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Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series Is ‘Definitely Winding Down’

Over the past 32 years, Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series has proved that the singer’s studio albums represent just a tiny fraction of his musical output. Some of the releases in the series spotlight key concerts from tours like his 1966 European run with the Hawks or the 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue, but most of them focus on albums — both loved and unloved — to let listeners in on Dylan’s creative process and show just how much stunning material he discards along the way.

The newest set, Fragments — Time Out of Mind Sessions 1996-1997, is the 17th volume, and a source close to the Bob Dylan camp says we’re unlikely to see many more. “We have no idea what’s next,” says the source. “We’re at a loss. We don’t know. Let’s see how the market receives this one. But the Bootleg Series is definitely winding down.”

One entry that’s been swirling around for several years centers around Dylan’s early-Sixties days on the coffee house circuit before signing with Columbia Records. Several of these recordings have circulated as bootlegs for years, but Dylan’s team also have some in the vault that nobody has ever heard. “We’ll probably get to that [as a Bootleg Series],” says the source. “We’ll probably do it.”

Another possible release ties into Dylan’s 1978 world tour and Street Legal studio sessions. The only official live release from the tour is Bob Dylan at Budokan, first released that same year, which catches the 114-date tour in its earliest form, before the band gelled. Bootlegs from later shows are significantly better. “We don’t have a lot of good tapes of the ’78 tour,” says the source. “There’s something coming. The ’78 tour will be revisited at some point in the future. I’m not at liberty to say how.” It won’t, however, be a film. “I wish there was a movie,” says the source. “But there’s very little footage.”

The sessions for 1989’s Oh Mercy have yet to surface in the Bootleg Series besides a handful of songs on the the 2008 set Tell Tale Signs: Rare and Unreleased 1989–2006. “I love Oh Mercy,” says the source. “It’s a great record. It’s something we certainly would consider as a Bootleg Series.”

One seemingly obvious focus of a future Bootleg Series box set is the Never Ending Tour, which kicked off in 1988 and is still running today after more than 3,000 concerts. The Dylan vault is overflowing with tapes from these years, but don’t expect to hear any of them any time soon. “The Never Ending Tour, which it was never really called, is still going,” says the source. “It’s the Rough and Rowdy Ways tour now. The time to look back on it will be many years from now.”

A quirk in European copyright law that brings recordings into the public domain if they aren’t released after 50 years has forced Dylan (and many of his peers) to clean out their vaults at the end of every year. That has led to fascinating Dylan releases like The Cutting Edge 1965–1966, which documented the creation of Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde — and the source says that a copyright-protection release for the 1973 Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid soundtrack sessions is likely coming at some point this year.

Next year, meanwhile, is the 50th anniversary of Planet Waves and Dylan’s reunion tour with the Band. Could we see a huge box set of recordings from that tour? “That’s going to be up to Sony,” says the source. “We’ll see what they want to do.”

Something that won’t happen, despite the hopes and dreams of many fans, is a digital download series of Dylan concerts. Bruce Springsteen, Metallica, Pearl Jam, Phish, and many other artists with large followings have introduced services like this in recent years, but there’s no interest from Dylan’s team.


“Bob is out there doing it live,” says the source. “I suggest people should see him. I think he’s playing some of the best shows of his career.”

Wouldn’t it be great to give fans a chance to hear those shows in pristine sound and end the circulation of sub-par audience recordings? “The people who want bootlegs, have them,” says the source. “We don’t have that much in pristine sound anyway. Bruce and his guys spend a lot of time on that. We don’t really have that.”

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