Bob Dylan’s Picnic at Blackbushe | A Story By Ian Clayton

Ian Clayton reads an extract from his best-selling music memoir Bringing It All Back Home about the time he went to see Bob Dylan at Blackbushe in 1978.

‘One of the best books about popular music ever written.’ – Record Collector

‘A music-powered helter-skelter of living and learning, as perceptive as a Bob Dylan lyric and as earthy as a Bessie Smith blues.’ -Val Wilmer

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Click here for more on Bringing It All Back Home

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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

 

The Story Behind The Music | Seven Bridges Road

Iain Matthews, Steve Young, Bob Neuwirth.

Iain Matthews, Steve Young, Bob Neuwirth.

In January 1973, Iain Matthews moved from London to Los Angeles after being given the chance to work with Michael Nesmith on a new album for Elektra. He’d left a lot behind and was excited about a new start. The album, Valley Hi, didn’t quite turn out as he wanted it to, despite it becoming perhaps his most popular album. One song he recorded for the album was Steve Young’s ‘Seven Bridges Road’, the arrangement of which was controversially lifted by the Eagles, without credit. In this short extract from his memoir Thro’ My Eyes, Iain picks up the story.


One song we recorded for the album was a rearrangement of Steve Young’s ‘Seven Bridges Road’, which inadvertently created folklore history. A few years later I found myself at Don Henley’s house. In his sparsely furnished living room he had a simple, unassuming sound system with a stack of LPs leaning against the wall next to it. At the front of the stack was a copy of Valley Hi. In 1980, the Eagles released a live album and on it was an almost note for note version of my arrangement of the song, but the sleeve notes claimed that it had been ‘learned from their friend Steve Young in San Diego’. I knew that they hadn’t and they knew it too. None of the band ever acknowledged their sourcing of the song until twenty years later on a greatest hits package where in the sleeve notes Glenn Frey talks about how they took the arrangement from me. In a way they did, but let it go on record that up until now I’ve all too easily taken credit for that arrangement, when in fact, had it not been for Michael Nesmith’s acoustic flatpicking skills, it could have been a completely different kettle of fish. Michael was equally responsible for birthing that version of the song. Possibly a different version wouldn’t have appealed to Don Henley the way it did and the ensuing controversy may never have happened. Steve Young later confided in me that of all the numerous covers of his song, mine was always his favourite.


An article on the Alabama origins of the song can be read here

Here’s Iain’s version from Valley Hi

Here’s the Eagles version

And here’s the original Steve Young version from his 1969 album Rock Salt & Nails.

Thro My Eyes Deluxe Iain Matthews

Click here for more on Iain Matthews’s memoir Thro’ My Eyes

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

The Story Behind The Music: The Recording of Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks

A brief overview of 4 days in a New York recording studio in 1974 when Bob Dylan commenced work on his masterpiece album, Blood on the Tracks. The full story of these sessions, take by take, is told in leading Dylan historian Clinton Heylin’s monograph No One Else Could Play That Tune: The Making Unmaking of Bob Dylan’s 1974 Masterpiece, a perfect companion to the Bootleg Series release More Blood, More Tracks. Get your copy here.

Monday 16th September 1974

‘It looked like old times at Columbia’s A & R Studio September 16th. John Hammond Snr. was there. Phil Ramone was working the board. Eric Weissberg and Barry Kornfeld, two old Gaslight regulars, were unpacking their guitars. And sitting out in the cavernous studio … practically hidden behind a battery of six microphones, Bob Dylan was creating another album. And it was almost as if Dylan were consciously conjuring up the ambience of the early sixties.’ – Larry Sloman, Rolling Stone

On 16th September 1974, Bob Dylan entered A & R Studios in New York to begin recording ‘Blood on the Tracks’. The studio was of course the magical place where he recorded his first 6 albums. His original producer John Hammond joined him in the studio on this night, an ‘historic moment’ for them both. Also with Bob was his girlfriend Ellen Bernstein. Studio boss Phil Ramone was at the engineer’s desk, with Glenn Berger as his assistant. Bob started the session warming up to the task with just himself, guitar and harmonica, reaching for the voice that would define Blood on the Tracks.

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’. – Glen Berger, Assistant Engineer

Including that first take of ‘If You See Her, Say Hello’, he recorded 6 songs over 10 takes solo before being joined in the studio by Eric Weissberg’s band Deliverance, with whom he tackled 4 songs in 13 takes. There was little in terms of rehearsal, and the band were left to watch Bob’s hands for chord changes as he ploughed through the takes; no so easy with him playing in open tuning. One of the takes – ‘Meet Me In The Morning’ – made it through to the final cut of Blood on the Tracks and another – ‘Call Letter Blues’ – was later released on Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3. But it was the attempts of ‘Idiot Wind’ and ‘Tangled Up In Blue’ with just Bob and Deliverance bass player Tony Brown that would ultimately set the tone for the rest of the album…

Tuesday 17th September 1974

Dylan knew his vision for these songs, [which] was very pure and unadorned … Bob lived these words as he created them. Most of the tracks grew and changed organically … He knew as soon as he heard something whether or not it was what he was going for. It never took him more than one time to know … He worked so instinctively, more so than anyone I’ve ever worked with. – Ellen Bernstein, Columbia A&R person & girlfriend.

The feel for the album’s sound was starting to take shape on the second day of recording, with bass player Tony Brown the only member of Deliverance invited back for the session. Keyboardist Paul Griffin came in to try organ and piano on a few takes, sometimes with Brown, sometimes without. There was a change in the assistant engineer’s chair too, Glenn Berger who had sat in the chair on the 16th had moved next door to work with Mick Jagger on mixing a Rolling Stones live tape for radio broadcast. His chair was taken up by Rich Blakin.

