If I had a nickel for everyone who send me a link to this story about the lost Bob Marley tapes that lay, forgotten, in a hotel basement for 40 years and turned out to contain original live recordings of his concerts in London and Paris in the mid-1970s... I'd be at least 35 cents richer.
Of course a bunch of people sent me that link. Because I'm that person. I'm the one you call when you find the musty, moldy tapes in the basement and need someone to clean, digitize and restore them. I've been there: in a barn surrounded by stacks of A-list master tapes; in a basement lined with boxes filled to overflowing with tangles of DATs and cassettes, handwritten labels scribbled with names would make your eyes pop; having a friendly chat with a musician who suddenly recalls that, yes, she might have a few old recordings from early in her prolific career downstairs.
According to a meticulously researched paper published by AV Preserve in 2015, there are an estimated 537 million recordings in collection-holding organizations, the vast majority of which have not been digitized. That's just the stuff in libraries and archives! What wonders still exist in basements, closets and attics?
That's what motivates me to do this work. That moment of anticipation and joy when you wind a reel on a tape machine, hit play, and hit pay dirt. I still remember when I dropped the needle on the scratched up original promo 45 of Scott Fagan singing "All For the Sake of Love," an utter heartbreaker. And when I popped in the cassette of early Jack Ruby recordings and heard this. There's something about the nearly forgotten that captures us and reminds us how powerful and yet how fleeting a musical performance can be. We are lucky that so many have been recorded, and luckier still that a few get caught into the sifter and are digitized, restored and sent back out into the world to remind us of our musical past.
Still, when I hear about the discovery of "lost" tapes like these Bob Marley masters, I get a little shot of happiness, because I know it's going to happen again. And maybe next time, it might be me crawling around in the basement of an old hotel, scraping off the mud, trying to discern the names on the labels, rescuing a nearly forgotten audio treasure.