Wednesday, November 9, 2011

November 9, 1969: Rolling Stones, Oakland Coliseum Arena, Oakland, CA (late show)

A scan of the cover of the bootleg Rolling Stones LP Liver Than You'll Ever Be, on Trademark of Quality Records
The Grateful Dead were a remarkable band in a remarkable time, and one indicator of that was their propensity for playing a part in interesting events that had little to do with them directly. For example, the Dead played an interesting role in the history of bootleg recordings, one that largely goes unnoticed. Its primary effect on the Dead, however, was to make it standard for venues to search incoming patrons for recording equipment--ironic for the first band that to ultimately encourage audience taping some years later.

An audience recording of the Rolling Stones performance at the Late Show at the Oakland Coliseum Arena on Sunday, November 9, 1969 was bootlegged and released as an album called Liver Than You'll Ever Be. This album was such a sensation that it was reviewed in Rolling Stone magazine, and its very likely that the Stones' live tour album Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out was released to counteract consumer demand for the bootleg. There had been successful bootlegs before, mostly of Bob Dylan albums, but they had either been studio or professional live recordings, and the record companies (and Bob Dylan) felt that improved security could prevent those tapes from falling into the hands of bootleggers. Liver Than You'll Ever Be revealed that people would pay money to listen to an audience recording of a live rock concert, raising the specter that profitable record company practices could be disenfranchised by some cowboys with a reel-to-reel and a few good microphones.

The mysterious bootleggers had recorded five shows on the California leg of the Stones tour (in San Diego, Los Angeles and Oakland), but the live sound of the late show in Oakland was far superior. While it may have taken a few shows for the Stones to find their groove, one other fact distinguished itself about the late show: the Rolling Stones had played the show with their own system upgraded by the Grateful Dead's equipment.

Bootleg LPs
The history of bootleg lps is an important counter-narrative in the history of rock music of the 60s and beyond. While bootleg lps ultimately fell prey to various nefarious business interests--they were illegal, after all--they initially served an important role in kicking some closed doors open. Prior to the commercialization of cassettes, any interesting recordings of popular bands could hardly be circulated, as few people had (or would deal with) reel-to-reel tape recorders. Bootleg albums answered the demands for more music by the most popular artists, and forced record companies to at least keep the pipeline full of music, even if their self-dealing business practices remained intact.

The shadowy history of bootlegs is well covered in the fascinating book Bootleg: The Secret History Of The Other Recording Industry (St. Martin's Press, 1995), by rock's foremost archaeologist, Clinton Heylin . The early bootleggers, whom Heylin interviewed (they use pseudonyms) had motives similar to pioneering Deadheads, primarily interested in getting the music out to the fans by whatever means were available. Heylin's book is unique and fascinating, and well worth reading for anyone remotely  interested in the subject. The first important bootleg was a 1969 Bob Dylan record called Great White Wonder, featuring tracks from what are now known as The Basement Tapes. The idea that Bob Dylan, rock's greatest songwriter, had an entire album of exceptional songs already recorded--albeit in rough form--suggested to fans that record companies were hiding something, restricting the flow of music like diamond merchandisers, in order to stimulate sales. The mysterious, white covered double lp, lacking any credits or information, was itself bootlegged numerous times, and was reputed to have sold an incredible 500,000 copies, although that is surely exaggerated and no one really knows.

Great White Wonder had been followed by various other Dylan bootlegs, most famously a professional recording of Bob Dylan and The Hawks at Manchester Free Trade Hall on May 17, 1966. For various reasons (that Heylin explains), the bootleggers chose to let people believe it was the performance at London's Royal Albert Hall. This album, "released" under various names like Royal Albert Hall, In 1966 There Was and Play F*ckin' Loud, revealed that Dylan And The Hawks were one of the greatest live rock acts ever, and yet the performances had remained under wraps for years. I myself heard that album in 1973, and it stunned my teenage self to realize that what I thought to be Dylan's best recording was unreleased. Yet both of these albums were not recorded by civilians: Dylan and The Hawks had recorded the Basement Tapes themselves, and professional engineers had recorded them at Manchester. Still, Royal Albert Hall had shown that people wanted to hear live recordings, for all their ragged imperfections.

