This is excellent. Greil Marcus, Sid Griffin and others tell the story of Bob Dylan’s “Basement Tapes.”
One way the story goes, Bob Dylan called members of The Hawks who were still on salary with him but living in New York, and he had them come to Woodstock, at first to work on a film and then to back him on some demos of new songs.
Robbie Robertson has a different version. As Robbie tells it, the guys moved up to Woodstock and rented Big Pink and set up the basement for recording. Then Dylan came over, saw it, and wanted to record there. and asked the guys to back him.
The only problem with Robbie’s version is that before anything happened in the basement, there were sessions with members of The Hawks in the Red Room at Dylan’s house, Hi Lo Ha, in Byrdcliffe Colony, not far from Woodstock.
Still, it’s interesting to hear Robbie tell his version of the Basement Tapes story.
Here’s a transcript:
We had moved up to Woodstock, New York because in New York City we couldn’t find a place that we could work on our music without it being too expensive or bothering people or something.
We go up there, and Albert Grossman says, “Up there you can find a place, you know, that’s there no people around and you can do whatever you want.” We’re thinking, “Oh, my God, we desperately need that,” and there was some stuff that I was working on then with Bob Dylan up there, too, some film things that we were messing around with.
Anyway, we went up there, we found this ugly pink house out in West Saugerties, just on the outskirts of Woodstock on a hundred acres and there’s nothing around and we think, “All right, we can do this.” We get this place. Some of the guys live there and, in the basement of this place, I think, “Okay, we’ll set up our equipment here and this is where we’ll work on our music.”
I have a friend of mine who knows about acoustics and recording and microphones and all kinds of things, so I say to him, “Take a look at this place and see, because we’re going to use this and we just want to make sure that it’s going to work.”
At this time, you’ve got to remember, nobody was doing this. It didn’t exist, that people would set up and now everybody does it. Back then, this was very rare. It was like Les Paul did that. Everybody else, if you were going to make a record, you went and made a record where they make records, right?
Anyway, I had this friend of mine, this guy that I know, look at the thing in the basement and he said, “Well, this is a disaster.”
He said, “This is the worst situation. You have a cement floor, you have cinder block walls and you have a big metal furnace in here. These are all of the things that you can’t have if you’re trying to record something, even if you’re just recording it for your own information, your own benefit. You can’t do this. This won’t work. You’ll listen to it and you’ll be depressed. Your music will sound so bad that you’ll never want to record again.”
I’m like, “Holy, jeez.” I said, “Well, what if we put down a rug?”
He said, “A rug?” He said, “You don’t need a rug, you need everything here. This is impossible.”
I thought, “God, well that’s pretty depressing,” but we’d already rented the place. We didn’t have a choice. I was thinking, should we set up upstairs in the living room? What should we do here?
I thought, well, the hell with it. We have no choice. We don’t have the flexibilities, and we got this old rug and we did put a rug down, and we got a couple of microphones left over from the tour. We had this little tape recorder and we were going to start writing and making this music for our record.
Then Bob Dylan comes out and he sees this and he says, “This is fantastic!” He said, “Why don’t we do some stuff together?” He’s like, “I want to record, I need to make up some songs for the publishing company for other people to record.”
In the meantime, Bob is taking care of all of us all of this time. We owe him to do something just to, because the idea was we were going to go into another tour but he broke his neck in a motorcycle thing and we couldn’t do that. We’re still on the payroll and it’s going on and on and on, so it was a way to do something, a gesture back.
I said, “Yeah, okay, we’ll do these things and then we’ll work on our stuff.”
He starts coming up and he comes out all the time. It’s like the clubhouse, now, this place. We love it and we’re laying down these things on tape and, in their own way, they’re like field recordings.
They sound fantastic in their own way. I think, you know what? There is something about bringing the recording experience to you in your own comfort zone, as opposed to going into somebody’s studio that has a huge clock on the wall and the guys in the union there saying, “Hey, it’s about dinner break.” You make your own atmosphere. There’s something very creative about this.
