My Big Star Tribute

Big Star. What a great great band. If you don’t know them, stop reading this now, open another browser window, and buy the single CD of their first two albums, #1Record/Radio City, and their 3rd, posthumous album, Third/Sister Lovers. You won’t be sorry–I promise.  And read the Wikipedia page on them for the lowdown.

I’m writing this for those of you who know about Big Star, and their leader, the great Alex Chilton, who sadly died on March 17. I was moved by his passing, and thought I’d share some rare Big Star collectibles (pictured above) and some of my memories of this most unique band (sorry if this gets self-indulgent–but hey, it’s a blog.)

I found out about Big Star while working at L.A.’s Rhino Records, in the in the mid-1970’s. By the time I heard them, their first 2 albums were already out of print, but easily available as “cut-outs.” They were a revelation to me, a young (but fanatical) record collector, specializing in American and British 60’s rock. How could anybody interested in 60’s rock not LOVE these records. So great, so original, so obvious.

Rhino at that time had many rock-critic customers (and a few rock-critic employees) and so I heard all about the Memphis rock writer’s convention that Big Star played in 1973.  Also much talked about was the legendary unreleased 3rd Big Star album, which was completed–evidently they had even made test pressings–but their label, Ardent, couldn’t find anyone to release it (their distributor, Stax, was having severe financial problems and wasn’t interested.)  People knew about the 3rd Big Star album, but nobody in my circle had heard it–or even knew anyone who’d heard it.  For record collectors, it was was one of those great, holy grail albums you fantasized about.

And here I have to give a huge shout out to Frank Gutch.  Frank was a Rhino customer, friend, and employee at the local Licorice Pizza record store.  Frank was a huge Big Star fan.  Huge.  He really wanted to hear that third Big Star album.  Badly.  So he did something no fan in their right mind would have even thought to do in those days.  He called Ardent Studios in Memphis–owners of Ardent Records, and the studio where Big Star recorded.  He somehow got John Fry on the phone, the studio and label owner.  He asked if they had any extra test pressings of the 3rd Big Star album.  And amazingly–AMAZINGLY–John Fry sent him one.  Who would have had the nerve to do that.  Or would have even thought to do it ?  Only one man.  Frank Gutch.

Well, we all heard Frank’s test pressing.  It was incredible.  Incredible.  Maybe the best Big Star album of all.  How could this be unreleased.  It made no sense.  And I must admit, I coveted that test pressing.  Man, that was a rare, rare record.  And a great one too.  I asked Frank, half jokingly, half not, if he could call John Fry and ask if he had another one for me.  And you know what ?  Frank did.  And one day, with no warning, Frank strolled into the Rhino store and gave me my own Big Star 3rd album test pressing.  Unbelievable.  I said it then, I say it again.  Thanks Frank. Amazing.

A few years later, I was staying at the London home of my friend Colin Baker, and he played me a live tape of Big Star on a Long Island, NY radio station WLIR.  Incredible.  Big Star live !  They were great.  Who ever thought that there might be a live radio broadcast of Big Star.  Colin made me a copy–thanks, Col. 

Jump ahead to the late 1980’s.  I was working for A&M Records, and we had signed a band, Tora Tora, who were recording their album at Ardent Studios.  I visited Memphis to meet the band, and was lucky enough to meet John Fry (who I belatedly thanked for the test pressing) and Big Star drummer Jody Stephens, who managed Ardent and worked closely with the band.  I probably bored these guys to death talking about Big Star as much as Tora Tora, but hey, you only live once.  I mentioned the WLIR broadcast and Jody Stephens told me he had a perfect copy and would send me a cassette.  And he did !  These guys were as nice as it comes, and I felt truly honored to meet them.  Thanks Jody and John.

Flash forward to 2009.  In London, I met longtime UK music journalist Max Bell, who years ago had been friendly with the late, great Chris Bell of Big Star, when Chris was visiting London.  Max was a Big Star fan too, Chris, who had already left the band, brought Max a signed copy of “Radio City” when he next visited London.  Max had held on to it for many years, but I’m happy to say he sold me that signed copy (above) which is the only period-signed Big Star album I’m aware of.  Thanks Max.

My final story involves my late father-in-law, legendary “record man” Larry Uttal, who owned and ran the Amy/Mala/Bell labels in the 60’s (Bell later became Arista Records), and Private Stock Records in the 70’s.  Larry knew Alex Chilton from The Box Tops, who had recorded for Larry’s label, Mala.  Alex, of course, had been the lead singer of The Box Tops (who’s hits included the classics “The Letter” and “Soul Deep.”)  One day in the mid-80’s, I casually mentioned to Larry (then visiting from New York) that I was going to see Alex play live.   Larry told me he’d like to come along; it had been many years since he’d seen Alex.  I explained to him that Alex was doing some pretty different stuff–loud, dissonant, druggy music that couldn’t be more unlike the Box Tops hits.  And that the club he was playing, Al’s Bar, was a real dive–not his type of place.  Larry, always super enthusiastic, insisted it would be fine, that he’d love to see Alex again.  I knew it would be his kind of scene at all, but there was no convincing him otherwise–so I told him to drive on his own “just in case” and I’d meet him there.

