(This website is retired and this page automatically forwards to the same essay at yogarecords.com.)


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



Radioactive 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 Records company.

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?

Douglas Mcgowan
April, 2006

Further reading:

Rick Noll of Bona Fide Records calls out James Plummer:

A bulletin board discussion of the recent release of Farewell Aldebaran by Jerry Yester & Judy Henske

Radioactive's contested Jimi Hendrix releases

Google these assertions and find out for yourself.