BOB DYLAN – SELLING OUT SINCE SIXTY TWO

I’m only Bob Dylan when I have to be.

(1986 press conference)

When I was a kid, Dylan was my hero. I loved his songs, his strange voice, his wit and compassion. He seemed to care about the down-trodden and oppressed. It was inspiring for a shy kid looking for direction. I looked up to the guy, and felt connected to him, because his songs touched me, moved me.

I had no idea if the man himself really had any of the attributes that I pinned on him. All the ideas I had about him were from his songs, and the few books that I’d read.

As I got older, I started to suspect that the guy I was holding up as a hero, was, possibly, simply a man like any other. I didn’t like that notion. I wanted him to be larger than life, an aspirational figure, someone who would uphold a morality that I couldn’t, be a champion for the underdog.

After many Dylan Anonymous meetings, I came to accept that he was simply a musician. He was not a deity, higher power or superhero. He was not The Myth.

Today, 35 years later, I still think the music is great – but I no longer idolize the guy. I just love the beautiful, varied and cinemascopic songs, the voice that sings them. I also like that he does what he wants, regardless of how his audience might respond.

So, while riding on a train going West, I asked myself, ‘When did the Dylan Myth begin, who started it, and why do people keep accusing him of ‘selling out’?

The Myth

“So all you newsy people, that spread the news around.
You can listen to my story, listen to my song.
You can step on my name, you can try ‘n’ get me beat,
When I leave New York, I’ll be standin’ on my feet.”

His tall tales and general evasiveness regarding his background started before he was even called Dillon, Bobby Vee, Zushe ben Avraham, Elston Gunn, Blind Boy Grunt or Bob Dylan. The Myth can be traced back to the late 1950’s – if his classmates’ memories are reliable.

The film No Direction Home has some great recollections by people who knew him back then, and there are a myriad books retelling the same (or similar) story. Bob Dylan’s own memoirs, Chronicles Vol. 1, is also a fascinating version of The Myth.

It seems fairly certain that the young Bob dreamed of escaping the dreary confines of parochial hometown Hibbing and discovered the magic carpet of music. He was in several bands – The Jokers(1956),  The Shadow Blasters(1957), The Golden Chords(1957/58), The Satin Tones(1958), The Rockets(late 1958) and Elston Gunn & The Rock Boppers(1959).

Dylan sells out by going electric in 1958.
Dylan sells out by going electric in 1958.

To his great credit, he followed his dream to fulfil his Yearbook ambition and “join Little Richard”.

Hibbing High School Yearbook.
Hibbing High School Yearbook.

Everything appeared to progress well at first. He paid his dues in the clubs, pubs and coffee houses of New York He learned his craft, learned how to work an audience, and how to write. He took opportunities that presented themselves and had both ambition and self-confidence.

His love and admiration for Woody Guthrie was obvious, but he seemed to soak up everything he heard, from Odetta to John Lee Hooker, Dave Van Ronk to Victoria Spivey. He also possessed a knack for remembering melodies and songs and was not averse to borrowing other people’s style and technique. Like all musicians, he learnt by copying and adapting what he saw and heard around him.

“…he took the basic song and if he didn’t like the lyrics he just changed it to what he wanted.” – LeRoy Hoikkala on Robert Zimmerman in the late 1950s.

Dylan sells out by playing a Jazz guitar.
Dylan sells out by playing a Jazz guitar.

He also spun more yarns than a fairy tale convention.

In 1963, Andrea Svedberg’s Newsweek article did a hatchet job, an expose, on the newly emerging Bobby Dylan, and it hurt.

Amid general snootiness and repetition of (wholly unfounded) rumours that someone else had written Blowin’ In The Wind, the article took delight in outing The Myth. Rather than being the bohemian, ramblin’ Woody circus minstrel he had constructed, young Bobby Dylan was found to be Robert Zimmerman, who came from a quietly respectable, middle-class Jewish family.

It didn’t harm his career in the long run. In fact, it may have helped, because it created more mystery and probably led him to reassess his attitude towards the Press, and the information it was prudent to release.

It’s a useful tool, The Dylan Myth. A coat of many colours. It creates intrigue and mystique. It keeps people guessing and grants the man behind The Myth the freedom to live his real life, his life away from performing and being Bob Dylan.

The Myth Mask.
The Myth Mask.

Today, X factory finalists and other drama-schooled celebrities are taught how to deal with the media, how to project and protect their image. Everything is controlled, designed and orchestrated. Nothing is left to chance. Tricky questions are taught to be fielded with tact and grace. When young starlets deviate from this orchestration, they end up in Beiberland and rehab.

Celebrities, and their PR managers, charm and befriend the media. They hire manicured, draped and anonymous houses and pretend to let us into their Hello! homes, their lives. Rock Stars compose Press Releases about their impending divorces. They are treated like royalty, pandered to and indulged.

Things were different when Robert Zimmerman started to morph into Bob Dylan (His name was changed, legally, on the 9th of August, 1962).

The Bear

“You can buy the best of Bob Dylan for $5.98. Don’t ask to meet him.”

The Bear & The Chameleon.
The Bear & The Chameleon.

Albert Grossman often seems to be credited or blamed for creating The Dylan Myth, but I am not entirely convinced that is the case. He was inventing characters for himself way before he met Mr Grossman.

Elektra Records chairman, Bob Krasnow (friend and business associate of Grossman’s), believes that “what you see today in the music business is the result of Albert. He changed the whole idea of what a negotiation was all about. Albert understood that music was becoming an industry.

He was the first person to realize that there was real money to be made in the music business“, said David Braun (music lawyer who represented Bob Dylan during the 1960s).

Jonathan Taplin said: “As far as Bob goes, Albert just got too greedy. He kept a huge percentage of Dylan’s publishing rights at a time when many other artists completely controlled their own publishing.”

Dylan later told Robert Sheldon, “I finally had to sue him. Because Albert wanted it quiet, he settled out of court. He had me signed up for ten years… for part of my records, for part of my everything. He only had me for 20%. There were others who had to give him 50%.

Peter Yarrow felt Dylan owed Grossman’s far more than money: “Look, just as there never would have been a Peter, Paul and Mary, there never would have been a Bob Dylan who could have survived and made it without Albert Grossman. Personally, artistically and in a business sense, Albert Grossman was the sole reason Bob Dylan made it.

I don’t agree with Mr Yarrow’s opinion. I think Dylan’s talent, charisma and ambition would have shone through, without Albert Grossman.

GROSSMAN

I think Mr Grossman helped shelter him from the intrusions of the Press, by making him unapproachable, but no-one could have predicted the focus that Dylan would become. He went from captivating folky beatnik to Spokesman for his Generation in a very short time.

It Ain’t Me, Babe

When you think about it, it’s an odd occurrence – to raise a musician to the level of spokesman or cultural leader. The media attention must have been great, in terms of wanting to cut through and make a living from your work, but to be held up as some kind of figurehead would surely have been troubling, especially at such a young age.

For politicians, though, it would have been the aim, the goal. Martin Luther King and John F Kennedy all held the hopes of the people, were spokesmen for their own generations. They were elevated to positions far above ordinary men, but they set out to achieve that.  I don’t think Bob Dylan set out to be a spokesman for a generation. He just captured and focused certain feelings in his songs.

“I was just there at the right time with pen in hand”  

- Bob Dylan, 1978

dylanBaez

Dylan’s perceived connection with ‘protest’ and/or politics, has always struck me as odd.

Did people not listen to his songs?

“My name it ain’t nothing, my age it means less.”

“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”.

“Well, I try my best

To be just like I am

But everybody wants you

To be just like them

They say sing while you slave and I just get bored.”

Along with the whole of My Back Pages, It Ain’t Me, Babe, Restless Farewell and many more since.

He was, at heart, a rock n roller from the start. He had a deep passion for the old songs of America, but stumbled into the folk scene by accident. The songs, the stories, were as vibrant and expansive as rainbows, and he played them with a fresh, different attitude. A James Dean, Buddy Holly, Elvis attitude. When asked what tunes the Bobby of The Golden Chords liked to play, his band mate, LeRoy Hoikkala said: “Some of the southern type music, the blues songs…a lot of Little Richard. Bob loved Little Richard, so we did a lot of Little Richard stuff.”

A rigid folk scene was never going to contain him for long.

I don’t mean to suggest that his topical, beautiful, shattering early songs were not genuine or absolutely heartfelt, I just don’t think Dylan was into the politics, or rules of that particular folk or ‘protest’ music scene. I think he wanted to say something about the madness and sadness he saw, discovered he was good at it and wanted to make a living as a musician.

I was singing to define the way I felt about the world.

It might be worth mentioning that his girlfriends, Suze Rotolo and Joan Baez, were also very involved in politics and protest…just as his girlfriend in the late 70s was very involved in Jesus. Dylan seems to get completely absorbed by whatever piques his interest, gets right to the heart of it, then moves on, which is typical of most artists. Picasso didn’t just paint angular harlequins.

Dylan sells out!
Dylan sells out!

Dylan has said, on several occasions, that he felt constrained by the ‘Folk/Protest’ movement of the early 1960s:

“Folk music was a strict and rigid establishment. If you sang Southern Mountain Blues, you didn’t sing Southern Mountain Ballads and you didn’t sing City Blues. If you sang Texas Cowboy songs, you didn’t play English ballads. It was really pathetic.”

“I didn’t much ever pay attention to that. If I liked a song, I would just learn it and sing it the only way I could play it…But it didn’t go down well with the tight-thinking people. You know, I’d hear things like ‘the kid is really bastardising up that song’.”

“When I started writing those kinds of songs, there wasn’t anybody doing things like that. Woody Guthrie had done similar things but he hadn’t really done that type of song…He contributed a lot to my style lyrically and dynamically but my musical background had been different, with rock n’ roll and rhythm and blues playing a big part…In other words, I played all the folk songs with a rock ‘n’ roll attitude. This is what made me different and allowed me to cut through all the mess and  be heard.”

There’s no black and white, left and right, to me anymore. There’s only up and down, and down is very close to the ground. And I’m trying to go up without thinking about anything trivial, such as politics.”

- December, 1963

“Me, I don’t want to write for people anymore – you know, be a spokesman.  From now on, I want to write from inside me …I’m not part of no movement… I just can’t make it with any organization…”

- to Nat Hentoff, 1964.

“To tell you the truth, I really don’t know what politics are. When I am seriously dealing with something, I find my self to be on the side of the right this time and the next moment I am completely on the side of the left side.”

Sell Out!

It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like – being so famous so quickly, and, most importantly, the kind of fame he had was so…unusual.

I have a friend who is an actor in a long-running British TV soap opera. He explained to me how the perceptions and expectations of people towards the character he plays can directly affect his private life, his real life, depending on the storyline of the soap opera he acts in. He has been verbally and physically attacked, spat at in the street – because of the person he plays on TV.

As frightening as it may sound, some people genuinely don’t seem to understand the difference between reality and an actor playing a role on television.

It seems to have been similar with Bob Dylan, but magnified a thousand times. Just because he wrote some meaningful songs, that touched a lot of people, he had been hoisted up onto a pedestal and demands placed on him. The art had been mistaken for the artist. The song had been mistaken for the singer. Responsibilities had been tied to the artist which did not belong to him.

Every artist who puts their work in the market place has to live with criticism, negative and positive. That’s part of the deal. However, does an artist have to accept the expectations and dreams of the people who buy (or don’t buy) his work?

I don’t think so.

“People say ‘You’re the prophet, you’re the savior.’ I never wanted to be a prophet or savior. Elvis maybe…”

- Bob Dylan on 60 Minutes.

"So, what's it like to be Spokesman of The Sixties?"
“So, what’s it like to be Spokesman of The Sixties?”

With Bob Dylan, the whole thing seemed to get wildly out of hand very quickly, and it still goes on. The reaction to his recent appearance in a Chrysler advert is a case in point. Social Networks were alive with calls of ‘Sell Out!’.

This statement is typical, but by no means the most vicious or unreasonable:

“The real villian is Bob Dylan, who traded in a generation’s memories when he allowed the song to be used as an advertising jingle, probably for a tidy profit.”

I can’t see why people are so upset that Bob Dylan sometimes does adverts, private gigs or allows his music to be used to sell things like cars, yoghurt, beer, his own accountancy firm or Co-Operative supermarkets.

He’s not selling Arms, drugs or blood diamonds. He never robbed any churches or cut off any babies heads. He’s a musician who is making a living in a sales-based industry. He isn’t a charity, although he has, and does, a lot of work for non-profit organisations and causes that he believes in. He tends not to invite film crews to witness such things. He has also been known to spontaneously donate money to local communities…but I digress.

Bob Dylan supposedly ‘sold out’ for ‘going electric’, for signing to Columbia, for singing Country, for singing Gospel, for making money (like Tour 74 and the 1978 alimony Tour), for not singing ‘Folk’, for going ‘Vegas’, ‘Disco’, ‘Pop’.

If he stays out of the limelight, he’s a recluse. He has been accused of pretty much everything, from racism to alcoholism. He ‘sold out!’ for doing Hearts Of Fire (“I did it for money. I mean, why else would I do it?“) and, of course, for doing adverts.

Shocking!
Shocking!

He’s had people try to enter his home, go through his garbage, searching for clues to God knows what. There have been open letters printed in the Press, answers to all manner of questions demanded of him. He’s been quoted by Presidents, called ‘Judas’ for playing music he always set out to play, has been stalked, sued, derided, insulted and followed by women pretending to be his wife. He regularly has hundreds of people on file who are considered a threat to his safety, and for what?

Because he writes songs.

It really is bizarre.

“People come up to me like I’m some long lost brother or something, just because I wrote a song which happens to bother them in some particular way. Well, I got nothing to do with these people, and they got nothing to do with me.”

Dylan and Mossad security agent, 'Big Abe'.
Dylan and Mossad security agent, ‘Big Abe’.

Don’t Follow Leaders

Dylan has tried to destroy The Myth many times. Self Portrait, according to the man himself, was an attempt to do that very thing.

“I wasn’t going to be anybody’s puppet and I figured this record would put an end to that…I was just so fed up with all that who people thought I was nonsense.”

– Cameron Crowe, Biograph, 1985.

“ I’d also seen that I was representing all these things that I didn’t know anything about…they sorta figured me as the kingpin of all that. I said, ‘Wait a minute, I’m just a musician. So my songs are about this and that. So what?’”

“There’d be crowds outside my house. And I said, ‘Well, fuck it. I wish these people would just forget about me. I wanna do something they can’t possibly like, they can’t relate to. They’ll see it, and they’ll listen, and they’ll say, ‘Well, let’s get on to the next person. He ain’t sayin’ it no more. He ain’t given’ us what we want,’ you know? They’ll go on to somebody else. But the whole idea backfired.”

– Rolling Stone, 1984.

The career sabotage, as Dylan said, did seem to backfire. If anything, it seemed to fan the flames of mystery. Fans and critics alike seemed to demand that he returned to whatever position they had perceived he occupied before he crashed his Triumph. To join whatever cause happened to be popular.

People bought his albums, (and bootlegs, for which Dylan receives no money at all), saw his shows but that wasn’t enough.

Bob Dylan must be more than a musician, more than a songwriter, more than a man. He must be Super Bob, prophet and holder of a generation’s moral compass.

You have to buy in to something in order to sell out from it, don’t you?  Bob Dylan, in my opinion, never bought into anything. I can find no evidence that he belonged to any organisation, left-wing, right-wing or otherwise.

He distanced himself from the ‘Folk/Protest’ movement precisely because it was limiting, on a variety of levels, and probably because of the demands that audiences were putting on him. People at the time seemed to want a leader, a champion, a focus. Bob Dylan did not want to be that person.

The industry he works in is as sales-based as any other. It is a capitalist operation, so can’t be anything else. He is a musician and sells his work to people who want to buy it.

I see no problem with musicians making money. I wish more of it went to the artist, rather than the industry they are surrounded by, but it is what it is.

I know musicians who choose to work outside of the music industry, despite having been offered ‘deals’. That’s their choice, but I know that they struggle, financially, and have to work extremely hard to earn a decent standard of living and, more importantly, to get their music heard.

Hank Williams not opposed to making some bread.
Hank Williams not opposed to making some bread.

Licensing your music for TV commercials is a very good way to make money, aside from gigging and selling albums, books and other merchandise. Woody Guthrie had sponsors and Hank Williams regularly had advertisements on his radio shows – just ask Miss Audrey. It’s not a new idea, but a cursory scroll through Google, Facebook and Twitter, suggests that Bob Dylan gets attacked for doing it. He sells out.

Why?

Because he is still associated with a social movement that happened, 50 years ago, in parts of America. A social movement that he deliberately distanced himself from at the time.

How crazy is that?

You too can be as bad as James Brown!
You too can be as bad as James Brown!

Some people, like Tom Waits (“Your credibility, your integrity and your honor are things no company should be able to buy”), don’t want to License their music or use their image to sell products, but most do. It’s a personal choice. I think great art can make money without cheapening it. I don’t think an artist has to starve to be respected.

