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Getting the boots



The Grateful Dead stretched out on many a long jam. But they never got into a jam like the one Scott Johnson is in. His jam could land him a 25-year stretch in federal prison. His alleged crime? Not drug smuggling, armed robbery or any other violent offense. Johnson, 32, faces a potential quarter-century prison gig if convicted of violating the federal anti-bootlegging law. He was trafficking in unlicensed music, not bathtub gin. The artists included Stevie Ray Vaughan, Tori Amos, the Dave Matthews Band and ... the Grateful Dead.;;Johnson isn’t alone. He was arrested in Orlando on March 14 along with six others alleged to be involved in "manufacturing, importing and distributing of unauthorized or ‘bootleg’ compact music discs," according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Middle District of Florida. Several of the individuals arrested are European citizens who were lured to Florida by a U.S. Customs Service sting; the 13 eventually charged on indictments issued by a grand jury here came not only from Florida, but also Nevada, New York and California as well as England, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. ;;"This operation marks the largest criminal bootleg investigation of its kind, both in terms of the numbers of individuals involved and the transnational scope of their operations," declared Frank Creighton, vice president of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and associate director of the association’s Anti-Piracy Division, which assisted Customs in its investigation. "Without a doubt the removal of so many major players will substantively and severely disrupt the global bootleg industry.";;Bootlegs are prized by collectors because they contain material not available elsewhere, material the record companies don’t or won’t release, such as live recordings and studio outtakes. The crackdown threatens the livelihood of scores of independent record stores and the availability of rare performances by some of the era’s most compelling musical artists. And while bootlegs often are recorded with an artists’ full knowledge, the resulting material may become something they want to control or profit from themselves; this past April, a lawyer for the Dave Matthews Band, accompanied by a federal marshal and armed with an injunction, visited dozens of record stores from New Jersey to Massachusetts seizing bootlegs and demanding cash settlements in the $10,000 range.;;In February 1996, the RIAA won a court case saying that flea market and swap meet owners can be held liable if vendors are selling unauthorized recordings. And Bill Glahn, editor and publisher of Live! Music Review, agrees that the Florida busts have greatly curtailed the availability of boots. Subsequent arrests, he says, indicate the goal is to "eliminate major nationwide distributors.";;"It’s the same techniques used in drug enforcement: Eliminate the source, you eliminate the problem," states Glahn. "But there’s another parallel: You don’t eliminate the demand." This demand touches on a host of thorny issues that transcend the concerns of just a relatively small but fanatic segment of music fans. They include artists’ rights to control release of their work and to get paid for it; the treatment of culture as a commodity; the related issue of the control of information by multinational corporations in the era of "free trade;" and the impact of technology on the recording business.;;Already the bootleg industry is moving underground, away from international manufacturing plants that exploited loopholes in copyright laws and into garages and closets, fed by the burgeoning availability of CD-R (compact disc recording) technology. The crackdown, which extends well beyond Florida to arrests in other states as well, raises questions about who should decide which cultural documents will be allowed to circulate: The record companies, with their official history mindset and their policies of calculated scarcity? The artists, with their desire to control their public image and their works-in-progress? Or the public?;;What is gained by suppressing unofficial music compared to what would be lost? The modern history of bootlegging starts with "Great White Wonder," a double-album of Bob Dylan material that hit the head shops and hip record outlets in the summer of 1969. It included cuts from the legendary -- and then unreleased --"Basement Tapes" recorded with the Band, as well as tracks reportedly recorded in a Minneapolis hotel room in 1961. But historians of the field track bootlegs’ footprints back to cylinder recordings of the Metropolitan Opera made from 1901-1903 by Lionel Mapleson.;;In later years, jazz, classical and blues aficionados preserved concerts, broadcasts and out-of-print recordings through unlicensed pressings. "Great White Wonder’s" success spurred a cottage industry of releases by stars such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and others, as well as a spate of legal attacks by the recording industry. Using tapes generally garnered through unethical, if not illegal, methods, a parade of covert companies distributed short runs (500 to several thousand) of records throughout