EXTRACT | Recording Blood on the Tracks – First Takes

To mark the 45th anniversary since the first day of the recording sessions for Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, and the Kindle release of Clinton Heylin’s account of those sessions, No One Else Could Play That Tune, here’s a new extract from Clinton’s book. This is set on 16th September 1974, Dylan has booked himself into the old Columbia studio in New York, the same room where he made all of his early to mid-sixties recordings, and he feels himself into the session with a handful of solo-acoustic performances of the songs in his notebook. Bob’s then partner Ellen Bernstein starts the tale.

Ellen Bernstein: [Dylan] knew these songs. He knew his vision for these songs [which] was very pure and very unadorned, and you don’t need a producer if your vision is that personal on something. I think he had a lot of belief in the integrity of the material.

Perhaps Dylan was already aware of the rep Ramone had started to acquire. According to Blood On The Tracks musician Charlie Brown III, Phil was someone who liked to take ‘a lot of credit for stuff that I don’t think he did. Producing all these people and having his name on it as producer is bullshit, because he didn’t do anything, y’know.’

What Ramone certainly was, though, was a consummate engineer; as good at mastering the nuances of analogue sound as Halee, minus the attitude. And his brief was the same one Dylan shared with his original Columbia producer, John Hammond Snr., the very afternoon they both returned to A & R: ‘I want to lay down a whole bunch of tracks. I don’t want to overdub. I want it easy and natural.’

Ellen recalls how the veteran A&R man ‘had asked to come into the studio that first night since it was historic in so many ways for him and for Bob, [who] was very welcoming … It was a lovely moment.’ Yet Hammond was slightly baffled by Dylan’s choice of recording date, pointing out to his former protégé, ‘This is a strange day to start recording … It is Rosh Hashanah and it is hard to get musicians.’ Looking for his own new beginning, Dylan snapped back, ‘Why not today? It’s the new year, isn’t it?’

Although A & R had a state-of-the-art sixteen-track desk, Dylan made it clear he intended to begin by recording a few songs acoustically, and that four tracks – the number he had used on every Studio A recording in the first half of the sixties – would suffice. Ramone suggested two guitar mikes and a single Sennheiser 421, a popular stage mike at the time, for the vocals:

Phil Ramone: I used the technique at the time … of using two guitar mikes, for reasons of sound and to give him freedom of movement, because he’s not prone to stand in one place without moving around … We had pretty good isolation. You hear his voice in his guitar mike, as you would anyone’s, but leakage is important, and the leakage in the guitar mike was quite good … I didn’t use anything but a dynamic mike on his vocals. It helped with the isolation, too … How do you keep the vocal out of the guitar mike, or vice versa? … The Sennheiser 421 … had an interesting top end, a warmth, if you kept reasonably close to it.

Assistant engineer Glenn Berger recalled, in his studio memoir, scurrying around trying to get the set-up just right, before leading ‘Dylan out to the studio and plac[ing] him in front of the mics. We used old Neumann microphones [sic], the kind he would’ve used in the early sixties. I stood inches from him … [It was] the seventies. It wasn’t the antiseptic spaceship of 2001. It was dirty and falling apart. It was all tubes, no transistors. The board would get hot … We had no idea what he was going to do, so we had to be ready for anything … As I ran around the studio tweaking mic positions, he called off a tune. “Let’s do ‘Tangled Up In Blue’ in G.” He hit his guitar, but instead of a G chord, it was an A. He was playing in a different key from the one he had called off and the lyrics were [to] “If You See Her, Say Hello”.’

The clock read just past four. If Dylan for even a moment thought about starting with ‘Tangled Up In Blue’ – in many ways the album’s trigger – no evidence remains on the studio logs or tapes, even though they were running both a mono reference tape (at either 7½ or 15 ips), plus a regular 30 ips multitrack.

When song one rolls, both reels record Ramone calling out, ‘“If You See Her, Say Hello” take one.’ No mistake. A perfect starter – even though the song was one of the last Dylan wrote for the album. Entirely absent from the two working notebooks Dylan was using prior to his summer visit to the farm – both of which are now housed at the Dylan archive in Tulsa – the lyric appears only in the ‘fair copy’ notebook that remains at the Morgan Library, New York, the seventh (of fifteen) songs therein.

