These days, you can hear almost every note an artist ever played. Go to a concert and there’s a forest of arms holding iPhones aloft, streaming the show to YouTube. Hop online and acts are sharing an endless river of covers, rehearsal footage and casual jams on their social media. Pick up a box set and there’s multiple discs featuring every nascent 3 A.M. demo that the songwriters could unearth in their basements.
But there was a time when none of that was available, and artists and their record labels wanted albums and singles to stand on their own as complete and solitary works. Who wanted to hear that other stuff anyway? As it turned out, there were armies of insatiable fans who wanted it all and more—and in the summer of 1969, two men started the first bootleg label to give them what they wanted.
The label was Trade Mark of Quality and the two men were…well, they’ve gone by a number of names over the years, but they’re referred to as Carl and Pigman in a new book, A Pig’s Tale, by Ralph Sutherland and Harold Sherrick, with researcher Steve Talia. Taking its name from TMQ’s logo—a cartoon pig—the book sifts through the illegal label’s deliberately murky history, scraping away rock ‘n’ roll mythology to reveal how two guys operated in the shadows of the music industry, built their own studio, secretly pressed albums, and ultimately changed copyright law forever. The result of six years of research, the true-crime tome recounts unexpected twists, close calls and at least one Mission: Impossible-like attempt to secure recordings worth their weight in gold.
Throughout the first half of the 1970s, TMQ released dozens of illicit albums filled with unreleased music from some of the biggest names in rock. When the records inspired others to take up bootlegging, TMQ continued to stand out from the crowd by emphasizing the “Q” with its product. Rolling Stone magazine was so taken by TMQ’s early release, Live’r Than You’ll Ever Be, capturing a sizzling Rolling Stones show at the Oakland Coliseum, that it reviewed the record in February 1970, calling the record nothing less than “the ultimate Rolling Stones album.”
As the Seventies wore on, however, bootlegs’ novelty started to wear off, artists began strategizing against them (the Stones responded to Live’r by releasing the concert album Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out soon after), fans grew tired of getting ripped off by terrible-sounding records, and most importantly, bootleggers began to get busted. While labels like TMQ initially existed in a legal gray area where bootlegging was “only” a civil offense, major labels responded by lobbying for changes that became part of the Copyright Act of 1976. Giving copyright protection to “all misappropriated recordings, both counterfeit and pirate,” the act made producing bootlegs a federal crime; not so coincidentally, TMQ closed up shop the same year.
It was a quiet, necessary end to a lark that got out of control. Sutherland describes Carl and Pigman as “just a couple of crazy L.A. music freaks who thought it would be cool to put together their own album of unreleased Dylan tracks. They had no idea what chaos would be unleashed in the music business when they did this.”
That album of Dylan tracks was Great White Wonder, a two-LP hodgepodge of Bob Dylan casually playing in a hotel room, some studio outtakes and a TV performance. As avowed fans, the two had obtained the tracks on reel-to-reel tapes through collector circles, but the songs were spread across different tapes. While a few collectors might daydream about somehow compiling them onto a convenient vinyl record, Carl and Pigman were in a position to actually do that—so they did.
“They worked at a record distributor in L.A. and knew people who helped them,” says Sutherland. “One of the producers put together the master tapes himself, then it was turned over to other trusted associates to produce and manufacture the finished product. There were those in the business who could get things done for a price and keep their mouths shut. Only a few hundred pressings of Great White Wonder were made in the beginning.”
A few hundred records was still a lot to get into stores; they needed help—and that’s where co-author Harold Sherrick came in. “I was a high school kid when I met Pigman,” says Sherrick. “I started helping them, not with the manufacturing itself, but going to the pressing plants, picking up the orders, boxing them, sticking them in the van, driving them back and then taking them into a few record stores that were selling stuff for us.” Working in one of those stores at the time was none other than Ralph Sutherland, and a lasting casual acquaintance began.