The following post was being saved for last place on the blog as the final twelve posts will be my favourite bootlegs in descending order.
As everyone now knows the Basement Tapes will be released on Vol 11 of Columbia’s official Bootleg series. Because of this I had decided not to post ‘A Tree With Roots’ but after some requests and reading the work put into analysing all the various sources of the Basement Tapes by ‘Get Rhythm’ of the Steve Hoffman forum I have decided to go ahead.
If the officially released track ‘I’m Not There’ is anything to go by then the six disc official release will be a quantum leap on the sound quality available on this bootleg (which as Get Rhythm’s analysis has shown does not always have the best available sound for each track. I have edited his notes and used them here after each track name. The best bootleg version is shown in brackets ie. TWR = A Tree With Roots, GBT = The Genuine Basement Tapes etc.
The audio is taken from the Scorpio source and the artwork provided was adapted for my own use as the track listings and titles on the original artwork were subject to a few errors.
For those who want to sample only a few tracks before buying the official release take a look at the previous post Bob Dylan – The Complete Safety Tape (by far the most popular post on this blog) or wait for part two of A Tree With Roots containing disc three and four, which overall have by far the best sound quality
A Tree With Roots
The Genuine Basement Tape Remasters
Scorpio GBS 67
Silver CD > EAC > WAV > mkwACT > SHN
4CD Dylan bootleg set released in 2001 on both the White Bear and the Wild Wolf label, later in the year on Scorpio then again in 2002 in box format by Vagabond Wilbury Records, with minor additions. These bootleg sets were originally sourced from a Dylan fan compilation that circulated with limited distribution and all have the same audio but with different packaging
It's a complete overhaul of the basement tapes, 108 tracks in total, completely remastered with a major leap forward in sound quality compared to the original 5CD set. It's also put together in a much more organised and logical sequence. The original pressing was limited to 500 copies.
Disc one: A Tree With Roots
D1T01. Lock Your Door (GBT)
A mere 20-second fragment that leads directly into "Baby"
D1T02. Baby, Won’t You be My Baby (GBT) .
One of the more intriguing 'unfinished' Dylan compositions in this whole group of recordings - cutting off abruptly as it does at the 2:49 mark.
D1T03. Try Me Little Girl (TWR) .
Another unfinished Dylan original whose idea may have originated with the James Brown R&B ballad "Try Me" (though the two songs are nothing alike). This is a simple piano-driven R&B number is a very interesting case, as it appears in wide stereo on GBT with Dylan again panned left, but in a much narrower stereo on TWR.
Which of course then begs the question - did Fraboni/Robertson actually do their 'stereo narrowing' on at least some tracks at the time of transfer from the original reels (there certainly wouldn't have been any further mixing, as it wasn't selected for the LP)?
D1T04. Young but Daily Growing (Trad. arranged by Dylan) (TWR)
This English folk ballad had been in Dylan's repertoire for quite some time at this point - informal 1961-vintage recordings of him performing it both live at Carnegie Chapter Hall in New York and in Bonnie Beecher's apartment in Minneapolis are in circulation. It's one of the 12 basement recordings to appear on the Genuine Bootleg Series (GBS) Volume 2.
D1T05. Bonnie Ship the Diamond (Trad. arranged by Dylan) (TWR)
On this and the next three Red Room recordings, Dylan gets up from the piano bench and straps on his 12-string acoustic for his first - but hardly the last - basement foray into the folk balladeer tradition. This musical style was foreign to the R&B, country, and rockabilly-bred Hawks, but here as elsewhere they prove to be quick studies and pitch in gamely enough...
This traditional ballad was inspired by the fate of the Canadian whaling ship Diamond, whose crew mostly perished after being caught in the ice off the coast of Greenland in 1830.
D1T06. The Hills of Mexico (Trad. arranged by Dylan) (TWR)
Another minor-key traditional ballad, that's become something of a folk circuit staple. Dylan tells Garth he "doesn't have to take this one down - you're just wasting tape" after cutting the song off abruptly at the 2:56 mark - fortunately Hudson never bothered to go back and erase what they'd already laid down.
