I’m bringing here, as an introduction, the first article I wrote for the monographic magazine “Desolation Post”, devoted to Bob Dylan (#4, February 2007):
The Shaman’s Vault
We start this dedicated section here to encourage collecting activities and provide information about the sources, antecedents and means to obtain a first selection of essential recordings. So this is meant to orient the fans on how, where and what to look for to extend their collections or to begin in this world plagued of archives, numbers and codes. I’m referring to a world in which the essences of what still remains hidden in the Shaman’s vault reside. When someone finally comes to admire without reserves the works and figure of somebody as illuminated and visionary, unclassifiable and enigmatic as Bob Dylan is, he can hardly avoid to try and monopolize all his work, or at least all that has already been officially released. But if one day you come to get all his official material (hardly everything, but still catalogued and available) and have the fortune to understand the live art of the gifted songwriter, you will want to go further. If you enjoy his talent to recreate his own world every evening on stage and the universe of his old, new and not so new songs, without a doubt you will be led to try to decipher something out of that world. That will make you eager to collect all and each one of the many concerts the minstrel of Minnesota has been offering throughout his entire career. You will want anything to help you discover every day a new version or find some sublime performance that could eventually quench your need for emotions. It could be a harmonica solo, just a singular phrasing, a guitar’s riff, a few captivating chords, anything that fills up the emptiness inside your soul due to the prolonged absence of a new and mysterious Dylan. A dedicated collector might soon become fascinated, yearning for anything related to such an imitated yet inimitable creator with the unforseeable gift to combine the naked and untamed beauty, and the fury of reason, in the middle of madness. All of this happens because one has come to understand that his songs, as well as each one of his performances, are nothing but roadmaps for the soul, flooding torrents of wealthy emotions that moves you to reconsider your own sense of perception. There’s always something that animates you to look for and search, to catch them all and complete everything that’s been left behind him and what is about to come. Because it’s never enough with some, a few, many, the best achivements or the less known versions, one ends up needing all of them to try and totally include the whole genius.
They say that Bob owns several armored vaults where he keeps all the stuff his crew has been recording all along his artistic trajectory. It would include thousands and thousands of miles of tape with endless footage obtained from the concerts he has already celebrated to date. Could it be true? If so, it would be the dream of every collector dedicated to his work, to obtain all those recordings and keep them in his own vaults to listen to them privately. One would want to preserve them like gold in cloth between the walls of his private temple. I do not doubt Dylan himself must have a good part of the best work he’s done, live recorded by his acolytes and carefully maintained under lock and key. But what seems to me less probable yet is that the reach of that material covers each and every one of the shows the icon from Duluth has given throughout history. Nevertheless audience recordings of a great part of his work on stage exists. We may certainly find practically everything from 1974 on, more than sufficient stuff of the 60’s (mainly from 63 to 66) and a great number of soundboard recordings.
All these recordings, either taped from the audience or extracted soundboard, will be the subject of our study and our yearnings.
In order to begin with one or several lists of the essential ones, as most of you might already know, having access to the Internet would be enough to obtain the “must have” selection off the famous Craig Pinkerton’s website http://www.bobsboots.com. Here a list can be found including a one-by-one description of those unofficial editions. The complete site is a huge catalog of bootlegs containing the most impressive recordings and remastered works of legendary shows or more remarkable performances of the nomadic artist. Another one of these lists to be considered is the very recommendable one of John Howell. His project enumerates those shows for which a decent recording exists, or even excellent in many cases. They are those that from a personal and subjective point of view deserve to be listened to, at least once, by every good fan. Also interesting are the recommendations by Paul Williams or Clinton Heylin. The most exhaustive and generally trustworthy documentation about the concerts, performances and recording sessions made by the most influential figure of Rock might be found in Olof Björner’s archives. Great collectors of the enormous and amazing live work of our friend Zimmerman will be mentioned next. Their work should be taken as an origin, information source and present documentation of a great part of the works recorded during the last quarter of the last century and the previous years. We are talking about excellent researchers for the study, compilation, documentation and evaluation of the performing art’s legacy of the little great white wonder, such as Les Kokay, Michael Krogsgaard, Glen Dundas, Jeff Friedman or Bill Pagel (author of the unavoidable site Bob Links). All of them investigators, compilers and most likely authors themselves of the most remarkable live recordings one can find of the mythical periods in Dylan’s history and therefore of Rock.
