My Brush with The Doors

October 13, 1967. Sixteen at the time, growing up in Baltimore, a month into the 11th grade. Neil, a school buddy, worked as an usher in the Lyric Theatre downtown, and he arranged to reserve tickets for my pal Paul and me: Front row, center seats.

Front of the playbill plus the tickets.

The city was then more tuned in to Motown and not the Doors, so we figured the crowd would be relatively light. But I forgot that that Friday night was Yom Kippur. It turned out there were maybe 15–20 people scattered about in the audience.

Tim Rose was the opening act. Alone with his guitar, he sang “Hey Joe.” I muttered to Paul that Dino Valenti had written that song (learning decades later that it was actually Billy Roberts). Tim then instructed us that _he_ had written it, and that was that.

Then The Doors came on stage. I can’t imagine they were all that thrilled performing in front of so few people, but they went ahead with their full set. There was a moment when, during a brief lull between songs, Paul and I were whispering to each other, and Jim Morrison suddenly shouted into his mic, “WAKE UP!!” while leering at us. His way of introducing their closing marathon number, “The End.”

The show was over. I have no memory how this happened, but I do remember tagging along and chatting with Ray Manzarek outside the theater as he and the rest of the band walked toward their car, which was parked in an alley a block or so away. Robby Krieger was the only one carrying his instrument; I assume their roadie was taking care of the rest of the equipment in a van parked besides their car.

Keep in mind that there were no other fans around; it was just the five of us.

I asked them all to sign the back of the playbill, and they did, writing their first names only. Not at all the persona he had displayed on stage, Jim was civil and gracious as he added his signature. I remember he even said “Thank you.”

They all then got into their car, Jim in the driver’s seat, and off they went.

I haven’t a clue why I chopped off a quarter of the playbill. I did write down the songs as they performed them, also seen on the back.

Back of the playbill with autographs and songlist.

My Brush with John Renbourn Greatness

It was Autumn, 1971. I was three months shy of 21, living with some friends in Silver Springs, MD, on a break from college. On December 7, I went to a Pentangle concert in DC. After the performance, I walked backstage and spotted an open door. It was the band’s dressing room, so I stepped inside. There sat Bert Jansch and John Renbourn. Badly attempting to express how much their guitar chops had meant to me, I managed to convey to John that I had learned “My Dear Boy” by ear from his 1968 LP “Sir John Alot…”

John then asked me to play it for him: He picked up his guitar and led me outside the dressing room into a nearby empty stairwell. He handed me his guitar, and I then performed his song in front of him. I hadn’t felt so simultaneously humbled, intimidated, and thrilled.

When I finished, I gave his guitar back to him, and he then proceeded to play it the right way, without my awkward, gymnastic fingerings all over the fretboard. Oh, you barre it here, and there, and it’s so simple and approachable that way!

John then offered to send me a guitar transcription of the song and asked me to write down my address. I did, but, alas, the transcription never arrived. No matter; that evening with him in that stairwell, playing his guitar to an audience of one — him — was quite enough.

Rest in peace, John Renbourn. You were the most enduring influence in my late teenage guitar daze.

Originally posted on my Facebook page on March 28, 2015, shortly after John’s passing.

Buffalo Springfield’s 1967 “Bluebird” Acetate

Here’s my story of Buffalo Springfield’s “Bluebird,” the original extended acetate.

I entered Antioch College in late June 1969. Located in Yellow Springs, Ohio, some of what I knew of its location was that a few miles up the road was Springfield, the birthplace of Jonathan Winters, and that Yellow Springs itself was where Buffalo Springfield guitarist/singer/songwriter Richie Furay was born and had grown up. I was a huge fan of the Springfield before I left Baltimore for college, so this was a big deal for me. (For those unfamiliar with the band, in addition to Furay were Stephen Stills and Neil Young.)

In the middle of the main town drag in Yellow Springs was a small knickknack store owned by Richie’s mom called, surprisingly, “Furay’s.” I went in there that summer and chatted with her, and she ended up selling me a copy of the debut LP of her son’s then-new band, Poco. (The Springfield had broken up the year before.)

Fast-forward two years later, mid-May 1971. A nearby dormmate named Andy Plesser was a budding entrepreneur, and, through Richie’s mom, managed to persuade Poco to extend their Spring tour for one more day and come home to Yellow Springs. And so on May 23 they performed at an outdoor space on the college campus. I had been futzing around at the college’s radio station since I entered the place, and so I was able to borrow its portable tape recorder and ask the band’s sound mixer, whose equipment was located in the middle of the lawn, if I could plug his mixer’s outputs into the recorder’s inputs. He said sure, so I ended up with a soundboard recording of that day’s concert.

