Tuesday, June 05, 2018


Ever since I first stumbled across my first Beatles bootlegs in backrooms and dusty record bins hidden in the corners of independent record stores (circa 1974 or so), I have always sought them out. To me, they are far more interesting than the Beatles’ official output. During the early days of Wax Trax in Denver in the mid-70’s, when I would sell my blood plasma and get the $22 or whatever, I would always swing by the store afterwards with cash in hand and buy a Beatle boot for maybe six dollars and some punk 45 for maybe two or three dollars….collections of BBC broadcasts taped off the air with radio static and the signal drifting off from time to time, collections of the Decca audition tapes with speed fluctuations, poor quality dubs of live shows, poor quality dubs of outtakes, variant versions of releases from different countries, etc etc. Not to mention solo Beatle things...distant audience recordings from Harrison’s 1974 American tour, Lennon’s home demos, Ringo’s TV appearances and wine cooler commercials, McCartney’s soundcheck or rehearsal recordings (well, I did not buy THOSE, but they were out there!). As we moved into the 80’s, the quality of Beatles boots—both the releases themselves and the quality of the material on the releases--went up considerably, and I kept picking them up. If you’ve ever heard The Beatles SHEA AT LAST! Album or the various US live shows during Beatlemania, they are almost punk in their raw in-your-face onslaught, with the band not able to hear themselves playing and blasted through the primitive PA systems of ballparks and the like. And the warts’n’all rehearsals and the variant alternate takes are fascinating in a way that the released versions of the songs we’ve all heard 1000 times are not. During the LP era, I eventually collected about 75-100 different Beatle boot LP’s (not to mention the EP’s and 45’s), and then I continued on when CD’s arrived. I’ve also traded with other fans for CDR’s of a lot of material, but since CDR’s have no inherent collectible or resale value, they won’t be a part of this piece I’m writing today.

From the early 70’s through perhaps the late 90’s, I was actively building my LP collection. I would sell things on occasion, but I was still bringing in more than I was getting rid of. However, in the late 90’s, I stopped actively buying vinyl. I started selling it off in lots—I’d bring some collector over, he’d have a few hundred dollars in his pocket, and I’d let him choose things until he’d spent that few hundred….and I’d put it toward necessary plumbing work, or repair on my car, or medical bills, etc. I still am doing that today.

In the early 2000’s, I made the acquaintance of a man who was the father of one of my daughter’s good friends. I saw him once or twice at school events the girls attended. He was a relatively absent father, as his daughter was raised by her grandmother. He was a heavy drinker and a relatively irresponsible person. At one time, he’d been an “oldies DJ” on radio stations in both San Antonio and Austin, and people of a certain age in these areas would remember him. We’ll call him “Vic The Prick,” as that echoes his on-air handle. He was heavily into the Beatles….well, some would say he was. He had a lot of Beatles collectibles. He had autographed items from all four Beatles, which he managed to get through his position as a DJ that labels were wanting to curry the favor of and get airplay through. In his home, he did not even have a bedroom for his daughter (who lived with the grandmother)—when she stayed with him, which was rare, she slept on the couch—BUT he had a room which was called his “Beatles Room,” with various Beatles posters and ephemera and stand-up ad figures, etc. That should tell you about his priorities. He liked THE IDEA of The Beatles. Yet, he did not really know a lot about their music. For instance, he could not have told you the major songs in the set list for George Harrison’s 1974 tour, which any fan would know. He might have owned a copy of TWO VIRGINS, but he would have kept it sealed and not played it. He reminded me of a salesperson I encountered at a furniture store a few months ago who had a photo of Elvis on his work-station. I asked him, “are you into Elvis?” And he replied, “oh definitely, I’ve got the Elvis plates from the Franklin Mint, I’ve got the Elvis bedspread, I’ve got an Elvis license plate on my car,” etc. Talking with him for a few minutes, I learned that he was into the IMAGE of Elvis, not his actual work. He’d never heard the Sun Sessions, though he stated they were “historic.” He did not know who Scotty Moore was. He did not know who Charlie Hodge or Kathy Westmoreland were. The only Elvis film he’d seen was BLUE HAWAII (and this man was older than I am!)…but he had an Elvis keychain and an Elvis tablecloth! He was “into the King.” Evidently, just not INTO his actual work!

