«Tales From A Lone Pilgrim’s Progress.» Bob Dylan’s 50th Anniversary Collection: 1970

Something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue, that could be the short summary of this 50th Anniversary. During his 1970 recording sessions Dylan is recording both old and new songs of his own, both old and new cover versions of other artists songs, and yes, some of the versions are saturated with the blues. The sessions are moved from Nashville to New York this year, but the spirit from the last years recordings in Nashville still lingers on, even with important changes in the personnel, among others introducing the fabulous David Bromberg into Dylan’s music. (I will strongly recommend David’s last album, Big Road, with Roll on, John as a highlight. No, not that John!) Al Kooper is back, too. (Both of them was interviewed in this ad for Another Self Portrait.)

When 1970 arrives, Bob Dylan is 28 years old, he is the already the father of five, including his wife’s daughter from her first marriage. A bunch of kids that call him Pa. Family life alone is a job for two. When Dylan many years later says he “gave up art for family”, well, it would be reasonable to include this year. Still, Dylan’s creative clock is ticking, and two albums shall be released this year.

«Self Portrait» is already in the making, that is, the sessions that eventually should result in the double album «Self Portrait», released in June 1970, started in springtime the year before and continues in March. As we now know, the light of dawn of «New Morning» (released in October) is part of the process – and progress. As for most years, there are also plenty of tracks that in time will be known through archival recordings – first Columbia Records “revenge” release of «Dylan» in 1973, a vindictive action, not involving the artist, after the real Dylan’s signing with Asylym, then later on «Bootleg Series, Volume 1 – 3» (1991), the beautifully curated «Another Self Portrait» (Bootleg Series, Volume 10: 1969-71), where most of the tracks originated from 1970 sessions, and the inclusion of the May 1970 recordings with Earl Scruggs, a bit  surprisingly, on last year’s «Travelin’ Thru» (Bootleg Series, Volume 15: 1967 – 1969). When this last collection arrives, like a thief in the night, and with the usual grief, sadness, cussing & swearing involved when it is sold out to just the lucky few in a split second, the question is of course – does it really bring anything new or anything of value to the table? Or is it just hyped up worthless left-overs of no interest for anybody but for whom everything Dylan is interesting? A question forever left unsolved, I guess. Nevertheless, I’ll just give you my opinion.

The sound quality is great and crispy clear all through the set, just a few times the vocals is a bit back in the mix. The whole collection is maybe, more than anything else, a study in all the different voices and tempers of Dylan’s intended use of vocal, from the voice of tender ballads via jaunty pop covers to the voice of raw and dirty blues. He can change the feeling of a song completely with a rough brush of dark blue where it used to be lighter, as he does with “Tomorrow Is A Long Time”, or he can dig deeper into the dark desperation with his vocal delivery on “Long Black Veil”, more than on any version I’ve heard.

The Bob & George Session – 1st of May 1970.

There is no doubt that the forthcoming wider release of this collection may be inspired by the extra attention brought by a certain sideman named George Harrison for the 1st of May sessions. The session with George is also the most widely bootlegged part of the 74 tracks, now for the first time made officially available with this collection. Sadly, the studio chatter, small talk and comments is mostly erased – in many ways proof of the warm spirit of the day. Although the friendship obviously goes both ways, one would think this had to be an especially great lesson and inspiration for George, going home and starting his recording of “All Things Must Pass” later the same month, with «If Not For You» in the luggage. The co-written «I’d Have You Anytime» that opened the album was written already in 1968, during George’s first visit to Bob, in Woodstock. Hey, George even invited Pete Drake to play pedal steel on some of the tracks on his new album.

The session 1st of May 1970, starts and stops as a “New Morning”-session, the new songs unfolds, including the first takes of “If Not For You”, but then turns into a “Bob & George Revue” of songs. Dylan sets the tone for this part of the session with a beautiful country version of “Song to Woody”, in many ways the official kick-off for the songwriter at the mike, then George is joining in on a raw up-tempo version of “Mama You Been On The Mind”, one of many examples of how the feel of the old songs change in this 1970 sessions, not just this day. The “Dylan Sings Beatles” (or “Nobody Sings Beatles Like Dylan”) version of “Yesterday” might be one of the historically most interesting tracks, a charming folk version of the Beatles masterpiece, Dylan making the song his own. (Why they did cut George’s comment: “Let’s dub some cellos on”, I don’t know (they wouldn’t say)). Personally I always loved the following country version of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”, a song that usually stands the test of any new Dylan arrangement. Old Dylan songs mixed with cover versions follows, from “I Met Him On A Sunday” and “Ghost Riders In The Sky”, a soft and tender version of Sam Cooke’s “Cupid” and a heartfelt version of the Everly Brothers hit “All I Have To Do Is Dream”, certainly a sentiment both boys could relate to, looking back on the last decade’s almost unbelievable merits, both now heading for new mornings.

