Friday, March 19, 2010

It Coulda Happened this Way -- We Were Young and We Were Greedy

After I got the boot from the bootleg biz by Big Dub, Dub became known as Little Dub. I missed working with him, because he was good at putting the material together and I was not. I did the RAH record, sure, but an idiot could have done that.

I bought a 650 Kawasaki BSA rip of. British bikes were cool, but you had to always be working on ’em. The Kawasaki made the real deal seem golden, it was always apart, so I bought a new Triumph Bonneville, had the fork extended, got tall handle bars, I don’t remember what they were called back then, sort of like the Ape Hanger Bars you see on Harleys today. I was cool and I liked to ride.

And one day I rode out to Riverside, about an hour from Long Beach on the new extension to the 91 Freeway. They had kind of an old town, walking type street and since I liked being a tourist, I touristed off and I found Betty’s Records. A stupid name, to be sure, but what a great store and they sold bootlegs.

I asked for the manager, who’s name I don’t remember, but the guy who ran the place was named Harry. He wanted to buy boots, but I only had the one, plus about 5,000 Donovan records in a friend’s garage. I wanted to sell these guys records and I reasoned that the Dubs would be glad to sell them to me if I paid the going rate, which was a buck fifty a record. They were more than generous and sold them to me for a buck which allowed them to double their money and I could sell them for a buck and half and do alright.

Vesta and I were back in school, because we weren’t working and being uneducated is just stupid. Every weekend I’d drive out to Riverside and I found a couple other stores to sell to out there where nobody knew me. I was still paranoid.

But I wasn’t going to be paranoid for long, because the money was running out. We needed money, because we had two babies and we’d learned that we didn’t like going to work. So we tried out a swap meat, sold the records retail in front of God and everybody for three dollars each or two for five, doubles five dollars. We made a couple hundred bucks our first time out and for the next year or so that’s what we did. I bought from the Dubs and Vesta and I worked the La Marada swap meet at the La Marada drive in in La Marada, California (that’s a lotta La Maradas). We’d leave at 9:00 PM Friday night and wait in line till dawn, when they let us in. In those days those at the head of the line got the best spots.

Eventually I was working several swap meets. All at drive ins. I had two brothers, both also in school and a couple friends I was supplying with the records I was getting from the Dubs, but I knew it couldn’t last.

Now I have to back up here, In a previous post I talked about how Kay at Lewis Record MFG copied Dub’s stampers (which were really half mine) for me, but this, what I said above, was happening concurrently. I hadn’t gotten around to pressing any of his records yet, because I didn’t have any accounts. I suppose I could’ve taken over Dub’s and eventually I would, but at that point in time I was too dumb and stupid to think about it.

Besides, I was kind of doing okay, selling Dub’s records to my few stores and at the swap meets. But Dub was getting new stereo equipment all the time, Big Dub quit the Post Office and was stylin’, while Vesta and I were going to school and working our buns off. Sure we had new cars. Sure I had a great bike. Sure we had new furniture. Sure we had stuff. But we weren’t stylin’. We weren’t leaving twenty dollar tips for ten dollar meals. We weren’t taking long vacations. We weren’t dripping in money, rolling around in it. We wanted that.

Back to Betty’s. One day after I dropped the records off, they’d only ordered fifty or so, so I strapped them on the back of my Bonneville and drove ’em on out. Gary, that’s the name of the owner. Gary Sparger, I’m surprised I remembered that. He asked me if I’d like to stop by a friend’s house for a few drinks. That was back when drinking and driving was okay if you didn’t get caught and if you did you just got a slap on the wrist unless you killed someone, so I said sure.