It turns out ‘If You See Her, Say Hello’ had mutated from another song Dylan had been working on, only to scrap: ‘There Ain’t Gonna Be Any Next Time’. As his mood changed from autumnal brown to blue, he began to slip in lines like, ‘So kiss her nice and say hello’, ‘Though the emptiness still lingers’, and ‘I respect her … for what she did’. If this soon-discarded paean was a carpe diem to his tardy self, its replacement would find him again ruing past mistakes and wracked with remorse.

On that very first take of ‘If You See Her, Say Hello’ – a marathon effort and stellar performance – he is already striving for the voice within and immediately captures the essence of Blood On The Tracks. Five and a half minutes long, it is punctuated by no fewer than four harmonica breaks.

With nary a pause, he goes in search of that voice again, this time reining himself in harmonica-lly, searching for a tonal breath control he can set to remote for the remainder of the sessions. He doesn’t quite find it, but that second take is still ‘pulled’ to one of three master reels at the end of the second session, from which Jeff Rosen evidently accessed this version when compiling 1991’s The Bootleg Series Vols. 1-3. Already, Dylan was in the forbidden zone – and Ramone sensed it:

Phil Ramone: This was a serious night … a very quiet, deliberate letting out of the inside of him. Emotionally, he was in a state of revealing his life. And most writers don’t want to tell you they’re writing their autobiography. But it’s there in the atmosphere, as you hear the songs unfolding.

Ramone knew the stakes were high and the learning curve steep. It started with lesson one: ‘Bob doesn’t rehearse. Bob just starts creating [and] these songs start pouring out of him!’

In rapid succession, Dylan proceeds to reel off versions of ‘You’re A Big Girl Now’ and ‘Simple Twist Of Fate’ that take him to the emotional core of a collection he has barely begun recording. This time both second takes have the edge on the first, even if a six-minute take one of ‘You’re A Big Girl Now’ – with three seesaw bursts of the harmonica around his neck – prompts an impressed Ramone to correctly observe, ‘Great song.’

‘This is a really excellent read. If you’re a Dylan fan it is a must have and, even if you’re not, this is one of the finest pieces of forensic analysis of a major album that you are ever likely to read – which makes it a must have.’ Americana UK.

Clinton Heylin’s No One Else Could Play That Tune takes you up and close and personal in the studio with Bob Dylan during the New York recording sessions for Blood on the Tracks. It’s the perfect accompaniment to the Sony box set release More Blood, More Tracks as you follow the recordings unfolding track by track. It’s available in a limited edition hardback, exclusively from Route, and now also on Kindle.

Click here for more details and to order the limited edition harback.

Kindle Editions: UK | US | CA | FR | DE | NL | ES | IT | AU | JP | MX | IN | BR |

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The Story Behind The Music | Sex Pistols First Recording Session

The Sex Pistols first studio recording took place at Majestic Studios in London on 15th May 1976 wth Chris Spedding at the helm. They recorded three tracks: ‘Problems’, ‘Pretty Vacant’ and ‘No Feelings’. You can hear the recordings on the video link above, and for context here’s an extract from Clinton Heylin’s Anarchy in the Year Zero, a full account of the birth of British punk.


Chris Spedding: I found it very weird, all that [in the press] about them not playing music. If they were notable for one thing it was that. They were always in time and in tune. I couldn’t understand why some … had chosen to attack them on the very thing that was their strength. Obviously, they’ve got cloth ears. [1976]

Getting someone as well-respected as Spedding on board at such an early stage was quite a coup for McLaren. It was almost as if he knew what he was doing, using his carefully cultivated contacts to make something happen – just as soon as the band began to justify his carefully-tailored hype. Well, by now they did. Marco Pirroni, who also came back to the 100 Club that May, recalls discussing precisely this point with McLaren:

Marco Pirroni: Malcolm used to spout [about] anarchy all the time. [But] he did care about the music … He said, ‘They’ve got to get tight, they’ve got to get good.’ … He went to proper people, [like] Chris Spedding … He didn’t just bung ’em into any ol’ studio. They weren’t trying to make them the worst they could be. And they were good.

Spedding was to some extent putting his reputation on the line. Which is why he was determined to capture their muscular musicianship, prepping them at their rehearsal space: ‘I went to a couple of rehearsals … and got them to go through their whole repertoire and I took notes, [then] I chose … the three best songs … they had at the time.’