With a nice “Gates of Eden” (where Bob is humming the first verse and rhythm to teach the song to the band), a more funky version of “One Too Many Mornings” than last year, an electric “I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)”, “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” (with improvised lyrics), “It Ain’t Me, Babe” and “I Threw It All Away”, Dylan covers almost all phases of his sixties output, some of the songs surely on George’s request. They just had to make place for a couple of Carl Perkins songs, a favorite artist of them both, maybe especially George, though. Jolly good versions of both “Matchbox” and “Your True Love”, the last is the one of all tracks where George’s vocal is most prominent. The harmonica version with mixed verses of “It Ain’t Me, Babe” makes a nice transition back to new songs, a slow, quiet and beautiful version of “If Not For You”, and then three great tracks of “Sign On The Window”, the first piano-based with a gentle guitar, the next also with drums and bass, fumbling from the start, but then with certainty, the third a very nice complete take with band intro. The Brighton girls are all the same in all the versions, well, “all the same” or “like the moon”, they’re unattainable or at least hard-to-get all of them. Or so it seems. George may already have left the building.

The session also includes two songs by Henry Thomas, “Fishing Blues”, included on “Anthology of American Music” (maybe Dylan also heard Taj Mahal’s recording from 1969?) and Dylan’s adaption “Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance” from “Freewheelin'”. The little ditty “Telephone Wire” might just be a little improvised jam then and there, nicely placed in the “blue” section of the collection. With that, the 1st of May session’s widely span covers the tracks back to the twenties, and in itself makes a mini-universe of the 1970 collection, strongly underlining the dynamics between tradition and creative outbursts in new songs from Bob Dylan, also this year, searching for new direction. In a way, the session ties the Self Portrait and New Morning sessions together in a most beautiful way. One leads to another side of Bob Dylan.

The Self Portrait Sessions – 3rd, 4th and 5th of March, 1970.

The first three consecutive sessions of 1970 was also the last “Self Portrait Sessions”, building on Nashville sessions from spring of 1969. Several sessions of overdubbing would follow and the release date was June 8th, as we now know, to mixed reviews. With time the field of both critics and audience might be said to be more nuanced than in the heat of the summer days of 1970, and there are more diverse answers to Greil Marcus’ famous question: “What is this shit?” It’s all about perspective, I guess. As always.

At the first session, “Went To See The Gypsy” is a lonely new song between a crowded room of standards and cover versions, setting the tone Oh, and yes, “Woogie Boogie” at the end of the session. The selection on CD 1 gives us both of those, together with Tom Paxton’s “Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound” and Buffy Sainte Marie’s “Universal Soldier”. The first really highlight is a gorgeous piano version of “Spanish Is The Loving Tongue”, a song that has to mean something special for Dylan, so many times coming back to it, always treating it like it is made of gold.

It’s a “Self Portrait” session, but “Went To See The Gypsy” sneaks into Dylan’s thoughts, making it also a start of another project. It’s an import and plentiful session, about fifteen out of twenty songs will be released on “Self Portrait”, “Another Self Portrait” or “Bootleg Series, Volume 1-3”. The know well-known “Pretty Saro” comes from this day in studio, but we don’t get any alternate takes of this pearl of a song.

From 4th of March we get a fine take of “Went To See The Gypsy” with harmonica intro, a powerful rhythm and beautiful phrasings. More of a rock version than the original’s swinging elegance. The only other song represented here is the first take of Eric Andersen’s “Thirsty Boots”. Dylan sings it like it his own song. This is the same session that gave us, among others, both “Days of 49”, “Wigwam” and “House Carpenter”.

The funny and charming highlight of 5th of March, for me, has to be “Little Moses”, Dylan teaching both the back-up singers and the band the classic Carter Family song. The singers are laughing and don’t get it right, but Dylan sings steady through the take, before he suggests, I guess jokingly, some horns. An uptempo version of Alberta with harmonica follows, then a nice version of “Come All You Fair And Tender Ladies”, Dylan in his characteristically hybrid between singing and reciting the song. We know Dylan love Tampa Red, both from using “It Hurts Me, Too” on “Self Portrait” and his using of “She’s Love Crazy” and “Love Her With A Feeling” live in 1978. This time we get Red’s “Things About Comin’ My Way” in a really great bluesy version. A cool uptempo “Went To See The Gypsy” follows, before Dylan is humming an unidentified beautiful tune in his “Wigwam” way. Bob goes all pop with a fun version of “Come A Little Bit Closer” before another version of Alberta with lots of harmonica, more or less successful. Both “Gotta Travel On” and “All The Tired Horses” from the original “Self Portrait” was recorded this day.

