Pigs In Zen: A Tale Of Trademarks and Quality

A new book uncovers the story of the world’s most notorious bootleg record label

Great White Wonder poster (Image: Genius Music Books)

Bootleg vinyl is a rarified niche of the record collecting hobby.

Representing the essence of 1970s-era ‘underground chic’, a rock fanboy (or fangirl) with bootleg albums in their collection was signaling their deep commitment to the music in the face of those flawed mere commercial consumers of rock ‘n’ roll. Back in those pre-Internet days, collecting bootlegs was hard work – they were hard to find, usually prohibitively expensive (compared to legit label releases), and they were often of shoddy sonic quality – but once you got your first taste of a rare collection of studio outtakes or a liver-quivering live show preserved on PVC, you were hooked.

In my case, it was a Leon Russell bootleg titled Sessions, released by the fly-by-night underground label Zerocks, whose mere thirteen titles were comprised exclusively of Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Leon Russell albums. Documenting a December 1970 public TV performance by Russell and friends in Hollywood, I found the album through an ad in the back of a music magazine after seeing the TV broadcast. I dutifully mailed off three or four bucks to an anonymous West Coast P.O. box and a few weeks later I received a blank white cardboard sleeve with the initials “L.R.” scrawled in the bottom right rear corner. The record itself sported blue labels with song titles and no artist identification. What I didn’t know at the time was that this Zerocks’ release was actually a knock-off of an earlier Trademark of Quality bootleg.

Trademark of Quality (a/k/a TMQ) – the name itself sends shivers down the spine of any dyed-in-the-wool bootleg vinyl collector. The prolific underground label was undeniably the pioneer of rock ‘n’ roll bootlegs, and over the six years that TMQ danced on the edge of the gray market, the label released over 100 albums, most of them of uniformly high quality and most evincing a pride and creativity absent from the bulk of mainstream major label catalogs. Thanks to a pair of Los Angeles area natives, Ralph Sutherland and Harold Sherrick, we now have a comprehensive history of the TMQ label and its elusive co-founder ‘Pigman’ in the form of the book A Pig’s Tale.

A Pig’s Tale cover (Image: Genius Music Books)

Before digging into A Pig’s Tale, some definition is required. The underground recording industry is divided into three distinct areas: bootleggers, pirates, and counterfeiters. Pirated albums – usually on easily-reproduced cassettes or CDs – are shabby reproductions of legitimate releases without any attempt made to resemble the original product. Counterfeit albums are no more than finely-crafted deceptions that exactly reproduce the original item, often down to the label’s logo, passing the product off as legit. Both formats are the province of organized crime. By contrast, bootleg recordings are almost exclusively comprised of live or unreleased studio recordings that are largely purchased by the dedicated fan who typically buys all of an artist’s authorized releases. 

There hasn’t been a lot of ink afforded the bootleg industry by the mainstream media through the years. Industry trade papers like Billboard, Cashbox, and Variety would begrudgingly report on underground recordings. In the very early years, newspapers in NY and LA offered a few column inches to what was then considered a bothersome novelty, while music magazines like Rolling Stone and Creem provided peripheral coverage. Otherwise, this narrow corner of commerce was spoken about only in fan club newsletters and counter-culture publications until the early ‘90s when ICE (International CD Exchange) magazine, which included a regular column on underground releases, and Live! Music Review, which focused almost exclusively on bootlegs, provided unbiased coverage of the decade’s growing bootleg scene. (Full disclosure: I was a writer and editor for Live! Music Review back in the day.) 

British Dylan historian (and mega-fan) Clinton Heylin dug deep into the history of the rock ‘n’ roll underground with his controversial 1994 book Bootleg: The Secret History of the Other Recording Industry. Heylin provided a fairly decent overview of the TMQ story in Bootleg, interviewing label co-founders ‘Dub’ and ‘Ken’, who provided enough information for a couple of chapters. However, the authors of A Pig’s Tale have the benefit of longstanding relationships with TMQ’s “Pigman” (a/k/a ‘Dub’) and ‘Carl’ (a/k/a ‘Ken’) and thus provide a deeper and more insightful story of the influential and groundbreaking label.

‘Pigman’ and ‘Carl’ were co-workers at a L.A. music distributor who shared a love of rock music, and Bob Dylan in particular. One day they had the idea of drawing on their respective collections of reel-to-reel tapes (the trading of unreleased songs, usually copied from demo acetates, was hot stuff back in the ‘60s) to assemble a complete album of Dylan studio outtakes. Released in July 1969 and titled Great White Wonder, the two-LP set was pressed on black vinyl with generic labels, and packaged in a plain white sleeve with the title rubber-stamped on the cover. Copies sold to hungry Dylan fans nearly as fast as they could have them pressed and, while the album’s sales paled in comparison to most major label releases, it nevertheless provided an unexpected financial windfall to the rookie bootleggers. 

