Humor: The Helena, AR Town Hall Meeting & Playlist: The B&V Favorite Dylan Covers

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 A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, I let myself be talked into moving to Arkansas. I was just out of college and the economy was kind of crappy… let’s just say not much was “trickling down” my way. Upon graduating I took a job for a large corporation in Fort Smith, Arkansas – sight unseen. They offered me the chance to go down and check it out before moving there but I just blindly said, “yes, I’ll take the job.” If I had gone down to check the place out, there is no way in Hell I would have moved there (Sorry, Arkansas). There wasn’t a single woman in the tri-county area. I consider that time, “My Time In Exile.” Not that Kansas City is Rome or Florence, but Fort Smith tested the limits of my endurance… I felt like Dante.

Finally, my corporate overlords at the time realized the huge mistake they’d made in putting me in that awful, desolate outpost, removed from humanity and the opposite sex and transferred me to Fayetteville, Arkansas. This was much better as the University of Arkansas is located there. While I didn’t have much more success with the co-eds than I did with the lone woman in Fort Smith, at least I could buy U of A baseball season tickets. The problem with Arkansas for me was that everybody knows everybody. If they don’t know a person, they know somebody who does know that person. I was from Kansas City and likely considered a “carpet-bagger.” With my lack of an accent I was eyed with great suspicion. In my sullen celibacy I began to joke that I couldn’t get laid in Arkansas because I didn’t have any relatives who lived down there. That never got the laugh I thought it would. I treated my time in Arkansas the way Dylan did when he sang, “Don’t get up gentlemen, I’m just passin’ through…”

This was all brought into intense clarity for me one night, when my buddy Arkansas Joel (name changed to protect the guilty) drove up from Ft. Smith to do some drinking in Fayetteville, down on Dixon Street where the hippies and the coeds mingle in intoxicated bliss. I had met Arkansas Joel who was also exiled to Ft Smith when I moved there, and frankly my friendship with him, that has lasted to this day and is something I cherish, is the only good thing to come out of those horrid three years. It was Arkansas Joel who turned me onto U2… I mean, I liked them, but he made me understand them.

Arkansas Joel and I decided to hit the “hot spot” in Fayetteville, down on the town square (which I might add is a cool thing about southern small towns, they all have a town square), named The Post Office. It was so named because in years past, it was actually the post office. Oh, the irony. I think the last time I was in Fayetteville, the building is now a flower shop but I digress. We walked into the ol’ P.O. and it turns out Arkansas Joel knows everyone in the bar. They’re all from his home town, Helena, Arkansas, on the east side of the state by Memphis. Helena was the home of the King Biscuit Flower Hour radio show when I was a kid, giving Arkansas Joel even that much more musical credibility. Mind you, I’d been walking into bars, well, let’s admit it, every night I lived in Arkansas, and I never knew a soul. I couldn’t get arrested in that state, although I certainly tried. Yet, we walk into the Post Office on a Tuesday and suddenly  Arkansas Joel is the fucking Mayor of the Post Office. It was the Helena Town Hall Meeting. People were sending us drinks. I realized, I gotta get out this state.

I mostly stood off to the side that night, while Arkansas Joel regaled his fellow Helena citizens with stories of high school and people named Scooter and Skeeter… At least that’s how I remember it. I was pretty bored… Sensing my boredom and an impending tantrum, Arkansas Joel drew me into a conversation with a guy from his high school, Tim or Todd (name changed to protect B&V), I don’t recall. We got on the subject of music because, well, it was me and that’s all I talk about. This guy was pontificating about who was good and who was bad when the subject of Bob Dylan came up. I’m a huge Dylan fan and pretty much have been since my ol’ roomy Drew turned me onto him in college. This guy, Tim or Todd, said, and Arkansas Joel and I quote this to this day, “Dylan, he’s a poet man. A real poet, but he can’t sing for shit.” I don’t remember swinging at the guy or even threatening to do so, but I remember Arkansas Joel getting between us when he saw that crazy look in my eye, and the next thing I knew, we were in another bar. I seem to remember mumbling, “stupid fucker,” a couple of times…

Ah, youth. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that many people would actually agree with Helena, Arkansas’ foremost purveyor of rock culture, drunk blowhard Tim. The Rock Chick especially despises the sound of Dylan’s voice, much to my chagrin. It didn’t help that when I took her to see him in concert his vocals could most generously be described as “wheezingly inaudible.” And, all these years later, the Nobel Committee apparently agrees with Helena Blowhard Tim, Dylan’s lyrics are actually poetry. I have played versions of Dylan’s songs covered by other artists that have received the Rock Chick seal of approval and then turned around and played the Dylan version only to get a blank stare. This was taken to the next level when Amnesty International released “Chimes of Freedom – The Songs of Bob Dylan” with dozens of groups covering Dylan with varying degrees of success. My favorites from that collection are Jackson Browne’s “Love Minus Zero,” and Miley Cyrus, “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.” Yes B&V fans, you read that right, Miley Cyrus. Put the crazy aside, the woman can sing… and she’s easy on the eyes. Ahem…