I can tell you that it doesn’t mean anything to him that people might not like what he is doing. Him still do it. And that is the most important thing. Him still do it.

- Bob Marley

Sound Of The Longhairs.
Sound Of The Longhairs.

Advertising Signs

I’m not selling breakfast cereal, or razor blades or whatever. You know thing’s go better with Coke because Aretha Franklin told you so and Maxwell House coffee must be OK because Ray Charles is singing about it. Everybody’s singing about ketchup or headache medicine or something. In the beginning it wasn’t anything like that, had nothing to do with pantyhose and perfume and barbecue sauce…Elvis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry… they all struck fear into the heart. Now they got a purpose sort of… to sell soap, blue jeans, anything, it’s become country club music… White House… Kentucky Fried Chicken… it’s all been neutralised… nothing threatening, nothing magical… nothing challenging. For me I hate to see it because it set me free, set the whole world on fire.

- Bob Dylan, 1985

What’s money? A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.

2014-08-13 17.03.37

Advertising has changed a lot since James Brown did commercials for hair spray.

After years of chasing generalised demographics, the trend is now for ‘psychographic profiling’.

Psychographics look at the mental model of the consumer in the context of a customer life-cycle. Amazon was a market leader in this technique, through innovations like “recommended products” and “users like me also bought.”

Psychographic algorithms have learned to predict its users, and what they are interested in.

Kids who like Jake Bugg, for example, may well be interested in certain albums by Bob Dylan.

The market works. I get to enjoy great music and the musicians get paid.

Michael and Janet Jackson, Ray Charles, Britney Spears, Beyonce, Aretha Franklin, Queen, Pink, Christina Aguilera, Kylie Minogue, Tina Turner, David Bowie, Madonna, Ludacris, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj and One Direction have all been ‘the face of Pepsi’.

2014-08-13 17.49.03

The Rolling Stones advertised Kellogg’s Rice Krispies in 1964.

The Who, Golden Earring, The Moody Blues and The Turtles advertised Coke or Pepsi. Cream did Falstaff beer, Jefferson Airplane and Jerry Garcia did Levi’s jeans.

I’m not sure when it became immoral or ‘a sell out’ to earn money from advertising, but Dylan seems to get the most vitriolic and sustained criticism.

2014-08-13 17.11.26

He has actually done surprisingly few ‘Adverts’ in his career as Legendary Seer of the Sixties. He advertised Fender musical instruments in 1965 and allowed his instrumental, Turkey Chase, to be used in a commercial for a Greek beer in 1979, but as his songs are of paramount importance to him, it isn’t surprising that the following list is relatively short.

It is worth noting that, according to Bob Spitz, Dylan has a permanent clause in his contract with Sony that gives him absolute control over how his music is used.

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TV COMMERCIALS

They were put together down in Argentina/By a guy making 30 cents a day.

1994

A version of The Times They Are A-Changin’ was used in a commercial for Dylan’s accountancy firm, Coopers & Lybrand.

Agency president Fred Bertino said, “we got lucky!

Part of the agreement blocks Hill Holiday (the Ad Agency responsible for the commercial) from using Dylan’s name, even when discussing the commercial.

We bought the rights to the song, not the rights to talk about him,” Bertino explains.

The version in the advert is Richie Haven’s, not Bob Dylan’s.

It was definitely Dylan’s decision, however, as he owns the copyright.

When The Times was originally copyrighted in 1963, the U.S. copyright statute provided for a 28-year original term and a 28-year renewal period.

The standard Songwriters Guild of America contract in the ’60s limited the grant of rights to the publisher to 28 years (same as the original U.S. copyright term), after which the worldwide rights would revert to the songwriter.

It appears that Dylan’s contract with Witmark had this provision, since when the copyright to The Times was renewed in 1991, it was renewed in the name of Special Rider Music, rather than Warner Bros. Inc. (Witmark’s successor).

In addition, even prior to the copyright renewals of his early songs, Dylan appears to have had control over the use of his songs as jingles. (From Krasilovsky and Shemel, This Business Of Music, 7th Edition 1995)

Selling cakes in 1969.
Selling cakes in 1969.

1996

Dylan licenses  The Times They Are A-Changin’, this time sung by a children’s choir, to be used for a Bank Of Montreal commercial.

2004

Dylan licenses the song ‘Love Sick‘ to Victoria’s Secrets, makers of ladies garments. He appears in the TV commercial.

He also allowed an exclusive compilation CD of his work to be sold by Victoria’s Secrets.

Dylan gets into Ladies underwear.
Dylan gets into Ladies underwear.

2005

Kaiser Permanente Health Insurance are granted license to use the original, album version of The Times They Are A-Changin’.

Dylan’s people agreed an 18-month deal whereby Starbucks had exclusive rights to sell Bob Dylan: Live at The Gaslight 1962.

HMV Canada pulled all Bob Dylan products off their shelves in protest. HMV began stocking their shelves with Dylan’s albums (albeit sparingly) in December 2005 in order to capitalize on the Christmas season. HMV fully restored Dylan’s discography to their shelves in the spring of 2006.

Columbia later offered the Live at The Gaslight 1962 CD as a free giveaway with any Bob Dylan purchase at HMV stores.

2006

Dylan appeared on a stool in an Apple ‘Silhouette Ad’. The video was created to help sell ‘Modern Times’ and featured the song “Someday Baby.”

Shamelessly selling his own music.
Shamelessly selling his own music.

2007

Bob Dylan appears in a TV commercial for the Cadillac Escalade. The music is not his. The advert also promotes the show he hosted on XM Satellite Radio, whose receivers are standard on the Cadillac Escalade.

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2009

Dylan licensed the original album version of Blowin In The Wind for use in a commercial by supermarket chain, Cooperative Group in the UK.

His label later said that “the Co-op’s adherence to ethical guidelines on environmental impact, fair trade and social responsibility, influenced his decision.

A Co-Op spokesman said “When we put the ad together we were astounded that no-one had ever used Blowin’ In The Wind in this context before. We felt the sentiments expressed in Dylan’s masterpiece summed up the optimism we have for the Co-operative.

Also in 2009, a remix of the song, Forever Young was used in a Pepsi commercial. It featured images of a mid-Sixties Dylan, with shades, cut with images of Will.I.Am, who raps a verse. The advertisement ends with the slogan: “Every generation refreshes the world.

2014-08-14 23.21.25

2010

An advert for Google Instant cleverly used clips from the Subterranean Homesick Blues scene from Don’t Look Back, featuring part of the album version of the song.

2012

Brother used a mechanized cover of The Times They Are A-Changin’, performed by printers.

The license would have been granted by Dylan, regardless of the performer.

2013

Retailer Kohl’s ran a television commercial in November for the Christmas holidays. The commercial shows a couple decorating an elderly woman’s apartment, to the sound of a cover of Dylan’s Forever Young.

2014

Chobani, makers of yoghurt, used the original version of  I Want You as soundtrack to their commercial, featuring a bear.

(The inclusion of a bear in the advert is clearly a reference to Albert Grossman, who was known to frequent shops.)

bob-dylan-superbowl-commercial

It’s hard these days to find food made with only real natural ingredients. But at Chobani, it’s the only way we know how. A Cup of yogurt won’t change the world, but how we make it, might.”

The tagline is “How matters.

Also in 2014, Jeep used two Dylan songs for car commercials. The first was a cover of Blind Willie Johnsons Motherless Children for Jeep Cherokees.

The second used Rocks And Gravel from Live at the Gaslight 1962.

"Let Dylan carry your morality..."
“Let Dylan carry your morality…”

Then there was the infamous Chrysler advert at The Super Bowl, which features Dylan selling an American-made car.

Good car to drive, after a war” wasn’t the tag line.

"'What time is it?' said the judge?
“‘What time is it?’ said the judge?

There is a Bob Dylan Swiss watch and a Gibson Bob Dylan SJ-200 signature model guitar, 120 of which are signed by Dylan himself. One of the guitars is apparently owned by the Bob Dylan Corporation.

“My son is a corporation and his public image is strictly an act.”

(Abe Zimmerman, 1963)

The Gibson Bob Dylan Sell Out model SJ 200.
The Gibson Bob Dylan Sell Out model SJ 200.

PRIVATE CONCERTS

1990

Dylan played at West Point Military Academy on Saturday, 13th October.

Elliott Mintz: ”Bob Dylan is doing pretty much the same thing that he has been doing for the last 30 years. The nature of the venue is not of great importance to Bob. He’s just Bob.”

From the stage, Dylan remarked: “Talk about a guillotine there! Actually not such a bad way to go. There are much worse ways than that!” after It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).

He played Masters Of War, which pours scorn on armaments manufacturers and the politicians and military advisors who send soldiers off to fight wars.

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1996

On February 3, Dylan and his band performed at the Biltmore Hotel, Las Vegas, for approximately 250 people. The show was a corporate sponsored event and was not open to the general public.

The show was sponsored by Nomura Securities International, Inc., a subsidiary of Nomura Securities Co., Ltd. and they are the largest brokerage house in Japan. Interestingly, Nomura helped to underwrite a US issue of Sony stock in 1961.

Nomura president Ethan Penner apparently remarked: “I am not here paying someone a lot of money to amuse themselves – they are here to amuse me.

Good luck with that, Mr Penner.

1997

On Sept. 27, Dylan performed at the Catholic Eucharist Congress in Bologna, Italy. Pope John Paul II was there, in body, if not in spirit.

On the 14th of November, Bob Dylan played at an Applied Materials private employee party, along with Jakob Dylan and Wallflowers. They didn’t sing together.

1999

Dylan played at a Lucky Jeans private party at Club Rio Suite Hotel And Casino, Las Vegas, NV on March 1st.

In 1990, Lucky Jeans retailed for almost $70, the top price then. Rock artists would wear our products, and we would hang their photos in the stores. We were known for our twice-a-year parties at the trade shows in Vegas. When Bob Dylan played for us in the mid-’90s, we knew we were a success. Artists like Jackson Browne, who wouldn’t normally play trade shows, loved our brand. They wore our stuff and would perform for us…

- Barry Perlman, CEO Lucky Brand, Fortune Magazine, Sept 14th 2012

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2005

Dylan and Norah Jones played a private show to celebrate Amazon’s 10th Anniversary on July 16th in Seattle. Dylan is the top-selling living male recording artist on Amazon, and Jones is the top-selling female artist.

It’s not uncommon for high-profile artists, even one as closely associated with the counter-culture as Dylan, to appear at corporate events. The stigma that used to be associated with these corporate gigs seems to be just about gone now. The artist’s motivation for doing this is usually money. They pay extremely well. … (Dylan’s) doing casinos and all kinds of things now. Bob hasn’t been as selective in his choices as he would have been even 10 years ago, or as any artist would have been 10 years ago.

- Gary Bongiovanni of the concert trade magazine Pollstar.

Getting a massive fee for playing a Private Party for Lucky Brand jeans seems like a massively good idea. I see no moral reason for not doing private gigs. I happen to think Amazon treat their employees disgracefully, but that has nothing to do with Bob Dylan.

Harmonica Sell Out!
Harmonica Sell Out!

The Apple, Google, Pepsi and Chrysler commercials advertised Bob Dylan as much as the products that paid the fee.

Tax Deducatble Charity Organisations

Bob Dylan’s music endures because he so brilliantly captures our heartbreak, our joy, our frailty, our confusion, our courage and our struggles. His words convey a depth of meaning that few artists can equal, inspiring us and always moving ahead of our expectations.

- Karen Scott, Amnesty International’s manager of music relations.

Bob Dylan is currently, publicly, supporting the following charities:

Amnesty International, City of Hope, End Hunger Network, Feeding America, K9 Connection and Music Rising.

2014-08-18 22.36.03

In 1963, Bob Dylan performed, for free, at an SNCC rally in Greenwood, Mississippi and the historic ‘March on Washington’, where Dr. Martin Luther King made his famous “I Have A Dream” speech.

Dylan sang “Only A Pawn in Their Game”, among others, at the Lincoln Memorial. Given it’s central theme of the racist murderer not being wholly responsible for the crime, with institutionalised racism being equally complicit, it was a brave choice.

In 1964, Dylan wrote Puff The Magic Dragon but gave it away when he realised it was terrible.

On Sunday, August 1, 1971, Dylan played for free at the “Concert for Bangladesh” in the afternoon and evening.

The shows were organised to raise money for a massive refugee crisis that was gripping the South Asian nation of Bangladesh.

Dylan wrote and released the song George Jackson in the same year, as a response to the assassination of the Black Panther and author.

 

Dylan appeared at a Friends For Chile concert in 1974. It was organised by Phil Ochs. Dylan’s performance was possible influenced by the intake of alcohol.

Where am I? Huh?

Where am I? Huh?

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Rubin Hurricane Carter wrote his autobiography, ‘The Sixteenth Round: From Number 1 Contender to #45472′, in prison. It was published in 1974.

The following year, he sent the book to Bob Dylan, who visited Carter in jail. Inspired by Carter’s story, Dylan and producer Jacques Levy wrote the eight-minute narrative epic “Hurricane,” which ended up on the album Desire.

Dylan featured the song heavily in his Rolling Thunder Revue tour, and played at the New Jersey prison where Carter was held to show support. The Revue, which also featured Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Allen Ginsberg and Roger McGuinn, went on to play a benefit concert (to raise money for Carters legal costs) at Madison Square Garden (raising $100,000).

The second benefit at the Houston Astrodome didn’t fare so well. The high ticket price, the arena’s ‘poor sound’ reputation and the question of whether some of the advertised stars would actually appear, prevented a sellout. By the morning after the concert, rumors abounded that the benefit, suffering from high stadium, hotel and transportation expenses, had actually lost money – according to a 1976 issue of Rolling Stone.

The song was licensed for use in the 1999 film, The Hurricane.

The New Yorker film critic David Denby called it: “False, evasive and factually very thin – a liberal fairytale.”

In March 1975, Dylan played a benefit concert, in San Francisco.

It was a one-day festival in aid of Bill Graham’s S.N.A.C.K. (Students Need Athletics, Culture and Kicks) organization.

(Dylan plugged a mime troupe show at the 1965 San Francisco Press Conference. The troupe was being promoted by Bill Graham.)

udlyanhandbill

On June 6, 1982, at the Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA, 85,000 people showed up for a concert to promote nuclear disarmament.

“Peace Sunday: We Have A Dream”, a six-hour show, featured Bob Dylan as a surprise guest during Joan Baez’s set.

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1985 was a busy charity year for Dylan. He contributed vocals to the single, Sun City, which urged artists not to play the Casino and leisure complex in the heart of South Africa. Artists who played there were considered by many to be endorsing the racist Apartheid system.

Interestingly, the following artists did play Sun City:

Elaine Page, Frank Sinatra, Queen, Elton John, Linda Ronstadt (who received $500,000 for six concerts in 1983, saying “I don`t like being told I can`t go somewhere“), Julio Iglesias, The O’Jays, Ray Charles, Boney M, Black Sabbath (Drummer Bev Bevan refused to play the shows, and was replaced by Terry Chimes, formerly of The Clash), Rod Stewart, Status Quo, The Beach Boys, Tina Turner, Dionne Warwick, Laura Branigan, Kim Wilde, Modern Talking, Cher, Dolly Parton, Chicago, Rick Wakeman, Kenny Rogers, Gloria Gaynor, George Benson, Shirley Bassey and Barry Manilow.

Stevie Wonder turned down $2 million to play in Sun City. Bill Cosby turned down a similar amount.

Beyoncé, Mariah Carey, Jay Z, Nelly Furtado and Jon Bon Jovi have all played for members of Libya’s Gaddafi family in recent years. The going rate is $1 Million for 45 minutes.

Dylan also sang on the USA For Africa single, We Are The World and was filmed for the video.

There is fantastic footage (on YouTube) of Dylan rehearsing for his part, asking Stevie Wonder to help him, by playing the chords on the piano and coaching him to get a decent vocal.

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In the same year, Dylan infamously headlined the original Live Aid concert in Philadelphia.

After an excited intro from Jack Nicholson (“Some artists’ work speaks for itself; some artist’s work speaks for his generation. It’s my deep personal pleasure to present to you one of America’s great voices of freedom. It can only be one man! The transcendent Bob Dylan!“), Dylan sang three songs with Ron Wood and Keith Richards ‘backing’ him.

As the sound monitors were behind them (and behind a giant curtain where a plethora of stars rehearsed the finale), they could not hear themselves, resulting in a shambolic performance.

Dylan, Richards and Wood may have had a small glass of beer prior to taking the stage…

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In between songs, Dylan said this:

I hope that some of the money…maybe they can just take a little bit of it, maybe…one or two million, maybe…and use it, say, to pay the mortgages on some of the farms that, the farmers here, owe to the banks…

Bob Geldof, who organised the event, was deeply upset by the statement:

He displayed a complete lack of understanding of the issues raised by Live Aid…. Live Aid was about people losing their lives. There is a radical difference between losing your livelihood and losing your life. It did instigate Farm Aid, which was a good thing in itself, but it was a crass, stupid, and nationalistic thing to say.

