YOU’RE A BIG GIRL NOW – 1978

You’re A Big Girl Now, 1978.

 

It’s not me. It’s the songs. I’m just the postman. I deliver the songs.

That’s all I have in this world are those songs!

That’s what all the legend, all the myth, is about – my songs.”

(Bob Dylan, 1978)

 

Original 'Street Legal' photo by Howard Alk.

Original ‘Street Legal’ cover photo by Howard Alk.

Towards the end of 1977, Bob Dylan phoned Rolling Thunder Revue bassist, Rob Stoner, asking him to bring some musicians along to California to rehearse for a tour he was planning.

Dylan had rented an old warehouse in Santa Monica and converted it into Rundown Studios (named, apparently, because of the shabby state of the surrounding neighbourhood). He had two engineers on his payroll – Arthur Rosato and Joel Bernstein.

After a good deal of chopping, dropping out and changing, Dylan finally settled on a large number of musicians – including saxophone, violin and backing singers.

I started recruiting this band last January. It was difficult. It was hard. A lot of blood has gone into this band. This band understands my songs. It doesn’t matter if they understand me or not. They understand my songs!”[3]

Near Rundown Studios, by Annie Liebowitz.

Near Rundown Studios, by Annie Liebovitz.

There may have been some unlikely sources of inspiration for the big band idea. Dylan went to see Neil Diamond play at the Aladdin Theatre over the 4th July weekend in 1976[1]and both Cameron Crowe and Clinton Heylin suggest that this was instrumental in him re-thinking and re-shaping his 1978 stage shows.

He also signed with Diamond’s manager, Jerry Weintraub, several weeks after attending that show.

There may have been another influence, too.

On 16th August 1977, Elvis Presley died. Dylan had made no secret of his admiration – and debt – to Elvis.

It was so sad. I had a breakdown! I broke down… one of the very few times I went over my whole life. I went over my whole childhood.  I didn’t talk to anyone for a week after Elvis died. If it wasn’t for Elvis and Hank Williams, I couldn’t be doing what I do today.” [3]

“When I first heard Elvis’ voice, I just knew that I wasn’t going to work for anybody, and nobody was going to be my boss. He is the deity supreme of rock and roll religion as it exists in today’s form. Hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail. I thank God for Elvis Presley.”

Rob Stoner suggested as much:

He had in mind to do something like Elvis Presley. That size band and the uniforms…he wasn’t very sure about it, which is why he opened way out of town. I mean, we didn’t go close to Europe or England or America forever, man…and I don’t blame him. I think he knew, subconsciously, he was making a big mistake.”[2]

This tour was being approached very differently from previous incarnations. Due to the size of the band Dylan had assembled, his usual penchant for spontaneously changing keys, tempos and arrangements had to be largely suppressed. I think this is another reason why he wanted such radical rearrangements of his songs – to keep it interesting for himself within the relative confines of a bigger band.

 

Big Band 78

Big Band 78

The Rehearsal Versions

There’s something about listening to rehearsals that I like – the pleasure in hearing the discovery, evolution and excitement when the right arrangement or groove is found.

Also, because it isn’t a performance as such, or a released recording, there is no (or very little) production or mixing, so the instruments (and voices) sound far more natural.

I feel less judgemental when listening to practises – the pressure is off. It isn’t a finished ‘product’ and hasn’t been put out into the world all dressed up with a suit and tie, so I listen with a different attitude.

As a Dylan ‘fan’, I also love to hear him trying out new phrasings, keys and styles. My respect for him as a musician has been vastly enhanced by hearing him rehearsing.

Outside Rundown Studios by Annie Liebowitz, 1978.

Richmond Shepard Theater Complex, 6472 Santa Monica Blvd by Annie Liebovitz, 1978.

There are two versions that are currently available from the Rundown Rehearsal Tapes – one almost certainly from 30th January 1978 and the other is simply attributed to ‘January 1978’.

The dated version has at least three guitars, sax, organ, bass and drums as well as vocals.

It’s good, with Dylan’s laconic croon sounding nice and loose, but the guitars and sax are still at the stage of elbowing each other to get some space, and although there are a couple of very nice passages, I prefer the undated version.

It has less going on – piano, two guitars, drums and bass – and a very quiet sax. I would say that this is a much earlier run-through, with everyone playing with more uncertainty and simplicity, but I love it.

Dylan’s vocals are brilliant – gritty, smooth and expressively elastic. It’s amazing that in most of the rehearsals I have heard, he puts a lot of care and effort into his vocals. I know of many performers who don’t.

The drums are quiet and seem to me to be played by someone other than Ian Wallace – possibly Bruce Gary or Denny Seiwell. The style of playing seems quite different. It may be that it was a very early attempt and he was hanging back, getting a feel for the song before taking the lead, but I would put money on it not being Wallace.

