Bob Dylan 2010 album releases By Harvey Kubernik C 2010
Columbia Records issued Bob Dylan’s “The Bootleg Series Volume 9-The Witmark Demos” during October in conjunction with Columbia/Legacy’s release of Dylan’s first eight long-playing albums in a box set titled “Bob Dylan-The Original Mono Recordings”
“The Witmark Demos” saw their first commercial shipping nearly five decades after they were first recorded, and “Bob Dylan-The Original Mono Recordings” returning to the marketplace for the first time ever on Compact Disc, as well as on fully analogue 180-gram vinyl. Both are available from SonyMusicDigital.com/bobdylan and Amazon.com.
“The Witmark Demos features 47 Bob Dylan songs recorded by the artist – accompanied only by his acoustic guitar, harmonica and occasionally piano – for his first music publisher, Leeds Music, in January 1962, and for his second publisher, M. Witmark & Sons, between 1962 and 1964.
Only three of the Witmark and Leeds initiated recordings have ever been officially released. Dylan’s creative team of Jeff Rosen and Steve Berkowitz have collected 39 tracks of the Witmark songwriting demos, coupled with another 8 tracks from the session with Leeds. The deluxe edition has a booklet of session photos and extensive liner notes by Colin Escott.
All of these songs on “The Witmark Demos” were written – and their subsequent demos recorded – before Bob Dylan turned 24 years old.
Listening to these recordings, one can trace Dylan’s profound development as a songwriter from “Man On The Street” and “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie” through “Blowin’ In The Wind,” “The Times They Are A Changin’,” “Masters Of War,” and “Mr. Tambourine Man.”
Among the many tunes found on “The Witmark Demos” are 15 Bob Dylan tunes that were recorded by the artist only for these sessions, and which have never been authorized to consumers until now. These include “Ballad For A Friend,” “Long Ago, Far Away,” “The Death Of Emmett Till,” and “Guess I’m Doing Fine.”
While many of these early Dylan compositions on “The Witmark Demos” found their way onto Bob Dylan’s own albums, much of the world’s first exposure to them was through their recordings by others, including Peter, Paul & Mary and Stevie Wonder (“Blowin’ In The Wind”), Judy Collins and Rod Stewart (“Tomorrow Is A Long Time”) and The Byrds and William Shatner, “Mr Tambourine Man.”).
It’s a testament to the lasting cultural impact of these songs that they have been covered by more than a thousand artists in the nearly fifty years since these demos were created. Blueprints and audio foot steps that became our collective journey.
A little known fact about “Blowin’ In The Wind” and its arrival to the airwaves and the hit singles chart courtesy of Peter, Paul & Mary, was provided to me in 2007 by record producer and former Atlantic Records partner, Jerry Wexler.
He mentioned in his last interview over the telephone that while at Atlantic, he made a serious effort to ink Peter, Paul & Mary to the label and really wanted to produce the act cutting “Blowin’ In The Wind.” Wexler even booked a session that was then immediately cancelled when he learned that Albert Grossman had just pacted his management trio clients with their Dylan song to the Warner Bros. Reprise label. In a year it would be a million-seller for Peter, Paul & Mary, and Bob Dylan would come to be regarded as the biggest folk singer in the world.
The most telling impact of Dylan’s Witmark world before we heard them in 2010 was cited in the 2004 publication of Dylan’s “Chronicles Volume One” autobiography.
The book opens with the name Lou Levy, who oversaw the Leeds Music Publishing Company that was affiliated with ASCAP and Levy’s Duchess Music, aligned with BMI. Dylan reflects in “Chronicles Volume One” where music publisher Levy schlepped him to boxer Jack Dempsey’s restaurant after a meeting.
It was John Hammond the Columbia Records A&R man and producer who initially signed Dylan to the label and then steered Dylan to Levy and Leeds for song registration and to expose his compositions. Hammond has mentioned Dylan was paid an advance of five hundred dollars by Levy to join his firm. Dylan himself has written that music publishing chief Levy had advanced him a hundred dollars against future royalties.
A Leeds Music engineer ran a tape machine documenting numerous tunes now made available on “The Witmark Demos.”
Dylan’s autobiography also ends with a chapter and another closing reference to Levy.
Dylan was able to sever his agreement with Leeds-Duchess after Albert Grossman or Artie Mogull, his publishing partner, who was introduced to Dylan by his advocate and first manager, Roy Silver, eagerly gave Dylan a directive and one thousand dollars to personally buy their way out his existing Leeds contract.