Peter, Paul and Mary were originally pencilled in to join Bob Dylan for a performance of Blowin’ In The Wind, but Dylan called the organizers a few days before the show saying that he would play with Wood and Richards instead.

Inspired by the comments Dylan made at Live Aid, Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp agreed that family farmers were in dire need of assistance and decided to plan a concert for America. The show was put together in six weeks and was held on September 22, 1985 in Champaign, Illinois before a crowd of 80,000 people. It raised over $9 million for America’s family farmers. It was called Farm Aid. Dylan played a set, backed by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers.

1986

Dylan helps raise funds for Chabad, by doing a video spot during filming for Hearts Of Fire.

Dylan performed for free at the Bridge II Concert, on December 4, 1988, in California at the Oakland Coliseum.

Performers that night were – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Nils Lofgren, Billy Idol, Dylan, G. E. Smith, Jerry Garcia & Bob Weir, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and Tracy Chapman.

In September 1989, Dylan appeared on a Chabad telethon.

Dylan contributed lead vocals, as Lucky Wilbury, for the 1990 Romanian orphans appeal single, Nobody’s Child. The whole appeal was organised by Olivia Harrison.

In 1991, Dylan contributed a song, This Old Man, to For Our Children, a benefit album for children with pediatric AIDS.

In September, Dylan appeared on TV, helping raise money for the Chabad Telethon, saying:

Give plenty of money to Chabad. It’s my favorite organization in the world. Really, they do nothing but good things with the money. The more you give, the more it will help everybody.”

On July 30, 1999, Dylan played alongside Eric Clapton, Sheryl Crow, Mary J. Blige, and David Sanborn in a one-night-only concert in New York City’s Madison Square Garden, as a benefit for Clapton’s Crossroads Centre at Antigua.

Bob Dylan Eric Clapton Crossroads MSG 1999 Michael Brito

On March 24, 2002, Dylan attended the 10th Annual Elton John AIDS Foundation Party in Los Angeles.

In 2008, Bob Dylan announced that part of the profits from his upcoming Canadian tour will be donated to the Raise A Reader charity.

Raise A Reader is a charity devoted to improving literacy levels, and has raised more than $10 million to this end. Amongst the other major supporters of the Raise A Reader charity are Michael Buble, Anne Murray and James Taylor.

In 2009, Dylan released Christmas In The Heart.

Feeding America will receive Dylan’s royalties (forever) from sales in the USA, while two further charities, the United Nations’ World Food Programme and Crisis in the UK, will receive royalties from overseas sales.

Dylan said: “That the problem of hunger is ultimately solvable means we must each do what we can to help feed those who are suffering and support efforts to find long-term solutions. I’m honoured to partner with the World Food Programme and Crisis in their fight against hunger and homelessness.

It’s a tragedy that more than 35 million people in this country alone—12 million of those children—often go to bed hungry and wake up each morning unsure of where their next meal is coming from. I join the good people of Feeding America in the hope that our efforts can bring some food security to people in need during this holiday season.”

On July 23, 2009, Kristie Buble (no relation to Michael), a police officer in Long Branch, New Jersey, picked Bob Dylan off the street because residents had complained about an old homeless man walking around in the pouring rain and peering into the windows of a vacant home.

Ever the chameleon, Bob Dylan changes colour at a Polo Shirt Convention.
Ever the chameleon, Bob Dylan changes colour at a Polo Shirt Convention.

In 1978, when I was a kid of 15, Bob Dylan was my hero.

In truth, I became obsessed by him. I used to try to walk like him, dress like him, act like him – or at least the image of him I created from books, interviews and film clips.

Dylan’s music has been playing throughout my life. It has been in the background through divorces, bereavements, personal struggles – as well as travels, romances, triumphs and various joyful events.

I have been lucky enough to see him in concert quite a few times, most recently at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

My record collection contains every album he has ever officially released. The same is true for Leonard Cohen, Millie Jackson, Tom Waits and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, but Dylan is different, somehow. His songs affected me very deeply when I was young, and that affection has grown. He’s a fascinating guy.

The fact that I love the guy’s music, doesn’t mean I should hold him accountable for my expectations, morality or beliefs.

Dylan has adamantly never bought in to anything, as far as I can see, and so the whole notion of him selling out is a nonsense. He is a hard-working musician who sells his music to people who want to buy it. His responsibility to his audience ends there.

He cannot live up to or accept any moral or political ideals that people attach to him. That is a wholly unreasonable demand.

From the very beginning, he has refused to accept the various titles he has been burdened with – leader, Sixties protest singer, folksinger, Born Again Christian, spokesman, idol, prophet, sage or seer.

Neil Young once said that Dylan was “a reflection and extension of the history of American music.

I think I would agree with that.

Bob Dylan is a great musician, end of story.

“Half of the people can be part right all of the time,

Some of the people can be all right part of the time.

But all the people can’t be all right all the time

I think Abraham Lincoln said that.

I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours.

I said that.”

Raining money.
Raining money.

Thanks To:

Dag Braathen for photos, insults and being Norwegian.

Wikipedia, Google, Rolling Stone, Snoozeweek, Expecting Rain, b-dylan.com, Lars Lindh’s interview with LeRoy Hoikkola, dylandays.com, and my 9 year old daughter, who told me that Dylan’s version of This Old Man was “too scary for kids” and that it would “give her nightmares.”

12 responses to “BOB DYLAN – SELLING OUT SINCE SIXTY TWO

  1. You took a lot of effort here and rather than getting into details I would like to show my appreciation for showing so much nuance, and in general I share your view, anyway you want to see it, the man gave us great music and lyrics, and even the person behind this art is at least interesting, and purposeful or not he gives us an insight in our times

  2. Pingback: Bob Dylan – selling out since sixty two·

  3. Very well researched and written story. I follow the logic and shake my head at people who want Dylan to be something other than he is.

  4. Great job. The only things I can think of that you missed was that he also gave permission to use a song to World Wildlife Org and also a clean water for third world countries initiative. Maybe Hard Rain? There’s a video and there was a big traveling mural.

  5. Really good piece. I was worried at first that you’d come to bury him but you don’t. People are people and yes, Bob can’t be all right all of the time (in our perception). Other than family and very close friends I would say that he’s been the most important person on the planet to me since I first saw him as a 15 year old in 1966. Everyone disappoints at times, it’s the nature of life, and no-one can live up to our demands constantly. Bobby comes closer that anyone else I know.

  6. Perhaps Dylan’s accountants were able to reduce his annual income tax bill he paid each year with a tax-deductible contribution exemption every time he performed at a charity benefit concert and that’s one reason he’s apparently still worth $180 million? On July 28, 1965 Pete Seeger, incidentally, wrote a memo to himself that contained the following interesting reference to Bob Dylan’s post-1963 philosophical/political/artistic shift: :

    “It isn’t pretty to see a corpse–man or beast…
    “I knew that last week at Newport, I ran to hide my eyes and ears because I could not bear either the screaming of the crowd nor some of the most destructive music this side of Hell. Bob Dylan, the frail, restless, homeless kid who came to New York in `61 was now the frail, restless, homeless star on the stage.
    “…When we see a flaming streak across the sky, we all exclaim, though the light has died before the echo of our voices. But I am glad I saw this shooting star…The songs Bob wrote in 1962 and 1963 will be sung for many a year..
    “…What is the reason for the change–I don’t know. A girl gone perhaps. A manager come. The claws of fame. Or was he killed with kindness?…”

    http://www.nme.com/musicvideos/protestfolk-the-poet-of-pbs–bob-a-feldman-360p/1679869

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MIKEY DREAD – WORLD WAR III

Music is a time-machine.

It can transport me at anytime. I could be walking to work, hear a song on a radio and off I go.

“Sorry, I won’t be in today. It’s 1986 and I’m really drunk.”

I heard Mikey Dread through a van window and I suddenly remembered how much I used to like him.

When I got home, I pulled out an old vinyl copy of World War III and turned it up in the late sun.

It sounded awesome and I recalled a party in Bristol: Red Stripe, dope smoke, cooler-than-me musicians, the sun and Mikey Dread, 1986.

Hedonistic heaven.

I Googled Mikey Dread and was gutted to learn that he had passed away.

MI0002479921

Mini Biog

A talented engineer with a love of technology and the actual intricacies of sound, Michael George Campbell furthered himself, education-wise, right up until his untimely death in 2008. He was only 53.

Born in Port Antonio on the North of Jamaica, it was a long way (in every sense) from Kingston, but Campbell landed a job as DJ (and initially as sound engineer) for the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation.

Starting in 1976, his show (Dread At The Controls) was four hours long and on a Saturday night. His witty style, voice and crazy jingles made his show extremely popular. And he also played the rough and revolutionary style of music known as reggae.

(For great examples of his DJ skills, find the US release of the RAS label LP African Anthem Dubwise. The between-track patter has been reinstated and is brilliant.)

The conservative JBC may have frowned upon his dub and reggae playlists, preferring the irrelevant and saccharine European and American pop, but he was still awarded Top Radio Personality of the Year in 1977-1978.

Mikey Dread eventually walked out of his job at the JBC in 1979.

Having already worked with Lee Perry, Carlton Patterson and Sonia Pottinger, he began to start engineering, playing or mixing for Sugar Minott, Junior Murvin, Earl Sixteen, Wally Bucker, Sunshine, Jah Grundy and Rod Taylor and started his own label, DATC.

Between 1979 and 1981, he released three classic albums, Dread at the Controls, Evolutionary Rockers, and World War III, which brought him to the attention of, amongst many others, The Clash.

Bristol

I am reasonably sure I saw him sing once, at a Singers And Players gig in Bristol. My memory of events is a little fractured and Red Striped, so I could be mistaken.

I used to drink in a Bristol pub called The Old England, and loved the jukebox. It was as mixed as the customers. I used to hear (the Mikey Dread produced) Clash song ‘Bankrobber’ along with ‘Police And Thieves’. There was Desmond Dekker, The The and Gregory Isaacs; Barrington Levy, Jimmy Cliff and (Mikey Dread-mixed) UB40. It was an eye and ear-opener for me – to see hardcore punks, middle-class students (like me) and Rastas mingling.

That pub, and Bristol in General, had a profound effect on me, musically. It was a very interesting time to be there.

World War III

It is the LP, World War III, that I am particularly fond of. I feel synaptically altered, through euphoric recall, every time I hear it. It was, and still is, immense.

It starts with the sound of a tape rewinding, stopping, going forward, then back. There’s no doubt that the album was recorded onto tape. The rolling, warm bass lopes and wide open spaces sound glorious. You can hear the humming of the amps, hear the space that is filled with music. I swear I can hear soul.

Give me hiss, give me heat, give me tape to vinyl and a pair of speakers bigger than a house.

Break Down The Walls crashes in with tight, fizzy snare, chop-chop guitar and a super lo-fi organ that lays out the melody. Then comes awesome deep, deep bass, reverbs and delays. Then Mikey Dread gives us his distinctive vocal, always timed to perfection, easy on the ear and filled with mirth.

Stop hiding out in the shadows

Scared to show the world you exist

Don’t lock yourself in the darkness

The world is so much brighter than this.

Yeah, if you never take a shot

You’re never gonna win.

So turn it all around and break down the walls.

The sound of this album is just…astonishing. It manages to retain an authentic, rootsy Dancehall feel, while combining studio FX trickery and heavy dub principles. Some of the dub mixes could be lifted from a Prince Far-I tape but with almost pop-catchy melodies. Dread’s nasal, toasty vocals keep the vibes lifted and when he combines with the deep baritone of Watty Burnett (from the mighty Congos), it makes me stop and smile. Broadly.

There is plenty of whimsical humour on this record, but some strong messages too. Dread ruminates on the idiocy of prejudice based on hairstyles, on economic deprivation due to race and speaks of his frustration at capitalism. He speaks with authority, and from experience. He was signed into very restrictive music contracts, and cleverly waited for those contracts to expire before he released music through his own label, Dread At The Controls (DATC).

His final message, in the title track, is delivered with such tenderness and humility, it is hard not to be affected.

Let me get this thing down straight

We are brothers and sisters and should never live in hate.

Mikey Dread was a great musician and DJ, a learned and prolific producer, a good writer, a very distinctive and soulful singer. There aren’t too many people I could write that about.

I have joy in my heart when I hear his music, and a little sadness that he has passed away.

Thank you, Mikey Dread, thank you.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

RIP, MIKEY DREAD, 4 June 1954 – 15 March 2008

If you want to buy the album, get the 2002 CD version, with all the dub versions and extended mixes. It’s not as sonically pleasing, but the dub cuts are brilliant.

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Leaving Richmond – An Elusive Glow EP

I often don’t understand things, but have a feeling about them, anyway.

 

Music is one of those things.

 

I made a living as a musician for years, but I can’t write or read a note. I have no idea how it works. It is as much of a mystery to me as quantum physics.

 

All I know is that it can move and inspire me. If it makes me feel something, it’s a keeper.

 

The Rolling Stones album ‘Some Girls’ makes me want to go out and treat women badly. Bob Dylan sometimes makes me want to be religious. Mikey Dread makes me wish I was a black Rasta. Mazzy Star make me want to take morphine. I could go on, but you get the idea.

 

Leaving Richmond make me want to fly. With joy.

a1329726700_10

 

Whenever I play their stuff, I immediately want to travel. There should be a new music genre called, maybe, Volition Rock or Transit Music.

 

It has a drive, a propulsive energy, that inspires me to get my nomad on. In February, I will be walking across the Sahara Desert. The only music I am taking is by Leaving Richmond.

 

The beauty of our species is in this music, too.  It works like anti-depressants should – prodding the happy gland, releasing endorphins and making you want to be a part of something. Part of the world.

 

Don’t ask me how it does these things, because I don’t know.

 

It just does.

 

This music is utterly inspiring and life-affirming.


What more do you need?

 

The EP is released today – 29th July 2014

You can buy it here

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Bob Dylan At Budokan

Fremantle, Western Australia, March 25th, 1978

 

My parents wouldn’t let me go to the Dylan concert. I was 14 and beside myself with resentment.

 

I had a Saturday job, sweeping the floors of a pine furniture workshop, and on this particular day it was rage that propelled that broom. I bristled with it.

 

I wanted to see my new hero.

 

I had only just found his music and he was playing in Perth tonight and here I was, fourteen miles away, stranded, grounded, oppressed!

 

In my room, I remained truculent, silent and fuming.

 

At school on Monday, I heard that he played Girl From The North Country, my favourite song.

 

I was beyond heart-broken.

 

The One That Got Away.

The One That Got Away.

 

The Record Store

 

About five months later, after my broom shift, I went to the local record store as usual and headed straight for the Dylan section.

 

I could scarcely believe my tired, dusty eyes: a new Dylan record!

128096-b

It was a double LP and a lot of money, but I had to have it.

 

As I approached the counter, I trembled with excitement.

 

The guy behind the desk nodded as I handed over my crumpled, hard-earned dollars, “did you see him in Perth? Man, he was brilliant! You’ll love this. It was recorded in Japan, just before he came here…”

 

I still felt the disappointment fire through my veins but at least now I could hear what I’d missed.

 

Bob Dylan At Budokan was mine. The first record I’d ever bought.

 

I went straight to my room and opened the cellophane. It was glorious – there was a booklet with photos and all the lyrics in English and Japanese.

 

And a poster!

Get Thee On My Wall

Get Thee On My Wall

 

I gently dropped the needle, put my headphones on and slid into another realm.

 

I had never heard the first song, Mr Tambourine Man, before but I was knocked out by the beautiful guitar at the start, by the rich sound and his voice. It was amazing. What a song!

 

I read the lyrics as it played, knowing that I had never been happier. I played it from beginning to end, pausing only to change sides.

 

Later, my old man told me I was an idiot for spending all my savings on a bloody record, but I didn’t care. I had pushed the broom myself and the money was mine. Besides, it was worth every penny – the lavish packaging, the lyrics, the big, new sound, his flawless singing and a fucking poster!

 

It was perfect.

 

The Record

 

During a recent tour of Japan, CBS/Sony released a three-record set of Dylan’s greatest hits, called Masterpieces. Dylan was so impressed by the attention and care given to the Masterpieces album by CBS/Sony that he agreed to let them release a live album recorded at his last Japanese show. Tentatively titled Dylan Live at the Budokan, the LP should be ready by August.”

- June 29th, 1978 issue of Rolling Stone.

The writers complain the show’s disco or Las Vegas. I don’t know how they come up with these theories...”

- Bob Dylan, 1978,  to Robert Hilburn.

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At the time, I felt that the Budokan album, and the tour generally, was a natural progression from the Rolling Thunder Revue (that I’d read about in Sam Shepard’s brilliant Rolling Thunder Logbook).

 

The costumes, the varied and radical arrangements, the large array of musicians. It made sense. It was theatre – and a good, old-fashioned ‘show’. I also really loved the female backing singers.

 

It wasn’t quite so ‘travelling circus’ but it was just as musically innovative and the shows were just as long. It also involved hats…well, the occasional beret, at least.

with Jo Ann Harris. And the beret.

with Jo Ann Harris. And the beret.

