Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes - where we're at currently...

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by GetRhythm, Apr 11, 2014.

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  1. GetRhythm

    GetRhythm Forum Resident Thread Starter

    I was working up some sort of profound, scholarly introduction to this thread where I attempted to expound on why the Basement Tapes are such a big deal to so many Dylan fans. But rather than wasting a lot of space, I'm just going to jump right in and hope those checking it out who aren't all that familiar with this stuff will pick it up as we go along.

    At any rate, with all the rumors and loose talk recently about Columbia/Sony finally getting off their duff and putting out a 'complete' or at least 'more complete' version of Dylan's 1967 Woodstock home recordings with the Hawks, I thought it would be a good time to review the current status of this material.

    The vast majority of these recordings have been in wide circulation for quite some time now, but there's a lot of debate concerning where they're best heard. The intention then is to proceed through all the basement recordings session by session in more or less chronological order, discussing the often substantial differences in how they sound on both the official and more comprehensive major grey market releases.

    I'll try to account for those differences by considering the sources they're derived from and any processing/enhancement/remastering they've been subjected to. Finally, I'll offer my own personal choices as to where the best versions of each track can be found - a matter over which I'm sure there will be considerable debate.

    Discussion of bootlegs in this manner is I believe to be within the bounds of forum rules as I understand them. I urge anyone contributing however to refrain from discussing how or where to obtain these recordings, as this would clearly be in violation of said rules.

    To set the table, the balance of this first post will be concerned with summarizing the various basement tape permutations from which all the official and unofficial issues have subsequently been derived. Sources referred to include the following:

    Clinton Heylin's Bob Dylan: The Recording Sessions [1960-1994] & Revolution In the Air - the Songs of Bob Dylan Vol. 1 - 1957-1973

    Sid Griffin's Million Dollar Bash - Bob Dylan, The Band and the Basement Tapes

    John Howell's "The Genuine Basement Tapes Vol 1-5" at http://www.punkhart.com/dylan/reviews/basement_tapes.html

    "Bob Dylan: A Tree With Roots - The Genuine Basment Tape Remasters" at http://theband.hiof.no/albums/boot_tree_with_roots.html (major source for this first post)

    "Bob Dylan and the Band: From the Reels - Complete Basements" at http://theband.hiof.no/albums/boot_from_the_reels_complete_basements.html



    So without further adieu, first off - what are the "Basement Tapes", and how many different permutations of them exist?

    1) The original reels

    From approximately March to late-October 1967, Bob Dylan, backed by Richard Manuel, Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, and (at the very end only) Levon Helm recorded over 100 individual tracks (some being alternate takes) on to at least (37) 7" reels of recording tape (though Basement Tapes LP engineer Rob Frabioni remembers "50-60 reels of Shamrock and other off-brands of tape"). Garth Hudson - who had already made quite a few ad hoc recordings on his own at that point - engineered.

    Using a 2-channel portable Ampex 602 tape recorder, tracks were recorded at either 3-3/4 or 7-1/2 ips (15 ips not being available) - which would have allowed 20-40 minutes of recording time per tape depending on speed utilized. Most tracks were recorded in a panned stereo format with all sources routed to either the left or right channel, though there is often leakage between channels on the account of the 'loose mic'ing' system deployed.

    Much more detail about the equipment used, how and where recording spaces were set up, the material recorded, how the sessions were organized, etc., can be found in Heylin and Griffin's books, so I won't delve into it further here.

    2) Ten-song demo (take numbers where applicable in parenthesis)

    Million Dollar Bash (2) / Yea! Heavy And A Bottle Of Bread (2) / Please Mrs Henry / Crash On The Levee (2) / Lo And Behold (2) / Tiny Montgomery / This Wheel's On Fire / You Ain't Going Nowhere (2) / I Shall Be Released / Too Much Of Nothing (2)

    As 50% owner of Dwarf Music, the publishing company formed by Dylan and himself in January 1966, Dylan manager Albert Grossman sought to derive some income from all this new recording activity. He so directed the dubbing to mono of ten of the major Dylan-composed basement tracks around August 1967. The tape was copyrighted in October and utilized as a source for all subsequent acetates/Dwarf Music demo tapes that circulated in the ensuing years.

