Chapter 3

Working for a living

Since I first spoke to Paul about the “TV Guide Presents Elvis” LP I had fancied what it would be like to be a bootlegger. I could do it; I was sure of it. Of course, I needed something to bootleg, and did I not just acquire it? But then what? I was looking at this as a long–term project, not just a minor flirtation. So I sat down to think about things; I put a plan in motion. First, to make some money from this unexpected find, I contacted a few diehard collectors: Andy Kern from Texas and Anna Labbate from New York were sure things; a few others took some convincing. I wound up selling six of the extra seven sets for two hundred dollars each.

A handsome profit it was; big money, for a kid making just over four bucks an hour at Kaiser Hospital. While trying to unload the extras, I also contacted Paul. I shipped him a set for $30; all I asked was that he wait about nine months before releasing the material on a bootleg. This would let enough time pass for the obvious explanation—he acquired it from someone else. When those chosen few who thought they had a near–exclusive on their hands found out the material was being offered for general sale, they would not get upset. Plus, they had the “originals.” I thought the world should hear this stuff, not just a few people. I was glad to make some money; not yet ready to propose Paul and I work together on a bootleg. Paul is a man of his word, all went according to plan, and when “The ’68 Comeback” appeared, nary a word was raised in protest. My friendship with Paul was cemented; next time we would work together.

That television special beamed in 1968 was back in the days when one sponsor, in this case Singer (the sewing machine company), could afford to foot the bill for an entire show. The actual title of the show was, as I recalled, “Singer Presents Elvis.” That was confirmed when we later acquired a 16mm color print of the show. Paul bought it shortly after we started making bootlegs; that began our entry into the film business. “Singer Presents Elvis” was not a snappy title for a record. Years later, it was generally acknowledged that this show was what put Elvis not just back on the map, but back on top. The British invasion was in full swing; heavy metal just around the corner (thanks to the Kinks, Steppenwolf, and the prescient tones of Black Sabbath), psychedelic rock flourished, and amidst all this was the once and former king. Elvis had nary a hit for three years, an eroding fan base, and the movies had gone stale. In an NBC minute he was back where he always was. Brash, bold, bedecked in black leather, and strutting his stuff, he faced the invited crowd, 300 for each of four shows filmed in NBC’s largest studio, and they went gaga. The girls, carefully chosen to surround the stage (more like a boxing ring without ropes and corner girls squeezed into every available inch), swooned. The mood was infectious. It was a comeback of the first order and Paul noted this with the title of his LP. From that day forward fans have always referred to the show as “The ’68 Comeback,” and that is exactly what it was.

About that night: I have always referred to it as the greatest back–to–back opening lines in TV history. At eight o’clock, the NBC peacock (with the off–screen announcement, “The following program is brought to you in living color…”) faded, and Elvis’ face filled the screen. A split second later the half smile turned to the trademark sneer and he greeted those tuned in with, “If you’re looking for trouble, you came to the right place.” One for the girls, and just how you top that remains a mystery. Talk about setting a mood, what a way to let the audience know they were in for a treat. The camera pulled back to reveal “ELVIS” in giant letters; platforms just behind the letters were filled with guitar–wielding rockers dressed like Elvis, shown in silhouette. The boys certainly cheered too, but at nine o’clock they would really have something that would make them sit up and take notice. Elvis ended with “If I Can Dream” and that was the song, written especially for the show, which put him back on the charts to stay. It was merely a short break in those days, and no previews for what was to follow. The eight o’clock process repeated itself, the same peacock preened, the same announcement intoned, the same fade–away, and a different picture filled the screen: There, in gentle repose, was Brigitte Bardot, sex–kitten supreme, lying across a velvet loveseat, propped up on her left elbow, and she purred, “How would you like to spend the next hour with me?” They will never top those two opening lines, ever. And no two bootleggers will ever again rise to the dizzying heights Paul and I enjoyed.

Paul Dowling – probably 1975

I had made the first step in establishing a solid relationship with Paul. He was as knowledgeable as they come in everything Elvis. He was easy to get along with, and eager to make more bootlegs. What he lacked was material. I had ideas; it was just a matter of time. Those three Dorsey shows proved elusive for a bit. However, my job at Kaiser had a fringe benefit: I could call anywhere. I was a lab technician and roamed all over the hospital collecting blood samples. That gave me free run of the phones on every floor. My fingers walked the world.

I called everywhere and everyone. One call led to another and another. After a couple months I was getting discouraged; then a call to some obscure collector in Canada produced results. He had the Dorsey shows, all of them. We hammered out a trade, I sent what he requested, and I received the tapes a few days later. Within a few months I had quit my job at Kaiser and was wishing there were more hours in the day. I was finding out what it meant to work for a living.

 to chapter 4

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