Billy Cross’ guitar sounds lovely – rich, warm but with bright, silvery bursts of highs. His amp is set up nicely, over-driving the tubes and breaking up when he gives the strings some passion and force and I am a big fan of the way he plays. On Street Legal, the solo at the end of Where Are You Tonight is one of my favourite moments from any Dylan album and I love the nasty, sexy, violent licks he employs on New Pony too.

I’m not sure who plays the piano at this rehearsal but it sounds pretty similar to some of the playing on tour, so I would suggest it is Alan Pasqua. The loose, loungey style sprinkles the whole song with blue, sleazy funk. The occasional interplay between the piano and guitar is a treat as well.

During rehearsals for the 1978 World Tour. By Annie Liebowitz.

During rehearsals for the 1978 World Tour. By Annie Liebovitz.

 

The April 1st 1978 – Sydney, Australia version

 

Sydney, April 1st, 1978

Sydney, April 1st, 1978

Dylan’s Stratocaster starts, he sings, “Our conversation…” and the cheers fire up.

Steve Douglas comes in with his growling sax, low-key and lounge-perfect – you can tell that the dream groove has been captured and this is going to be good.

Though naturally quicker than rehearsal (adrenaline), it is still slow, sinewy and libidinous, with Alan Pasqua’s honky-tonk piano keys rolling around like some Cajun hooker.

Stoner’s bass is lazy and loping and Wallace is right on it too. They lock together and let the others swing.

Dylan’s vocals are just superb. Gritty, rasping and howling through the verses, holding the long notes before the punch line, sounding as strong and powerful as I have ever heard him. There’s a very masculine and predatory edge to his voice, like a tomcat stalking an alley.*

The dynamics are great, all driven by Dylan’s (or is it David Mansfield?) sparse rhythm guitar stabs, but everyone is on form, creating the perfect soundtrack for Dylan’s ragged delivery and those brilliant words.

Photo by Simon Blokker. Used by kind permission.

Photo by Simon Blokker. Used by kind permission.

Photo by Simon Blokker. Used by kind permission.

Photo by Simon Blokker. Used by kind permission.

Billy Cross.

In magazine lists of guitar players, I never see his name, but he is in my top ten. On this song, he is perfect; bending, pinching and driving those strings, making the pick-ups squeal like a hot, drunken lover, then dancing and sparring with the dirty sax, lifting the whole performance up a level.

It builds and builds and then – bam! – it’s over, like some fantastic, musical fuck.

In short, I like this version very much.

Sounchecking at Budokan, Japan.

Sounchecking at Budokan, Japan.

At 15 years of age, Bob Dylan At Budokan was the first record I bought with my own money. It will always have a place in my heart, but I know it isn’t a true reflection of how good Dylan and his band were in 1978.

I don’t know why critics and some people were negative towards the new arrangements and sound, but then I don’t understand why some people booed when he ‘went electric’, or sang ‘religious’ songs or started singing ‘country’ or ‘gospel’ or ‘swing’…all those elements were there from the start as far as I’m concerned.

If music moves me – emotionally, spiritually, sexually or simply makes me happy to be alive – I’m okay with it and I don’t care what it’s called.

Dylan’s music almost always moves me one way or another, and I love that he has embraced so many styles. I think he is a master musician, and the 1978 rehearsals and tour illustrate that so well. Complete reinterpretations of his songs are common-place at his concerts, and that is a risk that very few artists are prepared to take. His lyrics aren’t too shabby either.

Not everyone disliked the new (1978) direction:

These latest live versions of his old songs have the effect of liberating Bob Dylan from the originals…the method here is hit-or-miss, and the results are correspondingly spotty”

“The fire and brimstone are behind Dylan, [but] this hardly means the fight has gone out of him: Bob Dylan at Budokan is a very contentious effort—and, for the most part, a victorious one.” [4]

The 1978 tour grossed more than $20 million, with 114 shows in Japan, the Far East, Europe and the US. They played to a total audience of two million people. Dylan played almost every night for 3 months and the shows were regularly 3 hours long.

At the time, it was dubbed ‘Alimony Tour’ and was seen, by some, as avaricious. I fail to see how working hard to earn money is a negative and, besides, people got their dollars’ worth.

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.”

I earn everything I make.  I’m not getting nothing for nothing…I put in an eight-hourday in two hours on stage…there’s a pool of sweat on the floor for every dollar I make.”[6]

Even though I was living in Australia in 1978, I was a little too young to go to this Sydney show – and I am so, so glad I can hear it now.

I hope that one day, there will be an official Sony Bootleg Series release, so everyone can enjoy this magnificent music.

