Bob Dylan and the Great White Wonder

I love little ephemeral pieces of paper that look like nothing important, but that chronicle a historic moment–in this case, one where there was no turning back. Here’s an article torn from the October 26, 1969 issue of the New York Times, about a “bootleg Bob Dylan record with an unmarked white cover and blank labels selling briskly around the country and Canada.” This of course was “Great White Wonder,” the first-ever rock music bootleg (yes, there had previously been some private pressing jazz and classical bootlegs, but never anything mass produced and sold on this kind of level.)

This was the warning shot across the bow; the first of thousands of bootlegs to follow, and of course no artist has been bootlegged more than Bob Dylan. The double disc Great White Wonder, or GWW as it’s popularly abbreviated, mixed tracks from Dylan’s legendary “basement tapes” recorded at his house in Woodstock and The Band’s nearby house “Big Pink,” songs recorded in December 1961 in Minneapolis (the “Minnesota Hotel tape”,) a track from the Johnny Cash TV show, some studio outtakes from ’63-65, and an interview with Dylan and Pete Seeger. You can read more about the exact contents on the excellent “Bob’s Boots” site.

As far as I know, the first article about Great White Wonder appeared in the September 20, 1969 issue of Rolling Stone magazine. The New York Times article may have been the first article in the “mainstream press,” and certainly doesn’t anticipate what was to come–but who could have. Bootlegs are today a part of record collecting life, and the advent of the internet has made them both easier than ever to find, and virtually impossible to stop.

“Outtakes” were once considered by artists and record labels to be material unworthy of release–the unwanted byproducts of making a record. They are now compiled and released with great regularity, poured over by obsessive collectors and archivists looking for clues into an artist’s process and intentions. And in my opinion, that’s a very good thing. Dub and Ken, the makers of Great White Wonder (see the wikipedia article on GWW) doubtless had no idea what they were starting when they made their crude double album with the plain white cover. But they were clearly on to something big.

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