"Thank you, Michael Gudinski, for giving us the best night of our lives."
“The record company was my day job,” Michael Gudinski explains in Ego: The Michael Gudinski Story. “I loved touring.”
“He had an overwhelming need to bring people together,” Mark Seymour says in the documentary.
Most promoters would greet an artist on arrival … and then never be seen again. But Gudinski loved going on the road.
“Michael was a punter,” Skyhooks’ Red Symons remarks in Ego. He loved rolling the dice and taking a chance on a tour. Sometimes, it worked, big time, like Ed Sheeran. Other times, it was a disaster, like the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. But Gudinski loved everything about the touring business.
Here, we try to tell his story in 13 tours.
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Michael Gudinski pitched for Bruce Springsteen’s first Australian tour in 1985. He didn’t get it. Springsteen’s manager, Jon Landau, later told him: “We always wanted to work with you, but you seemed too wild at the time.”
“I took that as a real compliment,” Gudinski smiled.
He ended up getting his man, touring Springsteen three times: in 2013, 2014 and 2017. It was a joy for both parties. When Gudinski died in 2021, Springsteen issued a remarkable statement:
“I’ve toured the world for the last fifty years and never met a better promoter.”
The Boss loved the boss. For Gudinski’s State Memorial Service, Springsteen sent a video message: “I started in the music business 50 years ago when the promoters were all guys with bigger-than-life personalities, they met you at the tour bus and acted as more than just your promoter, but as hosts of the city you were visiting. For your stay in town, they would rarely be out of sight. And you came to connect each city as the alter-ego of that specific promoter. Michael Gudinski was one of the very last of that breed, and, as such, he was very, very special to me.
“He did so much more than shepherd our renaissance here in Australia, to where this became one of our favourite fan bases and most lucrative touring locations. Michael became a friend. And when you thought of Australia, you thought of Michael: his bad jokes, his laugh, his great voice, his barrel-house personality and his generosity of spirit and kindness. He loved his job and music the way that I love mine. He was a music man. Michael wasn’t just excited about the receipts; he was excited about the show, the music! I loved him.”
Springsteen dedicated the video for I’ll See You In My Dreams to Gudinski.
Gudinski formed the Frontier Touring Company in 1979.
The first two Frontier tours were The Police and Squeeze, two acts managed by Miles Copeland. Miles and his brother, Ian, had a company called Frontier Booking International, and though the companies were not aligned, they gave Gudinski permission to use the name Frontier in Australia.
The first Frontier show was Squeeze – known as UK Squeeze in Australia – at the Sundowner Hotel in Punchbowl in Sydney on January 5, 1980. Gudinski’s most vivid memory is how much Miles Copeland complained.
“Most visitors love Australia, but for some reason, Miles thought it was a shithole – he absolutely hated the place. All future tours were a Miles-free zone – he never came back, which was pretty handy because he could be a prickly character to deal with, but he trusted us.”
Sting, however, loved Australia and Gudinski. “Michael had the energy of a rock drummer,” he says in Ego. He also compared Gudinski to Bob Geldof – you couldn’t say no to him.
A mate of Gudinski called him at five in the morning, asking: “You’ve brought Iggy Pop to Australia, haven’t you?”
“Yeah,” the promoter replied, “but why are you ringing me at five o’clock?”
“I thought you might be interested – he’s asleep in the gutter on Punt Road.”
Gudinski jumped in his car and drove to Punt Road, where, sure enough, Iggy was crashed out in the gutter. “It was good timing, too, because the police had just arrived.”
Another time, Mr Pop was supporting Jimmy Barnes in New Zealand. To help pay for the tour, Gudinski organised a sponsor, Pepsi, and many of the company’s bigwigs flew in for the first show in Wellington. Gudinski thought it would be a good idea to inform Iggy that the Pepsi bosses were in the crowd to ensure he behaved.
Iggy hit the stage and launched into his opening song – Fuck Pepsi, with the unforgettable chorus: “My piss tastes better than Pepsi.”