The gang of studio novices duly assembled outside Majestic Studios, a state-of-the-art sixteen-track facility, the morning after they blew Krakatoa all the way down Oxford Street. McLaren, never one to miss a trick, invited Ray Stevenson down to capture the moment on his candid camera. The three tracks Spedding had chosen were ‘No Feelings’, ‘Problems’ and ‘Pretty Vacant’:

Chris Spedding: I didn’t want to go in and just have total anarchy. I knew enough about presenting something to record companies to know that they usually wanted three songs. I’d used [Majestic] when I did the Here Come The Warm Jets album with Eno. And we got the same engineer, Derek Chandler. I got them to go in there at ten o’clock in the morning [and when] I got there about quarter to eleven they were all set up. We started recording about eleven, about one o’clock we finished and I mixed them … There was two guitar overdubs, that was about it … They’d not been in the studio before … I had [brought] my amps and I stood over the drums while he tuned the drums to get out all the buzzes. Fortunately, his drums sounded pretty good anyway, so there was hardly anything for me to do [except to make] sure that they had a headphone balance and that the singer in his isolation booth could hear all the instruments properly. I asked them to do a rehearsal for me and I switched on the [tape] recorder. So they thought they were doing a rehearsal and they were actually doing their first take … I never really got them to hear themselves back and get all nervous about it … They were [all] more or less first takes, first time in the studio … Rotten sung live, but … in an isolation booth … You can actually hear the way the band played together. It’s not like [the] guitar-overdub soup [found on later recordings].

(Hearing the trio of tracks on a bootleg E.P., in the early eighties, post-Spunk, post-Bollocks, was quite a shock to the system. As Spedding says, there is no ‘guitar-overdub soup’, though there is at least one obvious guitar overdub on ‘No Feelings’. What the guitarist-producer captured does not sound like a demo tape – as Goodman’s July tracks do – but like the first three tracks of a potent debut album the original Pistols never completed before transitioning into a more musical orthodoxy.)

For the band it had been an eye-opening experience. Rotten, in particular, felt going ‘to a proper recording studio … opened our mind[s] to the possibilities’. Predictably, he gave all the credit to Spedding and none to McLaren. It was McLaren, though, who immediately put the demos to use. Two of the initial recipients were Jonh Ingham at Sounds – whose entire playlist the following week was these three songs18 – and Howard Trafford, who dubbed a cassette-copy and sent it to Tony Wilson at Granada Reports, a nightly local TV show with musical content, who promptly lost it, though not before making a note in his diary, ‘Sex Pistols – June 4.’


Read the full story of the birth of punk in Anarchy in the Year Zero by Clinton Heylin.

Bob Dylan 1966 London Press Conference

Already weary from a confrontational world tour, and beyond tired of the media circus, Bob Dylan held a press conference on 3rd May 1966 shortly after he arrived in London in advance of the British leg of his tour. It did nothing to calm the growing hostility towards the artist. This extract from Clinton Heylin’s book JUDAS! paints a picture of how it went.

Bob Dylan arrives in Britain for his second British tour on Monday (May 2)—and is bringing his American backing group with him. The group—just called The Group—will play all Dylan’s British dates with him. They will accompany the singer for half of each concert and he will do the other half alone.
—‘DYLAN BRINGS OWN GROUP’, MELODY MAKER, APRIL 30 1966

This brief news story, in the music paper most British Dylan fans liked to read, served as an all-important backdrop to his May 1966 UK tour, scheduled to run from the fifth to the twenty-seventh. To those of a folk-minded disposition, for whom two electric albums and five electric singles were not enough of a clue as to Dylan’s ‘current bag’, it confirmed their worst fears. It also suggested they should look to scalp any tickets already purchased—especially in London and Manchester, where shows were already sold out.

Whereas in 1965 articles announcing how ‘The Beatles Dig Dylan’ and whether an acoustic troubadour could be a poet had lit the way for Dylan’s arrival, by 1966 he was a bona fide pop star with a #1 album (Bringing It All Back Home), a #4 album (Highway 61 Revisited) and three Top 10 singles (‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’, ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ and ‘Positively 4th Street’) to his name, all in the twelve months since last he played the City Halls of Albion.