Here are photos taken by fellow student Dan Marshall:

Richie Furay.
Timothy Schmidt
The crowd

After it was over, I walked over to behind the makeshift stage and chatted a bit with Richie, asked if he wanted a dub of the show, then mentioned a little-known and unreleased song he had written and recorded with the Springfield, then re-recorded it with Poco to very little chart success (“My Kind of Love”).

I then asked him about this legendary 20-minute studio version of Buffalo Springfield’s “Bluebird” I had heard about for a number of years but never heard. A 4-minute version had been released on the Springfield’s second LP in 1967, but legend had it that this take was originally far longer. The song was written by Stills, and it was one of the first records I remember hearing back in Baltimore that mixed the acoustic guitar playing (Stills) with the two electrics (Richie and Neil) so seamlessly. It was such a standout recording.

Richie said it was actually around 10 minutes long, not 20, and he suggested I contact a radio station in Boston, WBCN, and ask them for a copy, using his name as a reference. After spending the rest of the night and following day making dubs of the concert for Andy, the radio station, and whoever else wanted it, I wrote to WBCN on the 25th, using the station’s stationary, declared myself its “chief recording engineer,” made up some fiction about an upcoming Springfield retrospective the station was planning, and hoped for the best. The school term was close to ending, and it seemed realistically doubtful anything would come of this.

Just over a week later, on June 2, I was walking around on campus and this student I didn’t know came up to me, asked if I was who I was, and told me there was a package addressed to me at the station but that someone had taken it. He knew who it was and where he lived, so we went to this guy’s place where I retrieved whatever it was he had swiped. No questions asked, at least I had the package.

It was from WBCN; it included the letter I had written, though now with some annotations from the person to whom it was addressed and the person to whom he had referred it. There was also a reel-to-reel tape. Based on the annotations, it consisted of two unreleased Springfield tracks, Neil Young’s “Down to the Wire,” and the song I had been wanting to hear for years, “Bluebird.” It was recorded at the station’s top professional speed, 15 ips, so the first thing I did was to go to the college station and make a dub at a speed most home recorders could play, 7 1/2 ips. And it was that version I’d play for myself and friends. The original 15 ips version I stored away.

My return letter to WBCN with annotations at the bottom.
The reel-to-reel audio tape that was included in the return letter.

This version of “Bluebird” sounded like a dub of an acetate, with very minor acetate “noise.” Besides the extended length (9 1/2 minutes), this mix included an added Neil Young lead guitar that had been edited out of the released 1967 version.

The person who sent me the tape signed his name on that annotated letter, but all I could make out was his first, “Charles”; his last name was “Laqui…” something (“Laquiclara?”). I didn’t recognize the name.

Until late that year, when Poco released their live LP, “Deliverin’,” recorded in Boston and New York. The liner notes were written by a “Charles Laquidara.” Aha! That’s who that was. One mystery solved.

In 1973, the band’s record label, Atco, released a 2-LP anthology, and included was an extended version of “Bluebird.” But it was different from what I had been sent. First, it was in stereo (the acetate was in mono); second, its length was 30 seconds shorter than the version I had; and third, it didn’t include Young’s added guitar lead. (Also, Atco had edited out a vulgarity that Stills had slipped out.)

So what I had was still rare and unreleased. Over the next few decades there’d be the occasional Springfield bootleg that would include this rare version, but the sound quality was horrible: it’d start in the middle of the intro, it’d skip, it sounded like an acetate played way too many times so that it had deteriorated greatly. But it was a collectable since it was so rare. But I knew what I had was of far better quality.

Fast-forward again, now to late 2003. Now having the equipment to digitize music, I dug out the original 15 ips tape, played it back for the first time in over 32 years on a reel-to-reel that had 15 ips recording and playback capacity, and transferred it into the computer, saving it in both lossless AIFF format and .mp3.

I also set about looking for Charles Laquidara and to finally thank him for the tape. A few hours of Google searches, and there he was, retired after decades at WBCN, now living in Hawaii. So I emailed him, apologized for waiting so long to get back to him but wanting to close this circle.

