It’s what I love most about my work as a music historian, collector and dealer. Nothing matches the rush of discovering something previously unknown and historically significant, which adds to the collective understanding of a great musical artist. And three months ago I made one of the great finds in a lifetime of looking. 149 unknown Bob Dylan acetate records, discs that Dylan himself used during the making of Nashville Skyline, Self Portrait and New Morning.
It started with a referral from a friend. For everyone’s privacy, I won’t use names, but I was put in touch with a gentleman from the Northwest. His sister had recently died and he was the executor of her estate. She owned a building at 124 W.Houston Street in Greenwich Village and while selling off her personal items so the building could be put up for sale, he discovered two boxes labeled “Old Records” in a closet. The boxes were filled with 10″ and 12″ acetates; he had never seen an acetate before and while he recognized them as some sort of records, he didn’t really know what they were. Most had labels with Bob Dylan’s name, the address of Columbia Records, and a song title. He knew Dylan had rented the ground floor of the building in the late 60’s and early 70’s as a studio space, and theorized Dylan had either left them when he’d moved out, or thrown them away and his sister had rescued them from the trash (at the time Dylan rented the space, he lived two blocks away at 94 McDougal St.) In either case, they had been sitting, boxed up in the closet, for more than forty years. He took two home with him, and eventually discovered what they were, and we were put in touch.
After some discussion, I flew to New York to inspect and hopefully buy the collection. The executor didn’t have an inventory and wasn’t even sure that all the acetates were by Dylan, but I’m a fanatic Dylan collector and love rare records, so I made the trip. When I opened the boxes and took a quick look at the contents, I was blown away. They were indeed all by Dylan, all were in excellent condition, and many had handwritten notes on the sleeves. They all dated from the sessions for Dylan’s albums Nashville Skyline, Self Portrait and New Morning, about equally split between 10″ discs with a single song and 12″ discs with multiple songs. Though I couldn’t listen to them on site, I knew this was a major discovery, and made an offer for the collection more than double what I had expected to pay. The executor was thrilled and we quickly made a deal. He told me he’d found the boxes on his fourth (and final) pass through the building, in a small closet in a loft above the bedroom, which he hadn’t noticed before. We took a moment to contemplate what might have happened if he hadn’t found them. The building would have sold, the new owners would have hired a crew to gut and renovate the place, and the boxes tossed into a dumpster from a third floor window. Phew.
I hand-carried the most interesting looking ones home, and had a friend ship the rest. Acetates are individually cut on a lathe in real time, in a process that is basically the reverse of playing a record. A blank aluminum disc coated in lacquer is put on a turntable, and the master tape of a recording is played, the signal of which is sent to a heated needle which cuts a groove into into the revolving disc. Acetates are made so an artist or producer can listen to a recording that is a work-in-progress; they can be played on a regular turntable, but after 20 or 30 plays the sound quality begins to deteriorate. But the sound on a carefully preserved acetate can be incredible–it’s a first generation record made in real time directly from the master tape. And that was the case here.
Since these acetates were remarkably well preserved, it was important we document what was on them. After auditioning everything, my friend Zach Cowie made a high quality digital transfer of the most interesting discs. We photographed each disc to have a complete visual record, and inventoried everything. Then, with the help of friend and noted Dylan collector Arie De Reus, Zach and I began the exacting process of comparing the music on the acetates to the released versions of each song. We discovered many of the acetates were unreleased versions of songs, in some cases with different overdubs, sometimes without any overdubs, many with different mixes, different edits and in a few cases completely unreleased and unknown versions. There are outtakes too, including electric versions of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and “Folsom Prison Blues” recorded during the Self Portrait sessions, and a gospel tinged version of “Tomorrow is Such a Long Time” recorded during the New Morning sessions.
These 149 acetates provide a remarkable look into Dylan’s working process at the time. Dylan recorded Nashville Skyline in Nashville; Self Portrait in Nashville and New York and New Morning almost entirely in New York. Dylan’s producer at the time, Bob Johnston, worked out of Columbia Records’ Nashville studios. These acetates were for the most part cut in Nashville and sent by Johnston to Dylan in New York for his comments and approval. This kind of collection is very unusual; usually an artist and producer would make decisions about takes, mixes and overdubs while together in the studio. But Dylan was living in New York and Johnston headquartered in Nashville–so acetates were a simple way for Dylan to monitor what Johnston was doing.
