Bob Dylan began recording 1975's Blood on the Tracks in much the same manner he had begun 1962's Bob Dylan: inside the studio at 799 Seventh Avenue, New York City, alone at the microphone with just his guitar, a harmonica, and the song. In '62, the facility was Columbia Studio A, in '75 it was A&R Studios. In '62, John Hammond was the producer, in '75 Phil Ramone (the R in A&R) was manning the controls as engineer. Dylan, of course, was a much-changed man, but upon his return to Columbia Records after an ill-fated sojourn to the Asylum label, he was ready to make history again. The bumpy road to Blood on the Tracks has just been chronicled with stunning detail on the 6-CD Deluxe Edition of More Blood, More Tracks, the fourteenth - and some might say, most highly anticipated - volume of Dylan's Bootleg Series.
The New York sessions for Blood on the Tracks commenced on September 16, 1974, continuing through the 19th with a variety of musicians including Eric Weissberg and his band Deliverance (so named for the 1972 film Deliverance which yielded Weissberg's hit single "Dueling Banjos"), pianist Paul Griffin, and steel guitarist Buddy Cage. Deliverance and guests included Weissberg, Barry Kornfeld, and Charles Brown III on guitars, Thomas McFaul on keyboards, Tony Brown on bass, and Richard Crooks on drums. Those four days yielded a complete album's worth of material, issued in acetate form by Columbia Records before Dylan decided he wasn't through.
He returned to his native Minnesota for two sessions with local musicians (guitarists Chris Weber and Kevin Odegard, keyboardist Greg Inhofer, mandolin player Peter Ostroushko, bassist Billy Peterson, and drummer Bill Berg) on December 27 and 30, recording master takes of five songs previously attempted in New York. The final album featured five tracks from New York, and five from Minnesota. What happened along the way to convince Dylan that he needed new musicians, a new locale, and a new feeling to bring his powerful songs to life?
More Blood, More Tracks is the story of thirteen songs - ten of which made the final album. It's the story of a determined singer-songwriter and a number of talented musicians enduring plenty of bumps in the road as they create one of the greatest records of all time. With the original album, Dylan proved that he could find a place in the so-called "confessional singer-songwriter" firmament. His new songs tapped into universal emotions even as their intricate lyrics were rife with riddles and allegories. His melodies embraced traditional folk music forms, largely eschewing the classic Tin Pan Alley style Dylan had infrequently referenced (think: "I Threw It All Away"). These yarns had the ring of truth, but their final forms hardly came naturally. The journey with Dylan, Phil Ramone, and a rotating cast of sidemen makes for one of the most fascinating Bootleg entries. It's rare to be able to trace a popular song in every stage of its evolution, but the complete, warts-and-all approach here in presenting every New York take allows for that to happen (much as on Bootleg Volume 12, The Cutting Edge) right before your ears. Alas, the Minneapolis session reels no longer exist, so the final versions of those five tracks have to suffice. (The Minneapolis recordings have been remixed from the original multitracks for additional clarity and enhanced detail.)
Here's the tale of those thirteen songs...
"If You See Her, Say Hello"
Did Dylan enter A&R with the intention of recording a solo acoustic album, at least in part? The first song attempted at the first session on September 16, 1974, "If You See Her, Say Hello," announced the "new" Dylan. Whether or not the song was truly personal - its composer-lyricist has long denied the autobiographical nature of the material on Blood - it surely had the illusion of such intimacy. Dylan performed two takes of "If You See Her" that first day. While the lyrics were still in an embryonic state, the song's pain, beauty, and wistfulness were all fully-formed on both takes, the second of which offered a far more desperate and chilling vocal.
A return to the song on September 19 with Brown on bass led to Dylan's famous remark, "Was that dramatic enough?" It doesn't seem as if he was directing the comment sarcastically at Phil Ramone but rather genuinely asking about the quality of his vocal. (The answer? Dylan was still searching to vocalize the right balance between the wistful and the desperate, but yes, Bob, it was vividly dramatic!)
The first song recorded in New York became the last song recorded in Minneapolis on December 30 - making it the first and last song cut for Blood on the Tracks. Peter Ostroushko joined the band for this track on mandolin, though Dylan himself took over the instrument for crucial passages. The final version is the prettiest and most tender, with the narrator's understated pain making it all the more affecting.
"You're a Big Girl Now"
The artist recorded three non-consecutive takes early in the sessions on September 16. Laser-focused on the music, Dylan didn't catch that he was hitting the buttons on his vest as he performed (you'll hear this throughout a number of the solo takes on this date). But that reverie led to striking vulnerability in his interpretations ("I hope that you can hear/Me singin' through these tears") and genuine ache ("I'm going out of my mind/With a pain that stops and starts/Like a corkscrew to my heart') largely unknown in Dylan's work to that point. Though he was still fine-tuning the lyrics and placement of each verse, the raw emotions were powerfully present. Take 3, in particular, is elegant in its spare simplicity.