This time, he needed no advance hype to sell out a full tour of the British Isles. Nor did he need the press to follow him around firing questions. So, instead of multiple formal and informal press conferences, backstage interviews with student reporters, one-on-one interviews with all the important music weeklies and the odd impertinent questionnaire, he agreed to exactly one press conference at the Mayfair Hotel—having relocated from the Savoy (perhaps still unhappy about the previous year’s ‘who threw the fucking glass’ incident, captured in Dont Look Back). At the press conference scheduled for the day after he flew in, he would again use the film crew as personal foils in another grand charade.

Not surprisingly, members of the English music press were a little put out to find themselves sitting cheek to jowl with ‘the establishment press … [who] didn’t understand what was going on in the musical arena’. As to what they could expect, they might have seen one of the questionnaires he had filled in the previous May, for Jackie, which listed the ‘loves and hates of Bob Dylan’. In the former category he had included ‘originality in anybody—makes such a big difference when they’ve got their own ideas to give out’. Personal bugbears included, ‘Rules. Why should we have them? … the importance that money has in our society …[and] that strange feeling when you come into a room that something’s gone wrong.’

There was certainly a ‘strange feeling’ in the Mayfair Hotel suite on the May day Dylan deigned to lock horns with another querulous quorum. Even familiar faces were given short shrift, Dylan ‘blanking’ Max Jones before making him the butt of one of his best one-liners. When Jones suggested he had heard he didn’t write protest songs any more, Dylan fired back, ‘All my songs are protest songs. You name something, I’ll protest about it. All I do is protest.’

Jones had been the first person Dylan called on when he visited London in December 1962 (Jones having been recommended by Ramblin’ Jack Elliott), and had been someone Dylan opened up to on both previous May visits, in 1964 and 1965. So he was bemused to find Dylan being wholly uncooperative but relieved to find he was not singled out for the treatment, prompting the headline to his resultant feature, ‘Will The Real Bob Dylan Please Stand Up?’:

Chatting up Bob Dylan … used to be easier, but as he gets older he seems to grow more and more fed-up with questions. Very difficult it is getting him alone. When you’ve failed in that, the next hindrance is his reluctance to impart information. It’s not that he won’t answer. But his replies, sometimes oblique and often designed to send-up, carry vagueness to the borders of evasion. Asked if the label folk-rock, sometimes applied to his current music making, meant anything to him, he queried back at me: ‘Folk-rot?’

To raise the level of the conversation a bit, I injected the names of Bukka White, Son House and Big Joe Williams. Did Dylan listen to such blues singers?

‘I know Big Joe, of course. But I never listen to these men on records too much. Lately I’ve been listening to Bartok and Vivaldi and that sort of thing. So I wouldn’t know what’s happening.’

Before we parted, another journalist was questioned by Dylan. He mentioned his paper. Dylan looked blank. ‘It’s the leading musical paper in the country,’ said the reporter firmly.

‘The only paper I know is the Melody Maker,’ was Dylan’s reply. One way or another he makes it clear he’s not out to win friends and influence newspaper men.

The reporter from the ‘leading musical paper in the country’ was Keith Altham, NME’s hippest reporter. But even this well-known face made very little headway with the man behind the shades when trying to raise the tone:

For posterity’s sake, I framed a question which might have been construed as ‘being aware’ … why is it that the titles of his recent singles, like ‘Rainy Day Women #12 + 35’ apparently bore no connections with the lyric? ‘It has every significance,’ returned Dylan. ‘Have you ever been down in North Mexico?’ ‘Not recently …’

A nonplussed Altham turned his attention to ‘a large gentleman with a grey top hat and movie camera permanently affixed to his shoulder, lurch[ing] about the room like Quasimodo, alternately scratching his ear and his nose, with the occasional break to “whirr” the machine in the face of perplexed reporters’. It was Pennebaker, of course.

Altham also observed ‘a lady in grey denims wav[ing] what appeared to be huge grey frankfurters about … [which] proved to be microphones attached to tape recorders’. The lady was Jones Alk.

