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deadringerOffline
Post subject: It Coulda Happened this Way  PostPosted: Jan 17, 2006 - 10:34 PM
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For me the bootleg saga was a wild ride, twisting one day toward the music, the next toward the cash. The story is full of heroes and villains, cops and crooks, idealists and shysters and the music, always the music. We did it for the music, but we spent the cash.

Clinton Heylin got some of it right in his book, Bootleg, but he missed the heart of it. The soul too. We were people bonded together by this business of being on the outside. We liked, but didn’t trust each other. We ran from the law, but our egos had us at record meets all over the world, standing in front of the crowd, showing our wares. We were complex. We were stupid. We were brave.

Someday I hope the real story gets told, because it’s so much more than a story of seedy, greedy guys robbing fists fulls of cash from rock legends. It’s a story of wonderful people who put their morals on hold, grabbed the music by the chords, put it out there and damned the consequences.

If this piece bothers you, just say so and I won’t upload anymore. If it doesn’t bother you, well that’s good, I guess


***** In Our Hearts *****

In our hearts we knew it was Stealin’, in fact that’s what we called our second Bob Dylan album, the one we put out just after “Great White Wonder”. Stealing yes, but we had the tapes and didn’t have much money, so we told ourselves we were modern day Robin Hoods, and who better to rob than Columbia Records. That we put our sub-standard stuff Mr. Dylan might have wanted forgotten never entered our minds.

We didn’t know we were spawning an underground industry that would span decades, make people rich, send some to jail, other to their graves. We didn’t know the record industry would see us as a threat, would call us everything from misguided to evil. We didn’t know they’d hire private investigators, would have process servers chasing us, would have the FBI knocking on our doors. We were kids.

It’s years later now and as I’m writing this, the winds is howling through the rigging. It’s three o’clock in the morning and Vesta and I are at anchor in rocky, rolly Simpson Bay on the Dutch side of St. Marten, hunkered down on our sailing sloop aptly called, “Great White Wonder”. We named the boat after that first record and after a decade in the Caribbean, not one person has figured out where the name came from. In the weeks following our 1969 release of that unnamed double album, we got swelled heads, thought we were important. Who could blame us. Rolling Stone wrote about our record, wrote fabricated stories about us. Pretenders claimed to be us. B. Mitch Reed played it all the time. We were famous, even if nobody knew our names. But now, looking back, I see maybe we weren’t so important, after all. Sometimes we get an odd look or two from the customs officials when we check into some of these West Indian Island countries.

“Where’d you get the name, Skip, after a big shark?” They call everybody with a boat out here, Skip.

“Did you name it after yourself, Skip?” That’s one of their favorites.

If we would’ve been important, if we’d’ve been doing something that made a difference, these guys wouldn’t have to ask, they’d know.

Every time we check in they write the boat name in my passport, then stamp it. Thirty years ago I heard two customs officers talking about “Seems Like a Freeze Out” when I was clearing Customs at LAX. That was our fourth Dylan Boot, the one that had that great unfinished recording of “She’s Your Lover Now,” on it. CBS/Sony later put it on the Bootleg Series. I knew they were there for me. I knew I was going to jail, but hard as it was to believe, one of them was a collector.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In 1969 Dub and I worked at Saturn Records, my father’s one stop. In those days the record companies sold to the one stops, the one stops sold to the stores. We liked Dylan, sure, but we weren’t fans, not the kind that worshiped the ground he walked on kind of fans anyway. I owned all of his records, but I owned a lot of records. I didn’t have to pay for them. Did I think he was the second coming, no. Did I go to his shows, no. I’d never seen him live, thou Dub had. I liked his records, but I didn’t look between the lines, the man wrote good stuff. It was enough, he didn’t have to be a god.

Sitting here, listening to the wind howl, I’m trying to remember where the tapes came from for that first album and I’ll be damned, but I can’t. Except for “Living the Blues,” I recorded that. I remember critics chastizing us because of the poor quality and because we didn’t release all of the Big Pink stuff, but with the exception of the other two songs done on the Johnny Cash Show, we put out everything we had.

The Johnny Cash Show, that takes me back. He had Doug Kershaw on that first show. That guy could play. I remember kicking myself for not recording him, but I didn’t. I had a big RCA color television that had no audio out plug. Could you even get a television with one of those in the ’60s? I had to take the back off and attach a wire to the speakers that I ran to the back of an old tube McIntosh amp to get the material.