No girls there, just Gary, Harry and a couple guys I didn’t know. They were making Sangria. Years later, when I was living in Spain, I’d often look back when I was drinking it at an outdoor restaurant and remember their Sangria recipe. Here it is: You take a bottle of Spinata -- a cheap wine you could get back then, maybe you still can. You squeeze a lime in it. Add lots of fruit bits, heavy on orange slices and canned grapefruit with a little canned pineapple stirred in. Then you add two two hits of mescaline and two hits of acid. Then you stir briskly and smoke a joint while you’re waiting for the flavors to blend.

After a glass and twenty minutes or so we were all doing alright. Somebody found a twenty-two rifle and several boxes of bullets, so we set up cards in a towel cabinet at one end of a hallway and started target practice. We did this till someone realized we’d drilled a hole through the back of the cabinet, through the wall into a bedroom and through the wall opposite. We’d been shooting out into the street. It’s a miracle we weren’t caught and taken away. But we weren’t.

And Harry and I got to know each other a bit. Turns out he and a friend wanted to open a poster business and they thought they needed a third partner and they thought I’d fill the bill nicely. I never dreamed they could’ve wanted me because my dad, whose record business went bust, now had a poster one stop and was selling to all the hippy stores. Being young, dumb and maybe a bit stoned, I said okay.

A month later, after we’d printed up our first batch and sold ’em to, you guessed it, my dad. Harry and partner dropped by my house unexpectedly one evening. Since Riverside was an hour away, I didn’t think they’d just happened to be in the neighborhood. I knew right away they were gonna give me the old heave ho. I’d been there before and could see it coming from clear across the room. But what they didn’t know was that I’d met the printer and had a plan to take bootlegs to a whole ’nother level and I’d planned on including them, we were partners, after all.

But I was out now and Vesta and I were on our own again. We were young, we were greedy and we had a couple Beatle tapes.

One of the posters my dad had in the new Saturn Poster One Stop was the Beatles’ Renaissance Minstrels one. If you haven’t seen it or seen the cover of the three records, (Ren III came later and was more of a counterfeit than a bootleg) it’s got a drawing of the Beatles garbed as one would imagine the Bard would have dressed in his day. Not being too original, I thought it would be a good title and a good cover.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. My dad still had his shrink wrap machine. This baby cost twenty-five hundred bucks, which was about what a new VW cost back then and it was bigger than a VW. On the right end of the machine was a roll of shrink wrap, you slid a record between two layers, pulled done on this bar, which had a heated wire on it, which cut the shrink wrap, then you flipped the record onto a moving belt, which took it into a heated tunnel. The record came out the other end, slid down a ramp he’d designed and into a record box. Do it twenty-five times and you sealed the box.

Though Saturn Records was no more, there were still plenty of crooks in the records business, from the store owners, to the one stops, to the distributors, to the record companies themselves. My dad used to say he told his mother he was a pimp, because he didn’t want her to know he was in the record business. That poly machine earned my dad a ton of cash.

Here’s how. The store owner sells used records and if he takes one in with a new looking jacket, he brings it into my dad’s, goes in the back room and makes it new again, paying the piper (my dad) on the way out. He then returns it to the record company as new. Or maybe to a one stop if he doesn’t buy direct. The one stops usually gave ten percent returns. The record companies were much more generous. So Mr. Record Store would pay Mr. One Stop, who might slip Mr. Record Company Rep a few bucks and that record got returned as new, only to wind up in some kid’s hot mits sometime down the line.

This is why Jack (my dad) had that machine. But I reasoned that it could just as well shrink paper covers to bootlegs, thus making them look more attractive. And you could put the song titles on the cover. But I was still a little paranoid about getting caught, so I couldn’t just walk into any old printer, but there was that guy out in Riverside. An hour away, to be sure, but better safe than the hoosegow.

Now, where was I gonna get this baby pressed. I could go to Lewis, but I didn’t want to. Old Ted and Kay were drinking a lot, the plant wasn’t the cleanest place in L.A. The records were a bit thick. They tended to have clicks and pops in them even with the virgin colored vinyl and they weren’t the cheapest. Old Pete Korelich was cheaper. And Jack Brown, he was cheaper still, but the cheapest and the best independent pressing plate on the West Coast was without a doubt, Waddel’s.