    3) Five-song demo

    Tears Of Rage (1) / Quinn The Eskimo (2) / Open The Door Homer (1) / Nothing Was Delivered (1) / Get Your Rocks Off

    Another mono demo of some later basement-recorded Dylan compositions, copyrighted in January 1968. The first four songs, along with the previous demo-tape, comprised a 14-song acetate from which many early bootlegs were drawn.

    4) The "Basement Safety"

    Million Dollar Bash (2) / Yea! Heavy And A Bottle Of Bread (2) / I'm Not There (1956) / Please Mrs Henry / Crash On The Levee (2) / Lo And Behold! (2) / This Wheel's On Fire / You Ain't Going Nowhere (2) / I Shall Be Released / Too Much Of Nothing (2) / Nothing Was Delivered (3) / Odds And Ends (2) / Get Your Rocks Off / Clothesline Saga / Apple Suckling Tree (1) / Apple Suckling Tree (2) / Open The Door Homer (1*) / Open The Door Homer (2*) / Open The Door Homer (3*) / Nothing Was Delivered (1*) / Nothing Was Delivered (2*) / Tears Of Rage (1*) / Tears Of Rage (2*) / Quinn The Eskimo (1*) / Quinn The Eskimo (2*)

    Sometime in late 1969, Garth Hudson had Elliot Mazer - then under the employ of Albert Grossman - dub a straight stereo transfer of 25 key basement tracks from the original reels (save for the asterisked songs, which appear to be from a generational copy). All tracks were transferred at 15 ips under studio conditions.

    In 1971 when Mazer went out to work with Neil Young as his producer, he brought his copy to play for him. That tape has remained in Neil's posession ever since.

    All the major Dylan basement compositions are included along with a few alternate takes, excepting the curious omissions of "Tiny Montgomery" and "Sign On The Cross". The tape boxes are reproduced in Heylin's Recording Sessions book.

    When "I'm Not There" finally saw official release in 2007 on the soundtrack to the movie of the same name, it was via a straight transfer from this basement safety.

    5). Dwarf Music demo tape

    Signs On The Cross / Don't Ya Tell Henry

    Two more Dylan basement compositions submitted for copyright in 1970 via a stereo dub thought to be generational

    6). The Robertson-Fraboni compilation reels

    Odds And Ends (1) / Nothing Was Delivered (3) / Odds And Ends (2) / Get Your Rocks Off / Clothesline Saga / Apple Suckling Tree (1) / Apple Suckling Tree (2) / Try Me Little Girl / Young But Daily Growin' / Tiny Montgomery / Don't Ya Tell Henry / Bourbon Street / Million Dollar Bash (1) / Yea! Heavy And A Bottle Of Bread (1) / Million Dollar Bash (2) / Yea! Heavy And A Bottle Of Bread (2) / I'm Not There (1956) / Please Mrs Henry / Crash On The Levee (1) / Crash On The Levee (2) / Lo And Behold (1) / Lo And Behold (2) / One Single River / Baby Ain't That Fine / You Ain't Going Nowhere (1) / This Wheel's On Fire / You Ain't Going Nowhere (2) / I Shall Be Released / Too Much Of Nothing (1) / Too Much Of Nothing (2) / Tears Of Rage (3) / Quinn The Eskimo (1) / Open The Door Homer (3) / Nothing Was Delivered (1) / Folsom Prison Blues / Sign On The Cross / Santa Fe / Silent Weekend / Silhouette / Bring It On Home / King Of France / Going To Acapulco / Gonna Get You Now / Banks Of The Royal Canal

    These are the reels compiled by Robbie Robertson and engineer Rob Frabioni from the original basement reels and other sources in preparation for the official 1975 double-set on Columbia. The 44 tracks comprised mostly Dylan originals with a smattering of cover versions recorded at Woodstock. Presumably these represent songs short-listed for the LP, which originally had been talked about as a three-record set before being scaled down to the now familiar double LP including tracks by the Band having nothing to do with the Dylan basement sessions.

    The tracks were panned in in their original stereo format before being mixed to either mono or mostly narrow stereo for the LP. Portions of these reels have been sourced for later bootleg releases.

