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Led Zeppelin -- The History Of Bootlegs


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In late 1968 a couple of California teenagers stumbled upon several reels of tape that had been recorded in Bob Dylan's house. How they came to acquire these tapes has never exactly been explained and is the stuff of legend. Before the 1960s, record companies usually held onto all tapes from artists' recording sessions. But artists like Dylan and the Beatles took more control of the process of making records, recording where they felt like it, in a house in Woodstock, for example and the record labels lost control of the process.

The tapes these two teenagers stumbled upon contained some previously unreleased Dylan songs and alternate versions of some songs that had already been released. Open-reel tape decks were expensive at the time, and beyond the budget of these kids, so they approached a record manufacturing plant to master and press the tapes in the lowest quantity allowed, which was 100 pieces.

In the 1960s, cassette tapes were not commonly available, and everyone had a turn-table, so it was not unusual for people to make records to pass on information as they do with tapes today. High school bands made records of their annual concerts and church groups made records of their favorite hymn performance. Pressing 100 records was considerably cheaper than buying a tape deck and at the time there was nothing illegal about it.

The kids made these 100 Dylan records, thinking of them more as novelties rather than as albums per se. They gave them away to friends and soon friends of friends began to inquire about them. People began to offer money for the discs, which were packaged in a plain white sleeve. A record store approached the kids to ask if they could have 100 copies at $4 a piece. So the kids made 500 more, started to sell them for a couple of bucks each, and the modern American bootlegging industry was born.

The record became known as "The Great White Wonder" and over the next decade it sold so many copies some claimed it should have made it onto the Bill-board charts. The teenagers went on to form the Trade Mark of Quality (TMQ) record label and to become the biggest bootleggers in music history. Today we recognize The Great White Wonder as the first significant bootleg album.

Bootlegging itself began back with the invention of the cylinder phonograph; the earliest bootlegs were of opera legend Enrico Caruso. But bootlegging didn't begin as an industry until the late 1960s and it continues to this day as a quasi-underground record industry. And with the exception of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, no other group in history has interested bootleggers as much as Led Zeppelin.

When bootlegging began in the late 1960s, it was not illegal. Those first copies of The Great White Wonder were sold in legitimate record stores over the counter and were stuck in the Dylan section in the records racks. In the early 1970s, every hip record store in town had stacks of bootlegs for sale, and many times they were cheaper and occasionally better than the regular record company releases. The law changed in February 1972, when the U.S. Congress passed a bill that outlawed the exhumation of pet cemeteries for the purpose of road construction. In an effort to quickly pass a law to deal with the increasing number of bootleg albums, the recording lobby persuaded Congress to attach an amendment to the pet cemetery bill making it a felony to manufacture bootleg, pirate, or counterfeit sound recordings for the purpose of resale. The law has been open to interpretation over the years and though court cases are still occasionally fought over the specifics of copyright infringement involving, bootlegging remains illegal.

It is important to distinguish between the different forms of music piracy. A "bootleg" is defined as an illegally manufactured disc or tape that includes previously unreleased live or studio recordings. A "pirate" is considered a copy of a commercially available recording that has been repackaged in its own unique packaging. A "counterfeit", finally, is a copy of a commercially available recording that duplicates all aspects of the original official copy, including the packaging. These distinctions are important because the perpetrators of each different level approach the project with a different intention. Pirates and counterfeits are usually made by professionals with the sole intent of high profits. Most bootlegs are manufactured by fans. Even the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the body that actually takes bootleggers to court) admits that bootlegging is small potatoes compared to the millions of dollars in losses record companies face from pirates and counterfeits. Usually the RIAA does not distinguish between the various forms of bootlegging when they report on raids or actions they have taken, so when you read about 100,000 records being seized they usually aren't talking about copies of The Great White Wonder. Though the moral question of bootlegging is one best answered individually, the debate generally comes down to whether the buying of bootleg albums hurts the sales of legitimate albums (as the record companies argue) or whether anyone who would spend money on a bootleg is bound to have all the legitimate releases already (as many bootleg collectors suggest).

Shortly after the release of The Great White Wonder, the Rolling Stones played a concert at the Oakland Coliseum that was the talk of the West Coast. The show was taped and released in bootleg form with the title Liver Than You'll Ever Be. It was an outstanding recording of a great performance and it was immediately recognized by fans, and by critics, as far

superior to the official Stones live album. The record was reviewed in many publications and treated with all the seriousness that a legitimate release would warrant. The record sold even faster than The Great White Wonder and the legitimate record companies began to take notice.

