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

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Trouble In Mind | Introduction by Clinton Heylin

INTRODUCTION TO TROUBLE IN MIND BY CLINTON HEYLIN

BEFORE THE FLOOD

I never felt like I was searching for anything. I always felt that I’ve stumbled into things or drifted into them. But I’ve never felt like I was out on some kind of prospector hunt, looking for the answers or the truth … I never went to the holy mountain to find the lost soul that is supposed to be a part of me … I don’t feel like a person has to search for anything. I feel like it’s all right in front.
—BOB DYLAN TO DENISE WORRELL, 1985

Caveat emptor: I am an evangelist. That is to say, when it comes to the evangelical part of the Dylan canon – what in mediaspeak has been defined, rather misleadingly, as the gospel years (i.e. 1979-81) – I’m a believer. Not a trace of doubt in my mind.

From the moment I heard a live performance of ‘Covenant Woman’ from the November ’79 Warfield shows at a one-day Dylan convention in Manchester the following month, I knew the man had (re)connected to the wellspring of his art when that ol’ sign on the cross began to worry him.

As I have long argued, in person and in print, the consummate songwriter composed a body of work in the period 1979-81 which more than matches any commensurate era in his long and distinguished career – or, indeed, that of any other twentieth century popular artist.

But unlike that other seminal starburst of inspiration, the one between 1965 and 1967, the afterglow of this cerebral explosion is barely reflected within the grooves of the trilogy of albums CBS released in real time: Slow Train Coming (1979), Saved (1980) and Shot Of Love (1981).

Perhaps it’s because Dylan’s heart really wasn’t in the process of making records at the time. He did, after all, suggest in an interview designed specifically to promote the third album in said trilogy, that his primary interest was playing ‘songs which [a]re gonna relate to the faces that I’m singing to. And I can’t do that if I[‘m] spending a year in the studio, working on a track. It’s not that important to me. No record is that important.’ Said interview appeared on a CBS promo album.

The epicentre of Dylan’s artistry at the cusp of the decades – as it had been in the mid-seventies – was the stage; surely one reason why, starting in November 1979, he took an acetylene torch to the 1978 set list and began afresh. As he said at the time on his one radio interview, quoting 2 Corinthians, ‘All things become new, old things are passed away.’

To howls of protest that couldn’t help but remind one of the folk-rock furore thirteen years earlier, he delivered the same unrelenting Good News/Bad News message night after night, while each night becoming born again as a performing artist in front of the aghast eyes and ears of Dylan apostates.

Just as from September 1965 to May 1966, the shows which ran from November 1979 to the following May saw the gospel gauntlet thrown down nightly. Dylan delivered an unceasing barrage of biblical glossaries set to the soundtrack of a heavenly choir and a band of unbelievers riding the musical tide all the way to New Jerusalem. But this time there was no near-death experience to deflect Dylan from his chosen path. He would continue beating his ecumenical drum most of the time for the next eighteen months.

For much of this period, his was very much a voice in the wilderness. Much of the media, and a large percentage of his hardcore fan base, simply switched off. The North American gospel shows – All Saints’ Day ’79 at the San Francisco Warfield excepted – tended to receive only local reviews, and rarely drew ones interested in reporting the facts.

As for the shows themselves, journalists delighted in reporting that this ‘voice of a generation’ couldn’t even sell out intimate theatres. Even the eight English shows in July 1981 struggled (and failed) to sell out, barely three years after people were camping out for 72 hours just to get a single ticket for six Earls Court shows.

(Those arch-arbiters of fan demand, the bootleggers, were also switching off just as Dylan’s muse was switching on again, deeming demand to be insufficient from a demographic of wavering disciples.)

So, although Dylan played some ninety-eight shows between November 1979 and December 1980, all but a handful of which were still being taped by hardcore collectors, not a single vinyl bootleg was released in real time; and this, from the most bootlegged rock artist of all time. As for official album sales, the cliff Dylan fell off in 1980 with the catastrophic Saved was one it would take him seventeen years to scale again.

