Q: Do you look back on those days with affection, being young and somewhat at the heart of the Californian artistic/music scene?
A: I loved those times! Los Angeles was the best place to be in the world back then. We had just about all of the best groups; the ones that didn’t come from L. A. usually ended up recording and playing here. Jeff Beck (back when Rod Stewart was his lead singer) played here a lot because he had a girlfriend here (Mary Hughes, immortalized in his Yardbirds song “Psycho Daisies”). I saw so many great concerts at such ridiculously cheap prices it’s almost embarrassing to tell people what I experienced.
Here’s one example:
At a Shrine Exposition Hall concert in 1968 the opening act was the original Steve Miller Band with Boz Scaggs. They were followed by Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac. After that group came The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. I haven’t even mentioned the headliner: The Who. Each band played two sets. The Who (who were promoting their brand new — and best, IMHO — LP, The Who Sell Out) smashed their instruments at the end of their second set.
The place was only a third full; you could get as close as you wanted to the stage. I got backstage at this show and met Keith Moon (well, I ran into Keith in the men’s room), Roger Daltrey and Arthur Brown.
The price of admission? $2.50 in advance; $3.00 at the door.
The music scene in the late ‘60s wasn’t that huge; it hadn’t become a “scene” yet, so the only kids who attended the concerts back then were the people who were huge fans of the music. It was easy to get backstage; you could easily meet any pop star you cared to meet. You could bring cameras and tape recorders to shows. That all changed with “stadium rock”.
Q: Or do you feel that the spirit of that age has continued through to today in California?
A: In some ways yes, in some ways no. It’s so much more expensive to experience live music now, certainly if you want to see what are considered the “Classic Rock” bands. I find it enormously ironic that a fan will have to pay huge sums of money to see old geezers (with key band members missing due to deaths) perform their hits now when they could have seen them in their youthful prime for just a few bucks.
My sons love “Classic Rock”. I saw The Who were coming to town, so I thought I’d buy us all tickets for their show. I called the venue and was told that tickets started at $80 each. Started! Those were the bad seats! I started laughing on the phone.
“Eighty bucks? Hey! These guys are old! Their best album came out over twenty years ago! Their brilliant drummer won’t be playing with them because he’s dead (John Entwistle had not yet perished at that time)! I saw these guys debut Tommy for five bucks and I was right against the stage! I had to duck to avoid getting hit by Roger Daltrey’s microphone all through the show!”
I also don’t get sitting politely to enjoy rock ‘n’ roll. That goes against the very essence of what rock ‘n’ roll is all about. Rock should be hot, sweaty, and subversive. You should experience it on your feet, as close to the stage as possible. It should make you want to move or dance — not sit and politely applaud after each number.
I found the best way to enjoy rock is to pay close attention to magazines like Mojo and Q. Watch for great bands on the rise and then try to catch them in a small club before they become big. That’s how I was able to take my youngest son to see the White Stripes in a tiny little club in Pomona. Jack White later said it was their best gig of the tour — and it only cost me fifteen bucks per ticket.
Q: Is the current scene equally as interesting to you?
A: Without record stores (there’s less than a handful left spread across the Los Angeles area), I find it much more difficult to find new music. I have had to turn to the internet to keep up with new releases by old bands, many of which are imports. Once a month, however, I do have a good source and big selection of bootlegs at a local swap meet. I like that they’re on CD as far as the sound quality goes, but I do prefer the larger LP size covers to the tiny CD covers. A lot of the packaging of bootleg CDs has become very creative and professional (there are some beautiful box sets). I like to think that TMOQ led the way in that respect. My sons have turned me on to a lot of great new music, especially when they were in college.
Q: To have achieved the success you have right through to today I would assume you are a pretty driven person who would continue to find positives?
A: I am one of the most optimistic people you will ever meet. I also have an incredibly strong work ethic and am devoted to a constant pursuit of excellence. Although I consider myself a pretty Old School artist (not too many digital skills), I keep trying to learn new things each day; I keep pushing myself. So, driven? Yes.
Q: I remember some years ago you told me that you met the Pink Floyd (this interview was for a Pink Floyd website) in Los Angeles on their first US tour, and that you introduced Roger Waters to some local err…Talent.
A: That was a great Shrine show. The headliner was the Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood and Mickey Waller.
The middle group was Blue Cheer. The opening group was billed on the poster thus: “Introducing Pink Floyd”. I already owned Floyd’s first LP. I especially loved Syd Barrett’s songs. Their second LP had just been released and Syd was no longer in the band. This was Pink Floyd’s first show in the United States. I got backstage and met all three groups in their respective dressing rooms.
