In 1965-67 Bob Dylan became an international superstar with cutting edge albums like Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61 Revisted, pulling out the electric guitar at the traditional Newport Folk Festival and the release of what Rolling Stone Magazine calls the greatest rock song of all time; Like a Rolling Stone. Then an near fatal motorcycle accident pulls Dylan from the front pages of music and he literally disappears for a while.
During that time he was in Woodstock NY with his then back up band, The Hawks (later to become The Band). They were on the downlow, quietly writing and recording songs in that small artist community. They were simply getting away from it all and as musicians, their therapy was to write and play music. During this time Dylan and his band mates wrote over 150 songs and recorded a lot of them in very raw form in the basement of the famous “pink house”. Together they were better and in a very real sense, more creative. They were intimate and humorous songs some about brutal betrayal and others about nothing.
These songs were never meant to be released, they were just these guys doing what they did. Despite the fact that such classics as I Shall Be Released, Quinn the Eskimo, Tears of Rage and You Aint Going No Where were among the musical larks, they never thought “these were viable for commercial release”. BUT as with all ideas, it’s hard to keep them silent and the music underground rapidly found scratchy acetates of the sessions and a subculture legend was born.
Columbia acquired the recordings and in 1975 released the legendary The Basement Tapes.
47 years later, famous record producer and musician T Bone Burnett gets a strange call. It seems a box of unrecorded and unfinished songs from the original Dylan Basement Tape sessions has been discovered and would he be interested in doing something with it. Huh? Burnett wanted to know if Dylan was OK with this and was told he had given his blessing to T Bone.
The idea was, can we kind of recreate the collaborative and free form of the original Basement Tapes and bring some of these songs to life? He needed a team of singers, writers and musicians to collaborate around this simple box of musical ideas. He wanted a gumbo of musical genres and a strong sense of current music. Elvis Costello, Rhiannon Giddons (The Carolina Chocolate Drops), Jim James (My Morning Jacket), Marcus Mumford (Mumford & Sons) and Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes) formed the nucleus of the New Basement Tapes and tackled the herculean creative task of making music around the legendary Bob Dylan’s ideas.
So began a two week odyssey at Capital Records in Hollywood CA where the pressure of being creative and part of a team chosen to pick up the song pieces of Dylan’s 1967 creative spurt was recorded both in a new record; Lost on the River – The New Basement Tapes and a documentary by Sam Jones; Lost Songs: The Basement Tapes Continue, now on Showtime (http://www.sho.com/sho/reality-docs/titles/3411641/lost-songs-the-basement-tapes-continued) .
There is something about the communal connection that comes from a group of people. I know that the isolated genius like Picasso and Van Gogh can create earth stopping works, but when you get more than one creative, intelligent person and connect them by great facilitation (T Bone Burnett in this case) you can get magic. You will be challenged by the others. You will be pushed. You will be frustrated and find a new pathway to your idea. The combined group will somehow become better than the individual. Ideas become stretched and connected.
The collaborative creative process can be something very, very special.