Autograph Forgeries, Forensics, and Autograph Experts

Anyone with an email account knows about the online scams and rip-offs that proliferate on the internet. And as most colletors know, there is no shortage of fake autographs and memorabilia being offered online, on Ebay and elsewhere.

As earlier posts about my lawsuit against Peter McKenzie (re: Bob Dylan memorabilia he sold me) illustrate, issues of authentication can be very difficult, costly and time consuming to resolve.

Sellers often claim their items have been authenticated by autograph experts or forensic examiners, and assure you that their item comes with a certificate of authenticity. However, online anyone can call him or herself an expert—and if someone is dishonest enough to sell you a forged item, they’ll have no reservations about giving you a worthless certificate of authenticity too.

So for those buying collectibles, I offer some very basic information that should be helpful.

First rule—if it seems too good to be true, it virtually always is. If a dealer or retail store has what seems like an endless supply of signed Beatles albums, Jimi Hendrix signed guitars, Bob Dylan inscribed items and other “holy grail” collectibles, be VERY suspicious.

These things just aren’t around—and when you do see them, they
command high prices commensurate with their rarity. There are no bargains with the truly great stuff—it sells itself. I’ve been collecting records and memorabilia since 1971, worked in the record industry for 20 years, and have bought numerous collections from record executives– and I can tell you first hand, the truly rare, unique stuff just doesn’t show up.

If the signed American Beatles albums some dealers are offering for $15,000. were genuine, people like myself would be beating down the doors to buy them. An authentic signed U.S. Beatles album is worth at least $75,000; at present only 11 are known to exist. By the time the Beatles came to American, security was so tight nobody got near them. (There are a greater number of UK signed albums, but they’re still very rare and very expensive.)

Next, let’s talk about autographs and autograph authenticators. Common sense dictates that no one can be an expert at everything. I’m pretty good with a few artists, but I know what I don’t know.
When I need an expert, I gravitate towards people who are experts in authenticating specific artists.

Frank Caiazzo has been studying the autographs and handwriting of The Beatles exclusively for 22 years, and is universally regarded as the world foremost authority on the subject. He can tell you if a set of Beatles signatures is authentic, the year it was signed, and that John, Paul and George signed their names, but Ringo’s signature was signed by Beatles road manager Neil Aspinall.

There are other qualified Beatles experts too–Perry Cox and the folks at Tracks in England certainly know their autographs and rare Beatles records too. Roger Epperson is an expert at many musical artists. These people have spent many years learning their craft, and while their expertise doesn’t come cheaply, it’s worth it.

On the other hand, there is presently an “organization” selling their services on Ebay who, for a fee of $6.00, will authenticate any signature being offered on Ebay. I don’t know anything about them—but it seems pretty absurd to me that anyone could actually do this. And for $6.00 ?

Then there is the field of forensic document examination. Again, there are many people out there claiming to be forensic examiners—some whom are writing hundreds of certificates of authenticity every year for people selling fake items. A “Forensic COA” is always a warning sign for me.

An actual court-certified forensic document examiner charges a hefty hourly fee to compare “questioned” handwriting to “known” examples of that person’s handwriting, to determine whether the questioned writing is authentic. They often use highly sophisticated scientific equipment in their analysis. This is an expensive proposition—I spent $15,000. on forensics in the Peter McKenzie/Bob Dylan case (I wish I knew about the $6.00 Ebay guys back then !)

Among other things, a real certified forensic document examiner serves a 2 year apprenticeship, often works for the government before going out on their own, and in my experience has no interest in authenticating autographs for a living (in fact I couldn’t get the examiner I eventually hired on the phone until I explained this was for a lawsuit, and not just to authenticate Dylan autographs.)

A forensics expert isn’t an autograph expert, they are experts at comparing handwriting. And that’s a very important point. Their opinion is only as good as the authentic examples they are given. In the McKenzie case, the examiner, Jim Blanco had over 100 pages of absolutely authentic Dylan writing and signatures, from a variety of absolutely unimpeachable sources.

If someone tells you something was authenticated by a forensic examiner, ask them how many known authentic examples they compared the examined item to, where the exemplars came from, and how they can be sure the exemplars were authentic. Perhaps—let’s give them the benefit of a doubt—some of these folks who call themselves forensic examiners are just doing quickie examinations, comparing the forgeries to other forgeries they’ve been supplied with. As they say, garbage in, garbage out.

When looking at a signature or handwriting, an expert concentrates on three basic areas in determining its authenticity—the writing’s line quality, letter forms, and letter proportions.

Line quality considers the motion, speed and flow of the writing, which also is reflected in the pen pressure. Is the writing assured and fast, or shaky and slow ? Is the pen pressure consistent ?

Letter forms considers the way in which a letter was made and it’s resulting visual appearance–the path the pen took to create a letter, and the habitual nature of everyone’s handwriting.

Letter proportions considers the letters relationships to one another—are they close together or spaced farther apart? A person will habitually place certain letters closer to each other, with others having more space between them. Height relationships of letters, connecting strokes, punctuation, the crossing of “t’s” and dotting of “i’s” are also habitual.

