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Dylan's 'Great White Wonder' Bootleg Turns Up in London

A 20-year-old bootlegger turned over his tapes after the Dylan LP began circulating in England

March 19, 1970
Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan
Chris Walter/WireImage

London — Copyright sleuths have busted England's first bootleg record producer for making a one-disc version of Dylan's Great White Wonder album.

David Steel, the 20-year-old founder and president of F.D. Productions, the bootleg company, met with officers of the Mechanical Copyright Protective Service, turned over the original GWW tape and his master tape, paid most of the $360 royalties demanded and promised not to do it again. No charges have yet been made against Steel, but the subject makes him nervous.

About 1250 copies of Steel's version of GWW were sold, mostly from under the counter of London record shops. Another 50 copies and the acetate master have been destroyed at the pressing plant. The tapes have been turned over to CBS Records, Ltd. in London.

Steel, a former student at North London College who once lived in a kibbutz in Israel, told Rolling Stone in an exclusive interview that he bought the tape of the American double-LP version of GWW last August from "a bloke" who lives near London's Portobello Road. No names were exchanged, he says, just about seven dollars in cash.

Since he was dead broke, Steel couldn't do anything with the tape, but a friend, Fitz Brown, put up $600, and F.D. (Fitz David) Productions was in business. Steel chose the tracks he liked best, hired Regent Sound Ltd., a demo studio, to clean the take up and make a master tape, and a record presser, British Homophone Ltd., to produce an initial run of 300 records.

Steel then offered the white-jacketed LP's to London Record retailers, "Many were too terrified to handle it," he says, "but about 25 shops took it." Among these was the 18-shop Harlequin Record chain. Steel says he sold the LP for between $3 and $3.60 a copy, but the retailers promptly marked the price up to as high as $9, and some even took mail orders.

"That's what pisses me off most about the whole thing," Steel says. "Those extortionate swine made bags of money, and I made almost nothing after paying taxes and royalties." He won't say exactly how much he did make, but it is thought to be no more than $700.

"I did the whole thing for a joke at first," Steel says, "but then it escalated. There was much demand that I ordered a thousand more records pressed and was looking into the possibilities of exporting it." He had already dispatched 200 copies to Scotland before he was nabbed.

But then Steel heard from record retailers that the copyright heat was after him, and he began to realize that there might be complications to the little business he had set up. "I must admit," he says now, "that we were a bit uncool about all the way through." Such as signing a copyright idemnity form at British Homophone's request.

Steel insists that he didn't know there was anything wrong with what he was doing. Or that it was even a Dylan record. "I have never said this was a Dylan record," he says. "I always sold it as simply the Great White Wonder. I am still denying that it is Dylan."

But he adds, "When I heard that the MCPS were after me, I immediately got in touch with them and introduced myself. Up to that time, nobody could have traced me." British Homophone told the copyright cops that a certain F. Brown ordered the record pressed, but until Steel called, they knew no more than that.

At British Homophone, a spokesman said: "We really walked into this one with our eyes shut. He told us it was some friends of his who recorded it in a hotel room. But I'll not get bloody caught again."

Regent Sound said it couldn't recall processing the GWW tape at all. Says the production manager: "Anybody can bring any tape in here and we'll copy it. We don't know who it belongs to, and we're not really interested."

The head buyer for Harlequin Record shops said that at $9, GWW was their highest priced single LP, but they'd stopped selling it after they'd been notified by the copyright service and after they'd sold stock on hand. Like Steel, Harlequin refuses to admit that the bootleg LP is even a Dylan record. "We have never claimed it to be other than what we said — a white-label, white record called the Great White Wonder," says the head buyer. "We have never sold it for anything else." Harlequin advertised in the London music press: "Great White Wonder has arrived at Harlequin."

Steel says he won't rule out the possibility that F.D. productions might go back into business, but he adds: "I don't think I'm going to bust anybody's copyrights anymore." He says his biggest worry these days is that "everyone will sue me."

But CBS Records Ltd. says it has no legal claim because the material on GWW is from the days before Dylan signed with CBS. And a spokesman for the copyright people says the owners of the material have agreed not to sue Steel because he paid up royalties. But Steel says he's heard that Dylan might come over and sue him, which is a possibility.

The Mechanical Copyright Protective Service is sending out a warning to all London record retailers urging them to beware of handling "white label" records and make sure they are not infringing copyrights.

Steel says the money he made from GWW is all gone, and he still owes copyright payments. All he has left from the adventure is two nickel-plated master discs of GWW which the copyright people let him keep after damaging them.

"I'm really cheesed at that," Steel says. "I wanted to be able to pull out my silver discs and play them."

This story is from the March 19th, 1970 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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