I had a couple of bad years. I put a lot of money into the movie, built a big house … and it costs a lot to get divorced in California.

 

“The ‘78 tour was not so improvisational as Rolling Thunder. It was more rehearsed in the traditional sense of rehearsal. Although Bob took some of the songs and completely put new music to the lyrics and he changed the “feel”–radically–of some of the material. But once he decided on a feel, and the arrangement was worked out, it would pretty much stay that way for weeks. It wasn’t like he would play something that was a shuffle one night and a waltz the next.”

- David Mansfield.

 

The crowd-pleasing elements were obvious on both tours – Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door from the Rolling Thunder Revue wasn’t all that different from the Blowin’ in the Wind on Budokan. Slow, anthemic, crowd-pleasers. At least on Budokan, I was spared an over-emoting Roger McGuinn.

 

Dylan has always been a shrewd and skilled entertainer – he learnt the hard way (and the best way), playing his harp for a dollar a day, paying his dues, honing his skills, learning how to work a crowd – and in 1978 he was able to please the crowd while pleasing himself, pressing on and challenging expectations.

 

Most musicians respect and admire Bob Dylan for exactly the reasons a lot of people, even ‘fans’, criticise him: he changes.

 

His metamorphoses are both beautiful and staggering – rock n roller to folky, folky to electric poet, rocker to country singer, Master of Americana, a pop crooner, gypsy rocker, film-maker, gospel thunderer, civil war balladeer…and at each turn, shouts of “Judas!” or ‘What is this shit?’.

 

The Street Legal/Budokan/Slow Train period stands as one of the most startling, strident and musically interesting periods of his career, and the Budokan album is a peek inside the chrysalis. It’s not the best of the 78 Tour, but it is fascinating, superbly recorded and so fucking unusual!

Getting his Vegas on.

Getting his Vegas on.

 

They twisted my arm to do a live album for Japan. It was the same band I used on Street Legal, and we had just started findin’ our way into things on that tour when they recorded it. I never meant for it to be any type of representation of my stuff or my band or my live show.” – Bob Dylan in typical negating mode.

 

The album was recorded at the beginning of the tour and released quickly in order to catch the market. It was a souvenir of the tour, originally intended for Japanese release only. Probably in response to bootleggers and importers, CBS released it in Australia and then worldwide. It was fantastic value for money – as were the shows themselves.

Dylan played almost every night for 3 months and the shows were regularly 3 hours long, with partying very much in evidence:

 

“Actually it was a very hedonistic time. Bob hadn’t quite found religion, it was the year before all that went down and we all partied hard! Plus we had our own plane in the States, and our own train in Europe. First class all the way.”

- Ian Wallace.

with George Benson

with George Benson

 

They played to a total audience of two million people, with 114 shows in Japan, the Far East, Europe and the US, and the tour reportedly grossed over $20 million, which is pretty good for 1978.

 

It was very big news in Japan, as Toshiyuki “Heckel” Sugano, engineer and CBS Production Director recalled:

 

“It was certainly a matter of popular national interest — and the eight, virtually sold-out concerts he played at the 10,000-seat Budokan set a new record for any foreign artist in Japan.”

 

Mr Sugano also sheds light on the care Dylan took with the shows and the running order of the album:

 

“It was funny though, because the audiences were silent all the way through and then they applauded at the end of the concerts — like classical music audiences do. This worried Dylan, until I explained that it was normal in Japan, and especially in Tokyo.

 

For myself and the others in our CBS team, that album was a special source of great pleasure, because Dylan entrusted us entirely with the song selection, mixing and artwork.

 

I remember Dylan, the serious musician, asking me all the time after his concerts, “What did you think about today’s sound — really?”

 

I remember, too, a very kind person with a very good sense of humor who is, put simply, a most honorable human being.”

 

-Toshiyuki “Heckel” Sugano, May 22nd 2011, Japan Times.

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Selected Songs

 

Mr Tambourine Man

 

I love the guitar intro to Mr Tambourine Man – the playing and the sound. Warm sparkling colours and tube break-up, like sun through stained glass.

 

I can’t even pretend to be objective about this track, because it is burned into my brain like a childhood rainbow.

 

Shelter From The Storm

 

Falsetto mirroring isn’t a vocal trick that can be used too many times, but it works on this performance, strangely enough.

 

Ballad Of A Thin Man

 

The 1966 recordings of this song are amazing. Garth Hudson’s swelling, swirling Hammond bursts along with Dylan’s stabbing piano and wounded howls sounding supernatural and I really haven’t heard better versions.

 

However, this Budokan arrangement is great. The drums are ace with both Steve Douglas and the brilliant Billy Cross getting to step out a little.

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Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright

 

A reggae take of a folk song was a reasonably fresh and interesting approach in 1978.

 

The move has been subsequently pop-kicked to death by a myriad of bands, with varying levels of appeal  – The Clash, UB40, Eric Clapton, The Pretenders, Elvis Costello, The Police etc, etc..

 

The slightly limp, loping reggae vibe doesn’t bother me at all, but, oh, the flutes…the flutes. I loathe the instrument and could happily live the rest of my life without ever hearing a flute again. I have listened to this track for holistic reasons, but, quite frankly, it makes me want to punch things – particularly flutes.

 

Flutes should be shoved into bagpipes and then buried in the jungle. Kurtz could play one with his ass.

 

Dylan goes out on a limb.

Dylan goes out on a limb.

 

All Along The Watchtower

 

In 1978, the intro to this song was the first time I had heard Bob Dylan speak, so it gets one star for that alone.

 

I saw him perform a radically different take at the Royal Albert Hall in London last year, and although that growling, ominous storm of a version was great, this is better.

 

Until Desire, I hadn’t heard a violin used as a lead instrument in ‘rock’ music and I like it occasionally.

 

I’m a huge fan of Billy Cross, so could listen to his sound and string-bending all day.

 

It’s just a brilliant version of a great song.

 

I Want You

 

This has always sounded like a foretaste of what we were to hear on Saved. It’s a brother to A Satisfied Mind, and even though the windy instrument sounds suspiciously like a flute, it’s played with economy and isn’t too shrill, and so I still love this track.

 

I think the vocals are amazing – tender, aching and executed perfectly. I love that he can bring out the sorrow in such a chirpy track.

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Just Like A Woman

 

The timbre of his voice is lovely on this whole album. I don’t know what microphones they used, or how they were EQ’d, but he sounds fantastic – strong, supple and rich. A lot like my second ex-wife.

 

Again,  this version has a strong Gospel feel to me, and could easily have fitted into his late 1979 or early 1980 shows.

 

He delivers “it’s time for us to quit” in perfect 1966 style, and when he blows that harp, I am smiling like a child.

 

Dylan sounds like a nightmarish cabaret letch while the new arrangements struggle under sterile production and some bizarrely emphatic flute playing” said Mojo.

 

Okay, I’m with them on the flutes, but ‘sterile production’? Are they nuts? The production is sublime. It radiates warmth.

 

Nightmarish cabaret letch’? Jesus, the guy can’t win. If he says nothing he’s surly and arrogant, if he interacts and makes jokes, he’s a ‘nightmarish cabaret letch’.

 

Dylan likes women. Well, stone me, what a weirdo.

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Soundcheck

Oh, Sister

 

Creepy organ, staccato stabs, congas, bongos or whatever they are, and sinister sax. This song has atmosphere, and some cool reverby guitar. I’m not a major fan of Dylan’s moaning at the ends of the verses, but the rest of it is top notch.

 

Bobbye gets her rhythm stick.

Bobbye gets her rhythm stick.

 

Simple Twist Of Fate

 

“Here’s a simple love story…happened to me…”

 

In comparison to some of the rehearsals for the tour, this version is fairly pale. It’s worth it for the little tick-tick-tick on the snare when he sings “he hears the ticking of the clock” line. Hilarious.

 

One More Cup Of Coffee (Valley Below)

 

The piano on this track is immense. It only appears here and there, but it’s perfect. The hand drums, too, deserve a mention. I get a bit tired of the sax, but it’s Steve Douglas, so I’ll keep quiet.

 

Is Your Love In Vain?

 

I really don’t like this song, but, musically, the Budokan take is wonderful. There’s something so nasty and misogynistic running through the lyrics, that even an old chauvinist like me feels slightly nauseated. As a post-divorce bag of vomit, it works. I recognise it, but don’t want to hear it.

 

The intro goes “here’s an unrecorded song. Let’s see if you can guess which one it is?”

Beret and dungarees.

Beret and dungarees.

 

All I Really Want To Do

 

This performance is so exuberant, strident and choppy that I cannot help but love it.

 

It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding

 

Such drama, such boldness! It’s great! It has everything you could ask for really. And Dylan delivers the lyrics perfectly, with bite, venom and his own perfect timing.

 

What was it that people didn’t like?

 

Oh yeah, the flutes.

 

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Jerry Weintraub/Management III

 

Dylan went to see Neil Diamond play at the Aladdin Theatre over the 4th July weekend in 1976 (as reported in The Salt Lake Tribune, July 18, 1976), and he may have been jotting down notes.

 

If the shows hadn’t impressed Dylan, he would certainly have been interested in the box office numbers Diamond had earned through Management III and Jerry Weintraub.

 

“By the time I got Jerry to manage me, I almost didn’t have a friend in the world. We were working on [Renaldo & Clara]…I was being thrown out of my house. I was under a lot of pressure, so I figured I better get busy working.

- Bob Dylan 1977.

 

Jerry Weintraub was (and still is) a big noise in the movie and management world. His clients included John Denver, Neil Diamond, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and The Carpenters, who were all big money-spinners in the late Seventies, so it makes a great deal of sense for me – that Bob Dylan would choose to work with him at that particular time.

 

Fritz Rau (who was negotiating the 78 tour with Weintraub) is invited to dinner:

 

“…Bob Dylan enters the room. Knowing his reputation of being rather taciturn, I wonder: What is he going to say? Probably he’ll inquire about the tour deal again. Nothing in that vein: ‘Fritz, I wanna talk to you about the American Folk Blues Festival of 1963.'”

 

In 1987,  Mr Weintraub told reporter, Fred Schruers:

“Bob Dylan was here yesterday, sitting right where you’re sitting. We talked her hours. He is a friend of mine, you know, a great guy, a perceptive guy.”

There once was a kid with a dream

Whose vision was clean and supreme

He formed Management III

and quick as can be

The dream became one with his scheme…

 

First there was Denver

And eventually Frank…

 

He was man of the year,

The wiz of the biz

And accolades too many to count.

 

His dream and his scheme

Turned bread into cream,

Success it continued to mount…”

 

(This little poem is, in it’s entirety, framed on Jerry’s office wall. It’s by Bob Dylan.)

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The Press Hit The Nail On The…oh, hang on….

 

The fire and brimstone are behind Dylan…” wrote Janet Maslin on July 12th 1979.

 

It is my favourite dumb-ass quote, because Dylan released ‘Slow Train Coming’ on August 20th. Surely the most fire and brimstone of all fire and brimstone albums.


A Proverb For No Particular Reason.

It is better to be in chains with friends, than in a garden with strangers

Budokan_7b

Thanks to:

 

Dag Braathen, once again, for his unfailing criticism, contempt and sneering. And pictures.

5 responses to “Bob Dylan At Budokan

  1. Pingback: Bob Dylan At Budokan·

  2. Hi, this is a good article. Well written with a strong feel of the time and place. Sound judgement on Budokan – making me reach out for a re-evaluation of my own. Nice work.

    Thank you
    John

  3. Very well written, entertaining and full of insight. I’ve tried to convey some of the same sentiments on the album over at Johannasvisions, but you’ve done a much better job.

    Thanks
    Hallgeir

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RUMOUR CUBES – APPEARANCES OF COLLECTIONS

I asked the good folks at Circuit Sweet if they had anything interesting I could listen to, and possibly review.

 

Among the names they sent was a band called Rumour Cubes. I was immediately attracted to the name. It reminded me of something Ivor Cutler never wrote.

 

Having no preconceptions at all is a great way to hear something. I make a point of reading nothing about the artists I might write about. I just want to hear it and see.

 

The song titles entertained me – ‘Seven Year Glitch’, ‘Your House Isn’t Haunted, You’re Lonely’, ‘Research And Destroy’ and ‘Do Not Go Gently‘. I’m a long-time admirer of Dylan Thomas, so the latter title piqued my interest.

 

Rumour_Cubes-Appearances_of_Collections-2014-artwork

 

Serendipity means a “fortunate happenstance” or “pleasant surprise”.

 

It was coined by Horace Walpole in 1754, in relation to The Three Princes of Serendip. The princes were “always making discoveries, by accident and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of”.

 

Rumour Cubes are a discovery that I was not in quest of.

 

Despite growing up with the ‘wordy guys’ and their peculiar voices (Dylan, Cohen, Young, Mitchell and Waits), I have found a couple of singer-free bands that I will follow and listen to for as long as they make music.

 

Specifically, Aulos, from Hereford, UK, and Leaving Richmond from Los Angeles, USA.

 

And after one listen, I am adding Rumour Cubes to that list.

 

The music is joyous, deeply textured and melancholy. The tracks are witty, superbly played, recorded and just about break my heart, in a delicious, hypnotic way.

Michael Nyman, Cocteau Twins, 4AD, Einaudi maybe, a little Satie, some Massive Attack, a trip to Portishead…

 

Like tearful, shining morphine.

 

They sound like no-one else, and I don’t care who they are or what they look like. They are just amazing.

 

You have got to buy this. It comes out on the 18th of August, 2014.

 

Find some alone time, turn it up and absolutely fucking revel in it.

 

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Rod Stewart – The Killing Of Georgie

In 1979, Rod Stewart wasn’t on my musical radar. I was into Dylan, Neil Young, The Velvet Underground, old ‘Blues’ and anything angry or melancholy.

I was 16 and in a state of perpetual, irritated bewilderment.

One afternoon, bored and looking for something different to listen to, I went scoffing through my parent’s LP collection. I noticed a vivid pink record called Rod Stewart’s Greatest Hits, and put it on.

I thought Maggie May was pretty good, but didn’t think much of the rest.

Then an electric piano version of Walk On The Wild Side started and I was about to dismiss it as a pop copy, when I caught the words:

In these days of changing ways

and so-called liberated days

a story comes to mind of a friend of mine;

Georgie boy was gay I guess

nothin’ more or nothin’ less

the kindest guy I ever knew.

The song had my attention, partly because it sounded genuine and partly because I kept getting called gay or ‘a poof’ at my new school.

I was not only new, but very thin, pale, with a pretty face and a suspiciously strong interest in ‘art’. Fortunately, I was quickly able to escape the homophobic bullies because I was good at sports, football in particular, but at first I was definitely a target.

Others were not so fortunate.

I witnessed plenty of violence towards a couple of other ‘arty poofs’ at my new school, and definitely didn’t want to be on the receiving end of it. It made me feel sick, angry and upset.

My childhood had been spent around artists, poets, performers and other extravagant people – many of whom were most definitely and outwardly gay – and I felt no fear of difference.

So, the Killing Of Georgie, really affected me – as much as Masters Of War or Strange Fruit had. It tapped into my developing sense of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Violence borne out of fear, ignorance and prejudice was plain ‘wrong’.

I thought it was a really great song, and was impressed that Rod Stewart had written it himself. I had him dismissed as the embarrassing guy from ‘Top Of The Pops’, prancing about singing, Do Ya Think I’m Sexy.

Clearly, he had another side – and one I respected.

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A victim of these gay days it seems.

Six years later, back in England, I was stunned by something I saw on the TV.

A dark, ominous sky. A volcano erupts. Fiery, Hellish, cascading rocks part to reveal a tombstone being chiselled.

“There is now a danger that has become a threat to us all,” dooms John Hurt, “it is a deadly disease and there is no known cure.”

The word chiselled into the tombstone is: AIDS.

“Don’t die of ignorance,” runs the slogan, which is kind of ironic, given that it was generally suggested to affect only gay men.

At the time, I worked in a warehouse in Portishead, outside Bristol. A few days after those AIDS TV adverts were broadcast, one of the guys from work came in, badly beaten up. He had been coming out of a bar in Clifton with his boyfriend, and they were both attacked, because they were gay.

Several of his work colleagues refused to sit or eat with him after those adverts and he left his job shortly afterwards.

I remember the then-Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, James Anderton, referring to people “swirling about in a human cesspit of their own making”.

This was also the time that my Brother ‘came out’.

He was bullied at school, ridiculed, beaten up, invited to parties and refused entry – because he was gay.

In 1986, he tried to take his own life as a result of the endless brutality. It was only because the paramedic acted so quickly that he survived.

Soon after, his house was broken into, trashed, and ‘AIDS SCUM’ painted on the wall outside in red paint. The Police took no action and no investigation was ever carried out.

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Glad To Be Gay

Rod Stewart wrote the Killing Of Georgie in 1976, about the murder of a friend of his in 1974. The date was changed purely for rhyming purposes.

