MR. 'TAPES' OF BROOKLYN: HE RULES THE GRATEFUL DEAD TAPE EMPIRE
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)