Mrs Alk—whose husband Howard was hovering somewhere in the background—found herself an unwitting bit-part actor in another of Dylan’s games for May on the one occasion the ‘establishment press’ managed to ruffle Dylan’s feathers. He found himself ducking a series of questions regarding his recently reported marriage, a touchy subject at the best of times, until the mirror behind the glasses almost cracked:

Q: Are you married?
A: I’d be a liar if I answered that, and I don’t lie.
Q: Well, tell the truth then.
A: I might be married. I might not. It’s hard to explain really.
Q: Is she your wife? [points to Jones Alk].
A: Her? Oh yeah, you can say she’s my wife.
Jones Alk: No, my husband wouldn’t like it.
Q: Are you married to Joan Baez?
A: Joan Baez was an accident … I brought my wife over last time and nobody took any notice of her.
Q: So you are married then?
A: It would be very misleading if I said yes, I was married; and I would be a fool if I said no.
Q: But you just said you had a wife.
A: That depends on what you mean by married.

The four music press reps in attendance—Jones and Altham, plus Record Mirror’s Richard Green and an unnamed correspondent from Disc & Music Echo—valiantly tried to stem the tide of inanity, but it was a losing battle. Time to just sit back and enjoy the ride:

Q: What do you own?
A: Oh, thirty Cadillacs, three yachts, an airport at San Diego, a railroad station in Miami. I was planning to bus all the Mormons.
Q: What are your medical problems?
A: Well, there’s glass in the back of my head. I’m a very sick person. I can’t see too well on Tuesdays. These dark glasses are prescribed. I’m not trying to be a beatnik. I have very mercury-esque eyes. And another thing—my toenails don’t fit.
Q: Tell us about the book you’ve just completed!
A: It’s about spiders, called Tarantula. It’s an insect book. Took about a week to write, off and on … my next book is a collection of epitaphs.
Q: Who’s the guy with the top hat?
A: I don’t know. I thought he was with you. I sometimes wear a top hat in the bathroom.

Eventually, as in Copenhagen, ‘Mr Dylan started to interview the journalists’, as things again turned sour. After he told the Daily Sketch’s Dermot Purgavie they were boring, ‘the stroppier ones among us indicated that they weren’t too enchanted by him, either’. At the end of proceedings, the Sun’s Christopher Reed spoke for his fellow Fleet Streeters when he observed how Dylan had ‘managed to answer questions for an hour without really answering any of them at all’.

As the press filed out, a CBS publicist suggested, ‘Cliff Richard was never like this.’ Mr Reed now had his headline. Purgavie was equally sniffy about the uncooperative artist in his Sketch headline, ‘At least in his songs Mr Dylan has something to say.’ On the other hand, England’s thriving mid-sixties music press, to a man, sided with the star. Appropriately, Disc & Music Echo, the weekly that had run his notorious ‘Mr Send-Up’ interview the previous May, seemed particularly amused:

Bob Dylan arrived preceded by an almost violent reputation for being rude and uncooperative. He is rude—to people whom he considers ask stupid questions. He is uncooperative—he doesn’t like giving up his precious free time for individual interviews. But Bob Dylan is also a very sympathetic man with a vast sense of humour. He explained why he was wearing dark glasses. ‘I have glasses at the back of my head too. Look. I’m not trying to come on like a beatnik. I have to wear them under prescription because my eyes are so bad.’ … He played with a huge ashtray and then, this man who has said more with his songs than many say in ten thousand words, was asked some of the most ridiculous questions in the world. Things like a barrage of question[s] about whether he was married as though it was the most important thing since the nuclear bomb. No wonder he lost his patience.

Record Mirror’s Richard Green took equal delight in quoting ill-advised questions from the straight press, juxtaposed with the non-sequiturs Dylan provided for answers. Like Altham, he had realised immediately that ‘the farce … was obviously being staged’ for the cameras’ benefit and played dumb:

Until then, I’d always thought that Juke Box Jury was the funniest thing ever. But Dylan’s handling of the press left that standing. Asked if he had any children, he said, ‘Every man with medical problems has children.’ Asked what his medical problems were, he said, ‘Well, there’s glass in the back of my head and my toenails don’t fit properly.’ Dylan’s bunch of assorted film cameramen and sound recordists were happily enjoying the farce which was obviously being staged for their benefit. They continually trained cameras on the reporters and pushed weird microphones at people who spoke. Then somebody mentioned folk singer Dana Gillespie and at once Dylan brightened up. He laughed out loud, smiled broadly and asked, ‘Yeah, where is Dana. Come on out, Dana. I’ve got some baskets for her. Put your clothes on.’

