Nov 13, 2018

1973: Mr. Tapes


BROOKLYN -- Don't let anybody tell you differently. Brooklyn is the Grateful Dead center of the world. For one thing, Mickey Hart's grandparents live in Bayridge. Bill Kreutzman's niece goes to school on Coney Island. And on East 18th Street, cleverly disguised as a mild-mannered inspector for the New York City Housing Authority, lives the man Jerry Garcia calls "Mr. Tapes."
Les Kippel pointed to his collection. "Over 500 hours of Grateful Dead tapes," he beamed. "More than 100 concerts from early 1968 right up to Watkins Glen. The Dead by themselves, the Dead with the New Riders, with Duane Allman, with the Beach Boys, the Airplane - there's even a tape with Janis Joplin." Les closed his eyes for a beat. "Let's see...that one was from the Fillmore East, January 3rd, 1970.
"The first concert I personally recorded was on May 25th, 1971. I had a borrowed cassette machine and a 45-cent microphone - now I use a Sony TC1-10A and an Uhr mike. It's a real pain in the ass doing an audience tape. It takes a lot of preparation - you have to attach the mike to a long pole to get above the crowd noise. You also have to know the concert hall very well - in some places, for example, the best sound is in the first row balcony. You also need a partner to help with the equipment and a lot of dope to keep you mellow."
Les moved out of the apprentice class last year while he was waiting in a Ticketron line at Macy's. "There were some 200 people screaming to get tickets to see the Dead at Roosevelt Stadium," he said. "And three or four of them were screaming, 'We have tapes. We have tapes.' One of them was a cat named John Alberts - and we wound up exchanging collections. That brought me up to about 200 hours."
It wasn't until a Dead concert at Waterbury, Connecticut, last year that Les became a Grand Master. "John and I were hanging around the backstage area before the concert. We needed a super-good 'Box of Rain' for our collection." So they made up a little gift in a small box and attached one of their cards. "We managed to get it to Bill Kreutzman. Ten minutes later he comes running outside with Phil Lesh, looking for us... They gave us stage passes. We handed out over a hundred of our cards backstage, and the tapes really started coming in after that."
Approximately two-thirds of Les's tapes are audience tapes, the remainder being either radio-simulcasts or soundboard tapes which have been borrowed, copied, and (sometimes) returned. There are also a couple of tapes from Warner Bros. - but Les never involves himself in the shadier aspects of tape procurement. "All I want to know," he said, "is how good the sound is and what concert it's from."
With Les as source, free Grateful Dead tape exchanges have been set up in Oregon, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, California, Maryland, Massachusetts...there have even been inquiries from Australia.
"A lot of people want to set up exchanges. I tell them to get cards made up with their telephone numbers on it, but I also insist it says 'free' on them. Then they came over here. If they can make me like them, I'll start them out with 15-20 hours of tape - they can trade their own way from there. If they're assholes, I'll charge them outrageous prices for a couple of tapes and tell them not to come back."

John Orlando got his tapes for nothing. He lives in Brooklyn, of course, and he is a member of one of the nine Dead tape exchanges which Les has spawned in New York City.
"Mr. Tapes is a bitch," John said. "He set me up and two of my friends with tapes, right? Man, I was doing wall-to-wall taping 18 hours a day, four machines going at the same time. I had to quit my job - it was very intense. I had to stay high all day or I'd go nuts. After a week, my chick comes over and said, 'John, is it me or the Dead?" 'Take a walk,' I says. I'm a Grateful Dead hermit - but I have an understanding with them, so it's cool. But Mr. Tapes, man, he can fuck your head good."

Back on 18th Street, Les talked about the future. "I'd like to go legit," he said. "Sam Cutler told me we can make some money working with the Dead. It seems that they have a lot of holes in their archives - somebody ripped off some tapes while they were in Oregon. There's certainly a demand for old stuff, and the Dead are cut loose from Warner Bros. now, so the next move is theirs."
Les Kippel, however, is the Tape Master only because the old one is in addled retirement. Somewhere, walking the streets of Flatbush, is a man known only as "The Legendary Marty." Clasped in his hand is a suitcase - full of Dead tapes, the best and the most exotic. The leaders are split and tangled, and there are no labels on the tiny five-inch reels, but the very thought of them is enough to give Les cardiac arrest.
"I haven't seen the Legendary Marty in over a year," said Les. "Nobody knows where he is. What I would love to do is close my eyes, stick my hand into the suitcase, and record whatever I pull out. Who knows what goodies he has in there?"
As he talked, Les poured out three glasses of wine. He sipped at one and handed me another - the third he put on the table.
"What's that for?" I asked.
Les answered in a reverent tone, "It's for Marty. Just in case."

(by Charley Rosen, from Rolling Stone, 11 October 1973)

See also: 

1 comment:

  1. Stepping outside my current chronology, this is the earliest printed reference to Marty Weinberg, "the legendary Marty," holder of fabled Dead tapes no one else has. The funny thing is, the description of his reels is pretty accurate: tangled, unlabeled, and mysterious. By 1973, Marty had lost interest in Dead-taping and his reels were already gathering dust.

    Les Kippel had started the Free Underground Grateful Dead Tape Exchange, and would go on to co-found the Dead Relix newsletter in fall '74, in an ongoing effort to connect Dead tapers and start a tape-trading community. Back when he'd started taping shows in 1971, "I didn't have any tapes at the time, I didn't know anyone taping shows, it was [just] me doing it. I was lonely, very lonely." (Taping Compendium, p.20)
    But by 1972, tapers were starting to find each other and form tape clubs; Jerry Moore, when meeting Les, regarded him as "the king of Dead taping...he couldn't stop raving about Les' collection." (TC p.23) But they were all flabbergasted by Marty's collection, after meeting him once in 1972.

    Marty himself wasn't so thrilled with Jerry and Les: "My scenes with those guys weren't all that positive... They were okay guys. But to me, their attitudes were very different. They were much more dogmatic, they were very serious. They didn't see the spiritual side... My take on them is that they were insane about wanting all of these recordings. Their level of enjoyment and appreciation was different than mine. So, I was a little uncomfortable with them... They had a level of intensity that I did not have." (Taping Addendum, p. 25-26)

    The type of collector Marty felt troubled by is well-represented here by John, the "Grateful Dead hermit" who quits his job and tells his chick to "take a walk" so he can spend all day copying Dead tapes! Harvey Lubar, a founder of the Hell's Honkies Grateful Dead Tape Club, admitted that "for Jerry and me, our lives revolved around tapes. We were at each other's houses almost every day listening to a new tape or discussing future trades." (TC p.24)

    But did Jerry Garcia call Les "Mr. Tapes?" That seems to have been a fiction of the writer's. Les said, "I felt he was taking certain liberties in his exaggeration, but that was where the name Mr. Tapes came from; he penned the term." (TC p.29)
    After the article, Les was flooded with letters from people looking for tapes, leading to chain-taping sessions, the growth of more tape exchanges, and the birth of Dead Relix. Unfortunately, his correspondence with the Dead trying to start a legitimate, "official" tape exchange, where the Dead would send out tapes to collectors themselves, came to nothing.

    On a minor note, it's amusing when Les confidently says his Dead/Janis tape is from...1/3/70! Even back then, a dating error like this on his part seems unlikely. Possibly it's due to one of the many false tape-labels that plagued early collectors; or possibly the Rolling Stone writer made the mistake in his notes, since Les' first Dead show had been at the Fillmore East in Jan '70.