It Coulda Happened this Way — LiveR Than You’ll Ever Be
Chris was tall, lean, had black wavy hair that hit his shoulders, didn’t do drugs, but moved as if he’d been popping bennies. He was Dub’s friend and he was always around. He liked Dylan, but was passionate about the Rolling Stones. Dub liked them too. Me, I was a Beatles guy, but Chris was always playing the Stones, talking up the Stones.
Both Dub and I bought new cars, but I had kids and a wife, rent and bills. Dub did not, so he spent a good portion of his new found wealth on toys. Toys that made the music sound better. There was this high priced stereo place called Radio Lab in Glendale he’d go to for the latest gear. I was never surprised when I got to his place and found him setting up a whole new system. One week it was top of the line McIntosh, the next Marantz. Chris was always there, helping him with the set up, wanting to hear the Stones through the new speakers that not only rocked Dub’s small apartment, but could’ve rocked all the way to downtown LA if Dub had wanted.
I remember one time I got to Dub’s place in the middle of the afternoon and he had this huge, orange, egg shaped, fiberglass chair with a stereo built into it. Chris was ensconced in the egg, listening to the Stones, lost in Mick and Keith land.
“Look what I got.” Dub held up this flute-looking affair and for a second that’s what I thought it was.
“Wonderful,” I said trying to hide my ignorance.
“Sennheiser shotgun mike.” He waved it around the way Obi Wan would wield a light saber a couple generations later. It was obviously very expensive.
“I always wanted one of those,” I said.
“Who wouldn’t?” Dub hadn’t heard a drop of the sarcasm in my voice. He was like a kid who’d just found the present of his dreams under the Christmas tree. I half expected to hear Brenda Lee break out with ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ as he handed the mic to Chris.
“Neat, isn’t it?” Chris said from the chair as Mick started out on ‘Honky Tonk Woman.’
“I don’t know about the mic, but that chair looks pretty fuckin’ neat.”
“Try it.” Chris jumped up holding the mic like a sword.
I got in the chair and I must admit, the sound from that baby was just about the best you could hope for. The Stones were blasting away in my little world, but outside that chair they didn’t sound much louder then a clock radio. Amazing.
“That’s enough.” Chris grabbed my hand, jerked me out of the chair. He really did like the Stones.
“Got this too.” Dub pulled a small tape recorder out of a box that was sitting next to his latest Amp. “Uher 4000 seven-and-a-half inches-per-second reel to reel tape recorder. State of the art.” Those were Dub’s favorite words in those days, “State of the art.”
“What are you gonna do with that?”
“Chris and I are gonna record the Stones. Got tickets for five shows.”
“You and Chris?” I shook my head. Recording our own show was something new. It was one thing to get a tape and put it out, but actually going to the concert and recording it, this was heady stuff and it sounded dangerous.
“I know what you’re thinking, but don’t worry, I’m gonna paint the mic flat black. No one’s gonna see it in the dark.”
I looked down at Chris in that chair and I swear to heaven and all the angels above, nobody had ever worn a wider smile. I didn’t know if it was the music or the prospect of seeing them live. Probably both.
So Dub and Chris went on tour with the Stones. They recorded the Los Angeles, San Diego, Oakland and Phoenix shows. In fact, they were on the same plane with the band when they left Phoenix. Chris couldn’t have been happier.
I sat around and watched them work when they got back. I was good with a splicing bar, Dub was better. There was a lot of fighting, arguing, wrangling about what songs were gonna go on the record. There wasn’t enough for a double LP and Dub didn’t want to cram so much music on the disc that it would lose quality. Unlike me, Dub was a perfectionist, he wanted this record to sound like you were really there.
And he had the equipment to do it. He was the first kid on his or any other block to get an equalizer. I remember when he brought it home from Radio Lab. I also remember how upset he was when it didn’t perform the way he thought it should. He fired off an unflattering letter to the company, saying that he was gonna come over and tell them in person what they could do with the turkey they’d developed. Immediately he got a reply back from one of the engineers, saying that he had a two-by-four waiting to crack over Dub’s head the second he showed up.
He took the machine back to Radio Lab, got another that worked the way he deemed it should and used his magic ear to make ‘LiveR Than You’ll Ever Be’ the best live LP released by any band, ever. To this day, nobody, not the Rolling Stones themselves, or anybody else, has been able to match that record for sheer presence. The music is violent. It rips from the speakers, cuts to the soul. Dub belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for that record.
You can hear his meticulous attention to detail the second you put your needle down on the vinyl. The amps blew out during the first show, apparently surprising Mick, because he said, “sh*t, hang on a minute. Can you hear that?” Dub thought that would be a great way to start the record, so he cut it out of the first show and stuck it before ‘Carol,’ the opening song, a masterpiece of rock and roll editing.
With the tape ready to go, Dub wanted the best when it came to mastering the record, so he and Chris found a place on Sunset. I remember sitting in there late at night while they put on the tape. Like when Ted and I did Stealin’, everybody knew what was going on, but they did an outstanding job with the master.
So now we had a master, but we had nowhere to get it pressed. Again I thought of Jack Brown at Rainbow, but he was too closely connected to my father, so we decided to go to someplace new.
But other than Pete’s, or maybe Jack’s, I didn’t want to go into a pressing plant and neither did Dub. That left Chris and to his credit he was willing and able. After all, he figured, nobody in the biz knew him, so the worst thing that could happen was that they would say no.
“I don’t think that’s a problem,” I said, “because you’ve got a better chance of finding an honest man in the record business, than you do of finding water on the sun.” I knew the first place he went, would do the record, especially if he offered a little more than they charged the real record companies. Everybody in the business in those days was a crook. I remember one of the distributors used to say that if someone who worked for you made you more than he stole from you, then you couldn’t afford to fire him.