As the penultimate press conference of the world tour wound to its predictable conclusion, Keith Altham went looking for one last usable quote, not from Dylan but from one of his sidekicks: taking ‘one of Dylan’s undercover agents to one side (I knew he was a Dylan man as he had dark glasses on) I enquired why a man with Dylan’s obvious intelligence bothered to arrange this farce of a meeting’. It was Bobby Neuwirth, whom he recognised from the previous year. He wasn’t about to sugar-coat it; ‘Dylan just wanted us to come along and record a press reception so we could hear how ridiculous and infantile all reporters are.’

For the remainder of his time in the British Isles, Dylan kept the press at arm’s length—clearly a conscious decision. The one time he decided to rebut accusations fired his way by reviewers of the shows, it would be from the Royal Albert Hall stage to a captive audience.


Read about the whole tour in JUDAS! Click here for more details and signed copies!

Other Clinton Heylin Titles

No One Else Could Play That Tune: The Making and Unmaking of Bob Dylan’s 1974 Masterpiece
Trouble In Mind: Bob Dylan’s Gospel Years – What Really Happened
What We Did Instead of Holidays: A History of Fairport Convention and Its Extended Folk-Rock Family
Anarchy In The Year Zero: The Sex Pistols, The Clash and the Class of ’76

 

Clinton Heylin Talks Fairport Convention

Clinton Heylin introduces Fairport Convention’s What We Did On Our Holidays at a 50th anniversary celebration of the album hosted by The CAT Club, Pontefract. Clinton reads a relevant passage from his book What We Did Instead of Holidays followed by a Q&A, with questions from Ian Clayton, Richard Lewis and Rev Reynolds.

Click here or more on Clinton’s book What We Did Instead of Holidays

Bob Dylan Interview | Mary Travers and Friend Radio Show

In his book No One Else Could Play That Tune Clinton Heylin notes that the only contemporary radio interview in which Bob Dylan discussed Blood On The Tracks was with Mary Travers but he carefully steered her away from it after a brief exchange. This is said interview (just the talk, the commercials and music are edited out). They also talk Woody Guthrie, topical songs, and about the then forthcoming Basement Tapes release. At one stage the conversation gets a little philosophical until Bob points out to Travers that she is crossing another one of his red lines.

Click here for more on No One Else Could Play That Tune, Clinton Heylin’s book on Blood on the Tracks

EXTRACT | Bob Dylan’s Lost ‘Blood on the Tracks’ Guitar

Prior to the recording of Blood on the Tracks, Bob Dylan previewed his set of new songs to a handful of friends, including Mike Bloomfield, Shel Silverstein, Jerry Garcia, Stephen Stills and Tim Drummond. One such lucky one-man audience for a preview was Peter Rowan. Dylan had written the songs that would appear on the album on his trusted Martin guitar, only for it to be stolen from his van before the recording. Bob turned up at Rowan’s place looking to find a replacement Martin, and while he was there, treated Rowan to a performance of the new songs. In this extract from Clinton Heylin’s monograph No One Else Could Play That Tune, Rowan recounts his amusement of the occasion.


[Dylan] was already sequencing the songs in his head while continuing to preview them for friends and other strangers. One such lucky soul was country picker Peter Rowan, who first met Dylan at Newport back in 1965, when he was a member of Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys. Club 47 owner Betsy Siggins had done her best to persuade Rowan to ‘hang out, [insisting] that Bob was a friendly sort, but I was intimidated by the invisible wall that seemed to surround him’.

The next time their paths crossed, Dylan was in Nashville’s famous Columbia Studio A, recording the last few songs for Blonde On Blonde. Rowan remembered it well enough, but it is unlikely Dylan did, which is why Rowan was as stunned as Bloomfield when he got a call from the man himself, eight and a half years down the line:

