What's Next for Bob Dylan's Bootleg Series?

A long-awaited documentary on the Rolling Thunder Revue tour may see release next year

Sources close to the Bob Dylan camp reveal plans for future Bootleg Series installments, including a Rolling Thunder Revue documentary. Credit: Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage

Now that details on Bob Dylan's new gospel-era collection Trouble No More: The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 / 1979–1981 have surfaced, his team can turn their attention to future archival projects. Nothing is definite, but next year could finally see the release of a long-awaited documentary about the famed Rolling Thunder Revue tour of 1975–76 that will be paired with a box set of music from the era. "It's a great period and there's so much music that was so well-recorded," says a source close to the Dylan camp. "I think that'll be a great companion piece to the film. We have incredible, incredible stuff. Hopefully it'll all come out next year."

There has been talk for years about a Blood on the Tracks box set that would include unheard solo acoustic demos from the first day of sessions with producer Phil Ramone, but that might get folded into the Rolling Thunder collection. "It's just a two-year period of Blood on the Tracks and Desire," says the source. "It's precipitous [at the moment] because we usually like to see how it all goes together."

The Rolling Thunder Revue featured Bob Dylan playing a series of theater shows with little advance notice on a bill that included Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn, Ramblin' Jack Elliott and many others. Dylan spent much of his offstage time shooting the surreal film Renaldo and Clara, which utilized many of the Rolling Thunder performers in acting roles. The upcoming documentary will incorporate unseen footage from the film shoot along with contemporary interviews with many of the participants. The Dylan camp has yet to announce what director was hired to oversee the project. The tour was already chronicled on the 1976 live album Hard Rain and a 2002 Bootleg Series collection, but those only scratched the surface of what's in the vault.

Beyond the Rolling Thunder documentary and accompanying box set, future chapters of the Bootleg Series might chronicle Dylan's 1993 acoustic shows at New York's Supper Club (which were professionally filmed) and some sort of examination of the Never Ending Tour. The latter is a particularly challenging project since it involves over 2,800 concerts between 1988 and the present day. Dylan's road crew has been recording shows dating back to the beginning of the Never Ending Tour, but the quality of them up until the mid-2000's is less than stellar.

"Some of them are recorded on DAT or other formats of the moment," says the source. "Who knew they wouldn't last? For a lot of years during the 1990s, there were these two fans and they would go and each would wear recording equipment in their hats and they'd sit in different sections so that the stuff would be stereo. Those tapes sound better than our board tapes."

In recent years, many artists have started offering their fans recordings of every single concert. Nugs.net – which facilitates this service for Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, Phish, Metallica and many others – have approached Dylan's team without any luck. "We're not big believers in the live download the ways those guys are doing it," says the source. "People like it and we've thought about it for a lot of years, but we just don't know."

One problem the source points to is the lack of manpower on the road to oversee the taping. "In regards to front-of-house sound, we don't have the kind of organization that Bruce Springsteen has," says the source. "They have someone doing a separate mix and they're looking at it as a profit center. We focus our energy on what the live sound sounds like. If you get a board tape that someone hasn't done a remix of, you're always disappointed in what they sound like. They're not as electric as the shows themselves. That's one reason we choose the Rolling Thunder period. Someone was doing a separate board mix. All the way back to Richard Alderson, who did the 1966 tour, some engineers take it upon themselves to do both, but that is very hard."

But couldn't the Dylan organization simply hire a separate sound engineer to go on tour and create a mix for downloads? "That's not where we're at," says the source. "Again, our focus is to try and present a show in the moment to the people. And also, I don't know how many downloads we want to have out there. We're more excited about curating new stuff for people. If people really want to find that stuff, it's all over the Internet."

Many recent chapters of the Bootleg Series have explored neglected corners of Dylan's catalog, like 2013's Another Self Portrait. Dylan scholar Clinton Heylin would like the see more sets like that in the future. "I would love to hear a really good set that covers the Rundown [studios] era from 1977 to the end of 1981 that completely bypasses religious material," he says." There's reams and reams of phenomenal covers that they were doing at rehearsals, songs you'd never expect him to do like [Michael Johnson's] 'This Night Won't Last Forever' or 'Sweet Caroline.' These are songs that you think, 'My God, is he really going to try and tackle something like that?' He even does 'Rainbow Connection.' I mean, Jesus ... And they're fantastic."

Heylin would also like to see the Bootleg Series venture further into the Eighties. "Dylan was on a relative creative high in '84 and '85, but it's not reflected in the finished album of Empire Burlesque, which I can barely listen to," he says. "They'd have to go back to the original tapes so they could restore it to something that people can actually appreciate for an Empire Burlesque Bootleg Series. Personally speaking, I wish they'd include Knocked Out Loaded with that. I know they have a very low view of that album, but I suspect there's a bunch of very good stuff there that just simply never got counted. Then there's [1983's] Infidels. Just like in the Rundown period, he recorded something like 16 or 18 covers. He's singing great and has a great band. They could go to town with that one."