On a number of sleeves, Bob Johnston has written sequences, timings and in a few cases instructions for remixes (Johnston confirmed for us that he’d had these acetates cut for Dylan, and which handwriting was his.) Dylan himself has made a number of notations about which versions he liked, which he didn’t and what he wanted changed. It’s clear these discs were the result of many discussions Dylan had with Johnston; he’d ask for changes, Johnston would have acetates of new mixes, versions or sequences made and send them to Dylan. While Dylan once claimed he made Self Portrait as an album his fans “couldn’t possibly like” he clearly spent a great deal of time refining and perfecting it. The Houston Street Studios acetates include probably ten different sequences of that album, and many different sequences for New Morning as well (including one version with only 10 songs.) These acetates were Dylan’s working tools, and it’s easy to understand why he didn’t keep them–they were used to get the albums to the point where he felt they were finished and ready to release, but once the albums had been released, these became redundant.
The music on these acetates covers much of the same time period as last year’s exceptional Bootleg Series Vol. 10: Another Self Portrait (I’ve always loved Self Portrait and New Morning and it’s great to see these albums get their due as a result of the release of this great box set. Go buy it if you haven’t already.) We’ve provided transfers of all the music on these discs to Dylan’s office; the multi-track master tapes of these songs likely still exist in the Columbia Records tape library, but Bob Johnston’s original unused mixes may not exist elsewhere.
I’m keeping many of the acetates, but am offering some of these truly unique discs via Recordmecca. It’s been a remarkable experience to work with these discs, previously owned and used by Dylan himself, to create three of his classic albums.
June 30, 2014
Is his cover of Jay and the Americans “Come a Little Bit Closer” in here? Those lyrics with this period of Dylan’s voice would be the holy grail for me for sure!
Nope–and I for one am happy ! Thanks for writing.
This is the most incredible Bob Dylan news I’ve read in quite some time. Congratulations and thank you for sharing. One would hope this would not lead to bootlegging, yet at the same time I wish this material was available so I could hear it.
Incredible. I’ve just bought ‘Let It Be Me’ for my 41st birthday. Thank you for this opportunity. Wow.
Great news Jeff. What a waking thought for you after you got hold of them
The rough draught lyrics for Like A Rolling Stone just sold for $2,000,000. As a Dylan fan, these acetates should be worth more. Congratulations on your score. What are your plans for the digital copies?
I’ve given a digital copy to Dylan’s office, but as they just issued the amazing Another Self Portrait I doubt they will release anything covering similar ground. It’s their decision as to what to do–they own the rights.
Big Dylan fan here, I have around 50 bootlegs of his work and of course every legit release.
I opened a record store in 2009 and one day a customer brought in (only to show, not to sell) some 16″ Bing Crosby acetates, these were work parts for Bing’s national radio show. It was ridiculously exciting to see them even though I did not own gear capable of playing them.
Sad, sad, sad. Why not connect with a reissue record label to properly get these all out to the public together before selling? This is depressing and gives all collectors a bad rep.
Bob Dylan owns the rights to the music here, and I’ve given his office a digital transfer of everything here. It’s his decision as to what he does with this, not mine. As I wrote previously, the fantastic Another Self Portrait covers similar ground, so if you haven’t bought that, do !
I get that Dylan owns the rights, but if this stuff doesn’t see the (public) light of day as a complete, chronological package that allows the story of musical evolution to be told then who cares about this at all? This just becomes a story about your luck and a plug for your merchandise. If I made a discovery of this historical heft, I would hold onto the complete collection and fight until my dying day to get it out there. Box sets, even by the majors, are becoming more and more lavish. I don’t think you can say with any certainty what Dylan would do. The decision has clearly been made, I just wish it was a different one.
I get your frustraton as a fan but to take it on JG seems misplaced. It is clear that you want Jeff to leak this so you can hear it, but not owning the rights do you think that would bode well for his reputation and ongoing business to run afoul of the Sony & Dylan camp?
As far as the market for these, with the massive set that just covered this era there is little chance of them revisiting it. Perhaps if it was 65/66 era material (more marketable on a wider scale) they would but considering this, but seeing as it is not one of his more popular periods.
Exactly right. Bob Dylan decides what music of his is released, not me. When I found the Brandies 1963 live tape, I sold it to Dylan’s office and they decided it put it out (the thrill of a lifetime for me.) In this case, I just gave them transfers. As someone who worked for major labels for 20 years, I’m not about to bootleg anyone–especially an artist I respect so much. Jeff Rosen does an outstanding job with Dylan’s catalog. Cole Smith should buy all the Bootleg Series albums if he doesn’t have them and be grateful for so much incredible stuff coming out.
Uh, you’re speaking like you are entitled or the public is entitled to these. You’re not. I’d love to hear a few of them too, but it’s not right to chastise the person who has them. Cole Smith sounds like a spoiled brat. Sorry.
Fascinating. Is this THE Jeff Gold??
Hey R.Stevie, it is indeed me. I’ll email you separately. Thanks for writing.
Very ditto the above comment.
This is an amazing NY Bob Dylan story!
Would love to have you discuss it on my radio show, “Live Song Radio”.
Steve Addabbo was our guest last month.Here’s a download link to our broadcast. https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B4TbRs7VRDf0UjZsaklob3RLNGs/edit
You can look it up on FB if you search Brian Muni’s Live Song Radio to find out more.
Congratulations on your discovery and efforts to bring these treasures out!
Remarkable find indeed!!
So lucky to find them, this sort of thing is historic, only music lovers (especially Dylan fans) like us can really appreciate how valuable they are
Well done to you and your friends on this one!
Cheers, hope we hear as much as we can of them.
Stay good, stay young
Bogie said at the end of the Maltese Falcon, “It’s the stuff dreams are made of” …. That’s probably how Jeff Gold felt when he returned home from his trip to NYC with these treasures!
I’ve been a client, and friend of Jeff’s for years. When he contacted me a couple weeks ago, I promptly purchased a few of these discs.
If you are on the fence, and thinking about getting one, I will tell you they are the best sounding and fine condition acetates, with amazing provenance.
When will you be able to own Bob Dylan’s personal acetates used in the
production of his work… Talk with you again soon Jeff.
Thanks Bruce. I’m happy when things like these end up in a great collection like yours. Enjoy them–truly American history.
I grew up on Dylan and am so pleased that YOU have these amazing acetates, as I know you will take care of them. What a great story too! Kate and Thomas (Robin’s pals)
Thanks for the kind words Kate ! All the best, Jeff
If not for you, eh?
Acetates were only made for a few plays before they “break down” so a good digital recording needs to be made and then the acetates can be safely secured away.
Right you are–that’s why we did exactly that. As I say in my post “Acetates… can be played on a regular turntable, but after 20 or 30 plays the sound quality begins to deteriorate…Since these acetates were remarkably well preserved, it was important we document what was on them. After auditioning everything, my friend Zach Cowie made a high quality digital transfer of the most interesting discs. “
As one of only two people who listened to Bob Dylan in my high school, these documents must be really interesting to listen to.
What I wouldn’t give to hear the gospel rendition of “Tomorrow Is A Long Time”…I love that song. It’s in the top 10 of my Dylan favorites. As my late husband would say, Dylan’s unreleased catalogue is enormous and will keep hard-core Dylan fans like us happy forever. I only hope I live long enough to hear a selection of these. Great find. Congratulations!
Fantastic find, fantastic story. Congratulations on this find. It’s exceptional.
What an amazing story. I was excited and kind of drooling when you showed them to me last time I visited, and this ‘blog’ rekindles the excitement. If I lived near you I’d be pounding down your door and begging for a listen.
Lots of love,
Can you tell me if “Alligator Man” and “Runnin'” are finally among these recordings? Is there a complete list somewhere?
Thanks in advance and best wishes,
Neither of these were on the acetates.
I would absolutely LOVE to read a more detailed description of this wonderful find. Is there any chance of such a list ever seeing the light of day?
And Jeff, keep on hunting!
Sooner or later I hope to get to this. The press has been overwhelming, just from a blog post !
Fascinating material–good work to catch it! I agree–you can’t bootleg this, in this, as they say, day and age. To my mind the material that is most desirable to release is the Nashville Skyline outtakes, since it is the least documented on the “Another Self Portrait” set. Anything from the “Nashville” and “Harding”
periods would be really important to see the light of day.
No Nashville Skyline outtakes I’m afraid–only alternate sequence LP’s.
Great find, great read. This is my favourite Bob Dylan period, so awesome to hear there is even more out there than the excellent Another Self Portrait had on.
It would be great for Bob and his team to release the gospel Tomorrow is a long time. Great song!
Just checking into say thanks again Jeff. Being fortunate to buy one of these from you back then all the way from NZ. It is still preserved and cared for in its original state.
A great piece of history