Even the best forgers won’t be able to exactly reproduce the line quality, letter forms, and letter proportions of the original writer. They may be able to exactly reproduce the letter forms and spacing, but not the speed and pen pressure. Or perhaps someone can approximate a signature’s flow and speed, but their letter forms and relationship of the letters won’t be exact.

Pretty complicated, eh ? So where does that leave the ordinary collector. First and foremost, don’t be discouraged. There are many authentic and extraordinary items out there. I have many things in my own collection that continue to amaze and intrigue me decades after I acquired them. And it doesn’t hurt that they’ve been great investments too. There is great stuff out there. But finding it requires some work and due diligence on the collector’s part. Here’s are some rules of thumb that should be useful for any collector.

First, know who you’re buying from. Is the dealer someone with a reputation and a track record ? Are they experts in the field ? Are they well known and respected ?

Second, always get a written lifetime guarantee of authenticity. Any honest dealer should be willing to provide this to you, with no hesitation. And of course, make sure they’ll be there to back it up, should there ever be a problem.

And third, do your homework. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. An honest dealer will have no problem answering any questions, and to the best of their ability, to explain the history of the item. It’s a cliché, but it’s true—information is power.

I hope this has been helpful—please feel free to leave any comments or questions below. And thanks to Jim Blanco, certified forensics examiner, who’s essay “Handwriting Identification: Formula for Authenticity” I borrowed from liberally.

Jeff Gold
January 7, 2009

OOPS–"Dylan Signs With MGM Records"

(double click to enlarge)

As readers of this blog know, I’ve got a ton of respect for the late Ralph J. Gleason, the legendary music critic from the San Francisco Chronicle and co-founder of Rolling Stone magazine. Gleason was an early supporter and friend of Bob Dylan’s. But here’s Gleason’s column from the December 30, 1966 Chronicle where he really gets it wrong, announcing that Dylan has signed with MGM Records.

It has been known that Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman, had negotiated with MGM for Dylan’s services–but I never knew it had been “announced” that Dylan had jumped ship. I’d guess this was information Gleason got from Grossman. Knowing Grossman’s reputation as a tough and canny negotiator, it’s entirely likely he gave Gleason this “exclusive” as a negotiating ploy to alarm Columbia Records into upping their offer for Dylan. Remember, Dylan was an extremely popular (and highly prestigious) artist Columbia could ill-afford to lose, having released his highly lauded “Blonde on Blonde” earlier in the year (Gleason has so much detail in terms of the deal, Dylan’s royalties, etc. that I think it unlikely this could come from anyone but Grossman.)

It’s interesting to note Gleason’s take on Dylan’s dissatisfaction with Columbia for the Freewheelin’/Talking John Birch Society contremps, the shipment of the “Positively 4th Street” single that mistakenly played “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window,” and the aborted “Bob Dylan In Concert” album–he certainly would have been in a position to know (for more on these, see the July 2007 entry below and www.searchingforagem.com, the ultimate Dylan discography site.)

It’s also interesting to see the that “the broken vertebrae” in Dylan’s neck (from the motorcycle crash) are “still tender enough to prevent him from hanging a guitar around his neck and performing” but that there are tentative plans for an April tour. Sure. You bet.

I’d like to thank my friend Gene Sculatti, a Dylan and Gleason scholar, for this article, which I’d never seen before. Gene had the good sense to clip this out of the Chronicle back in the day.

Best wishes to everyone for a happy, healthy new year, and in the next post we’ll talk in more depth about forensic document examination and the Peter McKenzie lawsuit.

Dylan Memorabilia/Peter McKenzie Lawsuit Settled


As readers of this blog and followers of the Bob Dylan collecting scene may know, in November 2007 I filed a lawsuit in the New York Supreme Court against Peter McKenzie, accusing him of fraud, breach of contract and unjust enrichment. The suit came about because of questions about the authenticity of some signed and inscribed Bob Dylan items McKenzie had sold me (this is all a matter of public record; see the posting directly below for the complete story.)

It is my great pleasure to report that after 15 months of forensic examinations, court proceedings and legal haggling, the lawsuit has been settled. Unfortunately I’m legally bound to not disclose the specific terms of the settlement, much as I’d like to. But I can say that I’m extremely pleased with the outcome of the suit. As a longtime collector and a dealer, I felt it very important to pursue this despite the high cost of doing so, in terms of dollars, aggravation and time spent.

I’d like to sincerely thank the many people who helped bring this to a satisfying resolution, particularly Dylan manuscript expert George Hecksher, collector Barry Ollman, Jasen Emmons, curatorial director of the Experience Music Project (and curator of the museum exhibition “Bob Dylan’s American Journey”,) Jeff Rosen from the Dylan office, my attorney Mike Gibson, and certified forensics examiner Jim Blanco.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating–if you’re buying high-end collectibles, do your research, know who you’re buying from, and most importantly, insist on a guarantee of authenticity with no time limit. And remember, if it seems too good to be true, it almost always is.

As of the time of this writing, Reed Orenstein’s lawsuit against Peter McKenzie (see below) is still active.

Check back as we’ll be writing more about issues of authenticity, what a real forensic document examiner does, why most certificates of authenticity are worthless (even so-called forensic ones–more on that later,) and how to protect yourself when buying autographs and memorabilia.

