On May 1st, 1970, just weeks after the world learned that the Beatles were breaking up, George Harrison and Bob Dylan met up at Columbia’s Studio B in New York City. Joined by bassist Charlie Daniels and drummer Russ Kunkel, their stated purpose was to start work on Dylan’s album New Morning. But midway through the day, they switched gears and started jamming on old favorites without any thought that the results would ever be heard by the public.
Unsurprisingly, word of their jam session leaked out almost immediately. “Denials that the session took place were issued by Dylan’s personal secretary,” read a report in Rolling Stone later that month, “and by producer Bob Johnston, who chuckled: ‘Where did you hear that? Some people’ll say anything!’ But a session there was, and, according to reports, it was a monster.”
Years later, the tape somehow leaked out of the Columbia vault and fans got to hear much of the historic session. It revealed that Dylan and Harrison began by trying out early renditions of New Morning songs “Sign on the Window,” “If Not For You,” “Times Passes Slowly,” and “Went to See the Gypsy.” But after their fifth attempt at “If Not For You” (a song Harrison would cut on his own weeks later for All Things Must Pass), they went back to Dylan’s early work and played “Song to Woody,” “Mama, You Been on My Mind,” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.”
It was the start of an epic, free-spirited jam where they played everything from Sam Cooke’s “Cupid” to Carl Perkins’ “Matchbox” and the Everly Brothers’ “All I Have to Do Is Dream” along with other Dylan oldies like “Gates of Eden,” “It Ain’t Me Babe,” and “One Too Many Mornings.”
Harrison’s own back catalog was ignored with the lone exception of “Yesterday.” Harrison hadn’t played the song since the Beatles stopped touring four years earlier, but it was a standard by this point, and Kunkel and Daniels clearly knew it well. Check out the whole thing right here.
The vast majority of the Dylan/Harrison sessions have never been released, though one of the “If Not For You” takes appeared on the first Bootleg Series back in 1991 and their first stab at “Time Passes Slowly” along with “Working on a Guru” were on Another Self Portrait in 2013.
The rest of the material is easily found on bootlegs. But according to European copyright law, recordings enter the public domain if they aren’t released 50 years after their creation. That means the Dylan Camp has just a little more than a month to somehow release them. If they don’t, any nudnik can sell them on CD in Europe next year without any legal consequence whatsoever.
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