We met outside the club, and entered the tiny, very crowded, stiflingly hot, cigarette smoke filled room. Of course Alex didn’t appear for some time, and when he did hit the stage, he seemed pretty much out of it.  He started playing some really discordant, unrecognizable music at an ear splitting volume.  It was pretty hard to take even for me–and I was used to shows like this.  Suffice to say, Larry lasted about two songs before turning to me and saying something like “OK, I get it” and heading out the door.

Happily, Alex seemed to pull it together in later years, re-uniting Big Star with Jody Stephens and some younger, talented fans from the band The Posies.  Big Star belatedly received their due, had their catalog reissued many times, were feted and praised by the a new generation of fans, and their songs covered by many better known bands such as REM, Wilco and Cheap Trick.  The Replacements recorded a song, “Alex Chilton” in tribute to him, which was released as a single from their 1987 album “Pleased To Meet Me.”  And probably most lucratively, their song “In The Street” was used as the theme song for “That 70’s Show.” 

His death is a sad loss to the world of music. But the cliche is true–better late than never–and Alex did receive the accolades while he was alive and could appreciate and benefit from them.  So go listen to some Big Star and celebrate all the music this unique band left us to enjoy.

THE Virtual Museum: Set Lists

First, an apology–I haven’t put up a new post in a long time, for a variety of reasons–two international trips, buying some large collections, blah blah blah. So here’s a long one with a lot of unique images, to make up for it. The topic today is SET LISTS. A set list, for those who don’t know, is the list of songs that an artist or group puts together to play at a particular concert. These days, an artist or band member will put together a set list, and someone from the road crew will usually type it up, print out copies, and tape them on the stage in front of where the singer and musicians will stand. In the past, they were usually hand written, and the originals can be quite collectible. Some artists play different sets of songs every night of a tour–Bob Dylan is legendary for this and there is even an online competition to guess which songs he’ll play on a given night (“The Never Ending Pool”) and a listing of which songs he’s played at almost every show in his 49 year career (“Bob Links” ). Most artists will draw from a group of songs they’ve rehearsed, and while they usually include crowd favorites, they’ll try to mix up their sets, for their own amusement as well as that of their audience. I love collecting handwritten set lists, as artifacts and an insight into the creative process. Here are some of my favorites. First here is a Bob Dylan set list (with a great guitar drawing) from a very early show in New York sometime in 1961. This predates his first album, and is almost certainly from an early club date somewhere in Greenwich Village.

Next is a much later Dylan setlist, from a rehearsal during the 1980’s. It looks to have been written over a period of time, with Dylan formulating which songs he’s thinking of playing. He’s abbreviated most of the titles, writing “Shelter” instead of “Shelter From The Storm,” which is common for him and many other artists. And serious Dylan fans should definitely check out Alan Fraser’s absolutely incredible online discography, Searching For A Gem.

And since we love Bob so much, here a very special Jerry Garcia handwritten set list of
mostly Dylan songs from the “Dylan and the Dead” tour of 1987. In his memoir Chronicles Dylan writes at length about this tour, and how the Dead pushed him to perform songs he’d written, but hadn’t played in many years. Dylan resisted, even walking out of the rehearsals this list dates from. Frustrated, he wandered into a nearby bar, and once inside, he saw a singer who’s technique inspired him and gave him insight into how he might indeed perform some of his songs that the Dead were so eager to play. He returned to the rehearsals, and surprisingly agreed to sing the songs the Dead had asked for. This set list is particularly historic, as Garcia has written his choices on the back of a xeroxed set list in Dylan’s hand, listing the many covers that he wanted to play, but eventually were dropped in favor of his own songs. Of course you can find out almost anything imaginable about the Dead online, and probably the best setlist resource is Deadbase.

Next up is a very rare Velvet Underground set list written byJohn Cale with annotations by Sterling Morrison from one of the band’s shows at Poor Richard’s in Chicago during June and July, 1966. These were notable shows, as they took place without Lou Reed (who was in a New York hospital with hepatitis) and Nico (who was in Ibiza.) Angus MacLise, the

band’s original drummer, joined for these shows, with Mo Tucker switching to bass, and vocals handled by Cale and Morrison. This list was written out on stationery from a restaurant blocks from the venue (discovered through the miracle of Google maps !) The Velvets too are extensively documented, and on Olivier Landemaine’s superb website, one can find the most extensive discography imaginable, as well as information on ever known date the band ever played–it’s at

How about some (relatively) recent artists, you ask ? Well here’s a very rare Nirvana setlist, handwritten by Dave Grohl (Nirvana’s guitar tech, Earnie Bailey, told me he wrote most of them.) This set list is almost certainly from the Red Hot Chili Peppers/Nirvana/Pearl Jam tour date at Del Mar Fairgrounds on December 28, 1991. There are many websites which document Nirvana’s tour dates and the songs they played at each show, including the Nirvana Tour Guide at Nirvanaguide .

