The Basement Tapes
Recorded (most likely) between April and November of 1967
in several locations near Woodstock, New York: The "Red Room" in Bob's House, Hi Lo Ha in Byrdcilffe, "Big Pink" where members of The Band resided,
More than 100 tracks are known to have been preserved though probably many more were sung and even recorded.
They are bootlegged as The Genuine Basement Tapes, a 5 CD Collection
And also as a 4 CD collection called A Tree with Roots
The official double album released by Columbia in 1975 includes both tracks by Dylan and members of the Band, as well as cuts by The Band by themselves. The implication is that The Band tracks were cut at roughly the same time but this appears to not be the case. Note this review of the Columbia double album release from Allmusic.com:
The official release of The Basement Tapes -- which were first heard on a 1968 bootleg called The Great White Wonder -- plays with history somewhat, as Robbie Robertson overemphasizes the Band's status in the sessions, making them out to be equally active to Dylan, adding in demos not cut at the sessions and overdubbing their recordings to flesh them out. As many bootlegs (most notably the complete five-disc series) reveal, this isn't entirely true and that the Band were nowhere near as active as Dylan, but that ultimately is a bit like nitpicking, since the music here (including the Band's) is astonishingly good. The party line on The Basement Tapes is that it is Americana, as Dylan and the Band pick up the weirdness inherent in old folk, country, and blues tunes, but it transcends mere historical arcana by being lively, humorous, full-bodied performances. Dylan never sounded as loose, nor was he ever as funny as he is here, and this positively revels in its weird, wild character. For all the apparent antecedents -- and the allusions are sly and obvious in equal measures -- this is truly Dylan's show, as he majestically evokes old myths and creates new ones, resulting in a crazy quilt of blues, humor, folk, tall tales, inside jokes, and rock. The Band pretty much pick up where Dylan left off, even singing a couple of his tunes, but they play it a little straight, on both their rockers and ballads. Not a bad thing at all, since this actually winds up providing context for the wild, mercurial brilliance of Dylan's work -- and, taken together, the results (especially in this judiciously compiled form; expert song selection, even if there's a bit too much Band) rank among the greatest American music ever made.
For Lyrics to some of the classic BT tracks click here.
Performing with the Band in 1969
Performing Live with the Band at the Tribute to Woody Guthrie concert in January 1968
This performance, by the way, on January 20, 1968, was nothing short of amazing! As Paul Williams notes in his book, Bob Dylan Performing Artist: The Early years 1960-1973 (pp. 247-48),
Dylan and the Band are in fine form here--their performances are inventive, exuberant, and sublimely musical. Dylan seems to twit the audience with a loud, joyous, rocabkilly performance of "Grand Coulee Dam," a highly patriotic ditty ("[to raise the] flying fortress, that flies for Uncle Sam") at a time when anit-government and anti-war activism were at their height, and Dylan was still regarded as the patron saint of protest. Turning Guthries's topical folk song into rock and roll was outrageous but entirely appropriate, a tribute to the timelessness and energy of Woody's work. It's a fine arrangement. The Band is ragged at times but Roberton's guitar work is as delightful as it was on the '66 tour, and Dylan sings with great gusto, totally projecting himself into the song, spitting out Guthrie's 16-syllable lines as if they were watermelon seeds.
Dylan's second song is another unlikely and inspired choice, Guthrie's tribute to FDR on the occasion of his death, written like a letter to his widow ["Dear Mrs. Roosevelt"]. The arrangement is swing rockabilly, wonderfully honky-tonk (Richard Manuel's piano-playing is spot on), and Dylan sings his heart out, his genius for for phrasing and for getting inside the dynamics of each musical moment much in evidence. What comes thriough is his genuine love love for Woody Guthrie--"this world was lucky to see him born." Very moving.
A third example of Dylan's brillaince as a singer and a song rre-creator closes the set, a new arrangement of "I Ain't Got No Home (in This World Anymore)," which Dylan performed quite differently on the Minnesota hotel tape in 1961. Dylan makes good use of Rick Danko's skills as a back-up vocalist on the other two songs as well, but the harmonic refrain Dylan and Danko invent for this one is a pure triumph (and a precursor of Dylan's employment of back-up singers in his shows from 1978 on). Great piano. Great music.
