Jun 10, 2018

Steel Mill - LIVE AT THE MATRIX: A limited edition numbered CD box with a 48-page booklet, also known as the first "protection-gap" CD available exclusively as a mail order (not on vinyl topics)

Originally released in 1989 or 1990, this copy is still in pristine condition. If my memory serves me correctly, another box which is covered with reddish brown cloth was also available. Such variant was probably released earlier (and so with a lower limited number) than the grey box. The thick booklet carries many pictures of the band, posters, tickets and memorabilia, which are reproduced in color or black and white.
 
A limited number is stamped on the sticker that is glued on the
back side of the box lid. I was late to order a copy, which is
obviously reflected on the high serial number.
While constantly playing vinyl discs on my old DENON turntable, like many, I also use modern technology for casual listening and frequently load electronic sound files into some music softwares, such as iTunes and VOX. So, listening to CD is very rare these days. This weekend, however, I felt a compulsion to listen to an old 1973 show on CD as the recording was not stored on my MacBook Pro. To find out the copy, I pulled out and examined the contents of what I've called a "miscellaneous box" full of bootleg CD titles released in the 1990's I have seldom played for a long while. Through this small labor, unexpectedly, I found a long-forgotten, small packet buried deep in the box, which was secured with printed packing tapes featuring a trademark symbolizing that famous "giant dog breed" as well as company name. 

What I recall in the first place on Great Dane Records is that, by issuing a series of live CD of historically important performances every one or two month in the early 1990's, they have made collectors' dream come true. So, here in Japan, a new title from the record label arrived regularly and expectedly from Italy in this time interval. With the demise of vinyl bootleg, it was really exciting experiences to witness such new tides of live concert releases in the then-cutting edge format at an import CD/record shop I used to visit when I was young.

Back then, the Italian copyright law protected live recordings only for 20 years and studio recordings only for 25 years, which were considerably shorter than those of other countries. The differences in protection term caused "protection-gap" between Italy and other countries, and such "protection-gap" had accelerated CD releases of old live recordings that belonged to public domain there and in other countries such as Germany with a relatively shorter period of copyright protection (Hence, these CDs were called "protection-gap" CDs). However, although coming with well-cared and professional-looking sleeves and booklets that were comparable to official products, Springsteen's live CDs released by Great Dane Records were still illegal products when they first appeared in 1989-1991, even under the Italian copyright law. This was simply because, by that time, all the live recordings after his major debut in 1973 were yet less than 20 years old.

Steel Mill - LIVE AT THE MATRIX (GDR MAIL 1) is advertized on the booklet of the relatively late CD issues on Great Dane Records. Shown is the one included in the Master Plus version of THE SAINT, THE INCIDENT, AND THE MAIN POINT SHUFFLE (GDR CD 9012). Note that the early booklet accompanied with the original version, most copies of which suffered from so-called CD rot (including mine), does not list this limited box set.

However, there was only one Springsteen-related title on the Great Dane Records label that was probably non-illegitimate and successfully avoided the copyright protection issue (still only in Italy) when it was released around in 1990. This acceptable "protection-gap" CD is a single disc set that captures a famous live concert before his major debut, dating back to January 13, 1970, performed at the Matrix club in San Francisco, California, when he played as the lead vocalist/guitarist in a heavy blues/rock power quartet known as Steel Mill. It was a special collector's edition from Great Dane Records that was available in a limited number of 1,000 copies exclusively through a mail-order service provided by the company (so, not available at the retail level for foreign customers like me). I don't exactly remember when and how I got to know this release. Probably through their advertisement booklet (shown above) or a bootleg CD column on one of the Backstreets magazine issues that have been published in 1990.

Even though generally recognized as a bootleg company, Great 
Dane Records
were a legitimate company at least in Italy. So,
they had conducted business honorably. Stapled on the top of
the
invoice sheet is the receipt for the credit card transaction.
Although I was (and still am) not primarily interested in his music and performance in this particular era (i.e. before the major debut), I couldn't help ordering a copy because, as a collector, I was compellingly attracted to its unique package in a limited run, including a 48-page booklet, which was specially issued by the then flag-bearer company at the dawn of new bootleg industry. According to the accompanying invoice included in the packet, the price was 44,600 Italian lire, which correspond to approximately US $40 at the then exchange rate, and the hand-written date indicates that the CD was ordered on November 21, 1990, which is close to three decades ago.
— Wrote down this as just a note for an unexpected finding (to myself).