The New Morning Sessions – June & August 1970

As we know, the New Morning songs were well under way from the first sessions this year, surely during the session with Harrison in May, still it’s from June the focus on the new album really sets in. “Sign on the window” is the only released song on the album from pre-June sessions.

From 1st of June: It starts off with three versions of the Cajun classic by Jimmy C Newman, with Dylan in different tempos and genres. He surely knew the original, but he also might have heard the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band version from the days of ’69. Then it gets really weird, suddenly a take of “Day of the Locusts” appears, the song about Dylan getting his Princeton Honorary Degree. All would be well, if it wasn’t for Dylan receiving the award the 9th of June. Of course, Dylan hesitated so much, and is such a good story-teller, he could have pre-written the song with great finesse, more truly the track is placed at the wrong date, a fact information about the planned February release suggests, the take then is placed with the songs from 12th of August.

Two takes of “Sarah Jane” is pretty close to the released version on “Dylan”, between the two a just beautiful and very tender version of “Sign On The Window”, not so far from the released version but with a longer piano intro.

From 2nd of June: On the first version of “If Not For You”, Dylan emulates the guitar intro to get the rock feeling of the song he wants, strengthened even more by his harmonica playing. Then Dylan’s “We’re rolling…” kicks off the second version, a much more relaxed country version of the song.

From 3rd of June: A cool version of “Jamaica Farewell” follows, the Harry Belafonte song from 1957 is given a new folksy life in Dylan’s hands. Joyful. So much has happened since his first recording session, playing harmonica for Belafonte on “Midnight Special”. “Can’t Help Falling In Love” and “One More Weekend” are both close to the released versions, both from the same session. Then we get one of the other highlights of the whole set, “Long Black Veil”. Dylan counts “one, two, three, four”, then it starts with rough slide guitar, Dylan is on his toes from the start, blue as blues can get, works with the timing and phrasing from the start, telling the sad story in an almost desperate reading of the song, far from the quiet original version by Lefty Frizzell. The feel of the song reminds me of the sound of Dylan with The Band at the Woody Guthrie Tribute Concert a few years earlier.

From 4th of June: Take 1 of “Bring Me Little Water, Sylvie” starts soft and quiet, with a shorter piano introduction, but increases in strength, a beautiful version with the back-up vocals perfectly joining in. An alternate take of the beautiful “Three Angels” is pretty close to the released version, even if the pigeons and dogs changes place. “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” is attacked the same way as “Long Black Veil”, a heavy blues treatment, far from the sweetness of the “original” live version. Here comes more despair and frustration of the loss, underlined by some raw bottle-neck guitar. “Yes I would, lay in my bed, once again” he shouts at the end of take 1. In the next take of the same song Bob comes strolling along in a little bit more light and countryesque way, still with a bluesy feel of the song. After an alternate but no so different take of “New Morning”, a great swinging nameless harmonica-driven instrumental – so deep in the bass that you could think Dylan swallowed Charlie McCoy or at least one of his harmonicas before the take. Great stuff!

From 5th of June: A funky piano-driven “Went To See The Gypsy”, followed by a stereo-mix of “Sign On The Window”, then a beautiful soft “Winterlude” with harmonica, at the end it falls apart because of the same instrument. Then more highlights for me: The two takes of “I Forgot To Remember To Forget”! An Elvis original from 1955, his first no. 1 hit nationally. A simple love song, but oh, so deep, for those who have encountered this kind of situations. “Most of the time” is a relative, I guess. The two versions of the song are both touchingly beautiful, the first a bit more uptempo than the second, Dylan’s vocal sweet and soft on both, the girl singers adds to the feeling. Also one of those songs that Dylan is coming back to, as we also remember a gorgeous version from the complete “Basement Tapes”. I like both the versions of “Lily of the West” better than the version on “Dylan”, the slow, heartfelt, almost spoken intro makes it a completely different experience for me, Dylan invites us into the story and the song in a very effective way. The rehearsal of “Father Night” is an engaged reading, with great piano and vocals before the take suddenly stops.

12th of August: The two last versions of “If Not For You” included is, at least to my ears, the same vocal tracks as the two from 2nd of June. Maybe some overdubbing is done, but I’m not so sure about that. Sounds identical to me.

What more can you expect?

