I just completed an interview on my involvement with the bootleg record album company, Trademark of Quality. I thought it would be good to share here.
For those of you unfamiliar with the term “bootleg” as it applies to music, bootleg records were fan-produced LPs whose content came from live audience concert tapes (occasionally soundboard tapes), unreleased studio recordings or other rarities (radio and TV performances, obscure single B-sides, etc.). Bootlegs should be differentiated from pirate records (counterfeit productions of legitimate studio releases). A lot of pirating was financed by the Mafia and then distributed and sold through large department store chains. I’ve used the past tense in this paragraph because bootleg LPs are no longer produced; these days everything is on CD.
The bootleg LP heyday took place in the mid-1970s.
Q: When you first got into doing the artwork for TMOQ how old were you?
A: I was 24 years old.
Q: What were you doing artistically at the time ?
A: At that time I was taking just about any job that came my way. Most of my work then was in advertising. I worked on the first national advertising for Taco Bell, designing and illustrating posters to convince white people that Mexican food was clean and safe to eat. I also worked on the very first advertising and parts catalogues for Toyota in the United States. I was an assistant to Russ Manning on the Tarzan of the Apes Sunday and daily newspaper strips, and an assistant to Harvey Kurtzman and Willy Elder on “Little Annie Fanny” for Playboy. I was creating my own comics for Cycle-toons and Car-toons at this time, drawing the stories and features in a variety of art styles. I was also drawing underground comix — mostly covers.
Q: How did you get to meet Dub & Ken?
A: I met “Ken” at Record Paradise in Hollywood in 1973. That record shop was one of the few places in L. A. that carried import LPs. They also openly sold bootlegs. I had recently attended a great concert (Led Zeppelin, as I recall) and was looking forward to purchasing the bootleg LP of it that was sure to be produced. There it was in the “L” bin! I grabbed it and held it up.
“Oh man,” I said out loud, “this cover sucks. I wish someone would get me to do these covers.”
A guy tapped on my shoulder and whispered.
“You wanna do bootleg record covers?”
“Selma and Las Palmas, this Friday night, eight o’clock. Be there.”
I agreed. That guy was “Ken”.
The intersection of Selma and Las Palmas at that time was one of the seedier Hollywood neighborhoods. Promptly at eight an old black 40’s coupe with smoked windows pulled up to the corner and stopped. The passenger window opened a crack. A paper sheet came out of it. I took the sheet and read it. It said, “Winter Tour” and had a list of Rolling Stones songs.
A voice inside the car said, “Next Friday, same time.”
The window rolled up.
Then the window rolled back down a tiny bit.
I drove back to my apartment and began work on the cover. I re-titled it “All Meat Music” and designed the cover as a tribute to Robert Crumb’s Cheap Thrills cover for Big Brother & The Holding Company. Each song got a picture and each of the five Stones were featured in song illustrations.
The following Friday I was back at Selma and Las Palmas at the appointed time. Alone. The same coupe drove up and stopped. The passenger window cracked a bit. I put the cover in the provided slot, like mailing a letter. A fifty-dollar bill came out in response, as if the car was some kind of bizarre ATM machine. Then the coupe drove away.
Rolling Stones – Winter Tour (a.k.a. All Meat Music) came out within two weeks of the concert. The cover made it stand out and it sold very well. TMQ commissioned more covers.
Eventually, I gained the trust of the bootleggers and I worked with “Ken” and Dub face to face, though never knowing their real names. We saw each other regularly — usually, at Record Paradise. We were all friends with the shop’s owners, Roger and Ollie. It was a cool place to hang out.
Q: What were they like as individuals, bearing in mind the split between them after a few years was reportedly due to disagreements about quality (Dub) over quantity (Ken)….