Just around this moment, Silver sold his management contract on Dylan to the cunning Dylan ally and protector Grossman for $10, 000.00.
Silver later went on to manage Bill Cosby during his “I Spy” television series and briefly recording artist Kim Fowley. He also worked with Tiny Tim, Fanny, Joan Rivers and Biff Rose and had a piece of Tetragrammaton Records, who released domestically the debut Deep Purple album.
Silver then launched music and show biz hangout Roy’s (with investors Neil Bogart and Peter Guber) on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood (1976-1982) that served
mouth-watering American-Chinese food located on the future site of House of Blues.
In the ‘90s, Silver once advised the Danny Weizmann aka Shredder led L.A. music outfit, Double D Nose, while also temporarily re-opening Roy’s at Shain’s in Sherman Oaks for a short time.
On screen on his sanctioned Martin Scorsese-directed “No Direction Home” documentary distributed in 2005, Dylan dismissed his devoted enabler Silver as “a hustler” and “one of those guys always selling something.”
However, in the 2009 3-disc deluxe edition of Dylan’s “Together Through Life” product, there is a bonus extra DVD housed in it, “Roy Silver: The Lost Interview,” where Silver was lensed in 2003 just before he died for Dylan’s “No Direction Home,” but not utilized.
Still, I can’t help thinking behind this seminal “Witmark” wordsmith endeavor, possibly akin to the Silver DVD lodged in “Together Through Life,” there are some “guilt germs,” a Frank Sinatra term, that invaded this retail item, a consequence of Dylan’s previous actions. Perhaps at the very least on his behalf, a deep-seated karmic-inspired motivation, an amendment-like acknowledgement that Dylan had for Levy and that first song writing-advance check he cut for him nearly 50 years ago.
In 1962, Dylan’s debut album had sold nearly 3,000 copies. Lou Levy, a product of the big band era, hadn’t recouped his investment yet, nor could see Dylan’s future influential and commercial impact like Hammond did. One gets the feeling that in ‘62 Levy wasn’t miffed at all letting Dylan and his repertoire relocate to a new Grossman and Mogull controlled-publishing house.
The background stories of Dylan’s departure from Levy and Co. to the upstart Grossman and Mogull team vary: From an employee at Leeds making the decision allowing Dylan free agency, Levy and Dylan dealing directly for an amicable split, or allegedly, Dylan, then armed with a grand in his hand, going up to Levy’s office during lunchtime and having a secretary handle the transaction, which resulted for his quick release out of the paperwork without any repercussions.
Try doing the math on Bob Dylan’s music publishing revenue streams over the last 48 years.
Poet Dr. James Cushing teaches literature and creative writing in the English Dept. at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo since 1989. Dylan has appeared on his syllabus with the “Bringing It All Back Home” album appeared on a Great Books III course he taught with Prof. Steven Marx one quarter.
Cushing currently hosts a long running weekly radio program, “Bob Dylan’s Lunch,” that airs Mondays 1-2 PM on KCPR-FM.
“The Dylan ‘Witmark Demos’ will be revealing in the way Van Gogh’s sketchbooks are revealing, and the rate of this young man’s productivity was another amazing element of his early success,” marvels Cushing.
“They are a preview and also the recordings were also done not really to function as recordings but to function as demonstrations or as examples of how the song could sound. Which is to say that the kind of self-consciousness that can come into a recording situation in a studio with an engineer is probably not going on here. Given that it’s just one guy and a reel-to-reel tape recorder in some six-by-eight foot office studio on Madison Ave.
“These early Witmark demos also demonstrate that Dylan learned and absorbed much in Hibbing, Minnesota, before he relocated and re-invented himself in New York,” reflects Cushing. “The thing is, that he needed to do was individuate himself and separate himself from his background before he could appreciate his background.
“The release of Volume 9 of his Bootleg series opens up an interesting connection between Dylan and Frank Zappa,” adds Cushing. “In the sense that Zappa wanted to do ‘Beat The Boots’ by essentially, doing his own bootleg series.
“I think that Dylan and Zappa, both produced by Tom Wilson, both released double albums in 1966, both lived in L.A. and both members of a mutual admiration society. Because Zappa name checks Dylan on the inside of the ‘Freak Out!’ album. There was also talk of Zappa producing Dylan after he heard some songs Dylan played him at his house.”
