After closing his shameful pirate reissue operation Radioactive and several years of keeping a relatively low profile, James Plummer returned last year with Erebus Records, with the same Radioactive MO of shoddy, unlicensed private press boots packaged as the real thing. Erebus, wikipedia informs us, was "the son of a primordial god, Chaos, and represented the personification of darkness and shadow." No doubt Plummer finds this very clever. The label did a line of CDs, and seemed to disappear again, almost in a smash and grab manner. Today came word of a new line of Erebus releases, all US Christian private press, with a round of Japanese prog promised next.
This has to stop. Plummer needs to stop making his overpriced, vinyl-sourced "reissues." Until it stops, let no one kid themselves -- dealing in Erebus releases is the same as stealing from a stranger. I run a record label now and I know how hard it is to find artists and negotiate a fair deal (not very hard). There is no excuse for accepting the way Erebus does business. The industry in general has been shifting towards more support for curated, value-added labels like Numero and Time-Lag, and less tolerance for transparently shady labels like Erebus, Fallout, and Scorpio, to name three. Now is a good time for everyone who cares about music to use their connections, spread the word, tell your local store owner, write to the distributors, and tell them that the Bush era of stealing in broad daylight is over, let the roaches scurry back to their world of darkness and shadow. Protect artists' right to profit from their work, say yes to culture and no to pigs like James Plummer.
Douglas Mcgowan, March 2010
ALL ABOUT RADIOACTIVE RECORDS (2006)
Records is a pirate label -- a criminal organization. Radioactive
is responsible for more than 200 unauthorized reissues of rare
and collectable psychedelic records -- private press items by legendary
artists like Relatively Clean Rivers, Fraction, Starfire, and George Brigman,
and major label records from acts like Silver Apples, Jake Holmes, Grodeck
Whipperjenny, Fifty Foot Hose, and even Jimi Hendrix.
My favorite artist to get the Radioactive treatment is Bobb
Trimble. Amongst the few people with any opinion on the matter, Trimble
is unanimously considered the best psychedelic musician of the 80s. Although
his two records sell for $500-$1,200, Bobb is in poor health and lives
off government assistance. Right after I started strategizing with Kris
Thompson to put together legitimate, original master recording reissues
of Trimble's two albums Iron Curtain Innocence and Harvest
of Dreams, Radioactive Records released a completely unauthorized
copy of Harvest from a vinyl source (call it a "needledrop").
Like slander or identity theft, piracy is a sinister, maddening crime
that is difficult to correct even when you have a lot of money to take
someone to court. After going into Amoeba the other day and finding the
Harvest CD there, I decided it was time to let anyone who cares
know the facts about Radioactive.
Radioactive is based out of England. It is run by a wealthy man named
James Plummer. The label deals most of its wares through traditional,
major distributors. They also do direct mail order through Blue Orchard,
a second company suspiciously dedicated solely to Radioactive releases.
To the passive consumer, Radioactive looks and acts like a legitimate
company. They advertise in Goldmine, get their products into the best
music stores, and they create and move an impressive amount of product.
Rumors about the legality of Radioactive's business are nothing new, but
Plummer has never made any sort of public statement on the matter. I doubt
very much that he will start now.
Another venue for Radioactive's business is ebay. Periodically, sellers,
usually British ones, will offer large numbers of Radioactive releases
with "buy it now" pricing. Through ebay's VeRO (Verified Rights
Owner) program, we've been able to put a stop to pirated Bobb Trimble
CDs being sold this way. It's also worth mentioning that following a string
of negative feedback, Radioactive's very active ebay account was removed
from the site sometime around 2003. It seems that in addition to four-figure
psych records, Plummer also has a fetish for ridiculously expensive first
edition Harry Potter books.
Since I got on this case, I've been disturbed to realize just how many
"reissue" labels are in fact nothing more than well-packaged
pirate operations. Of course, in most cases, without this cavalier attitude
towards artists' rights, we would be missing out on a lot of great music,
and the truth is many artists simply don't know, or care, what's going
on in the current market, and left to their own devices would never get
around to putting their work out again. Still, we should be able to agree
on a couple of basic principles:
• Every attempt should be made to contact the owner of a given work.
• If this attempt fails and the release proceeds anyway, a clear
statement of the situation and contact information should be included
with the release, and royalties should be held for the artist. I believe
this was the case with The Wild Places' 2001 reissue of Linda Perhacs'
Paralellograms, which resulted with Ms. Perhacs emerging from
obscurity, and to a second release with superior sound and bonus tracks
from her original master tapes. Honesty is indeed the best policy, and
can be very profitable.
• If an artist is found and doesn't want there to be a reissue for
whatever reason, then the label needs to move on and find something else
to do. No one has the moral right to reissue a work just because they
find it awesome, historically significant, too good to be left out of
print, or what have you.