Anyway, since the days of the Helena Town Hall Meeting in the Post Office Bar in Fayetteville, Arkansas, I’ve always kept a running list of my favorite Bob Dylan cover songs. I even have a playlist that collects my favorites. This is by no means an exhaustive list of his covers, they number in the thousands and I can’t type a list that long… this isn’t Wikipedia for God’s sake. Here are what I consider to be the best of his cover songs… One caveat, there are typically multiple versions of each of these tunes, I went with one version for each tune selected. I’ll try and call out other notable versions where possible. I’ll be the first to admit there is a preponderance of Rod Stewart here, what can I say, the man knows good lyrics when he sees them…

  1. Jimi Hendrix, “All Along the Watchtower” – Jimi owns this song. It all starts here in terms of Dylan covers. This is the high water mark.
  2. The Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Subterranean Homesick Blues” – No one was more surprised than me when I first heard this.
  3. Pearl Jam, “Masters of War” – This one is hard to find, it’s on the all acoustic live LP, ‘Live at Benaroya Hall.’ Eddie Vedder doing one of Dylan’s most intense protest songs, sign me up.
  4. Kenny Wayne Shepherd, “Everything Is Broken” – The blues wunderkind does a nice job on this late period Dylan gem.
  5. Rod Stewart, “Mama You Been On My Mind” – One of many Rod covers of Dylan. Rod could release an album of strictly Dylan covers.
  6. The Band, “Blind Willie McTell” – I won’t go so far as to call the Band’s version definitive, but it’s close.
  7. Ronnie Wood, “Seven Days” – Ronnie happened to be there when Dylan offered the song to Clapton and he declined… Ronnie jumped in. Ah, timing.
  8. Mike Ness, “Don’t Think Twice” – This one from Ness’ wonderful solo album “Cheating At Solitaire.”
  9. Beck, “Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat” – It’s like Dylan on a slip and slide, turned upside down. Great track from the genius that is Beck.
  10. Bruce Springsteen, “Chimes of Freedom (Live)” – There’s a long preamble speech about Amnesty International but once you get past that, this is a great take on a great Dylan tune.
  11. Mick McCauley & Winifred Horan, “To Make You Feel My Love” – Billy Joel does a great version of this song, but my daughter who knows how much I love Dylan and this song used Shazam to identify this song in a Home Depot and then text me. I love this version for that story alone.
  12. The Band, “This Wheel’s On Fire” – The Band who backed him best doing the definitive version of this song.
  13. Norah Jones, “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” – If only that were true…heh, heh..ahem. This is a bonus track on her debut album.
  14. Warren Zevon, “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” – Many people have covered this song, from Clapton to GnR, but Warren did it on his farewell album, “The Wind” and I found it very touching.
  15. Rod Stewart, “The Groom’s Still Waiting At the Altar” – One of Dylan’s great, mid-period, blues stompers.
  16. Wilko Johnson & Roger Daltrey, “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window” – From the sensational album “Going Back Home.” If you haven’t heard it, do yourself a favor and pick that LP up.
  17. The Rolling Stones, “Like A Rolling Stone” – I think it was inevitable the Stones would do this song… Hendrix does a great version, live, on the LP ‘Winterland.’
  18. The Faces, “Wicked Messenger” – The Faces nail the ominous tone of this song.
  19. Sheryl Crow, “Mississippi” – Sheryl does a great version of this late period gem. Dylan recorded a number of versions of this tune himself…
  20. Rod Stewart, “Girl From the North Country” – One of the best tunes from the much maligned ‘Smiler’ LP.
  21. Robert Plant, “One More Cup of Coffee” – This was also covered wonderfully by the White Stripes on their debut LP, but I love Plant’s voice matched with the exotic nature of this tune.
  22. Super Sessions (Bloomfield, Kooper, Stills), “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry” – I think Stills is playing lead on this one, not Bloomfield who had played with Dylan when he went electric.
  23. Cowboy Junkies, “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” – “…or else you gotta stay all night…” Great turn on this song with the female lead vocals.
  24. George Harrison, “If Not For You” – George covering his pal Dylan expertly.
  25. Rod Stewart, “Sweetheart Like You” – One of my all time favorite Dylan songs. I like the Dylan version better, but then I almost fought a guy in Arkansas over Dylan’s voice once…

There are an infinite number of Dylan songs covered by an infinite number of artists. I’ve probably missed some of the key ones or one of your favorites. Feel free to add to my list in the comments! Enjoy!

