Remembering Gary Kurfirst
Published January 15, 2009
Footage of Blondie, 1975
Without legendary promoter and label executive Gary Kurfirst, four decades of musical milestones would instantly vanish. New Yorkers would have missed the 1967 Village Theatre debut of Jimi Hendrix, The Who, and The Doors, organized by Kurfirst at the height of psychedelia. Under a different manager, Joey Ramone and David Byrne might have called it a day. Recession-weary middle America could easily have tuned out Bob Marley or Peter Tosh without Kurfirst’s support; The Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense might have been just another monumental studio album. Kurfirst managed three generations of seminal acts, among them The Ramones, The Talking Heads, The B-52s, The Eurythmics, and Blondie; he was involved with the production and promotion of records that have sold 100 million units to date. He wasn’t the star of his rock ‘n roll show, but his intuition and business acumen made Kurfirst one of the most forward-thinking “behind-the-scenes” players the industry has ever known. He died yesterday in the Bahamas, at the age of 61.
Shirley Manson was one of Kurfirst protege’s, even before she was the voice and face of Garbage. She spoke to Interview about his effect:
I first met Gary Kurfirst backstage at a Blondie concert in Glasgow, Scotland. I was the keyboard player in a local band called Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie that was supporting the band on their UK tour in 1990. He told me that if I ever decided to make a break from the back of the band to the front of one that I was to give him a call. Sure enough, I called him up when I became lead singer of the band Angelfish and he signed the band to an album deal after only hearing a two song demo. The last time we emailed, we discussed the fact that I had been dropped by Geffen Records in June 2008. He wrote, “You’re a star and there aren’t too many around anymore.” He was just so passionate about all of his artists. He didn’t need to have anyone affirm his taste. He loved what he loved and everyone else be damned.
Long live The Ramones.
Shirley Manson’s pre-Garbage days. The standalone single “Suffocate Me” was a minor hit on college radio in 1993.