And here’s a Smashing Pumpkins setlist, handwritten by Billy Corgan, for their show at the Melbourne (Australia) Royal Agricultural Showgrounds on January 23, 1994. This was written on hotel stationery–as they sometimes are–but just which hotel is a mystery, as its name is obscured by the duct tape you often find on setlists (used to attach them to stages, monitor speakers or drums.) I’m sure there are websites documenting the Smashing Pumpkins tours as well, but I found the information for this one on, a great wiki for researching tour dates and sets.

And finally to the year 2000, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Californication Tour. We’re not sure which date this setlist comes from, but it’s in the hand of lead singer Anthony Kiedis, who wrote this on the reverse of the list for another show.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this survey of setlists; we are always interested in buying handwritten setlists, and continue to offer them for sale at Recordmecca, including the Dylan 80’s set list, Smashing Pumpkins and the Chili Peppers.

My Bob Dylan Story, and everybody else’s

Every Dylan fan should check out Expecting Rain, Karl Erik Andersen’s excellent website which collects links to the Bob Dylan news of the day, as well as links that would be of interest to Dylan fans (see the links at the end of this post.) Today Karl posted a link to a site where people wrote their best Bob Dylan stories, and it made me think of my own encounter with Bob. I thought I’d add my story, but do it here….so here is….

My Bob Dylan story.

It must have been the end of 1977; I was eating lunch by myself at the Brentwood Country Mart, a complex of small shops and food stands in Los Angeles less than a mile from where I’d grown up. I’d eaten there hundreds of times, beginning when I was 2 or 3 years old. It was a weekday, and I was in the courtyard, eating my BBQ chicken and French fries, surrounded by mostly middle-aged women in groups of two or three, at small tables.

I was concentrating on my lunch when a scruffy man in a black leather jacket, with two or three little kids circling around him, walked through my field of vision. He was out of place—I remember his long curly hair, the beat up jacket, and his long nails with nicotine stains. Most everyone else in the place was well-dressed and upper middle class to upper class—so he really stood out. I glanced up and did one of the great double takes of my life—for it was Bob Dylan.

He walked into the toy store—my toy store—the one I’d grown up hanging around, where I bought my Matchbox Cars and Hardy Boys books. Unbelievable. Bob Dylan at the Mart. I looked around and it was clear that no one else has noticed nor recognized him. I thought quickly—did I have enough time to rush home to get an album for him to sign ? No, I’d probably miss him. I abandoned my lunch and hightailed it to my car, grabbing a felt-tip pen and a scrap of paper, and positioned myself outside the door of the store. I didn’t want to hassle him, but it was Bob Dylan– my hero–and I knew I had to at least try to get an autograph.

I looked inside, but couldn’t really see him. So I waited. It seemed about 15 minutes before he emerged, with his kids still running around, paying no attention to him. He was carrying a child’s twirling baton, with some gift wrap and ribbon wrapped around the middle, but not covering the rubber tips on the ends. It looked like he’d been shopping for a birthday party gift for one of his children’s friends. Nervous as hell, I made my move.

“Excuse me, Bob. I’m sorry to bother you, but could I get an autograph ?” He looked at me, weakly held up the baton, which was in his right hand, shrugged his shoulders and said “sorry, I can’t sign,” indicating that the baton in his hand prevented him from using it to sign my paper. Embarrassed, I once again apologized for bothering him, and said something to the effect that his music had had a huge affect on me over the years, and thanked him for it.

I fully expected that to be the end of my encounter, but surprisingly, he asked me when I’d first heard him. I told him it was when I was 10 years old, in 1966, at summer camp. He asked me what song I liked best, and I told him “Like a Rolling Stone.” I said I thought it was a groundbreaking song in many ways, and marked his great transition from acoustic to electric, and that I thought it was brilliantly produced. I probably told him that I had gone to high school with the son of Tom Wilson, who produced that epic track. And I mentioned that I’d heard he was going to go to Japan soon, for his first tour there.

He was very surprised that I knew that, and asked where I’d heard it. I told him I worked at a local record store, Rhino Records, and we had a subscription to Billboard Magazine, and I’d read it there. At some point it occurred to me that he probably had people approach him constantly, telling him how much his music meant to them. I felt like he was testing me, to see how much I actually knew about him and his music, and I was passing the test. We chatted for another minute or two, and then he said “well, I’ve gotta go. Nice to meet you.”

