There is very little which a little bit of studio finagling can’t fix.
If you are into this kind of thing I highly recommend The Garden Tapes, a stellar website which get’s into pain staking detail about all of Led Zeppelin’s legitimately released live albums and how they are often Franken-Zeppelin efforts of meticulously pieced together performance montages. When introducing his dissertation on “How the West Was Won” Eddie Edwards, the author The Garden Tapes sites a then current interview with Jimmy Page where the interviewer asked Page why he had combined two concerts as he had for this release rather than just releasing one complete concert. “Presumably it was so that he could choose the best parts from each night? ‘No,’ he replied with uncharacteristic candour ‘it was just to give that Garden Tapes bloke something to do.’
Classic live albums like “Get Your Ya Yas Out” and “Live At Leeds” have not escaped this malaise. While they are held up as quintessential representations of everything that a live album should aspire to be they themselves have not managed to escape a certain degree of studio wizardry.
Does this diminish their stature? Does this make them any less than the classic albums which they are? Not from where I sit.
But once you have graduated, once you have found yourself looking for the proverbial ‘more”, then, my friend, you are ready for the wonderful world of bootlegs. Recordings of Illicit Origin. The Great White Wonder.
Check out the following excerpt from my book “Not Only Am I With The Band…” for more on this subject.
Step into my parlour said the bootlegger to the fly
So many things in life are affected by where you are at any particular point in time. As an example, I met my future wife because of seaweed. Really. Doesn’t sound to romantic, does it? Romance is attributed to most things based upon any number of external forces. I mean, why are roses considered romantic? Of and by themselves they are just flowers. Very nice flowers I will grant you but not inherently romantic.
A woman may consider roses as romantic because the receiving of beautiful gifts makes her feel more beautiful herself. Also, roses are usually used in combination with a nice candle light dinner, again, not inherently romantic.
Guys find roses romantic because the giving of them usually leads to sex.
All the romantic guys are now saying “speak for yourself” and my wife is saying “hope you weren’t planning on seeing any of that sex for the foreseeable future.” What I can say in my defence is this. I am a romantic. Honestly I am. It’s just that I tend to look for the humorous, ironic and absurd in almost everything that I see. I just usually don’t express these observations out loud.
In my minds eye my face has been slapped a thousand times.
Yet I still cannot look at seaweed without thinking of when my wife and I first met. Maybe I’ll tell you that tale one of these days. Maybe if you keep on reading…
Now, where was I? Seaweed.. slap in the face… roses…. Romance… right place, right time… Elton John… oh right, Elton John.
My trek to find and acquire all music Elton lead me to start frequenting a record store located at the Oshawa Centre called Symphonette. Symphonette was situated on the upper level of the mall near Sears back in the days when the mall used to stretch from Sears at one end all the way to the Golden Griddle and bowling alley at the other.
By and large the people who used to work at Symphonette were one dimensional drones, there because they had to be, with no real passion for that which they sold; at least none that I could ever detect. One day I was in line waiting to make a purchase. The guy in front of me already had a red bag which obviously contained a record. He also seemed to know the guy behind the counter because he was spending one hell of a long time talking to him.
So, while waiting for them to finish whatever pressing business they had with each other I turned my attention to the red bag lying on the counter. You could almost make out what was behind that thin red veneer. Just when I thought I could suss out the title (something about “Strange Rain”) he snatched it up and mentioned the two words that were always guaranteed to get my attention in those days.
“I just picked up this Elton John boot” he said, withdrawing the record from its hiding place.
I was suddenly all ears and eyes. The album was a two tone job, blue-green and white. It showed an image of Elton John wearing some weird looking head gear and outrageous glasses. The title of the album was “Just Like Strange Rain”.
“Where did you get that????” I blurted.
“Go away kid,” snarled Mr. tall dark and pimply behind the counter.
“No, no. I really want to know. I love Elton John and thought I had all of his records. But I’ve never seen this record before.”
The owner of the record slid it along the counter to me. I snatched it up greedily.
Elton John – Just Like Strange Rain. Recorded live at the Hammersmith Odeon in London England on 12/24/1974. The record label was a company called “The Amazing Kornyphone Record Label. TAKRL for short.
Holy shit!! Where had this come from?
Imagine that you are a collector of fine art. You love Leonardo da Vinci. You think that you were aware of everything that the master ever produced. Then suddenly, one day, you are made aware of a completely and hitherto fore unknown work. What do you do? What questions can you articulate? So many questions; so little time.