In the future, I’ll be writing much more regularly too.

Jeff Gold
November 19, 2008

And remember, we’re always interested in buying your music collectibles too !

DYLAN MEMORABILIA LAWSUIT


Those who know me know I’m obsessed with documenting the authenticity of the items I collect and sell. Every week I spend countless hours on the phone, internet, and speaking to people in person to make sure EVERYTHING I offer for sale is absolutely genuine. And then I guarantee everything to be authentic with no time limit—a lifetime guarantee.

Unfortunately this is not the case with every dealer, and there is a lot of inauthentic material out there being passed off as genuine. As music collectibles continue to escalate in value, there is more motivation for unscrupulous people to be dishonest—and so it’s more important than ever to do your research, know who you are buying from, and get that all important lifetime guarantee.

I’ve been eager for some time to write about some inauthentic Bob Dylan material I purchased—but as there is a lawsuit pending, my lawyer advised me not to. Yesterday the New York Post wrote about the suit, and I now feel the need to respond without delay.

Last year, a highly regarded forensics expert advised me that some signed Dylan items I purchased from Peter McKenzie’s collection were not authentic. McKenzie was a teenager in 1961 when a then-unknown Bob Dylan slept on his parent’s couch for a few months. McKenzie had a number of early Dylan handwritten song lyrics from that era, and in 1991 began selling these as well as albums Dylan had signed and inscribed for him. He also contacted other friends of Dylan’s from the early 60’s, and brokered and sold some similar material for them.

In December, 2006 McKenzie contacted me for the first time after seeing an online listing for an item that had originally come from him. In January 2007, he contacted me again and offered to sell me two signed Dylan items, which I purchased for $9,000.

In mid 2007 a highly regarded New York rare book dealer who had previously sold me Dylan material offered me a number of Dylan items that had come from “Peter McKenzie’s collection.” I purchased 4 of these for approximately $40,000., and then contacted McKenzie, who confirmed that they had come from him.

Over the next few months, McKenzie offered to sell me many other Dylan items, and I purchased a number of these in a few separate transactions for a total of $44,000.
Every time I purchased something, McKenzie came up with something new to offer me, and I became concerned at the sheer volume of material that he was offering me. In this business, a seemingly unending supply of rare material is always a red flag. I knew his family had a relationship with Dylan in the early 60’s and he had sold some important artifacts, but at some point, logic would dictate, the supply would likely dry up.

One day McKenzie mentioned he’d bought something on Ebay and the amount he’d paid, and so I went online, found the listing, and saw his Ebay user ID. I was spending a lot of money with him, had become concerned, and thought it prudent to keep an eye on his Ebay purchases (which is publicly available information.)

A month or so later I saw that McKenzie had purchased three vintage Dylan albums in a short time on Ebay. I asked myself “If Peter McKenzie had known Dylan and had all this memorabilia, why would he be buying a copy of “Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits” and two copies of “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan ?”

An alarm bell rang a few weeks later when McKenzie offered me a “signed and inscribed” copy of “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” which he told me he’d gotten 20 years ago from a mutual friend of his and Dylan’s. When he sent me a photo of it, it appeared identical to one of the copies he’d bought on Ebay a few weeks earlier, with an inscription and signature added. Both album covers had multiple scratches, imperfections, and flaws in exactly the same places—it seemed obvious that they were one and the same.

I had Peter send me the “signed” “Freewheelin’” on approval, and hired a highly regarded certified forensic document examiner (formerly with the US Treasury Department) to conduct a formal comparison of the Ebay “Freewheelin’” to the one Peter was offering me.
I also had him examine a group of other material I’d purchased from McKenzie, the rare book dealer, and other items from my personal collection. A forensic document examiner compares questioned items to “known examples” to determine whether or not a questioned item is genuine. Another top collector and I were able to provide over 100 pages of known authentic Dylan handwriting samples, including documents, published lyrics, and one of Dylan’s songwriting notebooks.

The forensics examiner concluded that the “Ebay Freewheelin’” was in fact the same album that McKenzie was offering me, with an inscription added after the fact. He determined that some of the items I had purchased from McKenzie and the book dealer were genuine, while others were found to be “not genuine.”

In short order, I hired a lawyer in New York (McKenzie resides there) who called and confronted McKenzie with the bad news. McKenzie denied that anything was not authentic, but asked to speak with me. He insisted he would give me a full refund and implored me to keep this “between us” (something I never agreed to do.) The book dealer, when contacted, expressed concern and made full restitution to me for the “not genuine” items they’d sold me from “Peter McKenzie’s collection.”

In a second lawsuit filed against McKenzie accusing him of selling non-authentic Bob Dylan items, plantiff Reed Orenstein (a longtime friend of McKenzie) states that McKenzie admitted to him that he had forged Dylan’s signature on the “Ebay Freewheelin’.”

For a number of months McKenzie continued to insist that he would make full restitution — but he never came up with the money. Eventually I decided the only way I would recover what I’d spent was to file a lawsuit. When I notified a number of dealers and Dylan experts about this, at my lawyer’s insistence I was careful to only relate the facts of the case, letting people come to their own conclusions.