I figured I’d take one last shot and asked again for an autograph. He looked at me, shrugged again, held up the baton, indicating he still “couldn’t” sign, and said, “See ya.” I was in shock.

At the time, I was sad I hadn’t gotten a signature. Happily, 32 years later, I’ve got plenty of signed and handwritten Dylan things. But Bob gave me something far more valuable—some of his time and a memory I won’t ever forget.

For further reading, check out Expecting Rain, the very amusing book Encounters With Bob, and the website The Best Bob Stories You Know.

Robert Shelton–He Got It.

Above is the first article ever written about Bob Dylan; a rave review in the New York Times by music critic Robert Shelton, written a mere 7 months after Dylan arrived in New York (and only 3 months after the young Bob Zimmerman began calling himself “Bob Dylan.”)

According to Clinton Heylin’s excellent “A Life In Stolen Moments/Bob Dylan Day By Day: 1941-1995,” it was on January 24, 1961 that the nineteen year old Dylan arrived in “a snowbound New York, accompanied by his friend Fred Underhill. He heads for the Cafe Wha. It is a hootenanny night, and he performs a couple of songs. The Wha’s owner, Manny Roth, asks the audience to provide them with a place to stay for the night.” The next day Dylan traveled to Greystone Hospital in New Jersey to meet his ailing idol, Woody Guthrie, suffering from the hereditary disease, Huntington’s Chorea. Meeting Guthrie is the ostensible reason that Dylan headed East.

It’s rather astounding to see, then, that in 7 short months Dylan had developed to the extent that Shelton–the nationally known music critic for the most important newspaper in the United States–devoted the majority of his review to Dylan, the opening act for the much more established Greenbriar Boys. And Shelton was so confident about the talent of this virtual unknown that he wrote “it matters less where he has been than where he is going, and that would seem to be straight up.” You’ve gotta hand it to Robert Shelton–he truly got Dylan, and he wasn’t afraid to say it.

I love reading articles like this, which show what people were saying as events were unfolding–before the revisionist history set in. I’m fortunate to have a very large archive of early Dylan articles, thanks largely to the prescience of two very early Dylan supporters, the late San Francisco music critic Ralph J. Gleason and the late 16 Magazine editor Gloria Stavers. Both collected clippings on Dylan for their files, and I was fortunate to buy their collections. Someday I hope to publish a compilation of the best of these–but for now, I thought I’d share this most important one. With the hundreds of books, thousands of articles, and millions of words written about Bob Dylan, it’s kind of amazing to think–this is where it all began.



Last week my good friend in London, Bill Allerton (left), emailed to tell me that me that sometime next April he and Bill Forsyth would be closing their legendary side-by-side London record shops, Stand Out and Minus Zero.

In a follow up phone call, Bill told me the toll of “running a counter service shop” for 25 years had been “quite enough,” and he was very happy about the prospect of having some more time on his hands. For many years, record collectors have been doing more and more of their buying online, fewer people have been traveling to London to look for records, and of course Bill Forsyth had been talking about closing for some years. And so they finally decided the time had come. Bill told me he was “frankly thrilled” at the prospect of taking some time off, traveling, and shifting his record dealing to the web.

I can’t help feeling that what is good news for Bill & Bill, as they’re often referred to, is terrible news for their friends, disciples and customers. Their twin stores are an essential stop on any record collector’s pilgrimage to London.

I met Bill Allerton in 1975 on my first trip to London; I’d been corresponding with him and his best friend Colin Baker for some months (I found them through their ads in “The Rock Marketplace”; Alan Betrock’s primordial record collector magazine). When I wrote them I was coming to London, they arranged to meet me, and we’ve all been close ever since.

At the time, Bill was working in accounting for Virgin Records, but his true love was record collecting, particularly the Velvet Underground and Arthur Lee & Love. He lived in a one room flat in Clapham, filled with records, floor to ceiling piles of 60’s music newspapers, some pinball machines, and “fruit machines” (slot machines.) If you were careful, you could work your way around the room without hitting anything.

He sold rare records through the mail and on Saturdays in London’s famed Portobello Road market with Colin, under the “flyover.” His regular clientele made their way to him each weekend, looking for hard to find singles and albums, and hoping to absorb some of his and Colin’s tremendous knowledge. They knew more than anybody about 60’s records, and I felt lucky to have been adopted by them (over the years, I’ve probably made 25 or so trips to London, often staying with Colin, and chauffeured by Bill.)

Early on, I met Bill’s friend, Bill Forsyth, another collector/dealer who’s obsession was Bob Dylan, and in 1984 “the Bills” teamed up to open a record store, Plastic Passion, at 2 Blenheim Crescent in London (just around the corner from Portobello Road.) Plastic Passion was a vinyl wonderland, a long, very narrow space with heavy wooden doors at the front, a cramped office in the back, and walls covered with records even the most sophisticated collector had rarely if ever seen before. Immediately it became the prime hang-out for local collectors, and a must-visit location for anyone traveling to London. In those pre-internet days, most serious collectors visited London periodically, and they all turned up to see “the Bills.”

