Dylan & the Grateful Dead

Tuesday, July 25, 2017


On July 24, 1965, Dylan was back on the Newport stage for the third year in a row performing three acoustic songs. On the same day, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band drew a big crowd at a blues workshop and stunned them with a fiery performance, despite a dismissive introduction from folklorist Alan Lomax. Albert Grossman was pondering managing the band, and the snub by Lomax led to a wrestling match between him and Lomax. Dylan had already recorded “Like a Rolling Stone,” which entered the charts as a single the week of the festival, with Butterfield’s guitarist, Mike Bloomfield, and Al Kooper. Dylan asked the Butterfield band and Kooper to back him for a set the following night at Newport. From the time he ravaged the Hibbing High School stage with a spirited Little Richard imitation to his latest groundbreaking accomplishments, Dylan dared to advance confidently in the direction of his own dreams.

 What happened the following night shouldn’t have come as a surprise. But this was Newport, the spiritual retreat of folk music. On July 25, Dylan seized the stage with a brash electric band. Consequences be damned!

 Dressed like a pop star in a leather jacket, tight, black pants and pointy boots, Dylan’s fashion statement clashed with audience expectations based on his humble attire from past festivals. The music thundered and there were reports of the sound mix being awful, although just the shock of Dylan playing with a band was too much for the ears of Lomax and Pete Seeger to bare. Seeger threatened to cut the power cables with an axe. There are so many versions of what happened that the story has become folklore. If there was an axe or not, is not as significant as the idea of Seeger wanting to wield an axe because the music of an artist he had great admiration for disturbed him. And even though Dylan was blazing forward without regrets, he was devastated when he heard of Seeger’s reaction.

Out in the audience there was turmoil and a certain amount of booing. Tales of the booing are legendary, but the tape reveals a brisk and explosive performance of “Maggie’s Farm” to kick off the electric set. Bloomfield’s quick-picking licks surround but don’t swallow Dylan’s precise singing. This was aggression unleashed, jarring even for those who enjoyed amplified music. The only person unaffected by the flood of emotions appeared to be Dylan, who, on the surface, handled his first live performance with a band as if he’d been down that road a thousand times before. The raging sound crashed to its conclusion and was met with a mixed chorus of applause, boos, and chatter. Dylan closed the set out with “Like a Rolling Stone” and “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry.”

The crowd was disappointed. The gripes were many. Dylan had gone electric. He was a capitalistic sell out, the sound quality was poor, and the big star of the festival played a brief set and split. Peter Yarrow brokered a peace agreement and coaxed Dylan to come out for an acoustic encore. Dylan borrowed a guitar from Johnny Cash and threw the crowd a couple of bones; “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and “Mr. Tambourine Man.” At a post-concert communal dinner for the musicians in a nearby mansion, Dylan was visibly shaken by the turbulent night. To try and ease his mind, Dylan’s friend, folksinger Maria Muldaur, asked Bob if he’d like to dance. Dylan replied, “I’d dance with you, Maria, but my hands are on fire.”   
Dylan and the Grateful Dead: A Tale of Twisted Fate  

Friday, July 21, 2017


An excerpt from chapter 18 of Dylan and the Grateful Dead: A Tale of Twisted Fate

I caught six unique and satisfying shows on this leg of the tour. The best of the batch was on July 21, 1989 at the Garden State Performing Arts Center, where I saw my first show of the Never Ending Tour the year before. Dylan was showing up in the same towns and I was doing my part, spreading the news—word of mouth. I convinced Deadhead Doug to sneak his equipment in to tape the show. Doug respected Dylan, but he was a Garcia loyalist all the way. Doug was with his girlfriend taping in the fifth row, and I was shuffling on the lawn as Dylan opened the show with his first live performance of “Trouble” from Shot of Love. Dylan’s group rocked it violently, and swiftly segued to a tender version of Van Morrison’s “One Irish Rover.” Dylan’s vocals burned intensely against the casual arrangement, spurring Smith to finish the song off with a spiraling solo. The band slammed into “I Don’t Believe You” and Dylan unleashed an authoritative harmonica solo. It sounded as good as it did with The Band in 1966. It was one of those nights when Dylan pushed himself and his band, and every risk was rewarded.

I’ve enjoyed listening to this show for many years since that night, and I owe thanks to the dogged perseverance of Doug, who improbably battled off a female usher to successfully finish taping this show. During the fourth song, “Just Like a Woman,” the trouble begins. As a tribute to tapers everywhere, I’ve transcribed their conversation from the tape as Dylan played on five rows away.

