Bob Dylan has given fans a gift they thought they might never get, announcing that the entirety of rock and roll’s most infamous bootleg, The Basement Tapes, will be released as a six-disc, 138-song collection containing 30 songs that even the most religious Dylan fans didn’t know existed, much less heard before. Rolling Stone made the announcement this week, which was only fitting given that the rock magazine first covered the mysterious recordings that came out of Dylan’s basement sessions in Woodstock, New York, in 1967.
Dylan retreated from the spotlight after a motorcycle accident in the summer of 1966, using the crash as an excuse to withdraw from various projects, including a novel and a tour in support of Blonde on Blonde, that were imposing increasing pressure on Dylan, who also had a young family. In the wake of the accident Dylan holed up at his home in Woodstock, where he recorded the music that would become The Basement Tapes with the band that would become The Band, featuring Robbie Robertson on guitar, Levon Helm on drums, and Rick Danko on bass.
Rolling Stone founder Jann S. Wenner’s 1968 story on the bootleg was titled “Bob Dylan’s Basement Tape Should Be Released.” The sessions have since been referred to as The Basement Tapes and some of the cuts were released on an overdubbed double LP in 1975, with more continuing to circulate on bootlegs of varying quality. “There is enough material — most all of it very good – to make an entirely new Bob Dylan record, a record with a distinct style of its own. Although it is highly unlikely that Dylan would want to go into the studio to record material that is now seven or eight months old, nonetheless these tapes could easily be remastered and made into a record,” Wenner wrote.
Now, nearly 50 years later, The Basement Tapes are getting the release that Wenner and other Dylan aficionados have wanted since Wenner broke the story of the secret recording sessions. During the sessions, Dylan experimented in ways that never would have made it on a studio album and give an opportunity to hear the man and the band really letting loose and having fun. Robertson has spoken about the freedom that recording without the intention of releasing the material gave the sessions.
According to Rolling Stone, some of the unknown tracks include an early version of “I Shall Be Released” with slightly different lyrics, a cover of Hank Williams’s country classic “My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It,” and country versions of Dylan’s own “Blowin’ In the Wind,” “It Ain’t Me Babe,” and “One Too Many Mornings.” Rolling Stone is currently streaming one of the new songs, titled “Odds and Ends.” As Wenner describes, the instrumentation is Blonde on Blonde while the vocals are John Wesley Harding.
In recent years, Dylan’s camp has been combing through his extensive back catalog and releasing the B-sides, alternate takes, and other material surrounding various albums. Last year, Dylan’s team delved into the controversial Self Portrait and New Morning era between 1969 and 1971. Renowned music critic Greil Marcus famously opened his Rolling Stone review of Self Portrait with the sentence, “What is this shit?” The liner notes for The Bootleg Series Vol. 10: Another Self Portrait were written by Marcus, who reevaluated that statement.
According to a source close to Dylan’s camp who spoke to Rolling Stone, next the team will tackle the Blood on the Tracks era for another Bootleg Series. “We’re thinking we’ll revisit the 1975 era and Blood on the Tracks,” said the source. “The unheard stuff from there is crazy. You can hear the first day of recordings before they put all that echo on. It’s amazing.” That’s enough to make any Dylan fan salivate in anticipation, but luckily, The Basement Tapes is giving us plenty to tide us over.
The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11 will be released on November 4.
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