Sunday, June 24, 2012

Adventures of a tape trader! - New interview with Keltie Harding!

I have been watching Keltie bootleg shows for a long time. I never ceased to be amazed by the pride he takes in the quality of his recordings. Keltie gives us a great interview below!

Here we go!

Maritime Vinyl (MV) - What is it about bootlegging concerts that got you interested initially?

Keltie Harding (KH) - My love of bootlegs & live recordings & being a "tape trader" started as a teen in the mid 80's.  I kept reading about bootlegs like "Sweet Apple Trax" & "Indian Rope Trick" in various Beatles books, and a little later "Live On Blueberry Hill" by Led Zeppelin in a Zeppelin book.   I guess what really got me interested was that some of these "illicit" recordings consisted of material that not many people (or the public at large) have ever heard. 

I guess I should kind of clarify the terms that often get batted around:  Bootlegger, pirate, counterfiet, tape trader, taper.   I classify a "bootlegger" as someone who will manufacture and profit from an unreleased recording, be it live shows or studio outtakes.  A "tape trader" is someone that will trade tapes / recordings with another trader (or nowadays share it with the online world) with no motive for profit. (To go along with this a "taper" is a guy who obviously records the show & is almost always a trader).  A "Pirate" is a guy who will manufacture and/or sell an already exact recording, often with new artwork.  So if you see a copy of "Jimi Hendrix - The Last Experience", it'll most certainly be a pirate, with no royalties (or sometimes a basic royalty) to the publisher of the material.  A "counterfeiter" is a person (or group/organization) who will make copies of a commercially available recording and sell for profit.  In recent years, the Russians have been notorious for making counterfeits, and they can be found for sale online, especially CD's with 2 albums on one.  While some of them may have actually purchased the rights to the recordings from the original owners of the recording, I'm sure most of them are culled from existing sources.  Clinton Heylin's EXCELLENT book "Great White Wonders" (now titled "Bootleg") described the difference between bootleggers, counterfeiters and traders in better detail.

In the recent past, live boots / live tapes have been classified as "ROIO's" or "recordings of indeterminate origin'.  I first saw this as it pertained to Pink Floyd live recordings.  But I still like the term "bootleg". Gives it that "taboo, underground, underbelly of the music establishment" feel, LOL.

MV - Did you trade bootlegs before you ever bootlegged your own shows?

 KH - Well I was a collector first, and then began to trade once I began to have a reasonable collection.  In about 1987, a mutual friend knew I was a heavy music nut and gave me this envelope of about 6 typed sheets, all with listings of various bootlegs by various bands, with a heavy emphasis on Kiss, Zeppelin and Van Halen.  A lot of Metallica too.  Lots of metal. A lot of these were just the name of the venue and the performance date.   These titles were available to purchase on cassettes, and priced according to the length of tape used to record on.  Shows 30 minutes and under were $6.00, 60 minutes & under were $8.00, 90 minutes and under were $10.00, and so on. Sound grading’s were pretty basic, EX for excellent, VG for very good, F for fair, and a + or - if the recording was a little above or below the given rating.  He also had legends of AUD for an audience recorded tape, MIX for a board tape and FM for a recording from the radio.   This guy was based out of a Montreal suburb. 

So I had like NO bootlegs to trade when I first started, so I simply bought from this guy 2-3 times a year, orders of at least $100.00.  I'd get these big padded envelopes with TDK D brand tapes of Sabbath, Zeppelin, Deep Purple concerts.  I even got a few that were obviously dubbed from bootleg LP's and had studio outtakes. Hearing "So Long Darlin'" by Zeppelin (actually "Operator" by Alexis Korner with Robert Plant) really got the juices flowing.   And some tapes were famously mis-labeled, and I'm sure not on my source's part.  They were probably labeled as such when he got them.  "New Yardbirds Live At The Marquee, Oct. 1968" by Zeppelin seemed like a great find and an amazing show for a band that were to become "Led Zeppelin" shortly after.  Only later did I realize that this "New Yardbirds" show was actually a Zep show from San Francisco, January 1969.  Bootleggers (in)famously mis-labeled shows just to throw people off.  

MV - What was the first bootleg recording you remember getting?