When the New York Post called my lawyer last week, I initially refused comment, as it was my desire to litigate this case in the appropriate forum—the courts. As McKenzie has chosen to take this matter to the media, I now feel obligated to respond, if only to clear the record.

This case is ONLY about recovering the money I spent with Peter McKenzie. McKenzie claims that I’m suing him because I couldn’t sell the material–but other than one item I purchased on behalf of James Musser at Skyline Books, and a harmonica in a signed case later sold to Musser, I never tried to sell any of these items (in fact I planned on keeping most for my personal collection.) Both of the items James Musser purchased have been forensically examined and found to be authentic. In fact, I have spent approximately $14,000 on forensics in this case to date.

The article claims McKenzie has been selling me memorabilia since 1991—however I never spoke to him or communicated with him in any way before December 2006, and never purchased anything from him until January 2007.

I care very much about my reputation and good name. I’ve worked hard to build my business, and care passionately about my clients and fellow collectors. I’ve been a collector of rare records and music memorabilia for 37 years, and a record business executive for many of those. I still on occasion consult for record companies, as well as the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, and the Experience Music Project in Seattle. I was a curatorial consultant to the recent museum exhibition “Bob Dylan’s American Journey.”

In other words, I don’t take any of this lightly. I’m very upset that I bought material that an expert found wasn’t authentic. But I’m very happy that I didn’t sell any of it—that would have troubled me terribly.

So there it is—the story in a nutshell. I hope people find this instructive, and once again, it’s a reminder that you can never be too careful. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions, do your own research, know who you are buying from, and always insist on a guarantee of authenticity, with no time limit !

Jeffrey Gold
June 24, 2008

An Extraordinary Queen Collectible

Forgive the terrible pun, but here is a truly “Killer Queen” collectible–a handwritten letter sent by the Queen frontman Freddie Mercury to Elektra Records founder Jac Holzman, the legendary music executive who signed Queen. As you may know, Queen is one of the most collectible groups in the world. And any artifact related to Freddie Mercury is highly sought after.

Mercury sent this letter to Holzman in 1973, as the band was finishing “Queen ll,” thanking him for his “genuine interest (in Queen) from the very start.” Holzman was very aggressive in pursuing and signing Queen, which he wrote about with great eloquence in his excellent book “Following The Music” (if you’re a fan of Elektra, or it’s artists, I can’t recommend this book more highly. Holzman signed many extremely important artists, including The Doors, Tim Buckley, the Butterfield Blues Band, The Stooges, the Incredible String Band, Judy Collins, and many more.)

The full text of the letter reads: “Dear Jac, Just thought I’d drop you a line to say we’re all absolutely bowled over at the reaction with which Queen are happening in the States. I’d like to thank you, personally, for your genuine interest from the very start. Both Brian and John have recently excelled themselves in their performance and presentation, and you’ll be pleased to know that they don’t make it look so easy anymore. I hope you like “Queen ll.” We’ve worked like demons on it, with a lot of sweat and blood gone into it, but it’s been worthwhile. Brian, John and Roger send you their fondest. Looking forward to seeing you again soon, Love, Freddie Mercury.”

As you might imagine, artists don’t often send record executives this kind of personal letter of thanks. Jac was touched, and kept the letter it in his files. Recently Jac decided he’d like to sell this letter, and use the proceeds to fund a music scholorship in Freddie’s name. He’s asked Recordmecca to sell it on his behalf, and we will be conducting an auction for it on Ebay beginning June 16 (check here on that date for a link.) The minimum bid will be $9,999.

When collecting autographs and letters, the important things to consider are the provenance (where did the item originate, how has it come to market), content (in the case of a letter, does the text relate to why the writer is famous, or shed light on their career or work), timing (when in the writer’s career does it date from), format (typed letters are less desirable than handwritten ones; personalized stationery adds value) and of course who the seller is and what kind of guarantee of authenticity they offer.

In every way, this letter is a home run. It comes from the original recipient, a famed record executive who signed Queen, and who has written a two-page letter of authenticity to accompany it. The content and date couldn’t be better; Mercury writes just as Queen has broken big in America, to the man who made it possible, expressing his sincerest thanks. The format is equally impressive—this is completely handwritten on die-cut Queen stationery. And of course, we guarantee everything we sell to be authentic with no time limit.

This is as unique and historic a Queen collectible as we’ve ever seen. If you would like more information or to be notified when our auction takes place, please email us.

DYLAN AND THE PULITZER PRIZE !

A great day indeed–the lead in the Associated Press story said it all:

NEW YORK – Thanks to Bob Dylan, rock ‘n’ roll has finally broken through the Pulitzer wall. Dylan, the most acclaimed and influential songwriter of the past half century, who more than anyone brought rock from the streets to the lecture hall, received an honorary Pulitzer Prize on Monday, cited for his “profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.

It was the first time Pulitzer judges, who have long favored classical music, and, more recently, jazz, awarded an art form once dismissed as barbaric, even subversive.

“I am in disbelief,” Dylan fan and fellow Pulitzer winner Junot Diaz said of Dylan’s award.

