MY PERSONAL JOURNEY
THROUGH 60 YEARS OF LIVE MUSIC
To my eternal gratitude, I was raised during the sixties. Born in 1954, I was old enough to remember, even understand, all the significant events of that turbulent decade. From the three assassinations to the first televised war to the horrible events of 1968, I lived through some of the most dramatic times the United States has yet endured. However, I also remember the plus side; the Beatles on Sullivan, the moon landing, Woodstock, and the optimism generated by JFK. It’s impossible to explain what it was like to someone who wasn’t there. The good, the bad, the in-between.
From expanded consciousness, the sexual revolution, women’s rights, the race riots, Johnson and Goldwater, Nixon and Humphrey, a needless war, and the threat of nuclear annihilation, I received a first class education in life. It helped shaped the person I am today. My political views, my individual morality, my drive and ambition, my sensitivity to the rights of minorities, my appreciation for women, and my sometimes reckless need for excitement were all natural consequences of growing up during that decade. I can still remember all the nuances, the sights and sounds. Especially the sounds.
I was very fortunate to have been exposed to the variety of music I listened to as a teenager. The music of the sixties and early seventies was a hodgepodge of styles. Grouped under the general term rock and roll, the music contained elements of blues, gospel, jazz, rhythm and blues, reggae, world music, classical, and traditional bluegrass/folk. We called it acid rock, progressive rock, hard rock, classical rock, folk rock, country rock, soft rock, bubblegum, funk and Motown. Literally a style for every taste and preference. The sheer variety of artists provided a nearly never ending inventory of music.
As a young boy, I became interested in all kinds of music, buying whatever I could afford with my meager allowance. I was one of the millions who was caught up in the excitement of the Beatles’ first appearance on Ed Sullivan. I quickly moved on to the Dave Clark Five, the Rolling Stones, Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Rascals, Lovin Spoonful and the Monkees.
As my tastes grew more refined, I discovered hard rock, proudly becoming the first kid in my neighborhood to own In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, which I listened to endlessly to the aggravation of my parents. I devoured all the material I could on guitar heroes from Eric Clapton to Alvin Lee. I argued endlessly with my friends about who was the best drummer, bass player, keyboardist and whether Lee’s “I’m Going Home” was harder to play than Page’s “Heartbreaker”, all the time buying more and more albums. I also started to buy live recordings. While this was considered an oddity among my circle of friends, I was drawn to the excitement of that often crudely recorded music.
I suppose that my love for live music started with my first concert, Iron Butterfly at the University of Delaware, summer 1969. Even though the concert was marred by technical problems, the sheer energy I felt that evening was unforgettable. The crowd, the atmosphere, the volume, the lights and the anticipation of hearing that one lick, that one song, all combined to hook me. Through the years, I have attended many other concerts, seen countless other bands. While the music has ranged from bad to spectacular, the one constant has been the event itself. The primal energy I felt that first time is still there. When the lights go down, I am transformed to that 15 year old in the University of Delaware’s field house. It is a profound connection with my youth.
A natural consequence of all this is my collection of live music. I started collecting in the late sixties and haven’t stopped since. At some point, I realized that I had a collection and decided to focus on live recordings from as many artists as I could find who recorded between 1955 and 1985. That was an arbitrary cutoff and I have hundreds of live recordings from later day artists, but it allowed me to focus on a defined set of artists. At this point, I have collected thousands of live recordings from nearly 1000 artists who recorded during that time period. The live part includes over 20,000 songs, all stored on ITunes. I don’t know if this is the largest collection of its kind, but it has to be one of the biggest in the world.
I have collected music from every source imaginable. I have vinyl, cassette tapes, video, DVDs, and CDs. I have recorded concerts off of YouTube and websites like Wolfgang’s Vault with my trusty Zoom H4 hand held recorder. Most of my collection was commercially released but I also have a fair number of bootlegs. The morality of that has never really concerned me. First and foremost, I am a collector. While I do prioritize commercially available live recordings, some artists have chosen not to release any live recordings, or do not have any that focus on a specific time of their career, so I go to wherever I need to go to find a recording I want in my collection.
Per U.S. copyright law, I have never sold any of my recordings and I do not trade them on-line. I also try to purchase legitimate live recordings whenever possible, even if I also have boots from that artist. I want the artists to get their royalties whenever possible but in the end, I strongly believe that all is fair when collecting.