KH - "'Scuse Me While I Kiss The Sky" - Live At the L.A. Forum 1970 by Jimi Hendrix.  This was an actual double bootleg LP in a plain sleeve with a copied insert for the cover.   I borrowed this from a guy in Miramichi who I took a few guitar lessons from.  The sound was a bit tinny, but the performance was great.  I still have that original dubbed tape to this day.  I've found better sources of that same show in later years, but that was my first.  The second was "John, Paul, George & Ringo In The 1970's" on Melvin Records. I borrowed this record from a friend of mine.  Later did I realize that there were no real "rarities" on there, but was a collection of solo Beatle interview clips and B-sides from singles. But still it was a bootleg album.

I also listened to (and recorded) "The Lost Lennon Tapes" on the radio throughout 1987, and that was a great source for Beatles and Lennon rarities.  Hearing "take 1" of "Strawberry Fields Forever" or the unused "Arial Tour Instrumental" (an early version of "Flying" from "Magical Mystery Tour") gave me shivers.  I would make my own "Beatleg" tapes from my Lost Lennon Tapes cassettes, and knew there was more out there.

MV - Do you remember the first show you ever recorded?

KH - Well as mentioned above, I recorded "The Lost Lennon Tapes" off the radio back in 1987, but that doesn't really count.  The first real show was Metallica & Queensryche at the Moncton Coliseum, April 1989.  I used a VERY shitty walkman sized recorder and the tapes were pretty much all distorted.  Totally unlistenable.  After that experience, I saved up and bought a "Stereo Mate" portable cassette recorder at Radio Shack. The next show I recorded had to be Melissa Etheridge and Paul Janz at the Moncton Coliseum, June 1990.  I had somehow got a free ticket to go (can't really remember how but I think I got it through my buddy Mark (Gaudet) at Sam The Record Man.   I know I still have these tapes somewhere.


MV - What are some other notable bands you recorded over the years?

KH - Metallica in 1991, the last time they were ever in Moncton, Dire Straits in 1993, April Wine on their first reunion tour in 1992.  I recorded Big Sugar a few times.  I even recorded Nickelback (GASPS!!) when they played the Coliseum in 2003 I think (The ONLY time I have seen Nickelback.)  I recorded The Pixies when they rolled through town last year.  But I'd say that 80 % of my live recordings are of local indie bands, most of which I have developed personal friendships with over the years.  Lots of Eric's Trip, Elevator, Julie Doiron, Monoxides. 

Mv - Have any bands ever had any problem with you recording their shows?

KH - Most of the indie and local bands were and are cool with me recording the show.  I've only gotten sassed by a few, and one band were total asses about it. I did ask if it was OK beforehand & they made a big deal of it.  This band thought they were some real hot shit, but didn't last long.  The other time the said band were really polite in their refusal for me to record them and I respected that.  As for "big name" bands and shows at larger venues, I have to be careful and go into "stealth" mode, so security didn't see me.  But I guess nowadays with everyone owning smartphones now, they can record something and post it on Youtube, so I don't think it’s as "taboo" as it once was. 

MV - I know a lot of the time you set up your recording set up right next to the sound guy. Is this because this is where the show sounds best?

KH - Well I assumed that if I set up my mics near the board, I would get a better recording of what it would sound like from the sound guy's perspective, and also not having anyone knock over the stuff. Sometimes that's not possible, so I have to set up where my stuff is not in anyone else's way.  I have always tried to be respectful of other concert goers and not get in the way.  When I got into bringing more gear, I would tap into the sound board and get whatever feed I could get and record that as well as the open mic setup.

MV - The sound guy knows what you are doing.. Ever have any problems?

KH - Well not the sound guy per se. They've always been pretty accommodating, but again I am talking lower profile Indie gigs.  I'd be happy with whatever mix they gave me.  Sometimes they would give me a custom mix where I'd ask for a little more vocal or kick drum, but this was very rare.    One time I was packing up my gear after a show by a fairly popular Canadian band and either a security guy or roadie seized my tape recorder.  After about 5 minutes, he came back with the unit and the tape still inside. "The band says don't sell any copies to anyone, OK" was all he said.  That's the only time I've been confronted.

MV - At some concerts you have to sneak the equipment in.. Did you ever get caught?

KH - Nope.  Never.  Just that one incident with the security guard.  I was surprised that I got my recorder back.  I try to be as discreet and careful as possible.

MV - I know a lot of the shows I discover online are sound board recordings. How do bootleggers get taped into the soundboard?