Me too. The Pulitzer committee has finally done the right thing. At the top of this post is a mid-60′s bumper sticker (by San Diego Poster Print) from my collection that pretty much says it all, don’t you think ?

And on the subject, if you’re anywhere near the Los Angeles area between now and June 8, make it your business to see the final stop of “Bob Dylan’s American Journey, 1956-1966″ at the Skirball Cultural Center. While I’m far from an objective observer (having been a curatorial consultant and lender to the exhibit) this first ever authorized museum show devoted to Dylan is nothing short of astounding. It includes more than 150 awe-inspiring Dylan artifacts (his first acoustic guitar, and original typed/handwritten lyric sheets for “Blowin’ In The Wind” and “Gates of Eden”,) rare audio (the only known tape of his debut concert at the Carnegie Charter Hall,) rare video (outtakes from “Eat The Document” and much rare live and interview footage,) and other incredible things you’ll never see anywhere else (Woody Guthrie’s t-shirt that he wore at Brooklyn State Hospital, and his original lyrics to “Grand Coolie Dam.”) I’ve seen the exhibit numerous times, in Seattle, New York, and now here, and this installation is by far the best. I doubt you’ll ever have the opportunity again to see this amazing collection of Dylan artifacts, film, and tape–so do check it out (free admission on Thursdays too.)

That’s it for now. Congratulations Bob !

Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, Moby Grape, Country Joe and The Doors–At the beginning

I love reading contemporary accounts of the birth of rock–I find it fascinating to see what people (and “critics”) thought about the bands and the music as it was happening. In that light, these pages from the August, 1967 issue of Mojo Navigator Rock & Roll News are particularly interesting.

Mojo Navigator was arguably the first rock fanzine; begun in 1965 by David Harris and Greg Shaw, it chronicled the San Francisco/Bay Area rock scene, and later, the rock music scene at large. Issues are extremely rare, as it was available only by subscription and at a few retail outlets. And of course, few people kept these kind of things for long. I’ve reproduced here the cover of this issue (Vol 2, No. 2) and some particularly interesting pages. First, a 3 page joint review of the debut albums from The Grateful Dead, Moby Grape, and Country Joe & The Fish. With benefit of hindsight, all three are today regarded as psychedelic rock classics (and in my opinion, masterpieces.) If you don’t own these, and are interested in the San Francisco scene, get them (and the debut albums by Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane, and Steve Miller Band) and you’ll have a pretty great picture of how important and vital the music coming out of this area was. In all 3 cases I think David Harris of the Navigator gets it right.

Next is Harris’ review of the UK issue of Jimi Hendrix’s debut album “Are You Experienced” (not yet released in the US, though he’d just played the Monterey Pop Festival and Fillmore.) Most fans of rock guitar and psychedelic music would agree this album is probably the most auspicious debut of all time. And Harris, most definitely, gets it right again, when he begins his review “Jimi Hendrix, Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell are without a doubt the most important musical, and in some ways, dramatic, happening in the world today.” Yes, he was going out on a limb, considering Hendrix at this time had only had 1 single (“Hey Joe”) released stateside at the time of his writing. But he was absolutely correct. This article/review is filled with interesting and little known trivia, such as Hendrix, “when asked to perform certain songs from the album, admitted he had forgotten them, and them, and stated that he had made them up at the session and had never played them since !” I’ve been a Hendrix fanatic and collector for 37 years, and have NEVER heard that story. Just shows why it’s so fascinating to read accounts written while history was being made. This issue also features a very early interview with the Doors, but we’ll leave that for another time & place.

Anyway, hope you enjoy this. If you do, or don’t, or have any input as to the kinds of things you would like to see here, please write me at: Recordmecca@earthlink.net or post a comment below.

Bob Dylan and the Great White Wonder

I love little ephemeral pieces of paper that look like nothing important, but that chronicle a historic moment–in this case, one where there was no turning back. Here’s an article torn from the October 26, 1969 issue of the New York Times, about a “bootleg Bob Dylan record with an unmarked white cover and blank labels selling briskly around the country and Canada.” This of course was “Great White Wonder,” the first-ever rock music bootleg (yes, there had previously been some private pressing jazz and classical bootlegs, but never anything mass produced and sold on this kind of level.)

This was the warning shot across the bow; the first of thousands of bootlegs to follow, and of course no artist has been bootlegged more than Bob Dylan. The double disc Great White Wonder, or GWW as it’s popularly abbreviated, mixed tracks from Dylan’s legendary “basement tapes” recorded at his house in Woodstock and The Band’s nearby house “Big Pink,” songs recorded in December 1961 in Minneapolis (the “Minnesota Hotel tape”,) a track from the Johnny Cash TV show, some studio outtakes from ’63-65, and an interview with Dylan and Pete Seeger. You can read more about the exact contents on the excellent “Bob’s Boots” site.

As far as I know, the first article about Great White Wonder appeared in the September 20, 1969 issue of Rolling Stone magazine. The New York Times article may have been the first article in the “mainstream press,” and certainly doesn’t anticipate what was to come–but who could have. Bootlegs are today a part of record collecting life, and the advent of the internet has made them both easier than ever to find, and virtually impossible to stop.

