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Bob Dylan: Breaking Down The Incomplete Discography

With nine albums in eight years, Dylan has made an indelible mark on musical history

Bob Dylan laughing during press conferenceBob Dylan laughing during press conference

Bob Dylan laughing during press conference

Jan Persson/Redferns

Bobby Darin had three hit records under his belt when he announced his goal in life: “I want to be a legend by the time I’m twenty-five.” He didn’t make it, but Bob Dylan did. Searching out the sources of every sort of American music — from the rock and roll childhood he shares with his fans to the depression balads our parents might have known, from the apocalypse of Robert Johnson to the city flash of Muddy Waters, from the old testament of the Carter Family to the ageless earth of Johnny Cash — Dylan found what he was looking for, and his impact on the Sixties has been devastating and magnificent. And that impact is perhaps as much a result of Dylan’s personal stance as it is a result of his music. Hard to find, hard to find out about, Dylan held back from the usual nonsense and the honest curiosity that surrounds the star and created, perhaps to protect himself, perhaps for fun, a style of resistance, allegory, irony and humor that pervaded both his songs and his appearances in public. And more than ever, the fans could not bear to be without him and musicians could not afford to ignore him. The shifts in Dylan’s own musical approach brought havoc to the “styles” of more groups and performers than would like to admit it. “If I didn’t dig his stuff so much I’d have to hate him,” said one; “In fact, maybe I do hate him anyway.” Or as Dylan put it: “I get a friend who spends his life/Stabbing my picture with a bowie knife . . . I got a million friends.”

And yet in eight years he has released only nine albums. The sparing manner in which Boy Dylan has presented both his own charismatic self and his special music to the public has brought about an amazing interest in and collection of rare and unreleased songs and performances. Some search these out because they want to listen, some because they want to hold them in their hands, some because they provide The Key. For whatever the reason, it becomes clear quite quickly that far more material remains unreleased than has ever appeared on Columbia LPs. The Great White Wonder records are only a taste of it — forgotten albums from the early Sixties, demos made for publishing companies, basement tapes, session rejects, live performances and songs deleted from LPs or withdrawn from the market — all this and more indicates that the recorded history of Dylan’s career has been presented in a form that has been, perhaps, tailored for its impact on us. Ironically, it has been the impression made on us by the music we have been given that makes us want to hear the rest of it.

The “discography” that follows makes no claim to be complete; it’s an effort to describe music that has been put down, and the descriptions draw only from the music itself, not from songbooks or word of mouth. It is a chronicle of what is available, formally and informally: what we’s missed.

Harmonica Records

In last year’s interview with Sing Out, Dylan mentioned that his first recordings were made with Big Joe Williams (in an older and more obscure interview Dylan talked about his early rock and roll days — touring with Bobby Vee, and, if you choose to believe all the stories, with Buddy Holly and Bo Diddley as well — and records he cut previous to his arrival in New York). The Williams recordings came about as a result of Bob’s meeting with Victoria Spivey, a blues singer who was performing at Gerde’s in the Village. Miss Spivey was recording Williams and allowed the young folk singer to perform with his idol. Two cuts remain in the vaults, but two have been released on Three Kings and the Queen, Spivey LP 1004 (Williams, Roosevelt Sykes, Lonnie Johnson, V. Spivey). Recorded in 1961, issued 1964. Dylan accompanies Williams on harp for “Wichita” and provides a deep blues back-up vocal for “Sitting On Top of the World.”

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“When Bobby first hit the Village he wasn’t singing Woody Guthrie songs. That came later. That first time, he was into Harry Belafonte.” So said an old New York folkie. Thus: Midnight Special, Harry Belafonte, RCA LSP 2449, issued May 1962, produced by Hugo Montenegro, with Bob Dylan, harmonica, on one cut, “Midnight Special.”

Just before the release of his own first album, Dylan accompanied Carolyn Hester on her first and only Columbia LP. Gorgeous, but hopelessly without talent, Carolyn now heads up the Carolyn Hester Coalition, a “rock group.” Carolyn Hester, Columbia CL 1796, Bob Dylan, harmonica.

Sometime in 1963 Dick Farina and Eric Von Schmidt (from “the green pastures of Harvard University . . . “) found themselves in Europe and proceeded to cut an album, “singing, shouting and playing American ballads, work songs, and blues, with Ethan Singer and occasionally Blind Boy Grunt . . . Blind Boy Grunt showed up from Rome and nobody got much sleep . . . ” The album is rather wretched, but for the record, Dylan plays harp on “Glory, Glory,” “You Can’t Always Tell,” “Christmas Island,” and “Cocaine.” Dick Farina and Eric Von Schmidt, Folklore Records (English), F-LEUT/7 (77 Charing Cross Rd., London WC2. Available in the U.S. at Music Inn, 169 W. 4th St., NYC, $1.98).

Finally, the old Elektra Blues Project set (not the group), EKS 7264, apparently includes Bob (“Bob Landy”) on piano for “Downtown Blues.” Now, with this out of the way, we can skip to 1969 for  —

Johnny Cash and the Nashville Skyline Rag

In 1969 The National Educational Television network aired a long documentary on Johnny Cash made by Granada Films. A fine show, it also included a duet between Dylan and Cash on “One Too Many Mornings.” The song was widely taped, and is in wide circulation (it was part of the same session that produced “Girl From the North Country” — released on Nashville Skyline — as well as “I Walk the Line,” “Wanted Man,” “Big River,” “Careless Love,” and “Understand Your Man,” among others.) “One Too Many Mornings,” seems to be one of the songs that has aged best for Bob — he was performing it with the Hawks in 1966 and of course recorded it on The Times They Are A-Changin’. The Dylan-Cash version is a bit of a burlesque, especially the final choruses, which go on and on and on. The film showed Dylan cracking up as he listened to the playback.