So, on the face of it, hardly the sort of period where a thorough revisit would send ripples of excitement through the Dylan world in 2017. And yet, when at the start of the year Dylan’s long-time manager hinted to a Rolling Stone reporter that the next Bootleg Series (lucky thirteen!) would re-examine the gospel years afresh, the fan sites were abuzz with anticipation.

Because, as a Nobel poet once put it, ‘Everything passes, everything changes.’ And three decades on, an official release (or two) of a judicious sample of one or two legendary residencies in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Toronto, Montreal or London ranks high on most Bobcats’ bucket lists.

Ranking higher still for those whose focus is the studio oeuvre is a set that also affords a thorough re-examination of the two dozen songs Dylan wrote in the six months leading up to the Shot Of Love sessions. With 20/20 hindsight, the album bearing that name – even though it has real moments – stands as perhaps the most underwhelming Dylan studio collection of original songs to date, with maybe three performances on the official Shot Of Love worthy of inclusion on the double-album it should have been: the title track itself, a ‘Property Of Jesus’ that aside from a remix could hardly be bettered, and ‘Every Grain Of Sand’.

The good news – praise the Lord of Happenstance – is that the period 1979 to 1981 turns out to be among the best documented eras in Dylan’s six-decade-long career as a recording/ performance artist.

The explanation for this resides in two events dating back to January 1978: the purchase of a brand-new, state-of-the-art, eight-track tape machine made by Otari, the MX-5050, shortly after Dylan had signed a five-year lease on a rehearsal studio in downtown Santa Monica.

These serendipitous twists of fate meant Dylan could begin to record most rehearsals at his newly leased studio; demo songs he wished to copyright; as well as run tapes of all the shows he was to perform during a 115-date world tour. The rehearsal studio, known privately as Rundown, throughout this period would even serve as a sometime-recording studio for the two albums which bookend the Rundown era, Street-Legal and Shot Of Love.

Indeed, Dylan soon grew so comfortable with his Santa Monica ‘home studio’ set-up that he rekindled a work ethic last seen in the happy days spent in the Big Pink basement in West Saugerties, New York, with the last standing band he kept on retainer, the mostly-Canadian Hawks, back in 1967.

Having put together the second standing band of his career in September 1979, it should come as no great surprise that the dividing line between tour rehearsals, album sessions and copyright demos for the next two years would be as fuzzy as one of Fred Tackett’s effect-pedals; or that the aesthetic of the basement tape should be so readily revived by its instigator twelve years on, with a set of musicians no less accomplished than The Band and perhaps even more sympathetic to Dylan’s way of working on the hoof.

In those two years, the body of work Dylan and his band captured at Rundown Studios, between tours (and albums), is in many ways more impressive than the one he and The Band managed from their 1967 country retreat. The breadth of material tackled, if presented in its entirety, would certainly challenge that now available on the official ‘basement tapes’ Bootleg Series.

At least Trouble No More – the next Bootleg Series – more than hints at a Rundown facsimile of the ‘lost’ album Dylan could have recorded in the fall of 1980 – but didn’t! Frustratingly, when Dylan did finally enter the very same rehearsal studio where he demoed an album’s worth of new songs six months earlier, to begin the new album in March 1981, he had already discarded half a dozen strong compositions and begun to bastardize the lyrics to two defining post-conversion masterpieces, ‘Caribbean Wind’ and ‘The Groom’s Still Waiting At The Altar’.

By the time Dylan relocated to Chuck Plotkin’s Clover studio in late April 1981 to begin work on Saved’s successor in earnest, he was well on his way to making an album that was one-third filler (‘Heart Of Mine’, ‘Lenny Bruce’, ‘Trouble’) but just one-third killer. Yet Dylan himself would compare Shot Of Love with 1965’s Bringing It All Back Home, which to his mind once provided a similar ‘breakthrough point’.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the two ensuing tours – a summer tour of Europe and a fall tour of the States – would signal a rerouting of the holy slow train. By second tour’s end, few vestiges of that preternatural commitment to his newly-wrought gospel material remained.