It didn’t come particularly easily to him:

I deliberate over the lyrics, I really do. I’ll come up with one line in a day, and then it might be a couple of days before I come up with the rhyming line. It’s never been easy for me.

but he retains a good deal of pride about having written it:

“…there are songs like ‘The Killing of Georgie’ that I’m very proud of, you know, written in ’76, it was a topic that not many people had dealt with.”

The song has a beauty and power that seems to come from truth. Stewart has said very little about it:

That was a true story about a gay friend of The Faces. He was especially close to me and Mac. But he was knifed or shot, I can’t remember which. That was a song I wrote totally on my own over the chord of open E.

At the time of the record’s release, Rod Stewart was the UK’s most super-hetero lothario ever. He was a major, major star and I think it was an admirable move to put it out.

The motivation to write the song may come from the fact that Stewart was ‘discovered’ and promoted by the famously gay Long John Baldry:

It’s probably because I was surrounded by gay people at that stage. I had a gay PR man, a gay manager. Everyone around me was gay. I don’t know whether that prompted me into it or not. I think it was a brave step, but it wasn’t a risk. You can’t write a song like that unless you’ve experienced it. But it was a subject that no one had approached before. And I think it still stands up today.

I think he is quite right to be proud of the song. It has some beautiful lines that have stayed with me all my life:

His mother’s tears fell in vain

the afternoon George tried to explain

that he needed love like all the rest.

Pa said there must be a mistake

how can my son not be straight

after all I’ve said and done for him.

He said “Never wait or hesitate

Get in kid, before it’s too late

You may never get another chance

‘Cos youth’s a mask but it don’t last

live it long and live it fast”

Georgie was a friend of mine.

The Killing Of Georgie is one of a few comets that soar through my musical universe – songs that cemented and encouraged a youthful, hopeful sense of acceptance and tolerance.

I struggle to retain it on a daily basis, but feel it’s worth the effort.

It wasn’t just the subject that made the song shine for me, either – it was that Rod Stewart wrote it. It was unexpected. And that fills me with a great optimism for my species.

It reminds me that great empathy and humanity can reside in anyone, and that any judgements or prejudices I may hold are completely and utterly ridiculous.

Nice one, Roderick.

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BOB DYLAN – EMPIRE BURLESQUE & BEYOND

Dylan in full 80s mode.

Dylan in full 80s mode.

Aside from a couple of individual tracks, I hadn’t listened to Empire Burlesque, the Hearts Of Fire soundtrack, Knocked Out Loaded or Down In The Groove since I bought the albums on vinyl, back at the time of their release.

Why?

In part, I had accepted the critical consensus that they were, in the body of Dylan’s recorded work, minor and dismissable.

I also remembered disliking the way most of them sounded and wrote them off as trivial, poorly written and, you know, Eighties.

I grew up listening to my parents’ old records – Nina Simone, Edith Piaf, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Buddy Holly, lots of early American ‘blues’ and early Beatles – and always liked the sound of them.

I liked the basic sound of a band or individual in a room, and that was it. For me, a few over-dubs or tweaks were acceptable, but the layering of effects and the idea of intrusive production left me cold, especially for guitar-based stuff.

Then, several things happened that sparked my interest in these ‘lost’ albums.

1) They were all remastered in 2013 – except Infidels, which was remastered in 2003 (the soundtrack album, Hearts Of Fire, which was never an official Dylan album and is not in the Sony/CBS/Dylan catalogue and Shot Of Love, have  been left unmolested);

2) A friend of mine sent me mp3 files of all the 80s outtakes and early mixes;

3) Bob Dylan in the 80s Vol 1 was released, with a version of ‘Dark Eyes’ that featured my second favourite artist, Bonnie Prince Billy (aka Will Oldham/Palace Music/Palace Brothers etc) and

4) I now have the time and inclination to write about my one abiding passion – music.

I discovered Bob Dylan as a kid, in 1978, and my entire Dylan LP collection until 1982 consisted of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, Self Portrait, John Wesley Harding, Bob Dylan At Budokan, Slow Train Coming and Saved.

I had heard nothing of his earth-shattering mid-60s trilogy of Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde, but loved his ‘gospel’ music as much as his ‘acoustic’ records. I also adored Self Portrait.

So, curious to see how these Eighties albums sounded 30 years on, I pulled my Dylan LPs out.

Would they be as unsatisfying as I had remembered?

Back to the starting point.

Original 'Street Legal' photo by Howard Alk.

Original ‘Street Legal’ photo by Howard Alk.

The real Dylan album backlash, in terms of production, seemed to start with Street Legal.

It was described as “dead air, or close to it” and as “horrendous product…too in love with his own self-generated misery to break through the leaden tempos that oppress his melodies, devoid not just of humor but of lightness.”

Researching this blog, I was surprised and amazed at the vitriol that was directed at this album.

I love everything about it – the cover, the songs, the arrangements. Yes, the production was dull and lacked the vivacity of some of his others, but, really, were these critics mad?

I mean, New Pony, Senor, Changing Of The Guards! They are awesome!

And as for Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat)…that’s one of my favourite all-time songs!

It gave me hope for my expedition into the 80s – maybe the critics were wrong about those records, too?

“It took us a week to make Street Legal – we mixed it the following week and put it out the week after. If we hadn’t done it that fast we wouldn’t have made an album at all, because we were ready to go back on the road.”

Bob Dylan 1978.

“That stuff sounded marvelous in the room…It really was sort of like Bob Dylan meets Phil Spector in the best way…the instruments sounded full and well-blended.”

David Mansfield, 1978

Unring the bell

In 1999, Don DeVito (the original ‘Captain In Charge’) over-saw the remix of Street Legal by Michael Brauer and Ryan Hewitt.

Don Devito, the producer on the record, asked me to remix it because what was released were just board mixes. For whatever reason there was no time spent on doing a proper job of mixing it, they were just quick roughs. He felt ,since the record was being re-released in SACD, the mixes could be improved. In this case, I took remixed the songs as I would have in that time period. Except for the new desk, I used just a couple of plates sounds from that time period. I captured the feel of each song and enhanced it by improving the mix but still maintaining the integrity of the original feel.”

- Michael Brauer, Gearslutz.com, 28th September, 2005

According to my research, there have only been two mixes – the original 1978 mix (mastered by Stan Kalina at CBS Recording Studios, New York) and the 1999 mix by Brauer and Hewitt (mastered by Greg Calbi at Sterling Sound, New York).

However, in 2013, Steve Berkowitz went back to the original 1978 master tapes and remastered the original album. So the version in the The Complete Album Collection Vol. One, is the original 1978 mix, but remastered.

So, why am I mentioning Street Legal in an article about Dylan’s 1980s output?

Well, because in my relatively humble opinion, there are several 80s albums that would benefit enormously from a remix, and Street Legal sets a precedent.

I also believe that it was Street Legal, and the reaction to the sound of the album, that sparked a change in Dylan’s attitude towards producers and recording.

Prior to Street Legal, he had used producers to simply record what he did, but after that album, he seemed to seek out people who might bring a certain sound or attitude, contemporary or otherwise, to his music – Jerry Wexler, Bumps Blackwell, Chuck Plotkin, Mark Knopfler, Arthur Baker and, of course, Daniel Lanois.

 

The Albums and Selected Tracks

“I’m coming out of the folk music tradition and that’s the vernacular and archetypal aesthetic that I’ve experienced. Those are the dynamics of it. I couldn’t have written songs for the Brill Building if I tried. Whatever passes for pop music, I couldn’t do it then and I can’t do it now.”

But you’ve sold over a hundred million records.

“Yeah I know. It’s a mystery to me too.”

Unused Saved artwork by Tony Wright.

Unused Saved artwork by Tony Wright.

SAVED

(1980)

Produced by Barry Beckett and Jerry Wexler.

Oh, I had to do those albums. They were very important and necessary for me to do.”

Illustration by William Henry Prince, 2014.

Illustration by William Henry Prince, 2014.

There is little wrong with the production. It sounds correct, given the genre and the tradition of gospel records.

Jerry Wexler and Barry Beckett produced it – so how could it be anything but great?

Given the sensational and inspirational performances at the time, though, it is a pale reflection.

That Sony have not released the live gospel tour album is criminal. If I had the time and money, I would sue them for cruelty.

The album was remastered for the Bob Dylan: The Complete Album Collection of 2013.

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Shot Of Love

(1981)

Produced by Chuck Plotkin and Bob Dylan

Title track produced by Bumps Blackwell

“…what came out was something close to what would have come out if he (Bumps Blackwell) was really there…

…also Clydie King and I sound pretty close to what’s all the best of every traditional style so how could anybody complain about that… and the record had something that, I don’t know, could have been made in the ‘40’s or maybe the ‘50’s…

I think the sound and production on this album is spot-on and does not need revisiting at all.

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Shot Of Love

I can understand why he wanted to work with Robert ‘Bumps’ Blackwell. His production for Little Richard and Sam Cooke was simply amazing and this album has that early ‘rock n roll’ sound to it – warm, rich, funky, cutting and so alive. You can hear the music as it hits the walls, the bodies and its raw beauty fills the air.

It’s a sonic triumph.

The early, unreleased mix is good, with some interesting piano, but the released mix is much better.

According to Sony, this album wasn’t remastered for the (2013) Bob Dylan: The Complete Album Collection on CD, but directly compared to the previous version, it sounds far louder and crisper. The opening guitar is a lot louder and seems more present and raucous as a result.

I assume that the process of compressing the files as mp3s has produced this sonic change.

First of all, Shot of Love was one of the last songs Bumps Blackwell produced and even though he only produced one song I gotta say that of all the producers I ever used, he was the best, the most knowledgeable and he had the best instincts…

…I would have liked him to do the whole thing but things got screwed up and he wasn’t so called ‘contemporary’…

To those who care where Bob Dylan is at, they should listen to Shot of Love. It’s my most perfect song. It defines where I am spiritually, musically, romantically and whatever else. It shows where my sympathies lie. It’s all there in that one song.”

- Bob Dylan to UK music paper, NME, 1983

   Trouble

  A raw slice of inner city, late night blues, with great vocals and scorpion-sting guitar.

  On my old LP, there was a weird mixing anomaly, too, where the backing singers suddenly leapt from one side to the other. A cracking track.

1981

1981

Property of Jesus

Positively 4th Street revisited.

Self doubt, sensitivity and insecurity are the shadows that follow every artist. To believe that what you are doing is worth sticking your neck out for, worth the risk of criticism or ridicule, takes courage.

Every creative person I’ve ever met has the same duality – the self-confidence and ego to present their creations to the world, with the sharp sensitivity and self-doubt that can cripple them. It’s a razor’s edge.

I have very little belief in myself to do anything. I just pull it off, y’know, and it’s amazing to me that I do.

No matter how vigorously you don’t read the papers, the reviews, bother with online chatter and tweets, you are always going to get stung.

“…my initial reaction was just another example of the old and familiar Bob Dylan syndrome: i.e., because the man’s past achievements have meant so much to so many of us, we tend to give his newest work the benefit of every doubt. No more. For me, it stops right here…

…choked with anger, rife with self-pity and so swollen with self-absorption that the singer often seems to think that he and Jesus are interchangeable on that mythic cross…

…Bob Dylan sounds more like an irate child who’s just been spanked than a grown man…”

- Paul Nelson, Rolling Stone, 1981

One of the main reasons I enjoy Dylan’s music so much, is because of the humanity I find in it.

I  don’t look to music for perfection, or for messages, guidance or nonsense like that, I look to music to be moved in some way. I have no interest in Bob Dylan’s views on politics, religion or anything else, I just love to hear a human heart beating and singing.

And this song is brutally, brilliantly human.

Songs are captured moments, frozen feelings and they are no more revealing, in a biographical sense, than a quick photo snapshot.

But they are revealing in a human sense – they show the glories, passions, sorrows, joys and thoughts of a fellow human being for a few minutes and let us (sometimes) identify with the singer, with the song. We recognise the feeling.

Music shows us ourselves.

In July 1982, Dylan signed a five-album, five-year contract with CBS, so the fact that Shot Of Love was judged harshly by critics, of course, made no difference to his being able to make a decent living through music.

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INFIDELS

(1983)

Produced by Mark Knopfler and Bob Dylan

“culturally a spent force…a confused man trying to rekindle old fires.”

[Dylan has] “turned into a hateful crackpot.”

Another “bad [album] that made no sense, didn’t hang together, had no point, and did not need to exist.”

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Jokerman

The early take that I’ve heard is lyrically very different from the cut on Infidels, and far more unsettling, musically. It has a brooding, rumbling feel that works, although the band haven’t quite got it together yet.

The guitar on the left channel is great – very deep and sounds unmistakably like a Gibson Les Paul.

Though I’m not a fan of the ‘woah oh oh’ line in the chorus, it’s a great vocal performance. Dylan’s voice sounds nicely elastic and expressive and more suited to the song than the released take.

The final Infidels mix is in keeping with the rest of the album, but it’s not a sound I particularly enjoy. Knopfler’s strat sounds a little lacking in the sting and bite it had on Slow Train Coming, and the drum sound they opted for is not to my taste.

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Man Of Peace

The unmixed take is far rougher, more raucous and far more effective, in my opinion.

The released take sounds weaker. Diluted somehow. The driving, staccato guitar is blended with keyboards to make it more radio-friendly, I guess.

It’s still a good performance, playing-wise, but lacks the bite of the original.

Dylan’s vocal is superb though, fiery and brimming with stone-cold fury and who else could write

He can be fascinating, he can be dull/ He could ride down Niagra Falls in the barrells of your skull.

Although Knopfler and Taylor’s solos are a little lacking in acid and snarl, Dylan’s harp attacks are perfect.

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Sweetheart Like You

I’ve always loved this song. I’ve listened to all the available studio takes and I can hear the evolution of the lyrics and vocal attitude.

I have to say that Robbie Shakespeare’s bass playing is immense and saves the song from a pretty trite ballad – along with Dylan’s vocal.

The final mix is good and the song works well, but has some of the raw edge shined off.

The bass lines are still killer, though.

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I would imagine that after the vitriolic and unwarranted critical response (and the poor sales) Shot Of Love received, he was hoping a more contemporary sound might help get the songs across.

The problem with opting for a ‘contemporary’ sound, and production values, is that it becomes dated very, very quickly.

Infidels is the first Dylan album that I didn’t like the sound of, where I noticed that the production, and liberal use of effects,  actually hindered my enjoyment.

It’s a great collection of songs but I rarely enjoy listening to it.

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Empire Burlesque

(1985)

Produced by Bob Dylan and Arthur Baker

I’ve heard CDs. I don’t particularly think they sound a whole lot better than a record.  Personally, I don’t believe in separation of sound, anyway.  I like to hear it all blended together.”

I’m not too experienced at having records sound good…I don’t know how to go about doing that. With Arthur Baker…I just went out and recorded a bunch of stuff all over the place, and then when it was time to put this record together, I brought it all to him and he made it sound like a record.”

Bob Dylan & Arthur Baker, 1985.

Arthur Baker gives it the thumbs-up!

“Working with Bob Dylan and Al Green was great because these are guys I grew up on as a kid, so to get to work with them was really a special thing.”

- Arthur Baker

Arthur Baker, in the mid 1980s, was well-known for his work with Afrika Bambaataa and New Order, and for his very commercial club remixes of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and “Dancing in the Dark.” .

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Something Is Burning, Baby

You know when you see a woman with too much make-up, fake tan and a wax face frozen from Botox, and you feel sure that underneath all the insecurity and armour she would be lovely?

That’s how I feel about this track.

At several points, I’m almost certain I can hear a good performance inside there somewhere.

Please, Sony, for the love of all things good, remix this song!

Empire Burlesque poster

Empire Burlesque poster

Tight Connection To My Heart (Has Anybody Seen My Love?)

I bought a 7” single of this song, back in 1985. I thought it was a great pop song then and I still do.

Had it been released by anyone but Bob Dylan, it would have been a big hit.

Bob Dylan isn’t allowed to make pop music.

 

Ken Regan, Bob Dylan and Cliff Richard's jacket.

Ken Regan, Bob Dylan and Cliff Richard’s jacket.

Trust Yourself

Willie Nelson wore a tee shirt with a line from this song printed across it, which, even if it wasn’t a class A song, would make it awesome.

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Despite the thin, tinny plastic production, and the apparent inclusion of someone playing the spoons during the intro, I love this song.

I repeat my plea…please remix this record…

 

Seeing The Real You At Last

The riff is good, the singing brilliant, the dynamics work really well and the lyrics fit. It has drive and intensity, but is rendered flabby and impotent by the mixing.

It’s the layers of synthetic horns, reverbs and noise-gates that destroy most of the life that the performance had.

It should have been retitled ‘Not Seeing The Real You At Last’.

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When the night comes falling from the sky

“This is a song I had out a while ago on my last record that I made. My 65th, actually I have about 300 albums out. I don’t really know where they are, but they’re not selling. So this is a song I wrote about people sitting in judgment on other people. I can’t stand this kind of people. I hate people sitting judgment on other people. People you got to impress all the time. I can’t stand that kind of stuff.”