Cheers!

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Dylan’s Silence on Nobel Prize: Is Anybody Really Surprised?

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I heard like everybody else a few weeks ago that Bob Dylan had won the Nobel Prize in Literature. I was surprised, but very pleased. I was in a bar in Fayetteville, Arkansas back in the 80s talking to a neanderthal drunkard who said to me in his pronounced southern drawl, “Bob Dylan is a poet man, but I can’t stand his voice. He can’t (pronounced cain’t) sing.” Apparently the Nobel committee agrees with that guy. Well, at least the poet part.

As it turns out, I was in Vegas all this week, at one of those terrible sales conferences I’m forced to attend once or twice a year. When I go to Vegas I sort of “lose time.” I enter the conference hotel which is akin to Biosphere and I don’t come out again until it’s time to go home. I’m surprised the sky doesn’t freak me out after not seeing it for 5 days… Other than sports (Go Cubs!) I don’t manage to keep up with current events. Massive earthquakes could swallow New York and LA, the zombie apocalypse could begin, the Faces could reunite and I’d likely be oblivious to all of it. I got up in the early hours yesterday to flee Vegas like a card-counter when I finally had time to check out what’s been happening this week. It appears Mr. Dylan has been utterly silent about his Nobel Award and the Swedes are pissed off about it. There was a brief mention of the Award on Dylan’s website but almost as quickly as it appeared, it disappeared. No one knows if he’s even going to show up to accept the Award. He simply hasn’t acknowledged it. Even the New York Times published an Op-Ed entitled “What Does Dylan’s Silence on the Nobel Prize Mean?” Good luck figuring that out, pal.

I have to ask the question at this point… Is anybody surprised by this response from Dylan. I certainly am not. He’s been surprising us his whole career. To review…

After releasing two of the greatest folk albums of all time, chock full of protest tunes, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” and “The Times They Are A-Changing,” Dylan released “Another Side of Bob Dylan” which, while still “folky” wasn’t really a protest, folk album. I read a review that called it a rock and roll album without any of the instrumentation. I know that had to throw his loyal, beatnik following for a loop back then.

On the heels of that he turns electric at Newport, backed by members of the intrepid Paul Butterfield Blues Band (I’ve got to write something about Michael Bloomfield sometime…) and once again his fans are freaked out. He then records a series of world changing masterpieces (“Bringing It All Back Home,” “Highway 61 Revisited,” and “Blonde On Blonde”) of which the first two had acoustic halves but “Blonde…” was full on blues rock. At one point during all this, backed by the musicians who became The Band, Dylan was booed and called Judas by his “adoring fans.”

After a period in the wilderness where he created country-rock (“Nashville Skyline,” another surprise) and the tremendous comeback of “Blood On The Tracks” and “Desire” Dylan turns everything upside down by going through his “Christian period.” The voice of the counterculture in the 60’s becomes a bible thumping, religious zealot, going so far as to preach about Jesus from the stage of his concerts. You have to admit, the guy has balls.

After everyone in the world thought that Dylan’s career and creativity were long dead he launches a late career renaissance with “Time Out of Mind.” He had a string of records after that that were great, great records. I urge all of you to check out “Modern Times” and “Love and Theft” at the very least.

A few years ago the man did a Victoria Secrets commercial. From “Christian period” to hawking bras. Who saw that coming? The man has put on some of the most confounding concerts of anybody since Elvis. I saw him a few years ago with Merle Haggard and Hags blew him off the stage. Dylan stood at the keyboards, staring vacantly into the crowd. Even I, who am a fanatic about Dylan, had to struggle to name the songs he was playing. More recently he’s put out two Frank Sinatra cover albums. The greatest song writer in the history of music, who has won a fucking Nobel Prize, is doing the great American songbook in a sleepy, bar band, saloon style.

The man has been confounding and confusing us for his entire career. And now the Swedes are pissed off? Come on guys, what did you expect? A conventional response? A humbled Dylan showing up in a tuxedo to give a speech. As a true artist, the man has never allowed himself to be confined to the expectations of his fans, the Nobel committee,  or anybody else. And frankly, when you think about it, that’s a pretty Rock And Roll thing to do.

Rage on in your silence Mr. Dylan. At this point, I’d be disappointed if he showed up.

Cheers!

Artists Who Changed Their Music to Escape Fame

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*Photo shamelessly borrowed from the Internet, gettyimages, Paul Bergen

I just love this photograph of Pearl Jam from their early days. The only guy who looks happy is the drummer, in the middle, and they fired him. Likely on the HR form it read something like: Reason for Dismissal: Cheerfulness or Enjoying the Fame.

