Route’s Bob Dylan titles come from the pens of three pre-eminent Dylan writers: Michael Gray, John Bauldie and Clinton Heylin. All born and raised in North West England – The Wirral, Bolton and Manchester respectively – each have not only been key figures in furthering our understanding and appreciation of Dylan as an artist, but have been active participants in how Bob Dylan’s work has been presented to the world. As such, their paths are tightly interconnected.
Michael Gray studied English Literature at York University in the mid-sixties, where he was trained to pay close-to-the-text attention to literary works that were firmly in the canon, and felt Dylan’s work could bear the weight of the same order of critical scrutiny. Fresh from graduating, he was invited by OZ magazine editor Richard Neville to ‘Do an F.R. Leavis on Bob Dylan’s songs.’ ‘Marvellous – right up my street’ he wrote in his diary at the time. He spent the next few years writing about Dylan’s work at length ‘to achieve something on a different level from mere album reviewing’. The subsequent book, Song & Dance Man: The Art of Bob Dylan, published in 1972, was the first such work to take Dylan seriously as an artist. It gave birth to what we now know as Dylan Studies, and positioned Michael as his most prominent critic. It also marked the beginning of a lifetime’s work, with updated editions of Song & Dance Man appearing in 1972 and 1999, and the massive Bob Dylan Encyclopedia in 2006. Throughout he has been writing on Dylan for newspapers, magazines and journals, and giving talks around the world on the art of Bob Dylan. It is these works, plus a significant new essay on Rough And Rowdy Ways, that are collected in his latest book, Outtakes On Bob Dylan: Selected Writings 1967-2021.
Like Michael, John Bauldie studied English Literature at a Yorkshire university (Leeds) in the 1960s. He too saw Dylan beyond his framing as a pop star; instead he saw him as a significant poet of the age. Already an avid collector of Dylan recordings, when he walked into WH Smith in Bolton in 1972 and picked up a copy of Song & Dance Man, new possibilities for critical study opened up to him. Throughout the 1970s, John became part of an important cog in a worldwide network of Dylan collectors. Buoyed by renewed interest in Dylan following the 1978 world tour, he embarked on writing his own critical study of Dylan’s work, The Chameleon Poet. The manuscript pulled together his own thoughts and personal response to the work, while drawing on the few serious writers addressing Dylan at the time, most prominent amongst these was Michael Gray. Shortly after completing his manuscript, John, along with four like-minded friends (including Clinton Heylin) formed Wanted Man, the Bob Dylan Information Office, which built on his network of collectors to bring together a school of Bob Dylan Studies. Central to this was the The Telegraph, which John envisioned as a critical journal to examine and explore Dylan’s work. Alongside his Wanted Man colleagues, John steered The Telegraph for 15 years, until his untimely death in 1996, inviting contributions from the leading writers in the field, including Christopher Ricks and, of course, Michael Gray. He also founded the Wanted Man Study Series to produce books that looked in-depth at particular aspects of Dylan’s work. His growing prominence in the field led to him being invited to write the liner notes, and contribute to the compilation of, Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3. As his role as facilitator for others grew, his own manuscript, The Chameleon Poet, which was in some ways his blueprint for all that followed, was put on the back burner. When John’s lifelong friend Bill Allison brought the manuscript to our attention recently, we found it to be not only one of the most inspiring Dylan books we’d seen, but an essential part of the wider Bob Dylan story.
Clinton Heylin first got in to Dylan after reading an article on bootlegs written by Michael Gray for Let It Rock in 1972 (featured in Outtakes On Bob Dylan). This drove an adolescent Clinton to a record shop on Tibb Street, Manchester, to buy the mistitled Bob Dylan at the Royal Albert Hall bootleg (it was Clinton who later discovered that the show was actually from Manchester’s Free Trade Hall). Unlike Michael and John, Clinton came of age not in the swinging sixties but in the spit and sweat of the punk-rock seventies. He was too young to see Dylan at the Free Trade Hall in 1966, but he did witness the cultural explosion that took place in the same building ten years later when the Sex Pistols played his home town. It wasn’t English Literature that Clinton studied either, but History. Although the three men share an equal passion for the work of Dylan, the half-a-generation gap between them led to a different approach. When he got together with John Bauldie and the other Wanted Men in 1980, Clinton was already experienced in publishing fanzines (Joy Division was his first subject) and his encyclopaedic knowledge of Dylan and general music history came to the fore. Clinton has since gone on to be recognised as the foremost biographer of Dylan, and the leading music biographer of his generation – a rock’n’roll biographer with a rock’n’roll attitude formed in the flames of punk. Alongside his books on Fairport Convention and the birth of English punk, we have published Clinton’s in-depth accounts of three golden periods in Dylan’s cannon: the electric tour of 1965-66, including the recording of Highway 61 Revisted and Blonde On Blonde (JUDAS!); the recording of his mid-seventies masterpiece Blood On The Tracks (No One Else Could Play That Tune), and the gospel years of 1979-1981 (Trouble In Mind).
A compendium of over five decades of writing on Dylan for newspapers, magazines and journals, plus a new extended essay on Rough And Rowdy Ways from the go-to critic for Dylan fans in search of serious analysis. In Outtakes On Bob Dylan, we get Gray the man as well as a unique measure of Dylan’s long career as it unfolds, not in retrospect but in real time.
Covering the formative span of Dylan’s career from his emergence in the early sixties to his conversion to Christianity in the late seventies, The Chameleon Poet traces each step in the development of the artist and man from youth to maturity with scholarly precision and vivid clarity.
In 1966 there was… the sell-out tour to end all tours. Bob Dylan and The Hawks found themselves at the epicentre of a storm of controversy. Their response? To unleash a cavalcade of ferocity from Melbourne to Manchester, from Forest Hills to the Free Trade Hall. The full story is told from eye-witnesses galore; from timely reports, both mile wide and spot on; and from the participants themselves.
In 1979 there was… trouble in mind, and trouble in store for the ever-iconoclastic Dylan. But unlike in 1965-66, the artifactal afterglow – three albums in three years, Slow Train Coming, Saved and Shot of Love – barely reflected the explosion of faith and inspiration. By drawing on a wealth of new information, newly-found recordings and new interviews. Clinton makes the case for a wholesale re-evaluation of the music Bob Dylan produced in these inspiring times.
The full tale of the making of Blood On The Tracks, as well as providing a detailed examination of the thought processes that went into the unmaking of it. Includes interviews with just about every eye-witness still standing, including the only musician – Dylan excepted – to play at all the New York sessions and a new interview with Ellen Bernstein, Dylan’s CBS A&R girlfriend at the time.