Bootlegging (2)



A few more thoughts on Clinton Heylin’s book Bootleg: The Secret History of the Other Recording Industry, of which I’ve now finished two-thirds.

Dylan, obviously, has lost his centrality to this particular narrative. Probably the most interesting chapter, in many ways, is the one about early punk and new wave, particularly focusing on The Sex Pistols live recordings and EMI sessions (released as Spunk) and The Buzzcocks. Heylin’s argument that bootlegs were the best advertising for a music scene that only the hippest of the hip initially cottoned on to (recall, only about 70 people saw the Sex Pistol’s first show in Manchester, and about half of them immediately started their own bands) is quite compelling. The bootlegs recorded versions of bands that were no longer extant (like the Devoto/Shelley version of The Buzzcocks) became important documents of a music scene that imploded quickly upon itself.

Much of Heylin’s book revolves around recording technologies – pressing vinyl, then home-taping and tape-trading brought about by the cassette tape and Sony Walkman, then DAT, and then the CD. The effects of home-taping on the bootleg industry (“Home taping is killing the piracy industry”…) are interesting, particularly given my own age and the point where I entered the scene, which was at the tail end of vinyl bootlegging. The chapter about the crusade against DAT is now a familiar song, and it will be replayed against recordable CD-Rs and the copying of MP3s.

Heylin sheds considerable insight into two of the major Dylan bootlegs. The first of these is Zimmerman: Ten of Swords, the mega-bootleg that I bought as a teenager. First of all, Heylin is very dismissive of its quality, which I found surprising since I thought it was great. More importantly, he goes into a great deal of detail about the problems that this caused with Columbia in 1985 when the box set was released at the same time as Biograph, only it contained a far greater amount of unreleased material. Cameron Crowe, not yet filmmaker Cameron Crowe, wrote the liner notes for Biograph but also praised Ten of Swords, and Rolling Stone ran a rave review of it, which caused Columbia to pull their ads from that magazine in a fit of pique.

Apparently, Columbia went after the bootlegger to make an example of him, but because the discs had been printed in multiple locations (to save time), no record pressing shop knew that they had done the “ten album set” that the FBI was asking about. Heylin notes that had the FBI put any thought into it, they could have tracked down the producer by going after the printer of the boxes. But that didn’t happen.

Ten of Swords also had an unexpected knock-on Dylan bootleg effect. A man wishing to order a copy for himself happened into a northwest store that was ordering them, and as thanks for acquiring it, provided the store with tapes from 1967 at Big Pink. The man was, apparently, a roadie from Dylan’s 1974 tour and had these things sitting in a box. These reels were The Basment Tapes material that wasn’t released on Great White Wonder. This is a substantial amount of material – dozens and dozens of songs, mostly traditional, that Dylan and The Band were dredging out of their collective unconscious. These were provided to the producers of Ten of Swords, but were not a big hit in the way that the material from Great White Wonder (and the official Columbia version of The Basement Tapes) were, nor as big as Ten of Swords.

Heylin sounds surprised at this, but I can tell you I’ve been listening to this material for about five days and it is grating on me. So much of it is just not good. The version I have is A Tree With Roots: The Genuine Basement Tapes. I’m still building up to talking about this one, as it is a key piece of Dylanology, but I have to say that I’m looking for the way into it all. In comparison to Ten of Swords and the other early 1960s recordings, it just doesn’t grab me. I’m hoping that Greil Marcus will be able to sell me, but that’s for another day.

The Woody Guthrie Memorial Concert



Bob Dylan wasn’t completely one hundred per cent out of the public eye in 1968 – he did perform for about half an hour in January at the Woody Guthrie Memorial Concert at Carnegie Hall.

After a long hospitalization, Guthrie passed away on October 3, 1967. Apparently Dylan told Harold Leventhal that he would be the first to volunteer to perform at any memorial concert that would be arranged for him. Those shows (one in the afternoon, one in the evening) took place on January 20, and featured Judy Collins, Jack Elliott, Richie Havens, Odetta, Arlo Guthrie, Country Joe McDonald, Tom Paxton, and, of course, Pete Seeger.

Each of the artists sat on stage while the others played, and Dylan performed three songs with “The Crackers” (The Band, before they were known by that name, but after they were known as The Hawks).

Dylan’s performance, his first in nearly two years, was highly anticipated. The Rolling Stone review of the show noted that tickets were being scalped for $25 (about five times the retail price), but that there weren’t enough scalpers to satisfy the demand.

The songs that Dylan and The Band performed give a strong sense of how they were working together in 1967 on The Basement Tapes. “I Ain’t Got No Home” is quite different from the way that Dylan sang it at the beginning of the decade, and “The Grand Coulee Dam” has a strong influence from The Band in the way that it swings. “Dear Mrs. Roosevelt” was the lone down-tempo song that they did. All three are suggestive that a Dylan concert around this time would have been really interesting. While he used a band here, Dylan played acoustic rather than an electric guitar, and the bluesy sensibility is a stark contrast to the rock shows from 1966.

In addition to their fifteen minutes, Dylan joined the rest of the performers on “This Land Is Your Land” and “This Train is Bound for Glory”, two of Guthrie’s most rousing songs.


The afternoon show is the one that seems to have been released on CD (and on vinyl in 1972). It’s available through the usual retailers. Apple let me buy just the Dylan songs for 99 cents each, and they’re well worth it. The album itself is pretty extravagantly priced, if you ask me.

Two of the three songs show up on YouTube. Sadly, it is “Grand Coulee Dam” that is the best of the trio, and that I couldn’t find. Play these through – they’re a glimpse of what might have been.