Bob Dylan's Secret Recording Session With George Harrison and Friends

Bob, George, John, Phil, Ringo and Johnny . . . oh my!

George Harrison and Bob Dylan
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
May 28, 1970

New York — Bob Dylan snuck into Columbia's Studio B in New York on May Day and recorded for 12 hours with George Harrison, lead guitarist for a reportedly defunct British rock and roll group, the Beatles.

Denials that the session took place were issued by Dylan's personal secretary and by producer Bob Johnston, who chuckled: "Where did you hear that? Some people'll say anything!" But a session there was, and, according to reports, it was a monster. Described as "kind of a nice, loose thing," the get-together was produced by Johnston, who also sat in on keyboard. Other musicians included Charlie Daniels on bass and an unidentified drummer.

Dylan Record Puts Beatles Up a Tree

The material covered by an amalgam of new Dylan stuff, Beatles songs, and a number of early Sixties tunes. About five of the numbers are reportedly of high enough quality to merit inclusion on a future Dylan album.

Dylan and Harrison hit it off well, and spent part of the time with Dylan singing Beatles songs and George singing Dylan songs.

The new Dylan material is reportedly different from his recent stuff, but is not a radical change. The songs are "family-oriented," and one of them seems to be a love song to Dylan's wife, Sara. Another song reflects a father's wish to leave his son "air to breathe and water to wash in," according to a session observer.

The fate of the bulk of what went down at the Dylan-Harrison session is unknown at present, but Dylan apparently likes the idea of recording with other people. By the time you read this, he'll have done sessions with Johnny Cash in Nashville and – gulp – Ringo Starr in Hollywood.

Harrison, of course, was allowed in the country on a special waiver from the State Department which expires "on or about May 16th." Also taking advantage of this limited-time-only offer from the Feds was John Lennon, who flew to Los Angeles with his wife.

Lennon and Yoko Ono have been staying with Phil Spector since they arrived from England on April 27th, and the word is strict silence.

A staff of Pinkerton guards have been patrolling Spector's estate at the west end of Sunset Strip and even stopping Bel Air policemen who get too close to the property.

One guard volunteered the information that there has been "very little" traffic in and out of Spector's home. Of the reported "names" who visited, only George Harrison – who has been recording with Bob Dylan in New York – was confirmed. Rumors around town have also had Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper as Spector guests.

Other rumors suggest that the Lennons are in Los Angeles to look at property (an L.A. columnist); to arrange further recording deals with Spector on the basis of the success of "Instant Karma" (record biz); and that Lennon is under the care of a famous California analyst, Arthur Janov (so far, just unconfirmed talk).

In any case, John, Yoko, George and Phil ain't talking.

Meanwhile, back in New York (doesn't your head just swim?), Columbia was preparing to release Dylan's second two-record set, Self Portrait.

The album, for which no release date has been set, will be made up of songs recorded in New York, Nashville, and at last year's Isle of Wight Festival in England.

On some of the cuts, Dylan is backed by a large instrumental ensemble that includes strings, brass, saxes, clarinet, and vibes, played by Charlie McCay. Other backing musicians include Norman Blake, David Bromberg, Fred Carter Jr., Ron Cornelius, Charlie Daniels, Bubba Fowler and Al Kooper on guitar; Bob Moore, Stu Woods and Joe Osborne on bass; Ken Buttrey and Alvin Rogers, drums; Bob Wilson and Bill Purcell, piano; the ubiquitous Pete Drake on pedal steel; and Doug Kershaw on violin. On the Isle of Wight cuts Dylan is backed by the Band.

Side One will contain "All the Tired Horses," "Alberta No. 1," the country classic "I Forgot More," "Days of '49," Gordon Lightfoot's "Early Morning Rain," and "In Search of Little Sadie." Side Two has the Everly Brothers' "Let It Be Me," "Little Sadie" (who has presumably been found), "Woogie Boogie," "Belle Isle," "Living the Blues," and a live Isle of Wight "Like a Rolling Stone."

Bob Dylan Finishes New LP, Records with Johnny Cash

Side Three leads off with "Copper Kettle," the folksong classic, and continues with "Gotta Travel On," "Blue Moon," "The Boxer," a live "Mighty Quinn," and "Take Me As I Am." The final side has "Take a Message to Mary," "It Hurts Me Too," two live cuts – "Minstrel Boy" and "She Belongs to Me" – "Wig Warn," and "Alberta No. 2."

A photo that has been selected for the cover shows Dylan standing on top of a brownstone tenement building in New York holding some yellow flowers, but Dylan is reportedly busy with his paintbox, creating a literal "self-portrait" for the album. The inside of the cover will contain a sort of collage of photographs of Dylan's activities before, during, and just after the Isle of Wight performance.

This story is from the May 28th, 1970 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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