Dylan returned to Nashville in June of this year to tape his appearance on Cash’s first TV show, and included the new “Living the Blues” in his set. As just about everyone who heard it has said, the tune catches the feel of Guy Mitchell’s “Singing the Blues.” This too was taped by many, and was included on the Great White Wonder discs. At the same time, Dylan cut a number of other songs, including “Take A Message To Mary,” the old Everly Brothers number, and “Blue Moon,” backed by Doug Kershaw on fiddle. One would hope, but doubt, that Bob’s version would be patterned after the Marcels’ hit — but Elvis‘ would be alright too. And now on to what this article is really about.

The Minnesota Tapes — Off Highway 61

Back in December, 1961, Bob Dylan recorded twenty-six songs in a hotel in Minneapolis. In this voluminous session, he put down a good bit of his repertoire — a young artist searching out his own material, perhaps for an audition tape to be used to gain jobs or as preparation for a recording date. Having returned to Minnesota from New York, the tapes reflect things Dylan most likely learned from Dave Van Ronk, and others as well as songs that might have been picked up in any part of the country. There’s a much greater range in this session than in the material that eventually surfaced as Dylan’s first album. There is little sense of “packaging” or image; from the old Lord Buckley rap about Hezekiah Jones to the pounding gospel  — rock of “Wade in the Water,” from the clumsy, happy “Sally Gal” to the difficult “Man of Constant Sorrow,” this is a young man attempting to understand American music, and beginning to succeed.

A brief run-down, with highlights: (1) “Candy Man.” (2) “Baby Please Don’t Go”  — one of Dylan’s best blues performances — a stinging, harsh vocal and rough, rhythmic guitar, with a bass drum pushing it on. Very similar to the brilliant hit version by Them. This number would have shaken up a lot of people had it been included on Dylan’s first LP. (3) “Hard Times In New York” — Dylan finds the big city unpleasant and polluted, yearns for wide open spaces, etc. (4) “Stealin'” — Bob’s version of the old blues theme of infidelity; rough, clumsy, and a lot of fun.

(5) “Poor Lazarus” — the depth of talent that made Dylan a young sensation begins to come clear on this number. It is simply not that easy for a twenty-year-old to sing a song about death and treachery and carry it off, but Dylan does it. He could play the roles of fathers and sons as he sang about them; and if he could not yet sing with the presence of Robert Johnson, he was begining to understand what it might mean to do so. (6) “Ain’t Got No Home”  — a crude version of the Guthrie song. (7) “It’s Hard To Be Blind”  — a reworking of the old “It’s Hard To Be Poor.” “I wrote my own words to it,” says Bob. (8) “Dink’s Song”  — “I learned it from a lady named Dink. I don’t know who wrote it.” The number has an infectious rhythm; it would make a great rock and roll performance. The drama of Dylan’s soft guitar almost makes the listener feel strings have been added — there is that much projection in the take. It’s a simple fare-thee-well, but unspeakably lovely, and a hint of what was to come with “Corinna, Corinna,” and “Boots of Spanish Leather.” (9) “Man of Constant Sorrow”  — another brilliant version of the song included on Dylan’s first LP. (10) “East Orange, NJ” — a long shaggy dog story about the perils of being a musician in a hick town. Dylan would never have made it as a stand-up comedian, though. (11) “Only Wise” — a lovely, ancient song of lost love and death. (12) “Wade in the Water” — an up-tempo charged. Today they’d call it “heavy.” Dylan’s bottle-necking gives the take its guts.

(13)”I Was Young When I Left Home”  — “I sorta made it up on a train,” Bob says. This is the most brilliant song of the session; an aching, desperate marriage of several traditional songs, and modern themes: “Five Hundred Miles,” Bobby Bare’s “Detroit City,” and others. “It’s so blue,” said a friend when he heard it. One has the image of a single, solitary young man floating in his mind from station to station, riding whatever train might pass through with the old hope of someday finding someone there to meet him when he gets off at the end of the line. “I was young when I left home . . . an’ I been a ramblin’ round . . . and I never wrote a letter to my home.” It has a maturity youth deserves to be spared. (14) “Get Lonesome Sleeping By Yourself” — a mean blues, with dirty, beautifully restrained harp and percussion. (15) “Baby Let Me Follow You Down” — a long, wildly exuberant take of the number that illuminated the first album. (16) “Sally Gal”  — “I’m gonna get you, Sally Gal!” Why not? (17) “Gospel Plow”  — again, on the first LP. (18) “Long John”  — one of those superethnic Dave Ray train hollers, and pretty dismal. (19) “Cocaine Blues”  — not exactly up to the job Dave Van Ronk has done on this, but a lovely, relaxed version of the song every East Coast folk singer had to master. “Yonder comes my baby, all dressed in purple/Hey, baby, I wanna see your nipples.”

(20, 21, 22 & 23) The Infamous Medley: “VD Blues,” “VD Waltz,” “VD City” is the best of them — it might remind one of “Heartbreak Hotel” — “The cold horrible dungeons, where the victims of syphilis lie . . . there’s a street named for every disease here, Syph Alley and Clap Avenue . . . must you pay your way to this city with an hour of passion and vice . . . ” (24) “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” — repeated on the first album. (25) “Ramblin’ Round.” (26) “Black Cross” — the Lord Buckley story of a black non-believer from a Southern town, lynched for his honesty. Dylan’s vocal mannerisms are a clear debt to or cop from Buckley, but it’s a better effort than, say, “The Death of Emmett Till,” which Dylan had recorded three months earlier on a radio show for WBAI FM.

That show was never aired, for some reason; included were Izzy Young, Pete Seeger, Sis Cunningham, and Gil Turner. Dylan performed a song called “The Ballad of Donald White” as well, an interesting tale of a man demanding to be returned to prison because he cannot function in normal society. White kills a man, and is hanged instead of being allowed to find a home in prison. This number prompts Young to announce, in a beautifully patronizing tone, that “this is the first phychological song,” which was nonsense, but part of the game that was being played in those days. The interview includes a few other priceless bits, including one where Pete Seeger asks Bob how he writes songs. “Do you just spread out the newspaper in the morning until you find a story that gets you upset?” Bob Dylan, re-write man. The show closes with a moanin’ and groanin’ of “Blowin’ in the Wind.” “I really do just take ’em out of the air,” Bob had been saying.