Dylan had not performed or appeared in public for some 17 months after his motorcycle accident and very few in the audience would have heard or even been aware, at this point in time, of the great music he and the Band had been mixing up in the basement, i.e., The Basement Tapes. So, there he stood, hair short, no longer looking like the thin, pale, curly headed Dylan, the anti-establishment, beat poet turned rock musician of 1966, but, instead, appearing very plain and simple, tanned and healthy. Just a simple man wearing a plain suit and singing with tremendous intensity and purpose. They performed the three tunes noted above, all of which can be found in a folder in Resources insidde the Basement Tapes folder itself. You should definitely have a listen:
1. "The Grand Coulee Dam"
2. "Dear Mrs. Roosevelt" a tribute to FDR witten in the form of a letter to his widow; and
3. "I Ain't got no Home (in this World Anymore "
Although it was primarily an acoustic concert featuring major folk artists, Dylan and the Band rocked the place. Although Robbie appears in photos to be playing an acoustic guitar with a pick-up (perhaps that was only on "Dear Mrs. Roosevelt,"), he plays wonderful short guitar breaks and fills. Rick Danko is on electric bass and Richard Manuel is playing acoustic piano. All three sing back-up vocals, sharing the mike with Bob, while Levon Helm also sings back-up into his own microphone from his perch on the drum kit. Garth Hudson, of course, plays organ. We can hear the Band's high level of comfort with each other that comes from playing together as they had done for so many years (they gad been playing music together steadily since they were teenagers). Garth Hudson spoke of those months playing music in the Basement of Big Pink as "relaxed and low key. Which was something we had not enjoyed since we were children." (quoted in Griffin, Million Dollar Bash, p. 109). Even though this is a public, professional performance, you can hear traces of that relaxed atmosphere as the musician's freely toss the lead back and forth among one another and support Bob's vocals effortlessly. It is great stuff and remains one of the only recorded appearences when these men were playing in a mode similar to the way they played on the Basement Tapes: very loose and free.
Back to the story of the Basement Tapes, on what was probably the first bootleg recording ever produced: a double LP in a white cardboard sleeve with GWW stamped on it standing for "The Great White Wonder," appeared in 1968. It was comprised of the following tracks:
Bob Dylan - Great White Wonder - 1969 - 2LPs
1. Candy Man
2. Ramblin' Around
3. Hezekiah Jones
4. Ain't Got No Home in This World Anymore
5. Emmett Till
6. Ol' Lazarus
7. East Orange New Jersey
8. I'm A Man Of Constant Sorrow
9. New Orleans Rag
10. If You Gotta Go
11. Only A Hobo
12. Killing Me Alive
(All from the early stages of Bob's career; but then came the heretofore unheard songs from the Basement)
13. The Mighty Quinn
14. This Wheel's On Fire
15. I Shall Be Released
16. Open The Door, Richard
17. Too Much Of Nothing
18. Nothing Was Delivered
19. Tears Of Rage
20. Living The Blues--from his appearence on the Johnny Cash TV show.
A number of these songs were from a variety of sources--the first 12, for example, from early in Dylan's career, mostly 1960-1961--but the seven tracks indented above were recorded in the Basement of "Big Pink." In 1968, a 14-song acetate demo began to circulate from Dwarf Music publishing which consisted of tracks made by Bob Dylan and members of his band up in West Saugerties, NY, initially at Bob's "Byrdcliffe" House in the "Red Room" and later, at the residence rented by Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson, aptly called "Big Pink."