Two or three more titles followed in the next few months, a Donovan disc and a couple more Dylan titles, and rumor began to spread through the grapevine about a forthcoming disc

from an exciting new live band by the name of Led Zeppelin.

The grapevine was something that Zeppelin manager Peter Grant stayed in touch with he had virtually created all the excitement for his new band by word of mouth to start with. Grant heard about this Zeppelin bootleg and immediately thought it would take money out of his pocket. The group's label, Atlantic, also was concerned since Zeppelin already accounted for a high percentage of company profits. Grant set off to stop the bootleggers before they got started. Grant reportedly traveled extensively through England and America, went to every studio that the band had recorded in and to every radio station that had done a broadcast, and reclaimed any tapes he could find. Shortly thereafter Atlantic drafted up a stack of cease and desist orders and made it known that they were ready to deliver them to any stores that sold bootlegs.

In the October 3, 1970, issue of Melody Maker the headline read "Led Zeppelin Hammer Bootlegs." The story reported that "two new Led Zeppelin albums will shortly be in the shops, both unofficial, illegal bootlegs. But Zeppelin's management immediately blasted back with a denial that any tapes were in private hands, and added the threat that anyone who tries to bootleg the group will be promptly sued. One Zeppelin album is alleged to be studio recorded tracks, never released, and the other is a live album from Germany. Phil Carson, European general manager of Atlantic records told me, 'We will be taking positive legal action against anyone who is found pressing, marketing or retailing these albums,' and Zeppelin manager Peter Grant declared this week,' As far as I know there can be no tapes of Zeppelin available. After hearing some time ago that there was going to be an attempt to some tapes of the band, I flew to America. We've managed to retrieve all the tapes and we know of nothing in existence that can be issued.'" Perhaps no greater misstatement has been uttered in music business history.

It was an understandable mistake to make, though. Up to that time no one believed that you could make a good tape of a band from a seat in the audience. It was Led Zeppelin Live on Blueberry Hill that changed that misconception forever. The Dylan bootlegs had been recorded from either the famous "basement tapes," which were studio quality recordings, or from television outtakes. The Stones' Liver album was so good that everyone associated with the band, perhaps straight from the mixing board. But there were no illusions about Blueberry Hill. This was definitely an audience recording, complete with whistles and cheering, but despite that it sounded great.' Legend has it that the recording was made using a two-track Nagra portable open reel tape deck with a Sennheiser shotgun microphone. Some argued that this recording from the audience actually sounded closer to the experience of the show than the sterile sound on most legitimate live recordings.

BLUEBERRY HILL opened the floodgates. The bootleggers realized that they could get as much material as they wanted, and more important, they realized that there was a tremendous

audience for these recordings. Blueberry Hill is still recognized by many Zeppelin collectors as being one of the very best Zeppelin bootlegs. It has several unique features, it was the best recording from the era (recorded September 1970 at the L.A. Forum, one of the band's favorite venues), it is still the only bootleg with a decent live recording of "Bring It On Home," it is the only bootleg with live versions of "Out On The Tiles," Blueberry Hill," and "I saw Her Standing There," and the original tape included a live version of Page's instrumental "Bron-Yr-Aur," which wasn't released on the original vinyl bootleg, though it was included on the CD releases. There have been literally hundreds of Led Zeppelin bootlegs since that first one in late 1970. Even twenty five years after the group's demise, Zeppelin bootlegs appear on the collector's market at an astounding rate. The number of Zeppelin bootleg titles is unbelievable. I have found nearly 4,000 titles. There were at least 4 ten album bootleg sets.

One infamous Zeppelin bootleg set contains a full 70 different discs. About 325 shows with ten or more repressing on different labels. The original TMQ bootlegs from the early 1970s are still some of the most desirable and the most valuable. There were three original TMQ single albums, Mudslide, BBC Broadcast, and Stairway To Heaven. The label originally issued five double albums: Blueberry Hill, Going To California, Bonzo's Birthday Party, Three Days After, and V 1/2. Mudslide was actually a reissue of another bootleg titled Ph (reissuing bootlegs is a very common occurrence and something that you'll see confuses the number of Zeppelin titles greatly) that had been recorded off the radio in Vancouver, Canada, and is an exceptional mono recording of a tremendous performance. BBC Broadcast was the first of a multitude of bootlegs taken from the performance at the BBC's Paris Theatre in 1971.

