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Archival Recordings of '70s Have Strings Attached
G. Brown Denver Post Popular Music Writer
Denver Post; Denver, Colo.; Nov 4, 2001 

In recent weeks, ads have popped up in record collector publications like ICE and Goldmine, heralding the release of archival concert recordings by Roxy Music, Hall & Oates, Joe Cocker, the Babys, Amazing Rhythm Aces, Pure Prairie League and Little Feat.

The live sets all were recorded in Denver in the 1970s at two former Denver rock venues, Ebbets Field and the Rainbow Music Hall.

Local collectors are rejoicing that these slices of Colorado rock history have been made available. But their release also comes with a tangled set of legal issues. The outfit that produced the finished recordings has apparently gone out of business, and some of those involved in the original tapings question whether the recordings should have been released at all.

'It's nice to see the material getting used - better that than letting it lay around - but it's been a bumpy and confusing road,' said Steve Weiner, a co-founder of ListenUp, a company that these days is a leader in consumer and commercial electronics.

But in the early '70s, ListenUp was a small storefront in a Denver residential neighborhood. Weiner coordinated the recording of shows at Ebbets Field, a nightclub on the first floor of the Brooks Tower condominiums.

Run by Chuck Morris - a longtime local manager and concert promoter, and now local chief of Clear Channel concerts - Ebbets Field opened in 1974. It sat only 238 patrons. Ick-orange-and-brown shag carpeting covered the floor, the walls and the bleacher seats.

But Ebbets hosted some amazing performances by acts on the upswing during that era, from Lynyrd Skynyrd to Joan Armatrading to Tom Waits.

'In those days, the record labels would pay to have us record the shows, then broadcast them on the radio,' Weiner said.

'A little truck had all the recording gear in it. Some of the stuff was simulcast live. In other cases, the groups auditioned and approved the recording and made sure the sound quality was OK before it went on the air, usually on KFML (Denver's underground FM station at the time) or KBPI.'

Short tenure

Ebbets' life span was a couple of years. Morris then went to work for Barry Fey, one of the country's leading live-music promoters, who opened the Rainbow Music Hall in 1979. (Fey is now local head of House of Blues Concerts and Morris' main rival.)

The building at East Evans Avenue and Monaco Parkway in southeast Denver is now a Walgreens, but the 1,300-seat Rainbow was a temple of rock 'n' roll, with shows by U2, the Police, Pat Benatar, Cheap Trick, Journey and many more.

ListenUp recorded shows at the Rainbow for a couple of years. After the venue closed in 1986, Weiner said, 'We stashed the concert tapes in our warehouse because we couldn't do anything with them.'

Phil Murray had gone to shows at Ebbets Field during his years as a University of Denver student. When he started working for ListenUp in the late '80s, one of his first pursuits was finding and organizing the concert tapes.

'The thing is, we're an audio/video company - we're not in the business of creating or developing music for sale in the marketplace,' Weiner said.

In the mid-'90s, Weiner started hearing from people who knew of the tapes' existence. He was steered toward Renaissance Records, the brainchild of John A. Edwards, an engineer and the author of two guides to rock 'n' roll. Edwards decided to combine his passion for music with his technical expertise - he established a Nashville- based CD-only independent label dealing in reissues of classic rock and new releases by vintage artists.

Three years ago, Weiner cut a deal with Edwards.

'Renaissance was a seemingly up-and-coming label,' Weiner said. 'The agreement was pretty clear. ListenUp provided Renaissance with more than 30 digital audio tapes, dubbed from the fragile old analog tapes. Renaissance had total responsibility for obtaining all rights from the record label and the group to release this music. They made a down payment of about a third of what they were supposed to (pay) for the physical tapes.'

Fast start, then slowdown

Renaissance put out Pure Prairie League's 'Concert Classics Vol. 1' in 1999 (an Ebbets Field recording) and started trotting out other titles, such as shows by Firefall and Jack Bruce & Friends at the Rainbow.

But a year later, Renaissance releases slowed to a trickle 'and things started getting odd,' Weiner said. 'Occasionally, ListenUp would get these threatening phone calls from groups I didn't even think had fans anymore. They'd say, 'What do you think you're doing? You guys are ripping us off. How'd you get these rights?''

Brian Doyle, manager for Hall & Oates, said these recordings are the sort of thing that comes up frequently.

"No one has contacted the group or management,' he said, 'and it doesn't sound like something we would support.

'It's an ongoing problem, especially when you have the older groups like Hall & Oates. It's hard to keep track - we're not even aware of a lot of this stuff that's coming out all over the world,' he said. 'If we go into a store, we don't even know half of the records. Where did they come from?

'The band's lawyer is constantly battling, trying to see if it can be stopped, because the catalog is constantly being exploited without the band's backing, leaving them out.'