Among the tracks on the GWW album in 1968 that came from the acetate were these seven:
1. The Mighty Quinn
2. This Wheel's On Fire
3. I Shall Be Released
4. Open The Door, Richard
5. Too Much Of Nothing
6. Nothing Was Delivered
7. Tears Of Rage
And the acetate also included:
8. Tiny Montgomeery
9. Million Dollar Bash
10. Please Mrs. Henry
11. Yea Heavy and a Bottle of Bread
12. Lo and Behold
13. You ain't Goin' Nowhere
14. Crash on the Levee (Down in the Flood)
I first heard some of this music in the summer and fall of 1968 on late night FM Radio in Southern California where I was in graduate school. I could barely believe my ears. A long time fan of Mr. Dylan, I had never heard him sing quite like this, his voice open, passionate and compelling. I especially enjoyed the wonderful harmonies and back-up vocals provided by Richard Manuel, Rick Danko and Robbie Robertson. Soon I was able to locate a copy of the GWW bootleg album and purchased it. Some songs were bawdy, loose, humorous drinking type songs; others were filled with pain and pathos. The emotional power this music delivered was unprecedented. It was so direct, so immediate, so free of artifice--and Bob Dylan sounded so present to the music he was performing. Was it because there was no audience, no image to uphold, just friends, professional musicians hanging out and doing waht they love to do? By any account, though, it was a very unusual moment in music history. In the musical world outside the Basemnt of Big Pink, psychedelic rock was in full bloom, album covers were ornate, baroque, crazy and freaky and so was lots of the music. It had a chaotic feel as so much of the guitar playing was in fuzz-tone featuring feedback, distortion, etc.
"The Boys"--Dylan and the Band--were once again going against the grain; they seemed to be taking stock of where they were, where they fit in, and they turned back to roots music--folk, blues, country, early rock 'n' roll--and just kept everything simple. Yet Dylan penned some amazing lyrics, deep, philosphical, spiritual and penetrating. Greil Marcus calls it "plain talk mystery." There was nothing else quite like it to be heard.
As Robbie Robertson said to Greil Marcus in an NPR interview, "Dylan was taking us to school." He introduced the band members to all kinds of music and they experimented creating arrangements for many of them. Somewhere along the line, Bob started bringing in his own lyrics and in a sense, he was here giving Robbie and the others a few lessons on how to write songs. It served them quite well as Robbie and the Band became expectional song writers. Find the link to the interview at the bottom of this page.
I believe that one reason that Greil Marcus' first book on the Basement Tapes was called The Invisible Republic was because this music created an instant community of listeners who were drawn into and transfixed by the music. He has since released the book under a different title, The Old, Weird America. But I liked what the first title was trying to express as well.
Three of the songs appearing on the Basement Tapes,
Tears of Rage
This Wheel's on Fire
I Shall Be Released
which were were co-written with Band members, were included on the Band's first solo album, Music from Big Pink which also came out in 1968 and featured a painting by Bob Dylan on the cover.
Greil Marcus, a preeminent rock critic, has written extensively about the Basement Tapes. Here is an excerpt of his review of the 1975 Columbia official release of the Basement Tapes which included only one surprise, a previously unheard track called "Goin' to Acapulco."
One hears a pure, naked emotion in some of Dylan's writing and singing -- in "Tears Of Rage," especially -- that can't he found anywhere else, and I think it is the musical sympathy Dylan and The Band shared in these sessions that gives "Tears Of Rage," and other numbers, their remarkable depth and power. There are rhythms in the music that literally sing with compliments tossed from one musician to another -- listen to "Lo And Behold!," "Crash On The Levee (Down In The Flood)," "Ain't No More Cane." And there is another kind of openness, a flair for ribaldry that's as much a matter of Levon's mandolin as his, or Dylan's, singing -- a spirit that shoots a good smile straight across this album.
More than a little crazy, at times flatly bizarre (take "Million Dollar Bash," "Yazoo Street Scandal," "Don't Ya Tell Henry," "Lo And Behold!"), moving easily from the confessional to the bawdy house, roaring with humor and good times, this music sounds to me at once like a testing and a discovery -- of musical affinity, of nerve, of some very pointed themes; put up or shut up, obligation, escape, homecoming, owning up, the settling of accounts past due.
