Bootleg: The Rock & Roll Liberation Front?

With high quality Dylan concerts — not to mention an amazing live Stones show — on the market, are bootlegs the future?

Bob Dylan performs at the Isle Of Wight Festival.
David Redfern/Getty
Bob Dylan performs at the Isle Of Wight Festival.
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Los Angeles — Even as Columbia Records was going to court to prevent further bootlegging of Bob Dylan's Great White Wonder album, two more bootleg Dylan LPs and an amazing live Rolling Stones album were being made available on the black market. And, according to bootleggers, you can expect to find Dylan's Isle of Wight concert with the Band in your local record store any day now.

If the fact that the bootleggers have a release schedule now seems to indicate that their "business" is stabilizing, it's only illusory. For everybody's getting into the act, and people are going out and buying an "underground" album, then pressing a few thousand copies for themselves. All five albums on the market today are being distributed by at least three different producers, and competition is driving the price down.

In fact, bootlegging was just getting to be a damned lucrative business when KSAN-FM in San Francisco put the word out over the air that the underground albums are shucks, with a life span of, maybe, 20 playings. The top layer of vinyl is very cheap, KSAN claims, and the needle scrapes it off pretty quickly. The result is nothing but a grating scratchy noise through the speaker, and probably a damaged needle. The cheap vinyl is also full of bubbles.

Some people are finding this true of the bootlegged albums they bought; others claim to have played the records many times more than that with no ill effects. With so many new "distributors" playing the bootleg game, it could well be that some of them are, indeed, inferior products.

It all started late last summer, when two L.A. freaks put out the GWW set, a double album consisting of unreleased Dylan tapes originally recorded in a Minneapolis hotel room in 1961 and a Woodstock basement (with the Band) in 1968, plus one song copped directly from the TV set, when Dylan sang on the Johnny Cash Show. Quality of the tapes was poor, but the album still sold well, especially on the West Coast. There soon followed the Troubled Troubador, which duplicated some of the material already being bootlegged, but added some new songs as well.

Columbia believes it has caught up with the producers of the GWW set. Attorneys for CBS, Dylan, and Dwarf Music teamed up to get a restraining order in U.S. District Court here which prohibits the further manufacture and sale of all Dylan material. Four persons and a suburban Gardena pressing plant were named in the court order, each charged with violating the Federal Copyright Act, "unfair competition and unjust enrichment."

The underground Stones album — aptly titled LIVE r Than You'll Ever Be — is actually a major coup for the bootleggers. Recorded live at the Forum in L.A. and the Oakland Coliseum, it is one of the finest albums of 1969. For a bootleg, the sound quality is excellent. It is so far superior to the Stones' legitimate live LP that comparisons are unfair.

Although the Chuck Berry composition "Little Queenie" is the only song not available on a London-released album, the undergrounder is selling well enough and is available in large enough quantity that the price has dropped almost a dollar since it first came out during the Christmas season. The album is put out on "Lurch Records" and the Stones are identified only as "The Greatest Group on Earth."

The Dylan album put on the black market just in time for Christmas shopping is called Stealin', and by January there were at least three versions being sold — some with labels (Har-Kub Records), some without; some with a rubber-stamped title, some without even that much identification. Much of it is of excellent sound quality, seeming to consist of alternate takes of songs appearing on either Bringing It All Back Home or Highway 61 Revisited. Columbia spokesmen are especially incensed over this album, since they believe these tracks were stolen right out of their vaults.

And the week after Christmas, still another Dylan album was made available, this one called G.W.W. "John Birch Society Blues." This one also duplicated some songs on other underground Dylans, but presented new material as well.

For a while, a recording of the Plastic Ono Band's concert at Toronto was being bootlegged. However, Apple scotched that by releasing Live Peace in Toronto, featuring John and Yoko with friends including Eric Clapton.

