Old Tape Can't Distort Young Dylan's Genius
Published April 7, 1985
At the end of last week's column on KFIZ's John Bucklen and his boyhood pal Bob Dylan/Zimmerman, was mention of a tape the two had made in 1958.
The summer session was suitably low-tech for a couple of teenagers. The microphone of a Sears Silvertone reel-to-reel mono recorder was placed on the Zimmerman family piano. Bob on keyboard and vocals, John on haromonies and, later, lead. Switch on. Go.
The 20-minute treasure does not display wonderful sound quality, even considering the technique and equipment. What survives is a true "basement tape," stored throughout the years in Bucklen's cellars, attics, closets, and garages. But distortion and hiss cannot disguise young Bob's genius or young John's role as foil to that genius.
So after 27 years, a review of that early, early Dylan . . .
Song 1 is a shoo-wopping, "Great Pretender"-like romancer with mostly unintelligible lyrics. Occasional phrases in the famous nasal tone do pop out from the piano chords: "Yay, yaya, yah-oh I'd get down on my knees . . . It's you I love," etc. Really a nice melody.
With one exception, the Diamonds' cover below, Bucklen isn't sure whether Zimmerman composed these or learned them from his large collection of obscure 78 RPM records. None of the seven tunes seems to have shown up on subsequent Dylan albums, although some of the images prove familiar.
B.B. Zimm and Bo Dylan
Song 2 is Mississippi Delta Blues, Minnesota style. It has the best sample of lyrics, because the words alternate, rather than compete with, the piano pounding. Anyone acquainted with Dylan's pre-"Lay Lady Lay" vocal style will recognize the syllabication and offbeat inflections, indicated here with hyphens and capital lettering:
Back in ju-LY of nineteen fifty-THREE,
I as doin' time for armed ROB-ber-y.
'Bout three o'clock in the MOR-nin'
I was sleepin' in my CELL,
so the warden said,
"Come out with your hands in the AIR.
You don't come out now,
I'll give your heart a SCARE."
Scarface Jones said,
"It's too late to QUIT.
I got a dynamite FUSE
and the FUSE is LIT!"
Hey-a-hey, I'm goin' off
The rambler [see Footnote 1] is cut off by a mock discussion of copyright infringement and lawsuits. The babble refers to "our big company" and "selling 12 million copies."
The third fragment might be called "I Wanna Rock, I Wanna Cry," judging by the number of repetitions of the phrase. Another bluesy jail tune:
A cop asked me 'f my name was Henry.
I said, "Why, sure."
They said, "You're the man we been a-LOOKIN' for."
They put me in the clink
and now I have to sleep in the CAN."
This one is interrupted by a Stan Feberg-sounding Bucklen yelling, "Wait a minute! Whatsa matter with you, doing that a [bleep-bleeped] record like that, puttin' in a 'can?'"
Next is one of John's favorites, a complete song of Bob's, of which only a piece appears here. It's in the old gospel call-and-response format: "Early one mornin' / you're gonna wake up and cry . . ." The boys immediately scrap it, though, jumping into a raucous, rocking R&B rollick [Footnote 2]:
Well, before you 'cuse me,
you better look at yo' self.
Before you accuse me,
take a look at yourself.
Well, I don't spend all my money on [other?] women,
for you to run around with somebody else.
A cult classic, the Diamonds' non-hit "Daddy Cool" [Footnote 3] features the back-and-forth harmony of Bucklen and Zimmerman. Then, a great moment in raw recorded history. A sudden stop, followed by that unmistakable North Country twang, "Uhh, a-[bleep] you." The F-word.
The tape's finale carries on that lewd mood. Yes, friends, it's an obscene version of Buddy Holly's hit, then still on the charts, "Peggy Sue." John Bucklen on lead vocal with Bob Zimmerman competing with him, trying to drown him out with piano chords and crude comments. A spirited teenaged attack on motherhood, womanhood, and Peggy Sue's anatomy. Four minutes with a fadeout ending.
In this columnist's opinion, Mr. Dylan owes Mr. Bucklen a retake. Dylan's next studio album is overdue. I'd like to hear a high-tech recorded rendition of "Daddy Cool," for example.
Done in dual Minnesota harmony, of course.
- Later discovered to be the 1954 song by the Robins, "Riot in Cell Block #9," written by Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller ("Hound Dog," "Stand By Me," "Kansas City," "On Broadway," "Poison Ivy," etc., etc., etc.). At 43 million in certified sales, Dylan has almost quadrupled the boys' youthful prediction of "selling 12 million copies."
- It's a modification of the Bo Diddley 1957 B-side, "Before You Accuse Me," later recorded by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Eric Clapton, and others.
- "Daddy Cool," incorrectly identified as "Cool Daddy Cool" in my published column, was the flip side of the Diamonds' 1957 million-seller, "Silhouettes."
Excerpts from the so-called "Bucklen Tape" were featured on the BBC radio series, "Tales of Rock and Roll," and now appear on various bootleg web sites.