KH - Well, a lot of board tapes are taken from recordings made for the band specifically.  Bands sometimes record the performances to listen to later, to critique their performance.  Open reel tape and cassettes were the preferred format.  And along the way, copies of these tapes were made and got leaked or found their way into collectors' hands. Some tapes were even stolen from the band's possession.  I think this happened to Jimmy Page from Led Zep, if I recall correctly.  There was even a story where the original cassette demo compilation of (what was later titled "Cold Cuts) unreleased McCartney tracks that was stolen from his glove box of his car.  (Again this was a story I heard long ago and not sure if it’s entirely true.  Sometimes bootleggers like to "spin a yarn" (create a story) to go along with the recording).

Soundboard tapes are almost always pulled from the live sound engineer's mix.  He's not mixing for a recording, but he is mixing for the venue.  So some board tapes may be heavy on one instrument but laid back on the other.  If a guitarist is pushing enough volume from his own amp to fill the venue, then the sound guy will put less of him in the mix, as opposed to say, bass guitar or kick drum.  So if you ever get a soundboard tape that sounds less than thrilling, that's probably the reason there. 

Some bands even promoted taping and the most famous of this is the Grateful Dead.  I know the Dead were very accommodating for audience tapers and had a special section for tapers, with strict guidelines.  Absolutely NO TALKING was one of them, no mic stands higher than 6 feet high, and a few others, and I THINK they had a certain amount of tickets per gig where you could actually tap into the sound board.  Dead fans are very obsessive about quality and that is a good thing.  I mean, who wants to listen to a crappy recording. 

And a lot of "Board" tapes came from TV or radio broadcasts as well.  And usually TV and radio recordings were better mixed than a "soundboard" tape.  There were a few occasions where the artist was (either directly or indirectly) involved with putting out a bootleg.  The most famous of this was the classic "Electrif Lycanthrope" by Little Feat.  Recorded at Ultrasonic Sound for a radio broadcast, the final mix was made by Little Feat founder Lowell George himself.  He figured if it was going to be bootlegged, it may as well be of high quality.  It’s a FANTASTIC performance and everyone should have this in their collection. Of course versions out there now are sourced from a copy of the actual stereo reel to reel mix, and sound much better than the bootleg LP. 


MV - When I first met you in the mid 90’s, I remember the majority of your bootlegs were on cassette and you used to trade through magazines… Am I remembering correctly?

KH - You bet!  I used to buy bootleg tapes from that guy out of Quebec, and then later made some trade friends through some Fanzines.  I remember one guy I met through "Electric Magic" (a Zeppelin fanzine)  and we traded a crapload of tapes. We even ended up collaborating on some original material too, if you can believe it. 

MV - Do you ever miss snail mail trading like this?

KH - In a way, I do.  I miss the personal feeling I would get from sitting down and writing a letter to go along with the tapes or in the case of my trader friend from Nova Scotia, pages and pages of music talk, talking about our lives, problems we were having, so on and so forth.  I miss the excitement of waiting for a package to arrive in the mail, the thrill of opening the package up, and the sweet agony of trying to decide what tape to play first!   But online sharing has changed things completely.  I don't know if any one trades by mail anymore.  But I'm sure there are a few that are unable to have high speed internet and have to do the mail thing.  I'm kind of jealous actually as I remember all those feelings I described above so well. 

MV - Does file sharing sites take away all the fun of finding the shows?

KH - Not really.  I think now that because fans of "bootlegs" are really conscious about sound quality, better sounding sources of the material is out there.  There are still a few shows that I know are out there and would love to have, and sometimes you do have to scour the web to find that show, even if it’s in low bitrate MP3.  I'm pretty picky about sound and will ONLY get an MP3 source if that is the ONLY source I can find.  Once I get a better source in lossless, the MP3 gets deleted, or set aside in case I want to put it on my iPod one day.  But file sharing does take away the "penpal" aspect of trading.  But now on most reputable trading sites, you can post comments and share views with other users.  It’s nice to read other people's comments. 