D1T07. Down on Me (Trad. arranged by Dylan) (Basement Reels)
Another traditional folk song originating in the 1920's that was popularised by Big Brother and the Holding Company with their remake that same summer. The 40-second fragmentary basement recording is lower fidelity among all the sources than most of the other stuff here, and is probably one of the things that would get excised in an official release (though aficionados would argue tracks like this contribute to the informal overall flavour of these recordings).
D1T08. I Can’t Make it Alone (GBT) .
A minor key, piano-based ballad, with Dylan's voice again panned wide left.
D1T09. Don’t You Try Me Now (GBT)
Dylan again on piano for another R&B ballad - Dylan again panned wide left.
D1T10. One for the Road (GBT)
Possibly inspired by the Sinatra saloon classic, but in this case a country-styled ballad weeper. The versions on both GBT and TWR begin with the whirring sound of the tape machine getting up to speed. Wide stereo with Dylan fully left again.
D1T11. I’m Alright (TWR) .
Another fragmentary recording clocking in at about a minute, which in this case is very unfortunate because this song has real potential (Griffin isn't far off when he suggests it might have been perfect for the Faces to cover). Wide stereo again, Dylan left.
D1T12. Song for Canada (Pete Gzowski/Ian Tyson) (GBT) aka One Single River
Dylan was on a real Ian Tyson kick during these sessions, recording no less than three of his compositions. Of course, Ian and Sylvia duly repaid the favour by covering several basement tracks later. This first one here is often referred to as "One Single River" after the catchphrase at the beginning of the chorus. This is one of my personal favourites among all the earlier basement performances.
D1T13. People Get Ready (Curtis L Mayfield) (GBT) .
Robbie Robertson in particular was inspired by the sweet Chicago soul of the Impressions; in fact, his early composition "You Don't Come Through" (often referred to as "You Say You Love Me") that the Hawks took a couple cracks at recording during these sessions sounds like a transparent effort to write a Curtis Mayfield song.
This heartfelt rendition of the Impressions classic has a 'rough around the edges - wee hours of the morning' feel, but is all the more affecting for it. Wide stereo - Dylan left joined by Richard Manuel in places, with Rick Danko harmonizing in the right channel.
D1T14. I Don’t Hurt Anymore (Donald I Robertson/Walter E Rollins) (GBT)
For the next three Red Room recordings, the guys take a quick U-Turn away from their brief soul foray into an area where Dylan & the Hawks were both comfortable - honky tonk-styled country of both the knockabout and serious variety. This of course foreshadows the more serious commitment Dylan would make to that genre in the ensuing several years following...
We start with a casual romp through this big 1954 hit for Hank Snow, Dylan kicking things off with his out-of-tune 12-string after abruptly deciding to raise the key a step in the preamble. Wide stereo again, with Dylan left and Rick Danko's high harmony on the right.
D1T15. Be Careful of Stones That You Throw (Benjamin L Blankenship) (GBT)
A sincere rendition of this Bonnie Dodd-composed morality play that would have been known to the guys from Hank Williams' "Luke the Drifter"-persona version.
D1T16. One Man’s Loss (TWR)
This cacophonous stomp is the outlier in this grouping of recordings - Sid Griffin in fact suspects that it might have been recorded at an earlier point closer to the start of the Red Room activity. Dylan's vocals are very faint at first and seem to shift around a bit in the stereo field before settling in on the right and becoming more audible as the track progresses.
D1T17. Baby Ain’t That Fine (Dallas Frazier) (TWR)
Composed by Dallas Frazier (who also wrote "Elvira" and "Mohair Sam") this very pleasant Tex-Mex foray is one of the few tracks among these recordings that achieve a balanced distribution of elements in the stereo field, the vocals not panned all the way to one side for a change.
D1T18. Rock, Salt and Nails (Bruce Phillips) (GBT)
This cover of the Utah Phillips-composed slow country ballad is often cited by aficionados as one of the key performances among the unreleased basements.
D1T19. A Fool Such As I (William Marvin Trader) (GBT)
A way more relaxed and better version of the Hank Snow/Elvis Presley hit that Dylan later covered again during the Self Portrait sessions - eventually coming out on the execrable Dylan outtakes LP. During the preamble, Dylan actually raises the key again on the spot - announcing "C" to his band mates - further evidence that he was using a capo on his guitar.
