Baltimore Sun, April 2, 2006
Vault Radio lets listeners in on rock legends' live performances
We'll be with you shortly. We just need a moment to listen to Crosby, Stills, Nash and yes, Young, at their reunion concert at the Roosevelt Raceway in 1974. Only love can break your heart ... try to be sure from the start ...
And that's just the tip of the rock concert iceberg. Vault Radio, an Internet radio show, has made available to listeners tens of thousands of performance songs from what could be called the greatest era of popular music. Businessman Bill Sagan is keeper of legendary promoter Bill Graham's memorabilia - and, more important, his audio and video archive of more than 5,000 concerts recorded between 1966 and 1999. "The key to us is we own copyrights," says the 56-year-old Sagan. Many copyrights. "We own 2 million."
In 2003, Sagan paid more than $5 million for Graham's private collection. Sagan not only purchased rare handbills, photography and posters from the biggest acts of the last 40 years, but also discovered a trove of basement tapes that inspired San Francisco-based Vault Radio. On the free streaming audio site (you'll need a DSL line) listeners can hear a seven-hour play list that changes weekly. The eclectic lineup features musicians from Miles Davis, the Allman Brothers, Jefferson Airplane and Cream to Van Morrison, The Grateful Dead, Elvis Costello and the Staple Singers.
Oh, and Emmylou Harris and B.B. King. Big Brother and the Holding Company and Booker T. & The MGs. King Curtis and Santana. Dylan and Stevie Wonder.
Everyone and everyone - with exceptions. "No Disco," Sagan says. "And no Beatles as a band." Vault Radio does have individual performances by each Beatle, such as John Lennon's "Cold Turkey," George Harrison's "In My Life," and McCartney's post-Beatles band, Wings.
The concert venue was often the Fillmore East or Fillmore West - along with San Francisco Bay Area concert halls such as Winterland, the Cow Palace and the Berkeley Community Theatre. The music style, concert venue and years vary; Vault Radio is all over the music map. But the common denominator in all the performances was the concert promoter.
"With Bill Graham, it was all about the music. He was the guy who really started and nurtured the business of rock and roll concerts. And he was single-minded in treating the performers like kings," says Sagan, who honored Graham by calling his Internet business wolfgangsvault.com., where you can click on Vault Radio. Graham, who was born Wolfgang Grajonca, died in a helicopter crash in 1991 while returning from a concert.
We need another moment. The next act in the rotation is Bruce Springsteen backing up Blood, Sweat and Tears in 1973. "It's great - one of my favorites," Sagan says. Springsteen plays "Blinded by the Light" and in another song from the concert, Springsteen performs a 12-minute jam called "Thunder Crack." Next up on Vault Radio is The Band singing "Stage Fright" from "The Last Waltz." And now, the late Laura Nyro singing "Save the Country" at Fillmore East. In my mind I can't study war no more ...
This vault of sound underscores the inherent difference between live and studio music. Anything can happen during a concert, such as when Keith Moon, after a dose of horse tranquilizer, collapsed during a Who show in 1971. Pete Townsend asked for a volunteer drummer, and some high school kid got up and played the rest of the performance. Graham had saved audio and video of the show. Live music is just that: alive.
"Studio music is sweetened. It's polished. It's changed into being not nearly what the band played," Sagan says. "A live performance is exactly what the band played that night, and what they play night to night is different. When Cream does four performances of 'Sunshine of your Love', it does become dramatically different."
Someone say Cream? It would be great to hear Cream's "White Room" on demand. But the drawback to Vault Radio is you can't pick your songs or skip, say, Lighthouse's "Eight Miles High" or Taj Mahal's "Ain't Nobody Gonna Steal My Jellyroll" or anything by Moby Grape. There are digital copyright laws designed to prevent copying of audio streams, which raises the question raised by many of the 11,000 e-mails sent to Wolfgang's Vault: When can people own one of these songs or videos?
Downloads, CDs, DVDs, and Podcasts of Vault Radio will be available late this year or early 2007. As for the weekly play list (which changes every Tuesday at 8 a.m. EST), the company plans to offer a new daily rotation next month. People have been demanding a different set list every day, Sagan says. People want their Derek and the Dominoes, Little Feat or Sex Pistols.
"People want a piece of that era," he says.
People who, if they are not careful, will get nothing done at work. Speaking of which, Vault Radio is playing Van Morrison singing "Brown Eyed Girl" from a 1970 Fillmore West show. We need to go.
Wait. Morrison just finished. The Allman Brothers have launched into "Statesboro Blues" from their Fillmore East concert. Seriously, we really have to go now. Seriously.
By Rob Hiaasen
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