the 1970s.;;Their availability ebbed and flowed in relation to busts and the legal attentions of the legitimate record industry. The record companies also responded by releasing authorized live albums and material like Dylan’s "The Basement Tapes," which otherwise would have remained in the vaults. Quality control has always been an issue. Many boots sound like they are fifth-generation copies of recordings made through a wall by a microphone wrapped in a pillow. In the early years, almost all had plain white covers and blank labels; if they were annotated, the information was usually wrong.;;Others, however, are superb. When I first heard the leadoff cut on the Beatles’ "Ultra Rare Trax Vol. 1" CD -- take two of "I Saw Her Standing There" -- I was stunned; it was like being in the studio with the Fab Four. The listener could experience the tactile aspect of the pick striking the guitar strings.;;The 1990s have been a Golden Age of boots. A combination of technology -- CDs and high quality miniature cassette and DAT recorders -- and gaps in copyright protections in some countries unleashed a flood of discs.;;While still minuscule compared to the mainstream music industry, bootlegging music became a multi-million dollar business. Labels like Kiss the Stone, Yellow Dog and others garnered reputations for releasing superior quality product -- and even for paying royalties to the artists (into escrow accounts, which artists don’t draw on for fears of legitimizing the products). The growth of the industry meant that a wider circle of artists were honored (or ripped off, depending on your point of view) by being bootlegged. At the same time, facilitated by the Internet, tape trading has gained in popularity.;;Following in the footsteps of the Grateful Dead, bands such as Phish and the Dave Matthews Band have bonded with their fans by welcoming taping at live performances. But to the surprise of many, some of these same groups have taken a hard line when -- as if this couldn’t be expected -- bootlegs circulate. The Golden Age may now be over.;;International trade treaties such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) have standardized copyright law. Loop-holes that allowed the legal manufacture of boots in some European and Asian countries -- although they were illegal to import into the U.S. -- have been closed. And in December 1994, Congress passed a federal anti-bootlegging statute as part of GATT. The new law gave the U.S. Customs Service the power to seize boots at the border. "Free trade," in this instance at least, means a less free market. Lobbying zealously and successfully for these changes was the RIAA.;;Bootlegs are ripoffs, says the recording association. They hurt the consumer who gets stuck with expensive but inferior quality discs that can’t be returned. They deprive artists of their rightful royalties and control over what is released under their name to the public. And they cost the industry millions of dollars annually. How many millions is hard to quantify. In the press releases accompanying the Florida busts, the RIAA says bootlegs cost the $12.5 billion music industry $300 million annually. But as material posted on the RIAA’s website (http://www. shows, that figure includes losses attributed to pirate and counterfeit recordings, as well as "bootlegs.";;Creighton, the RIAA’s chief domestic anti-piracy investigator, says it’s hard to quantify the cost, both because they have incomplete figures for the number of seizures last year and because it’s difficult to calculate "displaced sales" for material that has no counterpart in companies’ catalogs. Some 800,000 CDs were seized in the Florida investigation. At $25 retail per disc, the total end value of those boots is $20 million, or two-tenths of 1 percent of the legit industry’s $12.5 billion annual sales.;;This is clearly an insignificant figure, even if one were to assume a dollar to dollar corresponding loss, which even the RIAA doesn’t claim. "One thing those bootlegs do is take away the ability for record companies and artists themselves to decide how and when to release those live recordings, so their marketability once they’re out in public is nonexistent," says Creighton. Offered the example of the Beatles, whose anthology series was a bestseller despite the fact that much of the material had appeared in pristine form on bootlegs, Creighton says they’re an extreme example. More problematic, he argues, is "the alternative, up-and-coming band that is very concerned about the quality of their recordings.";;Still, even the Beatles and other superstars have the right to control the quality of their material, and "the majority [of bootlegs] are pretty crappy in quality," he says. "If I spent years perfecting my art to put out the highest quality sound recording, I would want to control what songs, what show that is and how that material is taped," says Creighton. "That’s not the case when bootlegs are around." The RIAA’s task of suppressing unofficial music is getting harder all the time.;;Both CD-R technology and the Internet are decentralizing the ability to disseminate music digitally. Creighton says the RIAA is monitoring the Internet, cracking down on sites that use official releases without