1962-1964 Witmark Demos
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See all 25 tracks on this disc
|1. Don't Think Twice, It's All Right|
|2. Walkin' Down The Line|
|3. I Shall Be Free|
|4. Bob Dylan's Blues|
|5. Bob Dylan's Dream|
|6. Boots Of Spanish Leather|
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|10. Whatcha Gonna Do?|
See all 22 tracks on this disc
2010 two CD collection of early Dylan demo recordings seeing their first commercial release nearly five decades after they were first recorded. Recorded for his first music publishers between 1962 and 1964, these recordings trace Dylan's dramatic growth as a songwriter from early traditionally-styled songs through social commentaries and ultimately to groundbreaking lyrical genius. While many of these early songs on The Witmark Demos found their way onto Bob Dylan's own albums, 15 have never before been officially released and several more were made famous by other artists, including Peter, Paul and Mary and Stevie Wonder Judy Collins, and The Byrds. The Witmark Demos also features a deluxe booklet with in-depth liner notes by noted music historian Colin Escott, as well as rare photographs of Bob Dylan captured during the same period as these early recordings.
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He then fiddles with the tuning of his guitar and launches into All Over You.
Well, a dog's got his bone in the alley
The cat she's got nine lives.
A millionaire's got a million dollars,
King Saud's got four hundred wives.
Well, after my cigarette's been smoked up,
After all my liquor's been drunk,
After my dreams are dreamed out,
After all my thoughts have been thunk.
Who would have thunk it - this amazing stuff is a throwaway.
A door slams.
Dylan coughs; he forgets the words.
Brilliance juxtaposed with banter. An intimate window into a creative outpouring that changed everything.
Dylan delivers the haunting strains of The Death of Emmett Till with a dark menace that just won't let you go. This song ("There was screaming sounds inside the barn, There was laughing sounds out on the street...") seems to anticipate Blind Willie McTell some twenty years later:
See them big plantations burning'
Hear the cracking of the whips
Smell that sweet magnolia blooming
See the ghosts of slavery ships
It's remarkable to glimpse Dylan at work. He interrupts Let Me Die In My Footsteps saying, "Do you want this? Do you want to put this on? It's awful long, I mean it's not that long, it's just it's a drag. I sung it so many times".
And then he announces, "This is the rise and fall of Hollis Brown, it's a true story". And he sings it with a raw emotion from the edge of an abyss.
Long Time Gone seems almost prophetic even as Dylan disclaims his place as a prophet (something he was to do repeatedly throughout the years that followed):
If I can't help somebody
With a word or song,
If I can't show somebody
That they're travellin' wrong
But I know I ain't no prophet,
An' I ain't no prophet's son,
I'm just a long time a comin,
An' I'll be a long time gone.
All this stuff is astonishing - Masters of War, Tomorrow is a Long Time, Don't Think Twice it's All Right, sung with an intensity that sets you back on your heels more than a bit.
But for me the high point is Boots of Spanish Leather. A love song traced from the edge of rejection, timeless in its effort to manage the pain. Much hotter than the released version from The Times They Are A-Changin'.
It's hard to believe that all this has been locked up in some vault for almost fifty years. It's a collection that showcases Dylan's early and abundant creativity, introduces a number of outstanding songs that previously were not legally available, and highlights the amazing emotional range of his often unappreciated singing.
It's a must have.
I don't mean the massive nostalgia factor for listeners who were around when "Blowin' in the Wind" and "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" and "Girl from the North Country" and "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" redefined American pop music. That should be a huge factor: where you were when you first heard these songs, who you were with, the way they grabbed your imagination, the thought you really ought to go South and do something. But that factor is, simply and astonishingly, absent.
What takes nostalgia's place?
These songs were tossed off. To save money on tape, they were recorded at half speed. But they have been so artfully re-engineered that most of them are just as good as Dylan's recordings.
It says here: They're better than Dylan's recordings.
For the simplest of reasons: The ink on these songs is still wet when he goes into that little studio. He's writing at a ferocious rate --- Leon Russell recalls Dylan telling him "when he was on the road playing by himself, he'd write two or three songs before the show, and do them on that show then throw them away and never do them again." So he's not rewriting or rethinking --- these are some of his greatest songs, recorded right after their birth.
And they're just blindingly great --- Dylan may be just starting out, but as a writer and a performer he's completely professional, totally self-assured. Listening to these demos, even the most nostalgic boomer will feel, "It's like I'm hearing these words and this music for the first time."
The funny songs seem funnier, especially "Talking Bear Mountain Picnic" and "Hard Times in the City" ("If you got a lot of money, you can make yourself merry/Only got a nickel, it's the Staten Island ferry.") The epoch-changing songs raise the hair on the back of your neck. And the social commentary could just as easily be directed to today's enemies of change.
"Tin Pam Alley is dead," Dylan has said. "I killed it."
