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The Basement Tapes

By Clinton Heylin

Taken from Clinton Heylin's book Bob Dylan: The Recording Sessions (pp. 67-68).
The text is copyrighted, please do not copy or redistribute.

This quote gives you Heylin's perspective on The Basement Tapes, for what its worth, and some details (facts?) on the source of the Band's material that showed up on the official album from Columbia. At least some of the Band's material may have been that which was discarded for Big Pink mentioned by Hoskyns. Heylin also claims that Richard Manuel wrote the song "Ferdinand The Imposter".

Sadly, when this material was finally released in 1975, Robbie Robertson seemed determined to present a sleight of hand as the truth. Intermingling eight songs by the Band supposedly cut in the fall of 1967, Robertson sought to imply that the alliance between Dylan and the Band was far more equal than it was: 'Hey, we were writing all these songs, doing our own thing, oh and Bob would sometimes come around and we'd swap a few tunes.' In fact, the so-called Band basement tapes have nothing to do with the Dylan/Band sessions (of the eight Band cuts on The Basement Tapes, two are Richard Manuel Big Pink piano demos from the summer of 1967, with drums and guitars overdubbed in 1975; two are demos cut in New York in September 1967; two are recordings made shortly after Helm rejoined, probably at Big Pink; and two are actually 1975 recordings made at Shangri-La. At least three Richard Manuel compositions recorded at Big Pink in 1967 - "You Say You Love Me," "Beautiful Thing," and "Ferdinand the Imposter" - were omittted from the set possibly because they highlighted how Manuel, not Robertson, was the first to pen original Band material).

Though revealing in their own right, the Band tracks only pollute the official set and reduce its stature. Dylan's songs, fully sprung from his reactivated muse, are the work of an artist at the pinnacle of his powers. The Band's songs are signposts along the way, notes detailing the search for an independent voice so magically realized on Music from Big Pink. No more, no less.

The inspiration of those session, in the summer of 1967 would stay with the Band a long time. For Dylan, they were merely a way of moving on, songs discarded after he passed them to Dwarf Music (Bob Dylan has said, "Well, [they were] done out in somebody's basement. They weren't demos for myself, they were [just] demos of the songs. I was being pushed again into coming up with some songs"). The Band took their fair share of the fifteen Dylan songs lodged with Dwarf Music between September 1967 and January 1968 (perhaps Dylan wrote them all along for the Band to cherry pick from, unaware of the songwriting they were capable of themselves). Other artists with a Dylan pedigree snapped up most of the other demos, discreetly circulated in the early months of 1968. "This Wheel's on Fire" and "The Mighty Quinn" gave Dylan his biggest royalty checks since "Rainy Day Women." Meanwhile John Wesley Harding suggested that Dylan was not about to tune in to the summer of love ethos.

Posterity, though, would not allow Dylan to hide his and the Band's achievements that summer for very long. In June 1968, Rolling Stone ran a front cover feature on the basement tapes. It's title: "The Missing Bob Dylan Album". The bootlegging of Bob Dylan's missing link was only a step away.

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