My corporate overlords are asking me to travel quite a bit more and I haven’t been able to write as often as I’d like, my apologies. It has given me a lot more time to think about music… and lately I’ve been thinking about fame. Ah, Fame, it’s such a cruel, fickle beast. Bands often form, write music, tour and work hard to achieve financial stability and yes, fame. But once it happens many bands/artists don’t know how to deal with it. There are certain levels of fame that nobody is ready for. Not everybody can be the Beatles, who not only embraced their fame, seemed energized by it. Well, McCartney anyway, Lennon seemed somewhat unnerved by it all.

Fame has all kinds of effects on an artist and not always good ones. Many artists, feeling the pressure to repeat earlier heights of record sales crumble under the pressure. Many artists turn to drugs, alcohol or just plain break up the band. Or sometimes the effects of fame are even worse…bad juju indeed. There are as many reactions to fame as there are artists, I suppose.

Lately, I find myself thinking about those artists/bands who decided to take control, take the bull by the horns as they say, and purposely change the trajectory of their artistic arc. The artists who, commercially speaking, tried to take a dive. The goal seemed to be to thin the herd of rabid fans, hanging on every word. These acts literally altered their art (in my opinion) to reduce their fame…

Bob Dylan: After a two year period that saw Dylan “go electric” and record three classic masterpieces: “Bringing It All Back Home,” “Highway 61 Revisted,” and “Blonde On Blonde” Dylan retreated to upstate New York to Woodstock (pre-festival fame Woodstock). This creative burst is beautifully documented on the box set, “The Cutting Edge” reviewed earlier in B&V. Dylan just wanted to get away, rest and spend some time with his wife and new family. Then, he had a motorcycle accident. Or did he? I’m not usually a “second shooter on the grassy knoll” guy, but I wonder if Dylan faked the whole thing to get a break in his crazy schedule. The guy was being touted as the “voice” of his generation. He was the appointed leader of the Hippy movement… heavy responsibility for a guy who is really just a singer… or a poet, depending on your outlook. After secluding himself in upstate NY and hanging out in a basement for a year with the Band, recording some pretty amazing music, but not really sharing it, Dylan emerged with a quiet, acoustic based “John Wesley Harding.” While considered a classic by critics, it was quite a dramatic departure from his three prior albums. It’s like Dylan rewrote the book on a career in music. He went on to record a country album, “Nashville Skyline.” He really didn’t recover commercially until “Blood On the Tracks” by which time his rabid audience had diminished and mellowed out.

Neil Young: Neil Young’s trajectory was similar to Dylan’s, perhaps without the messianic overtones… the 70’s were a more cynical decade after all. Young released “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” and then “After the Gold Rush” and joined CSNY. He was poised to explode. I don’t think he realized how big he was going to get when he delivered the mellow, extremely popular “Harvest.” You couldn’t get away from “Heart of Gold.” Neil said, on the liner notes of the excellent greatest hits package “Decade,” that he found himself in the middle of the road after “Harvest” and decided to steer his career into the ditch…he said he’d meet more interesting people there. He dismantled his following by delivering the live LP, “Time Fades Away,” which oddly seemed to declare war on his fans. Young was exorcising demons, but his fans were left to exorcise Neil.

Bruce Springsteen: Springsteen’s career has been a study in the art of controlling your fame. He released “Born To Run” and ended up on the cover of Time and Newsweek… after a 4 year absence due to legal issues with his management, he delivered the grim classic “Darkness On the Edge of Town.” Punk was prevalent and so he probably rode that wave, plus he was pissed about the court stuff and the four year absence. Finally, in 1979 he released “The River” which gave him his biggest seller to date… rather than capitalize on that success he retrenched with “Nebraska” an album I still struggle to listen to without being put on suicide watch. He finally reached his peak potential when he released “Born In the USA” but quickly retrenched to “Tunnel of Love.” Release something that makes you huge, follow up with a quiet personal album to make the crowds go away…it’s the best of both worlds.

Fleetwood Mac: Nobody saw the huge success of “Rumors” coming. Lindsey Buckingham, fueled by the punk movement took control of their next album and drove the band in experimental, weird directions. Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie apparently didn’t get the memo and continued to record solid mid tempo rock songs causing a very disjointed approach.”Tusk” is a masterpiece in my mind but it was heralded as a huge disappointment upon it’s release. I see it for what it was – Buckingham responding to the pressure of repeating “Rumors” by taking the band in a less commercial, artsy direction. When the LP doesn’t sell as much as the last one, you just say the audience didn’t “understand your creative vision.” It’s a great strategy really. Although Mick Fleetwood did drive out to Lindsey’s house after the reviews were in to say, “you blew it, mate.”