Even if it’s a bit disappointing there wasn’t one more acceptable take of the fabulous song, “The Man In Me” (or “Big Yellow Taxi”), I really have to admit that I’m more than satisfied with what we got here. The sound, the feel, the environment and the process that led to “New Morning” is well documented, as well as the finishing of “Self Portrait”. Yes, each one of us might have curated it a little bit different, now familiar with all the songs we now have heard, but then again, at last we had it all, both Another Self Portrait and now this Third. I think many will agree with me that “Dylan” could have been lifted substantially by using some of the tracks presented in this collection. I’m so happy that everybody that read this far, will be able to listen to it all in February. When I listen to the jambalaya of songs and versions, I can see a close relation to what happened in a Basement a few years earlier, also leading up to a new start after using some of the same techniques of something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue.

Yes, there is some really, really great songs and versions of songs on this 50th Anniversary Collection, but in the end I think it’s greatest contribution might be the way it gives us even more insight in the artistic process of this particular and challenging phase of Bob Dylan’s life and work, eventually leading to many a new morning to come. The joy and musicianship brought to the table by the hand-picked musicians, Dylan’s eagerness to again write songs, the playfulness and the talent, it all comes together, and here we are again, happy to be flies on the wall listening to how it happened.

Johnny Borgan

Track list:

Bob Dylan – 50th Anniversary Collection – 1970

Disc 1:

March 3, 1970

1. I Can’t Help but Wonder Where I’m Bound
2. Universal Soldier – Take 1
3. Spanish Is the Loving Tongue – Take 1
4. Went to See the Gypsy – Take 2
5. Went to See the Gypsy – Take 3
6. Woogie Boogie

March 4, 1970
7. Went to See the Gypsy – Take 4
8. Thirsty Boots – Take 1

March 5, 1970
9. Little Moses – Take 1
10. Alberta – Take 2
11. Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies – Take 1
12. Things About Comin’ My Way – Takes 2 & 3
13. Went to See the Gypsy – Take 6
14. Untitled 1970 Instrumental #1
15. Come a Little Bit Closer – Take 2
16. Alberta ¬– Take 5

Bob Dylan – vocals, guitar, piano
David Bromberg – guitar, dobro, bass
Al Kooper – organ, piano
Emanuel Green – violin
Stu Woods – bass
Alvin Rogers – drums
Hilda Harris, Albertine Robinson, Maeretha Stewart – background vocals

May 1, 1970
17. Sign on the Window – Take 2
18. Sign on the Window – Takes 3, 4 & 5
19. If Not for You – Take 1
20. Time Passes Slowly – Rehearsal
21. If Not for You – Take 2
22. If Not for You – Take 3
23. Song to Woody – Take 1
24. Mama, You Been on My Mind – Take 1

25. Yesterday – Take 1

Disc 2:

1. Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues – Take 1
2. I Met Him on a Sunday (Ronde-Ronde) – Take 1
3. One Too Many Mornings – Take 1
4. Ghost Riders in the Sky – Take 1
5. Cupid – Take 1
6. All I Have to Do Is Dream – Take 1
7. Gates of Eden – Take 1
8. I Threw It All Away – Take 1
9. I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met) – Take 1
10. Matchbox – Take 1
11. Your True Love – Take 1
12. Telephone Wire – Take 1
13. Fishing Blues – Take 1
14. Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance – Take 1
15. Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 – Take 1
16. It Ain’t Me Babe
17. If Not for You
18. Sign on the Window – Take 1
19. Sign on the Window – Take 2
20. Sign on the Window – Take 3

Bob Dylan – vocals, guitar, piano, harmonica
George Harrison – guitar, vocals (Disc 1, Tracks 20 & 24 and Disc 2, Tracks 2-3, 6-7, 10-11, & 16)
Bob Johnston– piano (Disc 1, Tracks 24-25 and Disc 2, Tracks 1-3)
Charlie Daniels – bass
Russ Kunkel – drums

June 1, 1970
21. Alligator Man
22. Alligator Man [rock version]
23. Alligator Man [country version]
24. Day of the Locusts – Take 2
25. Sarah Jane 1
26. Sign on the Window
27. Sarah Jane 2

Disc 3:

June 2, 1970
1. If Not for You – Take 1
2. If Not for You – Take 2

June 3, 1970
3. Jamaica Farewell
4. Can’t Help Falling in Love
5. Long Black Veil
6. One More Weekend

June 4, 1970
7. Bring Me Little Water, Sylvie – Take 1
8. Three Angels
9. Tomorrow Is a Long Time – Take 1
10. Tomorrow Is a Long Time – Take 2
11. New Morning
12. Untitled 1970 Instrumental #2