It’s true we didn’t think we’d make much money, but a lot of the other stuff that was written about us is just wrong. Dub and I never went to Canada to avoid the draft, never opened up a gas station. That was a story I told a record store owner who was asking too many questions one day and damned if it didn’t appear in Rolling Stone a few weeks later. Those were crazy days. Life Magazine even did an article on one of our records, heady stuff for a couple of guys like us.

After “GWW”, Ted, who owned a store called Records and Supertape, called me at home. He didn’t know Dub and I were the guys, but he suspected we might know them. He had these amazing Dylan tapes. “Stealin’” and “Birch” were born. The outtakes from “Bringing It All Back Home” on “Stealin’” were so good they made you want to cry. And to this day CBS/Sony hasn’t released the version of “Talking John Birch Society Blues” that” appeared on “Birch”. That song was originally on “Freewheelin’ and should’ve stayed there. The guys that jerked that song, were, do I have to say it, jerks.

These records were every bit as good as anything Columbia had put out and we quickly followed them with “Seems Like a Freeze Out” and “Talkin’ Bear Mountain Massacre Picnic Blues”. Two more great albums. Good Stuff. We were proud, though we had no right to be, the stuff came right out of Columbia’s vaults. We didn’t record it, we stole it.

Now tapes were starting to come out of the woodwork. There’s some pretty screwy guys out there. Imagine having such a hard on for Dylan that you’d go through his trash, sift though his kid’s diapers. Steve Pickering was one of those, though it was A.J. Weberman, I believe, who waded thought the soiled pampers. My brother was arrested for cutting off a parking meter in broad daylight in Santa Cruz. He was on drugs, had just seen Cool Hand Luke and thought it would be a good idea. I flew up to bail him out and met Pickering at a record store there. This guy knew more about Dylan than Jimmy Swaggart knew about God, read his books if you don’t believe me. And he had tapes, the acoustic half of the 1966 Dublin Show and the Carnege Hall Show Colombia was supposed to put out, but didn’t, so we did, and called it “While the Establishment Burns”. That title came from a poster advertising Colombia Records. It depicts three or four kids sitting in a circle. The girl is topless, I think, but we only see her back. They’ve got headphones on. Outside the window you see fire and the caption on the poster says something like, “They’re listening to Colombia Records While the Establishment Burns.” Funny thing, those folks at Columbia didn’t turn out to be so anti-establishment after all.

Sometime between “Birch” and “Freeze Out”, Dub and his friend Chris took some of the money we‘d made and went on tour with the Rolling Stones. Dub used a Nagra with a Sennhauser shotgun mike and recorded several shows from the audience and when he got back he mixed a masterpiece. Listen to “Yayas” it can’t light a candle to “Liver”. We did very well with that record and by then there were a lot of new guys out there copying it. If I remember right, and I’m writing this over three decades later, without notes, Rolling Stone even certified it gold.

Dub used the same setup to record a new band he believed in at the Forum. I didn’t like them, so I didn’t go. I thought it was a waste of effort, the band wasn’t going anywhere. A couple albums and they’d be history. But I was wrong and Led Zeppelin’s “Live on Blueberry Hill” was a great record for us. It also brought out the cops. If it happened today, we’d’ve probably quit, but you have to remember what was going on back then. The Vietnam war was raging. Dick Nixon was the enemy. The good guys had long hair, the bad guys didn’t. And God knows why, but we still thought of ourselves as modern day Robin Hoods, though we gave not a cent to the poor. Dub did however, one time drop a hundred dollar bill in a blind man’s cup outside of Licorice Pizza on Sunset Boulavard. True story, I was there.

After that record the fun sort of went out of the bootleg business. Till then the clandistine meetings in the middle of the night somewhere in Hollywood were, if not fun, exhilirating. We looked out of our rearview mirrors, gave ourselves different names, worried about our phones being tapped, but we never did anything about it. After “Blueberry Hill” I started carrying around a pocketful of dimes.

We didn’t quit. No, we didn’t do that. We soldiered on, making record after record. Dub and I split up. He made more records. I made more records. A host of others got into the act and they made records. I quit the business, moved to France, then Spain. I wanted to grow up with my kids.

I probably should’ve stayed away, but after the kids were grown, I came back. I was older now, not a kid anymore. I knew what I was doing. There was no fun in it the second time around, no illusions. It was in it for the money. I was a stealer of the music, a pirate. A record pirate.