He sends back an email 10 minutes later and says he was just at that moment searching online for this version, having lost his copy many, many years ago. So I immediately sent him my .mp3 version.

I asked him what he remembered about this version: he told me that when he was working at KPPC in Pasadena in 1968, Richie Furay and Jim Messina (the new bassist and producer on the Springfield’s final album released that year) came by and gave him a copy of the acetate. I had then also learned from the late Ted Alvy that the band made the acetate at their recording studio in L.A. so that they could then take it to a local radio station and have the deejay there (the famous R. Mitchell Reed) spin it. They’d then listen to the broadcast on their car radio to see how it sounded on tinny speakers and how many potential record buyers would be listening to it.

But they decided to scrap it and release the edited 4-minute version instead. They even refused to include it on their 2000 multi-CD anthology.

So, after all the decades, after all of the bootlegs, I believe that the version Charles had sent me in the Spring of 1971 remains the cleanest, clearest version that exists of this particular mix.

And so here it is:

Updated link:

(This initial contact with Charles paid further dividends a year later when John C. Winn and I were researching the history of the earliest Beatles bootlegs, but that’s a tale for another time.)

My Late Night with David Letterman History

I suppose you could say this project began on February 1, 1982, but I was surely unaware of any far-sighted overview. I just wanted to preserve, in my own primitive way, what I was watching for an hour every late weeknight. It started on audio cassettes, at first intermittently, then nightly by Spring ’83.

Keeping track of each cassette content required logs. Here’s what I jotted down for the first half of Late Night’s debut (yes, I didn’t know the correct spelling of Paul’s last name):

I had purchased my first VCR in mid-February 1985, and from that date on I videotaped every Dave until his final Late Show thirty-plus years later. The logs continued throughout. This is from June 1992, documenting the contents of Videotape #1,611:

I bought my first Mac in the Fall of ’85, and one of my earliest computer projects was to transfer all of the logs — both audio cassette and VCR — into a searchable database. The data would later expand to include thousands of supplementary information provided by both public and private sources. Here’s a screenshot of one portion of the database, affectionately known in some circles as the SSIDB (SuperSecretInformationalDataBase):

In the mid-’90s I began trading videotapes with others around the country to close gaps in my collection, primarily the years preceding my first VCR.

The trades would eventually lead to both dubs and acquisitions of entire collections. By 2016 the number of incomplete shows had shrunk to around twenty-five. By the end of 2017, the Late Night collection had finally reached 100%. I had every show, all complete.

There are many folks to thank for helping me complete the collection. Some prefer to remain anonymous for now, but I hope in time they’ll be ok with my acknowledging how crucial they were. Among the major contributors I can name:

Christopher Bay (videotapes from 1977–93), Jim Chamberlain (1982–83), Dario Roaz (1982–83), Treg Tyler (1982–88), Laura Ryan (1985–89), Lisa Gilliam (1987–93), and Deborah Todd (1989–93). Among those with smaller but no less important contributions: Bill Rood, Bill Bredice, Richard Handal, Traci Gilland, Mitch Blank, Michael Covher, Ray Mitten, Dick Bullock, John Czach, Wyatt Clough, Keith McLeod, Ken Dixon, Jeff Kadet, and Cheryl Bulbach.

When Late Show ended in May 2015, my tape collection had been scattered throughout various locations in the apartment. Many were inaccessible, with immovable “stuff” blocking them. There were thousands of tapes in the back room and thousands more in the front. The back room was where all of the Late Nights were stored; here’s a photo from 2011 of one area. It wasn’t a welcome sight:

It was in the late Spring to early Summer of 2015 when several moments occurred that helped me begin to better appreciate what I had accumulated over the past three decades. The first involved one of Dave’s producers. She was still working after Late Show had ended — the only remaining staffer employed — and she was then dealing with payments to folks who were in video clips that had aired on CBS’s Letterman special a week before his final show. Because the documentation was lacking, it was left for her to track down the show dates for those clips, and there were several she couldn’t find.

So she asked me for help, and I was happy to oblige. It took around a week, but eventually I found the show dates to which the clips were attached. I soon realized that the reason she had asked me in the first place was because there was no longer anyone on staff she would normally assign for this sort of task. I was the only person she knew who would have had the resources readily available.

During the same period I gained access into Worldwide Pants’ licensing site, where Dave’s Late Shows were made available for licensing to media interests. I spent all of June and July inspecting each show, finding a number of problems: mismatched thumbnails, missing shows, and corrupt uploads. I made a list and sent it to the Late Show producer, and she then forwarded it to those managing the site, referring to me as someone who “had the time to do what I haven’t been able to do.”

