Wednesday 15 August 2012

Recollections from a Bootleg record dealer

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."


  1. Thanks Anonymous for sharing your story. Loved it!

    Thanks also to thebasement67 for your work here. Really nice to see so many unusual posts. Thanks for sharing them.

    I also blogged about bootlegs, although from a different perspective. It's here if you're interested.

  2. Excellent piece on your blog about bootlegs as was the post about categorization. Everything I have is now segregated by decade and in different rooms of the house but then you have the problem with bands that straddle decades.
    On one occasion I couldn't find what I was looking for so I downloaded it. The time spent searching took far longer than the download did?

  3. Great read, thanks

  4. Great piece. I once spoke to Lowell George about the bootleg "Electrif Lycanthorpe", and he refused to admit he mixed it. Just said "Nice Mix huh" with a big smile. He actually liked the typo he said it made it stand out. Thanks for sharing your experiences, it's great to re-live those days.

    Bob W.

  5. I bought the double-disc GWW in Oxford on January 29, 1970, the first time I saw it. (It happened to be my 21st birthday, which is why I can be so precise.) That shows it was earlier than the Deep Purple one, apparently recorded later that year. I didn't see the Stones' Liver Than You'll Ever Be in the UK until after GWW, but they were both out earlier in the US.

    I had heard a low-quality reel-to-reel copy of the basement tape even before that, about September '68 I think, but it wasn't until 1970 that LPs started appearing, and then there were plenty. I had all the early Dylan ones, which are still stored in the garage, and a pretty much complete Dylan collection as of January 1974 when I first visited Berkeley. Then the roof fell in with the flood of 74 tour boots and I perforce stopped being a completist, though I have of course downloaded ... a lot. Thanks for the site, and the memories!

  6. Thanks for your comments Pete, very interesting. It was only through the internet that I managed at long last to hear all the bootlegs that I had read about so long ago. More about this on the next Springsteen post.

  7. The guest writer of this post may be interested to know that it has been by far the most visited on the blog this week, outnumbering the second most visited post by a good two to one.

  8. "Later Prince`s `Black Album` would break all sale records, reputedly selling over 500,000 copies!"

    It sounds like this person is confusing the official limited edition Warners Bros Black Album CD release from Nov 94 with the boot LP put out in the 80's.

    Tho there have been reports of the various Black LP and CD boot releases totaling about 250,000 in sales but that seems really inflated. With all the different issues of it how did anyone come up with that number?
    If I was to pull a number out of my ass it would be closer to 25,000.

  9. You have evidently failed to read the contributor's post correctly, when he states later he is referring to when the bootleg was finally oficially released. As for sales figures he states reputedly.
    Much better and more eloquently put than pulling figures from a certain part of your anatomy

  10. I've was buyin' boots circa 1977 in a Holliday Inn in Montreal, a "records collector's fair".
    Obviously, you had to be there early to get a shot at the best recordings. It use to take me about 30 minutes to buy/negociate the best of the breeds. Needless to say, boots that I had paid 35 $ for, people waiting in line to get in saw me coming out and would offer as much as 250$. Good Times. And no, I never made a penny of profit by selling a boot. I still have them (about a dozen), and when I see such generousity from people on the Net, sharing away for free such treasures, it gives me hope on Mankind. A blogger was surprised when I sent him thru Paypal a 100$ donation. Heck, as far as I am concerned, I remember the value for "different music".

  11. 35 $ That would have been a lot of cash in those days. Some of my favourite music is only available on boots, it's always a sign that record companies don't know best.

    There are still some decent boots being produced especially on vinyl, see the Smiths post, now that is one nice object to own.

    The element of surprise is what I like about torrent sites and blogs - you just never know what is gonna turn up next.

  12. Hi Basement 67,

    I was searching for the Doors IOW show and came across your site. How glad I am that I did as it is a veritable treasure trove! Beatles, Stones, Cure, Radiohead, Jam, Oasis, Hendrix, Joy Division and the list goes on. But why no Pink Floyd? Surely one of the most bootlegged bands ever!

    I thought I might add to recollections from a Bootleg record dealer posted here. The first Floyd bootleg I acquired was on the way out of their London gig at Wembley in Nov 1974 from someone literally selling them on the street. After some deliberation in the cold I purchased Tour 73 which sounded fantastic when I got it home. It was only years later that I discovered it was not recorded on tour at all, but was recorded by the BBC and broadcast by John Peel. In fact, Floyd recorded two 'live' shows for the BBC at Paris Theatre, London one in July 1970 and one in Sep 1971. Why these have never been given commercial release is quite beyond me as, typically with BBC recordings, the sound for both is absolutely excellent and would make a brilliant double album.

    The companion bootleg to this was Best Of Tour 72 which was recorded at The Rainbow, London in Feb 1972 and consisted of an early version of Dark Side Of The Moon. DSOTM was not to be released until over a year later in Mar 1973. Floyd were famous for touring new songs before they recorded them in the studio and of course, the bootleggers had a field day with showcasing their new work to an eager audience. The Rainbow concerts quickly became the Holy Grail for Floyd fans as the version of DSOTM was substantially different from what they eventually recorded in the studio.

    The audience at the Wembley show in Nov 1974 were treated to three new songs; 'Raving And Drooling, Gotta Be Crazy and Shine On You Crazy Diamond. The last of these of course appeared 10 months later on the album of the same name released in Sep 1975 but the first two did not appear until Animals was released in Jan 1977 under their new titles Sheep and Dogs respectively. The show I saw that night was quickly bootlegged under the title of British Winter Tour 1974 and, as you might imagine, sold truck loads!.

    Thank you so much for making so many wonderful recordings available, you are a legend! And If you could post some Floyd that would be simply wonderful.

    Many thanks, Simon

  13. Thanks for your email Simon. Pink Floyd will of course be appearing here. There is still a lot of music to be posted and there is no particular reason why they have not been included so far.
    I have the titles you mention and I was at Wembley, but the year before to see the Harlem Globetrotters. Unfortunately my school wouldn't allow a return trip the following year to see the Floyd!
    I'm sure Pink Floyd fans will be searching out the bootlegs you mention.

  14. Thank you for this insightful account. I have to say that much of what 'anon' says rings true. Back in the 1970s when I was a teenager, my friends and I used to search very hard to find any bootleg that we could. I really liked Led Zep, The Stones, Alice Cooper, etc. We would have gladly paid for this music if it was put out by their music companies and bought their studio albums as well. I still remember the old bootleg albums with the artists' pictures glued on the cover. I still have some to this day. Thank you again for this insight into what was a big part of my music enjoying youth. Beachbum.