Roger Steffens, music scholar, Reggae music expert, and a renegade radio DJ since 1961, first heard on WVOX, a commercial radio station in Westchester, New York, has a fifty year overview of Bob Dylan that is quite unique from the DJs, mass media and Dylan fans who followed his initial debut Dylan album spins over the airwaves. Steffens is also a veteran of the Alan Freed music shows in New York, and witnessed Dylan musical heroes (1957) including Buddy Holly.
“It was the unnerving quality of his initial albums on Columbia Records that helped make emergent ‘twenty somethings’ aware that you could go beyond pure vocal harmonies and love sick teenage messages into a totally different iteration of popular music. It was other college kids that turned me onto him, and at first I didn’t get him. I was an Alan Freed doo-wop rock ‘n’ roller all the way through. And the only other
vocalists I listened too were Nina Simone and Harry Belafonte.
“It’s fascinating watching Dylan bring his unreleased music and catalog forward, because Dylan is more than an advanced amateur historian. Dylan is a folklorist of the first water. Dylan in mono, like anyone else documented in the mono setting, has to have their sound all properly balanced at the same time. This situation helped create immortal masterpieces of one take art, like Jackie Wilson’s ‘Lonely Teardrops’ – one take, live, in a big empty theater, with everyone fully engaged.”
“The Original Mono Recordings is comprised of Bob Dylan’s first eight long-playing albums, painstakingly reproduced from their first generation monaural mixes as the artist intended them to be heard: One channel of powerful sound, both direct and immediate. While stereo recordings had been available as early as the mid-1950s, mono was still the predominant – and often preferred – mode of recording and mixing by the top artists of the 1960s. As a result, artists like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan devoted their attention to the mono mixes, leaving the stereo mixing process to studio engineers
These eight albums – spanning the artist’s self-titled debut in March 1962, through John Wesley Harding released on December 27, 1967 – are universally hailed as some of the most groundbreaking works in the history of recorded music.
Together with “The Witmark Demos,” they provide the public with a wide-ranging view of Bob Dylan’s stirring work during the 1960s, and chronicle his evolution from fledgling songwriter to one of the world’s most inventive and singular recording artists.
The Original Mono Recordings are accompanied by a deluxe booklet, featuring vintage photographs of Bob Dylan and an expansive essay from renowned author and cultural critic – and longtime Dylan aficionado – Greil Marcus. Each disc in the set is placed in its own individual jacket which faithfully replicates the original album artwork, complete with labels and stickers that were found on the original 1960s releases.
The set is available as a deluxe box and on 180-gram vinyl. The package has a booklet of vintage photographs and an essay by Bill Flanagan.
Bob Johnston is the record producer whose studio credits list Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison” and “San Quentin” live LP’s, the first classic album of Leonard Cohen, and culture-altering long players for Bob Dylan: “Highway 61 Revisited,” “Blonde On Blonde,” John Wesley Harding,” “Nashville Skyline,” Self Portrait” and “New Morning.”
Over 40 years later, Johnston, now based in Hawaii, recalled in a 2007 interview I conducted published in “Shake” magazine about his landmark production collaborations with Bob Dylan that he mixed in both mono and stereo album formats.
While working for Columbia Records in New York, Bob Johnston was introduced to Dylan in 1965 when he started producing “Highway 61 Revisited.”
“I was standing by the sound board and I said to Dylan ‘Listen man, you ought to come to Nashville sometime. I got a fix up down there with no clocks and the musicians are fuckin’ great.’
“So I finished ‘Highway 61.’Then, Dylan called me about six months later and he said, “Man, I got a bunch of songs. What do you think about going to Nashville?’ ‘That’s what I was talkin’ about!’ In 1966 we went in for ‘Blonde On Blonde.’
In 1967 Johnston teamed up again with Dylan for the epochal album “John Wesley Harding.”
“I would place glass around Dylan for recording,” Johnston recollects. “He had a different vocal sound. I didn’t make his different vocal sound. He always had different sounds on. I never wanted to be (Phil) Spector. And while the rest of the world was doing an album as big as ‘Blonde On Blonde,’ which everybody was, the more musicians they could get the better it was, we went in with four people. In the middle of a psychedelic world!
