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  The story behind this release is almost as impressive as the performance. A few years after jazz critic (and Rolling Stone Magazine founder) Ralph J Gleason passed away, his son began going through the vast archives accumulated during a lifetime of being in and around the music scene. One of the treasures discovered was a tape reel of a previously unknown very early Bob Dylan gig. The younger Gleason quickly contacted Sony and Dylan's management to arrange an eventual official release.
   Recorded at the school's folk festival on May 10 1963, this seven song disc is a nice little snapshot of the moment in time when the burgeoning folk singer was turning pro. Earlier in the month he appeared on Studs Terkel's Wax Museum radio show out of Chicago, in October he would be headlining at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

   The Brandeis recording, incomplete though it may be, is a typical '63 set consisting of album cuts ("Ballad Of Hollis Brown", a particularly scathing "Masters Of War") and songs that while now very familiar to us due to various archival releases, never actually appeared on a Dylan record like "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues" and "Talking Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues".

  Revelatory? No, but that doesn't diminish the importance of the documentation of a young man about to take on the world.

  And win.

Robert Lawson 2011

   In the early 60's alongside recording his own albums, Bob Dylan was hustling his songs for others to record (and have considerably more commercial success with). These publishing demos were recorded in an office at M. Witmark & Sons Inc who would then shop them around for other artists to cover. Dylan himself re-recorded some of this material for his own albums too.
   With the release of  The Witmark Demos:1962-1964 The Bootleg Series Vol. 9 the original raw takes are finally officially available to the general public. Dylanologists have much to study here: alternate versions of well known songs, relative obscurities and previously unknown tracks presenting much additional work in the master's early output.
   Case in point: "Boots Of Spanish Leather" here has a deep sense of dread in every line, every word more mournful than the widely known version found on 1964's The Times They Are A-Changin'. Where the established take ends with a heartbreaking bitter finale, on the publishing demo Dylan sings the entire song with a resigned weariness as if the protagonist already knows his fate has been decided. The performance gives an extra layer to the story that the released take (as great as it is) misses. And remember, he was still in his early 20's when writing material as mature as this.




   One of the many highlights of the first volume in the bootleg series (Rare & Unreleased 1961-1991) was the playful political satire "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues" recorded live at Carnegie Hall on Oct 26 1963. The song was notable for the touchy subject matter spotlighting the absurdity of the fear mongering anti-communist John Birch Society. Dylan was scheduled to perform it on the Ed Sullivan Show on May 12 1963 but at the last minute a network exec deemed the content too controversial and requested a different, safer song. Dylan walked. Then Columbia Records fearing a McCarthy-esque backlash (or worse) removed it from the soon to be released Freewheelin' album. The raw Whitmark demo contains the original lyrics that were removed by the time of the Carnegie Hall show notably comparing John Birch Society members to Hitler supporters (the still unreleased take from the Freewheelin' album includes these lyrics as well). 

    Among the other numerous songs making their debut on an official Dylan release are "Bound To Lose Bound To Win", "Guess I'm Doing Fine" and the excellent "All Over You".
   The song "Keep It With Mine" featuring a wonderful piano/harmonica interplay only previously appeared as an outtake on the 1985 boxed set  Biograph. The publishing demo version has no harmonica, instead the focus is on Bob's voice and piano playing. "The Times They Are A-Changin", "Mama You Been On My Mind" and "Tomorrow Is A Long Time" are all performed in remarkable piano only versions here. 

​   One of the real gems on Vol 9 is the fantastic gospel-folk track "Whatcha Gonna Do" which pre-dates "Serve Somebody" by 15 years. Here, Bob abandons his rustic old man voice to testify like a fire & brimstone bible thumping preacher shouting to the heavens "Oh Lord, oh Lord! What shall you do?" Why this terrific track has never appeared on an official release is any body's guess. Then again, the song "John Brown" found here didn't surface on an actual official album until 1995's MTV Unplugged ! 

  ​The official bootleg series so far comprises 9 volumes (15 discs!) which have further expanded our knowledge of Dylan's genius. With full eras (the 1974 reunion tour with The Band, the 79-81 "Born Again" period, the ongoing never-ending tour etc...) still left to explore, unbelievably it seems like we've just scratched the surface of truly understanding what a phenomenal artist he really is.

Who would have thought that the best is actually better than we ever knew?


Robert Lawson 2010. 

This article originally appeared in the Oct 2010 issue of Needle Magazine.

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