I split the difference and cut right to the chase.
“Where did you get this?”
I didn’t care what it was; I just knew that it was something I had never seen before, apparently recorded by an artist that I was currently enjoying a very intimate aural relationship with.
After an interminable period of time I got the information that I was after. Apparently the record was something called a “bootleg”. If I really wanted one I would have to go to a previously unheard of record shop called “Moonglow Records”.
“Ask for Marty” said Mr. Stridex pads.
“Thanks” I said, turning to go.
“And kid” this from the owner of the record.
I stopped and turned to face him.
“You won’t find this record in the Elton John section.”
I stared at him. Where was I to find it then?
“These aren’t like regular records” offered Acne central.
“Tell Marty that Jeff sent you.”
Jeff… right you are then…
That was all they would say, so I thanked them and fled Symphonette as if my life depended upon it. My initial urge was to charge down town Oshawa and try to ferret out Moonglow Records that very instant. Yet there was something in their words and tone of voice that spoke of danger. Baby steps were required here; baby steps and a back up.
Cowardice being the better part of valour I decided to wait until the next day and enlist someone from the neighbourhood to join me.
So next morning came around and the only person I could find to accompany me was Mike. With some effort I talked him into joining me on my quest. I tried to emphasize the implied danger and play down the fact that the root cause of this danger was a record. On the way down town I filled him in more fully on what had transpired the previous afternoon. That these records were contraband was pretty evident. I had no idea how “Marty” would react to some kid walking into his store and asking to see some illegal merchandise.
We decided that Mike would wait outside the store for five minutes after I went in before entering. Then, if I was in trouble, he could quickly exit and fetch the local constabulary.
With our plan in place I screwed up my courage and entered the store.
Moonglow Records was a dimly lit narrow hole in the wall. No more than 20 foot wide by about 60 foot deep, it’s one aisle was lined down each side with record bins. Posters and additional record display racks fought it out for possession of the very walls themselves. As my eyes grew accustomed to the lighting I noticed that I wasn’t the lone customer in the store; two others listlessly flipped through albums near the back. Just inside the entrance was a counter flanked by a huge hand made display rack on the wall. Standing behind the counter was a stocky man with thinning black hair. I stood my ground as he spoke on the phone.
“… you can pick it up tomorrow afternoon. I have to go into Toronto so I can snag it for you tonight… yeah.. don’t worry, you’ll love this group… O.k. see you then…”
Hanging up the phone he turned his gaze to me.
“Can I help you?”
I swallowed dryly and ventured “ I’m looking for Marty”
The man smiled and closed his eyes when he spoke.
“ I’m Marty,” he chuckled, “what can I do for you?”
“I’d like to pick up the new live Elton John album.” I wished I could have remembered the title but the name escaped me.
Marty started to walk out from behind the counter and proceed down into the depths of the store. My heart swelled. Could it have been that easy? Near the back of the store Marty stopped in front of one of the bins on the left hand side. When I caught up with him I realized that he was standing by the Elton John section.
“You won’t find this in the Elton John section…”
My heart sank. Screwing up my courage one more notch I tried again.
“No… I’d like to see the new live Elton John album.”
Marty started flipping through the albums.
“Yeah 11-17-70. It’s not new but it is his only live album… and I’m afraid we’re all out of it. I could order it for you.”
“The record I’m looking for isn’t in the Elton John section…” I ventured, while wondering what this 11-17-70 album was.
Marty looked at me, with a baleful look, one that I would come to know only to well and said nothing.
“It’s a special album…”
“Yeah, a special LIVE album by Elton John. “
I said this quietly so as to not attract the attention of the other patrons in the store.
Marty eyed me suspiciously. You know the look you get when you are loosing someone; bordering very much on the “whatever” vibe. Problem was that Marty was regarding me, very much on the “who the fuck are you and what the fuck are you blabbering on about” vibe.
I could picture myself beaten to a pulp, lying crumpled in a heap in some dark Oshawa alleyway.
In desperation I blurted out “Jeff sent me!!!!”
The gathering clouds receded from Marty’s face.
“Oh,” he said in understanding. “You mean the bootlegs!”
I recoiled, glancing furtively around trying to gauge what impact this pronouncement had made on the others. Where was my back up? Hadn’t it been five minutes yet? I needn’t have worried. The other patrons in the store continued flipping threw the bins, lost in their own little worlds. When I turned my attention back to Marty he was just disappearing behind the curtained opening of a doorway at the back of the store.
