Michael Gudinski: More than the music man

Michael Gudinski with musician Paul Kelly.

Michael Gudinski with musician Paul Kelly. Photo: AAP

Michael Solomon Gudinski AM (August, 22, 1952 – March 1, 2021)

There’s no people like show people, the song says. There’s also no people like Michael Gudinski.

He could have had a quiet, prosperous life in the family business, but just before his HSC he dropped out of school to put up posters and book suburban dances.

He was immediately thrown out of home.

For some time, his mother had to meet him in secret to avoid the wrath of Kuba Gudinski.

Two decades later, when Michael promoted Frank Sinatra’s final Australian show, he thought he had finally done something his father approved of.

Kuba and Nina Gudinski, of Russian Jewish heritage, came to Australia in 1948 with daughter in tow.

Gudinski founded Mushroom Records, age 20.

Michael was born on August 22, 1952 and educated at Mount Scopus College and Melbourne High School. He attended lunchtime gigs in Melbourne where he saw the band The Loved Ones and his life changed.

Over five decades Michael Gudinski, more than any other person, shaped the music scene in Australia. His baby, Mushroom Records released more seminal Australian music than any other.

“I couldn’t understand how none of these great Australian bands were doing any good,” he told me.

“Mushroom came about not because I thought this was going to make me a lot of money, but we thought it was a necessary tool to take these artists somewhere.”

A Gudinski between two Minogues, Kylie and Dannii. Photo: Getty

The touring company Frontier Touring continues to work with clients such as Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, Taylor Swift; there’s TV shows, local gigs.

If there is a pie in Australia involved in music, Michael Gudinski had his finger in it.

High school dances led to a booking agency, Mushroom Records, promoting gigs, almost bankruptcy, reinventing Frontier Touring to work with new, smaller, cheaper acts, picking up on punk rock and having massive success with Jimmy Barnes, Kylie Minogue, Hunters & Collectors and Paul Kelly, ups and downs and almost broke again Mushroom enters a deal with News Corp.

In the 1990s, Gudinski sold Mushroom Records to News but kept the profit centres.

Popping bottles with Ed Sheeran at the MCG. Photo: Getty

“My lawyer, Allen Grubman, was amazing,” Gudinski recalled.

“You know what Allen said to me when he handed me the first cheque? ‘If you start another record company I will come to Australia and I will shoot you’.”

Gudinski started a bunch of record labels anyway.

Mushroom Pictures turned out a succession of films and TV including the classic Chopper.

Gudinski drifted for a while at the turn of the century but in the past 10 years revitalised Frontier with massive tours and a new roster of recording artists such as the Teskey Brothers, The Rubens, Hatchie, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Dan Sultan and many others.

It was never just business for Michael. It was all about personal relationships. He loved artists and he loved the hustle of the business. His attention span made a gnat look thoughtful but he had a steel trap mind.

Her loved the backstage world and could party for days on end, simultaneously doing deals. He was tough-minded but also incredibly generous.

He was infuriating, sometimes gauche, sweet, sentimental and ruthless. His capacity and enthusiasm for music was boundless and irrepressible.

At my first encounter with Gudinski I hung around the office for an hour, went to dinner and two gigs.

In that time, he booked the line-up for a festival, did a deal for Lobby Loyde to set up a record label, booked three other gigs and schmoozed half a dozen artists – and that was a Thursday.

Michael Solomon Gudinski died in his sleep on March 1, 2021, after some years of ill health. He is survived by his wife Sue, his children Matt and Kate and two grandchildren.

“I was lucky that I was my own boss,” he said once.

“Because realistically if I hadn’t been the boss, I’d have been fired 10 times over.”

On stage at the Arias in 2013. Photo: Getty

“I love my job,” Michael Gudinski told me at our last interview.

“You can’t make every one work and you’re not right all the time, but I’ve had some success. Luck and timing play a big part.”

Toby Creswell is an Australian music journalist, and former editor of Rolling Stone

Michael, with wife, Sue. Photo: Getty

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