Most people discover a rogue sock or a handful of wire hangers when emptying a closet during a move. One music historian ended up with much, much more this spring, when two boxes jammed with rare Bob Dylan acetates turned up in a New York City apartment building once used by the rock ‘n’ roll legend.
Jeff Gold, proprietor of Recordmecca and a longtime collector/dealer/historian, took to his website to detail this once-in-a-lifetime find, two boxes containing 149 acetates from Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline,” “Self Portrait” and “New Morning” albums, all produced by Bob Johnston between 1969-1970 for Columbia Records.
Gold purchased the trove of unreleased mixes, recordings and sequences (some with Dylan-written notes on them) from the executor of the estate of the late owner of a NYC building being prepared for sale. While doing a final scan of the building, the man found boxes labeled “Old Records” in a closet in a semi-hidden loft above the bedroom.
A source close to Dylan’s camp told Billboard that, “While it’s unknown how those actetates came to be in the hands of others, everything that is on them definitely also exists in original form on reel-to-reel tape and is securely held in the vaults. Most of that material in fact, was released on ‘Another Self-Portrait’ last year.”
The executor was aware that Dylan had rented out the ground floor of the building (at 124 W. Houston St. in Greenwich Village) and figured that the artist had left the boxes there when he vacated the space, according to Gold’s blog post. Whatever the reason that they were still there, the boxes sat undiscovered for more than 40 years.
Gold, a Dylan “fanatic” and former executive at Warner Bros. Records, was contacted and soon made the trip to NYC.
“When I opened the boxes and took a quick look at the contents, I was blown away,” he writes. “They were indeed all by Dylan, all were in excellent condition.”
What are acetates you ask? Gold explains: “Acetates are individually cut on a lathe in real time, in a process that is basically the reverse of playing a record. A blank aluminum disc coated in lacquer is put on a turntable, and the master tape of a recording is played, the signal of which is sent to a heated needle which cuts a groove into into the revolving disc. Acetates are made so an artist or producer can listen to a recording that is a work-in-progress; they can be played on a regular turntable, but after 20 or 30 plays the sound quality begins to deteriorate.”
After purchasing the boxes, Gold had the recordings preserved digitally and discovered that many were unreleased versions of songs, with alternate mixes and edits. Standouts include electric versions of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Ring of Fire.”
During this time period, Dylan was living in NYC while Johnston — his producer — lived and worked out of Nashville. The two used the easy-to-make-and-send acetates to update each other on the progress of the albums. “Nashville Skyline,” released in 1969 when Dylan was immersing himself in country music, is considered a classic. “Self Portrait,” a derided covers album, and the well-regarded “New Morning” both appeared in 1970.
Gold says he has provided transfers of all the discovered music to Dylan’s representatives. He has also made a few of the acetates, including an alternate version of “Skyline,” available for sale on recordmecca.com.