license. As the price of raw CD-R recorders and discs plummet (recorders can now be had for as low as $500 and discs in bulk are approaching $3), the recording industry faces the prospect of losing all control.;;As for the artists, opinion is divided. Some encourage their management to hunt down bootleggers and get the royalties due them. Others consider the unauthorized recordings a tribute and may even collect them themselves. In Clinton Heylin’s book "The Great White Wonder," Patti Smith Group guitarist Lenny Kaye says the band was "really excited" when their first bootlegs came out, that it was a validation that they had made it.;;In the same book, Graham Nash, apropos of a version of a Dylan song the singer had withheld as too personal, says, "If it was too personal, why the fuck did he write it in the first place and why the fuck did he record it?" On the other hand, Robert Fripp, in a 1979 article in Musician magazine, wrote that taping his live shows was akin to "taking notes of a personal conversation to circulate or publish later.";;Bootleg dealers and collectors pooh-pooh the notion that artists or record companies suffer substantive economic damage from bootlegs. How, they say, can you lose money on something you haven’t or wouldn’t release? In fact, they believe bootlegs often boost an artist’s popularity.;;Additionally, they contend that bootleggers have played a useful role to the record industry by demonstrating a market for material the big companies were hoarding in their vaults. Besides, say some, artists have been ripped off by the major-label record companies for more money than bootleggers could ever hope to steal. And it’s hypocritical, they charge, for record companies like Sony to complain about bootlegs while marketing the miniature cassette and DAT recorders used to make the concert tapes.;;Dave Marsh, Playboy rock critic and editor of the newsletter "Rock & Rap Confidential," defends the circulation of live recordings. "There’s a lot to be said for the idea that the concert stuff is out there -- it was put out to be heard, let it be heard," he says. The release of studio tapes, often pilfered by former employees, is a different issue. Marsh says there are "serious legal and ethical questions there," but adds, "although I buy [those CDs].";;The record industry’s real reason for attacking boots, says Glahn of Live! Music Review, is to control the marketplace, in part by favoring the big chains and undermining the independent stores that are more likely to carry bootlegs. With a decade and a half of ever-climbing profits from the conversion to CDs ending, this theory goes, the industry is looking for scapegoats.;;But if Tower Records or HMV were selling boots, says Creighton, they’d be busted, too. (Some indie store owners claim they need to sell boots to stay afloat because the chains get much better wholesale deals from the record companies.) "Many of the retail locations we’ve hit are not selling five or 10 of these pieces of bootleg product," responds Creighton. "We’re talking about people having thousands and thousands of these discs, and in many cases it’s a majority of their stock.... This is not your poor ma-and-pa record store here.";;Neither does Creighton agree that the record companies are at fault because they haven’t released this material. "Record companies and artists own the rights to release that material. It’s just like any other product .... People decide when to release it, how to release it, what price they’re going to release it at, etc., etc. Nobody’s sitting there screaming at the fact that Triscuit has not come out with a new cracker yet -- hasn’t released a sour cream and onion cracker. This is no different than that. This is a business decision.";;That’s precisely the problem, says Marsh. "To the RIAA this stuff is just property, where to the rest of us it’s culture," he says. "Anybody who would reduce Bob Dylan live in Manchester in 1966, or Bruce Springsteen at the Bottom Line in 1975, or various blues and gospel records which for years could not be had in any other way, to the same level as ... Triscuits is a person who ought to be fired summarily if the industry in question has any self-respect.";;"Of course, it hasn’t," he adds. "It has a gaping need for profits and doesn’t know the value of its own commodities. That’s one reason why viewing it as a commodity is a disaster." For the casual fan, suppression of boots would be no loss. But some crave more. To linger over that concert experience. To hear John Lennon giggle as he muffs the words during an outtake, or to follow the development of "Strawberry Fields Forever" from a rough demo to a finished masterpiece, demystifying the process of creation even as we appreciate it even more.;;Upon Franz Kafka’s death, his executor Max Brod found a note requesting that "everything I leave behind me" including "diaries, manuscripts, letters" be burned. Such monumental works of 20th century literature as "The Castle" and "The Trial" -- which was unfinished -- had not yet been published and, had Brod acceded to Kafka’s wishes, never would have been. He saved them.;;Foremost was "the fact that Kafka’s unpublished work contains the most wonderful treasures, and, measured against his own work, the best things he has written. In all honesty," Brod wrote, "I must confess that this one fact of the literary and ethical value of what I am publishing would have been enough to decide me to do so ..." Should Brod have done as the artist asked? ;;