Peter Rowan: I had moved to Stinson Beach on the coast, north of San Francisco, where I was reunited with Earth Opera partner David Grisman. David was producing my two younger brothers, Christopher and Lorin, for Columbia Records. Dave and I were starting to jam with Jerry Garcia in what became the bluegrass band, Old & In The Way. I got a call from Seatrain lyricist, Jim Roberts, over in Bolinas. Bob Dylan had shown up at his door. [He] must have been on a walkabout from life as a rock and roller! Jim said that Bob was looking to replace his favourite guitar, which had been stolen. I had my treasured 1936 Martin 000 Sunburst guitar and [he wanted to know] did I maybe want to sell it to Bob? Well, Bob got on the line and we talked. But I still thought it was a hoax, a prank, a joke on me. I gave Bob directions how to find my place, Old Sheriff Selmer’s barn-workshop-home. ‘Yeah, ya just follow the Bolinas Lagoon south and turn at the first unpaved road that heads towards the ocean, Stinson Beach. Call from the phone booth right there.’ So he called. ‘Okay, ya see that wooden tower just to your right? Drive up and park in front of it, the big yellow barn. Calle del Ribera. That’s me upstairs in the window!’ I watched the blue van pull up. Out stepped a man in brown corduroy clothes and cap. I watched him find his way and listened to his footsteps on the wooden stairs. In the room was my partner Leslie, and Milan and Mimi Melvin (aka Fariña), just returned from Tibet. We were used to visits from various world travellers and alias members of the Free Mexican Airforce. We waited. Only Bob’s nose entered the doorway, sensing like radar the vibes! I went to greet him, he seemed taller than expected, wearing shades. ‘Someplace we can go?’ he asked quietly. We went downstairs to the empty front room with ocean light filling it. We both were wearing Ray-Ban shades against the glare of the wave-tossed sea outside. I took the old Martin 000 out of the case and handed it to him. He strummed it gently and hummed a melody. He handed it back and said, ‘Here, you play it.’ Really? So I sang him one of my songs, and asked him for one. He took the guitar and started to sing all the material from the unreleased Blood On The Tracks. We sat there for hours trading songs. The ocean outside with wild-horse waves, the glinting afternoon light reflecting on the old wooden walls of the room. It grew dark, and still the songs came! My brother [Lorin] showed up. It was dark and the candle lit, and still he wore his shades, so I kept mine on! Upstairs was silent, not a shoe scrape. ‘Hey, ya know where Jerry Garcia lives?’ And he went on his way in the blue van … Late the next day I went up to Garcia’s house and his wife Caroline – [the] ‘Mountain Girl’ – and I were talking. I tapped an ash into a full ashtray and she said, ‘Careful, those butts are Dylan’s cigarettes!’

Rowan had crossed Dylan’s radar again because of his association with Grisman, with whom Dylan had recently started taking mandolin lessons. The loss of his favourite Martin, meanwhile, would resonate throughout the rest of 1974.

As Ellen recalls, ‘The guitar was stolen from his van when it was parked in front of my house in Mill Valley … We went around town putting up notes asking people to call if they knew anything about the whereabouts of the guitar that I believe David Bromberg had given him … He was truly upset to lose the guitar.’

The loss of the guitar on which he had written this extraordinary body of songs was something Dylan would come to interpret as one more cruel twist of fate, even as he euphemistically informed John Mankiewicz in 1978 that he’d ‘left it behind. I’d squeezed it dry.’ In truth, he was still trying to replace it when he turned up at Sound 80 studios in Minneapolis two days after Christmas, hoping to reproduce the vibe the songs had when he still had his trusted Martin.


No One Else Could Play That Tune: The Making and Unmaking of Bob Dylan’s Masterpiece is a limted edition mongraph available exclusively from Route. Get your copy here.


Other Titles By Clinton Heylin
Trouble In Mind: Bob Dylan’s Gospel Years – What Really Happened
JUDAS! From Forest Hills to The Free Trade Hall, A Historical View of The Big Boo
What We Did Instead of Holidays: A History of Fairport Convention and Its Extended Folk-Rock Family
Anarchy in the Year Zero: The Sex Pistols, The Clash and the ’Class of 76

Clinton Heylin Talks Blood on the Tracks

A podcast of Clinton Heylin’s presentation at Durham Book Festival 2018. Clinton reads from his monograph No One Else Could Play That Tune, plays two tracks from the New York recording sessions for Bob Dylan’s album Blood on the Tracks and takes questions from the floor. Running time is 49 minutes. Recorded at City Theatre, Durham, 13th October 2018. Click play above to listen.

No One Else Could Play That Tune is a session by session and track by track account of the New York recording sessions for Blood on the Tracks, and is the prefect guide to the Bootleg Series release More Blood, More Tracks. It is a limited edition hardback available exclusively from Route. Click here to order a copy.