D1T20. Silhouette (Bob Crewe/Frank C Slay Jr.) (TWR)
D1T21. Bring it on Home (TWR)
D1T22. King of France (TWR) .
The sonic signature and feel changes suddenly with this basement reel - almost as if they've broken camp at Dylan's house in the preparations for the move to Big Pink, and just decided to quickly lay down a few off-the-cuff things in the living room before heading over.
These were among the quirkier selections by Rob and Robbie for the Fraboni reel - "Silhouette" being just a few choruses of the Ray's 1957 doo-wop hit, "Bring it On Home" a totally improvised acoustic blues jam, and "King Of France" a distortion-marred Dylan electric piano exercise that contains the germ of an interesting composition, but is never further developed. GBT skips "Silhouette" altogether, and their version of "Bring It On Home" is slightly sped up. TWR appears again to have gotten hold of the Fraboni reels for their versions, and they sound as good as possible here.
D1T23. 900 Miles from My Home (Trad. arranged by Dylan) (TWR)
This abrasive 45-second fiddle and mandolin-fuelled blast through the familiar folk staple is one of those things that leaves the unitiated scratching their heads wondering "what the hell was that"? For others though, it stands as just one more example of the incredible range of stuff the guys were trying out here, and for that alone feels like an essential part of the basement story.
D1T24. Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad (Trad. arranged by Dylan) (TWR)
A heavily distorted piano-driven romp through another familiar folk standard, also recorded by Woody Guthrie, Elizabeth Cotton, and the Grateful Dead. If nothing else, the guys sure sound like they're having a blast recording it!
D1T25. Spanish is the Loving Tongue (GBT) .
The gang finally begins to achieve a measure of audio coherency with this classic cowboy ballad first published as a poem by Charles Badger Clark in 1915, before songwriter Billy Simon added the music sometime later. A Dylan favourite, he also recorded a not nearly so cogent version during the Self Portrait sessions (later, another Dylan reject), and then a couple of beautiful solo piano versions - one of which of course saw release as the B-side of "Watching the River Flow" in 1971.
The group achieves a very full ensemble sound here, with, as Griffin puts it, an "achingly sincere" Dylan vocal topping it off.
D1T26. Po’ Lazarus (Trad. arranged by Bob Dylan) (Basement Reels)
Originally a recording by folklorist Alan Lomax in 1959 of a work song sung by a group Mississippi penitentiary inmates. Later appropriated for the soundtrack of O Brother Where Art Thou, earning James Carter - its originator - a nice series of royalty checks.
The tape catches Dylan in the process of teaching the guys the song on the spot, but just as it gathers momentum, it cuts off around the one-minute mark.
D1T27. Santa-Fe (TWR) .
Pleasant little ditty that somehow found its way onto the official Bootleg Series Rare and Unreleased collection in 1991 in lieu of obviously superior choices like "Sign On the Cross" or "I'm Not There" (what the hell were they thinking anyways???).
D1 T28. Instrumental Jam
Disc two: A Tree With Roots
D2T01. On a Rainy Afternoon (GBT)
Yet another one of those half-composed, half-improvised Dylan efforts that one gets the feeling with a little more work put in and care taken with the recording, could have really been worthwhile. And yet even with Dylan's distorted vocal barely rising above the din it's still a very interesting diversion.
D2T02. Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies (Trad. arranged by Dylan) (TWR)
Back into the folk world for this somewhat free-form vocal excursion apparently owing something to the traditional "Come All Ye Fair and Tender Maidens" (also known as "Silver Dagger"), but if anyone can tell what Dylan's half-coherent warblings actually signify, you're way ahead of me here. Still, there's something about the densely arranged, acoustic soundscape that's quite evocative - lending it an ethereal, lilting quality. After a bit of chatter, it morphs into about 27 seconds of a basic blues progression at the end, which Dylan cuts off abruptly, saying his 12-string "ain't meant to do this type of thing."
D2T03. Under Control (GBT) .