Usher: Can I see what you have in there? What do you have in that bag? Why is there a red light on?
Doug: I got a flashlight.
Usher: If it’s a tape recorder, shut it off right now… I have to take the tape. I’m going to get a security guard. I have to get a security guard, then. Give me the tape, or I’ll get a security guard.
Doug: I don’t understand. What’s wrong?
Usher: Is that a tape recorder?
Doug: No, it’s a camera with a flashlight blinking.
Usher: If it’s a camera, why is the light on? Listen, if it’s a camera, let me see it, or I’ll have to call a security guard over.
Doug: The light’s not even on. Don’t worry; I’ll shut it off.
Usher: I know, but you’re not listening to me. You still have to check it with a security guard.
Doug: I’ll shut it off. Don’t worry.
Usher: Yeah, but even if you shut it off …
Doug: OK. I’ll shut it off.
Usher: I’ll call a security guard if you don’t come with me now and check it in. You’re not listening to me. (In the midst of this bickering, Dylan was twenty feet away, blowing a lyrical harp solo.)
Doug: I don’t understand what the big deal is.
Usher: There are no cameras or anything allowed in the theatre. I have to check that with a security guard.
Doug: It’s not a camera.
Usher: What is it?
Doug: It’s a flashlight. I told you already.
Usher: Can I see it then, sir? Whatever it is, I have to check it with security.
Doug: Miss, believe me. It’s nothing; it’s not worth the hassle. It’s just me and my girlfriend. I swear to God, it’s nothing. Please trust me.
Usher: I don’t care what it is. You have to check it with a security guard.
Doug: I’ll come back tomorrow.
Usher: No, you can’t come around tomorrow.
Doug: I don’t see what the big deal is.
Usher: It’s not allowed. If it’s a camera or anything, anywhere, or recording device, it must be checked in with a security guard.

The usher suddenly disappeared as if Doug wished her off to a cornfield. I would have folded under that pressure. Doug spoke to the usher in hushed tones, doing his best to protect the audio integrity of the tape. He was a master taper all the way, still interested in turning out a quality tape under serious duress. The other live Dylan debut that night was a lovely acoustic rendition of “When Did You Leave Heaven?” from Down in the Groove.
G. E. Smith’s solo soared during “I Shall Be Released,” setting the stage for a manic “Like a Rolling Stone.” The garbled lines gushed out of Dylan. During the extended instrumentals, Dylan stomped around the stage and occasionally stopped for a guitar hero pose. “Mr. Tambourine Man” was pleasing as the final encore. Bob’s cadence had comic texture: “I’ll come following, ah . . . you!” What a fabulous performance. And for the foreseeable future, Mr. Dylan, we’ll be following, ah you! 

Thursday, July 20, 2017


An excerpt from Dylan and the Grateful Dead: A Tale of Twisted Fate.
The music world was on fire with Dylan in the summer of ’65. The Byrds’ cover of “Mr. Tambourine Man” reached number one for a week. On September 11, “Like a Rolling Stone” was number two on the Billboard charts for the second consecutive week. “Help!” one of the Beatles’ deepest compositions, was number one on the charts. Inspired by the songwriting of Dylan, the Beatles raised their game, and there’s a Dylanesque tone to “Help!” In the third spot that week was another Dylan-inspired jingle, Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction.” And with the remarkably long “Like a Rolling Stone” repeatedly taking up six minutes and thirteen seconds of airtime, Dylan’s musical presence was ubiquitous.

Strike another match, go start anew. It’s all over now, baby blue. The final lines of Dylan’s last record make the perfect intro to his next album, Highway 61 Revisited. A gunshot drum beat hurls the listener into “Like a Rolling Stone.” Dylan’s staring anew with the fervor of a starved animal sprung from a cage to feast on a carcass of meat. Going on the offensive, Dylan howls, “Once upon a time you dressed so fine, threw the bums a dime in your prime. Didn’t you?” Dylan races forth as if this is his last chance to vent and the clock is ticking. The song is a complex mix of anger, defiance, and gloating, but above all, it’s liberating—a loss of innocence that yields fear and excitement. This song changed lives. The masses heard, felt, and digested Dylan’s diatribe.

The holy anthem of rock and roll emanated from what Dylan described as, “This long piece of vomit, 20 pages long, and out of it I took ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ and made it as a single.” Another unexpected twist of luck was the arrival of Al Kooper on organ. Producer Tom Wilson invited Kooper down to watch the recording session because Al was a big Dylan fan. The ambitious Kooper arrived early with an electric guitar and plugged in, hoping to look like a studio musician hired to be there. When Kooper heard the real guitar player, Mike Bloomfield, his dream of playing on the record was all but dead.

Later in the session, when Paul Griffin switched from organ to piano, Kooper occupied the bench behind the organ. Wilson realized what Kooper was up to, but he let him slide. When Dylan and company were listening to the take, Dylan asked Wilson to turn up the organ. Wilson sighed, “That cat’s not an organ player."

Dylan replied, “Hey, now don’t tell me who’s an organ player and who’s not. Just turn the organ up.” Kooper hesitated a fraction of a second before each chord change to make sure he was playing the right chord. The slight hesitation and the soulfulness of Kooper’s playing gave “Like a Rolling Stone” a penetrating and majestic sound.  

Commenting on “Like a Rolling Stone,” Paul McCartney said, “It seemed to go on and on forever. It was just beautiful…He showed all of us that it was possible to go a little further.”