The Rolling Stones 1969 American Tour
In the late 60s, the the troika perched atop rock's pyramid was The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. All three groups had stopped touring in 1966, except for occasional special performances. Since 1966, the live rock concert business had adopted the model of San Francisco's Fillmore and Avalon ballrooms, and rock concerts had not only become Big Business but Serious Art and Major Events. When The Rolling Stones announced in the Summer of 1969 that they would be touring the United States in the Fall of 1969, this was far and away the biggest tour in the very short history of modern rock music. The only possible comparison would have been the Blind Faith tour of Summer 1969, but the frenzy over the Stones dwarfed even them. The Rolling Stones current album was the amazing Beggar's Banquet, making it clear to even the most casual listeners that with songs like "Sympathy For The Devil" and "Street Fighting Man," the Stones were a more powerful musical force than ever.

The rock business had changed dramatically since the Stones had last toured America in 1966. Also, there was little precedent for a giant circus like the Rolling Stones, since few bands exclusively played large arenas. Since the Stones needed experienced road crew, one of their tour managers was a veteran San Francisco manager named Bill Belmont. Belmont had managed a San Francisco group called The Wildflower, had been road manager for Country Joe And The Fish and had worked for Bill Graham's Millard Agency, on whose behalf he had gone on tour with The Grateful Dead. Belmont knew all the equipment men in the Bay Area (they weren't called "roadies" yet). Thus it came to pass that two of the relatively small Rolling Stones crew in 1969 were Grateful Dead regulars Ramrod and Rex Jackson (per Grateful Dead biographer Dennis McNally).

Sunday, November 9, 1969, Oakland Coliseum Arena: Rolling Stones/Ike & Tina Turner/B.B. King/Terry Reid

The story of the bootleggers and the subsequent recording and release of the Liver Than You'll Ever Be is told in fascinating detail by Heylin, and the key details of the Stones album are recapped on the web. Suffice to say, no one stopped the tapers because preventing audience taping was not a concern. Deadheads will be interested to hear that the key taper recalls  
What I used was a Senheiser 805 'shotgun' microphone and a Uher 4000 reel-to-reel tape recorder, which was real small, 7 1/2 inch per second 5" reels.
The part of the story that interest me comes from the early show at the Coliseum. The Oakland show was only the third night of the Stones tour. The first show had been Friday, November 7 in Fort Collins, CO. Clearly, that show was intended as a safe "out of town" opener before the big debut at the Forum in Los Angeles on Saturday, November 8, where the Stones would play both an early and late show. A lot had changed in the rock and roll concert world since the Stones had last toured. According to Dennis McNally, on the plane to Colorado, Belmont had to explain to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards that their plan to play half an hour was no longer acceptable, as an hour was the minimum that crowds expected, and Jagger and Richards tacked on  a few acoustic numbers to fill out the set (p. 340).

The first show in Oakland was only the Stones' third night and fourth show on the tour. During the early show, the sound reinforcement system blew out, and Keith in particular was very unhappy with the poor live sound. According to Joel Selvin, in between shows Ramrod and Rex Jackson suggested that they go back to the Dead's headquarters in Novato and get their equipment, battle tested and Owsley tuned to perform exceptionally under adverse conditions. They raced across two bridges to get the equipment, returning in time for the Stones set on the late show. While the expert taping of the show made the recording great, there's a reason that the live sound for the late show was so good, and that was that the Dead's sound equipment plugged holes in the Stones rig.