(before When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky, Melbourne, 22nd February, 1986)

I have read that the earlier February 19, 1985 take, released on the first Bootleg Series collection, is better than the released version – well, it isn’t.

That’s not an opinion, it is scientific fact.

I have done countless experiments in my laboratory and no matter which way I studied it – mathematically, musically, chemically – the results were always the same: The album cut is the best.

The way Dylan sings “that icy wind that’s howling in your eyes” is all the evidence you need.

Roman Iwasiwka. Taken during a break in the Empire Burlesque sessions.

Roman Iwasiwka. Taken during a break in the Empire Burlesque sessions.

Dark Eyes

When I first bought the record, I thought this was the best thing on it.

It’s a lovely recording of a delicate song and his voice is everything I like it to be – his.

I enjoy the version on the new ‘Bob Dylan in the 80s’ album, by Dawn Landes & Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, but it’s a real treat to then revisit Dylan’s own performance, as it highlights how gifted and emotive a singer he is.

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“[The engineers would] say, ‘Hey Bob, we don’t need this,’ and he’d say, ‘Oh, okay.’ And they’d make a mix to their ears, and he’d just stand outside and let them do it. And I’d be saying, ‘Hey! You can’t let these guys…Look!! They’ve left off the background vocals!’ or ‘What about the drums?!’

But there would be something going on in the back of his head which didn’t allow him to interfere. And yet if he’d have gone into the control room with the dominance that he had while we were cutting the stuff, it could have been mind-bending.”

- Reliable Ron Wood

Recording Empire Burlesque, 1985.

Recording Empire Burlesque, 1985.

Knocked Out Loaded

(1986)

Knocked Out Loaded is ultimately a depressing affair, because its slipshod, patchwork nature suggests that Dylan released this LP not because he had anything in particular to say, but to cash in on his 1986 tour. Even worse, it suggests Dylan’s utter lack of artistic direction.”

I’m not sure how releasing a product to sell during a tour is a negative thing?

Bob Dylan is a creative artist, yes, but he works in the music industry, which is a business that requires products to sell.

If he doesn’t produce albums that they can sell, they will stop releasing and promoting his work. That’s the deal.

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Nice suit, Bob.

Under Your Spell

Writing with other composers is always an interesting experience and one that has been particularly effective for Bob Dylan. He has worked with quite a few: Jacques Levy, Robert Hunter, Tom Petty, Rick Danko, Sam Shepard, Michael Bolton, Gene Simmons and, here, with Carole Bayer Sager.

The vocal on this track is as good as any I’ve heard. Seriously. Ignore the female choir of ‘ooohs’, the tin-can reverb, Miami Vice synth and whispered ‘baby’ and listen to his voice.

It has a wonderful keening tenderness that is amazing. You have to listen closely, but he hits all those notes.

I can only imagine how good this would sound if it were stripped back and de-nineteen eighty-fied.

It’s not going to win an Ivor Novello or Grammy, but it’s a cool song and the expressive vocal is superb.

 

Driftin Too Far From Shore

This is a pretty vicious song, lyrically and vocally, with some wild, withering couplets:

Well these times and these tunnels are haunted

The bottom of the barrel is too

I waited years sometimes for what I wanted

Everybody can’t be as lucky as you

 

I never could guess your weight, baby

Never needed to call you my whore

I always thought you were straight, baby

But you’re driftin’ too far from shore

 

We weren’t on the wrong side, sweetness

We were the wrong side

The repetitive synth-battered drum-beats, thin, fizzy guitar and ridiculous female voice-choir manage to completely hide a pretty good song.

I’d love to know what Dylan’s vocal performance is like, but unfortunately, I can’t hear it.

Sony! Come on! Think of the money!

You Wanna Ramble

(by Herman Parker Jr)

Delay on the snare, stinging telecaster runs and Dylan’s vocal way back in the mix surrounded by gospel girls – it’s an 80s approximation of that early ‘rock n roll’ sound that Dylan had been chasing.

It’s hard to tell if it’s a good version under all that shimmer and sparkle, but I have got a feeling that it is.

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Got My Mind Made Up

(by Bob Dylan & Tom Petty)

A slab of rock with neat descending guitar slides, rockabilly drums and a great Dylan vocal.

His indignant phrasing of

“you don’t have to feed me/I ain’t your dog that’s gone astray”

is worth ignoring the girlie chorus and odd mix.

Maybe Someday

Firstly, the lyrics are much better than I remember them. My ears picked up at

Maybe someday, you will understand

That something for nothing is everybody’s plan

and made me check the rest out and it’s an interesting song.

Again, the sound is intrusively 80s, but underneath that trickery and fuss, there’s a strong vocal.

 

Brownsville Girl

(by Bob Dylan & Sam Shepard)

I have a recording of Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy performing the song at a benefit concert at Actors Theatre in Louisville on November 11, 2012 and it is awesome.

The Empire Burlesque version is awesome too.

It could have been called Awesome Girl.

There is no greater song about the old ‘wild west’ mythical America. It’s like all the best Wild West/Frontier/Cowboy films rolled into one. This is the America of pioneers, hard work, community, morality and God.

Despite it having being re-written from the original, working title of ‘Danville Girl’, and the bizarre, distant-view-from-the-stadium production, it’s still a stone-cold giant of a song and performance.

It’s a shame that someone in the studio pressed the ‘Eighties Epic’ button, but I live in hope of a sensible remix.

“It has to do with a guy standing on line and waiting to see an old

Gregory Peck movie that he can’t quite remember – only pieces

of it, and then this whole memory thing happens, unfolding be-

fore his very eyes. He starts speaking internally to a woman he’d

been hanging out with, recalling their meetings and reliving the

whole journey they’d gone on – and then it returns to the guy,

who’s still standing on line in the rain.”

- Sam Shepard to Rolling Stone, 1987.

Band Of The Hand

1986

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Band Of The Hand (It’s Hell Time Man)

Produced by Tom Petty.

Bob Dylan with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers on a slow blues with whomping 80s drums and a female choir that includes Stevie Nicks.

It was written specifically for the film, ‘Band Of The Hand’ and recorded quickly in the middle of a tour.

The Band of the Hand” is a rare single that I produced for him in Australia. He did it for a movie. [Band of the Hand, 1986.] I got told about it on the plane. We were landing in Sydney, and he came back and said,I’ve got to do this session tonight, could you produce it?” So I really hit the ground running in Sydney, and had to book a studio and find gear, because our gear was somewhere else. And get The Heartbreakers in. And we did a track, and we worked pretty hard on it. We worked most of the night on the song.”

Tom Petty, 2012

It’s great! The way he sings the lines:

I know your story is too painful to share

One day though you’ll be talking in your sleep

And when you do, I wanna be there

is immense, as is the repeated note guitar solo in the middle.

For years, I have read what an awful song this was, but I love it. His voice is strong from touring and I like the dirty, gritty guitar-led groove and tower-block wall of sound.

Fuck the consensus – this is ace!

The mix in the movie is quite different to the single release – the drums are more prominent and Dylan’s voice gets moved further back, crowded out.

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Hearts Of Fire – Soundtrack

(1987)

Had A Dream About You Baby

Either mix of this song is good but I think the swirling Down In The Groove version wins on penalties.

Given that it was written for the film Hearts Of Fire, I think the simple lyrics are perfect.

It’s the swaggering wailing vocal performance that really makes this song.

The Usual

(by John Hiatt)

This is a stunning cover and further evidence that Dylan is a master at interpretation.

Hearing the whole session is fascinating. The best take was definitely used and the mixing was skilfully executed. This song is on my ‘Best Of…’ playlist.

Night After Night

Synthetic Calypso Tex Mex. A pirate VHS copy of The Breakfast Club feels the same. Turn up the cuffs of your pastel pink jacket, run down a corridor ripping Madonna posters off the walls and smile.

Recording in 1986.

Recording in 1986.

Down In The Groove

(1988)

There is evidence that Down In The Groove was intended to be a double album of covers – like Self Portrait. Got Love If You Want It, Important Words and The Usual were replaced, and there are several unreleased covers from the sessions in circulation which may have been planned for inclusion on a two disc set.

Original Artwork by Rick Griffin.

Original Artwork by Rick Griffin.

Let’s Stick Together

I love the guitar and harp start and that affection is maintained all the way through. Dylan’s voice keeps rolling down at the end of the lines which is great. Then there’s the typically Dylanesque harmonica, blasting and wheezing through the broken, over-driven-tube-amps.

It’s just ace.

Randy Jackson’s funky, walking bass sounds warm and the drums sound wonderful.

The original, longer mix has a cool guitar filigree ending and someone enthusiastically saying “yeah!”

It is a fantastic version – and was written by a guy called Wilbert. I rest my case.

Ninety Miles An Hour (Down A Dead End Street)

The recent New Self Portrait Bootleg package has been a revelation for me. I enjoyed the original album, but to hear some of the new ‘covers’ made me appreciate Dylan’s skill as a singer, and interpreter of other people’s songs, all over again.

Songs are his lexicon and his knowledge and love of early American folk, blues and country music is clear to anyone who has ever spoken to him, asked him decent questions, listened to his radio shows – or who has followed his ‘career’.

So it’s no surprise to hear him perform this Hal Blair and Don Robertson song – a 1963 US Country chart hit for Hank Snow, that peaked at No. 2 – but it is a surprise to realise how good it is.

Anyone who doesn’t think this is a great cover is nuts. It’s fabulous, even though half-drowned by production treacle.

The way he sings “that warning voice” is worth the price of admission on it’s own.

Just remix it Sony, please…I’m begging…

Rank Strangers

A beautiful reading of the wistful, dusty gospel song by Albert E. Brumley.

Stripped of its production, it would tower over anything on the 90s ‘folk’ albums, Good As I been To You and World Gone Wrong.

This is a prime reason for doing a stripped-down, Let It Be-Naked style remix.

Ugliest Girl In The World

(Lyrics by Robert Hunter and music by Bob Dylan)

I don’t think Dylan and Hunter are likely to be awarded medals for Services To Feminism in the near future. ‘New Men’ they ain’t, but this makes me laugh every time I play it. The female chorus of ‘She’s so ugly’ is hilarious and some of the lines are awful, but great:

The woman that I love she a got a prizefighter nose

Cauliflower ears and a run in her hose

She speaks with a stutter and she walks with a hop

I don’t know why I love her but I just can’t stop

The harp is cutting and the playing great. I know I should hate it but I don’t. Songs like these are everywhere in the blues tradition.

“That song tends to disappear from memory, along with [the Dead’s] “Keep Your Day Job” and “What’s Become of the Baby.”  Songs the world could’ve done without.” – Robert Hunter, 2013.

 

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Oh Mercy

(1989)

Produced by Daniel Lanois.

“With Bob, I wanted to make sure that his voice was captured powerfully, rendered with sincerity, and be viewed as great as it ever was. I knew that I wanted the center to be big. That was the challenge in the back of my mind.”

-Daniel Lanois

The voice on the record was never going to be the voice of the martyred man of sorrow, and I think in the beginning, Danny had to come to terms with that, and when he gave that notion up, that’s when things started to work.

- Bob Dylan

I think this album marks the beginning of the current marketing of Bob Dylan as Bona Fide Legend.

Like the American Recordings series with Johnny Cash, this is where Sony started to colour Dylan as sepia and frozen inside the Museum.

It was a procedure that was later completed by the same producer and has been copied by Neil Diamond and Glen Campbell.

My feelings towards this record swing like a pale, English pendulum. I think the songs are great, generally, and I like that Dylan’s voice is recorded in a particularly detailed way, how it is presented as the central instrument that everything else hangs on to, but there is also something I really don’t like about it.

The dynamics are all false. The life is by proxy. The elements that should move me, thrill me, attract me, are all in the clever production tricks and not in Dylan’s performance.

I respect Daniel Lanois immensely, as both musician and producer, but I just don’t like Oh Mercy.

Well, sometimes I do.

Do I?

I don’t know.

I would love to hear these songs without the Lanois-isms, but I hold out more hope for World Peace.

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What’s A Sweetheart Like Me Doing In A Dump Like This?

 

So, what have I learned from my journey into the dark recesses of Dylan’s wilderness?

Well, I was wrong. I had fallen victim to aural prejudice and had tarred every song with the same brush.

Yes, the production is awful and the album artwork often unappealing, but the Eighties were like that.

Look beyond the effects and there is a wealth of great material, some vital and hugely expressive vocals and some covers that are as interesting and idiosyncratic as anything on The Bootleg Series Vol 10.

The gold is there – you just have to find it

If I were Sony, Jeff Rosen or Bob Dylan’s accountant, I would push to have those supposedly ‘lost albums’ looked at anew.

I would suggest that whatever they did with Street Legal, or McCartney did with Let It Be – Naked, it worked.

John Lennon’s ‘Double Fantasy – Stripped Down’ was a revelation, too, and sold very well.

If the original tapes exist, and the FX were ladled on after the performances were recorded, then Thunderbirds are GO!

I have been amazed. Again.

If someone qualified could slide those FX faders down, I guarantee those albums would sell in huge, huge quantities.

The songs and performances are great – it’s just hard to actually hear them.

If they can clean up the Sistine Chapel, then Empire Burlesque should be a breeze.

 

STUDIO TALK

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At first, it was very hard to tell what he was thinking, because he just didn’t say a word to anybody. But I got the impression he was happy to be there. And when something would start happening that he liked, he would get very animated. You could tell he was excited.”

Robben Ford, 1990

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My difficulty in making a record, is that when I record something in a studio, it never sounds anything like it when I get the tapes back. Whatever kind of live sound I’m working for, it always gets lost in the machines.

Years ago, I could go in, do it and it would translate onto tape. It gets so cleaned up today that anything wrong you do doesn’t get  onto the tape. And my stuff is based on wrong things.

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“The studio, recording, for him is sort of like a necessary evil – I mean, he enjoys it, but he just hates the time it takes. He’s always talking about when he used to make albums:

“This record, we did, like, four songs in one day.”

And he understands it all, he’s not ignorant of modern technology. He just hates how records sound today.”

Chris Shaw, Engineer, 1990

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1961

See, when I started to record they just turned the microphones on and you recorded. That was the way they did it back in the sixties. Whatever you got on one side of the glass was what came in on the controls on the other side of the glass. It was never any problem. What you did out front was what you got on the tape. And it always happened that way. Whether you played by yourself or played with a band didn’t really matter – there’d be leakage and that stuff, but you were pretty much guaranteed that whatever you did on that side of the glass was going to be perceived in the same kind of way. That was never any problem. So what happened to me was, I kept working that way through the seventies. I didn’t realize things had changed! (Laughs.) I really didn’t. I don’t think I knew you could do an overdub until 1978.

The problem is, you can’t record that way anymore. If you go into a studio now, the technology is so different that you might have a live sound that you want and you’ll put that live sound down, but it won’t sound that way on the other side of the glass. So then you have to contrive the sound to make it sound the way you really want. In other words, if you want to sound a certain way, whatever that way is, it’ll never happen in the studio.

There’s a kind of an outdated thing called “live excitement in the studio.” It doesn’t happen anymore, because people don’t record that way. A lot of people put things down one track at a time. Things are so advanced that you’ll be able to *phone* in your parts pretty soon. Anyway, the problem with it is that no matter what you do, it’s not going to come out that way anyway. People try. Some people use a certain studio because it used to have a certain sound.

I like the old sound, but it’s done. It’s never going to come back. So you just have to deal with what the modern way is.

A lot of my records have been made because it’s – quote – time to make a record. “When’s your new record going to be delivered?” “Oh, next month.” Time for me to go in and make a record. I never used to think about it during the year. I had other things to do. Some of the seventies records were made on just one block of time. “This month I’m going to block all this time out, write the songs, record the songs, mix ‘em, press ‘em, get a cover together, and it’s all out in a month or two.” It took me a long time to get off that particular style. I didn’t really enjoy it that way.

Sometimes I’ve never done the songs before – I’ll just write ‘em and put ‘em somewhere. Then when I’m making a record I’ll need some songs, and I’ll start digging through my pockets and drawers trying to find these songs. Then I’ll bring one out and I’ve never sung it before, sometimes I can’t even remember the melody to it, and I’ll get it in. Sometimes great things happen, sometimes not-so-great things happen. But regardless of what happens, when I do it in the studio it’s the first time I’ve ever done it. I’m pretty much unfamiliar with it.

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In the past what’s come out is what I’ve usually stuck with, whether it really knocked me out or not. For no apparent reason. I’ve stuck with it, just from lack of commitment to taking the trouble to really get it right. I didn’t want to record that way anymore. Now I’m recording more than I used to record. About two years ago I decided to get serious about it and just record. Because I do need records out and I do have deadlines and commitments. It’s been a big struggle to come up with them at certain times. So rather than do that, what I do now is just record all the time. Sometimes nothing comes out and other times I get a lot of stuff that I keep. I recorded this album [“Empire Burlesque”] for a long time. I just put down the songs that I felt as I wanted to put them down. Then I’d listen and decide if I liked them. And if I didn’t like them I’d either re-record them or change something about them. I wanted to be the first one to judge it rather than put them out there to the people and have them do it.