Fans nowadays, like I said, are quite picky about the sound, and even the details and history behind the recordings.  In the past, many boots were deliberately mis-labled to throw off fans or (worse) the authorities.  (Classic example is Dylan's famous "Royal Albert Hall" concert which is actually from the Free Trade Hall in Manchester.  )  These days, fans want the most accurate information they can get, right down to the gear used to record the show and how that particular version came to being (the "lineage").  I'll give an example:

SBD ->  7.5 IPS Reels ->  3.75 IPS Reel -> TDK SA Cassette (no NR) -> WAV -> CDR  -> EAC/CDR->FLAC

Pretty self-explanatory.  But to break it down, SBD recording fed to a reel running at 7.5 IPS, then a copy made to a 3 3/4 IPS reel, then copied to a TDK "SA" brand Cassette without any Dolby noise reduction, then transferred to digital WAV file, burned to CDR, a copy of that CDR made to another CDR via "Exact Audio Copy" software, then converted to FLAC lossless.

 It’s important (more out of good karma than being a rule, but it’s the accepted norm these days) that recordings have lineage included, as many fans would rather have a recording closer to the original source than a copy of a copy of a copy.  Sometimes it’s not possible, as some recordings may only exist on cassette, for example, but knowing where the recording has come from is quite important.  Think of looking at getting a dog.  You want to know where the puppy has been bred, if the parents had any health issues, etc. The same idea. 

MV - Also when I first met you CDR’s were just becoming popular and I remember you got a lot of bootlegs on cd as well. Do you still have all of these cassettes and CD’s or did you just convert them and toss them?

KH - I have kept everything from the years.  Some boots I have on tape and that will serve me just fine (ie: Van Halen at Castle Donnington 1984).  I never had many bootleg CD's right from the manufacturers (they were always too expensive,) but I have kept most of them.  I horribly regret trading in The Who's "Furious Prelude" (Fillmore East, April 1968.)  I have yet to find that title again.  I have the cassette dub I made of it, but should not have let go of the CD.  And I've never gotten rid of my vinyl boots.   I do see some independent stores still selling CDR's of boots, sometimes with really bad inkjet printed covers.  I almost feel like saying "you know, you can download these now online if you know where to look.  $20.00 for a CDR of a boot is a rip off. "  

MV - Has your recording equipment changed over the years?

KH - Oh yes.  My first portable rig was one that was better suited for dictation only, and not crazy-ass loud concerts.  I recorded Metallica in '89 on that and it sounded like shit.  I then purchased the Stereo Mate walkman sized stereo cassette recorder.  I used that thing so much I wore it out practically.  It had built in mics, but they picked up alot of the mechanical noise of the recorder.  It had jacks for left and right microphones, so I purchased a stereo condenser microphone from Radio Shack.  The BEST portable mic I have had.  My original was stolen a few years ago so I bought one just like new on Ebay.   It was housed in 1 body and you could pivot the mics to a maximum of 180 degrees. 

When I knew that portable digital recording was possible, I decided to go with MiniDisc, as it was what I could afford at the time.  (Looking back, I should have invested in a portable DAT recorder but knew that it was very pricey).  The MiniDisc aspect seemed very good, but I had a hard time with finding a good unit.  I had 2 Sony units that both were very glitchy and had a lot of mechanical problems.  I got a Sharp unit and it was a fantastic little rig.  I bought another Sony to go along with the Sharp and it was the best Sony I had, with absolutely no mechanical hang ups.  I even went so far to get a playback only MD unit to save wear and tear on the recorders.  Unfortunately both the Sharp and Sony units were stolen.  I had to buy a used Sony and I still have that unit and it works well, but have not recorded on it in so long. 

After attending college (a recording arts program) I began to buy equipment to start recording professionally.  I ended up getting a Yamaha MD4, a 4-track MiniDisc multitrack unit.  I hauled that thing to many a show, and recorded mono board feeds with it, stereo audience recordings and even 4-track multitrack stage recordings on that thing.  I still have it but the disc mechanism is futzed, but the mixer on it still works great.  This MD 4 track used a different type of MiniDisc called "MD Data" and were quite expensive, so I never had very many.  I still have the discs with stuff on them and would love to find someone with the same format (and a working unit) to help me convert the discs over to high rez digital.  (If you are one of those people, please contact me via Brad. Thanks!)

Right now I have a portable digital recorder by Zoom called the H2.  This unit records onto SD memory cards and can record from low bitrate MP3 to 96 K, 24 bit high rez digital in 4 channels.  There are many other brands of portable digital recorders out there but at the time, I liked the Zoom H2 for the features and the price.  Having a choice of recording in 2 track stereo or 4-track was a selling point.  The unit sounds great.  There are newer units that record at even higher bitrates but I'm happy with what I got.  I need to be.  I'd be broke-ass broke if I kept upgrading every year! 