Vic The Prick was kind of like that, though at least he’d heard the Beatles released recordings (well, not TWO VIRGINS or ELECTRONIC SOUNDS or those kind of things, and he’d never heard of McCartney’s THRILLINGTON album), but he’d never heard any Beatles bootlegs. I chatted with him at a few school events we both attended, and after telling him about what was available on Beatle boots, he mentioned to me that he worked record shows on the weekends, and if I was interested in selling off some of my Beatle boots, he would sell them for me. I don’t like those kind of events, never have, either as a buyer or seller, so that sounded good to me. I knew what I wanted for each album, more or less, and I told him we could split the money 60/40, with me getting the 60. This would encourage him to get as much as he could for the albums as he’d make more the more he charged. I took him out to my storage unit in a neighboring town one night, and we spent maybe five hours going through it, pulling items that he thought he could sell. I would tell him about each item, since he did not really know much about the kind of material found on bootlegs. I also gave him non-Beatles items to sell—some Stones bootlegs, the pre-ZZ Top American Blues “Do Their Thing” album on UNI (he did not know the names of the pre-ZZ Top bands, the American Blues and the Moving Sidewalks, even though he was a native Texan), the 3 Nitzinger albums (he’d never heard of HIM either, though all 3 albums were on major labels and the man was a Texan and Vic claimed to be knowledgeable about 70’s hard rock), and some other collectible 70’s hard rock albums (that has always been big here in San Antonio, and they were certainly things I could live without!). It was dark outside and very late when we finished, and my unit was lit only by one light bulb on the ceiling, so when I suggested we write down the names of what he was taking for record-keeping, he said, “hey, it’s late….don’t worry about that….I’ll write them all down and pay you as they sell. We’re friends, after all.” Since I would hardly even label this guy as an acquaintance, I should have had an alarm go off….the same alarm that would go off when a used car dealer reminds you every 30 seconds how honest he is.

Needless to say, I NEVER heard from this man again. After 2-3 months, I tried getting in touch with him, but he would not return my calls. I tried e-mailing him, and he ignored it. I found out where he lived, went there once and rang his doorbell, and after 20 seconds or so, I heard the TV turned down but he did not answer. His car was outside. He was clearly home. I finally had to try to contact him via his teenage daughter, who did not live with him but saw him from time to time. To her credit, she did try to help me, but that did no good in the end. This guy was drinking himself to death at the time, and had a long history as a scam artist (I later learned from others whom he’d burned). He’d long been out of radio and worked at a payday loan store, gouging down-on-their-luck working people and low-rank military members with usury-like interest rates and exorbitant fees so they could put a new water pump in their old cars or pay the electric bill. Truly, the man was a bottom-feeder. He died about a year later. His daughter had suggested to me that he still had some of my Beatles records in his garage, and after he died, I tried to get access to those, but his mother was hostile and combative (hey, if anyone knew what kind of scam artist he was, she did….and clearly, the apple did not fall very far from the tree!), and since I did not even have a list of what I’d given him, I really did not have much of a case. I could not sue his estate—how could I prove I even gave them to him…and what kind of estate would a man who drank himself to death have! If you figure that by the 2000’s any original Beatle boot LP bought in the 70’s or 80’s would be worth at a minimum $20, and I gave him at least 75 albums plus other non-Beatle items, I was taken for at least $3000 by this scumbag. And his hag of a mother refused to let me even attempt to retrieve some of my property, even though his daughter told her that yes, I did indeed give him these albums a year or two previously and that he’d told her about it at the time. So there went my Beatle bootleg collection on vinyl, sold by Vic The Prick at record shows, and then sold by his sleazy mother to some collector-scum after his death. Live and learn.

Well, I’ve probably replaced most of the material on those discs with CD’s or copies of boots on CDR’s I’ve traded for, but the vinyl originals are long gone. Hey, if you live in Texas, maybe YOU bought one of them at some record show or from the dealer that Granny sold my property to. If so, please enjoy it with my best wishes! Blast my copy of SHEA AT LAST with the green paste-on cover and imagine you are me in the 1980’s, with a Pearl Cream Ale in my hand. Savor those two Houston 1965 live shows, recorded by a local radio station, on the LIVE FROM THE SAM HOUSTON COLISEUM two-LP set with the Butcher-cover outtake on the front. Feel the melancholy of the gradually burning-out Beatles doing downbeat versions of “Nowhere Man” and the like on the 1966 Japan boot FIVE NIGHTS IN A JUDO ARENA
Better quality versions of much of the material on the old 70’s and 80’s Beatle boots later surfaced during the CD era, but I prefer the old rawer ones from vinyl. When I play the pristine versions of the BBC sessions on the 12 CD boot box you can get now, I still hear the static and the station drift from the originals in my mind and wish I still had them, records made back in the pre-internet days when the compilers of the albums did not even know the actual names of the obscure songs the Fab Four covered on their BBC sessions and assigned names to them which had no relation to the originals. I still think of them by those names, even though in many cases, I did know (as a 50’s fan) the actual names of the songs they covered. Vic The Prick could steal $3000 of Beatles bootlegs from me, but he could not steal my memories of blasting those vinyl boots for decades. You can have SGT. PEPPER—give me LIVE IN ATLANTA WHISKEY FLAT (which we later learned was not even recorded in Atlanta!), pressed on off-center vinyl with a crookedly-pasted-on label. That’s the REAL Beatles to me.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is such a great piece.