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1962

“Out of everybody I’ve worked with, Dylan is the most dedicated and focused writer. He would always be working on his lyrics. He’d have a piece of paper with thousands of words on it, all different ways, you couldn’t read it, it was impossible, because there’d be words going upside-down, sideways, just words all over this page. You couldn’t make heads nor tails of it. And he would look at it, and he’d pull from it. I never saw him eat. He only drank coffee and smoked cigarettes, and he’d sit chipping away at the words, pulling words from other songs, putting them in there. I really appreciated his focus on the song itself, how dedicated, and how hard he worked on it.

The way Bob works is, he kind of writes on a typewriter, so he has no idea where these songs lie, in what key they live in, what tempo – anything of that. Musically, there’s no chords written. So it’s like, he’ll say, “I got this song, and maybe this is how it goes,” and you try a couple of different versions of it in different keys, and he just finds where it sounds best, where it sounds best for his voice, where it’s comfortable. And that’s usually the open you end up going with.

So, on Oh Mercy, I’m not sure if he had an actual sound in his head to begin with. But he had actually recorded this whole record before it came to us. With Ron Wood. There’s a whole version of Oh Mercy that was recorded with Ron Wood already.”

- Mark Howard, Engineer.

Secret Sound Studio
Secret Sound Studio

“You can never, ever know or predict exactly what it is that Bob wants.

He wanted to face the corner of the room and sing into it, kind of like that Robert Johnson album cover. The word came down that he wanted to try and do something like that, so we spent a whole day, before he got there, creating this elaborate set-up in the studio for him to do that.

And so, Bob walks in the room while we’re running through a song, and he starts doing the whole singing into the corner thing – and within about, like, two minutes, he abandoned the whole idea and just wandered over to the piano and sat down at it…and never got off it for the rest of the session

His songs kind of continuously evolve. They’re not static. For him, it’s all about getting the track to fit the words, and not the other way around.

He’s always trying to find the arrangement that works best with the sentiment he’s trying to express.

He might say, “Well, I’m kinda hearing this like this old Billie Holiday song.” And so we’ll start with that, the band will actually start playing that song, try to get that sound, and then he’ll go, “Okay, and this is how my song goes.”

It’s a weird process, and it’s unique to him out of any of the bands I’ve worked with over the past 20 years. It’s always interesting, always unbelievably exciting, and it’s a lot of hard work – and I mean that in a very good way. His sessions are always challenging, but, at the end of the day, you always feel like you’ve got something done, and you’ve done the best to get the song to work.

For Bob, especially when he’s producing on his own, if he can’t get a song completely recorded in a day, he thinks there’s (A) Something wrong with the band, (B) Something wrong with the song or (C) Something wrong with me or the studio.

It’s very nerve wracking when you’re working with Bob, especially as a mixer, and especially if he’s there, because you don’t get much time to mix the record. He really hates being in the studio, I think, on that part of the process. So you have to be on your toes.

For me, personally, I have really fond memories of recording that song on “Love And Theft”, “Moonlight.” It’s really gorgeous, and I think the take that’s on the record is the second take, the whole thing is completely live, vocals and all, not a single overdub, no editing, it all just flowed together at once, and it was a really beautiful moment. During that session, at the end of every night, I would do a quick rough mix of the songs that we had been working on so he could hear them. And the rough mix of “Moonlight” ended up being the final master. I took two more stabs at mixing it, and everytime, we would wind up going back to that rough mix, there’s just something about it.

Bob really, REALLY hates to repeat himself. He just hates it. For him, it’s like the whole thing is like a big chunk of marble, and he’s just got to chisel away at it to find exactly what it is he’s looking for. He’s not 100 per cent sure to begin with – he knows he wants it to be a statue of some sort, but he’s not sure if it’s going to be a statue of a man or a woman or a child or a horse or whatever.

I’ve worked with a lot of great artists, musicians and songwriters, but, man, when you walk in the studio with that guy, he’s operating on a completely different level.”

- Chris Shaw, Engineer

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Tom Wilson

‘Hey, now don’t tell me who’s an organ player and who’s not. Just turn the organ up.’

He was president of the Young Republican Club and graduated cum laude from Harvard in 1954. He founded the jazz label Transition [in 1955], and began producing jazz radio programs in 1958. He was jazz A&R director for Savoy Records and executive assistant to the director of the New York State Commission for Human Rights at the same time. He became a producer for Columbia and MGM in the ’60s, where he worked with Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, and the Animals. He discovered, signed and produced the Mothers of Invention, Blues Project, Hugh Masekela, and the Velvet Underground.

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“… I didn’t even particularly like folk music. I’d been recording Sun Ra and Coltrane, and I thought folk music was for the dumb guys.

This guy played like the dumb guys. But then these words came out.

I was flabbergasted. I said to Albert Grossman, who was there in the studio, I said, ‘if you put some background to this you might have a white Ray Charles with a message.’

In December 1964, Wilson overdubbed ‘electric band’ backing on several of Dylan’s earlier records, including ‘House Of The Rising Sun’. (which was released on Dylan’s Highway 61 Interactive CD-ROM, and was initially falsely claimed to be an early-sixties recording.)

But it wasn’t until a year later that everyone agreed that we should put a band behind him. I had to find a band…”

“It came from me,” he states decisively.

- The Man Who Put Electricity Into Dylan by Michael Watts, Melody Maker, January 31, 1976

“There’s been some articles on Wilson and he says that he’s the one that gave you the rock and roll sound. Is that true?”

Dylan: “Did he say that? Well if he said it… [laughs] more power to him.[laughs] He did to a certain extent. That is true. He did. He had a sound in mind”

The falling out – according to Mr Wilson

“He said ‘maybe we should try Phil Spector’.That was the end of the relationship.”

Dylan Studio (Ginsberg)

People Dylan asked to produce his records.

Lou Reed, Phil Spector, David Bowie, Frank Zappa, and Elvis Costello

la-et-dylan-fender-bass

Sources

- Cameron Crowe, Biograph Liner Notes, 1985.

- George Negus Interview, 1986

- Tom Petty to Paul Zollo January 24th, 2012, American Songwriter.

- Mix Magazine, 2003

- Bo Ramsey, 2014 to Nathan Emerson, Live Gig Shots

- Rolling Stone, #47, November 29, 1969

- Don Was, Uncut 1991

- Daniel Lanois, 2011, Music Radar.

- Robben Ford, 1990, Guitar World

- Damien Love, Uncut Magazine

- ABC Interview 1985

- Graham Lock ofNew Musical Express

- Anthony DeCurtis, Rolling Stone Magazine

Thanks to Dag Braathen. Again.

12 responses to “BOB DYLAN – EMPIRE BURLESQUE & BEYOND

    • Hi Tony – I guessed you meant that one. It’s like one of those paintings that, no matter how many times you look at it, you see something new. I love it. Thanks for reading.

  1. what a sensational read, thanks very much for it. And how could anyone not like Band Of The Hand? It’s a freakin great song

    • Yeah, I totally agree. I never bothered listening to it because all the reviews I’d read were dismissive. That and it was hard to find! I think it’s amazing. Thanks for reading.

  2. Pingback: Bob Dylan in the 1980s – Back to the starting point·

  3. >Trust Yourself

    Willie Nelson wore a tee shirt with a line from this song printed across it, which, even if it wasn’t a class A song, would make it awesome.

    They sold those t-shorts at some mid-90s Dylan gigs. I bought the ‘trust yourself’ one at Glasgow, 1995. After one wash it shrank down to about toddler size, so I only got one good wear out of it. Still, nice idea…

  4. Thank you for a really wonderful article. I really enjoyed it in a way one only can when one finds oneself agreeing with everything that is being said. Bob’s output in these years was being judged by comparison with an agenda he wouldn’t go along with, not on its intrinsic merit.

  5. I always thought Street Legal was a top-notch record and agreed with you mostly on your analysis of the other 80’s songs as well. Even if it’s not his greatest stretch of time, it’s only because the rest of his career is so staggering.

    • Yes, I agree and I just hope that Sony/Columbia might one day release stripped down versions of those 80s records. I’d buy them. Twice.

  6. Yes, the fear of harming artistic integrity by having a make over of those albums is mislead, because it was harmed in the first place and Dylan even admits to that as you so prove. Let’s have the expanded and remixed Shot of Love and Infidels (81 to 84 saw him rekindle his poetic and musicial spirit in a great way, expanding on the genius of Street Legal) and okay, maybe Empire Burlesque and Knocked out Loaded as a double album together. Thanks for this nice article which I wished Jeff Rosen would read… (Dylan would not bother, he is looking forward only, while digging from his fictional past as an author should)

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iPaintings

 

 All the images were created on an Apple iPad 4 using an app called ArtRage and then printed onto canvas.

 

 

CANVAS

 

 

3 responses to “iPaintings

    • Without wishing to sound ungrateful, I think ‘mastering’ might be a bit of a stretch!

  1. Pingback: iPaintings·

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Bob Dylan – under the red sky

 

“I was maybe a little out of my league, experience-wise, when I did Under The Red Sky. I was really just getting started as a producer. There were mistakes that I made…”
– Don Was, musician and producer of Under The Red Sky.

Handy Dandy

Handy Dandy

Bob Dylan wasn’t taking it easy in 1990.

As well as playing The Fastbreak Tour, a Spring Tour of North America, the summer festivals in Europe, then late summer and Fall tours of the US, he recorded with Brian Wilson, played at Roy Orbison’s tribute concert, guested at a Tom Petty show, shot the promo video for Most Of The Time, played a chainsaw artist in ‘Catchfire’, recorded for the Traveling Wilburys (Volume 3), was awarded the French award ‘Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres’, and played an amazing and lengthy set at ‘Toad’s Place’.

toads

The Recording Sessions

This seems to be the way it went down:

The first session was on 6th January 1990 at Oceanway Studios, Los Angeles. Usable (and released) takes of Handy Dandy, 10,000 Men, Cat’s In The Well and God Knows were all recorded at this session.

Everything else was recorded in March and April at Record Plant Studio, The Complex Studio and The Sorcerer Studio – all in Los Angeles, California.

There were also many overdubbing sessions – on April 30th and then May 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 14th & 25th.

The list of contributing musicians is long:

Kenny Aronoff – drums
Sweet Pea Atkinson – backing vocals
Rayse Biggs – trumpet
Sir Harry Bowens – backing vocals
David Crosby – backing vocals
Paulinho Da Costa – percussion
Robben Ford – guitar
George Harrison – slide guitar
Bruce Hornsby – piano
Randy Jackson – bass guitar
Elton John – piano
Al Kooper – organ, keyboards
David Lindley – bouzouki, guitar, slide guitar
David McMurray – saxophone
Donald Ray Mitchell – backing vocals
Jamie Muhoberac – organ
Slash – guitar
Jimmie Vaughan – guitar
Stevie Ray Vaughan – guitar
Waddy Wachtel – guitar
David Was – backing vocals, production
Don Was – bass guitar, production

Most of the musicians were in the studio at the same time as Dylan, but others, like Elton John, over-dubbed their parts later.

The mysterious house.
The mysterious house.

The Songs – A Personal View

Wiggle, Wiggle

I don’t know why the critics were surprised by this song or took such issue with it. Lightweight, funny, talking or rocky blues songs have been on most of his albums since 1962:

‘Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance’, ‘I Shall Be Free’, ‘Outlaw Blues’, ‘Motorpsycho Nightmare’, ‘On The Road Again’, ‘Obviously 5 Believers/Temporary Like Achilles/Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat’, ‘Down Along The Cove’, ‘Country Pie’, ‘Winterlude’, ‘You Angel You’, ‘Buckets Of Rain’, ‘Mozambique’, ‘Please Mrs Henry’, ‘Man Gave Names To All The Animals’, ‘Dirt Road Blues’, ‘Summer Days’, ‘Rollin’ and Tumblin’’, ‘Soon After Midnight’…it’s pretty much a trademark.

Along with Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave and Tom Waits, I think Bob Dylan is one of the funniest writers in ‘popular’ music and ‘Wiggle, Wiggle’ is a legal move.

It’s a simple song but I would rather hear this than, say, the sanctimonious ‘Disease Of Conceit’. The production, although pretty harsh to my ears, isn’t too interruptive and the drums are simply ace.

Kenny Aronoff, in particular, has done a great job on these recordings – his drums are groovy and driving and solid as a rock.

In fact, the playing on all the songs is excellent and the musicians were clearly aided by some brilliant engineers, as the original and released mixes testify to the capture of some very nice sounds.

‘There’s a hole where Slash has disappeared’

Slash contributed a solo to the track which never made it onto the final mix.

Slash talking before the album’s release:

“I walked in at about 2 p.m. and… I noticed this little guy wearing leather gloves and a hooded surfer’s sweater, which struck me as odd because it was warm out. Finally, I realized it was Dylan.
I thought, “What’s going on here?”
Anyway, Dylan and I spoke — he was pretty quiet. George was laying down some slide, and we started just getting drunk and stuff. Then they asked me to play a song with a pretty silly title, “Wiggle, Wiggle.”

I just learned it on the spot. It was such a simple, yet superb I, IV, V progression that there is really nothing much to say about it.”

“When I went to play the lead, Bob came up and asked me to play like Django Reinhardt! l couldn’t figure out where he was coming from. I didn’t hear that at all! So basically, I just laid down the part I thought should be there. Everybody seemed to be happy with it. It was just a funny day, but the song got done and hopefully it will make it on the album.”

Slash talking after the album’s release:

“Dylan? I hated it. He was impossible to work with. He was impossible to talk to. He was absolutely no fun to be around. He had no idea what was going on, as far as I could tell. I did a really good solo for him and he took it off at the very last minute.
He said, ‘It sounded too much like Guns N’ Roses.’
Well, why did you call me?”

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Under The Red Sky

Don Was:

“Before George (Harrison) had even gotten a sound on his guitar or heard the song, Bob sat down behind the board in the engineer’s seat, hit the record button and said, “Play!”

Apparently, it was not the first time Bob had done this to George.

All things considered, it was a respectable solo but the guitar was way out of tune and, well, George didn’t even know what key the song was in!

Bob indicated that the solo was perfect and that we were done.

George rolled his eyes, turned to me and asked, “What do YOU think, Don?”

Suddenly, all the oxygen was sucked out of the room. The Concert For Bangladesh was sitting two feet away from me awaiting some words of wisdom! How am I gonna tell George Harrison that his solo wasn’t up to snuff? What if Bob really DID think it was a good solo? Was I missing something?

Finally, I decided that I wasn’t hired to be their adoring fan. I had to step up to the plate as their producer – “It was really good but let’s see if you can do an even better one,” I said.

“THANK YOU,” answered George.

Bob laughed, rewound the tape and let Ed Cherney, the engineer, have his chair back. It was a life-changing lesson in record producing: gentle, respectful truth shall set you free.
George nailed the solo on the next pass.”

It is clearly written in the form of a children’s fairy tale, even starting with the classic lines from ‘Mother Goose’: “There was a little boy and there was a little girl…”, and the lines are repeated, nursery-style.

Immediately, I am taken back to childhood imaginings – by the words at least -and it’s a nice trick.

Michael Gray, in particular, has written at length about the use of Biblical and fable imagery on this album and his arguments are pretty persuasive.

I can’t imagine Bob Dylan writing most of these songs – 10,000 Men, Wiggle, Wiggle, Under The Red Sky, Unbelievable, Handy Dandy, 2 X 2 or Cat’s In The Well and filling them with fairy tale or fable imagery and rhyme by accident.

On the original take, his delivery sounds very…fatherly. It sounds as though he’s telling a story, tenderly, to a child.

The final version has some over-dubbed vocals with elongated vowels at the end of most of the lines, which changes the feel considerably.

The album is dedicated to his (then) four year old daughter, Gabby Goo Goo. Four years old is a prime ‘fairy story’ age and though I don’t believe the album was written or recorded specifically ‘for’ his daughter, I can imagine that he had her on his mind and was, when he was able, reading a lot of nursery rhymes and children’s stories.

It definitely has an innocent mood and I think Don Was hit the nail on the head when he said:

“One of Bob’s great virtues as a songwriter is that he creates these impressionistic pieces that provide a rich tapestry of images while leaving plenty of space for you to drape your own meaning. In many ways, you could attribute Bob’s enduring popularity to his ability to allow each listener to become kind of a co-writer. Maybe that’s why he bristles at that whole “spokesman for a generation” thing. In truth, he’s created a body of work that enables everyone to be their own spokesman. He can do this with a complex song like “Visions Of Johanna” or incredibly simple ones like “Under The Red Sky”

From 'Backtrack' or 'Catch Fire' or whatever the hell that film is...
From ‘Backtrack’ or ‘Catch Fire’ or whatever the hell that film is…

Unbelievable

On the unmixed take the piano at the start is great, setting the groove and leading the band. Dylan’s harp sounds more organic on the earlier mix, but overall I think the final, released mix is better, with the guitar riff underlined and I really like the repeated rockabilly guitar phrase that Waddy Wachtel plays.