Bootlegs were a big business now. They even had their own publication, the annual Canadian book Hot Wax. They rated and reviewed them all, year after year. Our records had full color covers now, the FBI couldn’t tell them from the real deal. How these guys got Dillenger is anybody’s guess. Luck, I believe, because they never figured out about looking up in the upper left hand corner of the record jacket for the logos for, Columbia, Capitol, or any of the other real record companies. I could bore you to tears with stories told me by record store owners, about how our federal law enforcement officials would raid a tore and take out only the white records with the rubber stamped covers or none at all when, in fact, the Dylan, Beatles, Stones and Zeppelin slots would be stuffed full of albums on Toasted, Phoenix or a host of other made up companies.

The FBI regularly checked one of the pressing plants where I made my records, but they never caught me, they couldn’t, because they don’t start work till eight. I made my daily pickup at five-thirty in the AM. For three years I dodged those guys. Imagine staking out a place form Nine to Five. How dumb. I truly believe if John D. would’ve robbed at night and slept during the day, he’d’ve died of old age.

How come the FBI couldn’t catch us. I could’ve caught us. There were only four or five places in L.A. where we could’ve been making the bloody things and we were at three of them. The pressing plants called me at home all the time. How hard would it have been to look at their phone bills, see who they called? For the longest time I had my own FBI agent, he found out about me because somebody told. We met, he told me he was going to catch me with the goods. We talked on the phone a few times, but I stayed free.

Records died, CDs were born and still I was a pirate. But finally, after years, local cops and the the FBI started catching people. A few times they got closer then I like to think about and I started having this reoccuring nightmare. There’s a knocking at my door, loud, like a cop with one of those stick things they beat up Rodney King with. I open it and there’s Bob Dylan with a couple really big bully types and he says, “That’s the guy, get him.” So I quit and moved back to Europe. We spent a couple years in Spain, then a year in New Zealand. Then we bought a boat, named it “Great White Wonder” and I started writing sailing stories and we never looked back.

I have no records now. I kept nothing from those days, save one of the original Great White Wonder rubber stamps. In the cruising world, that’s what we call ourselves, us over the hill new millinium hippies, cruisers, we stamp every book we read with our boat stamps so that when we get to a marina somewhere we can check the bookswap and see who’s been that way by going through the books. Vesta and I stamp all our paperbacks with that stamp. And still no one has figured it out.

Looking back, was what we did so wrong? Stealing, yes, but Napster made anything we did a pebble before a mountain.

Six or seven years ago my daughter mailed me the hard cover book (rare for a guy who lives on a boat) “Bootleg, the Secret History of the Other Recording Industry” by Clinton Heylin. It chased us around the Caribbean for a couple of months, finally catching us in Trinidad. It had been so long since I’d thought of those days, so I was able to read it as if I were reading about someone else. I knew all those guys who were quoted in that book. Funny how all those other bootleggers, the ones Mr. Heylin interviewed, were such good guys, only in it for the music, and the one money grabbing whore was the one guy who was unavialable. But that’s the way it goes, we all remember things in the light that shines on us best. Actually it was sort of cathartic, looking at myself through their eyes. If that’s the way they saw me, then maybe that’s the way I was. Anyway I kept the book. Maybe I’ll read it again in a few years. Maybe to my nieces and nephews if I ever get back to L.A.

And will I ever go home? In the ’60s we just knew that when we were old enough to govern, things would be better. Marijuana would be legal. They wouldn’t take a girl to jail because she took her top off at the beach. Medicine would be free. Guns would be controlled, better, gone. There would be no more war, peace would be everywhere.

But it didn’t happen. America has five percent of the world’s population but twenty-five percent of the world’s prisoners. One out of every eight black men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five is in prison. Our president doesn’t think carbon monoxide is pollution. The DEA is looking for drugs everywhere, even here. The cost of medicine is through the roof. Every bad guy wanabe gets a gun and becomes a bad guy for real. War is everywhere. Peace is a word used only by politicians who want to get elected. Girls still gotta keep their titties covered at the beach. Christ, we couldn’t even fix that one. We should be so ashamed.

But with all that’s wrong with America, we’re coming home. It’s time to go back and try and make a difference, for real this time.
 
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deadringerOffline
Post subject: RE: It Coulda Happened this Way  PostPosted: Jan 17, 2006 - 10:56 PM
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Whoops, made a couple gaffs, "our" in the first paragraph should be "out" and "winds" in the third paragraph should be "wind". That's what happens when you don't pay enough attention to what you're doing.

