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Flower Power

A once-slumbering syndicated radio giant empties its vaults

Because collectors have already been purchasing many of the more well-known episodes on the sly -- meaning, of course, that neither KBEG nor the artists receive any royalties -- going legit makes perfect sense. But there's also a catch: Though the folks at King Biscuit Entertainment Group own the master tapes and their broadcast rights, in most cases they do not own the rights to release the material to the consumer. For any recording KBEG seeks to put out there, it must negotiate with whomever owns the artist's recordings (usually the band or label). The downside is two-fold. First, record companies usually prefer not to saturate the marketplace, particularly with products they don't own and won't see profits from. Second, major rock outfits aren't always keen on releasing live CDs, since the concerts, though excellently recorded, represent the band as is, mistakes and all. So, though KBEG owns performances by David Bowie, the Who and the Stones, the likelihood of the company getting the go-ahead to release them is not great.

Despite such obstacles, KBEG moved forward with the idea of starting a label in 1995, releasing its first set of full-length concerts featuring America, 10cc, Greg Lake and Triumph. For the most part, the series was well received, with critics noting the strength of the performances and the exceptional sound quality. That success has led to more reissues of shows by Renaissance, Rick Wakeman, the Who's John Entwistle and others.

But problems continue to thwart King Biscuit's attempts to release top-level acts. To date, KBEG has been able to clear only one live CD with Emerson, Lake and Palmer's handlers. That means fans of bigger artists must still scour the black market for their favorite King Biscuit performances.

Just as the success of the King Biscuit Flower Hour led to Europe's Silver Eagle spinoff, the success of the King Biscuit concert CD series has spawned other imprints. Last year, the Silver Eagle sister label released performances by Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and others.

Another spinoff company, Pet Rock (formerly Mausoleum Classix), is putting out recordings once hopelessly out of print -- Who drummer Keith Moon's solo outing Two Sides of the Moon and Renaissance's Songs from Renaissance Days among them. Pet Rock also plans to reissue a long-lost Rodney Dangerfield album this year (God help us).

King Biscuit's third subsidiary is Oxygen Records, which focuses on new studio albums -- mostly from classic-rock dinosaurs such as Supertramp. These offshoots are not, however, thriving at the expense of the King: This year will see the release of live Flower Hour concerts by B.B. King, Kim Carnes and several others.

The whole KBEG reissue frenzy has had a welcome side effect: It's revitalized the radio show. Plans are now in the works to record new performances for the King Biscuit radio series, taking it out of rerun limbo in September. Thus, a dormant radio concert series turned retro record label has dragged its predecessor out of seemingly certain retirement. Figure that one out. Better yet, don't; just enjoy your weekend. It's starting to look better already.

King Biscuit Flower Hour reruns air Saturdays at midnight on KKRW/93.7 FM (The Arrow). Check out the King Biscuit Entertainment Group web site at www.king-biscuit.com.

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