"GOING TO CALIFORNIA" was issued right after "BLUEBERRY HILL" and was touted as being recorded in Los Angeles, though it actually was from a show at the Berkley Community Theatre on September 14, 1971. Bootleggers frequently mislabel the date and place of the shows contained on their discs, sometimes out of incompetence, sometimes to purposely throw off authorities as to who recorded the show, and occasionally simply to try to sell more copies since shows from the bigger markets usually have more interest for collectors since the market is larger.

The next title of note went on to become legendary, perhaps because the title itself was such a classic. It was called "Bonzo's Birthday Party" and it featured the performance from the L.A. Forum on May 31, 1973. The boot contains outstanding live performances of "Heartbreaker", "Whole Lotta Love", and "The Ocean". It was followed up with the title "Three Days After", recorded at the same venue on June 3, 1973. This release also included some leftover material from the "Blueberry Hill" tape. The next TMQ title was V 1/2 which was recorded in Seattle on June 17, 1973. The recording is not outstanding but the performance makes up for it. These TMQ titles are considered to be the mainstays of any Zeppelin bootleg collection,

though not every release came out first on TMQ. "BLUEBERRY HILL" was originally issued before the inauguration of the TMQ label, so the very first pressings were on Blimp Records and were packaged in two single plain white sleeves with two insert covers printed in two colors. It was later reissued on TMQ innumerable times and on several different colored pressings of

vinyl. Colored wax in the early days was a good indication of a title being an early pressing of a bootleg (and therefore having better sound than a bootleg of a bootleg), though in modern times it is not always the case, some first editions of bootlegs are on black wax while later pressings are on colored wax and are mistaken for original pressings.

The next major bootleg label on the scene was the Amazing Kornyphone Record Label(TAKRL), a business that issued a ton of records though only a few of their titles were Zeppelin discs (supposedly the people behind the label weren't big Zeppelin fans). The label released three single Zep albums; Ballcrusher, a reissue of an album by the same name from Flat Records and taken from the 1971 BBC concert, Live in England 1976, a reissue of the excellent European bootleg recorded at Earl's Court on May 24, 1975, and Cellarful of Noise, a

poor recording from the performance at Osaka Festival Hall in Japan on September 29, 1971. The label released two double albums of Zeppelin material: Live in Seattle, a reissue of the

TMQ V 1/2 and The 1975 World Tour, from Montreal, Canada, on February 6, 1975. Kornyphone's releases were some of the most widely distributed Zeppelin bootlegs and pop up in most

collections, but they are not known for being high quality recordings.

Another early bootleg label was Wizardo Records. The only Zeppelin titles put out by Wizardo were Plant Waves (the title was a takeoff on the Bob Dylan album Planet Waves), and Caution Explosive. Plant Waves was a compilation of tracks from Detroit and New York shows on the 1975 tour and the sound quality was variable. Caution Explosive fared a little better

since the source material included, once again, the infamous Blueberry Hill material along with some from the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco 1969.

By the mid 1970s a whole host of smaller bootleg labels had sprung up including Contraband Music, Idle Mind Productions, K&S Records, Berkley Records, Smilin' Ears, and Ze Anonym Plattenspeiler. Most of these labels offered up Zeppelin titles that were little more than reissues of the early TMQ stuff, though there were a few notable new releases.

Idle Mind re-released a Japanese bootleg of the show from Osaka 1972 and called the album My Brain Hurts, which should win an award for best title of a Zeppelin boot. The release included a rare and interesting version of the band covering Ben E. King's "Stand By Me".

K&S was the first label to release the legendary Knebworth shows on bootleg, and their version of these shows also included material from the BBC studio sessions and Montreux 1970. Smilin' Ears distinguished itself by being the first bootleg label to release a four-record Zeppelin box set, titled Destroyer. The set originally listed as a Seattle recording, though it actually featured a concert from Cleveland in 1977. The set has become one of the best known and loved of all Zeppelin titles and has been reissued many times.

In 1979 two new labels debuted with Zeppelin releases that stood above the others available at the time. Phoenix and Toasted Records put more effort into packaging their material than other labels had, with full-color deluxe covers that rivaled the official album jackets. The labels issued a whole slew of double albums, with four-color covers and featuring artwork by the noted artist Ginger, including Absence (BBC and Earl's Court 1975), Spare Parts (BBC and Copenhagen 1969), Knebworth II (Knebworth August 11, 1979), Seattle'73, and Knebworth'79 (Knebworth August 4, 1979). Most of the material on these labels had been previously released but the packaging on these records made them desired collectors items.