Sorry,

Ken
 
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torehOffline
Post subject: RE: It Coulda Happened this Way  PostPosted: Jan 17, 2006 - 11:52 PM
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Ken,

Thanks! Great Story...I'd certainly welcome more from you! It sounds like you've been somewhat influenced? Intrigued? by Dylan for some time, now. Have you followed his latest ventures? ...toreh
 
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MikeyOffline
Post subject: RE: It Coulda Happened this Way  PostPosted: Jan 18, 2006 - 01:36 AM
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Thanks for sharing that with us! I'm sure most folks here would like to hear more as I would. Do you care to recount the nitty-gritty stories with us???? What was the deal with the so-called "poor quality vinyl"? Did those plants really have various grades of vinyl on offer? Why weren't early bootleg LPs banded? What was your best find in terms of the rarest recording? Best quality recording?

I can imagine those days of trying to find the right recording, getting it pressed, getting it to market, making money, losing money on what you thought would be a sure winner, dodging the law and then doing it all again the next day. Yes, I would like to hear more.
 
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deadringerOffline
Post subject:   PostPosted: Jan 18, 2006 - 11:52 AM
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Hello Toreh,

I have not been influenced by Bob Dylan, nor intrigued, well I’ve been intrigued enough that I buy his new CDs whenever I come across them in a store, but I don’t sit on pins and needles waiting. I remember on his 60th birthday Vesta and I were anchored out at the Five Islands (a group of very small islands a couple miles off the east coast of Trinidad). It was a calm night, we were listening to the BBC looking at the stars through the overhead hatch, could see the Southern Cross, when Dyaln came on the radio. A good interview and it was good to learn what he’d been up to over the years. Plus I watched the public television thing last month and enjoyed it.

On another note, I think music was more important when you had to actually get a record and put it on the turntable. There was just sort of a bit of magic in the air when you held the album jacket, read the lyrics along with the music. Now when I can download anything I want from one of those Russian sites for a half a buck an album, well there is just so much music out there and it’s so cheap that it hardly means anything at all. I haven’t even heard the new Stones yet because my 250 gig hard drive is so full of stuff I’ll never play. Stupid, I know.

Plus everyone has an iPod full of music now and their ears are stuffed with the phones as they listen in private, so you’re not really enjoying the music with someone else.

The other day I went on eBay and bought two twenty-five year old Yamaha Amps so that Vesta and I could listen to music the old fashioned way, through speakers. However, sadly the songs are coming from my hard drive. I have no albums anymore, no CDs either. We traveled so light for so long, that I can’t help it. When I do buy a new CD at Stateside prices, I put it right on my hard drive, then sell it on Amazon and it’s always gone in a day.

Anyway, I’m getting off track and I’m being long winded (writers do that sometimes). I came to these boards through my son who is selling off some of the things left over from those bootleg days on eBay. The reason he is doing this is because someone very close to us passed away a couple weeks ago and I saw how her family went through her stuff, discarding things that meant so much to her, fighting over things they could maybe sell. I told Steve to dump anything of mine he might have and Vesta and I are getting rid of anything we might have that we don’t want others going through. Though much of my life is public now, because I have my novels out there, there is much I want to keep private.

I don’t want others trashing my sh*t, scarfing through my stuff. Heck, I don’t want any stuff. Maybe I should sell those amps, get me an iPod too.

Ken
 
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Post subject:   PostPosted: Jan 18, 2006 - 11:53 AM
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Hello Mikey

The larger pressing plants we used, used good vinyl (virgin vinyl). The smaller ones would punch out the labels, grind up the vinyl and reuse it and this made for some clicks and pops as that vinyl had already been heated before and also no matter how hard they tried, tiny bits of paper from those labels invariably wound up in the mix. Also, there was the issue of how long you left the record in the press. A full minute made for a much better pressing than a record that was only in for twenty or thirty seconds. Those small plants wanted to make records as fast as possible. And two of those small plants that we used were pretty doggoned filty. Dirt and dust in the vinyl before it got into the press didn’t exactly make for a good sounding record.

I don’t know what you mean by “banded”.

I wrote about six or seven of these stories, was going to do a book after I found out Rolling Stone wasn’t interested, but I had the sailing stories and my novels so I never got around to it. I’ll re-read the others and post them one at a time after I clean them up (get rid of stupid typos).