Weiner acknowledged that Edwards reported a lot of problems persuading the acts to go along with the project.

'He apparently couldn't get clearance from all the artists,' Weiner said, who added that ListenUp never got a second payment from Edwards. He has not heard from Edwards in more than a year.

Major record distributors report that Renaissance is out of business, although the label still maintains a website and an 800 number. The Denver Post's e-mail and phone inquiries to the company have gone unanswered, and its phone voice mailbox is full.

Morris, the former Ebbets Field proprietor, also is angered by the release of the recordings.

'How dare they use those tapes without checking with the artists, protecting them? The releases that we got from them (were) for one live broadcast. And my name is synonymous with Ebbets Field, my club - what about my permission? I've got a little more experience in the record business. I heard about these CDs, called ListenUp and they never returned my calls.'

Morris said he is considering his legal options.

The situation took a turn several months ago when Murray saw a recording of a '73 Little Feat show listed in Mojo magazine, a British rock publication. Wondering if it was the Ebbets Field show, he ordered the recording from Amazon U.K., and discovered he was right.

The CD appeared via the NMC Music America imprint on the Pilot label - licensed from Renaissance Records. NMC products can be found in certain record stores, like Denver's Twist & Shout, as well as on the pages of ICE and Goldmine.

'NMC is out of England,' said Mike DeUrso, a spokesman for In- Tune Music Group, the New Jersey-based sales and marketing company that represents NMC Music America. 'It's a separate company, not affiliated in any way with Renaissance. They license a lot of material from different sources. Prior to these live releases, they had a large catalog by British acts like Steve Harley, T. Rex, Ronnie Lane.

'We're basing sales on fanatical collectors who have to have everything by a group, including live stuff. We're not looking at sales going wild - we bring in 2,000 copies; the fans seek them out.'

The Post could not reach NMC officials directly to ask how or if the company obtained rights to the Colorado recordings.

Advertised online

On the NMC website, titles by Amazing Rhythm Aces and Ozark Mountain Daredevils recorded live in Colorado are touted in the company's new concert series: '(They have) only been available in the States until now, so we thought we would share them with ... the rest of the world!' The label 'managed to find' a recording from 1979 of Hall & Oates playing in Denver.

The sound is top-notch, as is the packaging. The gem is Little Feat's 'Late Night Truck Stop,' a superb two-CD set recorded live at Ebbets Field circa July 1973 that captures the 'Dixie Chicken' lineup.

ListenUp officials say they have not dealt with NMC and know nothing about the company. Yet two weeks ago, Weiner received a call from Little Feat's management company, wondering what ListenUp had to do with 'Late Night Truck Stop.'

'He wasn't threatening,' Weiner said. 'He was asking me if I had any signed agreements with the band. We had signed agreements with the venue, the radio station - but not any direct approval from the groups.

'We never went for any agreements because we weren't releasing anything. We never had any intention of keeping the tapes for 30 years and issuing them. When we got to a point where we found the tapes had some value, we turned them over to someone who said he would take care of negotiating all the rights.'

On Tuesday, NMC plans to release a CD of Firefall recorded live in Colorado. And according to Murray, there's still plenty of treasure in the ListenUp vaults.

'Minnie Riperton blew me away. All I know of her is that one hit, 'Lovin' You,' that they're now using on the Visa commercial that (Ebbets Field) show was incredible - she and her band were on fire that night.

'Tom Waits played Ebbets many times. Unfortunately, the tapes weren't managed properly, and some of them disappeared. But we have two or three nights that (are) to die for. He's making it up as he goes along, telling lots of great stories about staying down on Wazee.

'There are a couple of Chick Corea & Return To Forever shows, before they got real big - the sound quality is amazing for that time period. Gene Clark from the Byrds. Eric Andersen. Jimmie Spheeris.

'It's just awesome'

'And we have half of that show when U2 played the Rainbow, the last 20 minutes, and it's just awesome. It kills me that the rest isn't available anymore.'

The legal wrangling leaves Weiner frustrated.

'The world of rereleased music rights has undergone a lot of changes in the last few years, ' he said. 'There was a period of time where record labels were interested in having partners and expanding. Now they're interested in shutting everything down.

'At the time, we were hired to make these recordings and radio broadcasts. In all cases, the groups knew who we were, but we didn't have any rights to do anything else with the tapes,' he said. 'That's why we went into the agreement with Renaissance, hoping it was the best of all possible worlds. They'd get the music on CD and promote ListenUp for providing the product, but we wouldn't have to do the work of negotiating the release and bring the product to market. That was the trick.

'Now someone has to be responsible for all royalties. When things sell, bands get involved. We don't want lawsuits. We want (late Little Feat leader) Lowell George's estate to get a check. There are deals to be cut. I just don't know that they are being cut.'


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