Putting music to Bob Dylan's lost lyrics

Only a handful of rock albums could be called legendary, but one of them is surely Bob Dylan's "Basement Tapes."

Recorded years before its release in 1975, it was the first collaboration between Dylan and the group that later became The Band.

This year, armed with newly re-discovered Dylan lyrics from that time, acclaimed music producer T Bone Burnett brought together a hand-picked group of musicians - a real super-group.

As Jeff Glor reports, their goal was to create a worthy successor to the original.

"When you start a band from scratch, you don't normally expect to have great songs immediately," said Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons. "It's just, like, we arrived, and these songs were great, and so, making them sound great was our challenge."

The songs belong to Bob Dylan, and now the super-band tasked with making them, The New Basement Tapes, includes Elvis Costello, Mumford, Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Rhiannon Giddens of Carolina Chocolate Drops, Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes and 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,'" Burnett said. "Bob was playing with language in a particularly colorful way at that time."

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 gathered six band leaders to collaborate, 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."

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Marcus Mumford, Jim James, Rhiannon Giddens, Taylor Goldsmith, Elvis Costello and T Bone Burnett.
CBS News

In the spirit of the original "Basement Tapes," Burnett and his band spent two weeks in the basement of Capital Records in Los Angeles, trying to replicate the artistic freedom that Dylan and the band first felt.

"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 or the next six months or whatever,'" Goldsmith said. "Whereas with this, everybody came into it with a let's-see-what-happens attitude."

"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."

But even for today's brightest musical stars, taking on Dylan's lyrics in their own voice can be daunting.

"The pressure of wondering what Dylan's going to think or care what he's going to think, I think if you worried about that too much that would turn it into a thing like you're almost trying to please somebody," James said. "And I think that, you know, 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.' 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 butted in.