The broadside recordings and the rise of blind boy grunt

In the Fall of 1963 (according to best information) Dylan made a number of recordings for Broadside Records — really, for the Broadside scene. Sitting in on this session were Gil Turner, Phil Ochs, Gordon Friesen, and Sis Cunningham. Three of the cuts recorded have been released on an LP, still available, called Broadside Ballads No. 1, Broadside Records BR-301, issued November 1963. The songs include “John Brown” (discussed below in the “live” section), “Only A Hobo,” a rather poor song about the death of a tramp (of which a couple of other versions exist), and “Talking Devil,” which is a gas. The song predates a verse from the Stones‘ “Jigsaw Puzzle”: “The gangter looks so frightening/With his luger in his hand/ But when he gets home to his children/ He’s a family man.” Dylan’s “Talking Devil” is the brief tale of a nightrider, “the devil,” and BBG asks, “Wonder if his kids know who he is?” It’s the only bit of humor on the whole Broadside LP.

None of the other Broadside recordings have been released, perhaps because of contract problems or perhaps because Bob chose to keep them in the past. The most surprising of these is “The Cough Song” — none other than “Nashville Skyline Rag” for guitar and harmonica! The harp sketches out the part the band plays on the 1969 recording, and keeps right on until Dylan laughs (Garbo Talks!) “That was the end. Right there before I coughed. It fades out.” And then everyone cracks up.

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The other recordings don’t stand up so well, save for “Walking Down the Line,” a fine road song with a bit of displaced humor: “I saw the morning light/ I saw the morning light/ I’m an early riser, ’cause I didn’t go to sleep last night.” Another version was also cut for a publishing demo. “Hey, Hey, I’d Hate to Be You on That Dreadful Day” is a rough blues that might have surfaced as a tough rocker had Dylan held on to it and worked it out; as it is, the cut has a few flashes: “You’re gonna walk naked, can’t ride in no car/ Everyone’s gonna see just what you are.” “Playboys and Playgirls” reveals Dylan claiming he won’t be sold down the river by the Hugh Hefner crew; “Train-a-Trailin” is just that; and “Cuban Blockade” is a stiff number about that day “when everyone thought the world would end.” As one of Broadside’s editors said when Highway 61 Revisited hit the stores, “I wouldn’t mind what he’s doing now, if only he’d just write one good song against the war . . . “

Howdy, East Orange

References to the bustling metropolis of East Orange, New Jersey pop up occasionally in Dylan’s career: one “Talkin’ New York” from the first album, in the little folk tale about a coffeehouse recorded for the “Minnesota Tapes.” Sometime in early 1962, it seems, Dylan recorded a number of Woody Guthrie songs at the home of Sid and Bob Gleason, in, as the gig would have it, East Orange, N.J. Bob never released a Guthrie song commercially, though many of his songs have rung changes on Guthrie themes  — most recently, “John Wesley Harding.” Strangely, it was Dylan’s love for Guthrie, not Bob’s own music, that brought him his first national attention. Years ago, Time ran a short story about an itinerant folk singer who’d journeyed across the country to visit the dying man, a kid hyped as a perfect choice to play Guthrie in a film biography. And that is a project still talked about.

Thinking back, it seems odd that given the nature of industry packaging Bob never recorded an album of Guthrie songs. It would have been a natural product for Columbia to suggest, along with the raft of other folk singers with their Guthrie albums and country singers, with their Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams records. Simply, Dylan was pushing ahead of the game, making up his own songs, looking for his own music even as he reached for a surer hold on his roots.

Most of the numbers are pretty much straightforward run-throughs, lacking in projection or feeling, adding little to the music, though the takes would no doubt delight Dylan fans simply because of the nature of the material. “San Francisco Bay Blues,” “Jesus Met the Woman at the Well,” “Gypsy Davy,” “Jesse James,” and “Remember Me” receive this sort of performance — careful, studied, and a bit stiff. And then, in contrast to the rest of the session, Dylan begins to draw on that incredible reserve of spirit and tension that has made him a performing curator of the museum of American music. Slowly picking out the notes to “Pastures of Plenty,” to his harp for the first time on the takes, he captures a sense of age the song perhaps never knew before — a sense of passing. The pastures of plenty are a memory, a desire, a hope — never a reality. The “journey through valleys till the day that I die,” the broken witness “on the edge of your cities,” is more a search than an affirmation, an attempt to find what has been lost, what perhaps never existed at all.

It happens again with “On the Trail of the Buffalo.” Guthrie set the song in the 1880’s, but its power came from the fact that Guthrie himself was on that trail, looking for those endless herds that formed their own horizons. The harsh strumming of Dylan’s guitar gives the song a deathly, scary tone; you know there was never a chance for the animals to last. The beasts were doomed even before they had captured our imagination, and the threat of death hovers over the cowboys of the song, riding the trail the buffalo had cut into the earth. “Outlaws watching to pick us off/ From the hills of the buffalo.” It’s “this sense of forgotten history, alive in the soul of a man in the present, that is the source of the power of best American music, music that reaches for America, wherever and whatever it was, always with the sense that if we can uncover what it feels like to live when the country is old.

Dylan’s “As I Went Out One Morning” and “The Wicked Messenger” and “Tears of Rage,” the Band‘s “Rockin’ Chair,” “Across the Great Divide,” and “King Harvest” are all songs of age, songs of a spiritual, not a factual adolescence. Unlike the “rock and roll revival,” these songs and those that Guthrie wrote do not have to be “revived.” They endure, and they last, and it is the burden of age that they carry that fixes their agelessness.

The Gaslight Tapes

These tapes, recorded in the Gaslight Cafe in Greenwich Village in 1962, are interesting mainly because they comprise the only available recorded versions of three fine songs. The tape seems to have been made with an on-stage recorder — a semi-formal session, so to speak.

“There Was An Old Man” is a radically different version of that staple of Dylan collectors, “Only A Hobo.” It’s a dramatic, sensitive portrait of the tramp dead on the curb, the cop poking him into the gutter; not a shouting eulogy, but a story that is part of the city.