Very dense, half-improvised blues excursion, Dylan's vocals buried a bit in the din in the far right of the wide stereo mix.
D2T04. Ol’ Roison the Beau (Trad. arranged by Bob Dylan) (TWR)
A good ole 19th-century Irish drinking song, that took on new life in various later-day political campaigns and musicals. The band gives it a rollicking, zydeco-style treatment, aided now by a less congested, more balanced recording - though putting Dylan's vocals together with the bass on one side maybe wasn't the best signal routing choice.
D2T05. I’m Guilty of Loving You (TWR)
Another apparently half-finished Dylan original with tons of potential. In fact, with its mood of ruminative longing, almost sounds like prime early 70's Van Morrison; maybe an outtake off of something like His Band & Street Choir or Tupelo Honey. Chopped off unfortuitously right around the 1:07 mark - too bad this was never developed further.
D2T06. Johnny Todd (Trad. arranged by Bob Dylan) (TWR)
A sailor's song originating in Liverpool that later found its way into German chanteuse Marlene Dietrich's cabaret act. Though such traditional fare again is far from the Hawk's wheelhouse, they give it an energetic, spirited treatment; Richard Manuel's strident piano licks setting the tone.
D2T07. Cool Water (Bob Nolan) (TWR)
Originally recorded in 1941 by the great Bob Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers, this is one of several original versions of basement tracks that Dylan later featured during his "Theme Time Radio Hour" hosted programs, introducing it as "one of the most mysterious songs ever written about facing the barren waste without the taste of water." Dylan and the Hawks take it at a slower tempo with a more basic arrangement, though still a very sympathetic rendition.
D2T08. The Auld Triangle (Brendan Francis Behan) (GBS) aka Banks Of The Royal Canal
Among most aficionados' short list of the most essential unreleased basement tracks, this prison ballad was originally written as "The Auld Triangle" by Irish poet and playwright Brendan Behan for his play The Quare Fellow in 1954. Everything just seems to fall into place here - gorgeous, very affecting Dylan vocal supported by excellent ensemble work by the Hawks, all captured in excellent audio by Garth. Certainly Rob Fraboni and Robbie Robertson were impressed enough to transfer this one over to the Fraboni reel for further consideration in the compiling of the official LP.
D2T9/T10. Belshazzar (Johnny Cash) (TWR).
D2T11. I Forgot to Remember to Forget (Charlie A Feathers/Stanley A Kesler) (TWR)
D2T12. You Win Again (Hank Williams) (TWR)
D2T13. Still in Town (Hank Cochran/Harlan Howard) (TWR)
D2T14. Waltzing with Sin (Sonny Burns/Red Hayes) (TWR)
D2T15. Big River (Take 1) (Johnny Cash) (GBT)
D2T16. Big River (Take 2) (Johnny Cash) (GBT).
D2T17. Folsom Prison Blues (Johnny Cash) (GBT)
D2T18. Bells of Rhymney (Idris Davies/Peter Seeger) (GBT)
This is what I love about these sessions, from traditional folk forays on the last reel, then all of a sudden straight back to Memphis and Sam Phillip's Sun Studios. With Richard Manuel apparently on hiatus for the day (must have been on quite a bender the previous night), the boys show some great rockabilly chops on both ballads and up-tempo numbers, with Dylan compatriot and 'mutual admiration society' member Johnny Cash especially favoured (Cash's "Still In Town" is particularly affecting). The folk standard "Bells Of Rhymney" that winds up the proceedings is the outlier in this group - a sympathetic reading, but lacking the epic scope of the Byrd's majestic rendering.
D2T19. I Can’t Come in with a Broken Heart (TWR)
Hey - wait a minute - weren't these guys just playing folk songs a few minutes ago? Sure, but that gets old after a while - why not mix it up with this grungy, minimalist homage to the then up-and-coming Velvet Underground? Robbie was familiar with them from apparently poking his head in on a show for about five minutes the previous year (not his scene), and Dylan of course knew Andy Warhol from having previously been the subject of one of his "screen tests."
All distorted guitars and distorted vocals - with a healthy dose of tape distortion to top it off - a first take ends abruptly following a massive overload of (you guessed it) distortion, but they pick it back up and get through about two minutes before it kind of mildly slows to a conclusion.
