Norty and Ben were out of the picture. Sure a couple other people were making boots, but they were insignificant, they didn’t affect us. I didn’t care. We didn’t own Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin or Jethro Tull. They hadn’t signed contracts with us.
Rubber Dubber was making his records and I ran into him at Rare Records in Glendale. He introduced himself right off. He seemed like a nice guy, invited me to his home in Sherman Oaks. I went, met his wife. They drove matching BMW motorcycles, which I thought was kind of cool as I had a Triumph Bonneville. Scott Johnson was a guy with a story for every occasion and some of them were a little much, so I excused myself, said I had to go to the bathroom, where I checked out the names on the prescription bottles in the medicine cabinet. Sure enough, he was who he said he was, at least that part was true.
During the course of my afternoon there, Scott showed me the bamboo growing in the backyard, said he used it to disguise the fact that he was growing marijuana behind it. Well I was a dedicated dope smoker, who was constantly supplied by a younger brother whose two main goals in life were to stay out of the draft and to grow the perfect marijuana plant. What Scott was growing behind that bamboo, just looked like more bamboo to me, but I didn’t say anything.
I ran into Scott and Richard, a guy he called his enforcer, a lot in the next couple of months. He was always trying to figure out where we got our records made and I was always trying to figure out where he got his done. He told me he had them done in a moving truck, a secret warehouse where he’d set up a couple presses and that he’d been paying off the people at Capitol to make them at night. He didn’t tell me these stories all at the same time. Every time I asked, he had a different tale. Still, he was a nice guy.
His favorite story, one he told me just about every time he saw me, was where he claimed to have friends at Warner Brothers and they knew who he was and liked what he did. He said Warner’s called Rubber Dubber the unpaid advertising arm of Warner, Electra Atlantic. Or maybe he said Warner, Reprise, I don’t remember if they owned Electra at the time, but you get the picture.
Then he did the Stones European Tour, or maybe he’d done it earlier and Dub just got around to finding out. Whichever, it really pissed Dub off. Apparently he thought we had the rights to the Stones. They were our band. Bootleg Dylan, Zep and Hendrix if you want, but leave the Stones alone. I tried to tell him it was no big deal, but Dub wasn’t having any of it.
One morning I showed up at his place to find that he’d mastered Scott’s record. Copied it straight from Scott’s double disc, got all the material crammed onto a single disc, improved the sound with his equalizer (Dub was one of the first people on the planet to actually have one of those in his home. They were expensive, new and most people had never heard of them).
“This is not a good idea,” I said.
“We’ll sell as many as LiveR.” He was excited. “Nobody’s going to buy his double record any more.”
“We’re doing to Scott, what Norty and Ben did to us.” This from me, a guy who would go on to copy any and every bootleg he could get his hands on in just a few short years. But then I still had a few morals. I knew we were crooks, but I truly believed you had to be honest if you lived outside that law. And that meant no copying.
“No, it’s not,” Dub said. “We invented bootlegs. It was our idea.”
I didn’t agree with his reasoning, but I didn’t fight him too hard when he got the record mastered. I’m not stupid, I was more than happy to take my half of the money, even though I thought it was wrong.
I was disappointed when the record came out, because it sounded pretty awful compared to LiveR, but then YaYas sounds pretty awful compared to LiveR, too. However, it was more than that, European Tour just sounded like something I didn’t want to be associated with. Sort of like some of those Dylan tapes I’d listened to in Waterford’s bathroom.
The record had only been out a few days when Scott called me and he was pretty upset, told me Richard was coming right over with a friend. They wanted to talk. You know, when you’re sending someone over to “talk sense” to a rival, you shouldn’t call the person first.
That was dumb.
Malcolm happened to be at my house when Scott called. I told him what was happening, that there was likely to be a confrontation. I could tell he wanted to leave, but he’d japped out on the business with those bad guys from back East and he wanted back into the bootleg business in the worst way. If he ducked out on me now, that was never gonna happen and he knew it.
I told Vesta that now might be a good time for her to take the kids over to my mother’s and she agreed. After she was gone, I went to the bedroom, reached under the bed and took out my father’s service revolver, that same forty-five auto I’d held in my shaking and a quivering hands during that escapade at Saturn, where we almost blew away my father and half the black record store owners in L.A.
“You think it’s going to come to this?” Malcolm’s eyes went big when he saw the gun.
“Probably not, but Richard looks like a pretty tough guy.”
“So you’re going to shoot him?”
