Jimmy Barnes once described him as ‘ridiculous, compulsive, obsessive — and these are just his good points’. Paul Kelly said he’s ‘the most inarticulate man I’ve ever met, but he’s pretty savvy’, while Skyhooks’ Greg Macainsh described him as having the ‘attention span of a fly, but he’s pretty good at canvassing opinions’. And Deborah Conway once called him God-inski. Few figures loom as large in the history of Australian music as Michael Gudinski AM.
It has been more than 40 years since Gudinski co-founded Mushroom Records, but the man is still very passionate about showcasing Australian music around the world.
In the early-1970s, Michael Gudinski partnered with Michael Browning to form a top booking agency, Consolidated Rock. It became the first national agency when it took over the Let It Be agency that was handling two of the top bands of the day — Daddy Cool and Spectrum.The agency had quite a hold on the bookings of performing artists across Melbourne’s club/pub scene. By today’s standards, that sort of monopoly would unlikely be legal. The pair then tried to set up a Rolling Stone type publication called The Daily Planet as a rival to Go-Set magazine after Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum had written a few scathing articles about how much control they had in the business, but it sent them broke.
Fortunately, by the time Consolidated Rock folded, Gudinski founded Mushroom Records. He was working with business partner Ray Evans to stage, manage and book all the entertainment for the legendary Sunbury Rock Festival. Browning went on to run his own booking agency and record label and worked with some of the biggest artists in Australian music, including Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs and AC/DC.
Gudinski’s Mushroom Records’ — still based Melbourne, though known as The Mushroom Group — first singles release in February 1973 didn’t really set the world on fire. One of those early song recordings was Matt Taylor’s ‘I Remember When I Was Young’. However, a triple live album of the Sunbury Rock Festival was somewhat lavish and it sold reasonably well. From there the label went from strength to strength.
They signed the Skyhooks to the label in April of 1974. The band’s debut album Living in the 70’s was released in October of that year. Within six months it had become the biggest selling album in Australian music history at that time, spending 16 weeks at number one in Australia and sellling 240,000 copies. Mushroom Records had its first chart topper, and just in the nick of time too as the company had been struggling to survive.
Though the Skyhooks had proved successful locally, international stardom was not to be. Their tour of the United States did not yield all that was hoped for.
At around the same time, Gudinski was convinved to sign expatriate New Zealand band Split Enz. The band had returned to Australia. It was a good five years before the band scored any kind of success their album True Colours having the hit single ‘I Got You’.
By 1979, Mushroom Records has The Sports, Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons, Christie Allen and Split Enz on its books and the company was flying high. When The Swingers’ ‘Counting the Beat’ became a number one hit in both Australia and New Zealand, one could say that Mushroom Records had got a taste of international success. More was to follow when the Choirboys hit ‘Run To Paradise’ broke into the Billboard Hot 100 in 1989.
However, it was the signing of one artist in particular that really took Mushroom Records to new heights. Minogue was already a hit on television thanks to her role as Charlene on Neighbours and had a sizeable fan base not just in Australia, but in Britain. Prior to releasing her chart debut single in 1987, there was full focus on the soap star in the media. When Kylie Minogue’s remake of the ’60s classic ‘The Loco-Motion’ was released it debuted at number 10 on the charts and snapped up the top spot within two weeks. It stayed there for seven weeks and became the biggest selling single by an Australian artist in the ’80s. Her success at home and abroad set Mushroom Records up as a notable force in the recording industry and UK artist signings followed.
By the early-’90s, the Murdoch Group had become a shareholder in Mushroom Records. The company was eventually sold in 1998, which coincided with its 25th anniversary. More than 75,000 people celebrated the milestone at a concert at the MCG in Melbourne, with more than 60 artists performing. The spectacular lasted nine hours.
Gudinski remains involved in the music industry. Through Frontier Touring Group — which was formed in 1979 in partnership with Michael Chugg, Phil Jacobsen, Ray Evans, Sam Righi, Frank Stivala, Glenn Wheatley, Robbie Williams and Steve Wright — Gudinski has arranged tours by Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jnr and Liza Minelli Ultimate Event shows; The Police; Tom Jones; Madonna; Rod Stewart; John Fogerty; The Rolling Stones (although it was postponed when Mick Jagger’s partner died suddenly) and a host of others!
Not a bad effort from a boy who was born to Russian immigrants in 1952.