birthdate - it's when Bomp's Issue #18 came out.
Now I'll blow your mind - he did the same feat and had the same hands-on participation in the beginnings of "Pub Rock", "Bat Cave","Hip-hop"...(by now my head is spinning)...even down to Iggy surviving being lost to history. Gary was at Bomp! during the period when Kill City was in the making. Record companies were through with Iggy by 1977. A fucking FANZINE kept the Ig train moving forward...huge sigh just thinking about it, because MUSIC itself has alot to thank Gary Sperrazza for...
TFR: That the "Revival of Teenage Music" came out in 1973, perfectly illustrates the prescience of this man. To condense the thoughtful 2000+ words into a brief "music is starting to get pompous - somewhere out there punk will happen down the road" does indeed illustrate what I'm trying to convey about Gary's active participation in pioneering the Next Big Thing - but how eerie and fantastical to hear out loud that his essay is 2000+ words of music-saving TRUTH. I wept loudly hearing your reading - thank you so much.
True Marc,'powerpop' wasn't really a thing until he wrote about those bands it wasn't just another genre of music he was into. Let us not forget his brief stint as a manager for The Diodes and I thank Jeebus everytime I hear 'Looking For The Magic' by Dwight Twilley that he turned me on to Dwight Twilley! I was already into Big Star and he still managed to hit me with another artists with great heavy hooks and melodies and production to die for...
i wasn't even born when that 1973 piece was written and it still holds relevance today!
Here's my blog post, it is not easy to capture such an enigmatic dude in so few words, and these are lengthy posts for the world of social media!
Curious reading about all these aspects of Gary. Didn't know him but he sent a letter to Denim Delinquent castigating us for our poor writing. That was pretty much it for DD, especially after Gary joined Bomp. Reading all the comments, I wish I gotten to know him. He led an interesting life.
Sorry you caught him on an empty stomach. He was certainly tough to understand sometimes. Very happy to see Marc and Jeff's comments after all these years. You guys were also my heroes. RIP G.
Thanks for all of these. My experience is neither here nor there compared to the fact that in spite of any shortcomings, he left a mark.
Ready to have your mind blown even more?
SSG was started by Gary when he was still in high school! Gary completed HS as a Junior, and spent his Senior year hanging out at Buff State and University of Buffalo auditing classes along with the likes of Billy Altman, Joe Fernbacher and Bernie Kugel – eventually leading to the establishment of the Institute for Rock ‘n’ Roll Studies. Reference: http://wnywebshop.com/ploetz/buffrock.html (Author Elmer Ploetz is a critic from The Buffalo News)
At Buff State (still a high school kid) he managed to hustle them into directing student funding toward SSG, and toward an amazing rock writers symposium very much like the Memphis one detailed in Big Star’s biography. The symposium flew in (this is mind-blowing) Lester Bangs, Nick Toshes, Greg Shaw, Richard Meltzer, Patti Smith, Lenny Kaye, Rob Tyner and others. Reference: http://02b0260.netsolhost.com/1buffalo.htm
I fucking love the story of Rob Tyner and Lester standing in line to get into a preppy college bar, Mister Goodbar (Buffalo fans will laugh), and Lester passing out while standing up in line!
I do remember that he finished HS young, I missed all that other stuff he did while still in Buffalo, he didn't talk about those early B-lo days much. Lester Bangs at Goodbar...wowzers, I could imagine.
I do also remember Gary was a member of the early Yahoo groups amongst some other music and book and comic nerds, there has to be some dialog out there.
Jay Hartnett! Folks, here's another Apollo Jammer who'll understand that you had to endure alot of unpleasantries to get to the good stuff. God bless us, dude.
Also re: early Yahoo groups, it's just another case of the pioneers getting the arrows, while the settlers get the land...One accomplishment that never went unnoticed by me is that in the bleak Berkeley days of the '00 decade,Gary's anger at the world fueled him to learn HTML out of an "HTML for Dummies" book and build his Apollojams website on his own. Again, too early for his own good, as easier web-building came along a few years later.
For the second week in a row, I read a 1973 essay from "Shakin' Street Gazette" on-air on my Cincinnati radio program "Trash Flow Radio." This time, I read Gary's essay "Teenage Music In The 70s: Part II!!" which was published in "Shakin' Street Gazette" dated Nov 1, 1973. You can listen online at https://soundcloud.com/trashflow/gary-sperrazza-teenage-music-in-the-70s-part-ii-1973 The link to the previous week's reading is above in this comment thread.
Just scored a copy of the issue of SSG pictured above, #18 Dec. 1974. Would love to track more of these down. I've Never seen one in the wild...I'd also love to re-obtain the BOMP Powerpop ish if anyone comes across that, I used to have a few issues of BOMP but lost them during a particularly turbulent period...
Hey marc, you probably don't remember me. Used to hang with g back in the day in berk and we met briefly. Could you email me? Discoattackcat@gmail.com
They were both my best friends during the early 1980's
welp...as a a decade or two bestie to Gary locally (buffalo) ,your (short visit) and tale to tell here was still ultimately, relevant. Link shared! <3
Hello, just saw this info (Dec. 2020) and I thought I would comment. I knew Gary on the West Side of Buffalo when we were both young. I must have been around 13 or so and Gary a year or two older. We went to concerts together (POCO, ELP) and shared our first joint together (and a few brownies). I spent many a night at his apartment with he and his aunt. Gary enlightened me to music that was perhaps at the time several years beyond my age. Unfortunately we drifted apart when he moved from the West Side. I have nothing but great memories of our shared time, whether reading Marvel Comics or or listening to music. I wish I had been able to keep in contact with him, but he will always remain my friend and a very influential person in my life's story. Good bye my friend. Ed
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