Over the years I have collected, opinions regarding live music releases has evolved. Music can ultimately be divided into two distinct categories, composition and performance. The vast majority of music that is available is compositional in nature. Studio recordings are the last step in the compositional process. A musician will usually go into a recording studio with a blueprint of what he/she wants to record. The basic song structure is then refined and ultimately recorded for posterity. Technical innovations over the years makes it virtually impossible to record a wrong note or off-key vocal.
By it’s nature, the studio process does not place a premium on the performance of the artist. A musician can record the same guitar lick, the same harmonies as many times as their budget allows until they capture exactly what they want. And, if that doesn’t work, they can always enhance the track. There is no pressure from having to play in front of a crowd with no ability to correct errors. Therefore, there is no way to judge the performance abilities of the artist, who may or may not have actually played on the studio tracks.
However, this dynamic changes in a concert setting. Now it is the performance that is being judged. The musician must play on a one shot basis in conditions that are far less advantageous than those he enjoyed in the studio. The hit or miss nature of this fascinates me and separates true musicians from one dimensional composers or worse yet, cover bands. Composition and performance are flip sides of the same coin. One should always complement the other, therefore both have their place in a comprehensive music collection.
The intrinsic value of live recordings is that they can sometimes transcend studio recordings of the same material. I defy anyone to come up with a studio recording that matches the intensity of Joe Cocker’s Woodstock performance of “With A Little Help From My Friends.” This brilliant piece of music is enhanced by the dynamics surrounding the festival and the effect those dynamics had on Cocker. It would be nearly impossible to find a studio recording that matches the one shot theatrics of Alvin Lee’s “I’m Going Home” from the same festival or the audience transformation that took place during Sly’s Woodstock performance. Once I bought the soundtrack of that festival, I was hooked. I have since discovered that the best recordings in many artists’ catalog are the live ones.
I believe that most music fans want their music heroes to be able to deliver on stage. One only has to remember Milli Vanilli if you doubt this statement. However, many fans never get the opportunity to actually see their music favorites live due to the inherent limited nature of touring and the expense to attend live music events. That’s why live recordings are so important. They may be the only opportunity for a fan to judge the performance side of their favorite band. This form of music has gained popularity over the years, as evidenced by web sites like Wolfgang’s Vault.
Many labels are reissuing live recordings of their artists on CD and the live performance sequences from television shows like Saturday Night Live, David Letterman, Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien are often centerpieces of the shows. Concert films and specials also are very popular as are reruns of live recordings from Ed Sullivan, the Midnight Special, Don Kirshner, In Concert etc. that can sometimes be seen on various cable channels. And, let’s not forget the thriving bootleg trade which predominantly features live recordings of past and present artists. Live music has become an artistically legitimate and lucrative part of the music business and my goal quickly became to own as much of the music as I could find with a bent towards collecting at least one live recording from as many of the artists who operated during those thirty years.
You may be wondering how this obsession began. My first live purchase was Steppenwolf Live (1970) in early 1970. I was initially looking for a single album that included their first two hits, “Born To Be Wild” and “Magic Carpet Ride”. As it turned out, the two songs came from different studio albums. Since I had limited funds to buy albums, I faced a dilemma, which song did I want. As I was pondering this, I saw Steppenwolf Live. Lo and behold, both songs were on it so I bought it, and quickly discovered the joy of listening to recorded live music. It wasn’t quite the same as being there in person, but it was damn close.
My second live recording was the Grateful Dead’s 1968 set, Anthem Of The Sun. This one nearly turned me off of live recordings forever. I did not understand that the largely experimental album featured live recordings that were then augmented and changed in the studio. It was largely free form and not anything like Steppenwolf Live. While I have grown to appreciate it over the years, it wasn’t what I was looking for at the time and I felt that I had wasted my hard earned money on an album I would never listen to. Then came the Woodstock soundtrack and I was hooked forever.
Like many teenagers in the eastern part of the United States, I was very aware that Woodstock was taking place when it happened. Unfortunately, I was only 15 years old at the time and there was no way that my parents were going to let me go to the actual festival. So, I, along with millions of others, devoured the radio and newspapers accounts of the festival. I watched with complete fascination when Dick Cavett had some of the performers live on his show right after the festival took place. The soundtrack album was released in May, 1970, just after I had bought Steppenwolf Live and Anthem Of The Sun. It was a triple album set, and therefore more expensive than a single album, but I saved up my money and bought it.