Thus, the underground record scene, at the turn of the decade, has become a noticeable industry. Not so big Columbia or London Records or anyone else has any real fear of being knocked off, but large enough to warrant a flurry of angry retaliatory activity in the offices of Dylan's manager and the Stones' manager and lawyers for their record and music publishing companies.

Columbia has been the only one to get results, though, and those only on the bootleggers of the first Dylan album. And it wasn't easy tracking them down. The original producers of that album had reportedly split to Canada, taking with them the proceeds from an estimated 8,000 albums, one step ahead of the draft. Supposedly, they purchased a gas station there.

Apparently one of them gave the bootleg business some second thought, though, and he returned to Los Angeles — only to find others had jumped aboard, duplicating the original GWW and selling at least 40,000 copies. For the moment, he remained out of sight.

By then, of course, Columbia and Dylan and Dwarf were involved, assigning the case to attorneys on both coasts and employing private detectives to conduct a full investigation. The story they pieced together is fascinating, and the major characters are two of those subsequently named in the court order, Norton Beckman, owner of Norty's Discount Records, and Ben Goldman, owner of Do-Re-Mi Records, both of them small shopkeepers in the Fairfax district of Los Angeles. Apparently they were the ones who'd copied the original GWW, evidently making a tape from a bootlegged album one of them had purchased from the people who started all this. This was in early September.

According to affidavits filed with the U.S. District Court, Beckman then took the tape to Austin McCoy, who runs AMC Audio Engineering out of his rather nondescript home in downtown L.A. He was to make the acetates — which would be used to manufacture the metal disks called "mothers" or "masters," which in turn were to be used to produce the "stampers," which were finally used to press the records sold in retail stores. McCoy said Beckman told him he was the rightful owner of the tapes; the acetates were made, and Beckman was charged $161.76.

The acetates then went to the James Lee Record Processing Company in nearby Gardena, where the "mothers" and "stampers" were made. Gardena is one of several dozen anonymous communities in Los Angeles, memorable mostly for its countless all-night poker parlors, and James Lee is one of the many record processors in the city who asks no questions. "We've had lots of stuff come through here that's later turned up stolen or dirty, but we don't know that," an employee said. "We don't play the records when we get them, because if we do that we have to be responsible." The masters cost $12.50 each, the stampers $9.

From Lee the masters and stampers went to S & R Record Manufacturers, also in Gardena. S & R is a pressing plant, and it was here the finished copies of GWW were made and then stuffed into plain white album sleeves, ready for delivery to retail stores all over the country. In a show of generosity, apparently Beckman and Goldman even authorized the slight additional cost of shrink-wrapping the albums — wrapping the unmarked package in cellophane.

Meanwhile, a private detective named Richard Dunn was surveying Los Angeles area record shops. The company he worked for, Raymond Boyd and Associates, had been employed by John Faughnan, chief of security for Columbia Records. They'd been told to find out everything they could. Dunn said in an affidavit that he visited 45 stores and had seen copies of GWW in 23 of them; he suspected they were being sold "under the counter" in several others.

But so far as Columbia's determining who the bootleggers were, none of this was especially useful. If the shop-keepers weren't worried about displaying the records openly, they still weren't talking to strangers. Most didn't know the names of the bootleggers anyway.

The break in the case finally came when someone in the Columbia A & R department in Los Angeles got an anonymous phone call from a woman who said she knew who the bootleggers were. She told Mrs. Sandi Spidell that the guys on Columbia's most-wanted list were Beckman and Goldman, and, as a matter of fact, if Columbia really wanted to see something, they could go down to S & R in Gardena and watch the albums coming off the press. Thousands of them.

Mrs. Spidell was so astonished and excited that she hung up on the woman. The woman called back to explain why she had called in the first place. Beckman and Goldman had been bad-mouthing some friends of hers, she said, saying they were the guys who were bootlegging the Dylan LP. Not true, she said, and she hung up.