Should I follow? Was he going to get a gun? What should I do? Just as I made up my mind to follow him, he re-emerged clutching not one but two albums in his hand.
“Are these the ones you are looking for?” asked Marty as he passed them to me.
I didn’t recognize the first one. On its cover was a red and white picture of Elton John; he was wearing some weird looking costume or another. All Across the Havens was the title. It too was recorded live at the Hammersmith Odeon in London England on December 24, 1974. This was the same place and date as the other record but it had different songs. I quickly flipped to the second LP.
This was the one I had come for. Just Like Strange Rain.
Marty quickly explained.
“These two are from the same show; part one and part two if you will.
“I’ll take them both… how much are they?”
He smiled as he walked past me.
“Let’s go back up to the counter.”
As we approached the front of the store Mike came tentatively through the door. When he saw me walking towards him under my own steam he seemed to relax.
So I bought the two LP’s, raced home, slapped them on my turntable and proceeded to play them both over and over and over again. While I had seen a few concerts by this point I really wasn’t that familiar with the studio versions of the songs that were played. For the first time I was listening to live versions of songs that I was all too familiar with in all their studio finery; the experience was nothing short of a revelation.
Some songs were played faster, more frenetically, obviously picking up on the energy of playing before a live audience. Other songs sounded close to their studio incarnations, with various instruments up higher in the mix. Some vocals were done straight up, others placed emphasis on different lines, different words. Yet others were extended in length well beyond their vinyl constraints.
I was to find out through trial and error, that bootlegs were not always of the highest sonic quality. That’s not to say that the two discs I bought sounded bad; on the contrary. They both sounded amazing. Maybe that was part of the problem. If the sound quality had sucked my whole life might have turned out differently. But they didn’t and neither did it; the records and my life that is.
And that ladies and gentlemen was how I bought my first bootlegs.
We interrupt this tale for a sermon regarding bootlegs, counterfeit and pirated recordings.
Hot Wacks and the Great White Wonder
A pirated recording is a recording of officially released material dolled up to look like new product and released by someone who does not hold the copyrights to the material.
A counterfeit recording is an exact copy of officially released material in the same album sleeve and trimmings with absolutely no effort made to distinguish it from the officially released album. Much like those bogus Rolexes you can buy in Tijuana and Nogales.
A bootleg record is made up of live recordings, studio out-takes and demo’s none of which have officially seen the light of day.
The Recording Industry Association of America, RIAA for short, lumps all three of these items into the same illegal milieu. I am in complete agreement with their view on the first two. Pirates and counterfeiters are ripping me, the consumer, off. That’s just wrong. If I am going to buy material released by my favourite artist then I am going to buy it from a legitimate source. The quality is just better, the artist gets credit for their work and the record company will continue to release their material. Profits from recordings also go towards the discovery of new acts.
Pirates and counterfeiters should be shot and pissed on, not necessarily in that order. At the very least they should have their executive wash room privileges revoked.
Bootleggers, on the other hand, are filling a demand for additional product that would not otherwise be available; this at the very least.
At their best, bootlegs capture moments in time that would be lost and gone forever if not preserved on tape. Many cultures throughout history have strived to preserve their accomplishments for posterity sake; even back when the word posterity did not exist. Think about it… why invent an alphabet if not to record words, thoughts and deeds so that future generations may gaze upon your nuggets of wisdom with rapt adoration. I look at recorded music as a historical time line of events and accomplishments. The record companies are responsible for releasing the major highlights that anyone of us would want to be remembered for, on behalf of their clients.
Only problem is, for many artists that represents only a part of the tale. In the same way that diaries and personal accounts flesh out any period in history, so too bootlegs flesh out the history of a recording artist. High points and low points unflinchingly captured for all to hear. When an artist is out on tour, night after night, each performance is not necessarily exactly the same; even if they play the same songs each night, eschewing the practice of switching certain tunes in and out of the set list in an attempt to keep things fresh. The guitar player could be having a particularly good night ripping off blistering solos and imbuing the proceedings with a certain magic. Or, the singer might be under the weather and, in an effort to prop up their band mate, the rest of the band rally round and give a truly spectacular performance. Or moments that are just out of the ordinary.