I cannot describe the impact of this particular album on me. I listened to every cut every single day for months. It was a revelation and my love for live music compounded. I started to go to more concerts once I began college in 1972 and began to focus on buying live albums. I quickly found the somewhat obscure The First Great Rock Festivals Of The Seventies, which documented the Isle Of Wight and Atlanta Pop Festivals and my direction was set. I was only going to buy live recordings and I was going to buy as many as possible. Before long, I had built up a starter collection and it continued to grow from that point forward.
By the late seventies, I was working and my live collection had grown to over 200 albums. For reasons that I do not remember, I decided then to begin writing about the recordings themselves. I bought a Word Processor and began to write a book. Forty plus years later and I have one of the largest collections of live music in the world and have continued to work on the book, which has now grown to over 5500 pages.
Since I began writing about live music and the associated artists in the late seventies, my scope was somewhat limited. I was specifically interested in rock music so my earliest recordings dated back to the mid to late fifties. I also began to expand my collection to include folk recordings, r&b, and pop music. By the time I reached the mid eighties, I decided to focus my book on artists who had released a studio recording between 1955 and 1985 and also was part of my live collection. I also decided to refocus on artists who were represented on the Billboard pop singles and albums charts. This opened up an entirely new world of the collection, which soon included blues, country, and jazz artist who had crossed over to those charts.
As the years went by, my source material soon became a combination of vinyl albums, cassette tapes, video, and later CD/DVDs. I found that compilation recordings such as Woodstock, Isle of Wight, various traveling shows etc. have been great sources of material, often including cuts from otherwise hard to find artists. My collection covers the range from legitimate label releases to home made copies of radio and television shows as well as copies of CDs and tapes that friends have lent me or I have found on the internet.
The television material ranged from old recordings of Ed Sullivan to the various concert shows like the Midnight Special, Don Kirshner, In Concert, or concert films (Monterey Pop Festival, Woodstock, Knebworth, Isle of Wight etc.). My CDs ranged from legit label releases to European/Japanese releases to bootlegs.
Finally, my video/DVD collection included videos of the various television shows listed above, official concert film releases, the fabulous and invaluable Live From Greenwich Village series by Marathon Music & Video, televised concerts, the full Monterey concert, live segments from Ed Sullivan, and various artist related releases. I have found a number of very rare live recordings on eBay and through Collectors Music. Lately, Discogs has proven to be an invaluable source as well as Amazon’s third party seller network. I also have many recordings from the fabulous Wolfgang’s Vault website, which has more rare live performances than any other site in existence.
All of the recordings in my collection that are documented on this website are verifiable live recordings. If you collect as much live material as I do, you eventually learn how to tell if the recording is truly live. First, live recordings are almost inevitably different from studio versions of the same song. The quality is rougher, harmonies are not as perfect, solos are altered, songs are shortened or extended, crowd noise is intrusive etc..
Clues for truly live televised performances include microphone placement, visible cords to amplifiers, lip/voice synchronization, guitar fingering (I have played guitar for years and recognize nearly every chord as well as soloing techniques), and the movement of drum cymbals. In some cases, you have to trust that the representations on the label are truthful, especially where crowd noise has been eliminated or obviously dubbed in.
The only liberty I have taken with this collection is the inclusion of a few BBC Radio 1 or BBC non audience archive recordings for artists who have released no other live recordings. These performances were often recorded in a studio, usually on a one shot basis and always on the same day. This is as close to the spirit of genuine live recordings as you can get without actually being in front of an audience. In the cases where this material is used, I have noted it as such but it never takes precedence over a legitimate live recording from the same artist.
My live recordings were taken from periods before and after 1985 since this collection is artist based. In some cases, the only live material available from an artist who otherwise qualified for my collection was recorded after 1985. Where ever possible, I have tried to find live performances that were originally recorded between 1955 and 1985, but I have not always been able to follow that standard. In nearly all the cases where I have included performances recorded after 1985, material originally composed during the 30 year time period is included in the live set. Finally, I have included live recordings from reunion tours that took place after 1985 as long as one member from their primary recording and touring lineup were included in the lineup.
While my collection expanded, I continued to write about the artists. My initial intention was to publish a reference book but I eventually hit upon the strategy of creating a website. My goal is to provide a single source that will focus on live music from artists who had a connection to pop music from 1955 to 1985. If you want to know if an artist who released a studio recording with a pop music connection between 1955 and 1985 also has a live recording, this is the place for you.
The primary purpose of the site is to give you as many facts as I can regarding the live recordings I actually own. For those, you will find album title, label, release date, medium, availability, recording venue, recording date, lineup of the recording artists, and a list of the songs. I also discuss how the recording sounds, the circumstances behind the recording itself, how well it is played, and where you can find it.