“I’ll tell you something else I did with Dylan, and recording Dylan and Johnny Cash,” he exclaims. “Everybody else (at the time) was using one microphone. Which means you have to sacrifice something. If you’re gonna have a band you can’t have the band playin’ full tilt, if you’ve got him in the middle because and can’t understand everything with different people in there raising the guitar up, raise the drum up, and do shit like that. And what I always did was that I had three microphones because he was always jerking his head around, and I put the microphone on the left, center and right and it didn’t matter where in the fuckin’ room he went. And then I’d mix and start on the left and go all the way over on the right.
“I’d usually have the piano on the outside left, without any echo. And then I’d put the echo on the right side. And then I’d have one of the guitars on the right and put the echo on the left. And then I’d match it all alone and brought up everything even, so they could fight it out. And then that’s the way the band was. They didn’t have to raise this and lower this, and 15 people sitting around doin’ all that shit. The band was there and he was full tilt. Then you could go any place in the room and understand him. And I never heard another word from him about anything
“What I did was put a bunch of microphones all over the room and up on the ceiling. I would use all those echo when everything got through and I could do that as much as I wanted. I wanted it to sound better than anything else sounded ever, and I wanted it to be where everybody could hear it,” chortles Johnston. “And I don’t know what Dylan would have been if he stayed in New York with those people, and been mixed like that. And I know he would have never done that shit like he did in Nashville.
“I always had 4 or 8 speakers all over the room and I had ‘em going. The louder I played it the better it sounded to me. This is the way I really did it. As a songwriter, I wrote songs, too. Dylan changed the world. Every song he did I loved. I was a Dylan freak and I knew he was changing the world. I knew he was changing the society as we knew it,” Johnston reiterates.
“On its own terms,” DJ Cushing presents, “the mono Dylan bestows a single-sound-source structure on the music that fits the three ‘rock’ albums very well.
“The reason the monos are preferable to the early stereo LP’s is that with solo acoustic Dylan there is one single sound source. Instead of two sound sources. You get much more of a natural sound with the thing blended as it is right now.
“The first few acoustic albums ought to sound as good on the CDs as they do right now,” he continues. “It’s the three rock albums, ‘Bringing It All Back Home,’ ‘Highway 61’ and ‘Blonde On Blonde’ that really make the big difference. Also, I bought the original LPs in mono in 1965-66. So I first fell in love with those records in mono.
“The mono does give that single sound source and that evenly blended sound that adds to the mysterious of it. Whereas the stereo mix somewhat separates the instruments and add an additional clarity. Which is not always exactly what you want. I think some of the early Beatles’ records are terrible in stereo and much better in mono.
“The stereo mixes, when I first heard them, added separation-definition to the instruments, so that I heard the two guitars and the upright bass in ‘Desolation Row’ clearly — but is clarity the most valued goal with music that creates/inhabits a surrealist dreamscape? Also, other minor details are different, such as ‘It Takes A Lot to Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry’ being 40 seconds shorter in mono, or the lead guitar on ‘Visions of Johanna’ coming in at different places,” reminds Cushing
“Armed with the knowledge that the mono mix took up most of the studio time, both in the case of Dylan, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, given that, I think that the mono need to be taken seriously in the spontaneous sense and the need to be thought of as an alternative sound experience.
“Having these albums in a box does give them the kind of privileged status that they have always already had in the listeners’ mind.
“Dylan is a genius and we are fortunate to be able to share the same time and space with him. Geniuses do that. Geniuses continue to grow and develop. Geniuses have different periods in their art. Geniuses continue to have work that resonates with people. And Bob Dylan is the one genius to have come out of American rock music. And there are no others, except possibly for Jimi Hendrix. But he died too young for us to really tell.”
“I always liked the beat of Dylan’s music, starting with ‘Blonde On Blonde’,” confides poet/actor, Harry E. Northup. “And the way Dylan looked to me. He was as beautiful as Elizabeth Taylor. Dylan is such a lyric master. I think he’s the spokesman of the generation. His words are incredible. I think that’s the way his mind works. Poetry is basically one man talking to one man. That’s what poetry is. He speaks to all of us. .
“I love the brooding quality of Dylan, too. Just the way he changes. I saw him at Carnegie Hall in New York and he hit hard. I was in the fourth row and I thought he was talking directly to me. You know what I mean? Then, I saw him later in Arizona during his ‘Jesus Trip.’ People walked out and he said, ‘If you walk out you’re not gonna get the message.’
“I like him in all the different ways he goes. God bless.him. What a great artist.”
(Harvey Kubernik is the author of “Canyon of Dreams: The Magic and the Music of Laurel Canyon”).