It sounds as well like a testing and a discovery of memory and roots. "The Basement Tapes" are a kaleidoscope like nothing I know, complete and no more dated than the weather, but they seem to leap out of a kaleidoscope of American music no less immediate for its venerability. Just below the surface of songs like "Lo And Behold!" or "Million Dollar Bash" are the strange adventures and poker-faced insanities chronicled in such standards as "Froggy Went A-Courtin'" "E-ri-e," Henry Thomas's "Fishing Blues," "Cock Robin," or "Five Nights Drunk"; the ghost of Rabbit Brown's sardonic "James Alley Blues" might lie just behind "Crash On The Levee (Down In The Flood)" ("Sometimes I Think That You're Too Sweet To Die," Brown sang in 1927, "And Another Time I Think You Oughta Be Buried Alive") "The Basement Tapes" summon sea chanteys; drinking songs, tall tales, and early rock and roll.
Along side of such things -- and often intertwined with them -- is something very different.
Obviously, death is not very universally accepted. I mean, you'd think that the traditional music people could gather from their songs that mystery is a fact, a traditional fact.
-- Bob Dylan, 1966
I think one can hear what Bob Dylan was talking about in the music of "The Basement Tapes," in "Goin' To Acapulco," "Tears Of Rage," "Too Much Of Nothing," and "This Wheel's On Fire" -- one can hardly avoid hearing it. It is a plain-talk mystery; it has nothing to do with mumbo-jumbo, charms or spells. The "acceptance of death" that Dylan found in "traditional music" -- the ancient ballads of mountain music -- is simply a singer's insistence on mystery as inseparable from any honest understanding of what life is all about; it is the quiet terror of a man seeking salvation who stares into a void that stares back. It is the awesome, impenetrable fatalism that drives the timeless ballads first recorded in the twenties; songs like Buell Kazee's "East Virginia," Clarence Ashley's "Coo Coo Bird," Dock Boggs' "Country Blues" -- or a song called "I Wish I Was A Mole In The Ground," put down by Bascom Lamar Lunsford in 1928. "I wish I was a mole in the ground -- like a mole in the ground I would root that mountain down -- And I wish I was a mole in the ground."
Now, what the singer wants is obvious, and almost impossible to really comprehend. He wants to be delivered from his life, and to be changed into a creature insignificant and despised; like a mole in the ground, he wants to see nothing and to be seen by no one; he wants to destroy the world, and to survive it. Dylan and The Band came to terms with such feeling -- came to terms with the void that looks back -- in the summer of 1967; in the most powerful and unsettling songs on "The Basement Tapes," they put an old, old sense of mystery across with an intensity that has not been heard in a long time. You can find it in Dylan's singing and in his lyrics on "This Wheel's On Fire" -- and in every note Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm and Rick Danko play.
And it is in this way most of all that "The Basement Tapes" are a testing and a discovery of roots and memory; it might be why "The Basement Tapes" are, if anything, more compelling today than when they were first made, no more likely to fade than Elvis Presley's "Mystery Train" or Robert Johnson's "Love In Vain." The spirit of a song like "I Wish I Was A Mole In The Ground" matters here not as an "influence," and not as a "source." It is simply that one side of "The Basement Tapes" casts the shadow of such things and in turn, is shadowed by them.
-- Greil Marcus
Also included on the 1975 Columbia release was a song called "Clothesline Saga," Dylan's "answer," if you will, to the #1 song on the charts during the summer of 1967, "Ode to Billie Joe" written and performed by Bobbie Gentry. Imbedded in everyday family chit-chat around the dining table are hints of some tragedy that looms over the conversation: the mysterious death by suicide of the young man of the song's title, Billie Joe MacAlester. Dylan's "Answer to 'Ode'" as "Clothesline Saga" was orginall called, is his tongue-in-cheek "response" to the phenomenal success of this record, delivered in a slow, laconic style that has undercurrents of hilarity. But it takes a turn into its own dark and mysterious realm as well. Click here for a link to the lyrics of "Ode to Billie Joe" and some further comments.