I spent countless hours there talking music with Bill & Bill and whoever happened to show up; one day many years ago an odd looking man with a top hat and leopard skin coat showed up and Bill A. introduced me to his regular customer, Screaming Lord Sutch (the legendary horror-rocker and early employer of Jimmy Page and Richie Blackmore.) Robert Plant was a regular customer too, as were many other “names.”

In 1990, Bill and Bill decided that while they enjoyed having a record store, working together just wasn’t working, and in a brilliant move, instead of closing Plastic Passion, they just split the long narrow space down the middle and opened two (very narrow !) record shops—Bill Allerton’s Stand Out Records on the right side (named after an Arthur Lee & Love song) and Bill Forsyth’s Minus Zero records on the left side (after a Dylan song, of course.) And so it has been ever since; two great record stores, each curated (I think that is the right word) by a very knowledgeable collector-dealer, filled with rare vinyl and for many years now, huge selections of obscure CD reissues that one could find nowhere else.

Their odd—probably unique—setup has been profiled in Mojo, The Wall Street Journal, Time Out London, The Guardian. But Adam Duritz, the dreadlocked singer of Counting Crows and another frequent customer, perhaps described best what makes the Stand Out/Plastic Passion setup so special, in an article in “Down The Rabbit Hole” magazine:

“Once upon a time, Immy and I were sitting in our favorite bi-polar record store in the world, London’s wonderfully schizophrenic two-stores-in-one Stand Out Records/Minus Zero Records, talking to the respective owners, the Bills (Stand Out’s Bill Allerton and Minus Zero’s Bill Forsyth), during one of our usual 2-4 hr visits to the tiny store(s). You see the way it works is that we go there with one or two ideas of things we think we want (and that’s all well and good) and then we end up spending the next two, three, or four hours endlessly listening to music as Bill and Bill compete across the two foot aisle that separates one store from the other to play us different music they’re sure we’ve never heard before (they’re often right) that they’re certain we’ll love (they’re pretty much ALWAYS right) and therefore purchase (they get us there too). We nearly always spend every penny we have and leave with several huge bags of CD’s each. Half the great music I’ve discovered over the past decade was played for me by the Bill’s in their tiny wonderland on Blenheim Crescent just off Portobello Road. It might seem strange to those of you who aren’t utterly obsessed with music, but they’ve been as big an influence in my life as any of my musical idols.”

The internet has been a mixed blessing for record collectors—sure it’s been great to find many of those records I’ve searched for fruitlessly, for so many years. But it’s hastened the demise of many a great record store—Rhino in LA (where I worked when I first met Bill Allerton), Beano’s in Croydon/London, even the Tower chain. And now Stand Out and Minus Zero.

I’m writing this as a requiem for two of the world’s great collector’s stores, but also to urge you, if you are in London or happen to be traveling there, to visit Bill & Bill before it’s too late. I’ll be there in November, and though Bill Allerton can’t wait for the end to come, I know it’s gonna be a sad sad day for a lot of record collectors around the world. Thanks guys, for so very very much.

Until they close, Stand Out and Minus Zero are discounting everything in their stores 25%.

Stand Out Records/ 020 7727 8406 /
Minus Zero Records/ 020 7229 5424 / /
both at 2 Blenheim Crescent, London W11 1NN
Open Wed/Th/Fri/Sat 11-6
Sunday 12-4
Closed Mon/Tues


I’m a huge fan of Traffic, Blind Faith and Cream; but I must admit, I haven’t followed Steve Winwood or Eric Clapton’s solo work for a long time. But a year or so ago a friend gave me a copy of the DVD from the Crossroads Guitar Festival (2007), and the Clapton/Winwood Blind Faith semi-reunion absolutely floored me. Steve Winwood’s guitar playing on “Can’t Find My Way Home” was nothing short of a revelation (Jeff Beck’s two songs were also absolutely amazing, but that’s another story.)

I thought long and hard about going to New York to see Clapton and Winwood do their one-off series of shows last year, but didn’t get it together–so I was thrilled to hear they were doing a limited number of dates this year, and made it my business to get tickets to see them at the Hollywood Bowl this Tuesday. And by a stroke of luck, it was the last night of the tour (often the best, as the band has really found their groove.)