Jeff Beck’s musical turn on Jean Genie / Love Me Do and Around and Around during Bowie’s infamous Ziggy Stardust retirement gig at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1973 exists no where else save for on bootleg.
Mick Taylor joining his old band mates The Rolling Stones to play the entire show at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City on their 1981 tour of the Americas. You won’t find that filed under R for Rolling Stones.
Another sidebar here; it’s the whole issue of filing music. Elton John is a proper name. His records should be filled under J for John, Elton. The Rolling Stones should be filled under… no, no, not T for The. When filing an artist words like “The” and “A” are silent. You drop them before you file them. The Rolling Stones would be filed under R for Rolling Stones, The.
Jethro Tull? It’s a trick question. Even though Jethro Tull was an actual person he does not now, nor has he ever, played in the band. As a matter of fact Jethro Tull the person died in 1741. It is doubtful that he ever heard Aqualung or any of the other songs recorded by his namesake. Since Jethro Tull is not the name of anyone in the band you would file it under J for Jethro Tull. Same way you would file Lynyrd Skynyrd under L for Lynyrd Skynyrd.
George Thorogood and the Destroyers? Under T for Thorogood. As in Thorogood and the Destroyers, George.
This explains why you might go into your favourite record store from time to time and not be able to find your favourite artist. Don’t give up. After you have checked the right place for them to be filed try to imagine that you are illiterate. Where might you file them if you just don’t have a clue? Odds are you will find them there.
Right, back to out of the ordinary moments in music; you have the cases of a final performance of a beloved member of a band before they leave, or in really bad cases, die.
The late great Bon Scott’s final gig with his beloved AC/DC in France before his untimely death is captured on bootleg to enjoy over and over. As is Freddie Mercury’s final live gig with Queen at the Knebworth Festival, Stevenage, North Hertfordshire, England in 1986.
This more than anything in the transient world of rock and roll highlights the historical service which bootlegs provide. Capturing an artist’s or bands last shows… talk about priceless. John Bonham’s final performance as the power behind the mighty Led Zeppelin at Berlin’s Eissporthalle on July 7th, 1980; I could sit here and rhyme them off all day long; Stevie Ray Vaughn, Buddy Holly, Brad Delp, lions and tigers and bears (oh my).
Bootlegs come from many different sources. Everything from FM radio broadcasts, line recordings from the soundboard right the way down to the lone taper who sneaks his tape / MD / DAT decks into a concert and presses record.
Obviously, quality varies from source to source. Some albums are as good if not better than most live recordings legitimately released. Others not so much so; a boot of Deep Purple live titled “Glutton For Punishment” for example, sounded as though someone took their younger brothers first portable tape recorder into a concert hall and sat as far away from the stage as was humanly possible. Maybe even as far away as the parking lot.
It was a case of crowd with barely audible backing group. Hot Wacks, the bootleg bible, listed their review of “Glutton For Punishment” as “Piss poor, worst bootleg ever”.
No really, don’t hold back. What do you really think of it?
Needless to say I quickly introduced Ben to the wonderful world of illicit live recordings. When a copy of Glutton became available Ben, a huge Deep Purple fan, snapped it up. All so we could experience exactly how poor piss poor really was.
It was pretty poor. I think Hot Wacks succinct review hit the nail squarely on the proverbial head.
We ended up playing Frisbee with it, it the parking lot of the Oshawa Centre. Seeing as vinyl records could be used as lethal weapons we were lucky not to loose an appendage or vital organ. On one throw the record arced high into the sky before slicing it’s way back down to embed itself two thirds of it’s circumference into a flower garden.
I gotta tell you though; when it hit a solid brick wall… it blew up real good.
The biggest kick for me with bootlegs was the ability to relive a live performance over and over again. In all of it’s ragged glory; especially if it was a recording of a concert that I had actually attended. Many official live recordings just don’t hold a candle. They are edited, incomplete recordings. Or worse; they have been “sweetened” with studio overdubs correcting a bum note here or a missed cue there. Even records like the much vaunted “Get Your Ya Yas Out” by The Rolling Stones, considered by many to be one of the greatest live albums ever has been tainted by studio overdubs. Stones aficionados point to the bootleg “LIVEr Than You’ll Ever Be”, a show recorded in Oakland California as the quintessential document of the 1969 tour. It is an excellent sounding audience recording that was released in December of 1969, just over a month after its November 9th 2nd show recording.
As a matter of fact, “Get Your Ya Yas Out” was released by the Stones record company in large part as an answer to the release of “LIVEr”.