Another story, perhaps apocryphal, that pertains to the brilliant song"Tears of Rage," which seems to deal with the generation gap not from the point of the rebellious youth but from the perspective of the parents. The Doors were popular at the time and their debut album featured a final cut--"The End"-- that seems to evoke primal, Oedipal expressions about kiling one's father and replacing him in relation to one's mother to put the matter delicately--something Jim Morrison did NOT do in his song. Some say that Dylan and his Band were mystified why these sentiments would be so popular and even though the Band members had all left their homes at very young ages--fifteen and sixteen years old--to become musicians--they did not reject their families, or, if they had, they were done with that now. Their debut album features a huge photo of all the band member's extended families under the rubric "Next of Kin" which, coincidenatally, is a featured line in the chorus of "This Wheel's on Fire":
This wheel's on fire,
Rolling down the road
Just notify my NEXT OF KIN
This wheel shall exploooode!
"Tears of Rage" laments the fact that though the parents did their best to raise their child according to what they knew and believed, somehow the daughter took their guidance not as a place to begin, but as something more rigid, as a "a place for you to stand." Therefore, they had to stand by and watch helplessly with broken hearts as she "discovered that no one could be true." In the end, her heart "fills up with gold as if it was a purse," and the parents have to wonder "what kind of love is this that goes from bad to worse?" It is such an insightful song and though Dylan was a father by then himself, though his children were all still very young, i cannot help but wonder, how did he gain such insight into the pathos of being a parent? As the chorus expresses it,
Come to me now, you know
We are so alone
And life is brief
Amen. What more can you say?
On the subject of why the Basement Tapes were copyrighted and circulated on an acetate, here is another take by John Howells:
Well, I have my own theory. In 1967, Dylan and his manager Albert Grossman were in the midst of negotiations with MGM Records, who were very eager to sign Dylan to a long term contract, but (according to Robert Shelton's book) Dylan still owed Columbia fourteen songs. Now it could be an amazing coincidence that the original basement tapes acetate consisted of fourteen songs, but I doubt it. These fourteen songs make up the core of the basement tapes and are as follows, probably more or less in the order intended by Dylan (but who knows?):
Million Dollar Bash
Yea Heavy and a Bottle of Bread
Please Mrs. Henry
Down In the Flood
Lo and Behold
This Wheel's On Fire
You Ain't Goin' Nowhere
I Shall Be Released
Tears of Rage
Too Much of Nothing
Quinn the Eskimo
Open the Door, Homer
Nothing Was Delivered
Two more songs that surfaced much later and became BT classics are:
I Am Not There
Sign on the Cross
If there is any truth to this theory, Bob was perhaps figuring that he would send them something that they would have no idea what to do with!
Anyway, for me, I have always mourned the fact that a bunch of really wonderful and powerful music never got the exposure eithert on record or in live performance that it deserved. How great would it have been if Bob and the Band had gone out on tour behind this music, maybe set up a stage with lights up, a nice carpet underneath the mics and amps, maybe some stools for the lads to sit on...and sing the "fun" songs mixed in with the more serious one? I would have loved to have seen such a show.
A newer, much cleaner version of the Basement Tapes, as compared with the 5 CD Genuine Basement Tapes version, is the 4 CD "Tree with Roots" version. I don't have it but sure wish I did.
The track listing is:
1) Lock your door *
2) Baby, won't you be my baby *
3) Try Me Little Girl *
4) Young but daily growin' **
5) Bonnie ship The Diamond *
6) The hills of Mexico *
7) Down on me *
8) I can't make it alone *
9) Don't you try me now *
10) One for the road
11) I'm alright *
12) One single river *
13) People get ready *
14) I don't hurt anymore *
15) Be careful of the stones you throw * a cover of a Hank Williams tune (though written by Bonnie Dodd) that he covered as Luke the Drifter, which has the chorus:
A tongue can accuse or carry bad news;
The seeds of distrust it will sow.
So unless you have made no mistakes in your life,
Be careful of stones that you throw.
