Music biz veteran Gary Kurfirst passed away on Tuesday while vacationing in the Bahamas. While the name might not ring an immediate bell, Kurfirst was a jack-of-all-trades, starting up the New York Rock Festival when he was 20 (headliners: Janis Joplin, Hendrix, the Who, and the Doors). He signed Shirley Manson (and therefore Garbage) and also launched the Radioactive Records imprint for MCA, which released records from Live, Dig, Elysian Fields, the Ramones, and Black Grape. His most important work was done as a manager, and it’s impossible not to be staggered by Kurfirst’s eye for talent:
Toots & the Maytals
In addition, Gary Kurfirst partnered with Chris Blackwell in the 70s to bring Tosh and Bob Marley’s music to America via Island Records. He produced both Talking Heads-related films Stop Making Sense and David Byrne’s True Stories. He and Blackwell were still managing artists like Mick Jones/Big Audio Dynamite, Tom Tom Club, and Ambulance, LTD at the time of his passing.
Seymour Stein had this to say of Kurfirst, which is super-high praise coming from a label person about a manager:
“Gary was brilliant in his ability to spot changes in music ahead of most people and had the courage to act on his instincts. Gary was tough, but not cutthroat in business. He could fight hard, but fair and never held grudges. Gary had great style. Certainly one of the best and most successful relationships I ever enjoyed with a manager, working together on Talking Heads, the Ramones or Deborah Harry. Can honestly say he will be surely missed.”
From Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz:
“Gary Kurfirst has been our manager since 1977. He never failed to take care of business for us. He protected us. He allowed Talking Heads to be Talking Heads while he took the blows that the music business dealt us. Together we suffered heartbreaks and celebrated great triumphs. Gary truly was the fifth Talking Head. We were very close friends and we will miss him terribly.”