In terms of rock and roll properties, you don’t get much more iconic than New York’s Big Pink. It played a significant role in the careers of two of rock’s most important acts, Bob Dylan and The Band, and for the latter, it was the place where they formed in a point that cannot be overlooked.
Without this pink-clad house in the hamlet of West Saugerties, New York, the landscape of modern music would look completely different, as it was the place where Dylan‘s The Basement Tapes and The Band’s Music from Big Pink were written.
Located at 56 Parnassus Lane at the foot of the spectacular Overlook Mountain of the Catskill Escarpment, it was constructed by Ottmar Gramms in 1952. It was found in an almost pristine state when Bob Dylan’s bassist Rick Danko who occupied it as a rental in 1967, searching for a property after Dylan’s tour was cancelled following his infamous 1966 motorcycle crash which changed the course of his, and by proxy, The Band’s career.
As Dylan fans will be aware, at the time, he was living in the house Hi Lo Ha, in the nearby town of Woodstock, which at the time had become the centre of the counterculture in the United States. In February 1967, Danko, alongside bandmates Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel, moved into the property. Soon after it became known affectionately as ‘Big Pink’ after the pink siding that marks the house out from others in the locale.
Around this time, Dylan and this band, who had been known as The Hawks prior to this, began to record together in the ‘Red Room’ at Hi Lo Ha. However, in the June of that year, the sessions moved to Big Pink’s basement, as Hudson had set up a recording space using two stereo mixers and a tape mixer he’d borrowed from Dylan’s manager Albert Grossman. A real team effort, the microphones used were loaned to them by the iconic folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary.
Between June and October that year, Dylan and the group, who now featured drumming maestro Levon Helm, recorded a vast amount of original material and covers in the basement studio. Notably, this long process is credited with The Hawks, who were slowly morphing into The Band, developing the unmistakable sound that would make them one of the most influential of all time.
At the time, the recordings were not properly released. However, a demo was circulated in the music industry among artists by Dylan’s publisher Dwarf Music, resulting in bootlegs such as Great White Wonder, which is regarded as one of Dylan’s best, even if it’s not official. This instilled them with a mythological status, that for a time, made them the most sought-after recordings in existence. Simply because of how brilliant they were, many musicians that received the demo of the basement sessions undertook covers, with one of the most prominent being Peter, Paul and Mary’s version of ‘Too Much of Nothing’ which reached the charts late in 1967.
Famously, a collection of the recordings recieved an official release in 1975 as The Basement Tapes, and it’s one of the highlights of Dylan’s lengthy back catalogue. Then, in 2014, the full set of recordings finally saw the light of day as The Bootleg Series Vol. 11: The Basement Tapes Complete.
When the sessions concluded with Dylan, the band formerly known as The Hawks, who were without an official name, began writing their own songs at Big Pink. This set of tracks became their iconic first album, 1969’s Music from Big Pink, which featured the timeless hit ‘The Weight’, as well as a trio of songs co-written by Dylan: ‘This Wheel’s on Fire’, ‘Tears of Rage’, and ‘I Shall Be Released’. Soon after they became The Band, and the rest was history.
Big Pink’s place in history was cemented forevermore when a photograph was featured on the back cover of Music from Big Pink, which was accompanied by a poetic description from Dominique Bourgeois, who would go on to marry The Band’s Robbie Robertson. Bourgeois wrote: “A pink house seated in the sun of Overlook Mountain in West Saugerties, New York. Big Pink bore this music and these songs along its way. It’s the first witness of this album that’s been thought and composed right there inside its walls.”
Later, Ottmar Gramms sold the property in 1977. It was then rented to the classic music label Parnassus Records, who used it as their headquarters before it was purchased as a private residence in 1998. A painting of Big Pink was used on the cover of The Band’s 1993 album Jericho, which came 17 years after the farewell concert of The Last Waltz.
Since 2017, Big Pink has been used as a rental vacation property with many of its features still intact from the ’60s when Dylan and The Band were churning out astonishing music. It’s a five-star property on the rental site, but for anyone wanting to stay in this piece of music history, have your wallet at the ready, as it averages at $688 a night.
Find out more information, and have a peek inside the miraculously spacious Big Pink here.