After Jim came back to Saturn with the cash, we had a meeting, Dub, Sam and me. All of a sudden we were seeing dollar signs. If one store could take four hundred copies of our Dylan record, how many could we sell? Sam thought lots and was willing to finance us, for a third. Dub and I still couldn’t go around and sell them and Sam was almost as well known by the record store owners as we were. The answer was right in front of us and we cut deserter Jim in. Sam’s share dropped to a fourth, as did ours.
The next day I drove out to Hollywood and Korelich Engineering to order more records. Pete had a rambling set of buildings on Highland, between Melrose and Sunset. I used to love the drive from L.A. up to there. The rich houses on Sixth Street, then Highland Avenue. The great trees that blocked out the sun. It was as if I were driving through another world. So close, but so far from the Los Angeles teaming with millions of people, scratching, working and hustling out a living that I knew.
I parked my 1957 two door Ford station wagon in front of Pete’s pressing plant. I’d paid twenty-five dollars for that car from my friend Malcolm’s father because he was going to junk it and that was the going price from junkyards in those days. I drove that car for two years, shifted a lot of bootlegs around in it, before the transmission finally gave up the ghost in Downey, where I coasted off the freeway and sold it to the guy pumping gas in a Texico for five bucks, enough for cab fare home.
Pete’s pressing plant was like a walk through an alien place. A musty, dusty place where machines once ruled, but were conquered, dismembered and stowed for a future use that would never come. He had parts of machines in there that nobody alive had ever heard of. You could get lost in the metal maze. One wrong turn, starvation, one wrong move, lean on the wrong thing and something made of cast iron could fall and kill.
It was after closing time when I got there, as it would be most times when I did business with him. His band of illegal employees had gone home. The sun was going down, casting mechanical shadows throughout the place.
“Hey, Pete,” I shouted.
“I followed the sound of his voice to an office I’d never been in. Pete was flat on his back on a couch, one leg in the air, a rope around his shod foot leading around some kind of high bar he’d rigged up over the end of the couch to a couple coffee cans full of cement tied to the other end of it.
“It looks serious. Why?” I said.
“Traction, I hurt my back.”
“No, I read about it. This is supposed to make it better.”
“How long are you gonna be this way?”
“A few weeks.”
“How are you gonna work? Or eat?”
“I won’t do it during the day.”
“Ah.” I nodded, tried not to smile. Did he live there? I looked around. It didn’t look like it, but you never really knew with Pete. He could live in a mansion, at the plant or anywhere in between. He didn’t give anything away. You took him as you found him and for me that was easy to do. He was eccentric, but he was easy to like.
“I need more records.”
“You sold all those?” He tried to sit up, couldn’t, those cement cans were holding him down.
“Did somebody help you into this thing?”
“Did it myself.” He was actually beaming. I shook my head, maybe he got hooked up by himself, but I couldn’t see how he’d get unhooked without help.
“Want me to—?”
“No, I’m fine. How many more records?”
“How about a thousand?”
“With white labels this time.”
“Really?” He was on his elbows now, still hampered by the cement. For a few seconds there I thought he was going to get up and press them straightaway, but he fell back down. “Two days.”
The next day Bill Bowers was in Saturn, holding court before a bunch of record store owners. He was a funny guy, a great story teller and the story he was telling was about this guy who’d come by Vogue and sold him a load of Dylan bootlegs. A fold open double white cover with stupid labels on ’em. It was the first time I’d heard the word bootleg associated with a record. We’d invented ’em, Dub and me, rock bootlegs anyway, but we didn’t know what they were called.
Bill was like our unpaid advertising arm. I don’t know if he knew it, but he’d started the rumor flying. There was a Bob Dylan bootleg out there and all those guys wanted them in their stores. The record had only been out a day, had yet to be played on the radio. Nobody new it existed and already it was in demand. If we’d’ve been a little sharper, we coulda got rich, but we coulda got caught, too, so maybe it was a good thing we were a little stupid.
By the end of the week I was back at Pete’s with Sam’s money to pick up the records. I delivered them to Dub and he took Jim around to the record stores to sell them. It took an afternoon. That night we went to the Free Press Bookstore on Fairfax and we saw our records displayed under a sign calling it the Great White Wonder Record, because it was marketed in a white jacket, not because Bob Dylan was the Great White Wonder.