“He Was a Friend of Mine” is a beautiful soft song to a friend who “died on the road.”It seems to have a sense of the dues one has to pay simply to live: “He never had enough money/ To pay his fine . . . and he was a friend of mine.” The Byrds kept the title and the tune for the song about the Kennedy assassination.

Then comes ‘Talking Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Disaster Blues,” all about an excursion boat that’s oversold and sinks from the crush of bodies, baskets, kids, and fried chicken. Dylan used to crack his audiences up with this one back in 1963 and 1964, but the humor’s not nearly as sharp as “Talking World War III” or “Talking John Birch.”

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The tape ends with Dylan and Dave Van Ronk combining for “Car Car,” the gay little automobile song Woody Guthrie wrote to sing to his kids, and a short “Pretty Polly” by Rob. All in all, the tape is a nice memory of the days when Fourth Street wasn’t “such a drag.”

” . . . Unlike most of the songs nowadays being written up in Tin Pan Alley . . . ”  — the Witmark Demos

Dylan’s first songs were published by Duchess Music (BMI), but by the time of the Freewheelin’ album Bob had affiliated with M. Witmark & Sons, one of the first music publishers in American history — a founder of Tin Pan Alley and a house of the most eminent prestige. It was virtually unprecedented for a “folk singer” to publish through such an agency, and this stroke of financial and PR genius set Dylan apart from the rest of the Village crowd as much as his songs did. Dylan wrote a large number of songs from 1962 and 1964 that he did not release on his albums, and these were cut as demos for Witmark. Many of these were eventually recorded by other artists, while some eventually reached the general public only through songbooks (Bob Dylan, The Original, Warner Bros.-7 Arts Music, and Bob Dylan, A Collection, Warner Bros7 Arts Music; Warner Bros-7 Arts purchased M. Witmark some time ago). Some of the tapes discussed below may not in fact be Witmark demos  — it’s hard to tell — but they fall more readily into that category than any other.

Piano songs. In 1963 or 1964 Dylan recorded a number of songs, accompanying himself on piano, featuring what Al Kooper has called Bob’s “beautifully untutored” keyboard work. Others, perhaps with more accuracy, have referred to the “ultimate flowering of the whorehouse piano.” Whatever one calls it, the music brings to mind a strange amalgam of Jerry Lee Lewis, Skip James, Mose Allison, Memphis Slim and Nicky Hopkins  — a wilder, free style than on, say, “Dear Landlord” or “Ballad of a Thin Man.” The vocals and the composition of a couple of these numbers represent a maturity and a grasp of the finest subtleties of American popular music that is simply not to be found in any of the recordings Dylan had released up to the time. A spare sense of restraint and an effortless timing characterize the singing  — a feel, again, of age beyond years.

“I’ll Keep It With Mine” is a song written for, of all people, Nico, who was a European groupie when Dylan and Grossman met her on a visit to the Continent. Nico eventually did come to the US, as they had urged, and recorded the song on her first album for Verve, Chelsea Girl. A. E. Mac. Denny of the Fairport Convention has also recorded the song, magnificently, for the Fairport Convention’s album on A&M. None of these versions, though, give a hint of Dylan’s performance. His piano accompaniment is a succession of quarter-note triplets, with the first heavily accented and reinforced by his tapping foot. The lyrics — reminiscent of Another Side — tell a train story, the singer softly pleading for a girl to remain. The melody is one of his best up to that point, with a fine understated verse and a gradual build-up in the chorus: “Everybody will help you/ Discover what you set out to find/ But if I/ Can save you any time/ Come one, give it to me/ I’ll keep it with mine.” The performance is a tour-de-force that really should have been released.

“California” is a little ditty in the vein of “Outlaw Blues,” with a line that later found its way into that song: “I got my dark sunglasses/ I got for good luck my black tooth . . . ” It’s title comes from the verse, “San Francisco is fine/ It sure gets lotsa sun [just like “warm San Francisco nights”?]/ But I’m used to four seasons/ California’s got but one.” The piano here is much like that on “Black Crow Blues.”

“Hmmmm, says Bob, and hits his rinky-tink piano for Arthur Crudup’s “That’s Alright Mama,” also Elvis‘ first record. The piano work is the finest example of Dylan’s keyboard action extant; for three minutes he performs some finger-breaking pyrotechnics that must be heard to be believed. Near the end, he abruptly changes tempo, riffs, changes tempo again — and then the tape is out. The listener is invariably left breathless.

“Denise, Denise” is a pounding rocker with an infectious rhythm, the singer casting a cold eye at a girl who just won’t cop out to being real. Maracas, piano and harp drive the best version of this number until Bob is ready for a line that would have entered our common language had the song ever been released: “I’m looking deep in your eyes, babe/ I But all I see is myself.”

There are three versions of “Bob Dylan’s New Orleans Rag” — an incomplete take, a live cut from from an unreleased LP (see “Live Performances”) and a full, rocking performance with harp and piano. We find Bob sitting on a stump in New Orleans: “I was feeling kinda lowdown, dirty and mean/ When along came a stranger and he didn’t even ask/ He said I know ’bouta woman who can fix you up fast.” He leads the singer to a door marked “103” and then the fun starts. All sorts of layout, wiped-out, freaked-out fellows stumble out the door, moaning, crawling, unable to speak; Bob sees one that “looked like he’d been through a monkey wrench.” The kid splits fast: “I musta run a mile in a minute or less.” The piano pushes this remarkably fluid number to crazy heights of rhythm, until Bob wheezes: “Man, you’re better off/ In year misery/ Than to tackle that woman/ At one-oh . . . three!”

Dylan also recorded demos of “Paths of Victory,” a song of better-times-in-the-future recorded by Hamilton Camp; “Walking Down the Line” (see “Broadside Recordings”); “Percy’s Song” (there are three demos of this — see “Live Performances”); “The Ballad of Emmett Till”; “The Walls of Redwing,” a song about the Minnesota boys’ reform school, recorded by Joan Baez; and “Seven Curses” (see “Live Performances”). One of his last performances for a demo comes on “Tomorrow Is a Long Time,” the song recorded by Elvis for the soundtrack of Spinout (RCA LSP 3702). The lyrics ride the same Elizabethan melody Dylan used for “Seven Curses,” moving toward Dylan’s finest statement of loneliness: “If tomorrow wasn’t such a long time/ I’d lie in my bed again.” The loveliness of the performance impresses one with the depth affecting Dylan had invested in this song.