And they were absolutely incredible–hard as it is to believe, both of these guys are at the peak of their game. Winwood sang every bit as well as on the Traffic albums, and was equally fantastic on guitar, piano and of course organ. People in the audience who’d come to see Clapton said it over and over–Steve Winwood blew them away. And Clapton played like I’ve never seen him before–he sounded like he was in Cream again–not the tepid reunited Cream, but the Cream of 1967/68. His eyes were closed, and he seemed to be channeling the music. Everyone I talked to that night said the same thing–“Clapton was on fire.” The sound was fantastic too, and the projection screens focused on Clapton and Winwood’s fingers as much as their faces, which was a great decision–so interesting to see these masters at work, close up.

Below are some Youtube videos from the show. While the camera work leaves something to be desired, the sound is great, and they’ll give you an idea of just how extraordinary these two artists are. There are more clips on Youtube, as well as clips from the Crossroads show (check them out–they’re tremendous.) Unfortunately there isn’t as yet a clip of “Pearly Queen,” which was never my favorite Traffic song, but was a highlight of the concert for me–a wild psychedelic jam that sounded as if it could have been recorded at the Fillmore in ’67.

The clips here are “Mr Fantasy” (great electric guitar from both Clapton and Winwood,) “The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys” (Winwood alone on acoustic piano–there is a point where the screen goes black, but keep with it–it comes back after a few seconds,) “Can’t Find My Way Home” (Clapton and Winwood on acoustic guitar,) and the first half of “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” (it ends abruptly, but is great nonetheless–with Winwood reprising the soulful organ he played on the Jimi Hendrix original.)

If you don’t know this music, go out and get Blind Faith’s only album, and an album or two by Traffic–“John Barleycorn Must Die” is my favorite, but “Best of Traffic” is a good place to start. For me, these are absolutely essential 60’s rock albums.


Some experiences just leave you shaking your head in confusion. Meeting Nico was one of those. 32 years later, I still can’t quite make sense of it. Here’s the story. December 1977. Sitting in my L.A. apartment late one night, reading BAM (Bay Area Music, the free music newspaper,) I came upon an ad I almost couldn’t believe–Nico was appearing the very next evening at Mabuhay Gardens, the San Francisco punk club. The great Nico, from the Velvet Underground ! I loved her solo albums, but I’d never heard of her playing live in America–yet, there it was–she was appearing the next evening only 350 miles north. I called the club; they confirmed it was actually happening. I quickly bought a plane ticket for the next afternoon, and reserved a hotel room for the night.

I brought my copy of Nico’s album “Desertshore” which I hoped to have her sign. Before the show I snuck backstage, scared but acting like I belonged, and miraculously nobody stopped me. And there she was, Nico. Much larger than the svelte model she had once been, but still, Nico ! It was amazing. I introduced myself, and asked if she would please sign my album. I told her I had flown all the way from Los Angeles just to see her. “No you didn’t !,” she replied curtly in that icy, Germanic voice. Somewhat taken aback, I insisted, yes, indeed, I had flown all the way from Los Angeles, just to see her. Again, she replied tersely “no you didn’t !” I was more than a bit intimidated by her brusk manner, not to mention the fact that here was the great Nico, a hero of mine, refusing to believe me. For the third time I insisted, “really Nico, I flew up here just to see you. I’m a huge fan.” This time she replied, as curtly as before, “then show me your plane ticket !”

Luckily I had it in my jacket pocket. After some fumbling, I fished it out, and showed her that indeed, I had flow up that afternoon, and was scheduled to return the next morning. That seemed to convince her, and without further comment she took my album and pen to sign it. She wrote “For Jeff, who came all the way from LA to see me, who seems to be on my side. Nico Dec 8, 1977.” Yow !

The show was great, just Nico and her harmonium, singing her solo work and Velvets songs. In hindsight, I’m sure she was having “issues” at the time. I still have the signed album, of course (above). Not to mention one of the weirder memories from a life in and around music.


I love those rare opportunities when I can showcase something that I’ve never seen nor knew existed—and this poster is exactly that.

If you take the time to click on the art and can decipher it, you’ll see it’s a poster for the Million Volt Light and Sound Rave, an electronic music and light festival held at the Chalk Farm Roundhouse in London, on January 28, 1967.

Sometimes referred to as the Carnival of Light Rave, the event featured live performances by the Soft Machine, Tonics (?), The New Vaudeville Band, and most importantly, the only playback ever of the legendary “Carnival of Light,” a fourteen minute sound collage by The Beatles, created especially for the event during the sessions for “Penny Lane” (and advertised on the poster as “Music Composed For The Occasion by Paul McCartney.”)

The genesis of the track came in December 1966 from designer David Vaughan, who had recently painted a psychedelic design on a piano owned by Paul McCartney. About the same time as he delivered the piano to McCartney’s Cavendish Avenue address, he asked if McCartney would contribute a musical piece for the upcoming event. To Vaughan’s surprise McCartney agreed, and drafted all of the Beatles to participate.