Jun 5, 2018

Collecting log: Spirit In The Night - Growin' Up / Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) early U.S. promotion-only custom 7" EP

The white-labeled, promo-only EP originally came in a generic die-cut
company sleeve. Oddly, the sole track from the then latest second
album is placed on SIDE 2 while two songs cut from the previous
debut album are featured on SIDE 1.
For many serious Springsteen fans, June 2 is remembered as the original U.S. release date of the then long-awaited 4th album DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN (US Columbia JC 35318). Since this year marks the 40th anniversary of the release year (1978), such fans have already posted a celebration thread in various forums dedicated to the Man and His Music. Serious analog collectors, however, might know that on the same day 44 years ago (June 2, 1974)*, a promotion-only 3-track EP was released to U.S. radio stations, which has become among top collectibles nowadays. While better known for its catalog number prefix "AE7" (which is given to Columbia's promo-only 7" releases), to date, Spirit In The Night - Growin' Up/Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) (US Columbia AE7 1088) is one of the toughest early promo records to find.
*From the description in Blinded By The Light (P. Humphries & C. Hunt, 1985, Plexus, London).

The year 1995 is when eBay was
founded on September.
To mention but a few examples, this EP was auctioned in 1995 (23 years ago!) with a minimum bid of US $250 as part of the 6th annual summer warehouse sale on the Backstreets Records (BTW, the auction is termed "50 GREATEST HITS BACKSTREETS AUCTION: The Don Rasmussen, Phil Ceccola, and John Flynn Collections"). The same auction also offered a U.S. stock copy of Blinded By The Light/Angel  7" (US Columbia 4-45805) and its legendary picture sleeve (sleeve only, no record) at $500 and $175 minimum bids, respectively. So, you can roughly estimate the relative collecting value of this EP back then. In the 2000's, it was ranked at the 14th (valued £700 in mint condition) among the Top 40 Worldwide Springsteen Rarities, an featured article published in the number 329 issue (November 2006) of the Record Collector magazine. Finally, using the catalog number as keyword, a quick database search on popsike.com showed three results of recent eBay auctions, with the final prices of US $1,126 (September 2014), $1,000 (January 2015), and $720 (March 2016).

Probably, only another "AE7"-prefixed record to be found on Springsteen's U.S. 7" catalog is Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town (live) (same track on the other side; US Columbia AE7 1332) released in 1981 for promotion of IN HARMONY 2, a charity album by various artists (US Columbia AL 37641).
The main reason why this mediocre-looking 7" disc is among the most highly sought-after 7" is straightforwardly simple: its scarcity just like the cases of regular stock single release copies for Blinded By The Light and Spirit In The Night/For You (US Columbia 4-45864). As Springsteen himself reminisces in his recent autobiography, back then, he received little support from the Columbia Records for the promotion of his second album, THE WILD, THE INNOCENT & THE E STREET SHUFFLE (US Columbia KC 32432), with no single-cut releases commercially (Aside from the conflict between Springsteen camp and the company, a logical reason for this was that every song on the album is lengthy with the shortest clocking in at nearly 4.5 min, which was not suitable for radio airplay).

Machine-typed matrix numbers on Sides 1 (upper) and 2 (lower).
Columbia's prefix "
ZSM" refers to 7" EP stereo 33⅓ rpm.
Such an uncooperative stance of the company towards him was also reflected in this white label 7". Although the exact pressing number is unknown, the circulating copy number seems to be quite small even as promo. It's certainly rarer than the white-label promo mono/stereo version for the aforementioned two single cuts from the debut album, or any of the three Playback 7" EP series featuring Springsteen's track (disc alone; a complete set including a custom sleeve, a relevant booklet, and a questionnaire card, all packed in an original mailing envelope, is equally hard to find, too). Moreover, the only song (i.e. Rosalita) taken from the then new album was probably not regarded as the main track of this promo release because it is not featured on the front side (Side 1) but put away onto the flip side.

Semi-translucency verifies that styrene is
the material used for making a given 7" disc,
provided that it is a U.S. Columbia release.
In addition to the scarce copy number, the unique disc format also makes it highly collectible. It is an EP that plays at 33⅓ rpm and contains more than two tracks exclusive to Springsteen's, which is rare in his 7" discography. Other similar official records I can think of are impossibly rare, two Bolivia-only releases of 4-track EPs, each consisting of BORN IN THE U.S.A. (CBS 10445) or TUNNEL OF LOVE (CBS 10522) excerpts, as well as a South African-only LIVE/1975-85 4-track EP (CBS SSC 6011). Back in early years of collecting, I was once offered a copy at a cost around $100, which I declined for the reason I don't exactly remember. Probably because it was still big bucks for a university student, and because early in my collecting career, I was far more getting into bootlegs than official records. Later, I obtained a copy at a similar expense that was a little bit worn as shown here, even though still playable with no skipping on my turntable. Finally, for your information, like most of the regular 7" discs from the U.S. Columbia labels, this EP is not a vinyl pressing but a styrene-molded disc (i.e. It is translucent red when held against strong light; Check a series of blog posts starting from here for vinyl vs. styrene topics). So, be cautious that overplayed copies must have many scratches/scuffs and sound really bad!