    7.) The Band roadie reels

    Lock Your Door / Baby Won't You Be My Baby / Try Me Little Girl / I Can't Make It Alone / Young But Daily Growin' / Bonnie Ship The Diamond / The Hills Of Mexico / Down On Me / One For The Road / I'm Alright / One Single River / People Get Ready / I Don't Hurt Anymore / The Stones That You Throw / One Man's Loss / All You Have To Do Is Dream (2) / I'm Not There (1956) / Please Mrs Henry / Down In The Flood (2) / Lo And Behold (2) / Odds And Ends (2) / Get Your Rocks Off / Clothesline Saga / Apple Suckling Tree (2) / Tiny Montgomery / Sign On The Cross / This Wheel's On Fire / You Ain't Going Nowhere (2) / I Shall Be Released / Instrumental Jam / Baby Ain't That Fine / Salt And Nails / A Fool Such As I / Going To Acapulco / Gonna Get You Now / Million Dollar Bash (2) / Yea! Heavy And A Bottle Of Bread (2)

    These reels, given by a friend of Robbie Robertson to a record store owner in the Pacific Northwest in 1986, represent the "second stage" of basement tape circulation to the general public, being released soon afterwards on the Blind Boy Grunt and the Hawks double LP bootleg sets.

    Most of the tracks previously uncirculated here were covers recorded in the initial basement sessions at Dylan's house in Woodstock before activity moved to Big Pink. The tracks all appeared in their original stereo configurations.

    8.) The 1991 cassettes

    Cassette 1: Million Dollar Bash (1) / Yea! Heavy And A Bottle Of Bread (1) / Million Dollar Bash (2) / Yea! Heavy And A Bottle Of Bread (2) / I'm Not There (1956) / Please Mrs Henry / Crash On The Levee (1) / Crash On The Levee (2) / Lo And Behold (1) / Lo And Behold (2)

    Cassette 2: I'm A Fool For You (1+2) / Next Time On The Highway / Tupelo / You Gotta Quit Kickin' My Dog Aroun' / See You Later, Allan Ginsberg / Tiny Montgomery / The Spanish Song (1) / Spanish Song (2) / I'm Your Teenage Prayer / Four Strong Winds / The French Girl (1) / The French Girl (2) / Joshua Gone Barbados / I'm In The Mood For Love / All-American Boy / Sign On The Cross

    Cassette 3: Tears Of Rage (1) / Tears Of Rage (2) / Tears Of Rage (3) / Quinn The Eskimo (1) / Quinn The Eskimo (2) / Open The Door Homer (1) / Open The Door Homer (2) / Open The Door Homer (3) / Nothing Was Delivered (2)

    Cassette 4: Going To Acapulco / Gonna Get You Now / Wildflood Flower / Se That My Grave Is Kept Clean / Comin' Round The Mountain / Instrumental Jam / Flight Of The Bumble Bee / Confidential To Me / Odds And Ends (1) / Nothing Was Delivered (3) / Odds And Ends (2) / Get Your Rocks Off / Clothesline Saga / Apple Suckling Tree (1) / Apple Suckling Tree (2)

    Cassette 5: Belshezaar / I Forgot To Remember To Forget Her / You Win Again / Still In Town, Still Around / Waltzin' With Sin / Big River (1) / Big River (2) / Folsom Prison Blues / Bells Of Rhymney / Nine Hundred Miles / Goin' Down The Road / Spanish Is The Loving Tongue / I Can't Come In With A Broken Heart / Come All Ye Fair And Tender Ladies / Under Control / Ol' Roison The Beau / I'm Guilty Of Loving You / Johnny Todd / Cool Water / Banks Of The Royal Canal / Po' Lazarus

    Surfacing around the same time as the first Bootleg Series collection was being assembled by CBS/Sony, these cassette dubs comprise the most comprehensive collection of basement tracks to yet find its way into circulation. A "third stage" so to speak, they became the primary source for the first attempt at a "complete" basement set when five-volume Genuine Basement Tapes was first issued in the early 90's.

    Believed to have been dubbed directly from Garth Hudson's basement reel archives, some of the tracks suffer from inconsistent balancing of levels during transfer. An alternate dub of the same material yielding better results was reputedly sourced for the later Tree With Roots collection issued in 2001-2002.

    Also included in this collection of cassettes was miscellaneous Hawks/Band material from the same period, as well as a dub of the 10-song Dwarf Music demo. Much of this found its way on to the 11-volume Basement Reels set that appeared around the same time as Tree With Roots.

    But this only points out the obvious - with so many of the ancillary basement tracks available only as sourced from a cassette dub, there should be substantial room for improvement in sound quality over what we have access to today.