We do the stuff with Bob, we do all kinds of stuff ourselves, everything, the whole thing. It’s like nobody’s ever going to hear this thing. It becomes the first huge bootleg Rock ‘N Roll music record ever. It was like, that wasn’t the idea. That was only for the publishing company and the artists that might want to record that particular song. It became a whole other phenomenon, and it’s okay.
More than four decades after Bob Dylan and the musicians that would become The Band recorded a crazy mix of original compositions, standards and obscurities – recordings that became known as the ‘Basement Tapes’ – “every salvageable recording from the tapes” is finally being officially released on November 4, 2014, according to bobdylan.com.
Hear a version of “Odds & Ends” that will appear on the new set:
The six-CD deluxe set, titled The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11, will sell for $149.98 and will include a 120-page booklet with liner notes by Dylan expert Syd Griffin, author of “Million Dollar Bash: Bob Dylan, the Band, and the Basement Tapes.”
Although bootlegs of many of the recordings have circulated since a batch of them were first released on the bootleg album, The Great White Wonder, in 1969, and most recently on an 11-CD bootleg, From the Reels – Complete Basement Tapes, the official boxed set will include at least 20 recordings that have not been previously released.
According to Larry Jenkins, who is involved with the project, determining what hasn’t been heard before is “kind of complicated, because this is the first time that all the original sources have been used. So, ultimately all of the recordings sound different.”
Rolling Stones’s Andy Greene writes:
The previously unknown tracks include an epic, apocalyptic rocker, “Wild Wolf”; an early draft of “I Shall Be Released” with slightly different lyrics; a cover of Hank Williams’ 1949 classic “My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It”; and country-fied versions of “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “It Ain’t Me Babe” and “One Too Many Mornings,” featuring Band keyboardist Richard Manuel handling lead vocals on the first verse.
In going through the tracks being released on the new set, and what has previously been released, I come up with this unverified list of previously unreleased ‘Basement Tapes’ recordings. Please let me know if any of these versions have seen the light of day before.
1. Edge of the Ocean
2. My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It (written by Clarence Williams)
3. Roll on Train
4. Mr. Blue (written by Dewayne Blackwell)
5. I’m a Fool for You (Take 2)
6. Blowin’ in the Wind
7. One Too Many Mornings
8. A Satisfied Mind (written by Joe Hayes and Jack Rhodes)
9. It Ain’t Me, Babe
10. My Woman She’s A-Leavin’
11. Mary Lou, I Love You Too
12. Dress it up, Better Have it All
13. What’s it Gonna be When it Comes Up
14. Wild Wolf
15. If I Were A Carpenter (written by James Timothy Hardin)
16. 2 Dollars and 99 Cents
17. Jelly Bean
18. Any Time
19. Down by the Station
20. Hallelujah, I’ve Just Been Moved (Traditional, arranged by Bob Dylan)
21. That’s the Breaks
22. Pretty Mary
23. Will the Circle be Unbroken (written by A.P. Carter)
24. She’s on My Mind Again
25. Northern Claim
26. Love is Only Mine
What became know as the ‘Basement Tapes’ sessions began in the “red room” of Bob Dylan’s house, Hi Lo Ha, in upstate New York. “Oddly enough, it was referred to as the ‘red room’, but it was not red,” Jenkins said. ‘At one time, it was probably painted red and the name stuck.”
As for what color the now historic site of the beginnings of the ‘Basement Tapes’ was?
“That information is lost to the sands of time,” said another source close to the project.
For some reason Dylan and company decided to move the sessions to ‘Big Pink,’ the house shared by Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson in West Saugerties, New York. That’s where the rest of the sessions took place.
The musicians who are on these recordings: Bob Dylan, Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson and Levon Helm.
