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It turns out that there are thousands of hours of vintage American jazz, blues, rock, and folk performances dating as far back as the ’50s stored in the videotape libraries of television stations in, of all places, Europe. A treasure trove of rare footage for the producers of music television and documentaries — think MTV, VH1.

All that footage sat all but forgotten for decades until a video collector-turned-researcher named David Peck angered one of the Spice Girls in a green room at The Late Show With David Letterman one night in 1998.

Peck was visiting his longtime friend Paul Shaffer. After an autograph-signing attempt with Baby Spice for his nine-year-old niece went sour, Peck was shuttled to another green room. There he chanced to meet Rolling Stones/Allman Brothers keyboard player Chuck Leavell. Peck offered him copies of some rare old footage, and the two became friends.

“That summer,” Peck writes on his website reelinintheyears.com, “I was in Amsterdam to see the Stones, and I was backstage with both Chuck and Charlie Watts. They introduced me to a friend of theirs from Belgium who had a large library of material. It was through that friend that I became aware of the Belgian TV station RTBF, which subsequently became my first client. So, were it not for pissing off a member of the Spice Girls, I would probably not have the company I do today.”

That company is Reelin’ in the Years Productions, now a Grammy Award–nominated platinum- and gold-selling production company and licensing agent. Reelin’ in the Years controls a library of some 10,000 hours of music performances on video. They have produced 40 music DVDs, including the critically acclaimed Jazz Icons series (jazzicons.com).

David Peck works out of modest basement offices in a San Diego house and employs a staff of seven. “Our common denominator,” says David Peck of his company, “is that we all love music.”

I stopped by on election day last month and spoke with Peck and art director Tom Gulotta.

What is it exactly that you guys do?

Tom Gulotta: “The main thrust of RITY Productions is clip sales.” (Gulotta later explains that a clip is a short segment of filmed footage, usually anywhere from 3 to 30 seconds in length.) “We represent television stations’ archives to other producers. We act as agents, finding and getting rare European footage into the hands of mostly American producers who have never seen this stuff and didn’t know it existed.”

David Peck: “We represent the television stations. We do all the work. We pay for everything; they pay nothing. They get a nice percentage if we make money. We don’t buy the rights. We represent them. We know music. We know how much stuff is worth. Do you watch Entourage? Think of me as Ari, but not an asshole,” he laughs. “Let’s say VH1 wants to use 30 seconds of Black Sabbath doing ‘Paranoid.’ We license the use of the footage, meaning VH1 pays us to use the footage. We don’t own the song; we don’t own the band’s likeness. VH1 pays someone else for those rights. That’s how it works.”

Why Europe?

TG: “European television stations have 50 years’ worth of music footage archives because they didn’t throw videotapes away or recycle them like television stations did here. Europeans cherished jazz way more at the time than Americans did in the ’50s and ’60s. The Europeans loved it, and they would film whole concerts — whereas the jazz guys and the blues guys here couldn’t even get on TV in the U.S.”

DP: “There’s stuff over there that people had no idea existed. For example, no one thought there was footage of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers with Lee Morgan and Benny Golson from ’58. We found it, and it’s one of our best sellers.”

What’s your plan B when all this Euro footage runs out?

DP: “Flip hamburgers,” jokes Peck. “Actually, the dream for me is that I’ve got enough DVDs on the market where royalties are trickling in each year.” He says later, “I want to stress, when I talk about making money off of the footage, it’s not bootlegging. We legitimately license this product.”

Back to the beginning — how did this get started?

DP: “I was in Off the Record one night. I was 18 at the time. The guy who worked there turned me on to all these great Stones videos. This was ’84, when video collectors were underground. There was no YouTube; there was nothing. Collecting videos was a swapping thing. So he turned me on to this great rare stuff — the Stones playing with Muddy Waters — and that’s when I got the bug and started collecting.

“In ’86, John D’Agostino, who was then writing for the Reader, wrote an article about me as a collector, and it kinda went from there. I started doing research and consulting on projects. By ’98, I started representing video libraries, and now I have amassed the world’s largest library of music footage.”

Does RITY have any video of local concerts or performances?

DP: “We have stuff that Henry Diltz, a famous rock photographer, shot. He made home movies of CSN&Y at Balboa Stadium. It’s really cool because you can see the Coronado Bridge in the background. There’s no question about where this was filmed. If there’s anybody reading this that has home movies of concerts shot here in the ’60s and ’70s, come to me. I can make you some cash.”

This business must have some unique difficulties.…

DP: “One time we were trying to clear a Carpenters’ concert for Japanese television. Richard Carpenter is very careful about the image of Karen, and I understand why. People have made fun or twisted the facts around her death, which was obviously very tragic. We have this great concert of them from ’74, and I say great because they were a great group. Karen was a really good musician. But Richard didn’t like the dress she was wearing. And she wasn’t thin at that time. She was a normal-sized woman. But he said, ‘no.’ You can’t argue with that. His call to make. So we couldn’t do anything with it.”

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