    That's all for the this initial post - hope some were able to stick it out with me to the end. Next time around I'll be summarizing the major official and non-official basement-related collections before going into the track-by-track analysis.

    All input is welcome and encouraged, though since we're going in sequence, I would appreciate if those commenting could avoid jumping ahead.
     
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2014
  2. Has Dylan himself ever been needled in an interview about the lack of a complete Basement Tapes' release? Is this a situation where he doesn't want this material coming out through official channels?
     
  3. jacksondownunda

    jacksondownunda Well-Known Member

    Maybe he doesn't care, but I certainly hope he wouldn't purposely block it. (The combined 10 & 5 song demos are my favourite comedy album of all time!)
     
  4. ranasakawa

    ranasakawa Forum Resident

    Very comprehensive post. Thank you
     
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  5. Sebastian

    Sebastian Forum Resident

    So ist it safe to assume that the complete original reels are in Sony's vaults?
     
  6. hoggydoggy

    hoggydoggy Forum Resident

    Given that Garth Hudson technically owned the physical reels that HE recorded in 1967, this isn't a natural assumption - he might allow them to be stored by Sony, but he would be entitled to keep them in his own possession and loan them to Sony as and when he allowed (but see below!). Is that a correct theory, legally?

    In order of quality, would it be correct to re-arrange the sources thus,

    1) The original 37+ reels - owned by Garth (stored by Sony?)
    2) The 1st generation Robertson/Fraboni compilation reels - whatever wrongs were done to these songs in mixing/mastering, the transfers of those songs in a professional studio should have been of a very high standard
    3) The 1st generation "Basement Safety" - I've put this 3rd in the pecking order, as 1975 technology for the Robertson/Fraboni reels probably exeeeds the 1969 studio conditions that Garth employed
    =4) The 1st generation ten-song/five song demos - although mono, these were dubbed to reel shortly after the original recordings and so should have little generational loss
    6) The unknown generation Dwarf Music demos - I've ranked these above the cassettes, due to their being in R2R format
    7) The unknown generation 1991 cassettes - clue is in the desription; slightly wonky cassette dubs of an unknown generation, from unknown tape sources (Garth's reels?)
    8) The unknown generation Roadie reels

    This doesn't take into account some of the oddities that have cropped-up over the years (such as, where did the versions of Santa Fe and Minstrel Boy on Bootleg Series 1-3 and ASP respectively come from?) or the crucial question, with regards to compiling the "perfect" set: do 1) and 2) still exist and who has them?

    Garth Hudson suffered a catastrophic house fire in 1978 (what was it with members of the Band and fires??), so I'm hoping that he DID hand over his cache of reels to someone before then. There's also this story, about a landlord selling off some possessions of Garth's that he'd had held in storage,

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/27/n...dlord-in-dispute-over-storage-space.html?_r=0

    You wouldn't have expected so, but might some of those precious Basement reels been involved..?? :eek:
     
  7. czeskleba

    czeskleba Senior Member

    Location:
    Seattle
    It's not safe to assume anything. If Sony had access to the original reels, it seems likely they would have been accessed for the official release of "I'm Not There" but they were not (the Elliott Mazer safety was used instead). On the other hand, the Basement version of "Minstrel Boy" is not known to appear on any of the above sources (except obviously the original reels), so its recent release would suggest they have access to at least some of the original reels (0r that there is another copy source out there that is undocumented). What's odd is that apparently nobody has ever asked Garth what he did with the original reels, or if they have there's no reference to it in any of the books/articles written on this subject.
     
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  8. The Panda

    The Panda Forum Mutant

    Location:
    Marple, PA, USA
    OK, great!
    Now where does the 'Neil Young version' fit?
    I assume you're saying it's a dub of....................which one?
     
  9. GetRhythm

    GetRhythm Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Regarding the first point about the original reels, not only is it unclear where they currently reside or in who's possession they are, but also who actually owns the rights to the music. Heylin for one doesn't think Columbia had any default rights to the recordings at least up to the point when the official LP came out; most of the recordings being made between the time Dylan's original contract with Columbia expired in late 1966 and the time Dylan finally re-upped with Columbia on August 21, 1967 after a bit of a flirtation with MGM.