Best,

Ken
 
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torehOffline
Post subject:   PostPosted: Jan 18, 2006 - 12:30 PM
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Hello Ken,

Geez, thank you kindly for your "dissertation." I thoroughly enjoy reading what you have to say.
I envy your ability to be able to travel lightly and live your life without the burden of worldly acquisitions restraining you. I am not so fortunate as you are in terms of traveling, in the sense that I am not ready, nor willing to give up my wordly possessions yet, which for the most part has to deal with music. I have approximately 100,000 albums in my collection of lp's & 45's...(just give a holler if you're looking for something, who knows, I may have duplicates.) Wink
Well, just "a little intrigued" by Dylan is enough for most folks, I surmise. I've been intrigued & interested in his life's work since the 60's and he never ceases to amaze me...but that's a different story.
Hmmm, looks like an iPod may be the way for you to go when you decide you don't need a computer hard drive anymore for downloading your music. Have to admit, I've never done that and perhaps never will. As long as I have a Turntable & some Vinyl...I'm content. I have merely 2 reasons to own a computer...the Internet and the storage & editing of my writing.
OK..before I find myself in the "dissertation mode" I'll conclude by saying thanks for responding to my post & secondly, I sure glad that you found this site through your son's efforts to sell some vinyl.

Regards,

toreh
 
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Post subject:   PostPosted: Jan 18, 2006 - 06:42 PM
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Ken,

Thanks very much for posting this piece. Always good to hear a first-hand account of an important piece of the history of recorded music. I look forward to more.

Let's face it, in 1969 Dylan was not winning over new fans with his current releases. Releasing his vital pre-motorcycle accident music was a godsend to fans, and I believe to Dylan himself. It kept the promise of his greatness alive. Thank you for doing that.

Gotta ask: was Tull's My God! LP on Athapascan a pre/proto-TMQ release?

Please do continue posting these stories. For example, I'd love to hear about the Kornyphone label. I recently traded for a copy of T'anks for the Mammaries, which I owned many moons ago, and it's still a fine collection.

I'm in a bit of a unique situation. I started as a bootleg collector, then got into tape trading in the early 70s. Years later, I was in a band that was successful enough to be bootlegged more than once, both on vinyl and CD. Just recently there were several of my band's shows available for download on DimeaDozen. Am I angry? No. Instead, I'm very proud that someone still loves our music enough to want to share it with others. And I'm convinced that bootlegging and music sharing actually helps sell legit product. I've personally seen it happen.

Now, to track down some of your novels...

Best wishes,
Tom
 
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deadringerOffline
Post subject:   PostPosted: Jan 18, 2006 - 07:13 PM
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Hello Tom,

Yes, that was Dub's creation. Had square lables with colored vinyl if I remember right.

Like you, I don't believe bootlegging ever hurt the artists bootlegged. I believed it fed the fans, who were eager in those days to get as much material as they could lay their hands on. I've never heard of anyone who didn't buy a legit record, because they had the boot instead. However, I was raised in the record industry and I've met artists who wanted to control what work of theirs the publc got, who hated boots with a passion. On the other hand, I've met some pretty big time rock and rollers who just loved the boots to death. So there you go, two sides to every story.

Later,

Ken
 
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deadringerOffline
Post subject:   PostPosted: Jan 18, 2006 - 07:44 PM
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Hello again Toreh

A hundred thousand records, jeez ya better watch out, a few more and someone might start to think it’s an obsession.

Back to this traveling light business. When we left the boat we were gonna buy a 1970 something big Ford or Mercury, because they got those big trunks. Vesta and I were each gonna have a new PowerBook, me a Bose Wave radio, her a sewing machine (she likes to sew, a talent that’s real handy when you live on a boat, especially one with sails) and a duffle bag each. Just enough to fit in the trunk without making the car sag on its shocks. We were gonna spend six months here, three there, stay at cabins in the mountains, shacks in the desert, really get to know America.

But sh*t happens and we wound up stuck in Oregon for a bit. And since we had only outgo and no income, Vesta found us a big house with lots of bookcases already built in (and we added plenty more). She started an online bookselling business, I started a publishing company and we’ve got about ten thousand books in our house, adding about five hundred a month. We each read a book a day, but we’re never gonna read all those, fortunately she sells about twenty a day for a considerable sum more than she pays for them. She also manages to sell the ones I write as well. Boy howdy!

I guess, John Lennon was right. “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

Still, a hundred thousand records. You gotta look out, people might start talking.

Later,

Ken
 
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