A: I became closest to “Ken”. He kind of “collected” people. That is, he found the oddities of the human race and our species’ quirkier individuals fascinating and amusing. He made them a part of his pretty private social life. “Ken” taught me to be more tolerant and accepting of the stranger qualities of people. I don’t think I ever met a bigger Stones fan, either. I was amazed to discover that this huge music fan ONLY owned and collected records by the Rolling Stones — nothing else! He used to have a direct line to getting import UK singles. He had a guy buy and send him whatever was on the English charts. “Ken” ended up selling all those great records after he decided to only own Stones records. I got about a hundred of them. I think Greg Shaw bought the rest.
“Ken” was one of the most private people I’ve ever met. As close as we were (and we were pretty damn close), I didn’t find out he was married to his second wife until about two years after the fact. His first wife was the sister of Dub’s girlfriend. Both gals were incredibly gorgeous.
Dub saw himself as a composer and artist and was another huge music fan. His tastes were more diverse than that of “Ken”. Dub really liked a lot of the modern classical composers, like Edgard Varese. Dub had a pretty solid knowledge of classical music. He knew what was well performed and recorded and what was not. When CDs first came into existence, he sold them out of his girlfriend’s house (she was a top fashion designer). About 85% of my initial CD collection came from Dub.
Both guys were sharp businessmen and pretty tight with their dough.
Q: Can you remember where in California they were based back then?
A: The Los Angeles area.
Q: Did you get the choice of which covers you did at all, or were you given the artist, album name, song titles etc. up front ?
A: I was given everything up front. I never passed on doing a cover. We shared similar tastes, so I was never asked to do a cover for a group I didn’t like. Since I was only being paid $50 per cover I was given complete freedom to do whatever I wanted for the cover. I often changed to title of the LP to go with the art, which sometimes drove Dub nuts.
At first, after All Meat Music, I used to knock them out because I was only being paid fifty bucks per cover. Then, I asked myself, “If you’re not doing them for the money, then why are you doing them?”
I took a completely new attitude and approach and decided that, regardless of what I was being paid, I was going to do my best work. I also decided to hold Trademark of Quality to their name, and continually push for higher and higher quality bootleg LPs and packaging.
Q: And on a similar theme, were you given complete artistic freedom on each cover or did they ever brief you on what they wanted ?
A: They never told me what to do. The cover content and style was always up to me, as long as I included all the pertinent information like band name and track listing.
Q: Was it the first paid (art) work you did?
A: I got my first paying art job while I was in high school. I drew political cartoons for the Conejo Vally News-Chronicle, the local newspaper in Thousand Oaks. My first national exposure came when I did the covers and illustrations to the first four issues of the horror pulp magazine Coven 13. The first issue was in 1968, while I was in my second year at art school. I attended the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts; we referred to the school by its old name: the Chouinard Art Institute). The Illustration Department had a great policy. If you got any real jobs in the outside world, you could substitute them in lieu of your homework. By my last year and a half nearly everything I was turning in was professional work. It made the transition from Academia to the real world absolutely seamless.
Q: Can you remember what they used to pay for a boot cover? (As Monty Python said…. “If it’s not a personal question” !!!)…
A: I got $50 per bootleg cover, bumped up to $100 each for the color covers (I pushed TMOQ to start printing the front covers in color). Crappy pay even back then but it was big time fun. Plus, my rent was only about $90 per month during that period.
Q: Was it just Dub & Ken that you knew from that world or did you also get to meet Kurt Gleimser (your drawing of Mick Jagger was used on the K&S version of ‘Burning At The Hollywood Paladium’), John Wizardo, Andrea Waters, the Rubber Dubber guy or any of the other bootleg producers from that era?
A: I met a few of the other bootleggers, usually at the Hollywood Record Swap Meet in the Capitol Records parking lot. For the most part they were pretty sleazy and seemed untrustworthy. This intuitive feeling was borne out when the other bootleggers started stealing TMOQ’s recordings and putting them out on their own labels. Meeting them made me glad I was working with “Ken” and Dub. I don’t think I ever met the Rubber Dubber — but I bought his records. I don’t think I ever heard of Kurt.
Q: Did anyone else approach you to do work for them?
I think the other bootleggers were too intimidated by “Ken” and Dub to ask me to do covers for them. It was probably perceived of as a “turf” thing.
To Be Continued…