June 5, 1970
13. Went to See the Gypsy
14. Sign on the Window – Stereo Mix
15. Winterlude
16. I Forgot to Remember to Forget 1
17. I Forgot to Remember to Forget 2
18. Lily of the West – Take 2
19. Father of Night – rehearsal
20. Lily of the West

Bob Dylan – vocals, guitar, piano, harmonica
David Bromberg – guitar, dobro, mandolin
Ron Cornelius – guitar
Al Kooper – organ, piano
Charlie Daniels – bass, guitar
Russ Kunkel – drums
Background vocalists unknown

August 12, 1970
21. If Not for You – Take 1
22. If Not for You – Take 2

Bob Dylan – vocals, guitar, harmonica
Buzzy Feiten – guitar
Other musicians unknown

March 3, 4, 5 and May 1, 1970 sessions took place at Studio B, Columbia Recording Studios, New York City, New York
June 1-5 and August 12, 1970 sessions took place at Studio E, Columbia Recording Studios, New York City, New York

All songs written by Bob Dylan, except: I Can’t Help but Wonder Where I’m Bound by Tom Paxton; Universal Solider by Buffy Sainte-Marie; Spanish Is the Loving Tongue, Alberta, Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies, Things About Comin’ My Way, Fishing Blues, Honey Just Allow Me One More Chance, Bring Me Little Water Sylvie, Lily of the West traditional, arranged by Bob Dylan; Little Moses by A.P. Carter; Thirsty Boots by Eric Andersen; Come a Little Bit Closer by Tommy Boyce, Bobby Hart, and Wes Farrell; Yesterday by John Lennon and Paul McCartney; I Met Him on a Sunday (Ronde-Ronde) by Shirley Owens, Beverly Lee, Addie Harris, and Doris Coley; Ghost Riders in the Sky by Stan Jones; Cupid by Sam Cooke; All I Have to Do Is Dream by Boudleaux Bryant; Matchbox and Your True Love by Carl Perkins; Alligator Man by Jimmy C. Newman and Floyd Chance; Jamaica Farewell by Irving Burgie; Can’t Help Falling in Love by Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore, and George David Weiss; Long Black Veil by Marijohn Wilkin and Danny Dill; and I Forgot to Remember to Forget by Charlie Feathers and Stan Kesler.

Produced for release by Steve Berkowitz
Sessions originally produced by Bob Johnston

Tapes transferred by Matt Cavaluzzo
Rough mixes by Matt Cavaluzzo and Damian Rodriguez
Editing and mastering by Steve Addabbo

Art Direction and Design: Geoff Gans
Product Manager: Jeroen van der Meer
Archivist and Project Coordinator: Parker Fishel
Additional Research: Jeff Friedman

11 thoughts on “«Tales From A Lone Pilgrim’s Progress.» Bob Dylan’s 50th Anniversary Collection: 1970

  1. Thanks for a hugely interesting and informative review/response. I’ve written something for the next ‘Isis’ re 69/70 Dylan ‘country’ and what I’ve heard so far (via youtube), alongside your observations, ties in with much of what I’ve said about his escape into ‘pastoral’ and – I think – his search for a ‘voice’.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Johnny loved your comments re 50th anniversary collection 1970.

    Havent got it yet, can’t wait. So good to know someone else agrees with me that we do want to hear as many takes as possible and for me that there is still room for more deluxe editions in spite of what dylan’s people think or are advised.
    I hit legacy recordings with feedback on this set and the small number of the original issue along with many other comments.
    Nice to see someone is listening and others are complaining too.
    Bring on planet wave demos and alternate takes but with a proper issue either as anniversary or bootleg series.
    Stay safe

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: “Come A Little Bit Closer” – About “Bob Dylan 1970 (with Special Guest George Harrison)”, 2021 | Johnny B.

  4. Because I wasn’t born until 1960. I was late picking up on Dylan. Around 1971 I started noticing B. Dylan on record labels and the back of album covers. My father, was and still is a strict, conservative Christian. Had always seen my love for music. And, fed it with to my surprise in a way. I still thank him for today. Buying me, Rolling Stones, Aftermath. When I was six. When I ask him about Bob Dylan. It opened up, a box full of artists. Many who are mentioned in this article. I just wanna say. I don’t know if I’ll ever come across the releases you’re talking about. But, if I did. I’d have bought it without this write up. I don’t think I know something others don’t. But, when you know what Dylan put into the music of his songs. You understand why even if you don’t wanna like him. You’re going to. I do like the music Beijing the story over the writing. Maybe my second ex wife. Will sit down and listen with open ears and mind.

    Liked by 1 person

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