Prince: “1999” was such a breakthrough record for Prince. He, along with Michael Jackson, were one of the first black artists to breakthrough to a broad white audience. He followed up with the movie/LP “Purple Rain.” Prince, a control freak, whose goal had always been world domination, and who actually accomplished it, responded with the quirky, artsy “Around the World In a Day,” an album I bought the day it was released and sold a week later. Yeah, I was one of the fans Prince exiled from his fan base with that record. Prince never really regained his commercial/artistic mojo. That’s the risk when you purposely try to kill off your fame… sometimes you’re successful.

Nirvana: Kurt Cobain, almost 30 years after Dylan, was also tagged with that “voice of his generation” tag. Based on Dylan’s response to that in the 60s and what happened to Kurt, you might want to avoid that tag. After “Nevermind” seemingly destroyed everything that came before it and revolutionized music in a way that punk only dreamed of, Cobain felt painted into a corner. He had wanted to only be as big as say, Sonic Youth, not bigger than the Beatles. In response to the world-wide worship, Cobain and Nirvana delivered the abrasive album “In Utero” an album that was such an obvious attempt to drive fans away and yet it was still wildly popular. “Heart Shaped Box” is still my favorite Nirvana tune. Sadly Kurt never reconciled his fame and for a myriad of reasons ended up sadly ending his own life… the most tragic tale I’m gonna tell.

Pearl Jam: I read an interview with Eddie Vedder once, and he said they were playing a bar that had a free hamburgers in the parking lot while they were set to play. He got on stage in front of an empty room (everyone was eating outside), closed his eyes and when he opened them, the entire bar was full of enthusiastic fans. He went on to say that was how Pearl Jam’s world wide fame happened, seemingly in the blink of an eye. “Ten” was such a huge album and it’s follow up “Vs” despite the “us vs you” implied by the title, was just as popular. Finally PJ put out “Vitalogy” which I consider a classic but like “In Utero” it was a clear attempt to “thin the herd.” You only have to take one look at the picture above and you can tell these guys were uncomfortable with the fame that had resulted from their music. Eddie took these guys down a path that saw them stay a solid live draw, but their music has never sold like it did early in their career and I think that’s how Eddie wants it… Vedder’s only proper solo album was a ukele album…clearly not a guy looking for wide commercial success or additional attention…

That’s it for now folks. Did I miss anybody on this list? Please add your thoughts in the comments if you’re so inclined.

Have a great weekend! Cheers!

Review: Dylan’s Bootleg Series Vol 12, The Cutting Edge – Lightning In a Bottle

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 In a previous post on BourbonAndVinyl I published a “User’s Guide” to Bob Dylan’s vast collection of “Bootleg” recordings/box sets. I actually went all the way back to his first box set, “Biograph” the box set that started the entire box set cottage industry. Obviously I’m a Dylan fan. But I have to admit, when I heard the title of this latest edition, ‘Volume 12, The Cutting Edge  1965-1966’ I was a bit put off. I’ve been hoping for a box from the “Blood On The Tracks” sessions – he recorded that timeless classic first in New York with some session musicians and then a second time in Minneapolis with a local band. After the Basement Tapes (Vol 11), “Blood on the Tracks” is my Holy Grail. I can imagine sitting around for hours listening to the different takes of the album and analyzing the differences. Perhaps I need a few more hobbies. The other Bootleg I’d like to hear is for the oft overlooked album, “Infidels” that my buddy Drew turned me onto in college. Like “Blood on the Tracks”, it has several versions. Mark Knopfler produced the album but had to leave for a tour before he could finish mixing the songs. The record company and Dylan inexplicably cut a couple of songs from the final album including the latter day masterpiece, “Blind Willie McTell”. I’ve heard there is a Knopfler mix out there which would make for some interesting musical spelunking.

Which leads me back to ‘Vol 12, The Cutting Edge’. When I first read about the 6-disc compilation (the 12-disc seemed like too much and the 2-disc “highlights” seemed too slight) I thought it would be for completists and collectors only. I was, as usual, wrong. What I hadn’t taken into account was the time period, 1965 to 1966. Over the course of those 18-24 months Dylan reached what can only be described as his creative zenith. The only thing comparable would the Stones from “Beggars Banquet” to “Exile On Main Street” or the Beatles from “Rubber Soul” to the White Album. He released 3 of the greatest albums of music of all time – not just rock music, but music period – “Bringing It All Back Home”, “Highway 61 Revisited”, and “Blonde On Blonde” who many point to as the first ever double vinyl album. Even the outtakes from that era are fantastic. Dylan’s genius explodes on these three albums as he transforms his music from more traditional folk to rock and roll. It was clear Dylan was becoming tired of the confines of mere folk music – “Another Side of Bob Dylan” was a rock and roll album in every way except for the lack of instrumentation. For me, Dylan’s early music was always as much influenced by Leadbelly as it was Woody Guthrie. Yes, Dylan was the ultimate folk singer, but damn was he bluesy. He did “In My Time of Dying” and “Highway 51 Blues” on his first album for God’s sake. There’s a lot of protest in those old blues.