Of course, Chris was in for a third of this record. He was the one going to the new plant, after all, and he’d gone on the recording tour with Dub. A new partner, we didn’t care, not in those days. There was more than enough money to go around, besides we were hippies, well kind of.
With the record mastered the three of us climbed into Dub’s Camero and headed out toward Burbank, so Chris could meet the Waddell Brothers, Horace and Bud. We parked outside their pressing plant while Chris went in. It was nail-biting time. Could he pull it off? Twenty minutes later he came bouncing toward the car, hopped in with a laugh and a smile.
“How’d it go?” I asked as Dub started the car.
“He took the money.”
“When do we get our records?” Dub turned out of the parking lot onto Olive.
“Next week.” Chris looked over his shoulder, out the back window, checking to see if we were being followed. It had taken a lot of courage for someone as paranoid as him to go in there and order those records. I was surprised he was able to do it, but then, he really liked the Stones.
A week later Dub and I were up in his tiny apartment waiting for Chris and our new title. We heard him bounding up the stairs. Dub was ready to put the record on the turntable.
“You won’t believe this,” Chris said as he burst into the room.
“What?” Dub and I said in unison.
“Our record is being pressed at the same plant that’s doing ‘Let it Bleed.’ He set the box of records he’d been carrying next to the stereo.
“You’re kidding,” I said.
Dub just smiled.
“Think of it,” Chris said. “The Stones’ real record and the bootleg being pressed together, side by side.
“This can’t be good,” I said as I checked out the box Chris had brought up. Sure enough it was a London Box.
“Why not?” Dub wanted to know.
“He’s worried about someone from London going to the plant and seeing our records there,” Chris said.
“It won’t happen,” Dub said. “Those guys are so lazy. They just wanna sit back in their plush offices and count their money.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “It could be anyone, a driver for example.”
“You’re worried about nothing.”
“Besides, there’s nothing we can do about it,” Chris said. A statement that was remarkable coming from him, paranoid as he was.
Dub and I weren’t nearly as paranoid as him, but we were getting there. More and more we were meeting people we didn’t know. Underground types, criminal types, people living on the edge, drug dealers too, because they thought selling bootlegs was safer than dope.
We came up with this grand plan, we’d give ourselves alter egos. Our real names would be our secret identities, sort of like Superman and Batman. We were, of course, still wearing our buckskin jackets, still standing out like Hollywood pimps, and that bright orange Camero of Dub’s was anything but low key.
Chris didn’t need an identity, because he would pick up the records, meet me and Dub somewhere in the middle of the night, transfer the records to the Camero and get himself out of the picture. Back then I wouldn’t have traded places with him for all the cereal in Battlecreek, but that was before I knew Bud and Horace Waddell. You didn’t want to mess with Horace, but if you were straight with him, you didn’t have anything to worry about.
One night after the record had been out for a while, Chris met us in a parking lot close to Tommy’s at nine straight up with a car full of records. There was no moon, clouds closed off the stars. I smelled rain in the air, something else too, the cooking beef from Tommy’s wafting on the wind, mixed with a healthy dose of fear. Chris was even more jumpy than usual. Soon he would be out of the business. It was too much for him.
His paranoia was contagious, all of a sudden shivers knifed up my spine and all I wanted to do was go home, but we had records to deliver, so we set up a chain, Chris tossing the boxes to me and me to Dub, who tossed them into the Camero. By the time we were finished the Camero was stuffed with the brown boxes, trunk and back seat both.
“Drive’s like a sled,” Dub said as we pulled out of the parking lot.
“No fast getaway for us.”
We drove to a residential neighborhood in North Hollywood, where we were supposed to meet the guys buying the records. We’d never met them before, Chris had set it up.
“There,” I pointed, “that’s the address.”
Dub pulled up in front of the house, parked.
“Now what do we do?” he said.
“I don’t know, get out and knock.”
“It’s dark, doesn’t look like anybody’s home.”
Someone came up from behind, rapped on the window.
“sh*t!” Dub said.
It scared me too.
“We’re in the van across the street,” this big guy said. He had an accent, Italian kind of. And he was speaking loud enough for us to hear him with the windows up. He was sure of himself.
“Let’s get this over with,” I said.
Dub rolled down the window.
“We’ll pull up behind you.”
“Okay.” The guy sauntered back across the street, a big Marlon Brando from one of those early biker films.
“Who are we tonight?” I said.
“I’ll be Rick, you be Terry.”
“I just want this to be over.” Dub shut the engine off behind a dark Ford van.
“Me too.” I got out of the car.
“You got everything we ordered?” Brando asked, only now he didn’t look like Marlon anymore. Up close I could see he had a pockmarked face. He also had dark eyes that said don’t fuck with me and a bulge under his faded Levi jacket that I didn’t want to know about.
“Come on, Terry,” Dub said.
I ignored him.
Still I ignored him.
“I think your friend’s taking to you.”
“Me?” All of a sudden I remembered who I was supposed to be. “Yeah, yeah, okay, Rick.”
Marlon opened the back of the van and we got those records in there as fast as we could. Finished the guy reached for that bulge and I was sure this was going to be a rip off, but instead he pulled out a wallet stuffed full of hundred dollar bills. He grabbed them out of the leather pocket.
“Want me to count it out for you, or what?”
“That’s okay,” I said. “We trust you.”
“Sure you do, Terry.” The guy handed over the money, got in the passenger side of the van and the drove off. We never did see the driver.
“I don’t know about you,” I said once we were safely back in the car, “but I never want to see that guy again.”
“And I never want to shift records around in the middle of the night like this. What if a cop would’ve come by?”
“Right, never again.” I didn’t know it, but I’d just lied. I’d be shifting records around in the dark of night for a long time to come.