In case you haven’t heard yet, Bob Dylan just announced the details of the next release in his official Bootleg series. It’s entitled, Another Self-Portrait and it focuses on the sessions for the curious Self-Portrait album from 1970 as well as other unreleased or alternate version of songs that were recorded for New Morning and Nashville Skyline, both from around the same time period. I personally am very excited for this release, as this is an often overlooked period of Dylan’s career and (in my mind) it still yielded some of his most fascinating songs. It was a period where Dylan tried to reinvent himself from Bob Dylan to just a songwriting musician. When one looks at those songs with that in mind, they do stand out in a highly enjoyable way, but still, many people judge these songs too harshly and compare them to heady and socially important tracks like “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and “Like a Rolling Stone.”
At any rate, in lieu of this announcement, I have decided to talk about my favorite bootlegged recordings of Dylan, as I have a lot of them (being a voracious Dylan fan and a follower of the unreleased). This subject has also been covered many many times before, as bootlegging Dylan seems to be a pretty popular past-time (I mean, apparently one of the very first widely known rock bootlegs was of unreleased Dylan recordings)…
(pictured: not a legitimate release)
…so if there’s some redundant stuff here for some of you readers, I do apologize.
Alright, enough of the intros…
1. Wade in The Water- Recorded 12/22/1961 in a Minneapolis hotel
This is one of the best examples of the wild youth that Dylan was when he started playing. There’s so much energy and spirit in this performance, as his voice ventures way beyond his years with a rough, bluesy growl while his rustic slide playing thumps like a full band. He sounds so young but so powerful on this track and the rest of this candid recording. This track also surfaced on the weirdly pseudo-bootleg Live 1961-2000: Thirty-Nine Years of Great Concert Performances.
2. Interview 5/Farewell- Recorded Spring of 1963, for the Studs Terkel’s Wax Museum radio show
Okay, this entire show is incredible. Dylan is in top, yet relaxed, form, playing many great songs from this phase in his career with an eased conviction. Yet this performance of “Farewell,” a nearly forgotten gem that would have sat nicely on Freewheelin’ shines brightest due to its romantic imagery that seems as classic and piercing as any ancient folk song about parting. Dylan’s various interviews that scatter throughout the album reveal the songwriter as he’s trying to find a clear identity while still being totally absorbed in his folk roots. Studs is also in top form, enjoyably waxing poetic and analyzing Dylan and his songs like a 19th century piece of literature. If anything, Terkel beautifully illustrates the early mythology of Dylan in his questioning and descriptions while simultaneously coaxing some truths out of the enigmatic singer. This collection deserves a proper release, especially since superb sound quality versions do exist.
3. The Death of Emmett Till- Recorded early 1962 for Folksinger’s Choice radio show
This track needs to be far more popular than it already is. Written about the tragic hate-crime that occurred in 1955 when a 14 year old Emmett Till, an African-American, was murdered for flirting with a white woman (and his killers who went mostly unpunished), “Till,” is far more biting than the similarly themed “The Ballad of Hollis Brown.” In fact, in this version, unlike the slower, muddier take that’s featured on The Whitmark Tapes official release, you can hear the anger and disgust in Dylan’s singing and rapid guitar playing. Due to recent events, I think this song needs to be dug up again. NOTE: Also, while this song is still largely bootlegged, it is available officially on a compilation, 1972’s Broadside Ballads, Vol. 6: Broadside Reunion but since this is scarce and Dylan isn’t even credited under his name, I’ve decided to include it nonetheless.
4. Love Minus Zero- Recorded 5/9/1965 at The Royal Albert Hall
Taken from the same tour that was documented in the iconic film, Don’t Look Back, Love Minus Zero here is played intimately and simply, even though it is in front of the entire Royal Albert Hall. The version I have is also of phenomenal sound quality. Purely historic. Also Dylan yelling out “I need a flat pick!” at the end has always intrigued me…Did he only have one pick on him at the time? Did he forget to bring extra out with him? Did he start out with a different type of pick and then decided this was a bad choice? The mystery continues…
5. The entire July 25th appearance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival: Maggie’s Farm/Like A Rolling Stone/Phantom Engineer (It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry)/Audience Unrest (“We Want Bobby!”)/Mr. Tambourine Man/It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
This is such a historic thirty minutes. Everyone and their great Aunt Suzanne knows about the infamous performance where Dylan takes the stage playing electric and upsetting the folk crowd, inciting Pete Seeger into an axe frenzy, etc. Yet strangely, many haven’t heard the entire performance. It starts off with the incredibly shaky, nervous spoken intro by Peter Yarrow, totally anticipating the shit-storm that was about to go down, and then Dylan scorches through “Maggies Farm,” backed by the incredible Paul Butterfield Blues Band. The band chugs along with some excellent soulful electric solos before tackling the recently released “Like a Rolling Stone.” Then “Phantom Engineer” clicks and clacks with sharp energy, with more impressive guitar and organ work. Then the band cuts out and Yarrow nervously returns while the crowd screams and jeers with a mix of bafflement, anger and joy. Then they chant “We Want Bobby!” while Yarrow announces that Dylan will return with an acoustic. Dylan returns, much to the excitement of the crowd, and delivers “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “It’s All Over, Baby Blue,” first with saddened apathy during the former, then with bitter defiance during the later. This haunting performance of “Baby Blue” was essentially Dylan’s farewell to Newport and to a whole portion of his life and his world. Even though the electric performance from that day had more of a blues rock sound, folk rock as we now know it was born. Folk music, Bob Dylan, and fuck it, music itself was never quite the same again.