In 1990, Gudinski and Frontier did Aerosmith’s first Australian tour. “It was a weird vibe,” the promoter recalled. The band was sober, so no one on the tour was allowed to drink, and there could be no alcohol backstage.
But on the final night of the run, at the Perth Entertainment Centre, singer Steve Tyler approached Gudinski with an unusual request:
“Look, Michael, if you can have four naked girls in the shower waiting for me when I come off stage, I’ll do an extra two encores for you tonight.”
Tyler kept his promise and delivered the two encores.
The naked truth extended to a Bon Jovi tour when the band decided they wanted to re-create the old “Riot House”, the name for the infamous Continental Hyatt House hotel on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood.
“We spent five days at the newly opened Mirage Resort in Port Douglas,” Gudinski revealed. “Thank God the plane strike was on at the time, so the hotel was virtually empty. I remember the first night we walked into dinner, the hotel manager walked up to me and said, ‘Mr Gudinski, can you please ask the girls to go and get dressed?’”
Gudinski didn’t have many regrets. But he wished his dad had lived to see him tour Frank Sinatra. “He wasn’t that hip to music and wasn’t impressed that I hadn’t become a university graduate or whatever, but that would have been the one show he would have been proud of me doing.”
The tour also surprised Gudinski. “During my long-haired hippie days, I never thought I’d be working with Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli and Sammy Davis Jr.”
Gudinski remembers that Sinatra was Cranky Franky, “but he had such an aura”.
On the first night of the tour, Gudinski was invited to dinner but told he had to address the legend as “Mr Sinatra” – under no circumstances was he to be called Frank.
Gudinski rehearsed his greeting: “Hi, Mr Sinatra, I’m Michael Gudinski, your promoter.”
But when the meeting actually happened, Gudinski slapped the superstar on the back and exclaimed: “Frank, I’m Michael Gudinski, we’re in for a great night!”
Gudinski dreamed of filling the MCG. He did it with Madonna in 1993 – three times.
He met the superstar at the airport at 6 am and decided at the last minute to present her with a gift – a didgeridoo that Yothu Yindi had given him. He knew it would make for a good photo, and he’d then get the instrument back and give her another one at the end of the tour.
Madonna loved it. “As soon as I presented the didgeridoo to her, she was putting it between her legs and making all sorts of erotic gestures.”
When the photo ran the next day in The Australian and USA Today, Yothu Yindi’s manager rang Gudinski. “What have you done? The elders are freaking out!”
“Don’t worry,” Gudinski assured him. “I’m going to get it back.”
“That’s not the point.”
Gudinski had no idea there were male and female didgeridoos, and Madonna had offended Aboriginal lore by holding a man’s didgeridoo.
“I think she actually enjoyed the controversy, but when I saw her the next day, her first words were: ‘Jesus, what are you doing to me? That’s the last present I accept from you!’”
Later, after one of her Sydney shows was rained out, Madonna yelled at Gudinski, “I need a whore!”
A little shocked, Gudinski yelled back: “You need a what?”
“I need a whore!”
A member of Madonna’s entourage had to translate Madonna’s request – she actually needed a hall so her dancers could rehearse on their day off.
“You’re not a promoter until you’ve lost a lot of money over a very short period of time,” one of Gudinski’s rivals noted.
Not every tour turns to gold.
In 1995, Frontier decided to branch out. “When a few of us started having kids, we decided to do some family shows,” Gudinski explained.
“It seemed like a good idea until we picked up the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. When I went to see the show in America, I had a sinking feeling: what have we got ourselves in for? And the thing about those kids’ shows is you have to be right on the money – what’s in this month can be out next month.
“We probably lost more money on that than any music tour we’d done. And the ridiculous part about it was we were paying a fortune for a bunch of suits – anyone could have been inside those suits.
“It was a good lesson – stick to what you know.”
In 1998, Bob Dylan gave Gudinski one of his biggest thrills when he agreed to do a gig at his club, the Mercury Lounge, in Melbourne. “He’d been using the venue as a rehearsal space and agreed to do the gig as a thank you,” Gudinski recalled.