I have tried to remain objective regarding the artistic quality of the performances and have found to my delight, that nearly all the artists who landed a record contract during this period also had the talent to play their music on stage in an accurate, and often, superior manner. Of course, there are some exceptions but those are in the minority.
In addition to documenting the recordings themselves, I have also written the most comprehensive mini biographies possible about the artists. I have chosen to focus on things that you will not typically find in on line sources like Wikipedia. I want you to know where the artist was born, what his parents did, how he was raised, when did he/she first turn to music, what were their musical influences, and who did they play with, often way before they joined the band who released the live recording that I own.
These biographies are as up to date as possible but I realize that since many of these artists are still alive and performing, they are living breathing documents. I also recognize that I may have some facts wrong and encourage any reader to contact me with corrections. In putting together the bios, I followed the generally accepted rules of historical research.
First, find the indisputable facts like birthdate, record release dates, billboard chart rankings etc. Then, try to find two independent sources to verify life events whenever possible. I have relied on artist biographies and interviews, but cross check artist statements, which are often inflated or inaccurate, with second source news articles or interviews with other people, like bandmates, agents, producers, or musicologists. If I cannot find two sources, I have given preference to personal accounts.
I have also used press clippings from venues where the artists were playing and any written information I could find about them. I have also tapped into as many artists personal web sites as I could find to document little known facts about their histories and to update what they are doing today. Finally, I got some information from album jackets and public released information publicizing the recording. In the end, the information has to fit the actual strict time line and any information that is in conflict with the time line has been not included. I have also tried very hard to stay away from gossip.
In addition to the information about the recordings and the artists, I have documented every record that the artist has released, chart placements, and RIAA certifications. My sources for this information were Joel Whitburn’s The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits and Top Pop Albums 1955-2001. Gold and platinum certification information came from Whitburn’s two books as well as RIAA’s web site. British chart rankings come from the website, Official Charts. Finally, I have also included a list of the artists most prominent compilations, so if anyone wants to get a sample of what the artist is all about before seeking a live recording, you will have a place to go.
Obviously, to put a site like this together, I had plenty of help. Since I have been working on the project for the past 40 years, I have relied on the best sources of information that were available at the time. In the beginning, I purchased books like The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, edition 2, The New Rolling Stone Record Guide, second edition, Lillian Roxon’s Rock Encyclopedia, Creem Magazine’s February, 1982 Guitar Heroes of Rock ‘n’ Roll issue, and Martin C. Strong’s The Great Rock Discography, 5th and 6th editions. With the development of the internet, sources of information greatly expanded. I soon discovered web sites like AllMusic.com and then Wikipedia. YouTube also became a great source of information. The net result of all of this research is that these nearly 1000 biographies are as complete, and accurate, as they could possibly be.
On the fun side, I have also ranked my top 200 live artists from my collection, added honorable mentions, and offered some explanation as to why I placed them where I did. In ranking the artists, I have tried to eliminate things that would be out of their control. There are a surprising number of live recordings available that were made before 1970. Nearly all of them are inferior recordings from a quality standpoint. In those days, the recording equipment was inferior, the on stage amplification poor.
PA systems were so bad that many early sixties performers could not hear themselves singing their own vocals. Sound board recordings simply did not exist and more often than not, the recording equipment was located in the audience. The inevitable result was excessive crowd noise. I have some early recordings where the crowd is actually louder than the performer. In those situations, I have given the artists allowances when ranking their performance.
In general, my rankings are based on a combination of several factors. First, was the artist able to recreate the quality of his studio recordings. Did the artist improve upon the studio recordings by adding additional elements. Is the musicianship and the singing technically accurate. Did the artist break new ground, either from a showmanship or technical basis. Was the artist able to compose new material on stage. Did the artist have control of the audience. Once again, I will stress that this whole process was subjective. I cannot remove my personal tastes or experiences in evaluating some artists. I can only say that I have tried to be as objective as possible.
Before we wrap up, one last aside. While researching this book, I have listened to every minute of every recording I have written about. I have been amazed, annoyed, humored, saddened, bored and surprised with what I’ve heard. I have hated some recordings, loved others, felt neutral about many. I have been thrilled with some performances and been inspired by others. I’ve also have wondered how some performers ever got a recording contract. But through it all, through the countless hours it takes to put something like this together, I have enjoyed every minute. It is my sincere hope that this website will allow you to find the same joy I have experienced. Happy collecting!.