Bootlegs: Music That Would've Been Lost

Bootlegs: Music That Would've Been Lost
Authored By John Nicholson

Growing up in the 1970s, bootleg albums (on vinyl, of course) had a mythical status on a a few different levels. Firstly, they were illegally produced, and that always puts a thrill in a teenager's heart. Secondly, they were hard to come by. You had to find an indie record shop owner who might have dared to have them behind the counter, away from the prying eyes of Trading Standards officers. Or you could send away to a PO Box in the NME or Melody Maker and get them in the post. Third, they gave you access to the live music of bands that simply did not release enough music to satiate our appetite. When you loved a band, you wanted more and more music from them and couldn't wait another year. The bootlegs helped fill those gaps in releases.

They gave you a window into the world of rock n roll from distant lands, especially for us in the UK, from over in the USA. I vividly recall hearing a Zeppelin bootleg at my friend Russell’s house, God rest him. It was recorded at the LA Forum (that sounded so glamorous), the classic Blueberry Hill boot that must’ve sold in the hundreds of thousands on the Trademark of Quality label. While some boots were recorded on little more than a hand-held microphone, others were taken from the soundboard and sounded amazing. As we put it on the turntable it felt wild and free, like we were listening to music from a different planet, unavailable to other mere mortals. It was magic. 

TradeMark of Quality was one of the legendary bootleg labels in the very beginning of the 70s, established by Dub and Ken. They were quality-conscious perfectionists who pressed all their albums on coloured, virgin vinyl, and perhaps the first bootleggers to start doing real, printed picture covers, and later colour picture covers (printed - not inserts in the shrink-wrap!). Their original logo stamp was a pig with the words "TRADE MARK OF QUALITY" around it.

Though the first real TMQ release was 71000 Frank Zappa's 200 Motels [Live with Zubin Mehta & the LA Philharmonic], 71001 was Dylan's Stealin' ...

After a while, Dub's dad moved into the business and fired Ken. Boo. Heavy vibes, man. Ken went and set up a rival company, which he also called TMOQ, using a logo with a cartoon pig smoking a cigar, still surrounded by the words "TRADE MARK OF QUALITY". 

Ken started making his own "stamper" plates from Dubs original "mother" plates, working in cahoots with the woman who owned and ran the pressing plant, and every time there was a new release from Dubs original TMOQ label, Ken's TMOQ would have an exact copy out on black vinyl and with a cheaper cover. Dub then modified his logo to say "Accept No Substitutes". That all sounds very messy, doesn’t it? 

Ken shut down his version TMOQ in late 1973, and set up another label called TAKRL - The Amazing Kornyphone Record Label with another bootlegger, "Dr Telly Phone". This become probably the best known of all bootleg labels and the full discography of records he pressed is mighty and includes anyone who was anyone. 

Dub shut down his TMOQ in 1974, after the Feds came sniffing around. He took a short break from bootlegging. Ken's TAKRL became a major operator, flanked by many new labels invented by Ken, such as TKRWM - The Kornyphone Records for the Working Man, SODD - Singer's Original Double Disks, ZAP - Ze Anonym Plattenspieler, and HHCER - Highway Hi-Fi Collector's Edition Records, Spindizzle/Flat, and many more. 

These were finally shut down in 1976/1977, at about the same time as Dub resurrected his old TMOQ for a few albums and then took it back down. Ken stayed in bootlegging with some new labels, IMP/IRW - Impossible Recordworks and Excitable Recordworks, using black & white printed covers, and Phoenix and Saturated Records, who repressed old TMOQ and TAKRL boots in deluxe colour. At this time, Ken was living in Spain, but his labels were all based in California.

While all of these people worked on into the 80s. The ability to record videos off TV and the proliferation of other media meant the bootleg slowly lost its magic somehow. A bootleg CD of a live show just doesn’t have the sexy allure of an album printed on multi-coloured vinyl, as many were.

They had their peak at a time when music was scarce and live music even more so. And they were important. For all they were illegal, they documented what would otherwise have been lost in the mists of time. While some bands claimed their music was being stolen and in one way that was true, no-one who ever bought a bootleg didn’t already have ALL the bands official releases, so bands, nor record labels never lost any income, rather bootlegs helped promote the groups' live shows (if they were any good and perhaps that was the real issue. Some bands couldn’t cut it live and didn’t want this knowledge to be in common currency) They showed a band that they had fans who would buy everything and anything they produced. They were a compliment. In truth, I suspect it was mostly record companies who objected more than musicians. 

Ironically, in later years, bands would come to rely on the best quality bootlegs for their own officially released anthologies. Jimmy Page drew on them for How The West Was Won, which was an irony since Peter Grant, their manager, legendarily stormed into record shops, taking all the bootlegs away. 

Today, bands have the ability to release every live show as a stream or download. The likes of Govt Mule and other jambands have happily done this and of course, that pretty much does away with bootlegs altogether. 

Some of the classic old 70s boots are now very collectible and change hands for decent money. They are very much of their time, emblems of rock’s nascent years before it became an exercise in corporate power. I love them, collect them and celebrate them as artifacts of our artistic, musical and cultural history. Long live the unofficial live recording!

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