In 1985 the RIAA and the Canadian Recording Industry Association, in conjunction with the FBI, mounted a massive campaign to put an end to the bootlegging problem in North America. The publicity surrounding raids staged all across the continent sent bootleggers even further underground. Around this period most major bootlegging operations moved to Europe or Japan, where bootlegs continued to come out and get imported into the United States at ever greater cost to the collector.

In 1985 a new bootleg label called Rock Solid/International Records came into operation and in a very short time issued more Zeppelin work than most other labels put together, most of it previously unreleased. The single albums included a reissue of a Japanese album called White Summer from a show in Hamburg 1970, a Honeydrippers show from 1981, and John Henry

Bonham Session Man, a boot that included all of Bonham's known recordings for other artists.

The multi-album sets included Listen To This Eddie; Duckwalks and Lasers; In Person; In Concert; Live On The Levee; Custard Pie; Alpha and Omega; Winterland; The label even

issued two 10-record sets: Strange Tales from the Road and Led Zeppelin-The Can, which was a 14-inch film can numbered and stickered with live versions of almost every original song the band ever played live.

One of the strange things you'll notice about Zeppelin bootlegs is that the bootleggers weren't afraid to mix material from dramatically different time periods on the same record (including a 1969 performance on a disc of mostly 1977 stuff), which confuses many fans as to the original source material. As if the material from Rock Solid/International wasn't impressive enough, many of the original bootleggers got back into action in the late 1980s again and Zeppelin was one of their favorite groups. TMQ returned and, using the original master plates, repressed Blueberry Hill, this time with a deluxe color cover. Toasted also returned to the scene, this time with a number of titles made from unreleased soundboard recordings of the band, and the quality was phenomenal. Available around this time were rehearsals for Physical Graffiti In Through The Out Door, and the legendary campfire sessions from Bron-Yr-Aur. Also released in this period were boots of the legendary performance of "Friends" with the Bombay Symphony Orchestra, Plant and Bonham's recordings with the Band Of Joy, outtakes from the third record, and dozens of live concert recordings. On the back of an album called Last Stand, featuring the band's Berlin 1980 show, Toasted publicly announced they would stop making vinyl bootlegs, though other manufacturers have continued to press their wares on vinyl.

In the late 1980s, Zeppelin bootlegs, and perhaps bootlegs in general, hit their zenith with the release of the ultimate bootleg of them all, a package titled THE FINAL OPTION. This set featured 70 different albums of Zeppelin material and included pressings of almost every Zeppelin bootleg previously made, all seemingly stamped from the original master plates. This set included material from Rock Solid, Screamin' Oiseau, TAKRL, Toasted, Waggle, and other labels and represented a major organizational effort on the part of the bootleggers. The set came in a black acrylic box with black and gold stickers over it. Only 150 copies were pressed and they sold out immediately. The Final Option is now considered one of the rarest collectibles in Zeppelin record lore and commands extraordinary prices on the collector's market.

The Final Option could hardly be topped and that together with Toasted's announcement essentially spelled the end to Zeppelin vinyl bootlegs since the compact disc soon became the format of choice, both for legitimate record releases and for bootleggers. The first Zeppelin CD bootleg was a European issue of the BBC Paris Theatre show and though it was incomplete, the sound quality was outstanding. By early 1991, over a 125 Zeppelin CD titles were on the market, though most of them were reissues of material previously out on vinyl.

The Neutral Zone bootleg label has won accolades from several Zeppelin fanzines for their three discs titled Classics Off The Air. This series features the complete BBC performances, all four shows. As a set this represented the best way to get the complete BBC catalog, before the legal release of BBC Sessions. Other new bootleg labels that have produced Zeppelin material include Living Legend, Great Dane, Pyramid, World Productions, and Golden Stars. Many of these labels operate out of Europe where laws allow the bootlegging of concert tapes from performances a decade old as long as royalties are paid to the performers. These loopholes in the European laws have made Europe a hotbed for bootlegging activity and this material inevitably finds its way around the world.

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Nice article, now i see where boot legging came to be.

I've took some excerpts from an article issued in Goldmine back in the 1990 I think if I remember correctly, adding short quoutes from the article appearing on www.led-zeppelin.us (many thanks, buddy!) and no longer exist set-in-led site (all hats off to Steve!) and finally compiled with my own research.