Yes, he did, and he did it the very first time he released an album of songs that had songs by no other writers. And here they all are, tossed off on tape right before that --- this really is Shakespeare in the alley.
These songs (recorded between the years 1962-1964) are part of the foundation of Bob Dylan's early music. In these songs you hear the beginnings of Dylan's career, when he was virtually penniless and recorded these demos for Witmark Publishing. Dylan began writing for two reasons-some songs he kept for himself, and some he gave away to friends/performers he knew at the time. Dylan began writing so he would have a cache of songs to perform and to, hopefully, make some much needed money. Signing a contract with Witmark Publishing, Dylan received several hundred dollars for his efforts.
Dylan's writing style was similar to what he does today-taking bits and pieces from a number of songs and putting them together until he felt he had something worthwhile. In this collection you'll here Dylan speaking occasionally between songs, explaining that he doesn't know all the words, or that a song was possibly not worth recording. Sometimes Dylan stops mid-song to correct a word in the lyrics, and then continues singing. He recorded these tracks no matter if the songs were old or newly written, and, at times, depending if he could remember the lyrics. But the overall feel is of Dylan in complete control of what songs he recorded in these sessions. He allowed no one to dictate whether a song was worthwhile-something he continues in the present. With these songs, we hear Bob Dylan becoming Bob Dylan. No longer strictly a folk singer, but beginning to forge his style of rock 'n' roll.
The songs, even familiar ones, with virtually the same lyrics we've heard over and over again, are different in sound and feel depending on Dylan's mood. And that makes this set even more important. This is Dylan laying down a number of his most well known, important songs. All of these songs were written by Dylan, with the exception of "Baby, Let Me Follow You Down"(copyright by Eric Von Schmidt and Reverend Gary Davis), and most have not been previously released legally. The exceptions are-"Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" (released on "The Bootleg Series Vol. 7"), "Walkin' Down The Line", "When The Ship Comes In", and "The Times They Are A-Changin'" (released on "The Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3").
This collection is at the heart of Dylan's writing, and in the early days at least, performing style. Just his voice and a delicately finger-picked guitar, occasional piano and harmonica-a perfect setting that strikes a certain mood when you hear these songs. Anyone with an interest in Dylan's early career, including some of his best known songs will find much to like here. The songs previously unheard (legally), only add weight to Bob Dylan's early start in music. The emotion heard in the best of these tracks is even more astounding-when you consider that these were being set down by a hungry Dylan, who was known only to a relatively few people on the scene, or who had heard his first Columbia Records recordings at the time. Now, with this release, we can revel in some of the earliest Bob Dylan, when he was searching and forming his individualistic style of performing.
These tapes were those above, and came from Dylan himself.I had to play them over and over again to understand the words, but the more I heard, the more I fell in love with Dylan. I had never heard anyone say the things he said, and especially the way he said them. I was a young middle class Jewish girl from Brooklyn and he changed my life. I responded to his every word. I thought differently, more expansively, more politically, after spending that time with Dylan's tapes. I found a kindred spirit. Thank you, Bob Dylan. I have loved you and your music all my life. Sandra Harmon
How does this official Columbia release compare to the most recent higher-quality bootlegs of this material that surfaced in just the past year? These latest bootlegs are markedly improved over even the old Capricorn release.
The most obvious difference is that the hiss has virtually been erased on the official release. For the Leeds Demos I initially thought that this worked out for the betterment of the songs, but I was wrong... on a second listen it is now quite apparent that the official release has acquired a hard, bright glassy sound that is rather irritating - the boot sounds far more natural. As for the Witmark Demos proper, heavy noise reduction has nearly sucked the life out of most of those 39 songs - compared to the Leeds Demos the Witmark Demos sound overly muted. Remember that all of these demos are sourced from low-end tape recorders... so you are going to get hiss on the source tapes... and a fair amount of it. Columbia got the noise reduction wrong on the Leeds material by somehow making it too bright, brittle and harsh, while ruining the Witmark tracks by conversely cutting out all the highs - go figure! "Blowing in the Wind" is dull and lifeless on the official release and much more natural sounding on the boot. The deeper bass and room ambiance are missing on the official release - seems rather flat sounding. "Boots of Spanish Leather" is similar - I suppose these might sound o.k. if you do not have a point of reference; but you would immediately appreciate the more natural sound of the boot if you could play them side by side. Too often the sparkle of Dylan's voice is subdued and muted on the official release, while more lifelike on the boot - obviously noise reduction is at work. The funny thing is that on many of the boot tracks there is hardly any hiss to begin with - so why fix something not broken!
A basic rule of remastering music is "first do no harm." The bottom line here is that Columbia certainly could have done a better job on both the Leeds and Witmark material - Many of these songs sound far better on the most recent bootlegs that appeared in the past year. Too much noise reduction has been used on this official release. The two stars are for finally making an effort to release this essential material to the general public; I docked it three stars for the dismal result...