When the second anniversary of his landmark November 1979 West Coast residencies came around, Dylan was still on the road, heading for the Florida swamplands. Yet all that he had embraced when baptised by Vineyard pastor Bill Dwyer was not washed away.

He would soon fuse the sensibilities he was reaching for on Shot Of Love on the no less apocalyptic Infidels (1983). But that is another story, from another time and place. This trenchant tract confines itself to straddling the great divide which separates the smooth-as-silk Slow Train Coming from the bear’s-arse monitor mix that is Shot Of Love, covering all bases between.

It connects the dots by drawing on a wealth of new information, much of which has not been in the public domain before. Hopefully, it will achieve its primary goal: to serve as a testament to the inspiration faith can bring when aligned to genius, making a case for a wholesale re-evaluation of the music Dylan made during his so-called religious period.

With the release of an 8-CD Deluxe Bootleg Series, the three studio albums will no longer be the be-all and end-all of the gospel years, and we are a whole lot closer to knowing what really happened, artistically. As always with Dylan, it turns out that the more we understand, the more we can enjoy…

Clinton Heylin Signing Trouble In Mind

Clinton Heylin signing copies of Trouble In Mind. Want one? Click here.

The Feast of St Cyril

StCyril

An extract from Right Up Your Street by Ian Clayton, which is officially released on St Cyril’s day, 14 February 2016.

Nice one Cyril

It’s a long time since anybody sent me a Valentine’s card but there was a time when I got two in one year; alright it was a long time ago, forty one years ago to be precise, and I think they both might have been from Aunt Alice.

I did a bit of digging and found out that Saint Valentine lived in the third century and was sentenced to death by Claudius for trying to convert him to Christianity. They threw stones at him to start with, then they hit him with wooden clubs and, when that didn’t work, they cut off his head outside the Flaminian Gate. That was on a Monday, 14th February 209 AD. I also discovered that Saint Valentine, as well as being the patron saint of love and lovers, is also the patron saint of bee keepers, the plague, epilepsy, people who faint, travellers and young people; he’s a busy lad is St Valentine. I wondered why he might be best known for instigating a multi-million pound card business and then I found a romantic little story about when he was in prison awaiting execution. One of his jailors had a blind daughter and Valentine performed his first miracle by laying his hands on the girl’s eyes and restoring her sight. Later he penned a note to the young woman and signed it ‘From your Valentine’.

For such a famous saint, it might surprise you to know that there is not a single church in the whole of England dedicated to him, though there is one in Dublin on Whitefriar Street that has a shrine to him and a little vessel tinged with a small amount of his blood. And, in Rome, there is a church that was built for the athletes’ village in 1960 when they had the Olympics there and that’s called St. Valentine’s.

For those of you who don’t believe in all the romantic malarkey, you’ll be pleased to know that today is also the feast day of that lesser known but, in my mind at least, very important saint. Yes, I refer to Saint Cyril.

Cyril was a philosopher, a man of books and learning, he worked as a missionary in the 9th century and interests me because he believed in vernacular language. He made it his mission to help people to learn in their own tongue and translated most of the bible into the Slavic language of Moravia. Along with his brother Methodius, he became one of the fathers of the literary movement in that part of the world. He was of course punished for his efforts, like all these martyrs tend to be, but he should be remembered.

So, if I don’t get a Valentine’s card today, and I don’t really expect to seeing as I haven’t had one since 1972, I shall console myself by raising a glass to Saint Cyril. Nice one Cyril!

If Valentine and Cyril don’t do it for you, then consider paying homage to the other Saints who have feast days today, there’s plenty to pick from including Saint Abraham, the hermit of Syria; Saint Conran of the Orkney Islands; and Saint Antoninus of Sorrento, who once pulled a child out of a whale’s mouth after the little lad had been swallowed whole!