One of the things about Vol 12 that put me off as well was the song sequence. Instead of mixing up the various takes of the songs that ultimately (for the most part) ended up on his three masterpieces, they sequence the songs together. So you get all the four takes of “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” in a row. I was concerned this would be tedious listening. I have to admit the only time during my repeated listens that it did become tedious was on disc 3 which is totally dedicated to “Like a Rolling Stone”. I get it, it’s a huge song from a huge artist but an entire disc devoted to that one song? I don’t think anybody needs to hear the “Master Take (Piano, Bass)” from “Like a Rolling Stone”. The world could have done without that. So listen selectively from disc 3 folks. That aside, I really liked the sequencing of the songs. I think many of us just imagine that when an artist writes a song, the song pops into his head fully formed. Listening to the songs morph over the course of 4 or 5 takes is a fascinating look at the transformative job of creating a work of art. Melodies and lyrics change with almost each take. It’s like the statue of “The Thinker” by Rodin at the Nelson Atkins Art Museum. Sure, the finished, huge bronze statue is awesome, but so are the smaller, clay versions that Rodin did as he was “sketching” out his ideas. So too is the Cutting Edge like sculpting. Dylan would start with an idea and shape it in the studio. I think my favorite cuts here are of “Visions of Johanna”. Now, admittedly it’s one of my all time favorite songs, but listening to it’s transformation is magical. It starts off light, almost a lilting melody. It slowly gets heavier through each take. The way the songs are sequenced it almost feels like you’re sitting in the control booth next to Tom Wilson or Bob Johnston, producing the record. The first version of “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” on the set breaks down and Dylan says, almost petulantly “I never do a song as well as I do it the first time…” Producers must have the patience of Job.

There are some great outtakes here, some that ended up on Vol 1-3. “Farewell Angelina” one of my all time favorites, “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” which was later so wonderfully covered by the Cowboy Junkies, and “Jet Pilot” are all here. Some of the rehearsals and songs that collapse are as interesting as the final takes. Dylan does an early version of “Mr. Tamborine Man” with drums and bass that just falls apart as Dylan exclaims, “The drums are throwing me off, man.”

For me, of the three records during this period of Dylan’s career, “Highway 61 Revisited” is my favorite. I mean, it’s hard to choose, it’s like picking a favorite child but I love “Highway 61 Revisited” because the criminally overlooked genius Michael Bloomfield is on hand to play lead guitar. Bloomfield was a founding member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and he just shreds on the songs he’s playing. On the outtakes from songs on “Highway 61…” you can hear Bloomfield’s distinctive guitar weaving in and around Dylan’s lyrics as they dance, trying to find the right tempo or the right melody. Mike brought a real bluesy feel with him to Dylan’s songs. Bloomfield and Dylan belong together. Not to say the songs where the Band’s Robbie Robertson plays guitar are anything to sneeze at. Clearly Dylan has exquisite taste in guitar collaborators.

The 6-disc set ends with a 9 minute version of his epic, epic song “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”. That song is perhaps Dylan’s most artistic song ever. I can’t imagine what it was like to be in the studio when he brought that one in. This particular outtake was fascinating. I only wish there had been a few more versions of that particular song.

I have to say, the folks that are curating the Bootleg Series have done a fabulous job with Vol 12. Again, the outtakes from this period of Dylan’s career are more interesting than many artist’s finished products. I know one thing for sure, I’ll never automatically assume I won’t enjoy a Bootleg Volume until I’ve heard it for myself. ‘The Bootleg Volume 12, The Cutting Edge’ is a BourbonAndVinyl highly recommended album.

Pour something strong, put on the head phones, and enjoy. Cheers!

Stray Cats: Bob Dylan’s New Bootleg Series, Rod and The Jeff Beck Group

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In this edition of Stray Cats (aka Random Music/Classic Rock News) I have three quick updates. I just found out, mere weeks after I’d posted my Dylan Bootleg Series User’s Guide, that another edition is set for release. Volume 12, entitled “The Cutting Edge 65 -66” it is a 6 CD treasure trove of outtakes from the sessions for “Bringing It All Back Home”, “Highway 61” and I believe, “Blonde On Blonde”. I’m a huge Dylan fan, and I’m a huge fan of the bootleg series, but this set might be too much for even a fanatic/completist like me. There is a 2 CD “Best of…” culled from the 6 CDs… Stay tuned on this one.

Rod Stewart has released the second single from his upcoming “Another Country” album. There’s an interview with him in the latest Rolling Stone magazine that I fear I have not had time to get around to reading. I hate it when work interferes with my rock and roll. The new tune, “Please” is an old school Rod rocker. It sounds like an outtake from “Night On the Town”. The guitar even has a slight Ron Wood sound to it. I think “Another Country” is going to be amazing.

