Happy Birthday to Bob Dylan, the voice of his generation, who celebrates his 78th birthday today (May 24th)!!! Coming on June 7th is Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Live Recordings. The groundbreaking 14-CD box set includes all five of Dylan’s complete sets from that tour that were professionally recorded. The box also features “recently unearthed rehearsals at New York's S.I.R. studios and the Seacrest Motel in Falmouth, Massachusetts plus a bonus disc showcasing one-of-a-kind performances from the tour.”
The fall 1975 “Rolling Thunder” tour ran from October 30th to December 8th. Among the performers who were mainstays of the trek were Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn, Bob Neuwirth, T Bone Burnett, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Ronee Blakley, Mick Ronson, Scarlet Rivera, Allen Ginsberg, and Sam Shepard. Along the way, special guests appearing on stage, in the studio or behind the scenes were Joni Mitchell, Ringo Starr, Patti Smith, Bette Midler, Kinky Friedman, Dennis Hopper, and Phil Ochs, among others.
Coming to Netflix on June 12th is the eagerly anticipated documentary, Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese. In addition to the doc being streamed, Rolling Thunder Revue is being shown for one night only across 20 cities the night before its Netflix premiere.
Variety reported, “The June 11th 'road show' screenings will take place in London, Paris, Washington, D.C., Nashville, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Boston, Austin, Dallas, Houston, Portland, Tulsa, Tempe, Chicago, Cleveland, Minneapolis, Bologna, and Sydney — as well as in L.A. and New York, the two cities where the film will continue to play the following day and beyond.”
Bob Dylan has been self-producing his albums for over a two decades. He told us that after years of working with assorted producers, he feels that they all simply found it too difficult separating his new music from the legend of “Dylan”: “Well, usually when it come to me, whoever is operating the controls is just thinking 'This is a 'Bob Dylan' record, this is a 'Bob Dylan' song.' So, they're not thinking about what I particularly sound like. And one person who was working with me earlier on did a whole entire record with me and realized that he used the wrong mics on me, and for a variety of reasons.”
Rolling Stone magazine's associate editor Austin Scaggs — the son of Boz Scaggs — says that the constantly touring Dylan is just as mysterious today as he was 50 years ago: “I don't think he travels with family. I think he has that bus all to himself. I think inside the bus, I think he has books, he has a typewriter, he has some sort of outlet to listen to music. I think he's constantly listening to new music, or old music. But who knows? What does he do all day? Does he work on the next volume of his book? Does he write new songs?”
Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary says that in 1964, when Dylan abandoned political subjects to write relationship-based material, he did so with the blessing of most of the folk scene: “We had our own feelings about it, certainly. But an artist must do what he must do or she must do, and Bobby Dylan of course is famous for his continuing to change his perspective.”
In the mid-'60s, Dylan cut three of rock n' roll's most important albums: 1965's Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited, and 1966's Blonde On Blonde. These albums, which comprise his “electric period,” built upon his romantic songs, added blues backing, and featured lyrics that were far beyond the norm in popular music, blending images and telling stories in abstract detail.
In the 1995 Beatles Anthology series, the group discussed Dylan, who went from being a major influence to a personal friend: “(Paul McCartney): He was our idol. (Ringo Starr) Bob was. . . Bob was our hero. (George Harrison): Not an idol, but we just heard his record, as I said, we listened to his album and it really gave us a buzz and we played it constantly, over and over and over again. (Ringo Starr): I mean, I heard of Bob through John. (George Harrison): I think it was Freewheelin.' (John Lennon) We love Bob Dylan.”