    Is there language in the new contract that specifically addresses these recordings? If not, one would assume that some kind of licensing agreement was worked out to at least enable the release of the official 1975 LP and the few subsequent tracks that have filled out other official comps.

    Taking into consideration the question of what might prove to be the best sources for the original material at this point in time is far from straightforward. Regarding the original reels, remember that the tape quality used was not the best to begin with. And as early as the point when Frabioni and Robertson began working on compiling the original LP, Frabioni already reports that "most of the tapes were okay...they weren't falling apart, but there were a couple of reels where the oxide was falling off." How much further deterioration could be expected in the ensuing 39-40 years, especially considering they may not have been stored under ideal conditions?

    The "Basement Safety" - though a generational copy - on evidence of "I'm Not There" appears to have excellent fidelity. Of course a fair amount of hiss is present due primarily one would assume to the 7-1/2 ips recording speed utilized on the original recording rather than any new noise introduced during the 15 ips transfer. Also it appears that the original reel(s) containing the successively recorded "Tears Of Rage", "Quinn the Eskimo", "Open the Door Homer" and "Nothing Was Delivered" may have been misplaced for a period of time, because here apparently generational copies were sourced.

    That issue persists with the Frabioni-Robertson compilation reels, where these particular tracks as heard on the original LP and Biograph collection ("Quinn") exhibit lower fidelity than the remaining Dylan tracks (excepting "Tiny Montgomery", where the fidelity is so awful that one can only assume it was actually sourced from acetate). Robbie Robertson has in fact stated that they didn't have access to all the original reels now known to be in existence at the time the LP was compiled. So it appears they simply decided which tracks they might want to include and sourced them from the best sources they could find at the time. Interesting to note as well that the officially released "Quinn", "Homer", and "Delivered" sound noticeably slowed down and time out longer compared to the better sounding versions heard on some of the subsequent boots.

    The "Band Roadie Reels" are an interesting case. Further research referencing Heylin's Bootleg - The Secret History of the Other Recording Industry provides more detail than I originally posted. These it turns out were (3) 7" reels that may have been taken directly out of Garth Hudson's trunk, somehow then winding up in the hands of a roadie that worked on the 1974 Dylan/Band tour. That individual offered them to the record store owner in the Pacific Northwest in 1985 in return for securing a copy of the then recently released 10-LP Ten Of Swords box set boot (I bought one of these myself at the time, and they cost a pretty penny when you could find them). There may have been 60-70 tracks in total on the three tapes, including the Band/Tiny Tim sessions recorded for the soundtrack of Peter Yarrow's You Are What You Eat.

    I personally haven't heard the Blind Boy Grunt and the Hawks LP boots that were primarily derived from these tapes, but I do have a digital version of the similarly derived Down In the Basement collection, which includes both Dylan and Hawks basement-era tracks in reasonably good fidelity.

    Finally, regarding the 1991 cassette dubs, at least one version of these appears to be of sufficient quality to have satisfactorily filled out the generally well-regarded Tree With Roots collection. One would assume that while additional noise/loss of fidelity may have resulted due to the medium deployed, if a good machine was used and sufficient care was taken during the transfer, then reasonably good results could have been obtained. It appears at least that some of the original reels that had been thought lost may have been located by that time for use as sources.
     
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2014
  10. subtr

    subtr Forum Resident

    Santa Fe on A Tree With Roots sounds a bit different to the Columbia released one, so it might (complete speculation) be from one of the sources listed. I have all the bootlegs mentioned (and more) and will go and check them out later for that.

    Minstrel Boy is the most intriguing one. In terms of quality I could happily sit through a couple of hours of that, and the performance sounds as good as any other Basement-era song. Would love to know the source.
     
  11. alchemy

    alchemy Forum Resident

    Location:
    Sterling, VA
    This is great! Keep it up gang!
     
  12. slane

    slane Forum Resident

    Location:
    England
    Levon sounds to be on it, so it must be a later session. It doesn't sound much like most of the 2-track Big Pink stuff (no echo unit on the vocals either).
     
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  13. subtr

    subtr Forum Resident

    100% agreed with you there. Do we know what else was from later sessions? I don't have any of the books listed in the OP, alas.
     
