Monday, October 11, 2010
I'm sure you all know the story of how Levon Helm left the Band in November 1965, and thus he wasn't around in 1967 when Bob Dylan laid down the Basement Tapes with the Band in Woodstock. The Band used a couple of interstitial drummers after Levon left, but when they repaired to Big Pink in Saugerties, New York, it was the core four of Robbie Robertson, Richard Manuel, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson who set up housekeeping there.
The accounts I've read have the Basement Tapes period starting around June 1967, and ending that October when Dylan went to Nashville to record John Wesley Harding. Levon Helm rejoined the Band that same month, which brings up a question: Who played drums on the Basement Tapes recording? On the album credits, Robertson and Manuel are both noted as having played some drums. That makes sense, since both those guys were kind of expendable: Garth Hudson could handle any keyboard parts that Manuel wasn't playing, and Dylan himself could spell Robertson on guitar.
And I can hear those shifts in the lineup in some of the Basement Tapes songs. "Apple Suckling Tree" doesn't seem to have any lead guitar, although it does have a bit of flashy drumming, which I assume would be Robbie's doing. Other songs, like "Tears of Rage," don't have any drums at all. (Once you start listening for these things, it's also obvious which songs the Band recorded later then slapped onto the LP, since Levon has a distinctive crackling drum sound, and he's also miles better than any of the other guys in the Band.)
But on "Odds and Ends," I clearly hear a piano (Manuel), organ (Hudson), a stinging lead guitar (Robertson) that seems way beyond Dylan's capability, bass (Danko), and vocals from Dylan, indicating this was recorded before Levon returned. And drums. So who was playing them? One of those instruments might have been added later, but overdubs don't really seem to be in the spirit of the Basement Tapes, do they? If anyone knows, please tell the author in the comments.
That album cover, by the way, was shot in the basement of a YMCA in Los Angeles.