“Carnival of Light” was only played once, at the Million Volt Light and Sound Rave, and has never been released nor bootlegged. Beatles expert Mark Lewisohn, one of the few who have ever heard the track, says the song included “distorted, hypnotic drum and organ sounds, a distorted lead guitar, the sound of a church organ, various effects (water gargling was one) and, perhaps most intimidating of all, John Lennon and McCartney screaming dementedly and bawling aloud random phrases like ‘Are you alright?’ and ‘Barcelona!”

In 1996 McCartney tried to release the track on the compilation album The Beatles Anthology 2, but George Harrison voted to reject it, because according to McCartney “he didn’t like avant garde music.”

While I knew there had been a handbill for this event, this poster wasn’t something I knew existed (I’ve since discovered the existence of only one other copy, illustrated in the UK Poster book “High Art.”) It’s a great psychedelic image, and very desirable, as pretty much any British 60’s psychedelic concert poster is extremely rare. But it’s the Beatles connection that makes this a true killer collectible. Available on the Recordmecca website.

(Electric Poets, who also played the Rave, were a short-lived band featuring Soft Machine’s Daevid Allen and Robert Wyatt with Gilli Smith; Allen and Smith went on to found the progressive rock band Gong.)

The Virtual Museum: Dylan’s First Concert

Friday, April 12, 1963 was a very important date for the then 22 year old Bob Dylan. For on that night, Dylan played New York’s Town Hall—his first-ever concert as a headliner.

Prior to that night, Dylan had only headlined in small clubs and at the 200 seat Carnegie Recital Hall, where he drew fewer than 70 people. Though he’d occasionally played a few songs on larger stages as part of multi-artist bills, this was the first ever proper Bob Dylan concert (with many thousands to follow !)

A crowd of 900 attended the Town Hall show, which took place six weeks prior to the release of Dylan’s 2nd album, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.” Columbia Records recorded the show for a proposed but never released live album; however various tracks have surfaced over the years on compilations and promo cd’s.

Above is the handbill (identical to the poster) and a signed program for the show, which we recently sold. The program features the first appearance of Dylan’s poem, “My Life In A Stolen Moment,” reprinted many times in future years. We know of only a few other copies of this extremely rare program.

On our website, Recordmecca, we are currently offering a Dylan signed program from his famous Halloween, 1964 concert at New York’s Philharmonic Hall (released as part of Dylan’s “Bootleg Series.”)


Here’s a particularly nice signed John Coltrane album, that I found on Ebay tonight, minimum bid $1000. Looks great, eh ? Very similar to other authentic Coltrane signatures and inscriptions I’ve seen. Just as messy and dashed-off as the other Coltrane autographs out there, don’t you think ?

Only one problem. And it’s a big one. The signed album is a two-disc John Coltrane reissue on the Prestige label that was released in the early 1970’s. And John Coltrane died of liver cancer at Huntington Hospital in Long Island, NY on July 17, 1967, at the age of 40. Oops.

It’s another posthumous autograph–an autograph from beyond the grave ! Now John Coltrane was a true genius, and could do miraculous things with his instrument. But as far as we know, he never mastered time travel, and so we must conclude this autograph is a fake. It’s a particularly good forgery, and must have been done by a professional. Fortunately, though, his skills at copying autographs are obviously greater than his ability to research dates.

My friend Gary Johnson of Rockaway Records has a great posthumous autograph story. While at a radio station-sponsored collectibles show some years back, he saw a signed copy of Jimi Hendrix’s album “The Cry of Love.” He asked the seller about it’s history, and was told it came from the collection of a 60’s disc jockey. Most probably got it signed himself. Very rare, indeed. Expensive, but where are you gonna find another one–right ? When the dealer had finished explaining the album’s provenance, Gary delivered the punchline– that Jimi Hendrix died in 1970, a full year before “The Cry of Love” was released.

Of course there are still many unique and genuine autographs and artifacts out there. I still love collecting the real thing; I’m lucky enough to own some Coltrane musical manuscripts and a number of Hendrix items, and for me, the novelty never wears off. It’s as close as I’ll ever get to the “mojo” of these incredible artists. But I always do my research before buying.

If you’re thinking about buying an artist signed or artist owned item, I can’t stress enough the importance of following a few simple rules. These will protect you and help insure you only buy “the good stuff.”

First, do your research. Know exactly what you’re buying, and who you’re buying it from. Are they established and respected in the field ? Are they experts in what they are selling ? Does the deal seem too good to be true ? It might just be.

These things are rare–I’d be suspicious of someone with a huge inventory of items signed or owned by highly collectible artists . Google the seller and see what comes up. And most important, insist the seller guarantee the item’s authenticity with no time limit. If it’s an expensive item, I’d ask for that guarantee in writing, too. Most dealers out there do their best to represent things accurately, and a seller offering genuine items will have no problem doing this.

