Ask anyone in the music industry what made Gary Gersh a star when he was a Geffen Records executive and you'll get the same answer:
He signed Nirvana.
Now Gersh is hoping he'll also be known as the man who signed the Foo Fighters.
That's the band fronted by former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl--and Gersh, now president of Capitol Records, is apparently the winner in a spirited competition to sign the group.
Though Gersh declines to comment on the situation until the issue is resolved, the probable signing couldn't be coming at a better time for the executive, who was hired by Capitol two years ago to give the label credibility in the alternative rock world.
Since joining the company, Gersh has spent much of his time restructuring Capitol in ways that aren't necessarily apparent to outsiders, such as bringing in new staff.
The Foo Fighters signing is an indication that the restructuring is done and Gersh can now concentrate on what he's best at.
Capitol has also just won a bidding war with MCA for Chicago's coveted band the Smoking Popes and is aggressively pursuing young singer-songwriter Mary Lou Lord, who is also being hunted by MCA in that company's quest for alternative-rock prestige.
If all goes well, the Foo Fighters' debut album--which was recorded over the last year with Grohl playing all the parts--could be on the streets as early as June.
Grohl has put together a band that includes guitarist Pat Smear (who was part of Nirvana on its final tour) and the rhythm section from the defunct Seattle band Sunny Day Real Estate. The Foo Fighters will play at the Palace on a bill with Mike Watt on May 19.
Can this turn Capitol around?
"This signing is a kind of a statement for Gersh," says Rob Kahane, former manager of George Michael and head of Trauma Records, which has a hot property in the English band Bush.
"I think it's a major coup. It's a great credibility move. I don't think Gary can lose, regardless of how many records it sells or doesn't sell. It's a statement about what kind of acts he wants to sign."
SIGNINGS II: Another closely watched record executive with ties to Nirvana has also just landed a touted new band. Janet Billig, who became an Atlantic Records senior vice president last year after working with Nirvana, Hole and others at the Gold Mountain management firm, just closed a deal for the band Jackass, which was also being pursued by MCA.
The group, formed in Dallas and now based in New York, has a reputation for mixing inventive pop sensibilities with a hard-edged approach.
Billig also was instrumental in signing the Canadian band the Inbreds for Atlantic's new TAG label. The group had also been negotiating with the Seattle-based Sub Pop Records.