Writing about music is like dancing about architecture

Friday, 9 September 2011

BOOTLEG JAZZ COMPS - a personal journey

I remember going to Dingwalls and wondering where they found such amazing tracks.
At the time I knew absolutely nothing about jazz (some might say that hasn't changed!) but I knew I liked what I heard.
However, looking though the jazz sections in record stores made me feel very inadequate.
Who were all these people with cool names like McCoy, Hank, Fats, Yusef, Chick or Herbie, and how could I possible know which of them produced stuff I would like?
I suppose I could have taken some up to the counter and asked the staff to play them. If you've ever been in a London record store you might realise how silly that last sentence is. And anyway, I would have been picking stuff up at random. I was then, a long way from being able to stomach anything that couldn't be danced to. No amount of good reviews were going to get me to listen to A Love Supreme - how stupid and young I was!
But in the early nineties, when records were still the common tool of the DJ, almost every market had a record stall. Some were good and I had some amazing luck in finding great stuff. However, most were pretty average. The great thing about them though was that they would happily play the records if you asked nicely and while the stall-holder might not know anything about the record he wouldn't judge you because you wanted to hear it.
And that's how I got to buy Uptight and Outasight, from a record stall in Cambridge. It blew my mind!
I had heard of James Brown and Kool and the Gang but O'Donnell Levi, Barbara Randolph, Chocolate Milk???????? (Click on the picture to enlarge and get the full track list)

I could have bought random jazz records for years and never found these gems.
Of course, if I had been a London jazznick I would have been familiar with the dance classics. But I wasn't.
At my young age it didn't cross my mind to think about the legality of this record. Looking back I must have been very naive. No cover illustration, no credits, sleeve notes, in fact nothing at all except the names of the tracks. To me it was just pure goodness.
So a while later when the bloke on the market stall had Volume 2 I snapped that up as well.
If I'm honest its not as good as Volume 1 but it was still pretty good stuff.
By now I had discovered jazz and funk compilations - most of them legit.
But there was still something I liked about the plain white anonymity of the Uptight comps.

Volume 3 though is a corker. Tuane by Hammer  (which I still want to get to the original of), Chukka by Norman Connors, Andre Previn's Executive Party from the Rollerball Soundtrack (which of course, I didn't know at the time), Bernie Maupin's It Remains To be Seen - amazing tracks one and all.
I still do not know who was behind these illegit comps. I would like to find out and personally thank him, though. Whoever it was put my one a jazz path that I've never truly strayed from.

I was still rather naive and hadn't thought that the performers and composers of these brilliant tracks were being deprived of their rightful payment. All I could think about was how great the music was and how lucky I was that someone had taken some of the best tracks in their record collection and put them on some handy vinyl for me!

My next bootleg comp was this one - Seven Sought After Grooves. Again, I had little idea at that stage who most of the artists were. Gil Scott Heron I knew but I hadn't even heard of Freddie Hubbard - as amazing as that seems to me now.
This record was even more cut rate than the Uptight ones. The compilers hadn't or couldn't even afford sticky labels so the track listing came on a piece of paper. But if I had know how difficult to find the Carvo e Carvela track was I would have been even more delighted with it.
I can't exactly remember where this came from but I have a vague feeling it was somewhere on Portobello Road.
There used to be a guy who had a stall selling cassettes (shows how long ago it was) with some Hammond organ groovers on, as well as stuff from blaxploitation movies and probably a whole lot more. He used to have a sound system cranked up to the max and a tambourine which he's shake and rattle and generally dance around to his own music.
This is an odd one. Again no cover but someone went to a lot of trouble with the label. Blue Funk  - Blue Note - geddit!
Even I had heard of Blue Note by this stage.
But, perhaps typically, not all of the tracks on this are from Blue Note records.
Again some great tracks - God Made Me Funky by the Headhunters (although severely shortened from the original), Hip Drop by the Explosions, 24 Carat Black Theme by 24 Carat Black, Move Your Hand by Lonnie Smith (again cut short from the full length version).
This one looks as though someone tried to make it look legit. Composer credits and song publishers give it the look of a proper compilation. Except it isn't.
But in the nineties equivalent of downloading I just didn't care. In a pre-Internet age, the chances of me finding Lonnie Smith's Move Your Hand LP in a record shop and being able to afford it were slight.

Nuggets! of Funk came from a dire techno record store in Wimbledon where I went after a job interview (unfortunately I got the job - but that's another story).
By this stage I was finding that the quality of these kinds of bootleg comps was deteriorating.
I guess that there was an increasing number of legit comps with great stuff on and some very high quality bootlegs which left less 'uncomped' stuff for the 'white label' bootleggers.
Having said that Cal Tajder's Solar Heat, Lee Morgan's Untitled Boogaloo and Windy C's 100% Pure Poison are amazing.
On a trip to New York I picked up Dealer's Choice - as usual not because I knew any of the tracks but because it looked like Uptight and Outasight and I though it might be cool.
To be honest by this stage I think that compilers were finding it difficult to keep up the quality. Its a similar problem in most other genres. The best 'obscure' stuff makes it on to the earliest compliations, the following ones find some true undiscovered gems, further ones start to look to different countries or different sources but ultimately you can't keep it up forever.
Personally, for me the moment had also passed. I had loved the jazz dance scene and become fascinated but the music and inevitably the musicians. You can't dance all the time so I had started to appreciate music that didn't have a pulsating beat. Eventually I grew slightly tired of the need to find 'dancers' and started to get into some more challenging stuff.
But old habits die hard and a stall on Spitalfields Market divulged this two, final, bootleg jazz comps.
Inevitably by now the jazz elements were somewhat diluted by the funk - and the fact that they were billed as 'breaks, beats and grooves' showed that the focus had shifted.
I can remember being slightly tacken-aback by the presence of Frank Zappa!!!!

Should I have been saving my money and putting in the time to fins the original recordings? Of course I should!

But I'm, glad that I bought these records.
They opened up a whole new world of music to me
that I might never have otherwise discovered and if I had to go back and fill in the gaps in my musical knowledge, well that was all part of the fun.
There were plenty of bootlegs coming out with fancy covers and concepts, Planet of the Breaks, Beyond the Valley of the Super Beats (now THAT's a cover!), The Mood Mosiac and of course Dusty Fingers (although I still not really sure how legit they were).
But I will always have a soft spot for the plain white sleeves and stuck on labels of these bootleg jazz comps.
Anyone else find them as important as me?
And if by any chance you are a complier of one of these and you happen to be reading - let me know so I can say a big thanks~!~

 I must have forgotten about this one - been lurking in the back of the racks - Vintage on Vinyl Part 5.
Can't remember where I bought it from but the Michael Longo - Like a Thief in the Night is great and Wayne Davies - I Like the Things in righeous funk. Of course Cannonball Adderley's Space Spritual is pretty amazing too!


  1. Oh they were definitely important in the years BPC (Before Personal Computers)as a way of introducing tunes that would otherwise have cost the proverbial arm & leg. Not too easy to find outside the major cities, I imagine, but here in London they were essential purchases. They continued the momentum of the Rare Groove scene. Good article.

  2. Thanks for the comment Signor Invisible - always good to know that someone out there is reading

    And I always have a look at your blog too


  3. Great article :) Got one of the Uptights here somewhere ...

  4. I've worked in the music industry for over 25 years and I can assure you that licensing these tracks from the "official" sources is no guarantee that the artists or composers would get any money. At the time the only people earning from these sort of albums were used record dealers.

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