'New' Bob Dylan Album Bootlegged in L.A.

The two-disc 'Great White Wonder' features 26 cuts and does not please Columbia

Bob Dylan gives a press conference at his hotel during the Isle of Wight Festival on August 27th, 1969.
Chris Wood/Express/Getty
September 20, 1969

LOS ANGELES — More than 2,300 copies of "bootleg" Bob Dylan album are now being sold in Los Angeles in what may be the entertainment industry's first truly hip situation comedy.

The simply-produced package – 26 cuts on two plain unmarked discs, called Great White Wonder – was made from tapes never before released by Dylan or by his now rather miffed record label, Columbia.

Rather, it was collected, pressed and currently is being marketed by two young Los Angeles residents both of whom have long hair, a moderate case of the shakes (prompted by paranoia) and an amusing story to tell.

Before getting into the trials and tribulations of the city's only visible "bootleggers," some statistics:

Nine of the songs are apparently from the "basement tape" made in the cellar of Dylan's upstate New York home more than 18 months ago, shortly before he went to Nashville to record John Wesley Harding. On these, Dylan performs with what later became known as the Band from Big Pink.

Photos: Bob Dylan Hanging With Joan Baez, Allen Ginsberg and More

Another 16 cuts – 12 of them songs, four of them brief rap sessions – are allegedly from a tape made December 22nd, 1961, in a Minneapolis hotel room. All these feature Dylan alone, with an acoustic guitar and harmonica, and if the date is correct, the tape was made before Dylan signed with Columbia.

The final cut, "Living the Blues," was taken direct from the television set when Dylan appeared on the Johnny Cash Show earlier this summer.

Effect of the album's "release" on the local record scene has been phenomenal. Five radio stations – KCBS in Santa Barbara, KNAC in Long Beach, KRLA in Pasadena and KMET-FM and KPPC-FM in Los Angeles – immediately began playing the LP, thereby creating a demand that often far exceeded a shop's limited supply.

The supply line was ragged at best, largely because the two men behind the scheme (a third put up the initial money, they say) are the "exclusive distributors."

Not only that, "We don't have a car of our own," they say. "We have to borrow cars to take the records around."

Distribution has been further hamperered by the fact that they will not give their names, addresses or a telephone where they might be reached. This, for what they term "all the obvious reasons."

As a result, shops are charging whatever they think the traffic will bear. The two producers say they are wholesaling the package at $4.50 each ($4.25 apiece after the first 50), and shops are asking from $6.50 up. One store, The Psychedelic Supermarket in Hollywood – its name tells where its owner is at – was even asking, and getting, $12.50 for the two-record set.

This last shop also had a sign posted over the record rack which hinted strongly that Dylan himself knew of the release and approved it.

According to amused and displeased spokesmen at Columbia (it depended who you talked to), this was hardly true; although they were aware copies of the basement type were in circulation, had even been played on the air, they did not have any warning that an LP like this would be marketed.

Columbia Records, contacted by phone, made this statement: "We consider the release of this record an abuse of the integrity of a great artist. By releasing material without the knowledge or approval of Bob Dylan or Columbia Records, the sellers of this record are crassly depriving a great artist of the opportunity to perfect his performances to the point where he believes in their integrity and validity. They are at one time defaming the artist and defrauding his admirers. For these reasons, Columbia Records in cooperation with Bob Dylan's attorneys intends to take all legal steps to stop the distribution and sale of this album."

The two youthful bootlegger/entrepreneurs, meanwhile, continue to troop from shop to shop, wondering what will happen next. Several stores, described by one of the bootleggers as "stone chicken," have refused to carry the LP.

The Artwork of Bob Dylan

Some objected to the simple packaging– a white double sleeve with Great White Wonder rubber stamped in the upper righthand corner – said, while others indicated they were afraid of how Columbia might react.

Those shops carrying the LP seem happy, though, with many reporting the album's arrival has had the same effect on business as a new Beatles or Stones LP might have: Business generally has picked up.

Of all the songs offered in the package, only three had previously been released by Dylan, and all were then in a different form. They are "See That My Grave Is Swept Clean" and "Man of Constant Sorrow," both from his first album for Columbia, Bob Dylan, and "Only a Hobo Talkin' Devil," from a Broadside album, Broadside Ballads, Volume 1, A Handful of Songs About Our Time, when Dylan was recording as Blind Boy Grunt.

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