Dub loved it, the next day while I was back at Pete’s ordering two thousand copies, much to Pete’s delight, Dub was out ordering a rubber stamp. Four thousand records would take Pete a few days to do, so I picked them up as he made them. It seemed for a month or two that his pressing plant was my second home. When I showed up at Dub’s with the first batch of our third pressing, he and Jim surprised me with the stamp. Dub was a genius. The slipshod way we did the record, the limited way we made it available, Dub’s stamp, the disappointing Nashville Skyline, all this combined to turn our record into a phenomenon.
In days it was all over the underground FM stations in L.A. and KRLA, the station that tried so hard to be the hip AM station in Los Angeles was all over it, too. Some of the Dylan/Band stuff was out there by the Band and other people, Julie Driscol had done a song, I remember that album, Julie Driscol and the Trinity. They did a great version of Donovan’s ‘Sunshine Superman’ on it. Mimi Farina did a cut, too, but it was Manfred Mann’s hit recording of the ‘Mighty Quinn,” I believe, that woke everybody up to the fact that Bob Dylan had done something significant between that motorcycle accident and John Wesley Harding.
I don’t know if Nashville Skyline was a big record for Colombia, but it was a turkey for Saturn. I think I bought ten thousand copies from them (somehow my father had turned me into the rock buyer), sold three and returned seventeen. How a one-stop was able to return more records than it actually bought back in those days is another story and one that deserves telling, but not here. It’s enough to say that there were crooks in the music business back in those days. The ’60s were sort of like the wild west in the record business.
If we’d’ve been older, knew the law or had an attorney, we might have gone big time, but weren’t and we didn’t. We stayed small and our record became an instant collector’s item. And so to answer the question for all those collector’s that I’ve seen posed at all these bootleg sites I’ve recently discovered on the net. The original, the real original Great White Wonder, came in a double fold white jacket with the Rocoulion labels on them that Pete had lying around his plant, there were four hundred made. The second batch, without the rubber stamp, had white labels. There were a thousand made. From then on all the records we did were stamped with the rubber stamp. How many of those did we do? Who knows, a lot, we weren’t keeping track.
But one thing’s for sure, Norty and Ben made a lot more.
Norty Beckman was my father’s friend. Mine too. He was a big man, liked to eat. He had a big head, lots of curly hair. You could hear him breathe when he talked. He used to write short stories and bring them around for me to read. He had a store not far from the Free Press Bookstore on Fairfax, called Norty’s Records. He was in Saturn most everyday, as were a lot of record store owners.
Ben Goldman owned Ben’s Records. He was Norty’s brother-in-law. He called himself a big man. To me he seemed fat and out of shape, but he used to tell me about how he put on his kimono and did his karate workouts. One of my brothers was a karate guy. They didn’t wear kimono at his dojo. Ah well, maybe Ben studied a different kind of karate. But if he did, he had to do it between his wizard stock market trades. If the market went down yesterday, he’d sold just before. If it went up, he was there on time. He was single and bragged about his dates and girlfriends. “Why get married when you can have the cow for free,” he was fond of saying.
The third pressing of Great White Wonder had only been out a few days and Ben was in Saturn telling any store owner who would listen how David Crosby had been in his store. How he bought Great White Wonder. “The rock stars love the record,” he exclaimed. Dub and I just stood their deadpan. You never knew about Ben, but this was a story we wanted to believe.
While Dub and Jim were meeting reporter Jerry Hopkins in the Platerpuss Record Store in Hollywood one night, the brothers-in-law, Norty and Ben were conspiring to make their own record. A copy of ours. In those days, it didn’t take long for something said on the street or in the back of a record store to appear in Rolling Stone. Jerry’s story about GWW made Sam go ballistic.
“We gave the Rolling Stone guy fake names,” Dub said. “We called ourselves Vladimer and Patrick.”
“Boy that fooled ’em.” I’d never seen Sam angry before. He turned to me. “We’ll talk tomorrow.”
“Think he was upset?” Dub said after Sam had gone.
“I think so.”
Sam and I used to meet for breakfast at a diner on Pico. He liked Cream of Wheat. He used to spoon the hot cereal onto toast. When I showed up that morning, he told me right off he wanted out.