Even this take pales next to Dylan’s vocal on the traditional Southern ballad “I’ve Been a Moonshiner,” which Dylan called “The Bottle Song.” The singing is among the best Bob has ever recorded, as he ornaments and phrases beautifully, demonstrating a control, especially when he soars to the highest notes, that is chilling in its power. It would have been good to have had this song around a few years ago when people complained that Dylan couldn’t sing. The guitar and harmonica virtually lead the vocal — the drama of this performance, which seems so aged that it might be from the edge of the grave, is like nothing Dylan has released to the public. “I’ll go to some barroom/ And drink to my fill/ Where the women can’t follow/ And see what I spend.”

“Hero Blues” is a funny number in the vein of “It Ain’t Me Babe,” though closer in tone to Country Joe’s “Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine” than to Dylan’s own very serious song. “She reads too many books/ She got nails inside her head [!]/ She will not be satisfied until I wind up dead.” And: “You need a different kinda man, babe/ You need, you need a Napoleon Bonapart.” All he wants to do is love her, not kill for her. Too tough to be a hero, at least this time.

“Whatcha Gonna Do” is a gospel-styled member of the “where will you be on Judgment Day?” sort; “Ain’t Gonna Grieve” affirms that the singer will not, in fact, grieve. These two numbers and “Farewell” seem to be from 1962; “Farewell” is an honest goodbye that moves quite nicely: “So it’s fare thee well, my own true love/ We’ll meet another day, another time/ It’s not the leavin’, that’s a grieven’ me/ But my true love who’s bound to stay behind.” Bob and Joan Baez used to sing this together, some years ago.

“Sometimes I’m In the Mood” may not be a demo; it’s a weak song that may have been recorded around the same time as “Born To Win, Born To Lose” and “Quit Your Lowdown Ways.” These three are not fully worked out, and play on very limited sorts of themes, with lyrics that do not go much beyond the song titles themselves.

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Finally there’s “The Eternal Circle,” a sad, funny number about someone waiting for a song to be over — that someone being the singer, who wants to get at a good-looking girl who is watching him perform. The problem, as the lyrics say, is that “the song it was long” and the first thing is to finish it. Of course, when he finishes, she’s gone, so what does he do? “I picked up my git-tar and began the next song”.

On Columbia — Mixed-up Confusion

Dylan’s career on Columbia has been marked by a number of mistaken releases, changes in album art (the liner photos on Blonde On Blonde were re-arranged shortly after the LP’s release), mixing and album programming (for a time, the most familiar version of “From a Buick 6” was replaced by an alternate take with different lyrics, and then removed and replaced by the original take). This sort of confusion has only added to the vinyl charisma of Dylan’s recordings.

The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Sharp-eyed fans will have noticed that the liner notes to Freewheelin’ announce the presence of a band (Bruce Langhorne, guitar; George Barnes, Bass; Dick Wellstood, piano; Gene Ramey, string bass; and Herb Lovelle, drums) on “Don’t Think Twice” and “Corrina, Corrina.” While the group is vaguely audible on the latter cut it’s obvious that “Don’t Think Twice” was recorded as a solo performance. Columbia, howeever, released a single prior to Freewheelin’ that did include the band — a different, stronger take of “Corrina” (a fully realized accompaniment, brilliant harmonica, and a vocal close to Chuck Willis’) and the dazzling rocker, “Mixed-Up Confusion.” “Confusion,” an original, is a full-bopping tune with bouncy piano triplets and snappy drumming — “And I’m lookin’ for a woman/who’s head’s mixed up like mine!/And I’m lookin’ for some answers/ But I don’t know who to ask!” Had this little gem been in circulation from 1963 through 1965 the fans at Newport might have been kinder to Bob when he returned to rock and roll. However, the single didn’t exactly bust the charts, and was withdrawn soon after release. It was later issued in Holland in 1966 (CBS 2476) and is still available in the Benelux countries and in Germany. Try writing to Ka-De-We, Phonograph Department, Berlin, for information.

Following the release of “Confusion,” someone at Columbia mixed up the programming for Freewheelin’ itself. A small number of the LP’s included four cuts omitted from the standard version: “Ramblin’, Gamblin’ Willie” (a delightful tale of a card shark who finally drew that dead man’s hand — “He had twenty-seven children/ And never had a wife!), “Rocks and Gravel” (a railroad gang blues, very southern in tone, backed by the band mentioned above), “Let Me Die in My Footsteps” (an anti-fallout shelter song), and the famous banned-by-Ed Sullivan “Talking John Birch Society Blues” (a very funny routine about paranoia and bed-looking-under: “Looked deep down inside my toilet bowl — they got away!” and the priceless line, “I discovered there was red stripes on the American flag! Oh, Betsy Ross?”). Most of these albums were recalled immediately, but a number remained on sale in California for at least three months after release. The songs deleted pretty much match up to those actually released: “Masters of War” replaced “Let Me Die in My Footsteps” (on an outtake of “Footsteps” Bob stops the song in the middle and asks, “Do you want this one? It’s so long . . . it’s not that it’s long, but it’s such a drag . . . I’ve sung it so many times”);”Girl From the North Country” replaced “Rocks and Gravel”; “Bob Dylan’s Dream” replaced “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie”; and “Talking World War III Blues” replaced “Talking John Birch Society Blues.”

Another Side of Bob Dylan. There are a number of outtakes from this session, and “East Lared” seems to be one of them. Produced by Tom Wilson, it’s a piano solo, with echoes of Ben E. King’s “Spanish Harlem,” a pretty number that would have made a good B-side for a single. Also from this session is “Lay Down Your Weary Tune,” a song that seems to be a call to the quest for the perfect, unobtainable music. Stately, restrained and majestic, it is as much a break with the past as “My Back Pages,” though the metaphors are musical, not political: “Lay down your weary tune/ Lay down the song you strum/ And rest yourself ‘neath the strength of strings/ No voice can hope to hum.”