Get ’em here

;;Since the March 14 arrest in Orlando of several people charged by federal authorities with bootlegging, Waxtree Records has seen its supply of bootlegs dwindle, says owner Bob Ponder. Yet the bin marked "Live Import CDs" near the front of the Aloma Avenue store on a recent day still featured more than 100 titles, including an acclaimed and unauthorized recording by Bob Dylan.;;"I’ve had that there for a couple of months," says Ponder of "Guitars Kissing & the Contemporary Fix," a double CD recorded in Manchester, England, with The Band in 1966.;;Despite the crackdown, Ponder says Waxtree is one of a half dozen independents in Orlando that continue to sell the unauthorized recordings of live performances and unreleased material. "I’ve been selling them for 20 years," he says. Even so, "I’m having trouble getting them." ;;Among those arrested here was a West Coast-based supplier known locally as "Thomas C." But Thomas C. was just one among a constantly changing cast of suppliers who sometimes just show up at independent stores, or whom store owners know to contact through pager numbers. Ponder says he knows one Florida supplier who "hasn’t gotten anything" since the crackdown and is trying to develop new contacts. And while still able to obtain bootlegs, a Pennsylvania dealer is "having trouble" obtaining more in the aftermath of the arrests.;;Other local record-store workers asked about the crackdown’s impact were more evasive. Yet bootlegs and imports remained visible on their shelves. Privately,rd companies fight back as well. For example, the widow of jazz great Charles Mingus seized two unauthorized live recordings and repackaged them in a two-disc set.;;But such efforts fail to stifle a market revitalized by technologies that enable bootleggers to set up shop in smaller and smaller spaces, where they will continue to feed the habits of fans who seek something fresh from their favorite artists. "It’s not going to end," says Ponder. "Somebody will always do it. ;;

The better boots

;;With recording quality so variable, taste in bootlegs is largely conditioned by taste in artists. A Velvet Underground fan may be fascinated by the 40-minute performance of "Sweet Sister Ray" recorded April 30, 1968, at La Cave in Cleveland. Others might find it unlistenable. Here are some other sought-after boots. Happy hunting!;;The Beatles The "Ultra Rare Trax" CD series on The Swinging Pig Records, particularly Vols. 1 and 2, and the similar "Unsurpassed Masters" series on Yellow Dog. If you were left wanting more from Capitol’s "Beatles at the Beeb," look for Great Dane’s nine-CD BBC Box.;;Bob Dylan Dave Marsh touts "Guitars Kissing & the Contemporary Fix," a double CD recorded in Manchester, England, with The Band in 1966.;;The Beach Boys "Leggo My Ego," a three-CD "Pet Sounds" outtakes set. Capitol at one time planned to use material from this boot collection for its own "Pet Sounds" collection.;;Patti Smith "Free Music Store," which primarily chronicles a May 1975 performance on WBAI-FM radio, features a giddy Smith performing before her band was completed with drummer Jay Dee Daugherty.;;Rolling Stones "Liver Than You’ll Ever Be," a 1969 Detroit show described by Marsh as "astonishing." May only be available -- if you can find it at all -- on vinyl.;;Bob Marley "Jah Love," live in 1973 at the Paris Theater in London. The only known live recording with Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer all playing together.;;Prince "The Black Album." Later, with much less fanfare, released as an official album on the Warner’s label. But many fans prefer the rough, second-generation-tape edginess of the omnipresent bootlegs of these sessions, which The Artist Formerly Known As Prince refused to release.;;Tori Amos "Tori Stories," a stunning four-disc box set from Primadonna, is for the true Amos fanatic. It contains recordings from wedding ceremonies at which the piano prodigy accompanied her father, a minister, when she was still in her mid-teens. There’s also Amos’ voice as heard on a promotional song for the city of Baltimore. The accompanying booklet has dozens of photos.;;The Replacements "The Shit Hits the Fans" (Twin Tone), a semi-authorized bootleg released in a limited cassette-only edition of 10,000 copies by the band itself after they confiscated the master from a fan. Helped the band spread the legend of their sloppy-genius stage personae nationally. The exercise begat a series of less endearing sequels, notably "More Shit for the Fans.";;The Cure "The Making of Disintegration" (Hot Wacks). A thoughtful 1989 compilation of interviews and studio outtakes, documenting a band on the verge of international superstardom.;;The comedy contingent Lenny Bruce, anywhere live. Ditto the more recently departed Bill Hicks, 1980s comedy casualty Andy Kaufman, and rare kinescopes and recordings of vintage Ernie Kovacs.;;Hank Hoofman and Christopher Arnott

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