16) One man's loss * "One man's loss, always is another man's gain/ Yes, one man's joy, always is, always is another man's pain"
17) Baby ain't that fine **
18) Rock salt and nails *
19) A fool such as I *
20) Silhouette *
21) Bring it on home *
22) King of France *
23) Nine hundred miles *
24) Goin' down the road *
25) Spanish is the loving tongue **
26) Po' Lazarus
1) On a rainy afternoon *
2) I Can't Come In With A Broken Heart *
3) Come all ye fair and tender ladies ***
4) Under control *
5) Ol' Roison the beau **
6) I'm guilty of loving you **
7) Johnny Todd **
8) Cool water **
9) Banks of the Royal Canal **
11) I forgot to remember to forget her
12) You win again
13) Still in town still around
14) Waltzin' with sin
15) Big river (take 1) **
16) Big river (take 2) **
17) Folsom Prison blues **
18) Bells of Rhymney *
19) I Can't Come In With A Broken Heart *
20) I'm a fool for you - false start & take
21) Next time on the highway
23) Quit kicking my dog around
24) See you later Allen Ginsburg
25) Tiny Montgomery (c)
26) The Spanish song (take 1)
27) The Spanish song (take 2)
28) I'm your teenage prayer
1) Four strong winds
2) The French girl (take 1) (c)
3) The French girl (take 2) (c)
4) Joshua gone Barbados
5) I'm in the mood for love
6) All American boy (c)
7) Sign on the cross **
8) Santa Fe * (c)
9) Silent weekend * (c)
10) Don't ya tell Henry * (c)
11) Bourbon Street * (c)
12) Million dollar bash (take 1) (c)
13) Yea heavy and a bottle of bread (take 1) (c)
14) Million dollar bash (take 2)**
15) Yea heavy and a bottle of bread (take 2)**
16) I'm not there ** (c)
17) Please Mrs Henry ** (c)
18) Crash on the levee (take 1)** (c)
19) Crash on the levee (take 1)** (c)
20) Lo and behold (take 1) ** (c)
21) Lo and behold (take 2) **
22) You ain't going nowhere (take 1) * (c)
23) Too much of nothing (take 1) ** (c)
24) This wheels on fire ** (c)
25) You ain't going nowhere (take 2) *
26) I shall be released ** (c)
1) Too much of nothing (take 2) **
2) Tears of rage (take 1) (c)
3) Tears of rage (take 2)
4) Tears of rage (take 3)
5) Quinn the Eskimo (take 1) (c)
6) Quinn the Eskimo - take 2
7) Open the door Homer (take 1) (c)
8) Open the door Homer (take 2)
9) Open the door Homer (take 3)
10) Nothing was delivered (take 1) (c)
11) Nothing was delivered (take 2)
12) Goin' to Acapulco (c)
13) Gonna get you now
14) Wildwood flower
15) See that my grave is kept clean
16) Comin' round the mountain
17) Instrumental jam
18) Flight of the bumble bee
19) Confidential to me
20) Odds and ends (take 1) (c)
21) Nothing was delivered (take 3)
22) Odds and ends (take 2)
23) Get your rocks off ** (c)
24) Clothesline saga ** (c)
25) Apple suckling tree (take 1) (c)
26) Apple suckling tree (take 2)
27) All you have to is dream (take 1) *
28) All you have to do is dream (take 2) *
To follow in their 'GBS' series, Scorpio released their own version of the recent White Bear release 'A Tree With Roots' in this incredible multi-fold out packaging. This is not a direct copy of the previous release. While the quality remains the same, there are a few differences in the track order. Compare the two. The packaging is simply astounding. The tri-fold album is full of breathtaking photos, and houses four cardboard inner sleeves. Each inner sleeve contains a CD, and lists the full track information on the back.
© 2001 Craig Pinkerton Bobsboots.com
Tracks marked with (c) have been copyrighted to bob dylan by dwarf music.
* Remastered from a superior version of the source tape utilized on the 5cd set
** Remastered from an alternate source tape to that on the 5cd set
*** Not included on the 5cd set
All other recordings have been remastered from a brand new state of the art analog to digital transfer of the original cassette sources utilized on the GBT 5cd set. Songs have been rebalanced and EQ'd where appropriate.