Garth Hudson, who was keyboardist in The Band, and who played on most of the ‘Basement Tapes’ recordings, worked with Canadian music archivist and producer Jan Haust “to restore the deteriorating tapes to pristine sound, with much of this music preserved digitally for the first time,” according to bobdylan.com.
Greil Marcus wrote in his book “Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes”:
There is no common memory, let alone documentation, to provide the exact dates when Bob Dylan and the former Hawks began meeting to try their hand at old songs, or when old songs gave way to a long burst of mockery and novelty (“Bob would be running through an old song,” Robbie Robertson says, “and he’d say, ‘Maybe there’s anew song to be had here'”). Certainly they began playing, and occasionally taping the results, in the Red Room in Dylan’s house in Woodstock. Most of the commonplace or covered material, the least finished and sure, from Ian and Sylvia hits to “Johnny Todd,” from Johnny Cash classics to “Cool Water,” comes from there, beginning in the early summer of 1967. The basement of Big Pink, the house Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel were renting in West Saugerties, was more of a hideaway, or a hideout. Sessions there went on through the summer, then off and on through the rest of the year and into the next. The first few months produced most of the best-known basement originals, and the series of parodies and breakdowns that stretches from “Tupelo” through “I’m in the Mood” into “See You Later, Allen Ginsberg.”
The deluxe edition will include these songs:
BOB DYLAN – THE BASEMENT TAPES COMPLETE:
THE BOOTLEG SERIES VOL. 11
(all songs written by Bob Dylan unless otherwise noted)
1. Edge of the Ocean
2. My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It (written by Clarence Williams)
3. Roll on Train
4. Mr. Blue (written by Dewayne Blackwell)
5. Belshazzar (written by Johnny Cash)
6. I Forgot to Remember to Forget (written by Charlie A Feathers and Stanley A Kesler)
7. You Win Again (written by Hank Williams)
8. Still in Town (written by Hank Cochran and Harlan Howard)
9. Waltzing with Sin (written by Sonny Burns and Red Hayes)
10. Big River (Take 1) (written by Johnny Cash)
11. Big River (Take 2) (written by Johnny Cash)
12. Folsom Prison Blues (written by Johnny Cash)
13. Bells of Rhymney (written by Idris Davies and Peter Seeger)
14. Spanish is the Loving Tongue
15. Under Control
16. Ol’ Roison the Beau (Traditional, arranged by Bob Dylan)
17. I’m Guilty of Loving You
18. Cool Water (written by Bob Nolan)
19. The Auld Triangle (written by Brendan Francis Behan)
20. Po’ Lazarus (Traditional, arranged by Bob Dylan)
21. I’m a Fool for You (Take 1)
22. I’m a Fool for You (Take 2)
1. Johnny Todd (Traditional, arranged by Bob Dylan)
2. Tupelo (written by John Lee Hooker)
3. Kickin’ My Dog Around (Traditional, arranged by Bob Dylan)
4. See You Later Allen Ginsberg (Take 1)
5. See You Later Allen Ginsberg (Take 2)
6. Tiny Montgomery
7. Big Dog
8. I’m Your Teenage Prayer
9. Four Strong Winds (written by Ian Tyson)
10. The French Girl (Take 1) (written by Ian Tyson and Sylvia Tyson)
11. The French Girl (Take 2) (written by Ian Tyson and Sylvia Tyson)
12. Joshua Gone Barbados (written by Eric Von Schmidt)
13. I’m in the Mood (written by Bernard Besman and John Lee Hooker)
14. Baby Ain’t That Fine (written by Dallas Frazier)
15. Rock, Salt and Nails (written by Bruce Phillips)
16. A Fool Such As I (written by William Marvin Trader)
