Bob Gibson, who co-founded Gibson & Stromberg, a pioneering firm in music publicity during a key golden age of rock in the late ’60s and early ’70s, died Oct. 23 in Los Angeles. He was 80.
The company he formed with Gary Stromberg lasted from 1969 until 1975 and represented artists including the Rolling Stones, Elton John, Pink Floyd, the Who, James Taylor, the Beach Boys, the Eagles, T. Rex, Cheech & Chong, Curtis Mayfield, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Alice Cooper and the Allman Brothers Band.
In keeping with the loose spirit of the time and many of the artists they represented, Gary Stromberg waxed irreverent in remembering his former partner as a key influencer and a “bon vivant who helped set the tone for living the good life in the midst of rock’s ascendance in the ‘70s.”
“Bob and I walked down opposite sides of the street,” Stromberg told Variety. “He loved to drink, while I preferred powdered alcohol — hence our nicknames, Guzzle and Snort. Our company motto was ‘Always a Good Show for the Money!’ I’m gonna miss that crazy bastard. All you drunks at the Pearly Gate Cocktail Lounge, keep a lookout for Gibson… the first round is on him!”
(Stromberg, it’s worth pointing out, has long since put the powder behind him, as he has become a leader in the recovery field.)
More seriously, Stromberg characterizes Gibson as a partner who “was smart, charmingly brash, and had an instinctive knowledge of what would work in the changing social order. He chimed in on Rolling Stone’s infamous magazine launch that featured a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal, introducing an important new generation to corporate America, and urged performers and their representatives to get involved in using their voices to raise awareness at fundraisers for issues and candidates.”
Industry veteran Pete Senoff, who maintains a website devoted to those who worked in the music industry in the 1970s, has devoted a memorial page specifically to photos of Gibson and friends that can be found here.
The circle of friends and associates from those Gibson & Stromberg days was already reeling from the death last week of veteran publicist Bobbi Cowan, who made her name at the firm, before hearing that her former boss, Gibson, had died just a day later.
Gibson had been part of a more buttoned-down PR world in the 1960s before he and Stromberg partnered to take on the biggest names in music. They were renowned for their lavish parties, like the one they threw to unveil Cooper’s “Welcome to My Nightmare” toward the end of their original tenure together. They took pride in being the firm of choice for British bands looking to make it in America, with Stromberg remembering that arriving bands would often tromp into the firm’s Sunset Blvd. offices with luggage still in tow. On Tuesday nights, the entire office would go down to Santa Monica Blvd. and take over the Troubadour. They were involved in opening the Rainbow Bar and Grill, adjacent to the Roxy.
The firm had a sign in the hallway outside its office that half-joked: “Twelve Press Agents — No Waiting.”
Gibson came up for frequent mention in the book “Stones Touring Party: A Journey Through America With the Rolling Stones,” Robert Greenfield’s account of the Stones’ 1972 tour, which the writer describes as being too much even for a PR overachiever. “Gibson is no newcomer to rock ‘n’ roll, Greenfield wrote. “He owned the Cheetah in L.A. and did concert advertising for years before getting into full-time rock PR, and many’s the night he’s flown to some god-forsaken city like Cleveland with a writer under his arm for a wild night on the road with some band. But that’s as far as it goes… Bob has never had to be a policeman, a roadie and a walking directory of information. … It’s reached the point where Gibson is even carrying guitars into the hall. Gibson! The King! Carrying guitars… like a roadie.” The writer said that, however beleaguered, ultimately Gibson & Stromberg had “engineered the rock PR job of the year, if not the decade.”
Stromberg remembers the firm as ending abruptly and, after its dissolution in 1975, he went on to produce films including “Car Wash” starting in 1976, while Gibson became an executive at ABC Dunhill Records.
“The corporate life did not suit Bob,” Stromberg says of Gibson, who went on to open or head a series of boutique PR firms, including The Group, where the two briefly reunited as partners in the early ’90s.
Robert Hazard Gibson was born in Los Angeles in 1939 to Colonel Bill Gibson and Suzanne Ainsworth Hazard. His first job was parking cars at the Coconut Grove for his grandfather’s firm, System Parking Company. The famous nightclub’s representative took him on as an apprentice, which afforded a world of networking opportunities. He went on to operate Cheetah nightclub on the Santa Monica Pier, a magnet for actors, musicians, models and editors, and opened the Black Rabbit Inn in West Hollywood before entering the music business full-time.
Gibson retired from publicity in the late ‘90s and became director of his family’s System Property Development Co. After moving between Montecito, Palm Springs and Portugal and Palm Springs, he spent his last decade back in Los Angeles’ Hancock Park area.
Gibson is survived by his three sons, Courtney Gibson, Christian Gibson and Bobby Gibson; his former wife, Pearl Gibson; and his sisters, Melinda Haldeman, Patti James and Cynthia James.