I think some reissue labels confuse their own desire for cash or glory
with the more altruistic aims of preservation and popularization of good
music. This may be what has happened with James Plummer and his Radioactive
Another notorious label specializing in music of the 70s was the contemporaneous
TMOQ, which stood for "Trademark of Quality" and featured a
caricature of a smiling, cigar-chomping pig in sunglasses as its logo.
Of course, TMOQ was a 100% illegal bootleg company specializing in live
recordings of major acts like Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones, but
at least the responsible parties had the good humor to make light of their
own their own thieving. And as they say, here's the world's smallest fiddle
playing for the well-paid artists they ripped off.
(At this point, it's worth noting the distinction between "bootleggers"
and "pirates" as the terms apply to music, as these terms are
often considered interchangable. Bootleggers deal in otherwise unavailable,
mostly live recordings. Pirates sell copies of existing material.)
The facts concerning Radioactive's Bobb Trimble Harvest of Dreams
CD are simple: No attempt was made to contact Bobb, who is the sole owner
of his music, and who has been diligent in keeping his copyrights current
and in good order. When Radioactive was politely asked by Kris Thompson,
Bobb's legally-appointed representative, to stop selling this CD and to
reimburse Bobb at a reasonable and modest rate, Plummer hemmed and hawed,
killing time to give his CDs time to make their way to distributors and
shops, and then ceased all communications on the matter. Oh yes, I almost
forgot – Plummer's first response was to try to get Bobb's master
tapes so they could do full-fledged versions of his two albums.
How ironic that the
label's slogan is "the hottest releases are Radioactive."
When I see the Radioactive Bobb Trimble in stores or online, I try to
contain my outrage and be nice when I ask the seller to stop offering
it. After all, what are they supposed to do with a product they can't
sell? I also get this a lot: They claim that Radioactive is 100% legit.
They're sure of it. This can only be for two reasonable explanations for
this: that they've been fooled by the high-quality print reproductions,
the UPC code, and the fancy Radioactive logo sticker; or they've otherwise
convinced themselves that no pirate label could get away with producing
nearly 200 unauthorized releases.
Let's address these points. First of all, let us note the conspicuous
absence of bonus tracks and historical notes in the Radioactive catalog.
How many times do you remember seeing a Radioactive release with additional
content, printed or musical? New liner notes, archival photos, bonus tracks?
There are rare examples of these (see below), but let's be honest, we're
not talking about Sundazed here. The added value of Radioactive releases
is almost always zero.
Secondly, how hard is it, really, to get away with ripping off 200 obscure
artists with no public voice? Pure artists who in most cases never knew
anything about making money to begin with and never learned since. In
many cases damaged souls who for a brief moment got it together to do
something special, received little recognition, who then moved on and
may very likely rather forget about the whole thing. Stealing from people
like that is definitely not the same as pulling off an operation like
TMOQ. It's like shooting fish in a barrel. As for the occasional ripoffs
from major labels like Capitol Records, as anyone with any experience
in dealing with the multinational conglomerates who own these recordings
will tell you, major labels never pursue legal action when the cost of
doing so is greater than the potential rewards, as is always going to
be the case for any CD selling less than, say, 20,000 units. So getting
away with stealing from these behemoths hardly compares to the feat of
shoplifting ten CDs from Tower Records in a single go.
Now consider this: As a British label, how many reissues of British acts
has Radioactive done? Perhaps three or four, mostly culled from previously
unreleased material, which implies that the label did work with the artists
in these rare cases. Have you ever tried taking someone in another country
to court? Doesn't sound so easy, does it? Radioactive knows this, and
that is why, despite their nation's status as possibly the finest and
most prolific producers of psychedelic music on earth, Radioactive has
hardly anything to do with British music. Because they would be out of
business very quickly if they did that.
There's a third reason dealers cling to the notion that Radioactive is
legit, and to me it's the saddest of all, and that is the climate of graft
we all live in. Call it looking the other way; call it see no evil, hear
no evil. I call it bullshit, and it's the currency of a world run by people
like George Bush. It's a defeated attitude that says "everyone's
doing it," or claims "there are two sides to every story"
without honestly examining what those sides amount to.
Piracy is widespread, and there are a lot of companies I've left out of
this little essay. I am not a crusader against the entire dishonest system,
but rather someone who cares deeply about Bobb Trimble and is determined
to expose the people stealing from him to the light of day. If you're
still reading this, there's a good chance that little I've written here
is news to you. The question now is, what are you going to do about it?
Rick Noll of Bona Fide Records calls
out James Plummer:
board discussion of the recent release of Farewell Aldebaran
by Jerry Yester & Judy Henske
Jimi Hendrix releases
Google these assertions and find out for yourself.