“Outtakes” were once considered by artists and record labels to be material unworthy of release–the unwanted byproducts of making a record. They are now compiled and released with great regularity, poured over by obsessive collectors and archivists looking for clues into an artist’s process and intentions. And in my opinion, that’s a very good thing. Dub and Ken, the makers of Great White Wonder (see the wikipedia article on GWW) doubtless had no idea what they were starting when they made their crude double album with the plain white cover. But they were clearly on to something big.

Dylan, The Beatles and Al Aronowitz

Al who ? Al Aronowitz, that’s who. Aronowitz was a critic for many New York and national newspapers and magazines, and at the center of so many scenes in the 60′s. He was the first manager of the Velvet Underground. He famously introduced The Beatles to Bob Dylan (and brought the joint to their meeting that resulted in the Beatles getting high for the first time.) As his 2005 obituary in the Washington Post said, “in the ’60s and ’70s Al Aronowitz knew everyone worth knowing. The Rolling Stones, Ray Charles, David Bowie, Johnny Cash, Pete Townshend — he either wrote about them, befriended them or both.” And he was especially close to (and an early supporter of) Bob Dylan.

Here’s a letter Aronowitz wrote to San Francisco Chronicle music critic (and Rolling Stone c0-founder) Ralph J. Gleason in August of 1967. Aronowitz tells Gleason, also a friend and supporter of Dylan “just was up to visit dylan, listened to some practice tapes he and his group laid down, all great new songs, but dylan’ll probably throw em away rather than record em. i’d like to buy his wastebasket.” He’s referring to “the Basement Tapes” here–and his evaluation was right-on. I’d like to have bought his waste basket too ! Aronowitz then talks about Dylan manager Albert Grossman, fills in Gleason on gossip about the diggers (SF activist group) activities in New York, mentions Allen Ginsberg hanging with Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney in London, asks Gleason if he saw George H (Harrison) when he visited SF (San Francisco and the Haight Ashbury during the summer of love.) And that’s just the first paragraph !

Aronowitz was certainly in the middle of it all during the 60′s. I love this kind of revealing correspondence. Read more about Al Aronowitz here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/08/02/AR2005080201920.html

Virtual Museum: The late, great Brian Jones

Happy new year everyone ! Sorry I’ve been slow on the posts, but here are some photos that will hopefully make up for it. These are one-of-a-kind Polaroids of the Rolling Stones and their founder, Brian Jones, that came from the collection of Linda Keith. Linda Keith was a girlfriend of both Jones and Keith Richards, and had another, very important role in the history of rock.

While the Stones were touring America in 1966, Linda Keith (a blues fan) wandered into a Greenwich Village club and saw “Jimi James and the Blue Flames.” James was, of course, Jimi Hendrix and Keith was extremely impressed by his guitar playing. She befrended Hendrix, and set about to help him get a record deal. She took Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham and Sire Records founder Seymour Stein to see Hendrix, but neither “got” him. She didn’t give up, however, and next took Animals bass player Chas Chandler to see the guitarist. Chandler was blown away, and quickly signed Hendrix to a management contract and took him to England–and the rest is history.

These first of these photographs was taken at the famous session for the Stones psychedelic masterpiece “Their Satanic Majesties Request”–it’s the only outtake from that session I’ve ever seen. Michael Cooper took the photograph for the album cover, and this was a test polaroid he took during the session. The other two photos were taken during a trip Keith took with Jones to Sri Lanka in the late 60′s. All three are unpublished and to my eye, pretty fantastic.

Brian Jones was the visionary who put the Rolling Stones together, but because he wasn’t a singer or songwriter his critical contribution to the band is often overlooked. If you don’t know about him, check out his Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Jones

And while “Satanic Majesties Request” is often written off as the Stones failed attempt to answer “Sgt. Peppers,” I think it’s one of their best albums (and certainly their most adventurous.) I know I’m out of the mainstream here, but “Sgt. Peppers” was never my favorite Beatles album–important yes, but never one I listened to very much. “Satanic” for whatever reason has compelled me since it’s 1967 release–it’s certainly darker and more psychedelic than the Beatles album–maybe that’s got something to do with it. I’m listening to it as I write, and it still sounds adventurous and classic 41 years later. If you don’t know it, check it out on iTunes, where you can listen to the first 30 seconds of each song free.

Give it a shot–if you’re a fan of psychedelic rock, I don’t think it gets better than this.

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things


As the year comes to an end, I thought I’d write about a couple of my favorite musical moments from the past 12 months. First, “Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon,” the new album from Devendra Banhart. For my money, Devendra is quite simply the most interesting young artist making music today. His previous album, “Cripple Crow” is a psychedelic/folk/rock/Tropicalismo masterpiece. “Smokey” continues in the same vein, but is even more eclectic (if that’s possible.) “Seahorse,” my all-time favorite Devendra song, is an 8 minute, 3 movement nearly impossible to describe melange of folk, jazz, psychedelia and freak out rock reminiscent of both Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo” and Quicksilver Messenger Service at their John Cippolina “Happy Trails” best. This is eclectic stuff, and not for everyone–but if you have adventurous taste and this sounds interesting, RUN, DON’T WALK to get this album and “Cripple Crow.” If you’re not sure, go to iTunes and check out the snippets from these albums. Great great stuff. And if you are a fan of live music, definitely catch Devendra and his wonderful band at one of their shows. They are absolutely fantastic (check Youtube for the proof !)

