Let’s get this straight: I’m more of a fan of Dylan’s “rock” period than his early “folk” period. I can appreciate his folk material and the recent Scorsese documentary makes me appreciate his early period even more. Capitalizing on that documentary, Columbia released the bootleg series’ “Volume 7.” Columbia did something even stranger this year by taking a much bootleg Dylan show from 1962, shining it up, and making it available only at Starbucks. There actually wasn’t much negative feedback for this marketing decision; less than Bobby’s decision to appear in a Victoria Secret commercial, actually. And as a fan of their grande soy white chocolate mocha, the marketing worked brilliantly as I grabbed the disc along with the coffee.
“Live At The Gaslight 1962” was reportedly one of the first bootlegged cds ever made (early versions of this performance were already in the hands of Dylanphiles by 1987). After the commercial failure of his debut album, Bob took his time crafting the follow-up (“Freewheeling”) and would often introduce new material to MacDougal Street faithful in small club like the Gaslight. Thankfully, a very resourceful audience member brought a tape recorder to a couple of Dylan’s Gaslight performances and captured the events. What Columbia has brought to us is a truncated version of these recordings; the real bootleg versions were longer. As it’s presented, “Live At The Gaslight 1962” contains only three Dylan originals, with the remaining seven being typical covers for Bob’s setlist at the time.
“Hard Rain,” appears in a fully realized version and, judging by the backing vocals provided by some members of the audience, it was a song that had been around for a while prior to the (maybe) October, 1962 recording date. “Rocks And Gravel,” although credited to Dylan, is merely a culmination of Brownie McGhee’s “Solid Road” and Leroy Carr’s “Alabama Woman Blues.” Track three, an early take on “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” sounds exactly like it is: a (then) work in progress. With that perspective, it’s something else to hear Dylan “testing” out new material with audiences. But again, judging from the faithful that sing along to “Hard Rain,” it’s apparent that his crowd, even then, hangs on every word and understands they’re in the presence of someone truly special.
The rest of the album, all covers, also point to this. What’s remarkable is the age of Dylan vs. the delivery of the material. This doesn’t sound like the voice of a twenty-one year old. Bob carries such material credibly and sounds more assured than in some of his originals like “Don’t Think Twice.” “Moonshiner” sounds like a man knowing that drink will be his ultimate demise. “West Texas” sounds like a dust bowl relic. “Barbara Allen,” the best cover on the collection, sounds too gentle for a man of Dylan’s age and is more haunting than anything on his debut.
For a recording based entirely on primitive recording techniques, the sound of this “Gaslight” collection is clear and adequate. There’s just enough flaws for it to retain it’s bootleg mystique; some of the tracks start and end abruptly and the tape hiss of the recording source is noticeable. Considering the venue, the date of the recording, and how it was captured, the folks at Columbia did a good job of cleaning it up.
While his debut contained mostly covers, “Freewheelin” signaled the beginning of Dylan the songwriter, the transition from Robert Zimmerman the student into Bob Dylan the professor. “Live At The Gaslight 1962” provides us with a rare look at that transformation. And whatever the reason or your feelings of how this collection is made available, it’s worth the price of an overpriced coffee.