Bootleg Records & Rockins Packaging Inspiration
1969 was a defining year for music; Led Zeppelin released their eponymous debut album, The Rolling Stones paid tribute to Brian Jones with a free concert in Hyde Park and Johnny Cash played his infamous gig at San Quentin State Prison. It was also the year that ‘bootlegging’ transformed the music industry.
Taking its name from the sale of illicit booze, bootlegging originally meant to carry a bottle of whiskey in your boot. Sharing the premise of hidden, secret pleasures, a bootleg is now more widely known as a recording of a performance that was not released by the artist or other legal authority.
In the Summer of 1969, two Californian record plant workers, Dub Taylor and Ken Douglas, heard some unreleased Bob Dylan material on an LA radio station. Known as ‘The Basement Sessions’, the pair sought to get hold of the tapes that were circulating underground. Packaged in an assuming plain white cardboard sleeve with a stamped logo ‘G.W.W’, they pressed 100 vinyls of the tapes, which they sold at an LA record store. Known as ‘The Great White Wonder’, the pair had unknowingly released the first bootleg record.
Bruce Springsteen with Boombox
Taylor and Douglas went on to launch their label ‘Trade Mark of Quality’, producing and manufacturing a string of ground breaking bootleg records from the likes of The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles. Their ‘Smoking Pig’ logo is now an iconic symbol that represents the birth of bootlegging; a parody of the cigar-smoking, music-biz mogul, it features a cartoon pig smoking a joint.
Kids on NYC Subway with a boombox
Posing a threat to the legitimate music industry, many labels claimed the Mafia was the force behind bootlegging. While organised crime was most likely responsible for the counterfeiting of records, the manufacture and sale of live records was down to music aficionados, providing to music lovers desperate for their next fix. Records were usually poorly pressed with photocopied covers; when it came to bootlegging, perfection wasn’t the goal. The ‘fizz’ and ‘crackle’ from countless re-recordings and handwritten labels were all integral to a bootleg record. The noise of a baying crowd so loud that the band could barely be heard simply captured a moment. Bootlegging represented a love of music so passionate that fans devoured every second of music they could get their hands on.
Old School Hip Hop tapes
In the mid-1970s, hip-hop was born. This underground urban movement grew from house parties in the South Bronx area of New York, with music inspired by traditional Jamaican toasting, Calypso style rhythms and folk-poets of West Africa.
DJ Kool Herc cuttin’ some breaks at a NY block party in the early 80’s
Jamaican immigrant Kool Herc is often heralded as the pioneer of hip hop, and he is credited as birthing hip-hop cassette bootlegging. Boomboxes and Walkmans capitalized on the portability of hip-hop music and the ‘urban-warrior lifestyle’; it was commonplace for partygoers to plug in their tape players in the middle of a crowd and press record. Cassette tapes were easily replicated and could fit in your pocket; a dub of a tape could travel for miles. During hip-hops early years, these tapes served as a record of original old-school rap routines and DJ sets; these live dubs represented a raw honesty that was hard to replicate in a studio.
Members of the Dirty Ones gang blasting their boombox in Brooklyn
Hip-hop mix-tapes were also an accessible stepping stone for upcoming artists to get their music heard. A 4-track demo could easily be recorded and sent on to a label; these tapes would eventually launch careers for stars such as DMX and The Lox. Just like bootleg rock vinyls of the late 1960s, bootleg cassettes represented a street-level awareness of the hip-hop scene; if you knew where to get your hands on a live dub, you were savvy to an exclusive world.
THE ROLLING STONES WELCOME TO NEW YORK VINYL LP TRADE MARK OF QUALITY
A bootleg is more than just an imperfect recording. These vinyls and tapes humanized the previously untouchable world of music distribution. Handwritten labels and photocopied artwork were not amateur and haphazard, instead they had a personal quality, as if the record had been directly passed from the hands of the artist. Many of these records are now some of the most highly collectible music memorabilia in the world; not only do they represent the work of an artist, they represent an era of true passion for music.
Our love for bootleg records is in the inspiration behind our latest Rockins packaging. Every bandana, neckerchief or silk scarf is lovingly packaged in a vinyl sleeve, cassette box or CD case with original artwork by founder Tim Rockins.