We did “LiveR” there, but when it got popular Chris got paranoid, there was a lot of that going around, so he didn’t want to go in there anymore and his stories of Horace and Bud had Dub and me to frightened to even think about it. So what to do? Then I thought of Malcolm. True, when those guys came out to shoot us up, Malcolm found somewhere else to be.

Wait! I have to stop here. Maybe ”Homogenized Beatles” came first? I don’t remember, maybe. It was the same as “Renaissance Two” and it was a sister record to the “Donovan Reedy River” record. They both had white covers with stickers on ’em with the title and song titles. Maybe they did come first. Yeah, they did. I remember now, we went to a printer in Bellflower and ordered a zillion stickers. We told him we worked for the Foundation for the Junior Blind and that this was a project to raise money for them. Gutsy liars we were, Vesta and me. We pressed those records at Lewis. I think, maybe Pete’s. They weren’t very exciting.

Back to the story. I asked Malcolm if he wanted a part of some bootleg action. He was a dope smoking student who liked fast cars and easy money. So he said sure. I told him all he had to do was take these tapes into Waddel’s, meet a guy named Horace and tell him he wanted ten thousand each. I didn’t think he’d be able to pull it off, but then I didn’t know Horace was just like me, just like everybody else in the record business. If he could make a buck and not get caught, he was game. Horace and I later on down the line would do mucho business together.

Anyhow, Malcolm, who about then changed his name to Mel, got the records and we couldn’t keep the bloody things in stock. Christ, did those things sell. It was LiveR all over again. Money, money, money, you gotta love it. Mel/Malcolm coulda made a killing, but he was greedy. I was greedy too, but I wasn’t a cheat. I never cheated someone I was doing business with. I never cheated a partner. We were thieves. We were crooks. But we weren’t cheaters. There’s rules. Well, there should be.

Though I stayed out of most of the stores, because of that paranoid business, there were a couple who were cool, who knew, who wouldn’t tell. One of those was Rare Records in Glendale. A guy named Ray Avery owned it. He did jazz boots way, way back. He turned me and Dub onto Cecil, a funny little man who had all the necessary stuff to master records in his garage. One day I was in Ray’s and he told me he sold out of the first batch of records Mel had brought by and that he’d bought a couple hundred more. What the F? Mel had forgotten to tell me about that and this time I was the one giving someone the heave ho. But now Mel was a bootlegger and he’d be doing it for a long time. I’d just trained up my competition.


  1. You must keep this going! Do you have enough material for a book?

  2. I'm going to start this up again, thanks for the encouragement. I do have enough for a book. Started one, then stopped, because, really, I don't think there's enough interest. Still, I'm going to post my record, photo, travel and other ramblings here. I've been doing it on Facebook, but not as much as I should.

  3. Hi Ken

    Im a 22 year old Masters student at Westminster University in the UK. Im studying Music Business Management, I became enfactuated with your story after I was introduced to the Dylan saga by my lecturer earlier this year! I'd really love to find out more and ask you a couple of questions if you be interested in that at all?? If you could email me on I would appreciate it alot. I think the book would be a good idea by the way!



  4. Hey Ken - just your old buddy - Charly Mann - Rare Records - Pied Pied Records checking in.

    I await your appraisal of all of Dylan's recording since we last saw one another.

    I have several blogs including:

  5. This is absolutely brilliant. It needs to be a book, and it needs to be a movie, too. I picture it as a cross between a Cheech and Chong flick and "Reservoir Dogs", only with rock'n'roll. Just a riveting story, and a part of the world that is too much ignored. Make sure you put lots of background stuff about the record biz, the one-stops, the indie pressers and so on in it!

  6. Wow, Ken, you need to start again with this blog... your stories and history behind it all is fascinating.