  14. slane

    slane Forum Resident

    Location:
    England
    Some of the circulating later stuff includes things like 'Goin' To Acapulco', 'Gonna Get You Now' and 'All You Have To Do Is Dream', all of which don't have the echo unit either. Not sure if Levon might be on those. Would be nice if there's an unbooted Levon session (he did recall playing on some later sessions), with more than 'Minstrel Boy' on it.
     
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  15. clgoss77

    clgoss77 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Washington, DC
    I love the Basement Safety Tape recordings that I've heard. I'd sure love to get an official release of this stuff as part of the Bootleg Series.

    On a related note, my grandma lives in Woodstock, NY and I've driven by both Big Pink and Dylan's home in Byrdcliffe, and it was really moving for me. Such important pieces of rock and roll history.
     
  16. cc--

    cc-- Well-Known Member

    Location:
    brooklyn
    this thread falls under the "automatic watch" category for me -- great idea, GR.
     
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  17. GetRhythm

    GetRhythm Forum Resident Thread Starter

    We're getting a bit ahead of ourselves here, but my personal feeling is that Levon played on very few of the basement recordings, maybe 8-9 tracks at the most. His arrival in Woodstock has been pretty reliably dated to around the 2nd week of October, and was largely responsible for triggering the change of recording venue from the Big Pink house to Rick Danko's new digs off Wittenberg Road. He's probably there for the "Dylan autoharp" session that includes "Wildwood Flower", "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean", and "Oh Susannah", and also I think for "Silent Weekend", the two takes of "All You Have to Do Is Dream", and possibly the abbreviated take 3 of "Nothing Is Delivered" - as well as "Minstrel Boy". Anything else I would consider doubtful.
     
  18. slane

    slane Forum Resident

    Location:
    England
    Probably so, though Take 3 of NID has never sounded like Levon to me, although he did recall playing on a version.
     
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  19. GetRhythm

    GetRhythm Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Doesn't to me either - in fact, the overall drumming style and sound is very similar to the previous two takes, recorded at an earlier point in the sessions. Heylin places the recording between the two takes of "Odds and Ends" - which again is almost for sure Richard Manuel rather than Levon on the skins.
     
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  20. BlueTrane

    BlueTrane Forum Resident

    I bought both of those double-lp sets (vols. 1 & 2) when they first came out - still have them. We sort of take this stuff for granted now, but at the time, those releases were a big event for me; I couldn't believe what I was hearing. "New" basement tapes? Whoa.

    The sound quality was very respectable, so generation-wise, they were obviously very close to the source. And the song selection - which, unlike the official Columbia set, included all kinds of interesting covers - was a revelation; it fundamentally changed our understanding of the nature of those sessions.
     
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  21. DeeThomaz

    DeeThomaz Senior Member

    Location:
    In The Felony Room
    What is the reference to "Oh Susannah?" Unless I'm overlooking something obvious, I don't recall seeing that song mentioned before as a basement recording. In fact, offhand, I can't think of any Dylan performance of the song, but it seems like something he MUST have attempted at some point.

    In any case, I agree with your ultimate conclusion as to the most probable Levon contributions (though my gut feeling is that "Silent Weekend" isn't among them).
     
  22. GetRhythm

    GetRhythm Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Oops - my bad - I meant "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain" of course!

    Brain fart - happens to us old guys sometimes...lol
     
  23. czeskleba

    czeskleba Senior Member

    Location:
    Seattle
    Odds and Ends sure sounds like Richard's drum style, and if it was Levon on the drums why wouldn't Richard be playing piano? In like manner, take three of Nothing Was Delivered has no organ, which means if Levon was on the drums then either Garth or Richard would be sitting out, which seems unlikely. So I think it is pretty likely that's a non-Levon track.
     
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  24. GetRhythm

    GetRhythm Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Before moving on to my planned capsule summaries of the official and major unofficial releases of basement material, I've decided to devote a post to describing the recording setup and methods deployed at Big Pink and the other Woodstock venues so there's a clearer idea what we're working with on the tapes. Lots of misconceptions about this business among fans, so let's begin...

    The first myth to dispel is that the equipment they were working with was in any way 'primitive' from an audio standpoint. Most of what was used apparently came from Peter, Paul & Mary's P.A. rig (an act also managed by Grossman of course), which included the classic Neuman/Telefunken U47 microphones, and the still highly sought after vintage Altec 1567A tube mixers. The only effects unit deployed was a vintage Italian-made Binson Echorec, which offered a tape echo effect using magnetic metal discs. This was most frequently used to route Dylan's vocals through, applying different amounts of the effect on different tracks as desired (at a few junctures - particularly the "See You Later Allen Ginsburg" pastiche - they actually have to stop recording due to the unit feeding back). On tracks like "Next Time On the Highway" that have a very ambient overall sound, one might assume that all the mic signals were first summed in the mixing units and then after routed through the Echorec before going to tape.