It’s also possible that the versions of “Bob Dylan’s New Orleans Rag” and “Denise, Denise” that are recorded with piano, maracas, and harp are from this session.

Bringing It All Back Home. Dylan broke loose as a rock and roll singer on this album, with “On the Road Again,” “Outlaw Blues,” and “115th Dream,” but it was “If You Gotta Go, Go Now,” a natural, sexy rock and roll song, that had hinted at what was going to happen on Bringing It All Back Home. Dylan had been performing this number acoustically for some time, and it never failed to stop the show, as laughter and cheers broke over the singer’s grin as he smiled back to the crowd: “It’s not that I’m questioning you/ To take part in any kinda quiz/ It’s just that I ain’t got no watch/ And you keep asking me what time it is.” A “Let’s Spend the Night Together” with jokes. Supposedly set for American release in 1967, it seems clear that the cut was recorded as part of the sessions for Bringing It All Back Home: the piano-styled guitar of Bruce Langhorne is a delight, as are the back-up vocals, which seem quite girlish. It was released as a single in Europe in 1967 (b/w “To Ramona”) and is still available in the Benelux markets (CBS 2921). Manfred Mann’s excellent version prompted Dylan to announce that they did his material more justice than anyone else. “It’s not that I’m asking/ For anything you never gave before/ It’s just that I’ll be sleeping soon/ And it’ll be too dark for you to find the door.”

Highway 61 Revisited. Aside from producing one of the two or three finest rock and roll albums ever made, the sessions for Highway 61 Revisited also produced their share of rarities. “Killing Me Alive (Barbed Wire Fence)” is the most outstanding — a tough, solid, tremendously exciting blues, with Kooper on organ and Bloomfield in his brash, I-Can-Play-Any-thing-Better-Than-You groove (and he just about could, too). Kooper chords for the rhythm and Bloomfield solos for fun, Bob shouting out the lyrics that ultimately give it all away: “You’re gonna think this song is just a riff/ I know you’re thinking this song is just a riff/ Unless you’ve been inside a tunnel and fell down 69,000 feet over a barbed wire fence.” The lyrics also bear out what Dylan has said time and time again to disbelieving audiences: he makes up his songs as he goes along, building around lines and images that he really digs. The alternate version of “From a Buick 6” demonstrates this in-the-studio process, as do these words from “Killing Me Alive”: “The Arabian doctor comes in, gives me a shot but he wouldn’t tell me what it was that I got” — lines that later appeared, in different form, in “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.” The pattern is repeated in many other unreleased songs.

Also a product of this session was the first version of “Won’t You Please Crawl Out Your Window,” which featured what sounds like a xylophone and magnificent guitar from Bloomfield. Columbia accidentally released it under the title “Positively Fourth Street” (some gremlin must have mixed the labels), recalled it a week later, and then some months after released a different version of the song that included Robbie Robertson and probably the rest of the Hawks as a backing band. Virtually nothing is known about the sessions that produced this take. The standard release take of “Crawl Out Your Window” has a weird, circus sound, with odd jangling rhythms something like the Band’s “To Kingdom Come.” The lyrics seem to echo a follow-up to “Like a Rolling Stone” — come on, honey, get out of there, you can go back if you want to, but look at this cat you’re with: “If he needs a third eye he just grows it.” The standard version is still available (Columbia 4-43477, CBS EP 6288), while the mellow, seductive “mistake” gets rarer by the day.

The Basement Tape

“The Basement Tape,” recorded before John Wesley Harding in Woodstock on a home machine, is the best-known, most accessible and perhaps the most striking of all of Dylan’s unreleased material (whether or not this ought to be called “unreleased” is up to the reader — all of it is now available on the Great White Wonder and Troubled Troubador (bootleg LPs). Rolling Stone ran a comprehensive review of the session some time ago (June 22, 1968, Vol. II, No. 2), and since then most of the songs have been covered by various performers. One of the compositions, “I Shall Be Released,” has been covered by almost everyone, from Joan Baez to the Box-Tops. Dylan’s magnificent performance has not been touched; his vocal may well be the best he has ever recorded.

The sessions, which included the Band as a backing group, musically and on vocals, set down basic performances of songs Dylan was not intending to release himself but which were to be included in the Dwarf Music catalogue. Copies of the tape in the form of acetate discs were sent to Manfred Mann, the Byrds, and the Rolling Stones, among others. Unlike the songs on John Wesley Harding, almost none of which have formal choruses, the songs from this session use the device of a chorus with a great deal of imagination; with so much imagination, in fact that the choruses often do not have a logical relationship to the verses. The relationship is often one of mood, or, simply, of dramatic impact. Richard Manuel is extremely effective on some of the choruses, especially on “I Shall Be Released.”

The Basement Tape is anything but unique; it’s rather a semi-public version of what goes on at Dylan’s house and at Big Pink any day of the week. “There’re lots more,” said one member of the Band. “They’re just for fun.” For after all, making music, writing songs, changing the old music and inventing the new music is simply what Dylan and the Band do; it’s their life, their vocation.

A rather rare version of the Basement Tape gives one some idea of what this invention is like. Aside from the well-known fourteen songs, this copy also includes two particularly worked-out versions of “Tears of Rage,” two of “Open the Door Richard,” one other of “Quinn the Eskimo,” and a hilarious version of “Nothing Was Delivered.” As Dylan and the Band move from setting up to fooling around to the finished product, the songs are changed. “No,” someone says after giving up on “Tears of Rage,” “it’s got to be in rock tempo.” And the lyrics are altered to fit the beat, the phrasing changes, Robbie Robertson chooses a new riff, Manuel and Danko try out the high notes they muffed the first time around. Sometimes, as on the rejected “Nothing Was Delivered,” something special happens. On this take, the tempo is speeded up, making the song less like the dirge of the final take and more like the theme song of a fun-loving gang leaning hard on a burn artist. Dylan steps out with an extravagant Elvis Presley riff: “You must provide some kind of answer — you mustyou must do that! — you must provide those answers!” Dylan’s Fats Domino piano work makes the cut a hilarious delight. The lyrics are not the same as on the better-known version; they change from take to take, as they do on the alternate versions of “Quinn the Eskimo,” “Tears of Rage,” and “Open the Door Richard.”