Jerry Garcia and the rest of the Dead were at the Coliseum show, and they would have all enthusiastically assented to loaning out their equipment. To some extent, Garcia and Weir had formed the Warlocks in an effort to emulate The Rolling Stones. When the Stones had played San Francisco on their 1966 tour, the Jefferson Airplane had opened the show, and the Airplane had snuck Garcia backstage as a member of their crew so that he could attend the show. The Dead had played the New Old Fillmore on November 7 and 8, but they had November 9 off, and I don't doubt that they were all backstage.

It's a nice vignette: Garcia and the band backstage, more like fans than musicians, no doubt flattered and pleased that their own equipment was better than that of the mighty Stones. Grateful Dead studio engineer Betty Cantor recalls (via David Gans):
They blew up all their equipment at the first show. They had all this Ampeg equipment, and it just went Fffftt! They were in a panic, so Ramrod and Jackson raced to our warehouse and brought down a bunch of our Fender amps for them, and the next show we sat up onstage while they played, and it sounded amazing... The first time Keith played through Jerry's amp, he turned around and looked at the amp, and his mouth dropped open. 'Whoa!' He couldn't believe the power and clarity.
Of course, Ampeg rushed new equipment to the Stones immediately, lest they get any ideas about changing vendors.

Liver Than You'll Ever Be
The Liver Than You'll Ever Be album was released just a month later, prior to Christmas 1969. The tour had finished on November 30 in West Palm Beach, FL, and then the mess of Altamont on December 6 had blasted the tour into a stratospheric event that stood in contrast to that Summer's idyllic Woodstock.  As most record stores were somewhat independent in those days, the album apparently wasn't too hard to get in major cities. The album received a glowing review from Greil Marcus in the January 1970 Rolling Stone, and the clamor for the record caused it to be redistributed and to some extent re-bootlegged (Heylin has all the details).

The record industry, and particularly Allan Klein, who controlled the Stones catalog, were completely panicked. The idea that a civilian could bring taping equipment into an area and make an album that people liked to listen to as much as an "official" recording put the company's whole business model at risk. Deadheads today know how great a good audience recording of a show can sound, but to most listeners this was a complete revelation. To add to Klein's panic, the Stones were playing songs live from their forthcoming album (Let It Bleed), and purchasers of Liver Than You'll Ever Be were getting to hear some songs ("Midnight Rambler," "Live With Me" and "Gimme Shelter") before their official release, and that too violated industry orthodoxy.

The result? After various kinds of posturing and panic, the record industry focused on banning recording equipment from rock arenas. The men behind the legendary bootleg label Trademark Of Quality, who were intimately connected in expanding the reach of Liver Than You'll Ever Be across the country, take personal responsibility for the ritual at rock concert venues where security staff searched everyone for illicit tape recorders. The recording industry may have overestimated sales of bootlegs, but they recognized a threat to their monopoly, and the industry's efforts to choke off bootlegs served its purpose until the commercialization of the Internet.

I don't know about other cities, but when I attended rock shows in the 1970s, the BGP staff ritually searched everyone, looking for liquor and tape recorders, but not drugs. Liquor I understood--drunken idiots do not make for a safe or fun concert--but the tape thing made me scratch my head. I bought more records than anyone I knew, so how come my interest in live tapes was a threat? None of my semi-normal friends considered dodgy sounding live tapes a reasonable substitute for a proper album, so what was being threatened?

What taping threatened was the record industry business model, which controlled the release of recordings. Liver Than You'll Ever Be had shown the intense interest consumers would have in purchasing well recorded concerts that sounded good in the first place, released when they were still current and with blemishes and all largely intact. Nothing could be more threatening, and the Dead more than any other band went to extraordinary lengths to define another business model altogether. Maybe if Rex and Ramrod hadn't gone over to Novato to get the Dead's equipment, Liver Than You'll Ever Be wouldn't have been a gripping document that got reviewed in Rolling Stone, and all our taper friends could have carried their Sony D5s and mics into shows in their backpacks all those years.

No comments:

Post a Comment