He returned to the song to open the sessions on September 17 with Tony Brown of Deliverance on bass and Paul Griffin on organ. Griffin had played with Dylan on the '60s classics Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited; as a top-tier New York player he'd also tickled the ivories on the famous Burt Bacharach and Hal David productions for Dionne Warwick and countless other hits. He would later play with Steely Dan. The versatile keyboardist added subtle color to Dylan's pretty ballad; the gentle instrumentation on their Take 1 was truly AM radio-friendly. Buddy Cage added tasteful flourishes of steel guitar to Take 2 without radically transforming the song.
Further takes were rendered on September 19 as the singer experimented with the sound of his wordless vocalizing as well as with his lyrical phrasing. He's hushed and pensive on Take 1, Remake 2. His final stabs at the song (Takes 3-6, Remake 2) were unfinished, and the box preserves his on-mic commentary as he decides to move on: "We ain't gonna do it better. I can just keep hearing that organ..."
He reconsidered on December 30 in Minneapolis. The band at Sound 80 added a rich fullness to the ballad, topped off by overdubbed B3 and even flamenco guitar. Some of the delicacy had been lost, but in its place was a striking immediacy.
"Simple Twist of Fate"
It was far from simple for Dylan to nail "Twist of Fate" in the studio. He recorded two solo takes and three band takes with Deliverance on September 16. Dylan's rumination on regrets and possibilities was near-flawless from its first solo acoustic take, blending the universal style of this "new Dylan" with the trademark idiosyncratic lyrical touches ("He hears the ticking of the clocks/And walks along with a parrot that talks"). The poet and the storyteller walked hand in hand. Notably, his perspective on the song is that of omniscient narrator, rather than first person.
"Simple Twist of Fate" was the first song tackled by Deliverance during their brief time at A&R. While Dylan was prepared with the songs, he was seeking spontaneity from the band, something that Deliverance found difficult to, well, deliver. Over three takes of "Simple Twist," the band can't match the immediacy of Dylan's vocal or master accompaniment for his tricky cadences. Dylan short-circuits the second take when he hears the drums failing to keep up with him; it must have been clear by the third take that the band wasn't playing in service of his song. He wouldn't return to it until his final day at A&R.
On September 19, Dylan first attempted "Simple Twist" in a subdued, hushed rendition (with at least one strained note that clearly didn't pass muster). The very next take, one of many on the box that showcases the seemingly effortless, utterly subtle interplay between Dylan and Brown, was the one that made the album - with its looser yet still restrained and direct, dynamic vocal.
"Up to Me"
September 19's Take 2, Remake 3 of the outtake "Up to Me" (with Dylan and Brown) was first released on the seminal box set Biograph, but More Blood, More Tracks presents all recordings of the song from its first, brief rehearsal and first take on September 16 through its numerous takes on September 19 - seven, in total (though some are incomplete). A lengthy ballad, it's redolent of "Tangled Up in Blue," which might explain why it was dropped from the final album sequence despite the strength of these searching, moving takes in which the singer experiments with tempo and interpretation.
"Lily, Rosemary, and The Jack of Hearts"
Dylan's complex western epic, brimming with memorable characters and a dense plot, was introduced at the sessions via two solo takes on September 16. The second (first issued on the Blood acetate) has a lost twelfth verse not present on the final, rollicking, and more heavily countrified album version from Minnesota, recorded on December 30. Even on these early takes, it's evident that Dylan's storytelling powers were at their peak.
"Call Letter Blues"
A 12-bar blues performed in two takes with the full band on September 16, "Call Letter Blues" would, like "Up to Me," fail to make the final album cut. The second of these takes was included on the first Bootleg Series box set. Dylan rehearsed it again on September 17 with Paul Griffin adding a bit of boogie on the piano, before abandoning it.
"Meet Me in the Morning"
Shockingly, a master of this bluesy number was captured by Dylan and Deliverance in its very first take on September 16. However, that familiar take is extended here by one verse cut from the song's appearance on both the acetate and final release. It's all that survived of Deliverance's session work on Blood on the Tracks. Dylan, however, wasn't initially convinced that he couldn't better the band take. He and Brown reinvented it on September 19, Dylan tossing off his words with loose, carefree insouciance on Take 1, Remake. They continued to tweak and reshape it over three more takes that day. One of the box's most amusing moments comes from a visit from Mick Jagger, who offers some "tips" for his friend Bob.
