Charlie McCoy, Al Kooper and David Bromberg reveal all about the recording sessions for Dylan's Self Portrait album
Along with David Bromberg, one of Dylan’s favourite sidemen
I’d played on Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde, but I’d left while Bob was doing John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline .Then I came back for what became Self Portrait.
From 1968 to 1972, I was a staff producer at Columbia Records in New York, so I was easy to contact. They just booked me for, I think it was five days of recording with Bob, like a Monday-Friday. There was Bob, David Bromberg and me. In some cases it was just the three of us, in others there was drums and bass in with us. It gets a little mixed up in my memory, because New Mornin happened very, very soon after Self Portrait, and I worked very closely on that album, probably as much as I had worked on Blonde On Blonde.
I remember us doing a lot of stuff that didn’t end up on Self Portrait. The first day I walked in to the studio, Bob had like a *pile* of Sing Out magazines, you know the folk music journal, just a bunch of them, and he was going through them, songs that he’d known in the past, and he was using the magazine to remind himself of them. So we were doing stuff pulled from Sing Out magazine, at least for a couple of days: “Days Of 49”, that kind of thing. As the week went on, Bob’s choices got stranger and stranger. It got to the point where we did “Come A Little Closer” by Jay And The Americans.
When we did New Morning, though, he was doing his songs again. And he had a definite, stronger thing going on. You know: he didn’t have to learn the songs, he wrote them. New Morning was very similar to Blonde On Blonde, in some ways, with the way I worked with Bob and acted as bandleader – and then, in the middle of the record, Bob Johnston just disappeared, and so for the second half of the record, I was actually producing it. I also had some arrangement ideas. Not that Bob always agreed with them. On the song “New Morning” itself, I did an arrangement where I put a horn section on there, and in “Sign On The Window,” I added strings, a piccolo, and a harp. I asked Bob’s permission, and he said fine, and then I went and did it all while he wasn’t there, because it didn’t need to take up his time. But when I played them back for him, he didn’t like them – he didn’t throw the whole thing out, he kept like one little part of each of them on the record. But then he told me he was going to erase all the rest of these parts, wipe the tapes. I asked if I could make a mix of it before he did that, because I had done a lot of work on it, and I wanted to keep a copy of it, just for myself. So he said yeah, but the way it worked, I had to mix it right there and then, in front of everybody, and do it fast.
On this new record that’s coming out now, they’ve included those sweetened versions of “New Morning” and “Sign In The Window”. I had kept my tapes of those personal mixes for like 40 years, and when I heard about this new set, I sent them to Jeff Rosen, Dylan’s manager, and Jeff said, “Well, I don’t like the mix.” And I said, “Yeah, it was a rush, but it’s all there is, because Bob erased all the parts afterwards.” And Jeff said, “No he didn’t. All the parts are still here. Do you want to remix it properly?” So that was great news to hear, and I went and did that. I spent quite some time doing that, and those are now on the new set.