Coming only four months after the controversial Self Portrait, New Morning, released on Oct. 19, 1970, won a much warmer reception from fans and critics. It reached #7 in the U.S., quickly going gold.
Harvey Brooks played bass during the final sessions for New Morning, after having performed on Dylan’s Highway 61 album a few years earlier.
Here is Harvey’s account of how he became involved on the session.
On the recording of Bob Dylan’s New Morning
By Harvey Brooks
One sunny afternoon in the Fall of 1970, I was upstairs working in my Woodstock house on a painting. It was inspired by some dying flies falling off the large picture window directly in front of me onto my already abstract canvas.
The phone rang. It was Levon Helm calling to tell me he had given Bob (Dylan) my new phone number. Was it all right? About an hour later, Dylan called. He said if I wasn’t doing anything he would stop by — if I was alone. I was and he did.
We sat in my living room and started talking about what was going on in Woodstock. I made some coffee and as we talked, Dylan’s eyes seemed to be capturing a picture of the room that stopped at the chessboard. I asked, do you play? His answer came in his move to the table where my chessboard sat.
I’ll give you Queen odds in the first game, he said. If you win, we’ll make it rook odds. We both laughed, lit up a joint and Bob made the first move across the board, with our back and forth repartee about our former manager, Albert Grossman.
Bob’s stories about Albert and their falling out centered on management fees and publishing. I left working for Albert because we did not have a signed contract and he never wanted to pay me what I thought I was worth. Albert was an arrogant and assertive guy. He managed Peter, Paul and Mary, Janis Joplin, Richie Havens and Todd Rundgren. Most of his relationships ended bitterly.
Oddly, Albert is still a good part of what Woodstock is today. He created the artist colony that is still a haven to many musicians and his Bearsville Theater complex continues to prosper.
As we continued across the chess board, Bob suggested that I read the book, The Death Ship. It is a novel by the pseudomonas author known as B. Traven. The setting, as Bob shared it, was the predicament of a merchant seaman who had lost his passport/citizenship papers and cannot find any legal residence or employment in any nation.
The character in the book is repeatedly arrested and deported from one country to the next by government officials who do not want to be bothered with helping or jailing him. Bob embellished the story of the ship by saying that the workers from around the world were treated as expendable slaves. B. Traven also wrote The Treasure of The Sierra Madre. I do not remember if Bob or I took the game!
A few weeks later, I got a call from Al Kooper booking me on a series of sessions for Bob’s New Morning album, being recorded at Columbia Studio E. Prior to my being called for the session, Bob had gone through many players. They’d done a lot of recording in Nashville and New York, but still hadn’t gotten the tunes the way Bob wanted them.
Al knew that we were all comfortable together, and hoped that the sessions would go smoothly. There was a lot of burnt out emotion in the studio when I got there, and I couldn’t miss the frustration that Bob and Al were going through. The room was like sitting in a pressure cooker that was ready to blow! It took awhile for everyone to settle into a groove.
I played on If Not for You, Day of the Locusts, One More Weekend, Father of Night and The Man In Me. My performance is pretty much about the feel of the song.
What I do is listen to a combination of the rhythm and chords and find a basic part that fits. Then I evolve the part as the song comes together. It’s just moving and bridging sections so that the tunes becomes comfortable.
That’s what I did on New Morning and it worked.