Dylan attempted six takes (not all complete) on September 16 with Brown's bass. The famously vitriolic songwriter of "Positively Fourth Street" was back with his haunting first-person masterpiece, his intensity coming across vividly in these early versions. Anguished and harrowing, "Idiot Wind" may sound as if it arrived fully-formed, but Dylan was still tweaking many of its lyrics along the way, big and small, sometimes altering "just" a word or two in a line for maximum impact. Both in songwriting and performance, "good enough" was far from acceptable to this craftsman.
The September 19 session yielded four haunting takes from Dylan and Brown of "Idiot Wind," including the Take 4 Remake which was included with an organ overdub (by Paul Griffin) on the acetate as well as on The Bootleg Series Vols. 1-3. That version is presented here twice: once with Griffin's mournful, elegiac organ, and once without. [For those keeping score, seems that the bootlegged version of the acetate contains a different organ take by Griffin.] Either way, it's a sharp, visceral performance in which the artist is positively possessed, or perhaps guided by that wind.
"Idiot Wind" was the first song recorded in Minneapolis' Sound 80 on December 27, 1974. Chances are the facility, usually booked for jingles, had never heard anything like this before. Kevin Odegard recalls in the liner notes to More Blood, More Tracks that "It sounded terrible at first...but almost immediately it came together." Dylan's sad but withering lament was transformed in Minneapolis into an anthem of vitriol, with his fiery lead matched by the aggression of the full band (plus a Hammond B-3 overdubbed by Dylan). The naked, raw quality of the New York takes was absent, but in its place was a mighty, thunderous rock fury. Spitting out each lyric with confident venom, Dylan and his new band had pushed "Idiot Wind" to the brink of rage and passion. The mere presence of drummer Berg accelerated the song in a new direction. Dylan was so pleased with the take that he decided to continue revisiting the New York material. The Minneapolis "Idiot Wind" has been mixed here at its original speed rather than sped-up as on the original LP; all of the new mixes of the Minneapolis material respect the original performances and disregard subsequent "production" alterations.
"You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go"
The finale to the Weissberg sessions on September 16 was a marathon of eight rough-and-tumble takes of "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go." These tracks (which close Disc 2 of the box set) find the band simply unable to match the music as it must have been playing in Dylan's head. One can detect the kernel of the breezy sound they're going for, but the results lack the seemingly effortless simplicity required. By Take 3, Dylan and the band are still on altogether different pages. For Take 4, they sit out entirely other than Tony Brown. On the fifth take, Brown and Dylan lead the band in exploring a vastly different, softer, and slower sound for the song. Thomas McFaul, in particular, is sympathetic on the keys, and Richard Crooks' drums ratchet up the drama, but once again, the overall performance lacks precision. By Take 6, it's back to the original, country-esque arrangement for a couple of abortive stabs. After the eighth take (and the first complete one since Take 5), one can sense Dylan, weary and deflated. It was time to move on. The next day, September 17, Dylan, Brown, and new recruit Paul Griffin revisited the tune in a sprightly new arrangement.
It was ultimately decided to strip "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome" down. Dylan and Brown, newly inspired, tackled the song at the end of the September 17 session. In just two takes, they nailed it in an intimate style. The conversational Take 2, taken at a more urgent tempo, is the version heard on Blood on the Tracks.
"Tangled Up in Blue"
One of Dylan's most enduring (and most successful) songs of all time was first committed to tape following the dismissal of Weissberg and Deliverance as the final item recorded on September 16. Only Brown remained with Dylan to bring to life his moving tale of romantic entanglements, love, loss, discovery, and determination. As with so many of the songs here, longtime fans will delight at the lyrical variations large and small. Even on its first, languid take, Dylan nailed the essence of "Tangled Up." Future takes in New York would refine it, while the final Minnesota recording would transform it.
The following day, September 17, Dylan and Brown attempted another take with Griffin on organ, this time at a significantly faster clip and with the lyrics still changing by the moment. Griffin's presence does add a certain Blonde on Blonde-style je ne sais quoi, but Dylan still hadn't hit upon the elusive vibe that would fully unlock the song for him. Dylan tweaked it once again that day with just Brown, each take growing in power.
That strength was undiminished when Dylan and Brown came back to the song on the 19th. Three consecutive takes (two of them cut short) following a rehearsal exude confidence in the song, and Take 3 Remake 2 was selected for the acetate. One final take (Take 3 Remake 3), arguably as strong, was made as the last item recorded for the album at A&R.