“Not if I don’t have to.”
“Shit!” Now Malcolm really wanted to go. To his credit, he stayed.
I had a sofa on one side of my living room, two chairs in front of bookcases on the other side. Vesta and I have always been voracious readers, every house we ever lived in was jammed full of books. Our boat was stuffed full of them. Reading is important.
I checked the clip, put it back in the weapon, chambered a round, made sure the safety was off, because it’s stupid to have a gun that won’t shot when you pull the trigger.
“Oh fuck!” Malcolm looked like he was going to wet himself. But he hung in there, even though he wasn’t liking it very much. “What if you shoot him? What are you gonna do then?”
“That’s what you’re here for. You’re gonna put the bodies in your trunk and take ’em out to the desert.”
“You already said that.”
“It’s the middle of the day!”
“I was kidding, nobody’s gonna shoot anybody.”
“Then how come you did what you did?”
“Checked the bullets.” He was sort of bouncing on his toes. “Oh shit, they’re here.”
“That was fast.”
“It’s gonna be fine. Just stand behind me and try to look tough.” I put the gun on the third shelf of the bookcase, so it’d be close at hand when I sat in one of those chairs.
Through the window I saw Richard and a big guy get out the car. Richard wasn’t so big, but he was kind of scary, the big guy didn’t look so scary, but he was big. It looked like he was just for show, but I wasn’t sure.
I went to the door, opened it as they were coming up the porch steps.
“Hey, guys, come in.” I showed them my back, went to a chair, sat down.
Malcolm took the other chair.
Richard and Big Guy took the couch. Richard got tense all of a sudden.
“What are you going to do with that?” He didn’t have to say what he was talking about. I knew what he meant and he knew I knew.
“Just being cautious. You would be, too.”
“Scott’s not happy that you copied his record.”
“But we didn’t,” I lied.
“Oh, come on.”
“It’s like with the Zeppelin record, independent tapes.”
“You’re full of shit.”
“I’ll show you.” I got up, moved away from the gun, went to my records. I had them stuffed in alphabetical order in old wooden seven up crates. They took up a whole wall, stacked three crates high. My stereo system was on top of them.
“You got something to drink. A coke maybe,” Big guy said.
“Out in the kitchen.” I pointed. “Lots of stuff in the fridge.”
Richard seemed surprised. I was across the room, well away from the gun and I’d just let the big guy go out into the kitchen by himself. That really was pretty stupid of me, but I was playing it as it went. However, I sort of wished now that I hadn’t chambered a round. In fact I sort of wished the gun wasn’t loaded.
“What are you doing?” Richard was still sitting, was watching me and not the gun.
“Here it is.” I pulled out the record. “You’ll see now what I’m talking about.” I put the record on the turntable, cranked the volume on my McIntosh Amp up loud, dropped the needle on the disc and Mick’s voice blared through the living room, singing Sympathy for the Devil.
Richard started bobbing his head up and down as the big guy came back into the room with his coke.
I turned it down.
“See what I mean?” I said.
“Yeah,” Richard said, “different tape.” But it wasn’t a different tape, because Dub had just plain copied their record. I don’t know if he and his EQ work made it sound different enough to fool Richard, or if my playing it loud fooled him, or if it was just the power of suggestion, or if he just didn’t want to take it any further.
“So we’re cool.” I looked over at the gun. Richard did too. He was closer.
“We had it out first,” Richard said.
“We had Zeppelin out first.”
“That was different.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right.”
“So, we’ll check with each other in the future to make sure something like this never happens again.”
“Absolutely.” I walked over to him, held out my hand.
“That’s good.” He shook it and they left.
The big guy sort of smiled, gave me the high sign with his coke.
“That went okay,” Malcolm said as they drove away. He’d never gotten out of his chair, didn’t say a word the whole time they were their, didn’t even bother to look tough. Still, he was there. That was something.
A few days later I went out to Scott’s, because a customer of ours wanted some of his records. We’d done a few trades in the past and it worked out okay for everybody. But when I got there the house was vacant. He was gone, so was his stuff. I looked in back. The bamboo was still growing, but somebody had pulled out some plants from behind. So I guess it had been marijuana after all.
I never saw Scott or Richard again.
But I read an interview he gave Esquire Magazine a few months later. He told how he made his Rubber Dubber records in a semi truck, always moving it around so the FBI couldn’t find him. What a typical Scott Johnson story. The Esquire interviewer bought it all.