The fact that these songs were not released by Dylan is indicative of a couple of things. First of all, this was music worked out — and in some cases written — with the Band; it was music, most likely, that would have been commercially recorded with them and not with the Nashville musicians of Blonde on Blonde or John Wesley Harding. Why Bob chose not to record with the Band is pretty obvious; it was time for them to try and make it on their own, to see if they could cut it without help. Secondly, this material was clearly not what Bob wanted to present to his audience when he returned to public life — something “older,” something with more restraint and with superficially more clarity was what he had in mind. Like any artist, Dylan chooses what to reveal and what to keep for his own. That such a choice has, in this case, been taken out of his hands is something about which most must feel ambivalent. Garth Hudson’s magnificent organ pushing Dylan’s unmatched vocal on “This Wheel’s On Fire,” the kicks of “Tiny Montgomery” (a Southern dragster champ, word has it), or the still water of “I Shall Be Released” are moments that few would trade for anything. The Basement Tape is the album that almost never was.

Live Performances — “I Expose Myself Every Time I Go Out On The Stage”

Dylan’s first live recordings appeared in 1963, on Vanguard and Broadside Records — and while Columbia and Leacock-Pennebaker have recorded reels and reels of live material, only one cut of it has even been released. There are, of course, the movie “soundtracks,” which some have taped: Don’t Look Back, with it’s brilliant, shining hotel-room “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”; Festival, showcasing Dylan’s first electric performance with pieces of Paul Butterfield’s band (“Maggie’s Farm” was included in the film — “Tombstone Blues” and “Like a Rolling Stone” remain in the can); the film shot and the sound recorded for the movie to be made of the Guthrie Memorial Program, at which Dylan and the Band recorded “Mrs. Roosevelt,” “Grand Coluee,” and “Ain’t Got No Home”; and the completed and unreleased film of Dylan’s 1966 tour of Europe with the Hawks. The tapes made by Dylan’s appearance at the Isle of Wight have been killed.

* * *

Dylan’s earliest live recordings are of mostly academic interest. They include two LPs made from the Newport Folk Festival, 1963: Evening Concerts at Newport, Vol. I, 1963, Vanguard VSD 79143 (Dylan sings “Blowin’ In the Wind”) and Newport Broadside (Topical Songs), Vanguard VSD 79144 (Dylan sings “Playboys and Playgirls” with Pete Seeger, “Blowin’ in the Wind” again with the whole gang). Dylan also appeared at the 1963 March On Washington, singing “A Pawn in Their Game,” which was preserved on the Broadside LP that commemorated the event: We Shall Overcome, BR-592.

Bob Dylan’s Greatest Collaborations

Then in 1964 Columbia recorded Bob’s first solo concert at Carnegie Hall. They wantetd a live album, and apparently so did Bob, but disagreements over what songs were to be included doomed the project. The LP did reach the acetate stage, however (Job No. 77110), and the list of cuts seems to indicate that Columbia was trying to capitalize on Dylan’s new fame as “the conscience of the nation’s youth,” while Dylan may, by this time, have become disillusioned with singing songs “written for other people.” The album itself is not all that impressive, mostly due to the poor programming, for much of Dylan’s weaker material was included: “When the Ship Comes In,” “John Brown” (a bitter war story about a kid with a patriotic mother who doesn’t recognize her boy when he returns home from the battlefield, mutilated and shattered; a theme taken from many resentful Irish songs about English conscription), and the anti-boxing pure-protest grind-it-out guilt-cruncher, “Who Killed Davey Moore?”.

The LP opens with what Columbia calls “Poem To Woody.” “Woodie Guthrie is really something more than a folk-singer,” Dylan says, introducing his poem. “And this is called ‘Last Thoughts On Woody Guthrie.'” That chilling title leads into a long, stream of consciousness reading, very simply the story of a boy looking for himself, down the road, on the street, in the fields. Somehow, Bob is saying, Guthrie was a companion on that road, in the “trash can alleys.”

Then Dylan moves into a compelling “Lay Down Your Weary Tune,” and then lets loose with a rare song, “Dusty Old Fairgrounds,” a charming number about carnivals and arcades, perhaps a memory of the annual Minnesota State Fair, always an important day for a town like Hibbing. After the three cuts mentioned in the paragraph above comes “Percy’s Song.” A friend has been involved in a fatal accident, sentenced to 99 years in Joliet Prison, and the singer meets with the judge to plead for a lesser sentence. The judge, inevitably, orders the young man from his chambers, and there is nothing to be done. “I played my guitar through the night and the day/But all it could play was the cold, the cruel, rain and the wind.” It is a musician’s song of stolen friendship. The Fairport Convention performs the composition on their new A&M LP, Unhalfbricking.

Then comes “Bob Dylan’s New Orleans Rag,” and the LP closes with “Seven Curses,” a brilliant song in the old English manner, with an appropriately dramatic melody. In mood, the number is not all that different from Joan Baez’ magnificent “Matty Groves” from her In Concert LP. Dylan sings of a horse thief who can escape death if he allows the judge a night with his daughter. He refuses, but the girl insists. The deal is made and the deed is done — and the hanging takes place. The daughter hurls seven curses on the judge: ” . . . that five walls cannot hide him; that six diggers cannot bury him; and that seven deaths will never kill him.” Dylan’s timing in the delivery of these verses is extraordinary, and the song provides a chilling, desperate close to the album.

Later that same year Columbia recorded Dylan’s Halloween concert in New York City — 17 songs, four with Joan Baez. The performances are not all that different from the studio recordings on the same tunes, with the exception of the show-stopping “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” and the performance of the unrecorded “Mama/Daddy You Been On My Mind,” with Joan. The concert is refreshing; it reminds one that Dylan was able to take his songs far less seriously than much of his audience. “This is a sacrilegious lullaby in G-minor,” he says, introducing “The Gates of Eden.” And later, that classic line: “Well, hope you’re all having a good time  . . . it’s Hallowe’en, and uh, I’ve got my Bob Dylan mask on.”