Don Was described the session:

“Day three was “all Jews day”: sounds like summer camp, doesn’t it?
Al Kooper, Kenny, Waddy Wachtel, Bob and myself with David and Ed Cherney in the control room. We didn’t order any gefilte fish from canter’s deli but we did have fun.
It was a prolific day that yielded Under The Red Sky and Unbelievable.”

 

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Born In Time
(originally scheduled for inclusion on Oh Mercy!)

“...the foggy web of destiny

The original take was much more bluesy and piano-led and sounds far less sentimental, to my ears. It has a sombre and intimate feel that draws me in. The released version is sparkled up and reverbed and it loses its power. I prefer a more basic and less effected sound – always have.

Don Was:

“Day 4 was Robben Ford, Bruce Hornsby, Kenny and Randy Jackson on bass. We cut ‘Born In Time’, ‘TV Talking Song’ and a very cool Grateful Dead-style extended instrumental that featured Bob on harp.
At the time, I didn’t even know that Born In Time was left over from Oh Mercy! I’d never even heard that version ‘til someone played me a bootleg copy a few years ago.

At the session, he [Dylan] just sat down at the piano and played it for everyone. Once the groove was established, Bob yielded the piano bench to [Bruce] Hornsby and picked up an acoustic guitar for the take. There was so much going on at that moment that I didn’t really focus properly on the lyrics as they were going by. It took years for me to realize how deep that song is. I mean, really fucking deep.

For a while, I felt that we didn’t do it justice in the studio. I’ve listened to it recently though and it’s right on the money. There is a world-weariness in Bob’s vocal that is integral to the song, you know…”You can have what’s left of me”.

Getting that point across is more important than any little ‘production’ gimmicks that may have been overlooked. It’s a mood that foreshadows the sensibility of Time Out Of Mind. It’s certainly the crown jewel of Under The Red Sky.”

Robben Ford:

“…finally Bob arrived, and he had on like a sweatshirt with a hood, a baseball cap, these kind of jogging pants. And motorcycle boots. Kind of an odd combination.

When we started recording, Dylan, basically, would just start some kind of a vamp going on the guitar. The whole band was out in the room, in contact with each other, there wasn’t a lot of separation. And Bob has a table in front of him, with pages and pages and pages of lyrics, and he would just start some kind of a thing going on the guitar, and we’d all fall in behind him, and just start jamming. And as soon as he kinda liked what was happening, he’d start picking up lyrics, going through the pages, and just start trying to sing it over whatever we were doing. If he didn’t care for that one after a while, he’d put it down, pick up another page, and start trying something with that. So, literally, we just jammed.

At first, it was very hard to tell what he was thinking, because he just didn’t say a word to anybody. But I got the impression he was happy to be there. And when something would start happening that he liked, he would get very animated. You could tell he was excited. He’d pick up the harmonica and start blowing, and start trying to sing his lyrics, that he’s reading off the pages. And there were literally, pages and pages, loose pages, they weren’t bound or anything. There must have been 40 or 50 pages on the table, and he’d just start fishing through them and start singing them.
He had a suggestion for the guitar solo on that, and he kind of sang it to me, and I thought it might work if we used a delay – he had these back and forth notes going on, and I thought we might use a delay for the second and fourth notes – and he said, “Okay. We’ll try that.”

Although I do like this song, I don’t think it fits with the rest.

It's all the Wilbury's fault.
It’s all the Wilbury’s fault.

TV Talkin’ Song

“T.V. Talkin’ Song” had a far more sinister ending in its original version, with the speaker being hanged from a lamp-post. I didn’t think he was improving on it after a certain point. I think it lost something.” – Don Was.

That Tell Tale Signs didn’t have the original version of TV Talkin’ Song on it, borders on criminal negligence, especially when there is a cheesy, jangly, Lanois-soaked outtake of Born In Time that serves only to illustrate why it was rejected in the first place.

The vocal delivery, originally, is really well timed and in a lower register and sounds better.

On the album, it sounds like he is reading off his sheet and singing over a backing track, rather than being part of it. The timing is off and, to me, it sounds awful. I can’t bear to listen to it.

The released version is drum-led, rather than piano and guitar led, and lacks any atmosphere. The simmering, rich and expressive groove is replaced by click-track banality.

The ending of “…later that evening, I watched it on TV” was funny on Black Diamond Bay, it isn’t on this one.

 

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10,000 Men

A blues shuffle with David Lindley on slide and Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan on rhythm guitars. It builds nicely and, again, has children’s book lyrics. I think Dylan’s voice is a little thin, but otherwise, it sounds good.

It’s frustrating because it could be great. The words and the musical treatment just seem at odds.

David Lindley:

“He was real personable. A lot of people get the impression he has a star complex, but he really doesn’t. He’s not like that at all. He’s just saving his energy for what he’s doing, because it’s like kung-fu, y’know. People come at him from all angles and directions and he has to deal with them. We’d talk about all sorts of things, mainly music and guitars: which ones sound good when you play them a certain way, which strings you use.

Dylan would organise stuff in the studio as we were going along, as he heard certain things. He’d shuffle verses around a lot. It was amazing to watch him do it, quite a process. He was always working on stuff, organising verses and finishing things, changing words if he felt they worked better. And it was all done within the structure of what was going on. He was pretty impressive, shooting from the hip.
There was always the freedom to bring your own ideas to the table. Dylan was very approachable in that respect. We’d talk in the studio. He’d say simple things like “I like that” and “Yeah, do that”.

It was Dylan who was the ultimate authority, always. Don deferred to Dylan in that respect. But sometimes he would insist he was right, in a very nice way. On those occasions, Dylan would listen to it and then say “No, no, I like my way of doing it.”

It's still all the Wilbury's fault.
It’s still all the Wilbury’s fault.

2 X 2

How many paths have they tried and failed? How many other brothers and sisters linger in jail?
How many tomorrows have they given away? How many compared to yesterday?

I think the released mix is better than the original. The re-done vocal sounds more assured and the mix has tightened up the sound. I like Elton John’s piano solo, which was added at an over-dub session.

God Knows
(Originally scheduled for inclusion on Oh Mercy!)

God knows the secrets of your heart, He’ll tell them to you when you’re asleep

Don Was:

“We never discussed anything about ideas or themes. There was just an unspoken understanding between us. Bob never played us any of the songs in advance and David and I never told him who the musicians were gonna be. God Knows was our audition. You should’ve seen the room that day. Stevie Ray and Jimmy Vaughan on electric guitars, David Lindley on a Weissenborn slide, Kenny Aronoff …Bob played acoustic piano and sang. I played bass. Nobody knew the song. Bob played it on the piano for us once through and then we cut it.

The modus operandi for all subsequent sessions was immediately established: listen to Bob and respond sympathetically. I suspect that’s how he’s made most of his records.

The first take was a mess – too many musicians.

For take two, we began with just Bob and Stevie Ray and built up the arrangement very, very slowly. His singing was great. It was a keeper take. The rough mix from that moment is the mix that appears on the album. David and I were jazzed.

I can’t speak for Bob but he had the option of splitting after that. Instead of going home, he went on to cut Handy Dandy, Cat’s In the Well and Ten Thousand Men with us that same afternoon. So I guess he dug what was happening.”

Courtesy of Dag 'Tiny' Braathen.

Courtesy of Dag ‘Tiny’ Braathen.

Handy Dandy

“He’s got that fortress on the mountain,
With no doors, no windows, no thieves can break in”

“I remember, just before we recorded Handy Dandy, Bob remarked about how, years earlier, he’d been to a Miles Davis session. The band improvised for an hour and then Teo Macero, the producer, took a razorblade to the tape and cut it into a coherent five-minute piece. It allowed the musicians to stretch out without worrying about whether they were adhering to a set arrangement.
We decided to try something similar with Handy Dandy. It was originally 34 minutes long and had some amazing solos by Jimmy and Stevie. We picked the most appropriate four minutes and cut that together.”

I would love to hear the 34 minute version! This is not just my favourite song on the album, but one of my favourite Dylan performances ever. I love the phrasing, the smile in his voice, the lyrics and the playing. It’s a hoot.

The piano and organ mirror Like A Rolling Stone, which is slightly odd but really enjoyable. As Like A Rolling Stone’s riff was originally heavily influenced by La Bamba – or many early Rock N Roll cuts – it has a ‘throwback’ feel, which I doubt is accidental. The whole album seems to be looking backwards to some degree.

 

Cat’s In The Well

Stevie Ray Vaughan sounds fantastic on this song, his playing fluid, funky and perfectly timed. When I hear this song, I always wonder if they would have recorded together again. I think SRV’s style, tone and timing were perfect for Dylan’s tunes.

Bob Dylan: ‘He was a sweet guy. Something else was coming through him besides his guitar playing…’

Amen to that.

Robben Ford:

“I remember really not wanting the day to end. There was something about being there with the guy that just had its own power. As I said, he didn’t talk to people. He never really spoke to anyone except for Don, the producer. But, still, there was an aura to the environment around him, you felt like you were part of something really special. I’ve been around a lot of famous people and played for them – Joni, George Harrison, Miles Davis – but Dylan really was unique”.

Say 'Cheeeeeese'.  Photo by Allen Ginsberg, 1990.
Say ‘Cheeeeeese’. Photo by Allen Ginsberg, 1990.

Too Much Of Nothing

I’ve found it hard to work out how I feel about this album. I’ve listened to the early mixes, the Tell Tale Signs versions, the released LP on vinyl and the 2013 mp3 remasters and I have come to the conclusion that the album doesn’t work, for me anyway.

In 1985, Dylan said that he would like to do an album of children’s songs, but that his label wouldn’t be able to market it. Well, now he’s a bona fide rock ‘legend’ and seemingly in line to get every award known to man, he could.

And I’d buy it. I bought the Christmas one.

I think he tried to do it with this album but ended up getting a mixed up confusion.

I find it hard to believe that Bob Dylan went into the studio with a bunch of new ideas – songs based (thematically and stylistically) in dark children’s tales – and heard them in his head as big production rockers. I think he just had a good time with some great players and went with it. Maybe he was just too Wilburied out.

If he recorded the songs (without the Oh Mercy rejects) now, with his current band, who are so adaptable and musically sensitive to him and his songs, it would be a triumph. His voice would suit it, too – Rumplestiltskin in a wolf suit.

As it is, it’s a bit of a puzzle that I rarely feel the urge to hear. It’s a shame because the writing is stylised, simple and really interesting; the music and playing really great but…not when put together.

It Just. Don’t. Fit.

Cat’s In The Well

The cat’s in the well, the wolf is looking down
The cat’s in the well, the wolf is looking down
He got his big bushy tail dragging all over the ground

The cat’s in the well, the gentle lady is asleep
Cat’s in the well, the gentle lady is asleep
She ain’t hearing a thing, the silence is a-stickin’ her deep

The cat’s in the well and grief is showing its face
The world’s being slaughtered and it’s such a bloody disgrace

The cat’s in the well, the horse is going bumpety bump
The cat’s in the well, and the horse is going bumpety bump
Back alley Sally is doing the American jump

The cat’s in the well, and Papa is reading the news
His hair’s falling out and all of his daughters need shoes

The cat’s in the well and the barn is full of bull
The cat’s in the well and the barn is full of bull
The night is so long and the table is oh, so full

The cat’s in the well and the servant is at the door
The drinks are ready and the dogs are going to war

The cat’s in the well, the leaves are starting to fall
The cat’s in the well, leaves are starting to fall
Goodnight, my love, may the Lord have mercy on us all

Copyright © 1990 by Special Rider Music

******

Bob Dylan – before playing Wiggle, Wiggle in concert:

This is a big hit for me back in the States. Sold about 9 million! It’s all about fishing.

This is my ecology song for tonight. It’s my one and only ecology song right here off of my last record. Thanks for making that record such a big hit!! Now I’ve done my duty!

Thank you everybody! This song is off my new latest smash record!! It’s up to about 10 million now. It’s gonna sell a whole lot more before it’s through. Well, it would be nice if it did anyway.

Thank you! Thank you everybody! That was one of my anti-religion songs. Here’s one of my fishing songs.

********

Copyright information and other trivial factoids

The album ‘under the red sky’ was not included in the Sony-BMG merger.

The album as a unit was copyrighted on 15th October 1990.

The album photographs were copyrighted to Bob Dylan. The front cover, originally thought to be Israel, is generally believed to be the Mojave Desert.

The location of the rear photograph is unknown to anyone who doesn’t know it.

The album is dedicated to Gabby Goo Goo, who is almost certainly Bob Dylan and Carolyn Dennis’ daughter, Desiree Gabrielle Dennis-Dylan. She was born on January 31, 1986.

Dylan played accordion on all the tracks that have accordion.

He only played 10,00 Men once in concert – at Keaney Auditorium, University Of Rhode Island on 12th November, 2000.

He only played Handy Dandy in concert once – in Vigo, Spain at the Recinto Ferial (Fairground) on 27th June, 2008.

Don Was: “We also cut a song called “Heartland” that didn’t make the album but turned up as a duet on Willie Nelson’s Across The Borderline record.”

About this article, Dag Braathen wrote:

The  piece is OK but the ending needs some work. The album is clearly awesome.”

 Credits

Recording session info from 2 sources:

http://www.bjorner.com

Michael Krogsgaard: Bob Dylan: The Recording Sessions (Part 9). The Bridge #14, Spring 2003, pp. 6-33.

Interview sources:
Guitar World, October 1990, Rob Hughes, Uncut Magazine and a Guns N Roses Fansite.

Thanks to Dag Braathen & Kathleen.

10 responses to “Bob Dylan – under the red sky

  1. Pingback: Bob Dylan – Under the Red Sky·

  2. Hello Billy, interested to read your thoughts on this album which is one of my favourites of Dylans. The last three songs are possibly the finest conclusion to any Dylan album. For a long time, i didn’t get this album at all. When it came out, and it wasnt another Oh Mercy, I just couldn’t understand it. But after repeated listens, I suddenly got it, and I could then appreciate it for the wonderful work that it is.

    All the best

    Martin Cowan

    • I think the majority of the songs are amazing but I wonder if the musical settings are what he really wanted or heard in his head? I will listen to it again with your words in mind, as I do find it a very alluring album. Thanks for writing.

  3. I enjoyed reading the comments and I think they are a pretty fair assessment. It’s still a hell of a lot better than Down In The Groove. I thought the production was good and the stories amusing. I think Dylan works similarly on all his records, particularly those after 1978.

  4. Cmon. Disease of Conceit is actually a good song and Wiggle wiggle is as good as it’s name suggests

    • I can’t stand the song, although it’s well performed. Thanks for your opinion though.

  5. Wow. I enjoyed this. I have to say that the album generally works for me, with the exception of T.V. Talking Song. But still I agree with most of your personal insights. I have had the same thought about what this album would sound like recorded with his band today. Nice analysis.

  6. So where was the cover shot taken? It was discussed once in great detail at the old Dylan Pool. The conclusion was that it was somewhere in the Mojave Desert like maybe on some backroads on the way to Vegas from California. I would be very interested to know exactly where the cover photo was taken.

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Ant Savage

Ant Savage – The Ruby Sun EP

I’m a big fan of unusual voices.

All my favourites have them.

I think I may have found another in Ant Savage.

I read in The Guardian that he is a self-taught guitar player, which appeals to me, because it often makes the playing unique – and this is the case with Ant Savage.

His playing is sparse, mostly, but rich and melodic and his guitar sounds great. I hear a lot of recordings where the acoustic guitar sounds awful, but this is lovely.

It was recorded in his front room in Bedford, then mastered by Ru Cook at Lost Boys Studio.

epcover2

The Songs.

Ruby Sun starts with a strum and I thought I was in for just another bloke with misery and a handful of folk chords.

Wrong.

The song is a masterclass in the effectiveness of simple arrangements. There is a female voice (Hannah Birch) weaving in the background, piano rolls, cello and his breathy, broken voice sailing through it.

It’s quite brilliant and the atmosphere he builds is amazing, given the simplicity of the instruments.

Lessons Of Theft starts like an Eno ‘ambient’ album, with double bass (played by Marek Orzel), piano spikes and filigrees and guitar hammer-ons. His voice comes in, part Morrissey, part Nick Drake, woeful and playful, and it’s just…great.

I keep playing it.

I have no idea what the words are about and I don’t care. I just like the sound of it all.

You know the feeling when you’ve been away for a long time and are on the final part of the journey home, the excitement rising, senses on red-alert because you’re nearly there?

That’s how Home makes me feel.

The Starlings is gorgeous. Like the slow swell of the sea, his voice lifts and falls and carries you away. Sorrow has never sounded so sweet.

I hear a musical bloodline to The Cocteau Twins, Mazzy Star, Nick Drake and This Mortal Coil. He would be at home on 4AD.

Ant-savage-2

This is so much more than a guy with a guitar.

There is intelligence, wit and idiosyncrasy.

And that odd, tidal vocal style, ancient and fresh.

As a debut, this is perfect. It has more than enough to keep you listening but hints strongly at the possible wonders to come.

Keep an eye on this guy.

~~~~~~~~~~

The Ruby Sun EP is released on April 14th.

 

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