Below, you’ll find posts with some pretty special authentic items, and more advice on how to avoid being taken. I hope it’s helpful. And of course there’s a lot more to look at on my website, Recordmecca.

And do let us know if you have anything you’re thinking of selling–we’re always looking for special items and rare vinyl.

(I have notified the seller of the Coltrane album that it can’t possibly be real; I await their reply. It’s always possible they were taken themselves.)

UPDATE: 12 hours after I notified the seller, the auction has been taken down. I never heard back from them, but applaud them on ending the listing quickly.

We’re Looking To Buy Music Collectibles & Rare Records

During these challenging economic times, I thought I’d remind everyone that we’re actively looking for high-end music collectibles and rare vinyl in excellent condition. For the right material, we can pay well–so if you’ve got anything you’re thinking of selling, please do let us know.

You can reach us at:



Though I’ve been collecting records and memorabilia since 1971, I still can’t wait for the mailman (or Fedex) to arrive on days when I’m expecting something new and groovy. This was very much the case a few days ago, when this most amazing handbill arrived. It advertises a January 8, 1968 concert by the Jimi Hendrix Experience in Stockholm, Sweden. My Swedish friend, Johan Kugelberg, kindly translated it:

“The Jimi Hendrix Experience are coming to Konserthuset (the venue) Monday, January 8, 1968. Tickets available from the 11th of December, 1967. Christmas gift suggestion ! Wish for tickets or give as a gift to others. The Jimi Hendrix Gala, January 8.”

I’ve seen a lot of holiday promotions before, but Jimi Hendrix tickets for Christmas ? I certainly would have been happy had I found them under the tree. The back side lists three locations where tickets were sold, and as you can see, the designer took the Christmas motif perhaps a bit too far, adorning Jimi, Mitch and Noel in Elf hats. Jimi signed this handbill, but drew a question mark and arrow to his own image, no doubt a bit confused by his head gear.

I got this from a gentleman who’s mother got the autograph. It’s almost too much to contemplate–having a mother who went to see Jimi Hendrix in 1968, somehow got backstage and got his autograph (on a handbill yet !), saved it for 41 years, and then gave it to her son. Now that’s a record collector’s dream.

Know Who You’re Buying From–And Do Your Homework

Here’s a weird story. My friend Gary Greenberg (who has a great blog about his collecting exploits called Garyrocks) contacted me last week about something he’d found on Ebay. Since I just settled a contentious lawsuit (see below) I’m going to be circumspect in telling this story, but the short version is that Gary had found some memorabilia allegedly owned by a member of a highly collectible classic-rock band. He’d negotiated a pretty good deal with the seller and asked me if I wanted to partner with him on the purchase (there were two items; I’d buy one, he’d buy one.)

We discussed the authenticity of the items and it seemed Gary had done his homework–he’d had a lot of communication with the seller, who was allegedly selling the items on behalf a roadie for the band, there was indeed a roadie with that name, and there was a letter of authenticity from him, which looked genuine. So we decided to go ahead with the purchase. Since I had more money in my PayPal account that day, we decided I’d pay and that he’d reimburse me. He sent me the seller’s name and name of someone else with the same last name who had the PayPal account I’d be transferring the funds into–I assumed it was the seller’s wife. Now the story gets interesting.

Being a research obsessive and by nature a skeptical guy, I googled the names to see what I could find. They were unusual names, especially the presumed wife’s name–so I thought I might find something. I like to know who I’m buying things from, and if you’re patient you can sometimes find information about the person you’re doing business with–maybe they are active in the online collecting community, or have their own business, or on occasion, someone has done business with them and has written positively (or negatively) about the experience.

Amazingly, it took all of about 15 seconds to find a 2005 newspaper article about a huge, multi-million dollar fraud committed by someone with the same name as the seller (who was in prison when it was written,) and who was married to someone with the exact same name as was on the PayPal account. The very unusual name. Uh-oh.

Now of course I can’t be sure that these were the same people, but they were a couple with the same two unusual names, living in the same foreign country, and the husband had been in the music business. And come to think of it, his feedback on ebay was unimpressive to say the least.

I let Gary know what I’d found and we both agreed sending this guy nearly $1500 was probably not the world’s best idea. Sure, maybe it was a bizarre coincidence. But the odds of two couples having the same two unusual names, being in the music business, living in the same country as the seller were pretty remote indeed. And if it was the same guy, well sure, he might have gone straight. Who knows, maybe the stuff was real. But I certainly wasn’t going to risk $1500. to find out.

As I wrote in the last post, if you’re buying memorabilia online, it’s essential to know who you’re buying from, and to do your homework. I know doing your homework isn’t always the most pleasant way to spend your leisure time–but like mom and dad always said, it’s good for you. And here’s a perfect example of exactly why.

–Jeff Gold
(and don’t forget; insist on a lifetime guarantee of authenticity too !)

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, 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 !

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