Finally, I got an email from Amazon.com about an upcoming release of a 1968 radio broadcast of the Jeff Beck Group. Before Rod was a solo artist and before he was the lead singer of The Faces, he was the lead singer in a little band called The Jeff Beck Group. Jeff Beck, the guitar wizard, put together the The Jeff Beck Group after the Yardbirds fired him for being mercurial. Ronnie Wood actually changed from guitar to bass for this band. They were slated to play Woodstock but Jeff Beck wrecked his sports car and they had to scratch. He had recruited Rod as his lead singer because he knew males would flock to their shows to hear his guitar. He figured a good looking blonde guy on vocals would bring in the “birds”. Jimmy Page was watching closely and in the spirit of “anything you can do, I can do better” formed Led Zeppelin on the same model with Robert Plant on lead vocals. The Jeff Beck Group’s first album “Truth” was epic and extremely influential. Alas, Jeff’s management treated Rod and Ronnie like sidemen and eventually they both left and joined the Faces. I’ve heard a few bootlegs over the years and live these guys were a tour de force. I know nothing about this mysterious 1968 radio broadcast but if the sound quality is up to snuff this could be an amazing find.

Cheers!

Dylan’s Bootleg Series – A User’s Guide

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Ah, the term “bootleg.” It conjures up so many wonderful emotions. Quickly after buying my first album, Some Girls, I discovered the secret world of bootleg recordings. A bootleg, or “boot” as they’re commonly known, is a song or collection of songs an artist has recorded but not yet released. I can remember being in used record stores, in the “special” section down in the basement where albums in plain paper wrappers with curious names by my favorite artists could be found. I vividly recall slipping cash into someone’s hands in the back room of a local record store in exchange for Springsteen bootleg concert recordings.

For the longest time, I thought Springsteen was the only artist who was bootlegged in a major way. In 1978 his tour in support of Darkness On the Edge of Town was epic and widely bootlegged. It was a bit of a comeback after his legal problems after Born To Run and those radio broadcasts found their way onto cassettes and vinyl albums. On one recording, he even says, “this song will likely find it’s way to you courtesy of your local bootlegger.” I love that the original bootleggers were enterprising individuals who smuggled whiskey into the U.S. during Prohibition. The marriage of Bourbon and Vinyl goes back many years, my friends. But I’m getting off point.

It turns out Bruce wasn’t the only prolifically bootlegged artist out there. Bob Dylan was just as bootlegged, and many of his boots were studio recordings Bob hadn’t released for one reason or another. His writing was so prolific he often had more songs than he needed, so there were always leftovers. Those leftovers he didn’t release as non-album singles, which was a wide spread practice, even into the 70’s, usually stayed in the can until someone made a copy, and someone made a copy of that and so on and so on. Now, one can sympathize with the artist who isn’t receiving any renumeration for these bootlegs but at the same time much of this music needed to be heard.

Dylan, frustrated by not getting paid for his hard work finally decided to trump the bootleggers and start his own “Bootleg Series” and open up the vaults. I must say, it has been an interesting journey into his creative process. But at this point, there are 11 in the series, not including his excellent first box set, Biograph, and with literally 12 boxes out there, it can get a little confusing. As a public service to rock fans and Bob Dylan fans everywhere, it occurred to me someone should put together a “user’s guide” of sorts. Think of it as a reference document detailing this brilliant series by this brilliant artist. Hope it helps, and as always, enjoy!

Volume 0.0 – Biograph – Biograph was not a part of the Bootleg Series. Released in 1985 it literally created the market for boxed sets. There would be no Eric Clapton’s Crossroads, or Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band’s Live 1975-1985 without Dylan’s Biograph. The baby boomers were getting older and had the money to shell out for a 5 album set. I own Biograph on vinyl and I treat it like a holy talisman. It has hits, album cuts, unreleased songs, and unreleased live versions of songs. It’s not chronologically based but loosely based around either a theme or a certain style. It is what it is named – a musical biography of the man. I’d put this up against his autobiography Chronicles, any day.

Bootleg Series Volume 1 to Volume 3 – Rare and Unreleased 1961 – 1991. This box set of 3 CDs, carries on in the tradition of Biograph, and contains unreleased studio cuts. The first disc, and the beginning of the 2nd, are Dylan only accompanied by his acoustic guitar and harmonica. It’s the Dylan who took the folk music world by storm. These were songs recorded by Dylan so he could get the tune and lyrics copyrighted and sold to other artists. Even the King of Folk needs to pay the rent folks. Early in disc 2, like his career, it turns electric. The real gems here are the unreleased takes from Blood on the Tracks, the early versions of songs from that album that were recorded in NY. I’m hoping for a Bootleg Series edition for just that album some day. This is a great, very deep collection of unreleased tracks.