Kokay published in 2000 his own catalogue of the complete recordings of the 1974 tour, “Bob Dylan/The Band (A Collectors Guide to the 74 Tour)”, updated in 2005, which he compiled and remastered to a great extent. So, thanks to him they have finally arrived to us in a still acceptable condition, some of them (few of course) excellent registries for the time. Nevertheless, in the heading he quotes Clinton Heylin, as a form of recognition to the contribution of this author, with a statement that is not totally wrong but I do not share it, “There are two problems with the 1974 tour: the tapes are crap and Dylan’s performances are crap.” – C. Heylin, Telegraph 32 pag 86. The tapes are in their great majority of a lamentable quality, that is unquestionable, but instead I believe the performances of the furious artist of Columbia are quite convincing. Although he most likely sang and played his guitar, or sat at the piano, in a post-moonshine state when not completely under the influence of the alcohol or any other intoxicating substances, we can tell he was fervent and still focused. For that matter, I think there is no doubt that his uninhibited delivery and high degree of emotional load turns out to be now a terrific moving experience. For instance we’ve got “Before The Flood”, the official edition of the tour containing, in my opinion, one of the best live versions ever of the classic “Just Like A Woman”, true fire and clamorous storm of purifying rain just before the flood. It is also obligatory to listen to the complete concert from which some of the tracks on the official disc were extracted (among them the mentioned Just Like A Woman). I’m talking about February 14th, 1974 at The Forum in Los Angeles, late show, which contains another true masterpiece of the performing art from the author of Like A Rolling Stone. An unexpected and subduing “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” that leaves the kind listener disturbed as well as full of admiration. The essential bootleg that includes the soundboard recording of this impressive and unique concert is the one titled “Paint The Daytime Black” of Q Record editions (ref: QR 23/24). Another essential disc of this transcendental tour that one should be able to find included in the corresponding Bobsboots list is “Oakland Flood”, first of both shows at the Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, California on February 11th, 1974. The sound is PA and splendid, although certainly defective sometimes due to irreparable damages on the tape. It contains an extraordinary and vibrant version of the always magnificent and in a certain sense apocalyptic, “Gates of Eden.” Not to be missed. There also exists in addition a compilation of the tour, work by Ronnie Z, who should be easily recognized by his nickname, Barefoot. This compilation, whose title “Sound The Battle Charge” gathers many of the most intense and exciting performances of some of his songs during the period, was later spread by Stewart (Stew711). I would especially mention some of them from his album “Planet Waves” (immediately subsequent to the beginning of the tour). I mean songs that he has never done live again since then, like “Wedding Song” for instance, “Something There Is About You” off the mentioned album, and the excellent and stirring “Nobody ‘Cept You” never officially released until 1991 (“Bootleg Series Vol.1-3, Rare and Unreleased”.) The way Dylan sings in that performance of January 4th in Chicago this dismal, shady and existential, but highly enthusiastic declaration of love, is something that would shake any sensitive soul. All of them saw their debut during the first concerts of his return to the stage in January 1974, in advance of the nowadays underrated LP that paradoxically got to be first from the artist to reach Nº1 in the USA top sales lists.
Les Kokay himself also publishes his guide “Songs of the Underground (A Collectors Guide to the Rolling Thunder Revue 1975-1976)” in 2003. In it we found documentation relative to both parts of RTR tour, the concerts and all the available material. Nowadays these recordings have been widely circulating and wouldn’t be difficult for any fan to acquire them. They have been now corrected, even completed and also repaired, since the reproduction or transference to digital disc of some of them ran at different speed than the equipment used for the original recording (Nagra Tape recorders, usually.) Others that were incomplete have been completed through the years mixing different sources.
As for the previous years, tapes from pre-Columbia recordings made by friends and Bob own’s colleagues, the Gleason Tapes or the multi-reproduced Minnesota Hotel Tape, as well as many of the concerts from the 60’s, we will give account in a next chapter. On subsequent issues we will continue through the documented transgression of Folk, his conversion to electrified Rock and his adoption of pop culture, until the dramatic episode of the motorcycle accident. All of this will be main subject of future installments of this section and we will comment on the most remarkable captures, the collectable recordings, corresponding outtakes of the official recording sessions, concerts, titles of bootlegs and everything referring to the existing material in circulation.
The Hipnotist Collector