When Dylan immersed himself into recording in Minneapolis, "Tangled Up in Blue" got arguably the most significant overhaul. In virtually every respect, the song was reborn from its New York origins. The band (and Bill Berg's backbeat) lent it newfound energy and urgency, not to mention a recognizable central riff and commercial sheen. The crisp and swaggering remake, taken in a new, higher key (G, rather than A) was undoubtedly smoother than its New York counterparts, but that radio-friendly quality likely allowed it to reach the widest possible audience. Some purists will inevitably prefer the stark A&R takes, but the December 30 Minneapolis "Tangled Up in Blue" quite simply cooked.
"Spanish Is the Loving Tongue"
September 17: Griffin switched to acoustic piano for a revival of "Spanish Is the Loving Tongue," a version of which Columbia had included on its controversial outtakes collection, Dylan. Griffin turned in some lovely work, but the 1920s-vintage folk tune wasn't attempted again.
"Shelter from the Storm"
Griffin, Brown, and Dylan recorded the brisk Take 1 of his rueful rumination on September 17 (later excavated for the Jerry Maguire soundtrack) and then three more takes (not all complete) sans the pianist - the fourth and final of which ended up on the finished album. Sadly, none of Paul Griffin's contributions made Blood on the Tracks.
"Buckets of Rain"
Whereas the first take on September 17 of "Buckets of Rain" was sensitively rendered, the second was even more piercing. Dylan returned to it the next day for another four abortive solo takes - the only items recorded on September 18. On September 19, not yet done with the song, he and Brown launched into another four takes. Take 3 was marred by technical issues, but that affords the opportunity for listeners to hear some fly-on-the-wall chatter (which is surprisingly infrequent on this set). In a glimpse into the man behind the shades, Dylan pricelessly quips, "This is hard making records like this! You gotta keep three or four things going at the same time...just like life!" Take 4 became the final album version, but it's revealed here that Dylan recorded one more take before realizing he'd already captured the perfect one.
"So now I'm goin' back again..."
Mark Wilder and Steve Addabbo have wonderfully remastered all of this material, with Addabbo's mixes bringing out as much color and clarity as possible, and giving new sonic splendor to the Minneapolis recordings.
The Deluxe Edition of More Blood, More Tracks is presented in the by-now-familiar slipcased style that's been a Bootleg Series mainstay since Volume 8. The main, 60+-page hardcover book contains not only the discs (adorned with test pressing-style labels from Columbia Records and A&R Studios) but also has an introduction by Ben Rollins as well as an essay incorporating track-by-track, session-by-session notes from Jeff Slate. Happily, full discographical annotation is also included indicating which takes ended up on the acetate, final album, and subsequent compilations. Slate's essay is entertaining and informative, with comments from such key personnel as Phil Ramone's then-assistant Glenn Berger, Minnesota musician Kevin Odegard, and Dylan pal Larry "Ratso" Sloman. The only heartbreaking aspect is that Ramone passed away in 2013 and couldn't contribute his memories and perspective. Slate, intentionally, doesn't answer any questions. It may never be fully revealed why Dylan chose to re-record a quintet of songs in his home state. But that mystique has always been part of Blood on the Tracks, and always will be. The beauty of this collection is that it leaves the listener to draw his or her own conclusions.
The second hardcover book, Stories in the Press, has over 120 pages of memorabilia related to the album including advertisements, Billboard charts, single sleeves, images of the acetate, photos from Barry Feinstein and Ken Regan, and reproductions of the pages of Dylan's 19-cent spiral notebook in which he wrote, and rewrote, the lyrics to "Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts," "Tangled Up in Blue," "Shelter from the Storm," "If You See Her, Say Hello," "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go," "Simple Twist of Fate," "Idiot Wind," "Up to Me," and a number of other tantalizing titles: "Ain't It Funny," "Don't Want No Married Woman," "It's Breakin' Me Up," "Church Bell Blues" (which became "Call Letter Blues"), "Where Do You Turn" (a.k.a. "Turning Point"), "Bell Tower Blues," and "There Ain't Gonna Be Any Next Time." Four pages from the notebook were inadvertently omitted; BobDylan.com has made them available in PDF form. It's a truly compelling scrapbook.
Blood on the Tracks continues to fascinate and haunt with every listen. Fans and collectors alike will no doubt have strong opinions about which tracks should have made the final album, but this set makes it clear that a direct line can be drawn from the reserved New York sessions to the boisterous Minnesota dates to the blazing Rolling Thunder Revue. Was Dylan more authentic in New York? More likely, this artist of many facets was working out which part of himself to reveal. The Bootleg Series Vol. 14: More Blood, More Tracks is the sound of a singer-songwriter-musician at work, in his element, making art. This glimpse into the process of the famously-guarded artist is one to be savored.
More Blood, More Tracks is available now as a 6-CD Deluxe Edition as well as in 1-CD and 2-LP highlights forms at the links below: