Loose Booty 3: Rubber Dubbers and Wondrous Wizardos
Ever wonder how large scale illegal businesses work? Or dream of setting up one yourself?The best thing to happen to audiovisual art in a very long time, Breaking Bad, and the very underrated Boardwalk Empire are both based on the stories of people and businesses that satisfy consumer desires banned by the State, the old romance of being an outlaw in plain sight has returned to popular culture.Last time we introduced you to Ken Douglas and "Dub Taylor". These two got together over a shared love of, and debate about the direction of, Bob Dylan - and so released evidence that something decent might have happened between the motorcycle accident and Nashville Skyline. It launched the first wave of great bootlegs - but that is just the surface of the story. And no clue to how these two eventually broke up, with one half of the partnership going underground, and the other going on to define the whole bootleg market up until and beyond today.Ken Douglas' father ran a somewhat shifty but vital L.A. based vinyl wholesale/trade counter thing called Saturn Records. Ken was one of the smarter, cooler, South Cal style Heads and had spent a lot of his life meeting pressing plant owners, promoters, producers, radio people and straight out gangsters.
So just like Walter White put his knowledge of chemistry and rage against the suburban straightjacket to use, Ken put his connections and skills to use recording, mixing, mastering, pressing and marketing records people wanted but the majors did not have the vision to create.After putting out seminal records like The Great White Wonder and Kum Back, Ken felt the tickle of money and did try out a little...well...piracy. Given Saturn's deep knowledge of, and love for the Black sounds and shops in neighbourhoods like Watts, he wondered what would happen if he took the Number One and Number Two R&B records of the week and pressed them on a single, tight and thick 7 inch. He did, but strangely there were few takers. Then the local gangsters, deeply involved with the local Black music scene as anyone who saw Ray Charles in his prime would know, took exception.A couple of hitmen were sent round Saturn's offices, but with the warning real gangsters use to give maximum intimidation power. Sadly for them, Saturn was kind of Made. Ken's father was one of the only wholesalers that would give credit, friendship and preferential terms to all L.A.'s Black shops, artists and promoters. Who were bigger, better and badder gangsters to boot. The hit men turned up and faced a Mexican Standoff of Black Fury in the office. Realising if they harmed a toenail on Ken and friends life would be short afterwards, they left sheepish and Ken went back to bootlegging.Don't take my word for it. Ken, who now is an acclaimed sailor, author and all round genius beyond belief, has set it all out in a load of great writing I'm ripping off for you now.We already told you about the introduction to William Stout, the artist who made the identity of TMOQ in a crowded, dirty marketplace. And the somewhat foggy but important Rolling Stones bootleg "Winter Tour", 1973 that set the label en route to greater heights.Yet it was another Stones boot that moved Ken way beyond live shows and offcuts from the studio, and into another space of relevance that continues to this day. Getting boots not recorded themselves or on the radio ready to record meant paying out. People would pimp tapes to Ken and Dub all the time. But one Brit expat had something special he wanted an unreal ten grand for - the Stones original demos for Decca, recorded in London at IBC Studios on March 11, 1963. The rest of the LP was packed with smoking sessions from RCA Studios in 1965, and tracks cut at the legendary Chess in 1964. A couple tracks from a Swiss TV special in 72 closed the magic show.These were not live shows from lost heroes, or dubious takes of classic album tracks. This was a RECORD of The Rolling Stones at their baddest, rawest, rockiest and Blackest. The Brit concerned was lured to Ken's lair and plied with drink and pot. He was given a chance to debut the reels, little knowing they were being dubbed live downstairs from the smoke room by state of the art kit. His ten grand became a greedy wet dream.The result, Bright Lights, Big City is as valid a document of the pre Exile burnout Stones than Let it Bleed. To add to the amusement, it was pressed at the same plant as the official records themselves. Money talks and bullshit walks.Meanwhile, the relationship between Ken and Dub was hitting the hot rocks. Dubs had a Dad that was an ex-postal worker and vital to the increasingly transcontinental operation. He did not see what value Ken brought and effectively sacked him. The regular pressing plants took pity, seeing Ken's crucial role to the operation. They gave him copies of the stampers for all the classic TMOQ boots, and helped to create the odd truce between the two pioneers.Dub would do his own thing, armed with the genius art of Stout, who soon went on to define the look of legit label, Rhino. Ken could make his own dubs of whatever the old shop put out and move on in his own magic direction.Which he did. Along with a new associate, "Dr Telly Phone" Ken
founded the The Amazing Kornyphone Record Label and countless sub labels. Being a business genius, he also moved beyond artists he loved to exploit a new hole in the market.Much like today, Top 40 radio formats made it nearly impossible for even the Majors to break new acts, even in the pustulent main fucking stream. Singles, hits and novelties took all the oxygen, and so even well backed and hardly challenging album oriented new acts like Bruce Springsteen, ELO, Queen and KISS hardly got a look in. Proper talent like Roxy Music had an even harder time.Luckily, the Majors felt this pain, however hypocritically. FM Radio networks like Westwood One worked hard to break through the Top 40 foam party. Bruce Springsteen toured the still big places the area 60s dinos that were not dead or stooopid avoided. Cincinnati. Pittsburgh. Jersey City. Buffalo. Fort Wayne. And in the process his handlers made sure the new availability of home taping was not ignored as a crucial viral marketing tool. "It's time to press Play...And Record"
was a mantra "The Boss" himself often articulated at the beginning of another turgid broadcast. Back catalogues were raided to produce whole day long deep dives into massive 60s acts, in the hopes of selling Poco to Doors fans somehow.A Studer Reel to Reel and military grade antenna armed Ken was always ready.The Majors, more than a few big new acts short of relevance, started to get in on the game. What about putting out compilations of the B-sides and lost wishes of now clapped out acts like Thee OOO? Surely the massive sales of the still definitive bootleg comp Who's Zoo showed the potential? What about pressing big radio shows in limited editions a week after the fact? Magic wonder and cash.Crucial artists themselves saw the role of bootlegs in capturing and celebrating their best moments for real f
ans. Photos exist of Mick Jagger posing happily with signed copies of Live'R Than You'll Ever Be.The money flowed like sacred wine, and most of the competition fell away. One of the major rivals with an odd, dumb, Mafia code was The Rubber Dubber. This geezer recorded bands live with icy quality, especially new hard rock heroes, Led Zeppelin. And was rather cross when Ken and friends seemed to copy his work, as he avoided artists that were "theirs" like Dylan and the
Stones. Sadly, he ended up dead somewhere by the Mid 70s on a shifty Murder One charge.Meanwhile lurking around Orange County swap meets and "head shops", were Vicky Vinyl and her new friend, a cracklingly bright and ambitious teenager posing as a twentysomething called John Wizardo. Wizardo would soon evolve from being one of the biggest collectors of bootlegs to the founder of the other stable of vital labels.But as the 70s wore on and bummed out, the legal and cultural weather was turning against the SoCal bootleg scene.The Law, which was less clear and predatory than Dub and Ken assumed as they hid from anyone official except Rolling Stone hacks in the case Dub, was changing. After the early 70s, US Copyrong lawz changed to include unissued sounds. This meant that the Man, less retarded than today, had to pretend to care and start sniffing round pressing plants, shops, and the more blatant Dub's arse.
So bootleggers needed to blend into the racks. Xeroxed inserts and single colour jackets started to stick out like Herpes sores at a Yoga studio so Ken and the survivors had to evolve again. Bootlegs got full colour, well printed jackets and full liner notes. Thick vinyl. Not only did punters prefer it, but the Federales could not tell, especially from a distance. So at the dawn of the CD era Ken, from his new home and boat in sunny Spain, and Wizardo, hiding in plain sight as only read heads can, were coining it and preparing the next move. A move that would bend the law, jump through all the loopholes and shake up the music business forever.