But Dylan had one demand: Gudinski had to be there at six in the morning – handing out coffee and donuts to the people buying tickets.
“It was a small price to pay for the privilege of having Bob play at my club.”
On Black Saturday, Gudinski was in Perth with Leonard Cohen. On the way back to Melbourne, the promoter told him the Victorian fires were about a mile from where he’d played the previous weekend. Cohen said, “Do you think it’d be okay if I donated some money?”
The artist’s generosity [$200,000] inspired Gudinski.
He co-promoted the Sound Relief show at the MCG, which he later said was “probably the proudest moment of my promoting career”.
Midnight Oil, Hunters & Collectors and Split Enz all re-formed for the show. “It was a very emotional day.”
In Ego, Ed Sheeran says Gudinski had “this aura of fun … he was just bonkers”.
In 2018, Gudinski and Sheeran made touring history, selling one million tickets on an Australian tour. The English artist loved the promoter so much that he installed a life-sized bronze statue of Gudinski at his home in Suffolk, England.
Manager John Watson (Midnight Oil, Cold Chisel) says in Ego that Gudinski was “the host with the most”. With Ed Sheeran, he gave “one million people a great time”.
Ed Sheeran also wrote a song for Gudinski, Visiting Hours, which he sang at his memorial service.
When Gudinski died, Foo Fighters tweeted: “Thank You Michael Gudinski for giving us and countless others the best night of our lives. Over and over again.”
“I’m a firm believer in magic and magic people,” Dave Grohl said in a video message at Gudinski’s memorial service. “You don’t come across them too often in life. But you know when you do because they emanate this feeling like they glow or they shine. And when you do meet one of these people, it’s reassuring because it reminds you that we’re not all just skin and bones.
“Gudinski was definitely one of these people, and you knew this every time he walked into a room. Because he didn’t just walk into a room, he charged into the room, and the room became his.
“Over the years, we got to spend some really wonderful times with Gudinski, and every one of them seemed like a celebration. It could have been a backstage, it could have been a hotel lobby, it could have been a restaurant, but every experience we ever had with Gudinski was a celebration of some kind. I always considered it a celebration of life.”
A year after Gudinski’s passing, on March 4, 2022, Foo Fighters played at GMHBA Stadium in Geelong – the first Australian stadium show with an international headliner since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The show was promoted by Frontier and Always Live, which had been a Gudinski initiative to promote live music in Victoria post-Covid.
The band dedicated Everlong to Gudinski. “So, no more speeches, all right,” Grohl told the crowd. “Fuck that. All I have to say is that I don’t like saying goodbye to people. Because the way we work is we always fucking come back, because that’s what we do … But I would like to dedicate this last song to an old friend who’s not here with us tonight. A person that always brought us over here and took care of us and made us happy. A sweet man who made everything fun Down Under – in more ways than one.
“Coincidentally, we managed to get down here about almost exactly a year since his passing. We would not be the band we are today, here in Australia, if it wasn’t for the great, late Michael Gudinski.
“I never understood one word that motherfucker said to me, I swear to God. I couldn’t tell what he was saying. But I do know that he was full of love. So let’s give it back to him.
“Thank you very much for coming out to the rock ’n’ roll show tonight. We should do it more often, right? I hope we do.”
Drummer Taylor Hawkins wore a Mushroom T-shirt, and his bass drum featured a photo of Gudinski. But sadly, Hawkins would never return to Australia. He died three weeks after the show.
When Covid hit, the music industry shut down. But Michael Gudinski worked harder. He started the TV series The Sound, and on Anzac Day 2020, he created Music From The Home Front, a TV concert that paid tribute to the Anzacs and the Covid frontline workers.
“We had just nine days to pull together Music From The Home Front,” Gudinski said. “A show this big should take months.”
The resulting live album went to number one – twice, with all profits going to Support Act. And Gudinski personally signed every copy of the triple vinyl that was pre-ordered.
Ego: The Michael Gudinski Story is now available on DVD/Blu-Ray via the Madman Shop. Stream the documentary soundtrack below.