17. Song for Canada (written by Pete Gzowski and Ian Tyson)
18. People Get Ready (written by Curtis L Mayfield)
19. I Don’t Hurt Anymore (written By Donald I Robertson and Walter E Rollins)
20. Be Careful of Stones That You Throw (written by Benjamin Lee Blankenship)
21. One Man’s Loss
22. Lock Your Door
23. Baby, Won’t You be My Baby
24. Try Me Little Girl
25. I Can’t Make it Alone
26. Don’t You Try Me Now
1. Young but Daily Growing (Traditional, arranged by Bob Dylan)
2. Bonnie Ship the Diamond (Traditional, arranged by Bob Dylan)
3. The Hills of Mexico (Traditional, arranged by Bob Dylan)
4. Down on Me (Traditional, arranged by Bob Dylan)
5. One for the Road
6. I’m Alright
7. Million Dollar Bash (Take 1)
8. Million Dollar Bash (Take 2)
9. Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread (Take 1)
10. Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread (Take 2)
11. I’m Not There
12. Please Mrs. Henry
13. Crash on the Levee (Take 1)
14. Crash on the Levee (Take 2)
15. Lo and Behold! (Take 1)
16. Lo and Behold! (Take 2)
17. You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere (Take 1)
18. You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere (Take 2)
19. I Shall be Released (Take 1)
20. I Shall be Released (Take 2)
21. This Wheel’s on Fire (written by Bob Dylan and Rick Danko)
22. Too Much of Nothing (Take 1)
23. Too Much of Nothing (Take 2)
1. Tears of Rage (Take 1) (written by Bob Dylan and Richard Manuel)
2. Tears of Rage (Take 2) (written by Bob Dylan and Richard Manuel)
3. Tears of Rage (Take 3) (written by Bob Dylan and Richard Manuel)
4. Quinn the Eskimo (Take 1)
5. Quinn the Eskimo (Take 2)
6. Open the Door Homer (Take 1)
7. Open the Door Homer (Take 2)
8. Open the Door Homer (Take 3)
9. Nothing Was Delivered (Take 1)
10. Nothing Was Delivered (Take 2)
11. Nothing Was Delivered (Take 3)
12. All American Boy (written by Bobby Bare)
13. Sign on the Cross
14. Odds and Ends (Take 1)
15. Odds and Ends (Take 2)
16. Get Your Rocks Off
17. Clothes Line Saga
18. Apple Suckling Tree (Take 1)
19. Apple Suckling Tree (Take 2)
20. Don’t Ya Tell Henry
21. Bourbon Street
1. Blowin’ in the Wind
2. One Too Many Mornings
3. A Satisfied Mind (written by Joe Hayes and Jack Rhodes)
4. It Ain’t Me, Babe
5. Ain’t No More Cane (Take 1) (Traditional, arranged by Bob Dylan)
6. Ain’t No More Cane (Take 2) (Traditional, arranged by Bob Dylan)
7. My Woman She’s A-Leavin’
9. Mary Lou, I Love You Too
10. Dress it up, Better Have it All
11. Minstrel Boy
12. Silent Weekend
13. What’s it Gonna be When it Comes Up
14. 900 Miles from My Home (Traditional, arranged by Bob Dylan)
15. Wildwood Flower (written by A.P. Carter)
16. One Kind Favor (Traditional, arranged by Bob Dylan)
17. She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain (Traditional, arranged by Bob Dylan)
18. It’s the Flight of the Bumblebee
19. Wild Wolf
20. Goin’ to Acapulco
21. Gonna Get You Now
22. If I Were A Carpenter (written by James Timothy Hardin)
23. Confidential (written by Dorina Morgan)
24. All You Have to do is Dream (Take 1)
25. All You Have to do is Dream (Take 2)
1. 2 Dollars and 99 Cents
2. Jelly Bean
3. Any Time
4. Down by the Station
5. Hallelujah, I’ve Just Been Moved (Traditional, arranged by Bob Dylan)
6. That’s the Breaks
7. Pretty Mary
8. Will the Circle be Unbroken (written by A.P. Carter)
9. King of France
10. She’s on My Mind Again
11. Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad (Traditional, arranged by Bob Dylan)