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  • 2 years later...

Years back I owned a lot of vinyl boots many them TMQ albums. Seattle V1/2, Bonzo's Birthday Party and the 1975 World Tour Montreal Forum, I'm not sure Burn Like A Candle was TMQ. I remember only the Montreal show was of iffy quality. Plant had the flu and Page was suffering from his injured finger. I now only wonder what happened to them in my collection ( more than likely been nicked by an old Junkie mate)? Vinyl is making a welcome comeback these days and it would be great to hear them again - crackles and all. Some shows have been re mastered and equalised for the CD market, making some of them unlistenable. I have tons of shows on CD but thinking back a thick piece of vinyl was just great. For what its worth here are my top vinyl boots from what I can remember -

1. Blueberry Hill. The first ever boot i heard. Always remember Plant saying "Good night - and thanks for everything"

2. Burn Like A Candle - LA Forum 1972. What How The West Was Won should have sounded like. Wonderful stuff. Had a great cover too

3. Live at Earls Court - 24th May 1975. Only had 5 tracks but an audience recording of such quality. The " Woodstock" edit from Dazed is just so atmospheric. Bonzos hi hat echoing around the arena never sounded so good.Loses the vibe when taken from the soundboard

4. Seattle V 1/2. 1973. Brilliant version of Whole Lotta Love. Just listen to the crowd go nuts as the flash bombs go off near the end of the song

5. Bonzo's Birthday Party. A great set from a great tour and a fab recording to boot. But was it complete?

If anyone gets the chance to find these pieces of history get a deck and find out what a real show sounds like.

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Does anyone know what a Montreal '75 album would cost and possibly where to get one?

Before I answer Debi, I am curious why you want Montreal '75? Because there are far better '75 shows out there...better performances AND without the annoying chatter by the two doofuses taping the show.

Anyway, I have seen the Montreal '75 vinyl boot priced recently anywhere from $25 to $50 depending on the condition.

As for where, I can't give that info out here...I suggest you check the usual places; record stores and swap meets. Google is also a useful tool.

PM me for more info.

Interesting anecdote I have regarding vinyl bootlegs...a record store I know(I can't tell you who) has two divergent pricing policies regarding bootlegs. For cds, they price them cheap, in order to sell them quickly, so they're not sitting in the racks for some record company flack to see and raise a ruckus.

I have seen Zeppelin bootleg cds that normally sell for $50 to $100 priced at $15 to $25.

For vinyl bootlegs, it's a different story...these are now considered highly collectible items and are priced as such. Especially the old TMoQ and Rubber Dubber ones.

I was thinning the herd, so-to-speak, a few years back, getting rid of duplicate or substandard shows, and I took in 5 vinyl boots, including Montreal 1975, to sell...I got $40 each for them for a total of $200.

If I had taken the same 5 boots in cd form, I would have been lucky to get $40 total...it probably would have been more like $25.

My first bootleg albums were Led Zeppelin "Live on Blueberry Hill" and "Going to California", purchased the same day at a cost of $15 total in 1973.

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IMO the original "For Badgeholders Only vol. 1 & 2" vinyl is still the best sounding source of the June 23 1977 show. One of my most prized possessions indeed...

In line the article in the first post, here is a fascinating blog written by Ken Douglas -of "Ken and Dub" fame- one of the original rock bootleggers (one of the 'two teenagers' referenced in the first paragraph of the article):


I'd also advocate reading Clinton Heylin's classic book "Bootleg: the secret history of the other recording industry" if you really want the background.

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Speaking about bootlegs, I used to live in New Jersey and would often go to NYC with friends or sometimes by myself back in 1988 and 1989 when I was still in High School and I always went with the intention of seeking out and buying any Led Zeppelin bootlegs I could find. Of course in those times there was a tremendous flourish of bootleg cd's. I bought dozens and dozens of Led Zeppelin bootlegs during that time. I remember that most of the bootlegs costs about $25 per cd. For example, the bootleg of Led Zeppelin's last concert in Berlin, Germany on July 7, 1980, "Final Touch" and "Last Stand" on Condor/Toasted would cost $50 and that was around 22 years ago. Unfortunately for me, since I let various friends and so-forth "borrow" alot of my bootlegs, I now have about half of the bootlegs that I originally accumulated. Nonetheless, these days I can always hear and see Led Zeppelin as they were meant to be seen and heard.

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