Who would ever have imagined that one of the rarest and most valuable record albums ever produced wasn’t recorded by a world-class musician or group—but by a novelist and poet?
We’re not talking about a one-off, like the 2022 Ionic Original version of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” that sold at Christie’s for $1,769,508 last year, because only a single copy was made. Nor are we referring to the copy of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy that Lennon signed in 1981 for the crazed fan who murdered him a few hours later. No, we’re referring to LPs that were produced with the expectation they would be distributed en masse by the thousands.
If you’re a Jack Kerouac fan, you’re probably more familiar with this album than you might think. In fact, you’ve probably been listening to it for years. For many of us, this record was the audio link that finally helped us understand the rhythm of Jack’s writing style, thanks to hearing his voice and intonation accompanied by Steve Allen’s piano.
Back in 2011, we received an email from a man named Bob who told us he’d be coming to San Francisco soon and would be bringing us his most prized possession—a copy of the Dot Records version of Poetry for the Beat Generation.
We knew about the history of this record. We knew that Steve Allen had seen Jack perform at the Village Vanguard in NYC in 1957, and that he offered to accompany Jack for the second show. We knew their collaboration went so well that Steve suggested a recording session at Dot Records with legendary engineer Bob Thiele. We knew that 130 promotional copies had been pressed and distributed to reviewers in 1958—and then, at the last minute, Dot Records president Randy Wood finally listened to the album, and objecting to Jack’s language and the subject matter of the poetry, refused to allow it to go into production.
Bob Thiele kept the master tapes, and after leaving Dot, he and Steve Allen created their own label to be sure Jack’s record got out to the public. The record we all know and love was released on Hanover-Signature Records a year later, in 1959. Steve Allen is seen holding a copy of this LP during Kerouac’s 1959 appearance on the Steve Allen Show. The LP was released again as part of the Jack Kerouac Collection box set by Rhino Records in 1990, this time on cassette and CD.
When we finally met Bob a few weeks later in 2011 we had a very engaging conversation. “My father was a newspaperman and used to review records in the 1950s and 1960s. As a result he had a collection of thousands of records. He always told me, ‘If there’s ever a fire in the house, you don’t go for that copy of the Beatles or the Stones. The LP you want to save is the one by Jack Kerouac and Steve Allen. There are only a handful of those in the entire world.'”
Bob was well aware this Dot Records copy of Poetry for the Beat Generation is worth thousands of dollars. Still, he wanted to share his prized possession with Beat enthusiasts from around the world, and he agreed to place the LP on permanent loan with The Beat Museum. For years we’ve been displaying this beautiful piece of Beat history for all to see.
Last week we got a call from Bob. It was the first time we’d heard from him in over ten years. He told us he’d fallen on hard times these last few years and he needed cash fast. He asked if we could find a buyer for Poetry for the Beat Generation. We knew a copy of this very same record had just sold at auction for $3,000 back in May of this year.
Before we tested the waters to find a buyer for the LP, we discussed with Bob the possibility of allowing us a few weeks to raise the money so we could purchase it ourselves and keep it at The Beat Museum. Bob loved the idea that his beloved album, passed down from his father, might remain on public display in perpetuity at The Beat Museum for Beat Generation fans to continue to enjoy.
We hope to be able to raise the funds to buy Bob’s copy of Poetry for the Beat Generation for $3,000.
It would be a Win/Win/Win—for Bob, for The Beat Museum, and for Beat fans who would otherwise likely never have an opportunity to see this fantastic piece of Beat history and marvel at the story of the Kerouac album that stands head and shoulders above all other LPs.
Although the claim is 130 of these LPs were sent to reviewers, most experts agree there are likely only a dozen or so copies of this record left on the entire planet. A person shouldn’t have to be rich in order to ever catch a glimpse of the first pressing of Jack’s finest recording.
UPDATE: Success! With your support, we were able to purchase this extremely rare, original Dot Records pressing of Poetry for the Beat Generation for the Beat Museum’s permanent collection! Thank you to everyone who donated!