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Sunday, 8 January 2012

Skipping Reels Of Rhyme - An introduction

Here's the rough draft of my introduction to the book. When I say 'rough' I mean 'rough' so go easy on me, there are spelling & grammar mistakes etc...


In 1970, Jimi Hendrix recorded a suite of songs on a portable tape machine for a possible future album entitled "Black Gold". These recordings were mentioned by Hendrix briefly in several interviews at the time. After Hendrix's death in 1970, rumours spread that several tapes were 'liberated' from his appartment to cover his various debts. 'Black Gold' was missing presumed lost until a chance interview in 1992 between Hendrix biographer and Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell revealed that Mitchell had there tapes in his posession the whole time. For 22 years, a lost album of Jimi Hendrix material was not in the hands of his record company or his family, carefully locked away in a temprature-controlled vault, but stored in a cardboard box in Sussex, with Mitchell totally unaware of their significance.
Hendrix recording career spanned less than 5 years. Despite this, new recordings continue to spring up in unlikely places - a reel in a private collection, some film footage sitting in a tv studio. I am always fascinated by this concept. Similarly, the BBC have a remarkable track record for apprently 'lost' episodes of broadcasts turning up in some engineer's back shed where thay have been left, undisturbed, for 30 years. How does this happen?

Bob Dylan's carrer has spanned over 50 years, with recordings of his performances existing from his earliest coffee house gigs to the present day, some professionally recorded, many from amateur 'microphone-in-audience' sources. Hundreds of hours of reels of studio recordings, making up Bob Dylan's studio albums have spawned numerous outtakes and alternate versions of familiar songs. Collector's have dutifully recorded Bob Dylan's many television and radio performances over the years and serious collectors have gathered a huge archive of 'unofficial' material.

This book is not about bootlegs. It is however, about the stuff you might never hear. It's also about the stuff that, with a bit of luck and a twist of fate, you just might. Do we have a right to hear everything? Even if the artist choses not to release it? That's another debate. To understand this book you have to see things a bit differently. When I started out with the initial idea, I was fortunate to have a brief chat with Jeff Rosen, who has overseen archival releases of Bob Dylan recordings as part of 'The Bootleg Series' since 1991 -

"I have to say that Sony actually recorded very little of Bob live. All
that was done during the 60's and all of it is known by collectors. We
have recorded stuff on and off over the years. Some were sound board
tapes, some were more complicated - all in storage..."

So, discounting the 1964 Royal Albert Hall recording (more on that later) we can assume the vast majority of Dylan's offically recorded live performances have been officially released.

There is a flip side to this coin. What about the stuff that Sony doesn't have in storage? In 1998, a reel of Bob Dylan at the Hollywood Bowl from an 'in-line' source turned up amounst collectors. Indeed, in the course of my brief conversation with Jeff Rosen, I was able to point out a piece of 1965 film footage that he was totally unaware existed.

This is where this book comes in. This isn't about the stuff that isn't tucked away in Sony's vaults. It isn't about the studio alternates that Bob Dylan doesn't want escaping. This is about the stuff that's already out there but, like the Hendrix tapes, is sitting in someone's cardbord box. It's about the acetate that Bob Dylan gave to a friend in 1963 and has been sitting on a shelf ever since. It's about that reel to reel tape in a loft, it's about that live recording in 1966 that was sitting in a biographer's house in South London until his death. Most of all, it's about how these thing continue to turn up, out of the blue, turning myth into fact and re-writing the story decades after the event. This isn't about bootlegs, it's about archeology.

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