Peter sent this recollection to me in 2015. It came from a wider discussion we’d had about the Bootleg Series and some of the decisions the Dylan office have made over the years.
Originally, back in 2008 he’d written me a long letter about how deeply crestfallen he was that his notes never made the final cut of ‘Tell Tale Signs’.
I do know that he was tremendously grateful to Jeff Rosen for the opportunity and always remained in touch, and whenever there was a new release to review the Dylan office helped get a copy to him.
Peter, for more than a few reasons (his brother being one), would have even been the ideal candidate to pen something for ‘More Blood, More Tracks’ released 10 years later, but alas it wasn’t to be.
Although Peter sounds critical of Sean Wilentz, it’s worth reading his review of Wilentz’s ‘Dylan in America’ which he thought a great piece of scholarship and praised highly for its originality. But if something wasn’t good enough he’d say so. And regarding Larry Ratso Sloman’s book on the Rolling Thunder Revue, Peter thought it one of the best Dylan books.Trev Gibb, 27 July 2020
So way back when they finally put out Philharmonic Hall, the minute I heard it was coming out, I started pacing the floor thinking.
Years before, CP Lee had given me Jeff Rosen’s email, but I had never used it. It just sat there on the bulletin board. I knew it was the time, and wrote this very formal letter saying I wanted to write the notes and sent it off.
He got back pretty quick and is not a formal guy, and he knew who I was. Unfortunately they’d already given the notes to Sean Wilentz, who would soon become their main boy even though he really doesn’t know stuff.
When Together Through Life came out, he wrote this big thing on Bob and accordion players and DIDN’T mention Garth Hudson! It was posted somewhere maybe Slate and I decided fuck it, I’m gonna comment, so I did.
In less than an hour the article was suddenly changed!
So one day in June 08 Jeff emails me saying he’s doing a new Bootleg Series and would I be interested and what’s my number. Of course I write back immediately OF COURSE I’m interested.
That night he calls me, explains the format. This is when they started going in various formats including single disc (and why side 1 is loaded) and then he plays me shit over the phone.
First was Mississippi. Well, you can imagine. I was like what the fucking fuck. Then Red River and I was totally HOLY FUCK and then Most of the Time and maybe one of the Can’t Waits.
He tells me I have to work fast and of course I can’t share the music. I say I gotta have the musician credits and session dates and that’s it.
Either late the next day or maybe the day after the package arrives. 3 CDs, but no musician credits! So I mean of course I’m flipping out knowing I’m one of the first people to hear this stuff.
Jeff was paying me more money than I’d ever gotten for writing anything! So I shut everything and everyone off and I’m listening 24 hours a day, going out to CVS at 4:30 in the morning for smokes and shit.
And originally I started the notes with Dylan’s quote from the Grammys, “the stuff we got will bust your brains out” and I decided if I was gonna base my notes on anything, it was John Bauldie’s notes on the very first Bootleg Series, and that I would concentrate on the music.
They had live stuff on there, but nothing about which stuff it was. Some stuff had been on Bobdylan.com.
Originally they had “Wagoner’s Lad” on there except it was 1988, in fact the first time he did it, which I saw at the Tower, so I tell Jeff, it’s ’88, it can’t be on the set. He was like no one will care, I told him, yes, they will care, they will say what the fuck is this guy doing.
So anyway I had the task of IDing all this stuff. As much as people think Bob plays stuff the same each night, when you listen to a bunch of versions from the same tour, it gets pretty difficult to tell. So I’m emailing people and saying, I’m listening to this version of this and this version of that, and on the 2nd verse there’s a cough, do you know which one it is. And through my description and their help I was able to nail most of the stuff. And they’d write back and say, are you writing a book, and I’d say, I can’t tell you what I’m doing, but I need the help.
On Trying To Get To Heaven, I had every show from that tour, so I’m listening to version after version because Larry did this one thing on guitar that made that version stand out (though I think they should have used Dublin) and finally I find it and it’s London, but I had to listen to about ten others before I found it.
Meanwhile Jeff keeps finding other stuff and some he sends via you send it. And he’s like, “I need to know what you think, and be real.” So finally I say, “I think there’s too many Series of Dreams and quite frankly I’m not sure about the 3rd disc and maybe you should use “Polly Vaughn” from the Bromberg sessions and what about Restless Farewell from the Sinatra tribute,” and he says no ’60s stuff except originally he had Down Along The Cove or another one of those JWH songs on there.
I finish my first draft and send it off, and start working on the track by track. And Jeff tells me he found Dylan doing a Robert Johnson song and he’ll get it to me.
And then he vanishes.
Now in the two weeks I’d been working with him he was in NYC, London, NYC, LA, NYC, London, Spain, NYC. And I’m not hearing anything. And I have this sinking feeling and finally he calls and says someone didn’t like it. Was it Bob? Was it a hire up at Sony?
I’d been in touch with Debbie Gold and she says, “this happens all the time, they did it to Dave Marsh too.”
So I rewrite the whole thing , send it off, and Jeff eventually puts it up at bobdylan.com
If I had a gun, I would have blown my brains out, that’s how low I was.
The British fanzine Isis wanted to run my original notes not long ago, but I just never said yes. I could be wrong, but I’ve always suspected Jeff gave my notes to Larry Sloman and if I’d known they wanted a big thing on bootlegs at the beginning, my first bootleg story which was in my Basement Tapes review was way better than his. I did think the opening verse to Red River Shore was the most poetic thing Bob wrote in years and I don’t think he’s come close since.