I thought that while I was doing my saintly research I ought to look up the saints who have their feast day on my birthday. I came across Saint Hermione, a second-century martyr, venerated in the eastern orthodox church, who doesn’t appear to be the patron saint of anything; and Saint Rosalia of Sicily, who in young life was led to a cave by two angels. She then decided to spend the rest of her life there. I learned that academics often quote Rosalia on papers about bio diversity… not the most interesting of saints I have to say but then I discovered that I share my birthday with Beyonce Knowles. Now there’s a woman who I like the idea of blowing a few candles out with. I wonder if she’s free to come and sing at my party later this year?

There is a launch event for Right Up Your Street at the Tap & Barrel, Pontefract, on Thursday 18 February at 7:30pm. All welcome.

Churchill Funeral – Extract

WCFuner

Ian Clayton remembers Winston Churchill’s funeral. An extract from Song For My Father.

Some of my earliest television memories are of seeing the misty black-and-white images of Churchill’s funeral. For years I thought the mistiness was because, according to my dad, ‘we had a worn out tube’ on our telly. I’ve since found out it was a foggy day.

My grandfather is booing the television coverage. ‘What are they all crying and upset for? I’m glad the old swine has gone!’ My gran nods her agreement.

My grandfather cannot abide Churchill. He says that Churchill hates coal miners, that he was responsible for killing two unarmed colliers in Featherstone in 1893. He wasn’t, but you can’t tell my grandad that. He also says that Churchill ordered troops to open fire on striking miners at Tonypandy in the Rhondda Valley, after he sent the cavalry in.

My grandfather turns his back on the funeral pictures. ‘Turn the bloody television off, Hilda! I don’t want to see it! All this bloody nonsense for that thing!’ My grandad saved the word ‘thing’ for the people he really couldn’t stand. Churchill was a ‘thing’. Later, and said with equal venom, Margaret Thatcher became a ‘thing’ and also ‘a creature’. A man who once stole his pint of beer in the Girnhill Lane Club was ‘nowt but a thing’, he also got a punch in the face for being a thief as well as a ‘thing’.

My gran turns off the television and places a folded cloth over it, as though to completely shut out any trace of an image of Churchill’s funeral being accidentally beamed into our front room. She then sits on the chair beneath her budgie’s cage and tells her favourite anecdote about the woman she calls a thing.

‘Lady Astor was another… she once asked, “Do they let the coal miner’s out of the pit everyday?”’ She puts on what she thinks is a posh voice. She is not used to talking without the glottal pauses that her dialect demands, so it sounds doubly funny, the dark humour of the actual words combine with the way she pronounces them, to make a sentence that at first makes us laugh and then makes us think, and you end up feeling sad at the same time as smiling.

I don’t know who told her that Lady Astor said that, I’m not sure that Lady Astor did say it, perhaps if she didn’t she would have done if she thought of it. It’s just one of those likely apocryphal tales that are passed around our area, like the one Mick Appleyard told me, a friend and former union man from Sharlston Pit.

Mick is talking to me about Winston Churchill. ‘Churchill and Lady Astor were invited to a shoot on the Nostell Priory Estate. In them days Nostell Pit backed on to the woods. They were walking down the edge of these woods with their shotguns bent over their arms. They saw a gang of black-bright young lads of about fourteen dressed in filthy rags. These lads were scurrying home from the pit to their mams. Lady Astor says to Churchill, “What on earth are they?”’ He puts on a posh voice to imitate Astor. ‘And Churchill says, “They are coal miners.” So Astor says,’ posh voice again, “‘Oh! My goodness, are we allowed to take a pot at them.’”

I ask Mick, ‘Is that true?’

Mick says, ‘I don’t know, lad, but if it isn’t true it ought to be!’

I ask Mick, ‘If a lot of people in this country worship Churchill as a hero, why do people like you and my grandfather despise him?’

Mick shrugs, ‘I can’t say as I’ve ever met anybody who liked Churchill, apart from Tommy Mottram and he was the pit manager.’

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