And that’s not the first time a bootleg has forced a studio into releasing a legitimate live product. Elton John’s live album 11-17-70 (titled 17-11-70 in Great Britain) was released as a direct result of bootleggers recording and releasing a live broadcast by Elton from New York radio station WABC.
Even the grandfather of rock bootlegs, Bob Dylan’s “Great White Wonder”, released on the Trade Mark of Quality label, had an impact on a major label. In the early days, bootleg vinyl came in plain white record sleeves with either a paper insert or a rubber stamp to identify the disc. GWW is widely recognized as THE first rock bootleg. It contained studio out takes of songs by Dylan that had been recorded in his basement with his then current band (who were soon to leave Dylan and go on to become The Band).
So popular was this record that some legitimate record stores mistook it for an import and actually started stocking it.
Dylan’s record studio recognized a buck to made when they saw one and subsequently released the double LP “The Basement Tapes”.
True story; you can look it up.
One final argument that the RIAA uses against bootlegs goes something like this:
“People who buy bootleg recordings won’t necessarily buy the artist’s officially released material thereby denying them their due recompense.”
“People who buy bootleg recordings of an inferior sound quality might hold the group erroneously responsible for the sub standard product.”
Let me say this about that. It has been my experience that people who buy bootlegs probably own every other officially released recording that they would be likely to have bought already. They are looking for the ever elusive “more”.
And in some cases the process works in reverse. Remember my first exposure to Queen in Kirk’s cannabis suffused lair? The next time I heard Queen was when Ben brought his latest bootleg acquisition to my place to give it a spin. It was an album called “Command Performance” on The Amazing Kornyphone Recording Label.
“It was recorded at the Hammersmith Odeon in London around last Christmas.”
I remember the name Queen, as it applied the band, rang a bell. By the time the strains of the first song came throbbing out of my speakers I had made the connection.
“I know this song,” I blurted.
How could I not. It was one of the songs that Kirk had played for me after the Bowery Boys had left his basement to go and check out the myriad changes the mall had undergone since the previous day. It was off of their album Sheer something or another and it was called… it was called… Now… I’m…
“Here!” I cried triumphantly.
And it was. “Now I’m Here” the opening track from Queen’s third album “Sheer Heart Attack”.
Why do I bring all this up now? Well, just to say that the first Queen album that I ever owned was, in fact, a bootleg. That particular bootleg to be specific because, once we were through listening to it, I forced Jeff to travel right back down to Moonglow Records so that I might pick up my very own copy of it.
Now I own every single legitimate recording that Queen have released, including Brian and Roger’s more recent collaboration with Paul Rogers playing the role of Freddie Mercury. Not to mention an additional bootleg or 12.
So I can personally refute the RIAA’s assertions that buying bootleg records will take money out of an artist pocket. How, you might ask, do I know that I wouldn’t have caught on to Queen eventually of my own accord? Well, the answer there is… I don’t. This was, after all, right around the time that “Bohemian Rhapsody” was turning the Top 40 world on its very head. But that’s not how it happened. Bootlegs led me to buy into the artist’s catalogue; a trend that continues to this very day.
As I have mentioned sound quality on bootlegs can range from stunning to horrific, with many different aural shades in between. It is always wise to do some homework when buying them. With the advent of bootleg CDs it is possible to give a disc a listen to prior to purchasing. You need to determine your own personal tolerance as it relates to the minimum sound quality levels you will be able to live with. Just because bootlegs have the ability to capture historical performances doesn’t always guarantee that they will be the best quality. As with any illicit product the price is higher than its legitimate counterpart. And whatever you do, if you buy a bootleg and it is of substandard quality, do not, for heaven’s sake, blame the band. They had nothing whatsoever to do with its production, sound quality et al. The only thing a band is responsible for is their performance. Keep in mind too, like you and I, bands are not always at their best.
Most people who collect bootlegs know that the quality can vary wildly. Some will collect a performance solely on the merit of the historical significance, the rarity or for the sake of completeness, regardless of the sound quality. Others will only purchase excellent quality soundboards or radio broadcasts, forgoing some aspects of a performance to only gain quality. I tend to split the difference.
These people do not hold the band or the label liable. Except maybe to wonder why an exceptional performance has not be released officially.
Record companies just don’t like to see the profits going to anyone else….
End of sermon.
Can I get an “Amen”?