Frank Gutch Jr: George Romansic… Turning the Lights Out


It’s another rough week.  I found out over the weekend that good friend George Romansic, who had been very ill, had died.  Georgie.  The guy with the goofy smile.  His smile wasn’t goofy as much as it always fronted that face.  Always.  I never saw a guy smile so much.  He had reason, of course— a great life with wife Joan Maneri and daughter Maddie, music, friends.  Georgie had tons of friends.  Tons.  If you were anywhere near the music business in Seattle from the eighties to the present, you knew of George if not knew him personally.  He was easy to know.

GeorgeandFamilyI met George when I worked at Peaches Records in Seattle.  I had been hired as the singles buyer and had taken over cutouts as well, but when the company went into bankruptcy, the whole system skidded to a halt.  For close to a year we lived on a budget designed to keep the store on life support while legal eagles and bureaucrats picked the corporate carcass clean.  When we came out of bankruptcy, we picked up the pieces and attempted to rebuild from the ashes.

The first thing we did was restructure the buying aspect of the store.  Up to that time, most of the buying had been done if not controlled by the head office in L.A.  We sat down and outlined what needed to be done and set about doing it.  That’s when I met George.

He and that smile ambled into the store one day, announcing that the store had been approved for credit with City Hall, an independent record distributor out of San Rafael.  Might we be interested?  We were.  Close your eyes and picture the end of Casablanca, the movie, in which Humphrey Bogart and  Claude Rains walk into the fog, Rick (Bogart) saying to Louie (Rains), “Louie, I think that this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”  That mirrors the beginning of mine and George’s.

We worked together for over thirteen years.  Any problems which occurred were out of our hands and never interfered with our personal relationship.  We tried to do the right thing no matter what the circumstances and in fact walked away from a couple of problems because they interfered with our ethics.  At those moments, the lesser of two evils were not a consideration for either of us.  I would like to think that I would have drawn the lines there myself, but I’m not so sure.  Having George there, however, made them no-brainers.

3Swimmers Howie Wahlen reminded me that George got us both into a Three O’Clock/54.40 show back in ’84 or so.  Three O’Clock were up-and-coming and 54.40 had just released an EP titled Set the Fire on the timy Mo-Da-Mu Records label out of British Columbia.  I seldom went to shows in those days but I think Howie talked me into it.  The venue was on Capitol Hill and the sound was muddy at best, but it was a good show.  George and I would talk about that show on occasion until I left Seattle in ’92.  Eight years later, Three O’Clock, to my knowledge, was nonexistent while 54.40 rode three albums to platinum status up in Canada.

George was always trying to get me to expand my horizons, but the real truth was that the artists City Hall sold were pretty much under the radar.  Which made them right up my alley.  I can think of two which I am sure I would have missed had it not been for his insistence.  Clannad had just released The Magical Ring in Ireland and though it was an import, George somehow made sure I got a promo copy.  It made me a lifelong fan and gave our store quite the edge when, a few years later, Clannad signed an American deal with RCA Red Seal, RCA’s classical arm and toured the States.  And there was Ladysmith Black Mambazo.  He guaranteed I would like it and, per usual with George’s suggestions, I did.  A lot.

One thing that we shared was an appreciation for the difficulties small labels had.  Few stores stocked deep catalog because of the amount of investment involved and even Peaches hand-picked the titles.  Realistically, it did no good to stock one of everything, as Tower and Peaches tried to do at the peak of the business.  One of the labels George and I bonded over was White Label out of the UK.  The guys who ran the label were fanatics when it came to records either unreleased or lost and set the label up to give the music exposure.  Some of the albums were compilations of tiny labels in some of the oddest places you could imagine— Bees Knees, Kansas or Backslip, West Virginia or the like.  A lot of rockabilly, blues, R&B and very early and raw rock ‘n’ roll.  George saved every promo he got on that label for me and there were only a few.  Eventually, the source for the label dried up, but a handful of times collectors who knew we had carried the label would come in asking about it.  That was the kind of prestige both of us ate for lunch.

GeorgeBasementI would tell more stories about Georgie but he was nothing if not humble, as reinforced by a social media post by The Walkabouts‘ and Glitterbeat Records‘ head Chris Eckman.  Hell, everyone knew George, especially musicians.  George spent time with a number of bands, including The Beakers, Little Bears From Bangkok, 3 Swimmers and Danger Bunny.  Wouldn’t you know it, he played drums.  No wonder I loved the guy.

We reconnected February of last year.  He had just signed on with the Book of Face and tracked me down and I cannot begin to tell you how really cool it was.  We sent messages back and forth and got caught up a little.  George was still working the music scene and had his drums permanently ensconced in the basement where members of Danger Bunny would drop by on occasion to revisit the old days.  In case you’ve never heard them, here you go.

And Tom Dyer of Green Monkey Records has this in his vaults.

And for those of you who want to go even deeper, here is Little Bears From Bangkok (click here).  I used to tell Georgie that the band he played in were weird.  That usually made his smile even wider.  God, but I am going to miss that smile.  I only hope that he knows the effect he had on so many of us who knew him.  We could have said it more, George, but we loved you.  We really did.

After making contact with him on the Book of Face, I sent a message saying how very cool I thought it was that we were once again in contact with one another.  Here was his reply…

Made my day, too! I’ve long hoped to reconnect with you. Would you be shocked to learn that this month marks my 35th year in the record business? I’m going to be the person that turns the lights out when it’s over…

He was kidding, of course, but had he been serious, I would gladly have turned the lights out for him.


Frank’s column appears every Tuesday

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DBAWIS ButtonFrank Gutch Jr. looks like Cary Grant, writes like Hemingway and smells like Pepe Le Pew. He has been thrown out of more hotels than Keith Moon, is only slightly less pompous than Garth Brooks and at one time got laid at least once a year (one year in a row). He has written for various publications, all of which have threatened to sue if mentioned in any of his columns, and takes pride in the fact that he has never been quoted. Read at your own peril.”

One Response to “Frank Gutch Jr: George Romansic… Turning the Lights Out”

  1. Frank, every time you mentioned his various smiles, they popped onto my brain. Thanks.

    I knew him first as George the record salesman too. Working at Peaches was my intro to him. Only later did I find out about George the musician.

    George knowing the power pop fan I was, turned me on to a few things. The Three O’Clock and Buzz of Delight (or Matthew Sweet to those not in the know) are only the biggest of them (to me).

    Tom Dyer and I had been talking about doing “The History of George” for about 5 years now as an album of the month. We think it’s time to get on it.

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