On another front, I just finished watching the DVD “Amazing Journey: The Story of The Who” and loved it. This documentary was co-directed by Murray Lerner, the celebrated documentarian who’s films of Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festivals were just released. One of the producers, Nigel Sinclair, produced “No Direction Home,” the Bob Dylan documentary directed by Martin Scorsese (if you haven’t seen this, stop reading here, go to Amazon, and buy it immediately.) “Amazing Journey” is beautifully researched, shot and edited, and has loads of never before seen footage including the High Numbers live (!) at the Railway Hotel, London in 1965. I’ve seen a lot of Who footage and know a great deal about their history, but learned quite a bit from this exceptionally well done doc. Needless to say, if you’re into the Who, you need this. It comes packaged as a 3 CD box set with a live Who concert from Chicago 1979 and a second film titled “Amazing Journey: Six Quick Ones” (made up of 6 short films.) I haven’t watched these yet, but I would absolutely buy the three just on the strength of the main film.

That’s it for now. I hope everyone out there has a great holiday, thanks for reading the blog, and all my best for the new year and beyond ! Jeff.

Virtual Museum: Sex Pistols original GOD SAVE THE QUEEN lyrics

Sorry I haven’t posted anything in some time–it’s been crazy around here–so to make up for it, I tried to pick something really interesting for this installment of the virtual museum. These are Johnny Rotten’s (John Lydon) original handwritten lyrics for the Sex Pistols classic “God Save The Queen.” These had been on exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in a display commemorating the band’s (unwanted) induction, and have finally made their way back to Recordmecca headquarters.

As you can see, these have the song’s original title “No Future” at the top, and a reference to “window leen” in the first verse that didn’t make it to the final song (window leen is the UK equivalent of Windex.) These lyrics are reproduced in Jon Savage’s comprehensive history of UK punk “England’s Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock and Beyond.” If you don’t know this song, or the story of the Pistols, stop reading this and immediately buy their album “Never Mind The Bollocks: Here’s The Sex Pistols” and this book. I can’t recommend these strongly enough.

Here’s a short history of this fantastic song, and the chaos surrounding it’s release, courtesy Wikipedia:

The single was released on 27 May 1977, and was regarded by much of the general public to be an assault on Queen Elizabeth II and the monarchy. The title is taken directly from “God Save the Queen“, the British national anthem. At the time it was highly controversial, firstly for its equation of the Queen with a “fascist regime”, and secondly for the apparent claim that England had “no future”.

Although many believe it was created because of the Jubilee, the band denies it, Paul Cook saying that, “It wasn’t written specifically for the Queen’s Jubilee. We weren’t aware of it at the time. It wasn’t a contrived effort to go out and shock everyone.”[1] Johnny Rotten has explained the lyrics as follows: “You don’t write a song like ‘God Save The Queen’ because you hate the English race. You write a song like that because you love them, and you’re sick of seeing them mistreated.” His intentions were apparently to evoke sympathy for the British working class, and a general resentment for the monarchy.

On June 7, 1977 – the Jubilee holiday itself – the band attempted to play the song from a boat on the river Thames, outside The Palace of Westminster. After a scuffle involving attendee Jah Wobble and a cameraman, the band and some of its entourage were arrested.

The song peaked at number 2 on the official UK Singles Chart used by the BBC, though there have been persistent rumours – never confirmed or denied – that it was actually the biggest-selling single in the UK at the time, and was kept off number 1 (by Rod Stewart’s I Don’t Want To Talk About It) because it was felt that it might cause offence. It did hit number 1 on the unofficial NME singles chart. It was banned by the BBC and the Independent Broadcasting Authority which regulated Independent Local Radio, effectively denying it any media exposure. It was also not stocked by some shops. Since the official singles chart at the time was compiled using sales returns from a number of outlets amongst a wider participating roster, it is in theory possible that the single’s number 2 position was not the result of disregarding sales figures as such, but of the knowing selection for that week’s chart source data of a number of stores which were not selling the record.

The phrase “no future”, the song’s closing refrain, became emblematic of the punk rock movement, although its use in the song was ambiguous, the lyrics claiming that “there is no future in England’s dreaming”.

Before the group signed to Virgin, a small number of copies of “God Save the Queen” had been pressed on the A&M label. These are now among the most valuable records ever pressed in the UK, with a resale rate as of 2006 of between £500 to £13,000 a copy, depending on condition of the disc and how much a collector is willing to pay.

The song also features on the album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, and several compilation albums.

Rolling Stone ranked “God Save the Queen” number 173 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, one of the group’s two songs on the list along with “Anarchy in the U.K.“. Sounds magazine made it their Single of the Year in 1977[2]. In 1989 it was 18th in the list of NME writers all time top 150 singles[3]. Q Magazine in 2002 ranked it first on their list as “The 50 Most Exciting Tunes Ever…”[4] and 3rd in their list of “100 Songs That Changed The World” in 2003[5].In 2007 NME launched a campaign to get the song to number 1 in the British charts and encouraged readers to purchase or download the single on October 8th. However it only made #42.”

