There’s a lot of buzz in the Dylan community over the impending release of a previously unknown 1963 recording of Bob Dylan at the Brandeis University folk festival. Today’s headline at contactmusic.com proclaims “Lost Bob Dylan Audio Found at Late Rolling Stone Co-Founder’s Home;” with the story reporting “Crisp audio from a lost 1963 BOB DYLAN concert has been unearthed in an attic and will be released as a bonus to fans who snap up the folk rock icon’s new BOOTLEG SERIES VOL. 9 online.”
Well, that’s only partially true. It wasn’t found in an attic, but instead a basement. How do I know ? Simple; I was the one who found it. Here’s the whole (long) story.
|Ralph Gleason with the Beatles, backstage at Candlestick Park
A number of years ago, I was introduced to Toby Gleason, son of the legendary Ralph J. Gleason. The late Ralph Gleason was the longtime music critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, and arguably the most important critic ever. Gleason joined the Chronicle in 1950, as the first full-time jazz and pop critic at an American newspaper. He interviewed Hank Williams and Elvis Presley, was one of the first critics to perceive the importance of Bob Dylan, Lenny Bruce and Miles Davis, and was a key player in the San Francisco rock scene in the ’60′s. Gleason was the only reporter to interview the Beatles at their final concert at Candlestick Park in 1966, and his liner notes to Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew” won a Grammy Award. Perhaps his most lasting legacy is co-founding Rolling Stone Magazine with his protegee, Jann Wenner.
Gleason kept a vast archive of records, magazines, newspapers, posters, press materials and all kinds of ephemera. When he died in 1975, his family preserved his materials in their Berkeley home, occasionally making it available to writers and scholars. Toby Gleason has supervised the release of a number of the superb television programs his father made during his lifetime, including the highly lauded Jazz Casual programs (featuring John Coltrane and Duke Ellington) and Bob Dylan’s historic 1965 San Francisco press conference.
The Gleason family decided a few years back they wanted to selectively sell some items from Ralph’s vast archive, and I was very fortunate to be invited by them to discuss a possible purchase. They wanted to take it slowly, but we had good chemistry, and so I made an initial purchase, with the understanding that more would be made available as time passed. Every year or so, I’d visit them and make another purchase. Gleason’s collection was among the best I’d ever seen, and it was a real exercise in forbearance to be patient and respect their wishes to take it slowly–but I did. Toby Gleason is extremely knowledgeable and it was a pleasure to spend time with him, talking music and seeing the incredible history his father had collected, and his family had the good sense to preserve. Many of the magazines, newspapers, and papers they had saved had little commercial value, but a great deal of historical significance, and so I purchased them to donate to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s Archive and Library (opening later this year.)
Unfortunately Jean Gleason, Ralph’s widow, became ill last year and passed away at the age of 90. After her death, a decision was made to sell the family home, and I was invited up to buy anything that I wanted. For two or three days, Toby and I explored the deep recesses of the home’s multi-room basement, which was filled with magazines, records, newspapers and reel to reel tapes. When we came to the wall of tapes, we discovered many labeled “Bob Dylan.” Gleason had been one of Dylan’s early and most vocal supporters, and became close to him. He also had a number of friends at Dylan’s label, Columbia Records (I found letters to Gleason from Dylan’s discoverer, John Hammond, among his papers.) Looking at the 40 or so Dylan tapes in the Gleason collection, it was clear some were sent to him by Columbia, some by Dylan’s management, and some from fans and readers of Gleason. Many were explicitly labeled, some only said “Dylan.” Toby and I agreed that since we didn’t know what was on them, I’d take them back to Los Angeles and listen, to see out what was on each one (I also bought 30 or so non-Dylan tapes from the family.)
|In this house’s basement, the tape was found !
If you’ve read this far, you probably are a Dylan fan and know of the enormity of that task. So many things have been bootlegged, in so many unending variations, that it was hard work figuring out what was what. I had to locate a reel-to-reel machine and an engineer to transfer everything to digital files, which I could then compare to various bootlegs. Some of the tapes were 7″ reels, some smaller; some 2 track, some 4 track; recorded at speeds from 3 3/4 ips to 15 ips. The first time I went to the studio, I brought a few of the tapes I thought most promising. One was labeled only “Dylan Brandeis” in light pencil on the edge of the box. We “put it up” on the machine, the playback started, and I was blown away. Superb quality–obviously professionally recorded–early Dylan, singing and playing wonderfully. And a recording I’d never heard of–and was pretty sure was unknown (which it was.) Over the next few weeks, I listened to many many hours of Dylan tapes, and of course, everything else had been released or bootlegged, save for a tape of a press conference from Austin, Tx. in 1965. Still, after all these years, to find an unknown Dylan tape, and one this good–I was astounded.
I called Jeff Rosen in Dylan’s office, to see if he knew of the tape–he didn’t, but was interested in hearing it. Jeff is someone all Dylan fans owe a big debt of gratitude to–among many other things, he’s responsible for the superb Bootleg Series, which in my opinion are the best compiled, annotated and illustrated albums a fan could hope for. Very quickly, I spoke to Toby Gleason, sent Jeff a CDR of the show, and he responded that he was interested in buying it for a possible future release. I worked out a deal with Jeff–very easy–and voila, about a year later, it’s coming out.
I’m very excited about the upcoming Witmark Demos/Bootleg Series album and the Mono Box Set, to be sure. But I’m absolutely thrilled that this great Dylan show–which I’m listening to right now–is finally seeing the light of day, thanks to Ralph J. Gleason, and his family.
Other items from the Ralph J. Gleason collection are available for sale on the Recordmecca website. And we’re always looking to purchase rare records and high-end music collectibles.