    Rob Frabioni believes that as few as two or three microphones may have been used by Garth to capture the sound, arguing that the more mics used simultaneously in fairly close proximity (as would be the case here), the more potential there is for phase issues between mics to compromise the sound. Neil Young/Joni Mitchell archivist, engineer, and folk musician Joel Bernstein on the other hand maintains that Garth probably used as many as six mics - vocal mics for Dylan and anyone singing back-up, an acoustic guitar mic, a mic on the electric guitar amp, one on the bass amp, and one on the organ. Piano and drums are assumed in this case to be loud enough to bleed into the other mics.

    This would better explain the use of two separate mixing units as well - which would not have been required if there were only 2-3 mics. It also gives a better feeling for the complexity of Garth's task in adequately capturing the sound in the room with everyone playing together at one time - particularly without benefit of a separate control room for monitoring, and all the while playing on the tracks as well. Truly one-of-a-kind, this Mr. Hudson.

    The Altec units were simplicity itself - five inputs with only a dedicated volume control on each channel, summed to a mono output. There were also global bass and treble EQ controls, but no panning facilities whatsoever. The two units then fed each channel of the two-track Ampex 602 recorder (most definitely not the Revox recorder pictured on the official LP cover that now sits in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame). Garth apparently lost the original machine later in a fire.

    So what you end up with is a pretty clean, high quality, all-tube signal path. What is apparent here also is that Garth really had very little flexibility in terms of routing signal to tape if using two separate mono-summing mixing units with no panning facilities. Thus the "wide stereo" with no center channel material whatsover (other than occasional mic bleed) configuration heard on the lion's share of the original tapes. But I sincerely doubt if this was seen by anyone as any kind of 'finished' output for them (Garth doesn't seem to have ever personally commented on it to my knowledge - strange no one's thought to ask him).

    First of all, nobody there at Woodstock thought they were recording Dylan's next album - at first the sessions were merely a way for Dylan to ease back into recording after his motorcycle accident, before later evolving into songwriter demo sessions as Dylan's muse became re-activated. Though the evolution from mono to stereo in the pop world was well underway by then (if stereo had not yet become dominant), if the purpose here was only to create demos to later be shopped around, then mono would be more than adequate (and still very much preferred at the time). And indeed, the first two demo tapes of basement material to come out of Woodstock had both channels summed to mono.

    Further, if mono was the eventual intended output, it would also explain why the strict left/right audio separation on tape would not be considered detrimental. Rather, much like George Martin's "twin-track" recordings of the first two Beatles LPs, in using the stereo deck as a 2-track multi-track recorder it allowed the additional flexibility to further balance the two channels during later mixdown. The fact that by this time the gimmicky 'wide stereo' mix was already becoming obsolete in favor of - at the very least - centered lead vocals, further argues the point that the "stereo" here was not intended as the final output.

    Even so, many fans to this day find a certain spatial quality in the raw tapes very attractive, and don't mind so much the panned-all-the-way-to-one-side lead vocals or complete lack of center channel information. They decry the fact that Columbia went with a "centered vocal" approach on the official release, which by necessity meant mixing them down to mono or in most other cases a very narrow stereo almost indistinguishable from mono. My own personal preference is for an approach where the two channels are narrowed a bit (perhaps at 9 and 3 o'clock respectively) so there's some center-channel information present, while still retaining most of the stereo spaciousness. But to the best of my knowledge, this doesn't seem to have been attempted by anyone yet.

    That's all for the recording stuff - I'll pick up tomorrow with the summaries of the basement releases before launching into the track-by-track analysis further on. Thanks for reading!
     
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2014
  25. GetRhythm

    GetRhythm Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Slight addendum to the previous post so I don't come off as an audio neophyte when mentioning "panning facilities" and "mono summing unit" together - of course in a unit having only a single mono output, there would be no point or possible utility in including 'panning facilities'...duh!
     
    DeeThomaz likes this.
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