Desert underground musician’s cassette tape sells for a staggering $15,000 on eBay.
The most expensive cassette tape ever sold was Prince’s “The Versace Experience – Prelude 2 Gold”, which sold for over $4,000 back in 2016, but this year that record has been broken by an unknown musician’s demo cassette tape that was discovered in a storage unit.
On January 22, Billy Yeager’s demo cassette tape “Surf’s Up!” was sold on eBay for $15,000. The question is, why would anyone pay such an exorbitant price for a cassette tape that was recorded on a $350 4-Track Cassette Recorder, by an unknown artist who was rejected by all the major record labels for over 25 years and never sold more than a few dozen records in his lifetime?
The irony surrounding the story of the two highest cassette tapes ever sold is that Billy Yeager was asked by Prince to join his band as guitarist back in 1985, but Yeager turned him down.
So Who is Billy Yeager?
Billy Yeager is an Enigma.
He is a musician, filmmaker, actor, activist, humanitarian and controversial performance artist. He has written and composed over 2400 songs, produced, directed and acted in his own films, and has been discovered many times by several well known artists and managers such as Doc McGhee, Rod Stewart and Bruce Hornsby.
Growing up in Miami, Florida, Yeager recorded and performed as guitarist with many bands, such as reggae band “Inner Circle”, and even with the legendary Jaco Pastorius.
He has performed for wealthy Palm Beach socialites and US Presidents, yet he has chosen to live in The Mojave Desert.
Back in 2000, Yeager was struggling to find work and became homeless, forcing him to store most of his possessions, including his master tapes for his films and music, in a storage unit. When he defaulted on his monthly payments his possessions were sold.
Today Yeager’s CDs and rare albums sell anywhere from $3500 up to as much as $150,000.
In 2016 the documentary film Billy Yeager The Ineffable Enigma was released.
The film tells the story of Yeager’s unusual life, and explains the mystery regarding Yeager’s lost works. The documentary has been called “one of the best musician documentary films ever made.”
Billy is the nephew of the legendary 1950’s pin-up model and photographer Bunny Yeager who discovered the famous pin-up Betty Page.
Billy and his father Ray are the only male subjects Bunny ever photographed in her entire 50 year career.
Bunny took the photograph of Billy that is featured on the front of the “Surf’s Up!” cassette tape, but this is not the only reason that makes this cassette tape “ultra rare”.
From 1985-1990 Yeager isolated himself in his little apartment in Hollywood Beach, Florida, working hard trying to discover his own unique sound and style. During this period he recorded over 850 songs.
Sometimes he would write and record over 4-songs a day.
In 1991 Billy attended a concert by Grammy Award Winner Bruce Hornsby and asked the stage manager if he would pass along his cassette to Bruce Hornsby.
Several weeks later, after Yeager had forgotten all about it, Bruce called Billy while touring with the Grateful Dead (Yeager included his phone number on the cassette tape.)
At first Billy didn’t believe it was Bruce and thought it was a joke, but Hornsby told him he was so impressed with the music, that he wanted to try to help him get signed to a record label.
Except for Bruce Hornsby, very few people have heard the “Surf’s Up!” cassette tape.
It was 1992 by the time Bruce had convinced the labels to listen to the musician he had discovered, however, this was also the time when the music industry was drastically changing and the only acts the record labels were signing were rap and grunge music. Unfortunately, even with Bruce Hornsby and some other major players support, Yeager fell between the cracks and was rejected again for the next 8 years 1991-1999.
In 2000, Yeager was discovered again by the band “Kiss” manager Doc McGhee when he was performing in Miami, but things didn’t work out with that encounter either.
In 2002 Yeager moved to Lake Worth, Florida, where he began performing cover songs in small pubs as a one man show. During this time he struggled to get a steady gig and was evicted over 4 times in one year.
In 2005, Billy met his wife, Anais, and they began working on their mission as artists, to create a transcendental film, one that would raise the conscious awareness of humanity and change the world.
Yeager made the decision not to play cover songs ever again and began performing only his original songs. Yeager wrote and recorded eclectic styles of music such as “Surf Jazz”, “Mountain Gypsy Hillbilly ” and “Japanese Folk”. One night while performing in a small restaurant he was heard by the general manager of The Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida, and was hired to be the exclusive performer.
Yeager became the guy to hire for high society events in Palm Beach. He performed for Donald Trump, Malcolm Forbes, the Rockefellers, Martha Stewart, and Regis Philbin.
Rod Stewart heard Yeager playing his original “Spanish Gypsy” music one day and asked him if he would write songs for his next album.
But Billy and Anais had invested over 4 years preparing themselves for the filming of “Jesus of Malibu”, which was a story about enlightenment, and soon after they decided to give away all of their possessions, bought a 1970 14- foot travel trailer and headed west to the Mojave desert.
For over 3 years they lived and survived in ghost towns, filming their movie all by themselves. They wrote, produced, directed, acted and composed all the music for the film performing the music soundtrack live and completed their movie with no money and without even a 1-person film crew.
