The story of Mike ‘The Mic’ Millard, the infamous live music bootlegger
Bootlegging, a practice that previously played a crucial part in the lives of many music fans, is no longer the fruitful career path. Thanks in no small part to the dawning of the internet, it has meant that unless you’re Jack White and decide to ban phones from your gig, as soon as you do as much as roadtest a new song it will undoubtedly be on social media forever.
However, footage from gigs hasn’t always been so easy to find and the bootlegging market was one that many people relied on to get copies of their favourite artists live in concert, which was the next best thing from being there in person.
Los Angeles had it’s very own patron saint of bootlegging, Mr Mike Millard, otherwise known as ‘Mike The Mike’, who was one of the most prolific figures in this field throughout the 1970s and ’80s. Some of his most famous recordings come from Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones visits to California.
There is barely a show in existence from that 1974 until 1980 that took place at LA’s The Forum that wasn’t recorded by Mike using his special ‘Millard Method’. He started by using a basic mono recorder in 1974 before upgrading to a Nakamichi stereo recorder with AKG Acoustics microphones in time for the 1975 Led Zeppelin shows in Los Angeles. Obviously, this was quite difficult to make look conspicuous… so how did Millard manage to get away with it for so long?
His technique for managing to hide his recording equipment is one that seems incomprehensible, Millard would often use a wheelchair and pretend to be disabled so his chair wouldn’t be checked — which is an unfathomable length to go to.
Perhaps is most famous recording was of the Led Zeppelin concert on June 21, 1977, at the Forum which was released under the title Listen To This Eddie and is one of the most famous Zeppelin bootlegs in existence. Millard’s recording of set opener ‘The Song Remains The Same’ would even be included in the promos menu of the Led Zeppelin live concert DVD released in 2007.
Millard was never actually behind the sale of bootlegs and just passed them to friends. The chain reaction, however, would see his recordings end up in the hands of bootleggers who then sold it on at an obscene profit without his blessing. So angered by the financial gain of others, Millard went as far as marking copies of his tapes so that if one of his recordings turned up for sale, he would know which person he had initially traded it to.
Millard was in the bootlegging game to fuel his passion for music, not an effort to fleece artists out of money. The cult figure was left hurt when people he believed to be trustworthy would routinely make a profit out of something that he had given them in good faith as a friend.
The bootlegging hero sadly died by suicide in 1994 and never got to see his legacy live on thanks to The National in 2019 who commissioned archivist Erik Flannigan to record their shows using the very same technique that he developed. The band’s two shows at Berkeley’s Greek Theatre were recorded using vintage AKG 451E microphones and a restored Nakamichi 550 cassette deck, just like the Millard classics. They also shared an accompanying documentary titled Juicy Sonic Magic: The Mike Millard Method, which you can watch below.