Columbia sent another of its private eyes, Pete Brito, to Norty's Discount Records to take a picture of Norty Beckman. He then started with S & R and worked his way back through the production companies involved, using the picture to identify Beckman as the man who's had GWW produced. (It was determined that at each step, Beckman had used an alias, Gerald Feldman — the third name listed in the court order.) The private eye also saw all those albums coming off the press, and told S & R that Columbia thought they were breaking the law and they'd better stop. S & R, owned by Anastacio and Ofelia Sapian, told Brito they'd stop when a court told them to, and no sooner.

It was getting very legal now. The plea for a restraining order said Beckman and Goldman and all the others had "wrongfully appropriated and exploited for their own benefit, the artistry, labor, expenditures and skill of Dylan . . ." It was, the brief said, "a simple case of piracy of Dylan's private musical performances for defendants' profit, and a brazen disregard of the Copyright Act provisions respecting recording licenses, copyright royalties and elementary fair play . . ." Not only that, but "defendants have caused and are causing great injury to plaintiff Dylan . . ."

They also asked for $20,000, saying this was the smallest amount that could be figured against loss of income and good will, and said this figure would be amended.

Judge Harry Pregerson waded through the pleas and affidavits (the file was fully two inches thick) and signed the restraining order. Norty Beckman, his neighborhood pal Ben Goldman, and S & R Records were told to stop fooling around. So was Dub Michael Taylor, a third individual named in the court order. Trouble was, Columbia's private eyes couldn't find Taylor.

"The truth of the matter is we aren't even sure who he is," said Columbia's lawyer in Los Angeles, Thomas J. Ready. "We think he was one of the youngsters to start this thing, to make the first Great White Wonder. But that's speculation on my part. We haven't been able to serve him with papers. We understand he's left the country."

But three out of four isn't bad. And apparently the action taken was paying off. Norty Beckman and Ben Goldman refused to talk to the press in early January — two weeks after the court order — but a woman who identified herself as manager of Norty's record store told a customer, "They told us to stop selling. We stopped, just as simple as that. Maybe I scare easy, but the way I see it, I'm David and they're Goliath. Who needs it?"

She apparently had forgotten how that Biblical story ended, but there were no bootleg records on display in her shop that day. Nor were there any in Goldman's, a mile or so away. And a similar action by Columbia, this one instituted in Canada against International Record Corp. Ltd., the Canadian distributor of GWW, was also successful, with the defendant agreeing to "cease and desist."

By now, the underground Stones album had been released. At first, it was available only in small numbers. Shortly after Christmas, most stores on the West Coast had sold out. Suddenly, it became available again in larger quantities than ever before, and a price war ensued.

In the Bay Area, Leopold's, the nonprofit record store owned and operated by Berkeley students, got it first. In fact, they were told that they'd have it exclusively by the L.A. distributors who supplied them. But one other store in Berkeley got it immediately (200 copies), another a week later, and pretty soon a Palo Alto store and one in San Francisco were handling it as well.

Over a two week period, Leopold's had received about 1600 copies of the Stones album. They had planned to hold onto them all until they had saturated their market, and then start shipping them out wholesale to other stores in Northern California.

Leopold's had also been the prime Berkeley outlet for Great White Wonder. They had sold about 3000 copies at prices ranging from $6.67 down to $5.24 after paying $5 to $3.50.

They got the Stones album from the same distributor who supplied them with Great White Wonder. Shortly after receiving the Stones LP, Gervich and a couple others took a few copies over to KSAN in San Francisco, which hadn't yet received a copy. And who should be there but Sam Cutler, road manager for the Stones on their recent U.S. tour. "Cutler listened to it and really dug it, the sound, the music and everything. He bought a copy from us, then bought five more for each of the Stones. So we ended up selling the Stones their own album," Gervich laughed.

Other stores in Berkeley weren't taking the matter quite as lightly. One manager, who had stocked everything he could get his hands on, had been told by his Columbia sales representative that he should be expecting a letter in the mail pretty soon. The sales rep didn't give any hints about what the letter would say, but the store owner assumed it would be a cease and desist order.