12. On a Rainy Afternoon
13. I Can’t Come in with a Broken Heart
14. Next Time on the Highway
15. Northern Claim
16. Love is Only Mine
17. Silhouettes (written by Bob Crewe and Frank C Slay Jr.)
18. Bring it on Home
19. Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies (Traditional, arranged by Bob Dylan)
20. The Spanish Song (Take 1)
21. The Spanish Song (Take 2)
— A Days Of The Crazy-Wild blog post —
On June 26, 1975, 39 years ago, Columbia released a version of The Basement Tapes.
The two album set contained 24 songs from the more than 100 songs that Bob Dylan and The Band recorded during the informal ‘Basement Tapes’ sessions.
Many of the recordings that didn’t make it onto the official release, are wonderful.
Yeah, the fidelity from the bootlegs isn’t so great, but the vibe is incredible.
Here are ten gems.
“I Am Your Teenage Prayer”:
“I Don’t Hurt Anymore”:
“I Can’t Make It Alone”:
“Joshua Gone Barbados”:
“Belchezaar 1 & 2”:
“Waltzing With Sin”:
“The Hills Of Mexico”:
“The French Girl” Take 2:
[In August of this year I’ll be publishing my rock ‘n’ roll/ coming-of-age novel, “True Love Scars,” which features a narrator who is obsessed with Bob Dylan. To read the first chapter, head here.]
–- A Days of the Crazy-Wild blog post: sounds, visuals and/or news –-
A batch of “recently discovered” song lyrics that Bob Dylan wrote in 1967 for the recording sessions in the basement of Big Pink,The Band’s pink house in West Saugerties (near Woodstock), have been turned over to T Bone Burnett by Dylan for the purpose of making a new album.
However, Dylan himself may not appear on the album. In a press release announcing Burnett’s new Electromagnetic Recordings label, the Basement Tapes project was mentioned in a list of recordings Burnett has planned:
The Basement Tapes…Continued: Bob Dylan’s music publishing company recently discovered lyrics Dylan wrote in 1967 for informal sessions with members of The Band that later became known as The Basement Tapes. Dylan has entrusted Burnett with these lyrics, and early next year – nearly 47 years since the legendary original sessions – Burnett will assemble a select group of contemporary recording artists in the famed Capitol Studios to complete the songs and record them as a band. Fans will experience this historic creative collaboration through an album release, as well as a documentary film and book of photography by award-winning filmmaker and photographer Sam Jones (The Wilco documentary, I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, and his interview show, Off Camera with Sam Jones). Burnett’s association with Bob Dylan began in 1975 when he became a guitarist on Dylan’s famed Rolling Thunder Revue tour.
Now I’m a big T Bone Burnett fan, but this one makes me wonder. What I love about the original Basement Tapes recordings is the ragged quality, and Dylan’s voice, and how The Band supports the songs, and The Band’s background vocals, which fit perfectly with Dylan’s singing.
That said, there are amazing covers of Dylan’s Basement Tapes songs including The Band’s version of “I Shall Be Released,” and more recently, Jim James version of “Goin’ To Acupulco.” So I guess I’ll wait and see how this turns out.
And who know, maybe Dylan himself will put in an appearance.
But what I’m waiting for is an official release of all the Basement Tapes recordings. What a box set that would make. Some on Sony Legacy! Come on Bob! Come on Jeff Rosen! I’m not the only one waiting.
Good story about the Burnett album here.
Some successful covers:
Jim James & Colexico, “Goin’ To Acupulco”
The Band, “I Shall Be Released”
Sonic Youth, “I’m Not There”
The Byrds, “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”
These next aren’t covers of a Basement Tapes song but they’re great.
Fairport Convention, “I’ll Keep It With Mine”
Nico, “I’ll Keep It With Mine”