It felt fine being a retired record pirate. We hit the market when it was hot, launched some music that got on people’s radar and avoided contact with the law. Being underage had its benefits. My albums were on display in any shop I patronized yet few knew I was the guy responsible for their existence. Other bootleggers chased press attention and notoriety. Being LA and all, it was second nature. But I was happy as an unknown instigator. I liked the idea of being the smart guy, on background.
So I hung around my partner’s shop at night, watching folks pick through the merchandise. And on one such night an exotic looking fellow walked in, a rock star-type wearing blinding satin and standing tall in high platform boots decorated with tiny painted stars. I don’t think I’d seen a guy wearing high heels before (‘manly’ or otherwise) except Joe Cocker in Woodstock.
The starry guy found our new Bootleg Section, front and center of the store. He looked around to see who was watching, then immersed himself in the albums displayed, studying each record that he held. I stood by the counter until he finally turned, approached and started asking questions.
He was an English fellow, a London boy (“his flashy clothes were his pride and joy” – David Bowie 1969). He knew of these illicit products, had heard about them back home. He was intrigued that they could be freely peddled in the marketplace here, with so few ramifications and so little punishment. This would never happen in England! Finally, lowering his voice, he wondered aloud if it were possible to learn how to do such a thing, to make your own records. You see, he had these tapes..
Remember Paul McCartney in Help? “I can say no more” a moustached Paul would whisper conspiratorially, as the spies leaned on him for information. The English guy’s name was Alan, and at first he wouldn’t tell me what he possessed, though he made sure to play up their mystery and desirability. Alan wasn’t sure we should even be talking (“I can say no more”). But eventually we laid our cards on the counter: I was an experienced record bootlegger, and “English” Alan had possession of first-rate recordings of the rock stars, unreleased music he’d plied from studios in the UK. He had unfinished albums, demos by The Who and live performances by Led Zeppelin, Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl, on and on, a most extensive and intriguing batch of recordings. English Alan had tapes of the sort that legends and fortunes might be made.
Alan was staying with a photographer friend named Bob up on Wonderland Avenue in Laurel Canyon. He invited me to the house the following night, where I’d become the first American to hear a Bob Dylan concert recording that I soon would give the title: “The Royal Albert Hall”.