Urban Legend #347

Bob Dylan & Neil Diamond encounter at The Last Waltz


The story goes like this: “At The Last Waltz, Neil Diamond came off stage and Bob is just about to go on. As he came off, Diamond said, ‘you’re really gonna have to go some to follow me, man, I was so great.’

And Bob says, ‘What do you want me to do, go on stage and fall asleep?’”

That is from a Ron Wood interview in Q Magazine (#75) from 1992.


     That story is all over the internet – from Wikipedia to Amazon – in books and magazines. It has become legendary. It makes Dylan look witty and cool and Diamond look arrogant and rude.

But is it true? Did it happen?

" this lonely crowd, there's a man who swears he's not to blame..."

“…in this lonely crowd, there’s a man who swears he’s not to blame…”

There ain’t a man alive can tell me what to say. I choose my own side and I like it that way.”

Neil Diamond was first asked about that night by Rolling Stone in 1988:

“I had fun. (Got to) hang out backstage with people like Bob Dylan…They knew who I was. I wasn’t a stranger to them. I did feel like odd man out…but I got to see Dylan perform for the first time there.

Before Bob went out, I was kidding with him backstage.

I said ‘you’d better watch because this is my audience and I’m gonna kick them in the ass!”

(I said this) knowing, of course, that these people probably didn’t have the vaguest idea who I was.

He kind of looked at me.

But he went out there and he really kicked ass.”

Rolling Stone asked Diamond about it again in 2010:

“Actually, it was before we both went on,” he said.  “He was tuning his guitar and I came over to him and I said, ‘You know, Bob, those are really my people out there.’

He kind of looked at me quizzically. I said it as a joke, but I think it spurred him a little bit and he gave a hell of a performance . . . It was a good night and an exciting night. I was glad to be a part of it.”

Rolling Stone

Rolling Stone

     In the 1988 Rolling Stone article, Diamond refers to a recording of ‘Sweet Caroline’ that Dylan recorded and personally sent to him. This is mentioned again in 1992, when Neil Diamond appeared on the Arsenio Hall show:

“Bob Dylan sent me a version of him singing Sweet Caroline with his band…which is like nothing you’ve ever heard before.”

Rehearsal setlist from Rundown Studios, 1980.

Rehearsal set list from Rundown Studios, 1980 – Sweet Caroline 4th from bottom, left column.

He said this with great affection, not malice or derision.

He also repeated his admiration at seeing Dylan play live:

“Bobby Dylan…I saw him only once at The Last Waltz concert and he absolutely killed ‘em”

      Now, I can’t see Bob Dylan recording or bothering to send a version of Neil Diamond’s own song to him if there was any animosity between the two men.


When we meet again and are introduced as friends

I’m not trying to suggest that they are best friends, but I can’t see the legendary exchange that Ron Wood has described being true.

     Dylan has generally been very respectful of fellow musicians, no matter how different they may be from his ‘style’ – Barry Manilow, Michael Bolton, Frank Sinatra, Beastie Boys…all tell of warm and generous comments or reactions from Dylan. Even his comments about Donovan in ‘Don’t Look Back’ were humorous and affectionate.

     Also, as reported in The Salt Lake Tribune (July 18, 1976), Dylan went to see Neil Diamond play at the Aladdin Theatre over the 4th July weekend in 1976, months before The Last Waltz concert on 25th November.

Cameron Crowe and Clinton Heylin have both reported that it was seeing the Diamond shows that helped him re-think and re-shape his 1978 stage performances.

He was also impressed enough to sign with Diamond’s manager, Jerry Weintraub, several weeks later.

Salt Lake Tribune, 1976

Salt Lake Tribune, 1976

                          I’ll know my song well before I start singing

     Neil Diamond has released two Dylan songs since The Last Waltz ‘incident’ – so there clearly isn’t any lingering ill-feeling, if indeed there ever was.

     He covered ‘Lay Lady Lay’ on 2003’s ‘Neil Diamond ‎– Stages’ and then ‘Make You Feel My Love’ on 2008’s ‘Home Before Dark (Deluxe Edition)’

      They share the same performing-rights society, SESAC, who, in 1994 lured both Bob Dylan and Neil Diamond away from ASCAP.

Just pour me a drink and I’ll tell you some lies

     There are several photographs taken backstage at The Last Waltz, and they tell a different story to the version told by Ron Wood, who admitted to having a personal dislike of Neil Diamond – “He is one of my pet hates. In fact none of us could understand what he was doing there anyway (at The Last Waltz).”

Backstage at The Last Waltz.

Backstage at The Last Waltz.

Dylan, Diamond & Ron Wood.

Dylan, Diamond & Ron Wood.

Personally, I think Ron Wood either misheard or misinterpreted the actual exchange, or just adjusted the truth to suit his own purposes.

The altercation, as Wood has described, just doesn’t seem to fit.


You are right from your side and I am right from mine

     Any comparison of the two artists would be impossible, as they are both so unique and so stylistically opposed but in terms of album sales, Diamond has sold more and recorded slightly less than Bob Dylan. He is listed by RIAA (November 2012) as the fifth best-selling album artist of all time. Bob Dylan comes in eighth.

Diamond has released 30 studio albums (not including compilations) and 8 live albums.

Dylan has produced 35 studio albums (not including The Bootleg Series or compilations) and 12 live albums.

Signed LP cover.

Signed LP cover. Notice how far apart Bob & Neil’s signatures are? Evidence of the antipathy between them?