In all there was less than half the takes of the previous day, but the session was no less productive. Five songs intended for the album were attempted over 13 takes, plus one warm-up cover. From this session, the fourth take of ‘Shelter From The Storm’ and the third take of ‘You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go’ made it all the way to the released album. The second take of ‘You’re A Big Girl Now’ was released later on Biograph and the second take of ‘Tangled Up In Blue’ was released on Bootleg Series Vol 1-3. An edited version of the first take of ‘Shelter From the Storm’ recorded this day featured on the soundtrack to the film Jerry Maguire.

By the end of the day, all 12 songs in consideration for the album had been attempted.

Wednesday 18th September 1974

On the third afternoon, Dylan was not so sure of himself and all he had wrought. As they began to mix songs from the master reels, a few takes fell foul of the review process, perhaps reflecting a darker mood on Dylan’s part. Engineer and studio chief Phil Ramone was busy mixing tracks pulled to master from the previous two days, and pedal steel player Buddy Cage was brought in to add overdubs on a few of the takes. As far as recording goes, this was the least productive day of the four. Bob had a go at recording ‘Buckets of Rain’ under the gaze of Mick Jagger in the control room, but abandoned it after four attempts. He left the studio early to go watch a concert and think about what he needed to do the following day to get the album he was hearing in his head.

Thursday 19th September 1974

Dylan cut the whole [album] in six hours on a Monday night … Then came back in on Tuesday and cut most of [it] again … That seemed to work, but it turned out not … On the Thursday, we recorded the album for a third time … Now that blew my mind. – Glenn Berger, assistant engineer.

On this fourth and final day of recording on the Blood on the Tracks New York sessions, a revivified Dylan was determined to finish what he had begun on the Monday. Starting proceedings at seven, he recalled Tony Brown, and Brown alone, to (re)capture the last few tracks. However, if Brown was thinking this will be like Tuesday – fourteen takes and home – he was soon disabused. It was 3.30am before Dylan was satisfied. By then, he and Brown had endured a recording marathon, capturing eight songs whole over a multitude of takes. Mick Jagger was once again looking on.

By the end of the evening, they recorded takes of ‘Buckets of Rain’ and ‘Simple Twist of Fate’ which would make it all the way to the final album. They also got takes of three further songs that would make it to the original test pressing of the album: ‘If You See Her, Say Hello’, ‘Tangled Up In Blue’ and ‘Idiot Wind’. Bob had his album… for now. Three months later a last minute change of heart would propel him to Sound 80 Studio in Minneapolis to rerecord five of the ten tracks that would appear on the released album. But that’s a different story…


The complete recordings from the sessions are now made available on the Bootleg Series release More Blood, More Tracks. For the full story on these historic sessions, let leading Bob Dylan historian Clinton Heylin be your guide in his limted edition monograph No One Else Could Play That Tune: The Making and Unmaking of Bob Dylan’s Masterpiece. After tracking down and interviewing just about every eye-witness still standing, and spending time at the Bob Dylan Archive in Tulsa with the two working notebooks of the songs, Clinton has created a highly evocative companion piece to the set. Get your copy here.

The Story Behind the Music | The Sex Pistols TV Debut

September 4th 1976, Tony Wilson’s Granada TV show So It Goes broadcasts The Sex Pistols performance of ‘Anarchy in the UK’.

An abridged extract from Anarchy on the Year Zero by Clinton Heylin

For the Pistols, problems were a day-to-day occurrence, but so was a common determination to turn Rock on its head. And what better place to really shake ’em up than Manchester, second home to the band and the movement, and the first home of Granada TV studios. Because, after much toing and froing, the Pistols had been booked to close the last show in the first series of Granada’s late-night music show, So It Goes, compered by none other than Tony Wilson.

Although the show would not be going out live – they weren’t that stupid! – it was going to be recorded live to tape and with Tony Wilson on their side the Pistols hoped it might even be broadcast pretty much ‘as is’. Wilson’s producer was happy to go along with the majority of Wilson’s madcap ideas for the show, even if he hadn’t as yet realized that the Pistols closing the series might be a political statement on Wilson’s part…

…Wilson later claimed, ‘As they came off the stage there was complete silence, except for the footsteps of the producer coming down from the box to try to hit somebody.’ [So It Goes producer Chris] Pye dismisses that frankly incredible version as ‘nonsense’. He does, however, admit ‘we all sat around the following day going, “Fucking hell, what happened last night? What is David Plowright going to say?”’

The performance of ‘Anarchy In The UK’ on So It Goes is still probably the most alive rock performance ever shown on British TV. Even the point at which Matlock leans into the mike to sing the harmony line, realizes the mike doesn’t work and kicks it off the stage, works perfectly in the context of the order-from-chaos being caught on camera.

For the band, it was simply business as usual. But they still decided to make themselves scarce. As Matlock put it, ‘A few mike stands went over at the end of “Anarchy”, nothing more.’ Even if Wilson was later reprimanded, he remained the compere for So It Goes when Granada commissioned a second series, the following year. And this time the staid Mr Walker was nowhere to be seen.

The emphasis of the show would now be mostly, if not entirely, the wave of bands following in the Pistols’ wake. And to kick things into gear, Wilson decided a repeat broadcast of ‘Anarchy In The UK’ was in order. After all, only two regions had ever seen the show first time around – Granada (covering the North West) and London Weekend – coincidentally the two hubs on the punk machine. It also gave the Pistols an opportunity to catch it themselves, since the original broadcast went out on September 4th, while they were in Paris doing a number on the French disco scene.


Read the full story of this episode and its part in a revolutionary year for British music in Anacrchy in the Year Zero: The Sex Pistols, The Clash and the ’Class of 76.
Click here to order a hardback collector’s edition for just £10.