And at Discount Records in Berkeley, manager Don Ellis was saying, "Our policy is not to sell the bootlegs. We sold Great White Wonder for a while, because I really hadn't thought about it. Like, all I could think about was, wow, it's Dylan, and I really didn't think about the moral question. Then some Columbia attorneys came in the store and asked me if I realized what I was doing. The artist should have some say about what's released, and he should get paid."

Discount Records is owned by CBS. Ellis said there was no coercion on the part of Columbia attorneys, but that they just convinced him selling bootlegs was a bad idea. "When I see it now, I know it's bad," Ellis added. "This will make the artist afraid to appear in public. It's bad for him all around."

On December 20th, the Stones album turned up in Chicago. Noel Gimble, owner and manager of seven record stores there, was doing good business with them. He'd sold about 1000 copies of Great White Wonder at $9.95, and cleared his shelves of 2000 Stones albums at $5.50 each.

"I do a service to my customers, if you want to look at it that way," Gimble said, "Because I can make more money off a normal record. These are a headache in a way. I can't exchange them, I don't know who I'm dealing with, it's getting out of hand. It's a bit of a touchy subject here. My distributors are concerned, but really pretty easy-going. They know it won't re-occur to a great proportion. It's not the kind of item I can keep re-stocking."

By early January, the prime movers of LIVE r Than You'll Ever Be were willing to speak openly, but anonymously about their business. A young man with long hair and a full beard, one of the partners, said the whole operation started in New York about two weeks before Christmas. He and a friend bought 5000 copies back East at $2.50 each, plus shipping charges, with the understanding that they'd have an exclusive on the record in the L.A. area.

"There's really nothing exciting about this," one of them remarked. "It's just an ordinary wholesaling operation, cut-and-dried.

"Do you really think the Stones miss the money we're making? Whatever we take out of their pockets, we're doing as much for them in terms of publicity and interest in their music. The word moral doesn't apply. It's a matter of get what you can, and when someone else pops up copying our stuff, we do what we can to get more product at less cost. Maybe that's what the big record companies should do — compete with us. They weren't going to release this material anyway, were they?"

At Sam Goody's, largest record store in the East, executive buyer Sam Stolon said, "We wouldn't buy them. We're a public company which isn't allowed to buy such an album. We wouldn't sell them at a nickel apiece. The dealer is as responsible as the manufacturer."

Village Oldies, however, moved about 200 copies of Great White Wonder at $4 or $5 each. Stealin' went for $6 even though a single album, because the quality was much better. They sold 50 copies. At the House of Oldies, GWW went for $15, about the highest price in the country; they sold a three-record set (including Troubled Troubador) for $25. Two store managers have been told by their distributors that they have access to unlimited numbers of the Stones album if they want it, but both refused to sell it.

One customer in a New York store said he'd bought a casette recording of the Beatles' as-yet-unreleased album, Let It Be, when he was in Miami for the Pop Festival.

One of the producers of the Stealin' album was interviewed by John Carpenter of the Los Angeles Free Press, and afterward refused all further press contact. "Some of these songs are better than the shit that Columbia has released," the bootlegger said. "They just keep sitting on them so you might say, in a sense, we're just liberating the records and bringing them to all the people, not just the chosen few."

Among the songs "liberated" are new versions of "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry," "She Belongs to Me," "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," and "Love Minus Zero No Limit" (misidentified on the label as "My Love Waits Like Silence").

Considering what these albums cost to produce, the new capitalists are doing pretty good for themselves.

Talking with salesmen at record pressing plants in Los Angeles — where there are more than 50, probably more than anywhere else — a clear picture is formed. In a run of anything over, say, 3500 records, cost per record shouldn't top 35 cents, and that could include blank labels and record sleeves, if the "capitalist" is charming and persuasive enough. The price they get for their albums also depends on how charming and persuasive they are.