We’ve removed the post we previously had here–but the item can still be found at Recordmecca.


Virtual Museum: Bob Dylan’s Early Influences

Here’s a fascinating touchstone in the Bob Dylan story–Bonnie Beecher’s personal copy of the 10″ Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee album “Get On Board” on Folkways. This was one of the records Beecher played for her paramour, Bob Zimmerman in 1960. As documented in Clinton Heylin’s book “Behind The Shades Revisited,” Beecher was “Dylan’s original ‘Girl From The North Country’ and first muse.” She met the future Dylan in Minneapolis, at the 5 O’clock Scholar folk club, where he was discussing obscure folk records with local Harvey Abrams. Heylin reports, “like Dylan, Bonnie was ostensibly attending (the) university (of Minnesota.) Such was the mothering instinct that she, and many others had for the young tyke that she ended up being kicked out of her sorority house for associating with such dissolute company. Yet she continued to take him under her wing.” Beecher is quoted “no one would let him even play for dinner. I ended up shoplifting for him, stealing food from my sorority house.”

One of the many reasons Dylan was initially so drawn to Beecher was that she had a collection of obscure folk and blues records, unavailable in Minnesota, bought on her yearly school trips to New York to see Broadway shows. She would regularly sneak off from her school group to search for the Folkways albums so difficult to find outside of New York. She and Bob spent many hours together listening to her records, which influenced Dylan greatly. When I was lucky enough to meet her, she still had this album and a Leadbelly one that she specifically remembers listing to with Dylan. I was fortunate to obtain both of these from her.

This album has Beecher’s original home-made cover (perhaps as the record is a cut out, with a hole punched through the label, it didn’t come with a cover.) As you can see, Beecher wrote the artists names (on both sides) as well as her own name. The disc is very well played, and in G condition. Accompanying it is a handwritten letter of authenticity from Beecher, now known as Jahanara Romney, that states “This Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee album, “Get On Board” was owned by me while I was at the University of Minnesota and was one of the albums Bob Dylan and I listened to. Jahanara Romney, formerly Bonnie Beecher.”

A great Dylan historical artifact, offered for the first time anywhere, this week on Ebay (click here for a link to the auction.)

Velvet Underground Set List

I’ve always loved set lists–those ephemeral pieces of paper with a list of the songs to be played at a particular concert, usually written out by an artist or band member before the show. These days, they’re often typed out on a computer, printed out, and taped on the ground in front of each band member’s monitor by a roadie. But back in the day, they were usually scribbled out quickly by a band member on whatever scrap of paper was handy, and set down somewhere close to whoever was going to call out the songs.

Often left on the stage after the show, these were sometimes snatched up by wise fans–and just as often thrown in the trash by someone with no sense of history. Thank god, then, that the late Velvet Underground guitarist Sterling Morrison had a real sense of history. Sterling was one of those artists who seemingly saved everything–he had a great collection of Velvets records, acetates, posters, handbills–and he even saved the setlists.

Above is a Velvet Underground set list (handwritten by Sterling) for their January 15, 1970 date at The Quiet Night in Chicago. The band played a week’s worth of gigs at this club, and as we can see from this, played multiple sets each night. The songs date from the first 3 Velvets albums (their most recent was the self titled “The Velvet Underground”, released in March, 1969) as well as some songs that remained unreleased until much later. Their final album (OK, the final one with Lou Reed,) “Loaded” wouldn’t be released until September of 1970. I’d love to hear from anyone out there who might have other set lists they want to share–or perhaps sell. I’m always on the lookout for this type of unique item.

BOB DYLAN IN 1964: Over, “but at least he wrote five or six great songs while he lasted”

Here’s something that truly qualifies as American history–a letter from Sis Cunningham, founder of folk song magazine BROADSIDE, to Ralph J. Gleason, legendary music critic, dated November 5, 1964. In it, Cunningham responds to questions Gleason has asked about the origins of the topical song movement.

Cunningham also relates the most recent Dylan news, and gives her read on his songwriting–remember, she was the first to publish Dylan’s songs (in Broadside) and was among the earliest of his enthusiastic supporters. In this letter, written a mere 5 days after Dylan’s historic “Halloween Concert” at Philharmonic Hall in New York, Cunningham tells Gleason about a Dylan backlash brought on by his abandonment of the topical song, relating that some of Dylan’s followers consider his career at an end, consoling themselves that “he wrote five or six great songs while he lasted.”

Cunningham tells Gleason how ridiculous she thinks this is, shares her opinion of Dylan as an important poet, and relates how Johnny Cash wrote a letter supporting Dylan to BROADSIDE that said “SHUT UP, and let him sing !” This is the most articulate and right-on defense of Dylan I’ve ever read. She truly “got” Dylan, and it’s fascinating to read such a prescient appraisal of his talent, so early on. Note also her brief defense of the Beatles at the end of the letter.
42 years later, it’s an amazing thing to read–and I think we would all agree that he managed a few more than 5 or 6 great songs.