Bootleg albums weren’t necessarily a new phenomenon when the duo released their initial effort. Classical performances were frequently bootlegged in small numbers during the 1950s and ‘60s, and jazz music had a lengthy history of unauthorized live albums sold from the back rooms of hipper NYC record stores. Great White Wonder is considered the first rock ‘n’ roll bootleg, creating an entirely new underground recording industry in its wake. Several other Dylan titles followed on what was initially an anonymous label, including acclaimed albums like Stealin’ and John Birch Society Blues, but ‘Pigman’ soon realized the benefits of providing the label with an identity and ‘Trademark of Quality’ was born.

Adopting a stylized B&W pig drawing as the label’s logo, TMQ releases were identified by a logo sticker and rubber-stamped title on an otherwise white cover. As competing bootleggers without TMQ’s ability to source new material knocked off the label’s titles, TMQ began including graphic inserts with track lists and later switched to colored ‘virgin’ vinyl as a better sonic canvas to work with. Two significant events solidified the label’s myth – first, the release of the Rolling Stones’ Live’r Than You’ll Ever Be in December 1969 and, later, the innovative use of artist William Stout’s clever cover artwork which, for many TMQ collectors, defined the label’s exciting graphic vibe.

Trade Mark of Quality logo (Image: Genius Music Books)

Live’r Than You’ll Ever Be was, arguably, the first live rock bootleg, capturing a November 1969 Rolling Stones performance in Oakland and put out on the street just weeks later – an unparalleled feat the major labels couldn’t, nor would care to compete with. Just as Great White Wonder sparked a frenzy in the fledgling underground industry to dig up unreleased studio tracks to press onto vinyl – a finite resource, at best – easily available live performances found an eager audience with cash to burn among rock music’s dedicated fans. The talented Stout’s imaginative and whimsical artwork provided TMQ releases with a creative edge that its competitors couldn’t match.

‘Pigman’ operated Trademark of Quality from 1969 to roughly 1976, with a short break in the middle of the decade. He would split with his one-time partner ‘Carl’, who became a friendly competitor with his own Smokin’ Pig label, but during his tenure as a pioneering bootlegger, ‘Pigman’ released 99 titles under the TMQ label, and another 11 before that as “no name” releases. Sutherland and Sherrick provide the complete story, from TMQ’s anonymous origins until that day, years later, when ‘Pigman’ shut it down as the walls began closing in when the recording industry started taking the bootleg biz seriously and got copyright laws changed and the FBI involved. The writers’ narrative is entertaining but informative, and they were able to pry some truly fascinating stories from their protagonists.

A Pig’s Tale isn’t a cheap book – it’s a thick, oversized 300-plus-page trade paperback with a hefty $75 price tag that appeals mostly to fanatics such as this writer – and if the “tale” was all they had to tell, it would be a hard sell. But Genius Music Books has surrounded the writers’ breezy prose with gorgeous graphics the equal of an even more expensive art book. With access provided by ‘Pigman’ to his personal archives, A Pig’s Tale includes high-quality reproductions of cover artwork from many, if not all of TMQ’s album releases, including photos of the vinyl itself, album inserts, newspaper and magazine clippings, and other memorabilia. 

For the rabid bootleg collector, however, they also provide “information grids” for each album that mimic the sort of studio paperwork accompanying a recording session. These grids include track listings, source information, and other ephemera guaranteed to appeal to the obsessive sort, with the data sourced directly from the “pig’s mouth,” as it were. The book also includes a complete TMQ discography with catalog numbers as well as an artist index that points to individual album photos and the aforementioned information grids. It’s an impressive, museum-quality presentation that does not disappoint in spite of the book’s cost.

 

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Unlike his erstwhile partner ‘Carl’, who would continue bootlegging well into the 1990s CD era, ‘Pigman’ shut down his tape recorder and reportedly ran off to an unnamed Pacific island rather than play hide-and-seek with the feds. The industry that he created continued well into the new century, before the easy (and free) availability of live recordings flooded the Internet and rendered bootlegs superfluous. TMQ gave way to equally esteemed labels as The Amazing Kornyphone Record Label (TAKRL) and Excitable Recordworks and, when compact discs superseded vinyl, labels like Swingin’ Pig, Great Dane, Yellow Dog, and KTS (Kiss The Stone) stepped up to release a wealth of music.

Although bootleg albums are a controversial and contentious issue, their impact on popular culture and their worldwide appeal speaks for itself. In Heylin’s Bootleg, he concluded that “bootlegs represent no threat to the music industry. Only the most dedicated of fans is going to appreciate the ‘point’ of hearing all twenty-seven takes of ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’,” adding that collectors “are looking for something that is locked into the wellspring of inspiration, and the beauty of the musical interplay that rock music allows…” After decades of turning a deaf ear to the underground recording industry, the major labels finally heard the music and started raiding their vaults of every alternate take and live track they can dig up for deluxe box sets, often turning to bootleg albums for songs when their archival searches come up empty.

With A Pig’s Take, Sutherland and Sherrick dutifully preserve the history of this innovative record label for posterity, their book highly recommended for the hardcore record collector.   

 

The iconic Who’s Zoo cover art (Image: Genius Music Books)

 

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Rev. Keith A. Gordon

RockandRollGlobe contributor Rev. Gordon is an award-winning music critic with 40+ years experience writing for publications like Blues Music magazine and Blurt. Follow him on Twitter @reverendgordon.

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