A former bootleg record dealer left a comment on the Rolling Stones post live at Oakland Coliseum 1969. I asked him if he would like to share some memories of his former employment and he has agreed to do so. I’m sure many blog readers will be interested in how bootlegs were distributed and sold before the arrival of the Internet enabled us all to gain access to a world of free unreleased music.
He wishes to remain anonymous so I would just like to say many, many thanks ‘Anon’ for your contribution and taking the time to write the following:
“I have been asked by `thebasement67` to give a few recollections about being a Record and Bootleg dealer in the U.K. Don`t `Flame` me if I get some details wrong…can you remember what you did 30 years ago?
In the early 60`s in the U.K. record shops sold Classical and Light Orchestral music, Novelty records and Sheet music...`POP` music records were few and far between.
The only opportunity for us `Teenagers` to listen to `POP` music was late at night on a transistor radio tuned into `Radio Luxemburg` fading in and out as you tried to get a signal.
Then a friend lent me an album called `Freewheelin` by a `Folk Singer` named Bob Dylan …and I was hooked.
A few years later my record collection Jazz, Prog, Blues, Rock, Folk, Beat, Soul etc., had grown so large that I needed to have a clear out, and a friend told me of a sale he had heard of where people gathered to trade and sell records…this was my introduction to the wonderful world of Record Fairs.
Over the next few years I gained Knowledge and developed contacts in the trade, so that when the first Bootleg albums came along I was well placed to start to trade.
The first albums that I recall being available were `The Great White Wonder` by Bob Dylan, and `H-Bomb` by Deep Purple, though Led Zep, The Who and The Rolling Stones were also well represented, strangely I don`t recall any Beatles bootlegs at this time. The covers were just plain white cardboard sleeves, with in many cases the titles just handwritten or stamped on the sleeve. Later black and white printed covers were just glued onto the cardboard.
I still have my treasured copy of `Electrif Lycanthrope` by Little Feat (the `F` in electrif is not my error, it was a typo at the printers and they had to use it), This must surely rate as one of the best boots ever, (Reputedly mixed by Lowell George himself), The almost `whispered` version of `Willin` is spine tingling, and knocks spots off any commercial version.
Dylan`s `Little White Wonders` Vol. 1 /2 /3 Notable for the unissued tracks of `Dusty Old Fairgrounds` and `Angelina` were much in evidence, thought these were mainly imports from Italy on the `Joker` label.
When it came to labels `Trade mark of Quality` and `Swinging Pig` were the ones to go for as they were usually of good quality.
From this period Bruce Springsteen`s `You can trust Your Car to the Man Who Wears the Star` (Texaco service staff wear a Star on their caps), was by far the biggest seller and fabulous quality, also Elvis Costello`s `Live at the El Mocambo` was better than any of his official albums. Later Prince`s `Black Album` would break all sale records, reputedly selling over 500,000 copies! (In the video for `Alphabet Street` there are letters falling from the sky, if you paused the video at the right place the letters read `Don`t Buy the Black Album`!”
To be able to deal in Bootlegs you first had to find a supplier…..This was like asking Al Capone if he had any jobs going! Finding a supplier was hard enough, but you then had to convince them that you could keep your mouth shut, and you had lots of cash to buy in bulk, The Masons, MI5, and the Magic Circle were easier to get into!
I recall meeting a contact in the dead of night at a service station on the M1 Motorway to take delivery of my order. Many deals were done behind the skips at the rear of Hotels.
You always had to be wary of being raided by the BPI (British Phonograph Industry) there was always a danger of having all your expensive stock confiscated, placed in plastic bags and taken away, and then you were threatened by court action and a VERY large fine. I saw this happen several times, but luckily not to me, as I did not do the London Fairs, or open markets (Camden Lock). The thing was that the BPI did not have a clue as to what a `Bootleg` actually was! and so they would take anything , they were unable to understand the difference between a `Pirate` album and a `Bootleg` album, no one in the business would ever Pirate an official album.
As far as we were concerned the only `Criminal` action here was the fact that the record companies were content to sit on unissued tracks for years with no intention of ever releasing them to the fans, ( Dylan`s `Blind Willie McTell` ) it was not until the advent of the Internet when their sales plummeted, and they were forced to find another way of generating sales ,that they realised that the true fan would have bought ALL the official albums anyway, and they needed to provide more.
The organizers of the fairs had `Fits` about Bootlegs being sold and often put an outright ban on the sale of any item that might not be legitimate, this was got around by selling from lists on the stall (Lists could be moved quickly!) But this was never satisfactory and the Bootlegs soon appeared again.
Originally most of the Bootlegs were pressed in Belgium and Luxemburg, but later as the covers became more elaborate production moved to the Far East.
As the production values increased the `pride in quality` aspect of Bootlegs fell by the wayside and the record fairs were flooded with poor quality Boots with elaborate covers, and awful quality `Audio tapes` and `Videos`. This was about the time of the `Goth` and `New Romantic` era, which had no interest for me.
Nowadays the Internet has almost put an end to Record fairs, and the `Product` has diversified with so many `Indie` and home produced bands doing their own thing, that the great `Classic` bootlegs are hard to discover, which is why it is important that Blogs like `100GreatestBootlegs` exist to point the way."