Again, the resources she would have normally had during Late Show’s run — a full staff — was now absent, and so it was for me to figure this stuff out, on my time, on my dime. There was simply no one else around. It was a new self-awareness of value I hadn’t recognized before, and it planted a seed.

The other event during the 2015 late-Spring/Summer period: On June 10, Adam Nedeff, game show historian/author/expert/producer, posted a photo on his Facebook page: it was packets of Late Night and Late Show DVDs he had digitized from his own collection (posted here with his permission):

I was thoroughly impressed by his organizing prowess to hit the “Like” button to his photo. Adam’s reaction: “I like that Don Giller clicked ‘like’ when I know what he’s really thinking is ‘Aww, three cases. that’s cute.'”

He could not have known then that my own Letterman digital collection had been near-nonexistent; I had digitized practically nothing. And the thought of beginning such a project was daunting and laughable, considering the chaotic state of my storage.

Four days later, Adam approached me online and solicited a trade of Letterman-related DVDs. He had been looking for the 90-minute Late Nights that had aired on a nearly-monthly basis in 1982, then less frequently in 1983. I said let’s do it, partly because I had stored most of those particular tapes in the front room, not the back, and so the chore of cleaning everything up in the back could be postponed.

I spent some time setting up my VCR–>DVD equipment, finding the computer software needed to convert DVDs to video files, digging out the tapes, and getting to work.

The trade concluded late summer, and from that exercise, along with the potential value I had begun to sense months earlier with the Late Show producer, I finally got the itch to start what I had been dreading. First, I cleaned up the back room area:

I then set up the computer directories:

With that in place, I began to digitize the Late Night tape collection in earnest in September 2015. My first progress photo from late November documented the first six months of 1982:

Two weeks later I had reached the end of ’82:

Keep in mind that at this time I was missing many complete shows for the first three years of Late Night (1982-84), so what I had digitized here was only what I had, not what I needed. Eventually, all of the complete shows would find their way here, and they would all be incorporated into the digitized collection.

By late January 2016, 1983 (or, rather, what I had of 1983 at the time) was done. Here’s 1982–’83:

Early-April 2016, to the end of 1984:

All the while, each DVD had been converted to a computer .mp4 file and all of those files backed up onto other drives.

Early-June 2016, the DVDs up to the end of 1985:

Mid-September 2016, everything up to 1986:

I was running out of shelf space, so I emptied my CD cabinet and moved all of the Late Night DVDs there.

Late-February 2017, 1987 was completed:

Mid-May 2017, 1988 went quickly, thanks to the months-long writers strike:

Mid-October 2017, the DVD collection up to the end of 1989:

After months of delays, and, in the meantime, digitizing hundreds of shows from later years, 1990 was finally completed a year later in late November 2018:

Because I had already digitized many shows earlier, 1991 was finished just a month later in late December 2018:

And 1992 quickly followed in mid-January 2019:

On January 18, 2019, 1993 was done, and with that milestone reached I finally finished digitizing and converting to computer video files the entire eleven-plus-year run of Late Night with David Letterman. It was all backed up onto this mobile drive:

It’s taken three years and four months. Every show is now just a mouse-click away:

There remain duplicate shows from ’89 to ’93 to digitize from other sources. The reason for the redundancy: one video source may have a glitch that another source can then be inserted in its place, the ease of digital editing at the home level unthinkable when Late Night premiered in ’82. So while all of Late Night is done, there’s more digitizing ahead before the project is fully wrapped up.

Throughout this project, the persistent question had been “Why? Why were you doing this?” The answer was the realization brought to light in the Summer of 2015: No one else was. And so there was no option not to.

It’s conceivable that this is the only collection of its kind. There’s reason to suspect that not even NBCU’s archives have as many shows, and what they do have, very little has been digitized. (March 1, 2020 — I’ve recently learned that it’s worse than I thought: There are years of Late Nights in NBCU’s archives that, because of the videotape format used, are unlikely to ever be playable again.)

So here we are. The next chapter awaits.

Update. A chronicle of my Letterman databases is here:

Lastly, a plug: I have a You Tube channel that’s devoted mostly to Late Night uploads. Over 1,100 videos are up; they include selected segments, full shows, and comedy and guest compilations. Check it out: