In the summer of 1969, two guys pressed a few thousand records with white label stickers
, and packaged them in nondescript white sleeves. They didn't have their own cars to deliver the records so they borrowed friends' cars, and the record ended up throughout California, with copies getting airplay at 5 southern California radio stations. The music wasn't their own recordings, but unreleased material from Bob Dylan. The recording became known as the Great White Wonder, "the entertainment industry's first truly hip situation comedy"
(in other words, the first bootleg ever to be produced in the rock-and-roll era
In 1965, Dylan went electric
, and the next year he released his seventh studio album Blonde On Blonde
, which was the same summer of his motorcycle accident
. Dylan was laying low while recuperating, and in 1967 he and a few guys who were known as The Hawks got together in the basement of a big pink house near Woodstock
, and made some demo tapes. Even though Dylan owed Columbia another album before he could consider his options (Google books preview)
, this wasn't material for a future album for Dylan, but music he was pushed to make
as demos to be re-recorded by other artists. In total, Bob Dylan and The Hawks/The Band recorded over a hundred songs
in the summer of 1967. That was boiled down to less than 20 tracks that were sent around for other artists and labels to consider recording. A few of those tracks did quite well for other artists, including:
The Hawks, reunited with Levon Helm and were rechristened The Band. Some of the material composed in that pink house was re-recorded and released debut album, Music from Big Pink
, including "This Wheel's on Fire
," "I Shall Be Released
" and "Tears of Rage
That demo recording made its into the hands (or at least ears) of some music reviewers, including Jann S. Wenner
at Rolling Stone magazine. He reviewed the demo in the magazine
, writing highly of the material present:
There is enough material — most all of it very good — to make an entirely new Bob Dylan record, a record with a distinct style of its own. Although it is highly unlikely that Dylan would want to go into the studio to record material that is now seven or eight months old, nonetheless these tapes could easily be re-mastered and made into a record. The concept of a cohesive record is already present.
Wenner went on to describe the songs, as if reviewing a publicly available album. Dylan had actually released an album since the recording the basement tapes, but John Wesley Harding
, and it had been reviewed in Rolling Stone
months before the review of the basement tapes. The JWH review was quite positive: "The music is again a brilliant electronic adaptation of rural blues and country and western sounds," and "Without a doubt this is another major musical step for Bob Dylan." Yet Wenner ended his review of the demo tapes with a major proclamation: "If this were ever to be released, it would be a classic."
The fans knew there was something more out there for them to hear. It was with that set-up that Great White Wonder made its entrance. Two guys, who were only known as Dub and Ken, credited as "industry insiders" who wanted to make some unheard Dylan available, put together a two-record set from various sources. They started by pressing 100 copies, but the first store they went to bought the lot. Then they pressed a few hundred more, until they had made a couple thousand records. Great White Wonder didn't capture the complete demos from the basement sessions, but consisted primarily of recordings made in 1961 in "The Minnesota Hotel,"
an apartment complex well-known to musicians. The record was rounded out with outtakes from other albums, and recordings of Dylan's appearance on The Johnny Cash Show, a nice tip to Dylan's limited association with Cash
Great White Wonder was notable not only for it's content, but also as one of the first (if not the very first) bootleg to come out in the era of rock'n'roll. GWW came out a few months before the first bootlegs of The Beatles (Kum Back
, September 1969) or the Rolling Stones (Live'R Than You'll Ever Be
, December 1969), which were also released by Ken and Dub, now pressing bootlegs under the mysterious pseudo-label Trademark of Quality
(abbreviated as TMQ or TMoQ). The Beatles bootleg wasn't the first Beatles bootleg of any sort
, as that credit goes to The Original Greatest Hits
, an illegal US-made compilation of publicly released Beatles songs. But Kum Backwas the first bootleg of unreleased material
, consisting of early takes of tracks from Get Back
, probably earning the title of the first album leak.
In 1975, Columbia re-recorded and released 24 of the 100-plus basement tapes tracks from 1967, under the title The Basement Tapes
. Paul Nelson
reviewed the album for Rolling Stone, written in the intriguing fashion of a detective novel
The music was eight years old, but it could have been made eight minutes or eight decades ago; it wouldn't have mattered. It had once been illegal, sold under the counter. Hell, even now it wasn't complete — these things never are.
"I haven't solved the case and I don't intend to. No one will ever figure out The Basement Tapes the way you want to; somehow it would be indecent. They're either King Lear or they're nothing — take your pick, then leave them alone. I respect them and I think I understand them, and that's enough for me."
More of the original basement sessions leaked out over the following decades, and one way or another, and in 1989, the bootleg label Scorpio
released a 5 CD set of the Genuine Basement Tapes
, 104 tracks and more than 5 hours
. In 2001, both Scorpio
and another label, White Bear
released 4CD sets, both titled Tree With Roots
, both with better audio quality and a few more tracks. They are not direct copies, and feature minor differences in track order track inclusion
In 2010, Ken Douglas of TMoQ blogged a bit about his time as a bootlegger
, and chatted with VICE about his time as a bootlegger
. In 2011, Ken put together a more complete telling of his time as a rock'n'roll bootlegger