Although John Lennon was the first Beatle to dabble in marijuana back in the band's early days in Hamburg, Germany, Dylan holds the distinction for properly turning the “Fab Four” on to pot on upon their meeting on August 28th, 1964 at Manhattan's Delmonico Hotel. The summit followed the Beatles' first proper New York City concert at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium. Paul McCartney still considers the meeting among the most important of his life: “We had a crazy party the night we met. I went around — I thought I got the meaning of life that night. I went around trying to find our roadie — 'Mal! Mal! Get a pencil and a paper! I've got it! I've got it!' And Mal, of course was a bit out of it, he couldn't fond a pencil and a paper anywhere — but eventually at the end of the evening he found it and I wrote down my message for the universe. And I said, 'Now keep that! Keep that in your pocket!' And Mal did (laughs) and the next morning, he said, 'Hey Paul, you wanna see that?' I said, 'What?' He said, 'That bit of paper.' I said, 'Oh, yeah!' And I'd written — 'There are seven levels.'”
Elvis Costello first saw Dylan play live in June 1978 in Los Angeles, and remembers being impressed that he was playing yet-to-be released music alongside his well known material: “The Street Legal tour — that's the first time I ever saw him perform. I saw him two nights and the show was largely the same, which it never is now. He was reinventing some of the songs but he had a huge band, which was a shock. I loved it because he was also playing a lot of unreleased songs. He was playing all of the Street Legal songs before the record was on the street. So that's always a thrilling thing, I think, when the artist has the confidence to do that. You don't hear it so much in the modern day, mainly because of the Internet — that's one of the down sides of the Internet's existence. I think it's discouraged a lot of recording artists from ever playing new material until its ever available on record, because they feel it's going to get (laughs) stolen away from them.”
Dylan was one of Jackson Browne's primary childhood influences, with his early folk era having a major effect on his life and art: “When I first heard Bob Dylan, I was walking through my living room and I was probably about 12. And there was this goofy guy sitting there on the edge of a stage singing. . . and a couple of years later I really got into him. But I was looking at him, it was this afternoon TV program that my dad. . . and I stood there and said, 'Wow, what's that?' And he said, 'That is the real deal. That right there — I knew guys in the army that sounded just like that. Whoever he is, that's like really genuine. All kinds of people in this country sing just like he's singing right now.'”
John Mellencamp told us that opening for Dylan tour in 2009 left an indelible mark on him and the way in which he goes about touring these days: “Y'know, it's pretty loose. It's not really a 'rock show' — y'know what I'm saying? It's about songwriting and it's a lot looser than shows I had done in the past when it was me in an arena, or me in a shed where it's, like, people expect a performance. I've learned a lot by doing so many shows with Dylan, because Bob is pretty much. . . he's really in the moment.”
Byrds co-founder Roger McGuinn has recorded and performed numerous times with Dylan over the years and told us that above all else, he rates Dylan as one of rock's greatest poets: “I've always admired Bob's work, and we've gotten along well over the years. I think Bob's most admirable quality is his sense of songwriting ability, his lyrics. I've compared him to Shakespeare.”
Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders says that even today, Dylan remains peerless: “Dylan, he's just the greatest songwriter of all time, I think. You could do album after album of his songs. I mean, there's so many of his songs that I'd like to do. I could just keep doing them.”
Pete Townshend explained that it was Bob Dylan’s work during the first half of the 1960’s that changed all his preconceived notions of songwriting upon first listen: “I suddenly realized after listening to Bob Dylan, that the song that I had written, which was ‘I can’t explain,’ y’know, to the prettiest girl in the class — ‘I love you, but I can’t explain, ‘cause I’m too shy’ — that this song was actually about being inarticulate. It was a song about being unable to explain what you felt. And he was the guy that changed the way that we used the pop lyric. He was the guy that really said, ‘You can write a song about nuclear fallout — and it can still be fun. Y’know, it’s a bizarre notion. That’s basically what happened.”
It's been over 30 years since Bob Dylan joined the Grateful Dead for a string of summer stadium gigs back in 1987. Dead drummer Mickey Hart remembers that it also took a while for Dylan to warm up to the band on a social level: “Dylan — he was a wonderful fella, I really like him. At first he was very quiet, he didn't say much in rehearsal. Jerry (Garcia) said, 'Leave him alone, y'know, let him be. He'll come around.' And then one day he sat down by me on a couch while I was watching a baseball game and we just started talking sports or something. And once he felt non-threatened and at ease, he was a bright charming wonderful person to be around.”