 

1978

1978

That evening’s introduction of the band

“Thank you. Playing in the orchestra tonight we have, from Reno Nevada, on tenor saxophone Mr. Steve Douglas…

…on the keyboards, from the Bahamas, Alan Pasqua. All right, conga drums Bobbye Hall from Detroit.

From Kingston Jamaica, one of the founders of punk rock, on the drums Ian Wallace.

My eyes are betraying me tonight. On the violin and the mandolin, he just learned how to play three weeks ago. We’re very proud of him David Mansfield.

All right. What you been smoking ? Wouldn’t mind some of that.

On the rhythm guitar from San Antone, Texas, one of the founders of what they call outlaw music. A great friend of Willie Nelson, very proud to have him in this band. Mr. Steven Soles.

On the bass guitar from New York City, Rob Stoner.

On the background vocals tonight. On my right we have the love of my life Miss Debbie Dye. In the middle my cousin my favorite cousin, first cousin Jo Ann Harris.

And on the left, girl that makes me cry every night, has a great great future, and a great behind Miss Helena Springs.

Lead guitar tonight from Albuquerque, New Mexico Billy Cross.”

Come gather round people...

Come gather round people…

 

Factoids

You’re A Big Girl Now was performed 39 times on the 1978 tour and 213 times to date, since its initial airing on 16th August 1976.

The released, album version was recorded on December 27, 1974 at Sound 80 studio in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

In a simple twist of fate, Rob Stoner was replaced by Elvis Presley’s bassist, Jerry Scheff, after the first leg of the 1978 tour.

Denny Seiwell, who rehearsed a couple of times, played in Paul McCartney’s Wings (the band The Beatles could have been, according to music and style guru, Alan Partridge).

Rundown Studio engineer, Joel Bernstein, later took the inner sleeve photos for Street Legal and most of the shots used on Bob Dylan At Budokan.

Rundown Studios was located at 2501 Main Street, Santa Monica and Richmond Shepard Theater Complex, 6472 Santa Monica Blvd.

Prior to releasing Blood On The Tracks, Dylan visited Neil Young in his home in Florida to showcase the songs and even ran through some of the songs with Crazy Horse! [5]

Elvis Presley covered Tomorrow Is A Long Time, which was, for Dylan “the one recording I treasure the most.”

 

1978 was tiring.

You’re A Big Girl Now

Our conversation was short and sweet

It nearly swept me off-a my feet

And I’m back in the rain, oh, oh

And you are on dry land

You made it there somehow

You’re a big girl now

 

Bird on the horizon, sittin’ on a fence

He’s singin’ his song for me at his own expense

And I’m just like that bird, oh, oh

Singin’ just for you

I hope that you can hear

Hear me singin’ through these tears

 

Time is a jet plane, it moves too fast

Oh, but what a shame if all we’ve shared can’t last

I can change, I swear, oh, oh

See what you can do

I can make it through

You can make it too

 

Love is so simple, to quote a phrase

You’ve known it all the time, I’m learnin’ it these days

Oh, I know where I can find you, oh, oh

In somebody’s room

It’s a price I have to pay

You’re a big girl all the way

 

A change in the weather is known to be extreme

But what’s the sense of changing horses in midstream?

I’m going out of my mind, oh, oh

With a pain that stops and starts

Like a corkscrew to my heart

Ever since we’ve been apart

Copyright © 1974 by Ram’s Horn Music; renewed 2002 by Ram’s Horn Music

Bob & Billy Cross.

Bob & Billy Cross.

 Copyright © 2013 William Henry Prince.

Sources and thanks

 

1 – (The Salt Lake Tribune – July 18, 1976)

2 – from Wikipedia. Original source not given?

3  – Robert Shelton/Melody Maker. July 29, 1978.

4 – Janet Maslin/Rolling Stone.

5 – “Shakey: Neil Young’s Biography” by Jimmy McDonough.

6 – Robert Shelton/Rolling Stone

*“I want my woman dirty, looking as though I’d just found her in some alley … ” – Bob Dylan.

Thanks to Bobs Boots, Bjorner.com, Expecting Rain, Simon Blokker, David Powell and Massive Dag Braathen. And the Dag Braathen Massive.

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8 responses to “YOU’RE A BIG GIRL NOW – 1978

    • Thank you. I only recently heard these recordings and was blown away. This song in particular.

  1. Great article. I loved the first recording. I wonder if Dylan will ever stop surprising me when I find a new sound from him. Budokan was a total eye opener for me as well. I went from hating it, to adoring it. It is one of my favourite Dylan Albums. It is so different from the rest. It also taught me that it is possible to love different versions of the same song.

  2. fantastic! enjoyed reading your article while listening to these great versions. Love the guitars! and fitted perfectly in my ’78 mood since I just recently finished Billy Cross’s biography ‘Så langt så godt’… so yeah! let’s hope for the official BS release to come soon.

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