The pairing of Peter Moore and Jan Haust - two Canadian music historians - whistled Dixie Monday night after receiving a Grammy Award for Bob Dylan and The Band's legendary lost The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11, cited for Historical Album of the Year.
The duo shared the award with Americans Steve Berkowitz, Jeff Rosen and Mark Wilder.
Haust was credited as Producer, along with Berkowitz and Rosen, while Moore and Wilder were was credited as mastering engineers.
FYI recently interviewed Moore in his Toronto West End house, a locale that doubles as his recording, mixing and mastering studio. It is home to a mind-boggling array of musical instruments and sound recording paraphernalia, and this is where Moore labored long and hard on The Basement Tapes Complete.
“I worked for eight months straight, seven days a week,” he recalls. “We had a deadline of September 2014, so Sony Legacy could release it in November.”
‘It’ is a six-CD boxed set featuring 138 tracks recorded in 1967 by Bob Dylan and The Band in upstate New York during some of the most legendary and mythologized sessions in music history. Haust and Moore were the prime movers of the project, one that Moore calls “15 years in the making.”
This is the definitive record of those sessions, with many of the tracks never having been released in any form before. These were taken from long-lost tapes later rediscovered by Haust and Band keyboardist Garth Hudson, the man who recorded those original sessions, and these tapes included early gems recorded in the "Red Room" of Dylan's home in the area.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Haust explains that “the tapes were stored in a multitude of places. A lot were damaged by water, mould, and fecal matter from the barn.” Moore tells us that “these old tapes had been rotting away in barns. They were covered in pig, pigeon and mouse shit, I’m not kidding.”
The challenge of restoring these tapes then transferring them to digital form was enormous, one demanding meticulous care from chief restorer Moore. “I had to iron the tapes sometimes, pulling the tape slowly under a warm iron.”
Adding to the degree of difficulty of restoring the tapes was the fact that they were not recorded on a professional machine. “The actual tape recorder they used for the Basement Tapes was a tape machine Peter Paul and Mary had bought, thinking it was a four-track. It was actually a quarter-track recording machine, intended for consumers, not professionals,” says Moore.
To play the material, he explains that “I had a professional head made from the ground up, by Jim French in New Jersey. He designed and built it for my Ampex. The only other one he’d ever made was for Neil Young!”
“I have hotrodded my Ampex machine to mp3, with military level components to reduce the normal signal to noise. It meant these tapes had never seen this kind of quality transcription ever, because the technology didn’t exist back then. I then used very sophisticated digital signal processing and a program that essentially meant we created surround sound from mono.”
The spectacular audio results meant that the collection received unanimously positive reviews upon its release. Word of mouth amongst Dylan fans spread rapidly, resulting in the set becoming a huge success both commercially and critically.
“The record label anticipated selling around 30,000 units of the box set in the first year [at a hefty near C$150 each],” notes Moore. “That was based on early Dylan bootleg series releases, but Jan and I knew they really underestimated it. They did not not realize how important this was. For so many musicians and fans, The Basement Tapes is a touchstone. Here you have Dylan with these boys from southwestern Ontario who basically invented Americana, combining r ‘n b and country music.”
The pair’s intuition about the set’s commercial potential was correct. “The set sold 100,000 units in two months, and I imagine it is double or triple that figure now,” estimates Moore.
In what was something of a rehearsal for The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11, Haust, Moore and Hudson contributed some Basement Tapes material to the 2005 The Band box set, A Musical History. “Everything else on that box set was previously released recorded material. Did we get proper recognition? No, and we wanted to make sure it was different this time around. At least with that project I came up with a methodology for working on the tapes,” recalls Moore.
Adding to the long delay in getting The Basement Tapes Complete to fruition was the fact that The Band were on EMI and Dylan was with Sony. “It took the crumbling of the music industry down to smaller parts for it to be freed up,” says Moore.
Of all the rave reviews for his restoration work, it is a brief thumbs-up from Bob Dylan that means the most to Moore. “Bob’s manager Jeff Rosen was very active in the production, listening to and commenting on everything I sent. I have to assume Jeff was sending stuff to Bob every day. One thing that did happen was there was a complex music edit needing to be done on one of the songs as it had been dubbed over incorrectly. The edit was quite daunting musically, and Jeff, a good musician, sent some in-depth notes on how I should edit the piece. I had already made an edit, and I sent that to him. Two days later I heard back – ‘great work. Bob loved it.’”
“From that point on I wasn’t the so-called knob-twiddler up in Toronto. I was actually somebody who had musical instincts and ability that was being appreciated by their camp.”
Also impressed by the work of Moore and Haust was Garth Hudson. In an interview with The Toronto Star, he explained that “I remember the sounds very well, the background sounds and the instruments. What we have now is clarity. It was a lot of work on Jan’s part and Peter Moore with his incredible talent. The voice is more alive. It’s clearer. And Peter has also assembled and revived tape that has been crinkled, stretched. So it’s been a big process.”
The Basement Tapes Complete has received extensive media attention internationally, but Moore admits to being disappointed by Canadian reaction. He cites a CBC Radio feature and a Toronto Star column on the project that neglected to mention the crucial contributions made by Haust and Moore. Hopefully the Grammy win will rectify such oversights.
Within Canadian music circles, however, the reputation of Peter J. Moore as owner of perhaps the best set of ears in the business has long been solidified. Much of that dates back to his ground-breaking production and recording work on the Cowboy Junkies 1988 breakthrough album, The Trinity Session. Since then he has worked with a huge number of Canadian (and American) artists as producer, engineer, mixer and masterer. His impressive resume includes Neil Young, Garth Hudson, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Oscar Peterson, Diana Krall, Neko Case, Bruce Cockburn, Murray McLauchlan, and Sloan. He has won two Genies and two Gemini Awards, and been nominated for a Juno twice.
A jack of all studio trades, he attributes that versatility to the fact that “working in Canada you have to be able to do many different things. When I’ve worked in some studios in the States, they go ‘here’s the recording engineer, here’s the mixer, here’s the producer, here’s our mastering engineer. What do you do?’ I say ‘all of those things.’"
Moore and Haust have a long history of creative collaboration, much of it via their OPM (Other Peoples Music) company, and Moore is quick to give his partner plenty of credit for The Basement Tapes Complete. “I want to make it clear that Jan is the mastermind behind this. I’m riding his coattails on this thing. Not to say it’s not amazing work, but it is because Jan saw this.”
Undaunted by the volume of work required, the pair are now working on another very ambitious project, an eight-CD, DVD and book box set chronicling Levon and The Hawks, dating back to their individual pre-Ronnie Hawkins musical pursuits in the late ’50s.
Sources: The Toronto Star, Rolling Stone