Collecting the King








Bootlegs…What’s the big deal?


It was sometime back in the early 80s. Even though it had been only a few years since Elvis died, I was still walking around in a funk. RCA had released a few boring compilation albums (Elvis Sings For Children, and Grownups Too! … Ugh!), and with the exception of the ELVIS ARON PRESLEY 8 LP box set, there was nothing exciting being released. It looked like RCA had given up on the goose that laid the golden egg. I was walking through a record store, the same store that I remember buying the 45 single of Suspicious Minds when it first was released, when I struck up a conversation with one of the employees. “You’d think that RCA would release more Elvis songs that we haven’t heard,” I said. The employee smiled and reached behind the counter for a box. “Check these out,” he said, smiling. “What’s this?” I asked. “Bootlegs,” he replied. I had no idea what he was talking about, so he explained that these were records that featured unreleased recordings. “Why are they behind the counter?” I asked. “They’re illegal,” he answered with a smile. “Then why are you selling them?” I asked. “No one will catch us,” he assured me.

As I looked over each album, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Songs by Elvis that I never knew he had even recorded! There were movie songs that RCA forgot (probably with good reason) and unique live performances. Of course, at the time, I didn’t know anything about the quality of these recordings, but it didn’t matter. It was like getting a new Elvis album! So, even though it embarrasses me to admit, I bought my first bootleg album because it had the song “Dominic” from “Stay Away, Joe.” What was I thinking?

There was a strange thrill that came over me when I bought that record and took it home and listened to it. Similar to the same thrill I got as a kid when I tried shoplifting for the first time and got away with it. So, it was partially that thrill as well as RCA’s lack of quality LP releases that I began my search for Elvis bootlegs. As time went by, I learned that not all bootlegs were all they were cracked up to be. As a matter of fact, with the exception of a few, most of them were quite bad. It took a while before I realized that they were produced for simply one reason…to get my money. So as time went by and vinyl went the way of the 8 Track, I stopped buying them.

As the CD market emerged, so did the inevitable bootleg CD. At first, it was the same story as the LPs I bought in the 80s…inferior recordings with different packaging. But then in the mid 90s, some truly incredible bootleg CDs were released. One label, Fort Baxter, was the front-runner in producing CDs with fantastic unreleased material. I still don’t know where these recordings came from, but every Elvis fan that had been suffering through the boring RCA releases since Elvis death were finally getting recordings that we only wish RCA would release. Not to say that the “Elvis In The 90s” releases that BMG/RCA began putting out in the early 90s were bad. It was great getting all of Elvis’ original LPs on CD and the Essential Elvis series was commendable. But these new bootlegs CDs were better than anything BMG/RCA was doing! I still don’t know where all those recordings came from, but apparently BMG/RCA wasn’t happy with all the money that the bootleggers were making. So somewhere along the way, BMG/RCA announced the arrival of a new Collector’s Label CD series that would put a stumbling block in front of the bootleggers. That label,“Follow That Dream,” did just that. With an abundance of unreleased material to pick from, BMG/RCA’s FTD label pretty much wiped out the surging bootleg market. In the year 2004, there hasn’t really been a good bootleg CD released in years. That doesn’t mean that the die-hard bootleg collectors would agree. There are still those collectors out there who tell me that the bootleg market is still putting out great stuff. I’ve yet to hear one.

But still bootlegs continue to sell, maybe not as good as before, but they are there. And there are dealers who still insist on selling them no matter what the risk, and make no mistake…the risk is great. I know a few dealers who were at a recent show in Chicago that was busted by the FBI and Police. It’s not a pretty sight seeing people you know being hauled away in handcuffs and their entire CD inventory being confiscated into a paddy wagon. Believe it. It CAN happen.

Which brings me to the point of all this. When all is said and done and with things the way they are now, what’s the big deal about bootlegs? FTD puts out the BEST official “bootlegs” known to man. There’s not much left to release other than the stuff that BMG/RCA has in its vaults. And the bootleg CDs that I’ve heard about recently are only retreads of earlier ones with different packaging. And even BMG/RCA is putting out great CD box sets with tons of unreleased material. So why would anyone want to waste his or her hard earned cash on anything manufactured by someone who just wants to make a quick buck. Is it that age-old excitement of getting something that you think no one else has? Or is it that cheap thrill that you get from thinking you got away with something.

The next time those of you die-hard bootleg CD collectors are gleaming over that new bootleg CD that you just bought, think about this…the only person who got away with something, is the person(s) who made that CD.

Now…take care of business!




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