Pink Floyd were very friendly. I had my Polaroid camera with me and took some shots of the band. That camera blew their minds. They had never seen a camera that could give you a photograph minutes after taking a picture.
I asked about Syd and David Gilmour’s eyes began to well up with tears. I could see instantly that Syd’s departure was still a very sensitive subject (and would remain so for years).
I really hit it off with Roger Waters. There was this little doe-eyed maybe-groupie hanging out inside their dressing room. I could see Roger was lonely and attracted to her. I began acting as Roger’s wing man, trying to subtly extol the virtues and glories of a magical night spent with Roger. It seemed to be going pretty well with those two by the time I left the dressing room. Glad to help out!
The next night I went to see a new film. The new movie was very popular, so there was a line to get in. As I was walking to find my place at the end of the line, someone shouted “Bill!” It was Roger Waters. In unison, the other band members said, “The Polaroid guy!” and insisted I get in line with them. Great guys!
Q: What did you think of them back then, as people and as a live band? ‘Cos it was a real transition period for them back then and I’m certain you must have seen hundreds of bands at that time to compare them to, your views would be really valid….. and there aren’t too many eye witness accounts out there…and few who met them..
A: I was originally turned on to Pink Floyd by a bass player I knew. We kept running into each other and playing with each other at auditions (I was a drummer at the time). He raved about their music, so I took a chance and bought Piper At The Gates of Dawn. I loved it! “See Emily Play” is still one of my favorite songs (I know it wasn’t on the UK LP, but it was on the American version of that album).
Pink Floyd, even without Syd, put on a helluva show. The music was very psychedelic. Roger had become the front man. He performed most of the vocals and did lots of interesting trippy sounds with his voice, like singing and making sounds while inhaling rather than exhaling. A Saucerful of Secrets and the live half of Ummagumma are pretty representative of what they were doing on stage back then. I loved their music already but I became a big fan and collector of their work after seeing them live, although I never saw them again after that weekend.
Q: Did you take photos of them that night?
Q: Do you still have them?
A: Yes! One’s good. The other of them playing is pretty crappy.
Q: If you do could we (please!) have a scan of one to accompany this interview?
A: Certainly; see attachments.
Q: Obviously over the years you have carved out a very successful career as an artist (no mean feat!)…. Do you still get approached much by bootleg freaks (like me!) who want to talk about the old stuff you did?
A: There was a lull, but then nostalgia began rearing its head. I get asked about that part of my history on a regular basis now. Fans really want to see a book collecting all of my covers. I’m working on it. It’s my most requested book.
Q: Finally… And perhaps most controversially… As an artist in this day and age, your work is easy to find and copy…. And of course (like everyone else on the planet) you like to be paid for the work you do and have done…
A: Yes, I do. I make 20% of my annual income from licensing images from my past body of work.
Q: This of course flies in the face of the TMOQ days when the artists on the boots weren’t paid for their work….
A: Actually, royalties were set aside by TMOQ for every artist whose recordings they released. Some collected, others didn’t feel it was worth the effort. You have to realize these were pretty small press runs, so the royalties didn’t amount to all that much.
Q: How do you feel about that these days?
A: It could be (and has been) argued that making and selling bootleg albums is illegal. But drawing and painting covers for albums (even if the LPs themselves are illegal) has never been illegal. I never broke the law.
The bootleg LPs were going to come out whether I did covers for them or not. So, would you rather have an LP with a shitty cover done by the bootleggers (the norm until I came along) or one with a decent cover by a guy who really loves that band and their music?
Q: Of course your work from those days is so iconic to bootleg collectors and makers, that your artwork from those days is constantly being ‘recycled’ by modern bootleggers… No doubt without any renumeration to you. What are your feelings on this subject?
A: They should contact me and cut a deal. I’m pretty easy to find. The Italian company, Great Dane Records, did that. I got paid in bootleg CDs. At the very least, I should get a free copy of the CD that contains my art from the people who stole it, don’t you think?
Q: Is it OK for modern bootleggers to continue to use your work, and also sell T-shirts and mugs with the pig logo, or does it bug you?
A: It’s illegal and I doggedly pursue every single infringement that is brought to my attention. I make them pay or I shut them down. You really don’t want to see that side of me. I have to do that, or I lose my copyrights. Legally, I can’t pick and choose, and only go after “Deep Pockets” offenders. By law, I have to go after each and every violation.
Q: Thanks so much for your time Bill….. best wishes from all your fans at the bootleg guide.
A: Peace & love to all you guys and gals!