A prequel to Record Store Tales #286: Live! Bootlegs
RECORD STORE TALES #883: Live! Bootlegs – the Prequel
I didn’t discover “bootlegs” right away. But inevitably, I had my first encounter and was confused by what I saw.
The setting: Dr. Disc, 1988 or ’89. Downtown Kitchener. In the store with best friend Bob and one of his friends. Browsing in the cassettes, I had worked my way over to Guns N’ Roses, a band I was still learning about. Something about an EP that came before Appetite? But what I saw was not that. In fact, there multiple Guns bootlegs in their cassette section, only I didn’t know they were called “bootlegs”, or what that even meant. Each one seemed to have a different member on the front. One had Slash, one had Axl, one even had Izzy. They were printed on different coloured paper. They had songs I never heard, like “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”. Live shows from the last few years.
Were they official releases? They had to be if they were sitting there in a store, right? But A&A Records at the mall didn’t have these.
I didn’t get of the Guns tapes. I didn’t have the money, and even if I did, I wouldn’t have taken a chance.
My knowledge of bootlegs was limited. In my mind, I associated the word with the kind of bootleg records they had to buy in communist Russia. Since you could not buy American music in the Soviet Union in the time of the Iron Curtain, fans got creative. There is a famous series of Beatles bootleg records, etched into X-ray photographs. It was the right kind of material to cut the music on. Like a flexi-disc. When I heard the word “bootleg album”, I associated it with an album that was illegal to own, but somehow you got a copy of a copy. Not live recordings smuggled out of a gig and sold for profit.
I finally put the pieces together when I bought the book Kiss On Fire on December 27, 1990. In the back: a massive list of live Kiss bootlegs, from Wicked Lester to the Asylum tour. Tracklists, cover art, the works. Suddenly, it clicked.
“These must be bootlegs!” I whispered to myself in awe.
“We must have them,” said my OCD to my unconscious self.
I acquired my first live bootleg from Rob Vuckovich in 1992. It was David Lee Roth live in Toronto on the Eat ‘Em and Smile tour with Steve Vai. It was just a taped copy on a Maxell UR 90, but it was my first. My sister got an early Barenaked Ladies gig on tape shortly after, including the rare “I’m in Love With a McDonald’s Girl”. Then in 1994 she bootlegged her own Barenaked Ladies show on the Maybe You Should Drive tour!
Around this time, my sister and I also started attending record shows a couple times a year. Bootlegs were now available on CD. And there were many. Who to choose?
Black Sabbath with Ozzy, or with Dio? Def Leppard before Rick Allen was even in the band? Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Motley Crue’s final gig with Vince Neil…so many to choose from!
Interestingly enough, the idea of one band member being on the cover art carried into the CD age. By my side at one show was Bob once again. I flipped through the Kiss. There were so many! I picked one out with Gene on the cover. Not knowing what bootlegs were himself, Bob thought they were solo albums. “Don’t get one with just Gene!” he advised. It wasn’t something I wanted anyway — it was from the Animalize tour, which I already had represented on VHS at home. I wanted something I didn’t have anything from yet. There it was! The Revenge club tour! Unholy Kisses, they called the disc. Stupid name, great setlist. I only hoped it sounded good when I got it home. They used to let you listen to it before you bought it, but I think I was too shy and just bought it. As it turns out, I loved it. Every thump and every shout.
That’s the thing about bootlegs. You really never knew what the sound was going to be like. Or even if the gig advertised was the gig you were buying. Or just because it sounded good at the start, will it still sound good at the end? Or did the guy recording it have to move to a different seat next to a loud dude? A soundboard recording was almost a too-good-to-be-true find. One thing you were certain not to hear: overdubs. No overdubs on a bootleg! They were raw and authentic.
I had made a good “first bootleg” purchase. A whole new world opened before me. There were not just live bootlegs, no! Also demos, remixes, even B-sides. And among them, some great, and some dreadfully bad choices!
Hear about some of the great ones this Friday, February 26 on the LeBrain Train: 2000 Words or More with Mike Ladano