Sunday, December 10, 2006

Clap For The Wolfgang

For an obsessive music fan like me, the recent on-line streaming of concert recordings on Wolfgang’s Concert Vault is like a gold miner hitting the mother lode. Wolfgang’s Vault is a rock memorabilia site, selling T-shirts, posters and vintage items from a vast collection amassed by legendary promoter Bill Graham. Graham was a bit of an obsessive, and made soundboard recordings of most of the shows he produced. The archive contains about 5,000 recordings, and over 300 are already streaming on the site, which is run by a San Francisco entrepreneur named Bill Sagan. Drooling yet? There are unbelievably good recordings by David Bowie, Genesis, Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, Muddy Waters, The Who, to name just a few. New shows are released weekly, and everything I’ve listened too has been surprisingly good quality. The streaming is intended to increase the traffic, and ultimately sales, at Wolfgang’s Vault.

Of course, it didn’t take long for debates to surface over the legality of this endeavor. Some of the artists are considering legal action, claiming ownership to these recordings, while others seem to accept the idea as the sharing of historically important music. Artists claim that although Sagan owns the recordings, the rights to distribute belong to the artist’s label. The most interesting development is the streaming of Neil Young and Crazy Horse from March 1970, performances that were finally released commercially by Neil’s label just a few weeks ago. The vault started streaming it four days before the release. I can’t imagine that the suits at Reprise are pleased at this moment. However, Sagan stated that he pays songwriter’s royalties for all the music that’s streamed, and considers the site no different than an Internet radio station. I’m interested in what, if anything, the artists signed prior to the performances. They must have known that Graham was rolling tape.

All I can say at this point is to register and start streaming, before the lawyers get involved. This has to be the greatest collection of rock music concert recordings anywhere. A lot of this material has been buried for 30 years. How long would it take for the labels to release these recordings commercially, if ever? There is just too much here to be ignored. As an example, there is recording of the Who from 1968, pre-Tommy, that is superb. This is an important recording, as Townshend has said he destroyed all of the tapes from the 1969 tour, citing dissatisfaction with the quality. Until last Friday, I had never heard a pre-1970 concert recording of the Who, except for snippets in The Kids Are Alright, Monterey Pop, and some Woodstock footage. For a Who fan, this recording is revelatory. Zeppelin? How about a screaming version of Train Kept A Rollin’ to start a blistering set from 1969? There’s the 1975 one-off of Dylan, Young and the Band from a 1975 benefit show, and Springsteen’s 1978 tour de force at Winterland. I could go on and on, as this is just 4 of 316 shows currently on-line.

A lot of the material probably doesn’t have wide commercial appeal, and I would think that hard-core fans already own bootleg copies of some of these shows. As a rule, live recordings are generally not great sellers, typically targeted for the converted fans (Frampton and Cheap Trick aside). I see no harm in this site, only pleasure. In my opinion,pull any recording that has been commercially released, and let us fanatics have our fun with the rest. If the lawyers pull the plug on these treasures, we may never hear them again.

Buy Neil Young and Crazy Horse Live At The Fillmore

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