MV - What is your favorite bootleg recording that you recorded yourself and why?

KH - Oh man, that’s a loaded one.  There's been so many shows, hundreds of recordings, so many memorable ones, it’s hard to pick a "favorite".  I have many favorites.  But there have been some that have stood out more throughout the years. (Taking a pause to think for a bit...)

OK - Big Sugar at Voodoo Nightclub.  The first time I saw them live and became a huge fan afterwards.  I know you played me their CD's and really liked them, but seeing them live solidified that for me.  This was recorded on the stereo mate recorder and sounded great.

Another one was "Little Orton Hoggett & The Ten-Cent Wings" Live at The Esquire Tavern 1996 (opening for Elevator To Hell).  I had no idea who they were.  At the show I saw Sloan's Chris Murphy milling around for a bit. Then he comes out dressed in western garb.  Then 3 members of Halifax band The Superfriendz came out as well.   And they began playing honky-tonk style COUNTRY music.   It was completely surreal, but so entertaining and damn, they could PLAY!!! That recording has been listened to many times over.

One of the more recent ones has to be Julie Doiron from the first SappyFest in Sackville.  This was an 8-track multitrack recording and was lucky to catch most of it on multi.  She was backed by Shotgun & Jaybird for this set and the version of "Some Blues" she played that night was so intense. 

MV - Have you ever sent your recordings to the artist and if so what kind of reaction did it get?

KH - Well, when it comes to the indie scene, the locals know that I will probably have a recording of their band kicking around.  They are usually pretty stoked when I give them a copy.  Especially if its of a band that does not exist anymore.  Sometimes I have the only known live recording of a band, and that's pretty cool.  Some artists have even used my recordings.  Joel Plaskett used a live recording of "From The Back Of The Film" on his website at one time as a download.  Same for Julie Doiron.  Moncton / Miramichi based singer Zwerg used a live recording of his that I made a few years ago.  And recently singer/songwriter Snailhouse used one of my multi-track recordings on an EP he issued last year.  I always try to get a good quality recording and like to share with the artist.  If they want to use it for something, great!

MV - Do you know any other local recorders?

KH - I think I was the only one from the Moncton area recording and documenting the indie scene.  I know Rick White (of Eric's Trip and Elevator) taped a lot of shows on his 4-track.  But I never ran into many other local tapers.  I did meet my friends Shant Pelley and Katrina Grentz at a Julie Doiron show back in the day and Shant was into taping shows as well.  As for local tapers that share on The Trader's Den and Dimeadozen (ie: Scotian Bill and Walkin' Dude) I don't know them but they do great sounding recordings.  Robb Tyner (not his real name for obvious reasons) was the taper of the Deep Puprle show from the Moncton Casino that I did the mixdown on.  He gave me the SD card with the show on it and I worked on it from there. 

Final Thoughts:  I feel the hobby of collecting, listening to and sharing live recordings & unreleased music is a natural step for anyone who's a serious music fan.  The recordings have gotten better as the equipment and techniques have gotten better.  If you already have all 10 of Zeppelin's LP's, the DVD's and 2 official live albums, and want more, no place else to go but to the tape traders and file sharers. I feel that having bootlegs can help you appreciate the true measure of a performer, without the aid of overdubs or studio tricks.  Boots can also help you appreciate the work an artist or group puts into recording an album.  And boots certainly have made some big labels stand up and notice.  Would we ever have gotten The Beatles' Anthology series if a good portion of that material hadn't already been circulating on boots?   Would Experience Hendrix would have ever formed their "Dagger Records" imprint to reissue live Jimi boots and release Jimi's last show (Isle of Fehmarn, Germany) if it wasn't already out there on inferior tapes of unknown generations?  Boots certainly serve their purpose and have their place in the whole scheme of things.   I'm thankful for the technology we have to share and "liberate" recordings from the profit seeking bootleggers.  I'm thankful for the tapers who take the time and energy to record performances, some of which have become classic and truly essential (Rolling Stones "Liv'R Than You'll EVER Be").  

The bootlegging and online live music trading community is a great thing to have.  I encourage everyone to start collecting and start enjoying.

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