Monday, December 30, 2013

Yellow Matter Custard

In looking through the blog's stats, I noticed a large number of hits recently on a story that I had typed up from Beatlology magazine about the Beatles fan, Dave Morrell who met John Lennon in 1971 to exchange a bootleg album with John Lennon.    I decided to take another look at that amazing story.

I got my information from the "Smith Tapes" which are now available to buy on itunes, the original Beatlology article, and the book Black Market Beatles  by Jim Berkenstadt and Belmo.

The late 1960’s and early 1970’s was the beginning days of Beatles bootlegs.   According to The book, Black Market Beatles y Jim Berkenstadt and Belmo, the first Beatle bootlegs were inaudible Beatles concerts  and a few unheard studio takes.    They were many generations away from the original, but were still audible enough to recognize the music as the Beatles and were rare things that fans had never heard before. 

Historically the first Beatles bootleg was out in 1969 and was called “Kum Back.”  This record was a rough version of the Beatles Get Back album.   This album and other early releases had a very simple package.  They were pressed on heavy, scratchy vinyl with a black white front cover with the name of the album pressed on the front with a rubber stamp.    If the titles of the songs or where they originated was included on the album, the information was frequently incorrect.    Sometimes this was done on purpose so that the person who “leaked” the music did not get caught.   Most of these early pressings didn’t make more than 1,000 albums and were aimed for just the hard-core Beatle fans.

In those early days, the records were sold from the classified ads of record magazines, through underground newspapers, and mostly through mail-order brochures.   A Beatles bootleg record would cost you about $4.00 each in the early 1970’s.   

Howard Smith interviews John and Yoko

This is where Dave Morrell comes into all of this.   In 1971, Dave was a big time Beatles fan.   He had gotten into collecting these rare Beatles bootlegs.  He had a mail-order brochure for a placed called Godzilla records in California and he ordered a Beatles bootleg called Yellow Matter Custard.
Dave had what was a “phone relationship” with Howard Smith, a guy who was a radio DJ and writer for the Village Voice.   Howard Smith had interviewed John and Yoko (and George as well) and had a working relationship with John.    After Dave received the album, he calls up Howard and explains that he has some rare early Beatles recordings.   He wasn’t sure exactly when they were from, but he thought they might have been from before Ringo joined the group.   He gave Howard a list of the names of the songs on the album and asked if he would pass this information onto John Lennon and ask him what he thought it might be. 
An album similar to the one Dave gave John (although I would think it was a black vinyl)

What songs were on Yellow Matter Custard that were so confusing to Dave in 1971?  Well the track list was: (note that some of these titles aren’t even the true titles to the songs)
-I got a woman
-- Glad all over
--I just don’t understand
--Slow Down
--Please don’t ever change
--Shot of rhythm and Blues
-- I’m sure to fall
--Nothing shaking but the leaves on the trees
--Lonesome Tears in my eyes
-- Everyone wants someone
--I’m gonna sit right down and cry over you
-- To know her is to love her
--Crying Waiting hoping
--Bound by Love

None of these songs had been heard in America before (well with the exception of “Slow Down” but this particular version hadn’t been heard).    Howard took the note from Dave with the names of the cuts on Yellow Matter Custard and showed it to John Lennon.  At first John did not think it was the Beatles, but then he figured out that it must be the January 1, 1962 Decca auditions.     When John saw this list of songs, it had been just a little less than 10 years since the Decca auditions took place.   And while ten years ago to me seems like a blink in time, it must have seemed like a whole other life to John.  So much had occurred in his life in those 10 years.     Two of the songs on that list were indeed songs that were sung at the Decca auditions (Crying, hoping Waiting and To Know her is to Love her).   None of the songs on the list were Ringo numbers and let’s all face it:  John had a terrible memory about this stuff.    Plus as you can see in this 1971 interview quote, the Decca auditions were on John’s mind

“Well, I don’t know…I can’t think what it is (talking about unreleased Beatles music).  The only tapes I know of are Hollywood Bowl, Shea Stadium and somebody that did something on us in Italy.  But it’s all the same songs over and over anyway.  There were no other German tapes that Polydor didn’t release.  The only stuff that could be would be some auditions we did for Decca around ’61 or ’62, something like that.”

As we know, on December 7, 1971, Dave met up with John at the Record Plant and exchanged Yellow Matter Custard for John’s original copy of the Butcher album, which John autographed for Dave.   It had been written (in the Beatlology article and elsewhere) that Dave gave John a tape copy of the album, but Dave himself has squashed that rumor on the comments section of another blog and said that he gave John the album and that is why John did not listen to it that night.     John took the record home and listened to it at home.   

After John took the record home and had a chance to listen to it, he contacted Howard Smith again and told him how much he enjoyed the record.   After listening to it, he was still convinced that he had the Decca auditions in his possession.   He stated that his favorite song on the record was “to know her is to love her” and that he was going to send tapes to Paul, George and Ringo to see if maybe they would like to clean up the tapes and release them!   

In February 1972, Howard Smith wrote a “Scenes” article about Dave Morrell and featured him on the radio.   He interviewed a very happy Dave on air about meeting John and Dave played some of the songs and talked about them.  They both were referring these as the Decca tapes on air.   It was shortly after this that the Yellow Matter Custard record started being released with “The Decca tapes” printed on the cover.   I am not sure when the truth about these being BBC recordings came to light.
While I have heard that John had sent a tape of the album to Paul to possibly be released in 1972, I wasn’t so sure how true that story was.   We are talking about John and Paul in late 1971.  They were in a very vicious fight.  On December 4, 1971 a very biting and mean letter appeared in Melody Maker from John and Yoko to Paul.    And yet in Hunter Davies’ The Lennon Letters appeared this nice note to Paul about the (thought of) Decca tapes.   I love how John puts War is over (if you want it).  Maybe this was a peace gesture to Paul??

The note John sent to Paul (from the book the John Lennon Letters)

And so is the story of how one Beatles fan made waves among the Beatles themselves. 


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