In 2011 someone placed a 4500 pound grand piano on a sandbar in Miami’s Biscayne Bay.
All of the major news outlets covered the story.
Yeager seized the opportunity to promote their cause.
He called both CNN and Inside Edition and said that he and his wife Anais had placed the piano there.
Immediately the Yeagers and scenes from their Jesus of Malibu film trailer were being featured in the news.
A newspaper article about the Yeagers captured the attention of Maltese Productions based out of Los Angeles. They tracked down the Yeagers who were living in Death Valley and invested over 2 years producing the documentary The Film that Changed the World which tells the story of the making of the movie “Jesus of Malibu.”
The documentary created a big buzz and won “Most Inspirational” movie award at the Red Dirt International Film Festival where it premiered.
Soon after the film was released Bunny Yeager passed away and instantly Billy’s older albums from the 1980’s began appearing on eBay, (several of these were limited pressings and test pressings never seen before), and people began purchasing them as fast as they could be listed.
Chris Von Weinberg is the CEO of Surf Jazz Records, an independent record label and publishing company that is now releasing limited editions of Yeager’s music on Vinyl LP Records, 45’s and even 8-track tapes.
An ironic ending…
In 2014, Malibu Beach LA Magazine contacted Prince by phone for an interview and asked about Billy Yeager.
Almost 30 years later, Prince still remembered him, stating that “Billy was the funkiest guitar player I ever heard.”
Today Billy and Anais perform benefit concerts 4- times a year in an underground missile base located in the “middle of nowhere” in Kansas.
Tickets to see the Yeagers “What 4?” 2 day event concert and film screening of “The Film That Changed The World” (which screens in the missile room on a 47-ton steel door) cost 7,500.00
Proceeds are used to provide help for landmine victims.
To find out more go to www.surfjazzrecords.com
UPDATED: The On a Friday auction has ended, and the tapes have now been listed at $50K.
Ever been hanging around a venue just after your favorite band has played only to have some scuzzy-looking guy walk up to you and say, “Here, take this, it’s my band’s demo” and hand you an unsolicited CD-R or a cassette tape? What did you do with it? If you’re anything like me, you probably threw it in the trash or took it home, listened to it once, and then promptly lost it.
The problem is that that scuzzy-looking guy could be a superstar in ten years, and you’d feel pretty dumb to have thrown away that early demo tape they handed you. Some people have held onto those things, though.
Take these tapes, by a little band called “On a Friday,” which surfaced on eBay earlier this month. Inspired by a Talking Heads song, On a Friday later changed their name to “Radiohead.” Those On a Friday demos just sold had been listed for $29,999.99, and some early Beatles demos are about to be sold as well.
R.E.M.’s 1981 Demo
This showed up on the Internet late last year. The proud owner isn’t letting go of it, but he ripped the audio for all to hear. Apparently only 400 tapes were made, purely to hand out at R.E.M.’s first show in New York City.
Amazingly, it contains an early version of “Radio Free Europe.” That of course eventually became one of the band’s most beloved tracks, proving just how good R.E.M. was even at the very beginning.
The Offspring’s 1986 Demo Tape
This demo is an especially early example, as the Offspring wouldn’t even get a break to record an album until 1989. They didn’t quite manage to break out with that first album, but a few songs from this tape did end up on there. Unfortunately, this one also wasn’t put up for sale, but you can download and listen to it here.
This one was put up on eBay by Martin Atkins, who you might know better as Pigface. Trent Reznor wrote and recorded the song “Suck” with him, which eventually found its way onto NIN’s Broken EP, and Atkins played drums on “Wish.”
The tape itself contains five demo cuts of songs that would end up on NIN’s first album Pretty Hate Machine. Surprisingly enough, the clips posted by Atkins don’t even sound that different from the finished products that would captivate legions of fans only a short time later.
Muse’s Newton Abbot Demo Tape
This one showed up on eBay in late 2007, containing 11 of the earliest tracks Muse ever recorded. It’s unfortunate for the seller that he chose to sell when he did, since Muse hit an even bigger peak of popularity in 2009.
Back in 2007, the tape only sold for £700. Funny enough, Muse bassist Christopher Wolstenhome commented that the price the buyer paid was “a bit of a ripoff.” One wonders what he would say if he were a member of Radiohead.
At one time, you probably could have gotten your hands onNo Life Til Leather pretty easily. Metallica put them out around the Bay Area relentlessly back in the day. In fact, copies still turn up on eBay every now and then.
But you definitely can’t buy the “Sucking My Love” tape, as only one copy apparently even exists, owned by Ron McGovney, Metallica’s original bassist. You can listen to the very early recording however, which is a cover of a Diamond Head track that the band never recorded again.
The song was apparently recorded in McGovney’s garage, “by suspending a $49.00 ghetto blaster in the air, and with James singing through the guitar amp.”