D2T20. I’m a Fool for You (Take 1) (GBT)
D2T20. I’m a Fool for You (Take 2) (GBT)
This is another one of those nascent Dylan compositions that would have been really worthwhile with a little more work, harkening back somewhat to the stately grandeur of his Highway 61/Blonde On Blonde sound. I prefer to listen to it in an edited version that cuts out the sections where the track breaks down in favour of something that flows coherently all the way through (and such a beast is possible, trust me...)
D2T21. Next Time on the Highway (GBT).
This raucous blues workout features a very ambient overall band sound as alluded to earlier that may have been an instance where everyone was routed through the Echorec unit. Dylan has a little fun at the end with some off-colour language directed at the now returned Richard Manuel on piano.
D2T22. Tupelo (John Lee Hooker) (GBT)
Continuing in the blues vein with this sparely arranged, somewhat loose take on a track originally recorded by the great blues man John Lee Hooker in 1960.
D2T23. Kickin’ My Dog Around (Trad. arranged by Dylan) (GBT)
This shaggy-dog vignette was originally a 19th century copyright of black songwriter James Bland. As it kicks off, we get to eavesdrop in on some of the arrangement in development, with Dylan instructing Manuel and Danko on how he wants the background vocals to go. Charming and unassuming, it's these kind of sidelights that contribute to the 'Americana-in-the making' reputation of these sessions.
D2T24. See You Later Allen Ginsberg (Take 1) (GBT)
D2T24. See You Later Allen Ginsberg (Take 2) (GBT)
A loose take on the Bill Haley and the Comets hit turns comic when Richard Manuel inserts the hallowed name of Dylan cohort and famous beat poet Allen Ginsberg as a replacement for "alligator", inspiring Dylan to riff on the change. They stop at one point and then pick up with a more structured pass at it, though the Echorec unit acting up and audibly feeding back cuts short the merriment.
D2T25. Tiny Montgomery (GBT)
In compiling the official album, Robbie Robertson has stated that they didn't have access to all the basement tapes that have since come to light. For evidence of this, one need look no further than this track - as mentioned in earlier posts, the fidelity is so rough one suspects it was taken directly from the original acetate demo. It's especially unfortunate since that to this day, any number of Dylan fans probably accept this as a substandard recording, when the versions that have come to light on more recent boots indicate it definitely was not. And the remastered versions of the official LP have only continued to perpetuate this false impression.
As Dylan's first fully realized new composition from these sessions, its rich, virtually nonsensical wordplay sets the pattern for much to follow. It's obviously not a first run-through on tape either, with a more fully realized arrangement that perfectly services the subject matter.
D2T26. Big Dog (GBT)
D2T26. The Spanish Song (Take 1) (GBT)
D2T27. The Spanish Song (Take 2) (GBT)
Things start to come really unhinged here with this Mexican mariachi band send-up featuring Dylan bellowing some improvised part-Spanish/part-English lyrics, while the boys in the band whoop and holler encouragement in the background. They're having so much fun that Dylan actually stops the proceedings to have another go at it, telling the guys it "goes easy during the verses" (yeah, right!). It's prefaced by a snippet of some other old folkie vignette of some sort continuing the 'dog' theme from a bit earlier. Altogether, amusing to hear once or twice, but a bit tedious beyond that.
D2T28. I’m Your Teenage Prayer (GBT)
Dylan and the guys atone for the last transgression with this catchy and quite charming doo-wop take-off - one of my personal favourites of all the unreleased tracks from these sessions. Mostly improvised again, it features a hilarious monologue from Dylan at the end including such chestnuts as "I know what you need, I can feel it in my bones, and I feel it on my throne - I'm your teenage prayer" - with plenty of appropriately zonked out commentary from Manuel and Danko.
There is no password required. These links will be removed when the official release goes on sale.
Download disc one
Download disc two
Thanks and much credit to ‘Get Rhythm’ for his notes. I have edited and re-used them under each track title. The complete thread can be found here on the Steve Hoffman forum:
A Tree With Roots (part two) will follow soon with discs three and four and further notes .