George Harrison and Bob Dylan Had a Massive Secret Jam Session Weeks After The Beatles Broke up — You’ll Never Guess What They Played
George Harrison and Bob Dylan officially became friends in the fall of 1968. Initially, during George’s first visit with Dylan, it seemed as if the “Like A Rolling Stone” singer was closed off. However, George fixed all that when he pushed Dylan to write a song, “I’d Have You Anytime,” which George wrote about wanting to be closer to Dylan.
By 1970, the pair of musicians were even closer. Then, weeks after The Beatles revealed they were breaking up, George and Dylan came together for a massive jam session. They played countless tunes, including something unexpected.
George Harrison and Bob Dylan came together for a secret jam session following the announcement of The Beatles’ split
According to Rolling Stone, George and Dylan met up at Columbia’s Studio B in New York City on May 1, 1970. The world had just learned that The Beatles planned to split. Bassist Charlie Daniels and drummer Russ Kunkel joined the pair.
Their goal was to start work on Dylan’s album New Morning. However, midway through the day, the musicians couldn’t resist jamming on their old favorites and started to tentatively record them, not thinking that the public would ever hear it. See, this was a secretive recording session.
When word of the session got out, Dylan’s camp firmly denied it’d happened. “Denials that the session took place were issued by Dylan’s personal secretary,” Rolling Stone published at the time, “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.”
In 1970, sources told Rolling Stone that the jam sessions were “kind of a nice, loose thing.” Something that George probably craved after the recent turmoil in The Beatles. But what exactly did George and Dylan play during their secret sessions?
George and Dylan played a bunch of tunes, including The Beatles’ ‘Yesterday’
In 1970, Rolling Stone wrote that George and Dylan covered 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.”
At that time, Rolling Stone didn’t know what the friends had recorded. However, the tapes somehow leaked out of the Columbia vault years later. They revealed that George and Dylan began the day by trying out early renditions of New Morning songs, including “Sign on the Window,” “If Not For You,” “Times Passes Slowly,” and “Went to See the Gypsy.”
After doing five takes of “If Not For You” (which later appeared on All Things Must Pass), the pair decided to play some of Dylan’s early work, including “Song to Woody,” “Mama, You Been on My Mind,” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.”
Eventually, they ditched Dylan’s work, past and present, for some oldies but goodies they both loved. Everything from Sam Cooke’s “Cupid” to Carl Perkins’ “Matchbox” and the Everly Brothers’ “All I Have to Do Is Dream.”
They changed it up again by playing Dylan oldies like “Gates of Eden,” “It Ain’t Me Babe,” and “One Too Many Mornings” before switching it up again to play only one song from George’s past; The Beatles’ “Yesterday.”
Many probably wish they could’ve been a fly on the wall for that moment. One can only imagine what was going on in George’s head as they played the hit. It’s surprising to hear that George even wanted to play a Beatles song, considering the band had recently broken up.
Not much of the jam session has ever been released
Neither George nor Dylan ever released much of the jam session. One of the five takes of “If Not For You” appeared on the first Bootleg Series in 1991. The pair’s only take of “Time Passes Slowly” and “Working on a Guru” appeared on Another Self Portrait in 2013.
According to Rolling Stone, fans can find most of the other tunes on bootlegs. However, they write, “according to European copyright law, recordings enter the public domain if they aren’t released 50 years after their creation.”
That meant Dylan had a little more than a month to release them at the time in 2020. “If they don’t, any nudnik can sell them on CD in Europe next year without any legal consequence whatsoever,” Rolling Stone wrote.
Dylan recently sold the final portion of his catalog. So, we don’t know if getting the songs released is his priority anymore. Still, it’s at least good to hear that George and Dylan had such a long and satisfying jam session to bind them as friends even more. George no doubt needed it after the year he had.