Ken Regan/Camera 5 – Backstage shots at The Last Waltz.


Levon Helm and Stephen Davis: This Wheel’s on Fire – 320 pages – William Morrow & Co. 1993 – ISBN 0-688-14070-X

‘He Is … I Say: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Neil Diamond’ by David Wild, Da Capo Press (October 6, 2009).

Rolling Stone magazine.


‘One Too Many Mornings’ – Copyright © 1964, 1966 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1992, 1994 by Special Rider Music

‘Just Like A Woman’ – Copyright © 1966 by Dwarf Music; renewed 1994 by Dwarf Music

‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ – Copyright © 1963 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1991 by Special Rider Music

Lyrics to Neil Diamond songs – Copyright © Stonebridge Music.

Thanks to Dag Braathen for photos and clippings.



  1. Enjoyed your article William on the Last Waltz.I am an avid fan of Dylan (as you know), but I am also a fan of Neil Diamond, strange as it may seem and I have never believed Ron Wood’s version of the exchange of words between Bob and Neil at the concert. As you pointed out, Bob is usually respectful of his fellow performers and from all that I have read about Neil he comes across as a really nice guy, even if he could never be cool, no matter how much he tries.
    I felt really sorry for him when I watched how out of place he looked. I thought his performance of “Dry your Eyes” was great, however. Robbie Robertson had worked with Neil on his Beautiful Noise Album, as well as playing guitar and Garth Hudson playing organ. (So much for “why is he even here”.) I went to see Neil live in 2011 in Glasgow and he was in great voice and really connected with the crowd. I think this is what Dylan maybe was curious about in1976. I also went to see Dylan for the first time in Glasgow in 2011 and really loved him, even with his ravaged voice and more or less no exchange with the crowd. Dylan connected to me in a deeper way, difficult to explain.
    Although the two are like chalk and cheese, their lives have run on paralels to a certain extent. Both same age, Jewish with strong mother figures.Both from east coast of America, now living in west coast. Both basically shy. Both divorced, but very family orientated and really looked after their kids. They even had a No 1 album each in their 60’s and last but not least, both still performing at 70 plus. I have a lot of respect for them both, although I consider Dylan to be nothing short of a genius.

    • Thank you for your comments, Irene. I have always preferred Dylan, but do have a great respect for Neil Diamond. I have enjoyed his work with Rick Rubin and love his performance at The Last Waltz. Many thanks, William.

  2. Ron Wood is asking what Neil Diamond was doing at The Band’s farewell concert? Neither one had anything to do with The Band, but Robbie had recently produced a Neil Diamond record. The song wasn’t a real fit with the rest of the show, but Ron Wood is about the last person who ought to be suggesting who belongs and doesn’t.

  3. I met Neal Diamond in early 1976 in Atlanta. Also, I am a HUGE Dylan fan going back to 1974 concert with the Band in St Louis all the way to last weeks show where Pay in Blood just blew me away! Anyway, I can tell you Neil is about the nicest guy in the world. I can’t imagine the two of them not hitting it off.

    • How’s that??? Wood was a member of The Faces at that time. The Faces were of the same rock n roll era/generation as The Band. Their audiences were virtually the same. Both bands delved heavily into blues and country roots with their sound. Neil Diamond on the other hand had a totally different audience – and even he knew it. Diamond’s songs were predominantly easy listening and had no rootsiness to them whatsoever.

  4. Let’s face it Ron Woods was not the most sober guy in the world. As for having no dog in this fight I am glad you put this to rest.

  5. I found Bob Dylan, the Band and a whole bunch of artists I wasn’t aware of, when I saw the preview for the movie at a local theatre and saw Neil was involved. I was 15 at the time and had grown up with Neil’s music being played in our house all the time. I’m glad he was there, and I thought he gave one of the best performances that night, along with Dylan, Clapton and Van Morrison.
    Dr. John also played keyboards on Neil’s Beautiful Noise album.
    I like Ron Wood, but the day he is worthy of tying Neil’s shoes…
    So Neil wasn’t a folky hippy, he played some great rock and pop music in the 60’s and 70’s, stuff that was every bit as much R&R as the Bands.

    • Thanks for that Mike. I agree with you – and I love Dr John’s performance of ‘Such A Night’ too.

  6. Wow – finally caught up with this post now (11/2015), thanks to all. Clapton comes off like the elder statesman, so accomplished, so much – as he was – at ease with his music. I loved every performance, but especially The Weight with the Staples!

    • Clapton is amazing! His solo on Further on up the road was one of his best, playing at the very top frets like nobody else can. My favorite artists are Eric Clapton and Neil Diamond, disparate I know, but to see them on the sam stage was truly amazing.

  7. Just listening to Johnny Walker Radio 2 show talking about the Last Waltz. Saw it many years ago want to see it again. Forever Young most fantastic performance.

  8. Pingback: 512. Coldwater Morning | Randophonic·

  9. With these so-called ‘rock stars’ it all comes down to the arrogant, narcissistic and immature expression, “I’m cooler than you are.” And, this nonsensical cliche is oftentimes affiliated with the vast intake of drugs and/or booze and a general ‘bad boy’ image. Such an image has never been associated with Neil Diamond and, as such, this apparently makes ND ‘uncool’. However, as someone already said, Ron Woods (just another guitar player playing similar licks to every other guitar player) is not worthy of being in Neil Diamond’s shadow.

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