“Dub’s a good kid,” Sam said, “but he can’t think. We were supposed to be low key, now everybody in the world knows about that record. And Rolling Stone knows what he looks like, it’s only a matter of time before they find out who he is and when they do, they’re going to come straight for us.” This was in September of 1969.
A month later, Rolling Stone was back on the street with a multi-page story by Greil Marcus about unreleased Bob Dylan recordings. Dub was ecstatic. Never had a human been so enthusiastic about anything.
“We have to get all this stuff.” His heart must have been pumping three hundred beats a minute. “We have to put it all out.”
“Yeah,” Rhonda, his girlfriend said. “All of it.” Rhonda was a ’60s flower power girl. Pretty, free, uninhibited. I remember going to eat with them at a Chart House restaurant once in the middle of the week. She wore this see though flimsy chiffon type blouse you could see right though and nothing underneath. Her nipples stood right out, captured everybody’s eye in the place. Our waiter was overly attentive and not because he was looking for a big tip.
Sam had been gone for a couple months. Saturn was going bankrupt, my father was supporting too many record stores and the record companies refused to support him, so Dub and I were out of work. The FBI had been around to Jim’s house again, looking for him and again he passed himself off as his brother, but he was getting worried. The war was going strong, people were dying for no good reason and he didn’t want to go, so he went to Canada. Dub and I were unemployed and on our own. We were now full time bootleggers.
We would stop by Saturn on occasion and see my dad, ask how things were going. He’d smile and say he thought he was going to make it, but it was obvious to everybody but him that his business was dying a slow and ugly death. It was during one of our visits that a customer came into the back room, I don’t remember who. We were sitting on boxes of records my dad was trying to return to the record companies instead of cash, drinking coffee and this guy shows us his Great White Wonder record, then told us he just bought a couple hundred copies.
“Isn’t that interesting,” Dub said.
“Yeah,” I said as I looked at the record. It wasn’t one of ours.
“It was bound to happen sooner or later,” Dub said after the guy left.
“It’s not like we own Dylan,” I said.
“Maybe it’ll take the heat off us,” Dub said.
But it didn’t, instead it ratcheted it up. The two unnamed bootleggers were getting blamed for everything, and Sam was right, it wasn’t long before they got Dub’s name. A private detective, process server started coming around his grandmother’s place. She managed a small group of apartments in Glendale, Dub lived in one of the upstairs units.
I got served one night as I was getting in my car to go home. He was looking for a long haired guy and I had long hair. Bastard refused to believe I wasn’t Dub. I went to Dub’s grandmother’s, called the cops, identified myself, said I was served a subpoena for someone I didn’t know and the server wouldn’t believe me. They said they’d handle it and not to worry. I hung up, but I worried plenty.
The next day I went by Saturn. It was sad to see the great record one-stop as a only a shadow of her former self. Customers still came in, though now it wasn’t for the selection. My dad was trying to hold on by selling what he had left cheap. I hung around for the day and told Mike from Platerpuss that Dub had moved to Vancouver to avoid the draft and opened a gas station. Three weeks later it was in Rolling Stone. They reported the gas station story word for word as I’d told Mike. We expected that, but maybe not so fast.
As luck would have it, the day after the story came out, Dub and I were again back at Saturn when Ben and Norty came in madder than hell. Norty had recognized Dub’s name in the article and figured out I had to be in on it.
“We’re friends,” he raged. “How come you didn’t come to me with the record idea? How come I had to go and knock it off? We could’ve been partners. We could’ve made a fortune. I have lawyers. This isn’t something kids got into. I’m twenty-five years older then you, wiser.”
“Jeez,” Dub said after they’d left, “those two old farts are the ones.” He laughed. He wasn’t the least bit upset that they’d copied the record. And why should he have been. We didn’t have Bob Dylan under contract. But Ben hated Dub from that moment on, hated me too. Norty ignored me, but Ben bragged around that he was practicing up his karate, getting ready to settle with us.
Dub and I considered the source and ignored this talk, but not Rhonda. It pissed her off plenty that they’d copied our record. Ben’s saber rattling pushed her over the edge. She picked up the phone, called Colombia and turned them in.
They blamed me and Dub. Now we had enemies.