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 |

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.

Blood On The Tracks Events With Clinton Heylin

To mark the publication of his monograph No One Else Could Play That Tune: The Making and Unmaking of Bob Dylan’s 1974 Masterpiece and the release of Bootleg Series Vol 14 More Blood, More Tracks, Clinton Heylin is taking to the road to talk about the Blood on the Tracks New York recording sessions.

Clinton has tracked down and interviewed just about every eye-witness still standing, including the only musician – Dylan excepted – to play at all the New York sessions; a new interview with Ellen Bernstein, Dylan’s CBS A&R girlfriend at the time; at least one engineer previously undocumented and two old Village friends who attended the initial sessions at Dylan’s behest. He also spent a fortnight at the Tulsa Dylan archive, researching and annotating the two working notebooks into which the artist wrote two dozen original songs, only a dozen of which would make it all the way to the September A&R sessions.

In No Else Could Play That Tune, he tells the full tale of the making of Dylan’s greatest masterpiece as well as providing a detailed examination of the thought processes that went into the unmaking of it; as Dylan dismantled the New York album, re-recorded 60% of it and sped the rest of it up, removing audible blood from each and every track he changed. Never fully revealed before, it is a story only now ready to be told, accompanied as it is by the full soundtrack, courtesy of Sony Music. Clinton will be talking all about it at the following events:

Saturday 13th October, 2:30pm
Tap & Barrel, Pontefract, England
A book launch event and a playing in full of the New York version of Blood on the Tracks in association with The CAT Club and National Album Day. (*** UPDATE *** The launch event will take place in the theatre area of the Tap & Barrel. Seats in this area have SOLD OUT. There is a public bar adjacent to the theatre which is open to all. If you want to drop by, the record will play through to the public bar and you will be able to pick up a copy of the book on the day.)

Sunday 14th October, 4pm
The People’s Bookshop, Durham, England
A Durham Literature Festival event, Clinton will be joined by Durham-based musician Matty Oliver, who has the aura of a young Bob. (See him sing Subterranean Homesick Blues.) Tickets here.

Thursday 18th October, 6:30pm
The Woody Guthrie Centre, Tulsa, OK, USA
A talk in partnership with the Bob Dylan Centre in Tulsa, home of the Dylan archive. Details here.

Monday 12th November, 7pm
KGB Bar, 85 East 4th Street, New York City, USA
A Red Room event, Clinton will be presenting from his book and New York session tracks will be played. Free event. Details here.

More events to follow as they are announced.

If you can’t make an event, you can order a copy of the book direct from Route
Click here for more details and to order your copy of No One Else Could Play That Tune
.


Related Titles:
What We Did Instead of Holidays
New Title | Trouble In Mind
JUDAS!
Anarchy in the Year Zero | Collector’s Edition

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 September 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. Hardback and Kindle editions. 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 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. Available in limited edition hardback and Kindle editions. Get your copy here.

Book Launch | No One Else Could Play That Tune

The book launch for Clinton Heylin’s monograph No One Else Could Play That Tune: The Making and Unmaking of Bob Dylan’s 1974 Masterpiece will take place on Saturday 13th October, at Tap & Barrel, Pontefract, starting at 2:45pm.

This date is also National Album Day, so we’ve teamed up with our friends The CAT Club, one of the UK’s longest running record listening clubs. The launch presentation will be followed by a playing of the original New York version of Blood on the Tracks. We will be joining many others simultaneously celebrating albums on this day with a needle drop time of 3:33pm.

The CAT Club has a noble policy of encouraging gatherings to sit and listen to an album in its entirety. We’ve chosen the New York ‘Test Pressing’ version of Blood on the Tracks as Clinton’s monograph is focused on the New York sessions. The listening experience will be consistent with Columbia PR officer Paul Rappaport’s attitude to his copy of the original Test Pressing. who is quoted in the monograph thus:

I played it to friends in the company, I played it for the [people in] radio, because I thought it was one of the greatest things ever, and when he decided to change it, me and a handful of others at Columbia were heartbroken. Because we thought we had heard one of the most perfect recordings of all time. You didn’t [usually] share test pressings … with many people … [But] I would sit with people and I would get a bottle of wine and I’d say, You’re gonna sit here with [a] glass of wine and you’re going to listen from beginning to end, and you’re not going to utter a word. And every person I played it for was just so moved [by] the end, they couldn’t talk.

Tickets for the launch event are £15 and include a copy of the monograph (cover price £15). Clinton will be on hand to sign copies.Click here to book your place.

If you want to make an afternoon of it, the Tap & Barrel is the best lunch spot for miles around. Head chef Gary Pickles has worked in some of the best restaurants in Europe and the US alongside some of the best chefs in the world. There’s a staple menu and weekly specials. Click here for more details and to book a table.

(*** UPDATE *** The launch event will take place in the theatre area of the Tap & Barrel. Seats in this area have SOLD OUT. There is a public bar adjacent to the theatre which is open to all. If you want to drop by, the record will play through to the public bar and you will be able to pick up a copy of the book on the day.)

If you can’t make it to Pontefract, but would like to order a copy of the monograph, we will start shipping after the launch. Click here to get your copy.