Fade to 1966. “Like A Rolling Stone” has hit the top of the charts, and Columbia is pressing for another hit. “Positively Fourth Street” is successful, “Crawl Out” flops, “One of Us Must Know,” though one of Dylan’s best records, flops, and finally they score with “Rainy Day Women No. 12 & 35. And then, just before the release of Blonde on Blonde, comes the pretty, bouncy “I Want You.” Those who bought it got a surprise; on the flip of Columbia 4-43683 was “Just Like Tom pool, 1966: five minutes and thirty-six seconds of tearing, devastating hard rock. Where was the rest of the concert, the rest of that long tour of Europe? Tapes of a performance in Dublin have leaked out. the acoustic part of the show only — “Desolation Row,” “Visions of Johanna,” Just Like A Woman,” and others, with blazing harp work; but of Bob Dylan and the Hawks, only their numbers are available outside of Columbia’s vaults, Pennebaker’s files, and Dylan’s own collection.

When The Circus Was In Town

Bob Dylan and the Hawks. They were, without exception or qualifications, the finest rock and roll band I have ever seen or heard. If you weren’t there it will be difficult to convey the visual power of their performances. There were Bob and Robbie Roberston, like twins on the stage, charging each other for the solos, their fingers only inches apart; Rick Danko, puffing out his cheeks and bending his body deep, dancing through the cables and wires; Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel, each off to one side of the stage, sitting back and making sounds one might have thought came from the guitarists, simply because one could not take his eyes off them; and Mickey Johns or Bobby Greg, sitting high above it all, holding it together, never missing.

The sound they produced was stately, extravagant, and visionary — there is nothing with which to compare it in all of Dylan’s recordings. At the bottom of that sound was a rough, jerking marriage of blues and honky tonk, but over that were grafted the sorts of echoes that come from the music box of a circus merry-go-round: the fire and ice of Garth Hudson’s organ and the young, brash clinches of Robbie Robertson’s guitar. And it was loud, louder than anyone played in those days, but so musical and so melodic that the band could dance free and their audiences easily went with them.

There was an urgency to those performances, an urgency that is captured in the three recordings that have filtered out of New York City. It’s certainly there on “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” the single that is at least available in Europe (CBS 2258b). Dylan’s voice is tired, raspy, but even at the end of an endless tour he wouldn’t quit. The music and the phrasing are nothing like the version on Highway 61 Revisited, and the real stars are Hudson and Robertson, Garth soloing weirdly in between the lines, Robbie punching notes in and out of Bob’s shouts and screams until there is no separation between the singer and the musicians: “And picking up ayyn-gel/Who just arrrrryyyved here/ BAM/From the cchhhhhhst/Who looked so fiiiine at firstbutleftlooking/Just . . . like a ghohhhhhhst! Yeah.” And then Robertson and Hudson are in to the break, so fast they literally have to slow down the tempo in order to catch the last verse. It’s a stunning performance.

Probably recorded the same night was “One Too Many Mornings,” which has surfaced on a tape of professional quality. It is almost pure honky-tonk in its structure, with Dylan rushing the verses, stretching out his vowels more than he ever did on record. Danko and Manuel join him on the choruses, lending a high, moaning dimension to the song that it hasn’t known before or since. “Just one too many mornings/ And a thousand/ myyles/BA-DA-DA-DUMP-DA-DUMP/BE-HIND.” There is virtually no resemblance between this performance and the soft, sorrowful ballad of years before. Dylan sings it almost as if it was a memory that belonged to someone else.

And then, finally and ultimately, there is “Like a Rolling Stone” — Dylan’s greatest song, and on this tape, in my opinion, his greatest recording. The performance lasts a full nine minutes.

The Hawks — and especially Robbie Robertson — brought out something in Dylan that allowed him to project, and to reach his audiences, in a way that he had never done before. “If I told you what our music was really about we’d probably all get arrested,” he said to an interviewer in 1965. More than just sound, the Hawks gave Dylan the dramatic back-drop he needed to step all the way and sing. He did it, then, night after night, all over the world. It was glorious — Dylan was a triumphant rock and roll star in a manner that will not be repeated. The parallel, visually, and in its musical excitement, was Elvis Presley. The Hawks made it possible — because Dylan could be sure it was all there without looking over his shoulder.

“Like A Rolling Stone” would be the last encore. The three guitarists would turn their backs on the audience and face the drummer; he’d raise his stick above his head and bring it down with the crash of a cannon shot. Bob would leap into the air and the three of them would hit the first note just as he hit the ground; instantly, they’d have it all. On the live tape the song is slowed down greatly from the recorded version, giving Bob more space in which to sing, more room for those long, stretched-out phrases and the shouts that end each line. It opens with that gunshot and rises immediately with a riot of sounds and colors, with Garth Hudson playing as if he’s standing on one key of his organ, shooting out a scream that is constant throughout the nine minutes. The key to the performance is Robbie Robertson — he hits the toughest, hardest note imaginable at the beginning of every other phrase. signaling the changes and setting up Dylan for every image that’s shouted into the microphone. The song moves up and down with Robertson’s rhythm, fading and returning: “They used to be/ Briiiinnnng!/Sohhh amused/ Baaaaah/With Napoleon in rags/ Briiiinnnng!” Robertson cuts each line in half and doubles its impact, like the “mathematical guitar genuis” Dylan said he was.

But in the end the performance belongs to Bob. Burning his lines with a power he had only suggested on record, he pulls his way to the climax: “You better take your diamond ring down and/PAWN IT/BABE!!!” Dylan crashes it down and then fades while Robbie solos for a verse, letting it out until the band is ready to end it. Printed below is the end of that; of the song, the concert, and the high point of Bob Dylan’s career, the way he sang it that night in Liverpool:

How does it feel?

Ahhhhhhh, How does it feel?

To be on your own?

With! No! Direction! Home?

Like A Complete Unknown?

Like A Rolling Stone!

This is a story from the November 29, 1969 issue of Rolling Stone.


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