"It's a bargaining thing," said Emanuel Aron of Aron Records in L.A. "I'm dealing with five or six different people now, and they ask whatever they think they can get. It's always a cash and carry thing anyway. They don't leave a phone number. If I ask them what if I run out, they say they'll be stopping by occasionally, they'll keep me supplied, not to worry. The hell of it is, some of them are juggling tapes; they're taking the same tapes and mixing them up, including some songs on one album, some of the same but some different on others, and selling them as different LP's. They are different, of course, but only slightly. The odd thing is, it doesn't seem to matter. They all sell. I've sold hundreds of everything I can get."

Making bootlegging even more attractive is the anonymity that seems to accompany it. (So long as you don't make any enemies, as Beckman and Goldman apparently did.) It is, for example, extremely difficult to trace product back to a pressing plant. Many believe the catalog or matrix numbers etched into the wax near the center of the record tell an educated observer which pressing plant was involved, but this isn't true. The numbers normally are used only for internal record-keeping and besides that, on most of the bootleg records issued thus far, there are no identification numbers present at all.

Nor is it difficult for a bootlegger to find someone who will press his records for him. Competition is stiff in most cities, and it often seems merely to be a matter of working one's way through the yellow pages under Phonograph Records — Whlse & Mfrs to find a promising pressing plant.

Besides that, the laws which supposedly protect an artist from this fate are archaic. According to Brian Rohan, a San Francisco attorney who handles several rock groups, the worst that can happen is that the bootleggers, and record stores, will be enjoined by the courts from continuing their trade. If they refuse to cease and desist, they can be held for contempt of court. The plaintiff can also sue, as Columbia has done, for the amount of money they think they lost. This figure, Rohan said, is usually "just picked out of the air," since the companies can't really set a precise figure. And to sue each record store for their sales would only amount to a couple hundred dollars per store, which probably wouldn't cover court costs. To prevent any store from bootlegging at all, each store has to be enjoined separately.

"It's like trying to stamp out a bunch of ants," Rohan stated. "It's worth more to the companies and artists in publicity and glamour than they could get back in money. Anyhow, it's not widespread enough to make a dent."

Hence, Columbia's, and now London's, problems in stopping the bootleggers. Columbia spokesmen take the position that bootlegging doesn't hurt the company at all in terms of sales (which seems to be true, at least at Leopold's), but does hurt the performers and composers because they lose out on royalties. Also because they have a right to determine what material is fit for release. It's all a matter of the audience's respect for the artist, they say. London, the Stones' label, won't even say that much, referring all inquiries to Klein and Abkco, who likewise refuse comment.

Several record store managers, however, say that they've been told by Columbia sales representatives that sales are hurt by the bootleg albums. And in light of Rohan's statement, it becomes more than just a question of the audience's respect for the artist, but also a question of to what lengths the record companies are willing to go to protect their artists. It seems fairly obvious that outside of Dylan, the Stones, and the Beatles, this type of bootlegging would be unprofitable, due to lower demand for the product.

In Los Angeles at the moment, things are "hot," and most pressing plants are asking callers to come in for a chat and then checking tapes and credentials if it seems there is anything dodgy about one's motivation and "company." Many bootleggers are, as a result, turning to the East Coast, where they are finding companies perhaps less profitable, but certainly less inquisitive. Some say this is the beginning of the end — that New York and New Jersey have always been headquarters for the counterfeit-Mafia-bootleg business, and that the kids are being sucked into it. Others say this is bullshit.

The fact that the records themselves may be defective may take the record companies off the hook, for if it costs too much to get a durable product, bootlegging of even the big three groups may be unprofitable. No one would be in on it then except the burn artists, and record-buyers would get hip to them pretty quick. That would solve everything. Meanwhile, record stores on the West Coast have been promised Dylan's Isle of Wight performance around mid-January, some unreleased Beatles material shortly thereafter . . . and that, bootleggers say, is just the beginning.

This is a story from the February 7, 1970 issue of Rolling Stone.

From The Archives Issue 51: February 7, 1970