I’ve covered the topic of bootlegging concerts several times on The Ongoing History of New Music and it’s something with which I’m still fascinated. The first bootlegger was a guy with a new-fangled Edison phonograph in the rafters at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Later, jazz fans brought gear to clubs to capture performances that would have otherwise been lost. But by the time we got to the 70s, bootlegging gigs had become big business in the rock world.
Somewhere in my library I have all the Hot Whacks books, a series of bootleg guys published by Kurt Glemser, a Canadian (from rural Ontario!) which became bibles for bootleg obsessives. I collected soundboard recordings from the excellent KTS label, concentrating on Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails and the Smashing Pumpkins.. And whenever I went overseas to some of the more, er, copyright unfriendly countries, I’d hit record shops looking for discs of live gigs that were decidedly on the wrong side of the law. When I talked about bootlegs on the air back in the 90s, I received a letter from a Canadian record industry association calling me “morally reprehensible” for evening mentioning these records.
The AV Club has just published a story call “A Brief History of Live-Concert Bootlegging.” It’s worth the read.
People have been making recordings of performances by musical artists without their knowledge or permission for years, but the first recognized, wide-release bootleg to hit the underground-store shelves came in the summer of 1969. TitledGreat White Wonder, it was released by Trademark Of Quality Records, a label set up by a couple of guys in Los Angeles, “Dub” Taylor and Ken Douglas. The album was composed entirely of unavailable and unreleased recordings Bob Dylan had made over the previous eight years, including a number of cuts he recorded with The Band that would become part of the Basement Tapes.
Trademark Of Quality was the forerunner to the wider bootleg recording industry, and within months of debuting Great White Wonder, it ventured for the first time into the live-concert realm, issuing releases that are still venerated and passed around. Among its more notable selections include a Rolling Stones show in Oakland in 1969 titled Live’r Than You’ll Ever Be, Led Zeppelin at the L.A. Forum in 1970 released as Live On Blueberry Hill, and In 1966 There Was, a near-complete recording of Bob Dylan’s famed show at the Royal Albert Hall, where he deafened those who would call him “Judas” for his Stratocaster-strapped electric turn.