May 10, 2018

Classic Vinyl Bootleg Revisited: THERE AIN'T NOBODY HERE FROM BILLBOARD TONIGHT original black vinyl pressing (Part 3 of 3)

"The demand for a live Springsteen album would continue to build as long as Springsteen resisted providing official evidence of his take on a rock & roll revivalist meeting. Lou Cohan's double-set from Springsteen's Roxy show certainly had a lot more chops to it than the relatively tame 'wall of sound' beneath which Springsteen buried Born to Run. He had also proved a point about the potential demand for bootlegs of a 'rookie' seventies rock star like Springsteen. Ken, to his credit, had his antennae on, responding with his own version of the Roxy broadcast followed by his own testament to Springsteen at-his-peak, You Can Trust Your Car."
(Cited from BOOTLEG: The Secret History Of The Other Recording Industry, Clinton Heyin, 1996, St. Martin's Griffin, NY)

My first copy is still shrink wrapped. Early pressing of SODD releases came with
World Records labels in white background (an inverted
black background 
 
version is also known to exist).
As described in the citation above, and as almost all of you know, the broadcast live from the October show at the Roxy in 1975 was captured in another underground release FLAT TOP AND PIN DROP (Singer's Original Double Disk, SODD 006), put out by Ken Douglas who is, needles to say, one of the most famous early bootleggers. After shutting down the legendary Trade Mark of Quality in 1973, he set up The Amazing Kornyphone Record Label, the operation of which was supplemented with several other bootleg labels he also launched around that time and thereafter. SODD is one of such multiple bootleg labels run by his hands, and as its name indicates, he usually used this label for releasing double-LP titles, including another Springsteen's classic (SODD 001: briefly mentioned here) mentioned in the above quote and Rolling Stones' NASTY MUSIC (SODD 012), one of the most widely known bootlegs in the late 1970's.

A long-lasting misinformation with regard to FLAT TOP AND PIN DROP in literature and online databases is that this bootleg is a copy of THERE AIN'T NOBODY HERE FROM BILLBOARD TONIGHT. As far as I know, all the guide books of Springsteen's bootleg (some of which are shown here) give the same erroneous note for this SODD release. Almost obviously, such an error has originated from an early description as found in the bootleg section of the Blinded By The Light book (P. Humphries & C. Hunt, 1985, Plexus, London), or maybe from Hot Wacks (any issues of which I have never owned or read; so I don't know whether this reference book reports so or not). Although there are several key facts indicating that these two bootlegs are indeed independent pressings, I just explain two such examples. 
The scanned image shows part of bootleg dealer's catalog I
received in April 1992. For old bootleg titles, it was still a strong
seller’s market at that time. As seen, a used copy of
FLAT TOP
AND PIN
DROP
was sold, along with the excellent Swedish
2 x 12” EP bootleg
The Boss Hits The Sixties, for 19,800 Yen
which are roughly equivalent to US $150 according to the 
exchange rate as of that time. Back then, I wondered about 
who would buy it at such an extraordinary high price.
One is the difference in sound quality which is noticeably better to my ear on FLAT TOP ... with more high-end presence and dynamics. Another is the fact that Pretty Flamingo, the final track on Side 1 of both releases, is incomplete (cut off before the performance ends) on THERE AIN'T NOBODY ... whereas FLAT TOP ... contains the full performance of this cover song. I think these two points alone provide substantial evidence to support that FLAT TOP ... is NOT a copy product of the previously available bootleg. Then, why has this misinformation been widespread without correction? THERE AIN'T NOBODY ... is one of the oldest Brucelegs, and it includes MC's introduction to the concert at the beginning of Side 1. On the other hand, FLAT TOP ... is the second release of this broadcast live but does not contain such an opening talk on the record, starting off the show opener Thunder Road immediately. Copying or bootlegging a bootleg often results in missing a track partially or entirely (or this happens on more than one track). These might have caused prejudice that THERE AIN'T NOBODY ... is an easy target for other bootleggers to make instant copies of a potentially good-sale product in collectors' market.

Has JASRAC collected royalties by the use of
sound recording of this bootleg?
Finally, my second copy of THERE AIN'T NOBODY ... came with a small logo sticker of JASRAC, the Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers, that was pasted on shrink wrap of the upper left corner of the front sleeve. JASRAC is the largest artist copyright lobby in Japan, similar to American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). The society administers copyrights of not only domestic music works, but also foreign ones. So, having this sticker means that JASRAC, without recognition that it was a bootleg, has issued licenses to play this recording for commercial purpose in Japan (and collected royalties, if available), on behalf of publishers and copyright owners. But in this case, for whom?  Certainly not for Springsteen or Columbia Records. Based on the sticker design, this copy was imported from the U.S. in the mid-to-late 1970's and after approval by JASRAC, it was sold "legitimately" here even though it was an illegal product. We see here occasionally this sticker on sleeves of contemporary vinyl bootlegs by other artists. It was, and probably still is, a customary practice for import vinyl/CD dealers to apply for license to their imported goods, often including bootlegs and grey-zone products, to JASRAC for legal sale here in the domestic market in Japan.