Bootleg Series Volume 4 – Live 1966 – The Royal Albert Hall – This is simply put, a stunning historical document. If the American Revolution had been recorded, this is what it would have sounded like. Dylan decided to go electric, hired a band known previously as the Hawks, soon to change their name to the Band (as they were derisively referred to by Dylan’s once devoted folky fans) and toured England. It was a tumultuous tour to say the least. Levon Helm, the drummer in the Hawks/Band actually quit and flew back to the States, he couldn’t take the vitriolic response of the crowds. You can hear that hostility in this recording. Dylan realized he needed to do an acoustic set to start his concerts to placate the fans. But even during the acoustic set they hiss and make disruptive noises. I haven’t seen a fan base this hostile since the Chief’s had Todd Haley as their head coach. Toward the end of the electric set, one idiot in the crowd screams “Judas”. Dylan responds with “I don’t believe you,” then turns to the band and says, “Play fucking loud.” The band tears into Like a Rolling Stone. Simply riveting.

Bootleg Series Volume 5 – Live 1975 – The Rolling Thunder Review – This volume in the series documents a really under served part of Dylan’s career. The 60’s are over, the cynical me-generation 70’s are in full swing. Dylan started hanging out with a bunch of musical refugees in the West Village in New York and they eventually started touring. It’s amazing to hear the affection the crowd now holds for Dylan… all the hostility of ’66 was gone. This tour was around the time of Desire, so there are a lot of great live versions of that album’s songs here.

Bootleg Series Volume 6 – Live 1964 – Dylan at the apex of his popularity with the folk crowds. He was their King and he’s playing in Carnegie Hall. All acoustic, folky protestor Dylan. Later in the set, his girlfriend, Joan Baez shows up to do a few duets. I realize that they were the Jay-Z and Beyonce of their time, but I’ve never been a big Baez fan. I do like that her version of Babe I’m Gonna Leave You inspired Led Zeppelin to record the song, but I could do without her here. This is a virtual love in with Dylan and his folk music following. Great live recording, though.

Bootleg Series Volume 7 – No Direction Home – This is the soundtrack to the excellent Martin Scorcese documentary of the same name. This is for the true collectors only. There are some great live takes on the classics and some great alternative versions as well. The incendiary performance from Newport when Dylan went electric with members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band is here. Michael Bloomfield – man, how we miss you!

Bootleg Series Volume 8 – Tell Tale Signs, Rare and Unreleased 1989 – 2006. This one came as a complete surprise. This era was not exactly Dylan’s high water mark. But this 2 disc set sounds like a “lost album” from the period. There are different takes on songs released from that era that are far superior here. There are also some cuts that inexplicably didn’t get released. This was a treasure trove of unreleased material and really hangs together well for a set that spans such a wide period of time.

Bootleg Series Volume 9 – Witmark Demos – This is the only volume I do not own. Again, my thoughts, this is for serious completists only. Dylan went to the Witmark Publishing Company and recorded these demo’s to get copyrights in order to sell the songs to other artists. Everybody has to make a buck and he could’t release everything he was writing. My issue here is 2/3 of these songs are on Volume 1 and a few more are on Biograph, so this is the first Volume in the series where you see serious overlap. I have heard from a friend that the audio and remix on this set is far superior to anything previously released. He said it sounds like you’re sitting in the recording booth on a stool next to Bob. So, the set has that going for it.

Bootleg Series Volume 10 – Another Self Portrait (1969-1971)- This was as big a shock to me as Volume 8. Self Portrait, an album Dylan released at a real crossroads in his life, is his most reviled. It is often cited as an album that could have ruined his career. He quickly released New Morning, which was heralded as one of many Dylan comebacks. This box has some unvarnished versions of songs that were overdubbed for the album release, and these versions are far superior. It actually covers the period from before Self Portrait, to right after New Morning, and I feel it gives a great picture of where Dylan the artist was at that time. This is a great glimpse into his creative process.

Bootleg Series Volume 11 – Bob Dylan & The Band, The Complete Basement Tapes – This one, at 5 discs, is the motherlode. Dylan and the Band released a 2 disc set compiled from the famous sessions at Big Pink, but that set was merely an appetizer. Finally, all these years later this box has all of it. The fifth disc disintegrates into mostly song sketches vs songs, but the sound quality and the quality of the music those guys performed in that basement is like the Magna Carta of rock ‘n’ roll. They invented country-rock, roots music and reinvigorated rock ‘n’ roll in that basement. This is a master piece.

So there you have it folks, my user’s guide to the Dylan Bootleg Series. Enjoy!