Bootleg Bob: New Dylan Boxed Set Creates a Stir

Illegal compilation includes 134 tracks; Neither Dylan nor his label are amused

Bob Dylan
Ebet Roberts/Redferns
Bob Dylan performs on stage.
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Following the success of Biograph, an illegal boxed set of Bob Dylan recordings has begun to turn up in record stores around the country, creating quite a stir among Dylan fans. The ten-record bootleg set, called Ten of Swords after a card in the tarot deck, contains material Dylan recorded between 1961 and 1966. Selling for as much as eighty dollars, Ten of Swords is a fascinating – and for collectors, indispensable – companion to the seven official Dylan albums released during that same period.

The collection's 134 tracks (118 different songs, more than eight hours of material) include numerous gems. A few highlights: the entire 1966 Royal Albert Hall concert, one of Dylan's greatest performances; revealing outtakes from the seminal Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited sessions: and a nearly eight-minute poem, "Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie," from a concert at Carnegie Hall.

Equally important, the pressings are of good quality, with, for the most part, little surface noise. The recordings have been professionally packaged in chronological order, and the box includes a well-written sixteen-page booklet providing detailed notes on the material.

As might be expected, Columbia, Dylan's label, is not too pleased about the appearance of Ten of Swords. "We put on warning not only the people who have put this project together, but retailers, who can be made to pay a severe penalty for carrying this album," said CBS spokesman Robert Altshuler. "We're pursuing the perpetrators of this crime, and we'll track them down and drag them into court."

Dylan himself, in the liner notes to Biograph, said: "The bootleg records, those are outrageous . . . You're just sitting and strumming in a motel, you don't think anybody's there . . . and then it appears on a bootleg record. With a cover that's got a picture of you that was taken from underneath your bed and it's got a strip-tease type title and it costs thirty dollars. Amazing. Then you wonder why most artists feel so paranoid."

This story is from the April 10, 1986 issue of Rolling Stone.

From The Archives Issue 471: April 10, 1986