Bob Dylan's "Basement Tapes" are a mysterious collection, but some of his original lyrics from that era have turned up again. As CBS News correspondent Jeff Glor reports, producer T Bone Burnett was just the man to make those words sing, as he hand-picked a band of successful musicians to create a new Dylan sound.
"When you start a band from scratch, you don't normally expect to have great songs immediately," Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons said. "It just, like, we arrived and these songs were great. And so, making them sound great was our challenge."
The songs belong to Dylan, and now the super-band is tasked with making them, the new basement tapes -- Mumford, Elvis Costello, Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Rhiannon Giddens of Carolina Chocolate Drops, Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes and producer T Bone Burnett.
"I got a call from Bob Dylan's publisher saying that he had found a box of lyrics from 1967 and would I be interested in doing something with 'em. And I said, 'Yes, I would.' Bob was playing with language in a particularly colorful way at that time," Burnett said.
A reporter once asked Dylan if he thought words were more important than the music.
"The words are just as important as the music. There'd be no music without the words," Dylan said.
By the mid-'60s, Dylan was the poet king of music, but after a motorcycle accident in 1966, he famously holed up in his house in upstate New York. It became the most prodigious writing year of his life.
A small selection of what became known as the "The Basement Tapes" was released 1975, but the collection has never been complete.
With the new lyrics released, Burnett collaborated with the six band leaders, creating music for Dylan's lost words.
"There were no conditions," Costello said. "So that took away a lot of the trepidation because you could clearly see, particularly once we got to Capitol and we were actually handed the original handwritten manuscripts to look at, then you could see the rhythm of the way any writer writes something down. And you could see that, you know, they were incomplete. That gave you the license to maybe make some editorial choices. And knowing that we could do that without any prohibition meant that we could have fun with it."
In the spirit of the original "Basement Tapes," Burnett and his band spent two weeks in the basement of Capitol Records in Los Angeles, trying to replicate the artistic freedom that Dylan and The Band first felt.
"When you're making music in your own band or your own project or something, when you go in the studio, there's very much of a, 'Well, we have to do this right now because we're gonna be releasing this and then, it's gonna dictate the rest of our year, the next six months or whatever,'" Goldsmith said. "Whereas with this, everybody came into it with a, 'Let's see what happens,' attitude."
Costello said the process was great from the start.
"I went away the first weekend to do a gig with The Roots, and I came back and discovered Johnny Depp had been sitting in my chair," Costello said. "It was like-- it was kind of like a fairy tale. It was like Goldilocks."
"I thought it was important we all found, we didn't try to be every perspective," Giddens said. "We brought our own perspective, and that goes with the music that we were playing. Instead of everybody trying to play lead at once, it was everybody fit in to the song that was happening. And that was the magic of really what happened because we were doing that on several different levels."
But even for today's brightest musical stars, taking on Dylan's lyrics in their own voices was daunting.
"The pressure of wondering what Dylan's going to think or care, what he's going to think -- I think if you worry about that too much, that would turn it into a thing like you're almost trying to please somebody ... and I think that at the end of the day, no matter what we did, if we made a record that was 70 minutes of silence, somebody would say, 'It's brilliant,'" James said. "And somebody else would say, 'These guys are hacks. They're horrible,' you know. So no matter what we do--"
"We would have saved a lot of money," Burnett interrupted.
"That thing of creating ... it's a beautiful thing," Burnett added. "There are 40-some odd new Bob Dylan songs in the world now, you know. That's fantastic. How did that happen? It was wild."
Wild and a wonder to hear, 47 years after Dylan first put words to paper.