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Bob Dylan Revisited
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Bob Dylan Revisited

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A collection of illustrations by Megan Gilbert.

They accompany the review of Bob Dylan's album Tempest by Patrick Gilbert, 2012-11-02:

Each illustration takes either a concept (a cool Shakespeare figure, watching the 'Tempest' of his own play) or a line from a song.

Megan Gilbert's site:
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Patti Smith, animated interview with Mick Gold.

The interview took place on May 10, 1976, inside the Portobello Hotel in London. Mick was in the room with a few other journalists–those are some of the other voices you hear. “Patti was friendly and weird and talkative,” Mick told us.

“Her appearance is as unlikely as you expect,” Mick wrote of Patti Smith back in ’76. “Hair like a black mop falls across an almost Mongolian face. … A grin like a split. A nose like a moon.”


“My whole most wonderful memory of Dylan was that I was sitting there, and I was trying to be cool ’cause I knew he was there. He came in the room and he said, ‘Hi Patti’. I just thought that was the neatest thing, that’s all he said. I said hi and then we didn’t know what to say to each other and we’re both like really shy, it was real teenager.”

“It was like when you have a crush on a guy in high school, you know, and you’re waiting for him to talk to you and you stand in front of your locker during class change. All of a sudden he comes up and talks to you and you don’t have nothing to say, and you both stand there. After waiting a year from him to come up and talk to you, he finally comes up and then you’re both like just acting totally creepy and stupid. It was so adolescent, it was really sexy, it was like we were both sixteen.” --Patti Smith
The one and only Patti Smith in a rarely heard interview from 1976 on her inspirations, poetry, Bob Dylan and fuckin' shit. And it's animated.
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WBAI Studios
New York City, New York
13 January 1962
Cynthia Gooding radio show.

Full Transcript here:

Hear all the tracks:

1. Lonesome Whistle Blues (Hank Williams/Jimmy Davies)

2. Fixin' To Die (Bukka White)

3. Smokestack Lightning (Howlin' Wolf)

4. Hard Travelin' (Woody Guthrie)

5. The Death Of Emmett Till

6. Standing On The Highway

7. Roll On, John (trad., arr. By Bob Dylan)

8. Stealin', Stealin' (trad. arr. Memphis Jug Band)

9. Long Time Man (trad., arr. by Alan Lomax)

10. Baby Please Don't Go (Big Joe Williams)

11. Hard Times In New York Town

Harmonica talk. etc:


When Bob Dylan wrote 'Hard Times In New York Town' it was based on the melody and structure of 'Down on Penny's Farm' by The Bently Boys.

Hear the Bently Boys here:

There is a brilliant blog with the history of the song as well as a downloadable link to a plethora of different versions (including Dylan's rewrite):

And here is a great video from the above blog. A vintage BBC clip from the 'Tonight' show in 1960. It has an article introduced by a rather stuffy Alan Whicker, talking about the horrors and plight of locals in Newquay England who didn't like the British Beatniks hanging around. The clip opens with Wiz Jones singing his parody of Penny's Farm... Hard times in Newquay 1960 if you've got long hair!
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Forever young he is!
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Danny Kalb and Bob Dylan

Photograph: Bob Dylan with Mark Spoelstra, Danny Kalb and Gil Turner (courtesy of Alice Ochs)

From Wikipedia 

"Danny Kalb (born September 9, 1942, Mount Vernon, New York, United States) is an American blues guitarist and vocalist, and was one of the original members of the 1960s group, Blues Project.

"Kalb was a protégé of Dave Van Ronk, and became a solo performer, as well as a session musician with such folk singers as Judy Collins, Phil Ochs, Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan. Kalb and Sam Charters formed The New Strangers. He joined Van Ronk's Ragtime Jug Stompers. Inspired by the African American bluesmen Son House, Skip James and Mississippi John Hurt, Kalb experimented with acoustic and electronic music. In 1965 Kalb joined with Steve Katz and, Andy Kulberg, Roy Blumenfeld and Tommy Flanders to form The Blues Project."

Danny Kalb's Facebook page:

"Always a powerful guitarist." - Bob Dylan


"I'd got my version of 'Poor Lazarus' from Dave van Ronk and I shared it with Bob Dylan in the kitchen of Fred Underhill's house in Madison. He'd learned that from me, although my version was really based on Dave van Ronk's."

Mitch Blank, A Conversation with Danny Kalb, The Telegraph, No. 47, Winter 1993, p. 53.


Bob Dylan performed with Danny Kalb at the Riverside Church Folk Music Hootenanny, WRVR-FM, new York, NY, Jul 29, 1961:

12-hour Hootenanny Special: Saturday Of Folk Music
1. Handsome Molly (trad.)
2. Naomi Wise (trad.)
3. Poor Lazarus (trad.)
4. Mean Old Southern Railroad (Danny Kalb)
5. Acne (Eric von Schmidt)
1 Bob Dylan (vocal & guitar).
2–5  Bob Dylan (harmonica).
4  Danny Kalb (vocal).
5  Bob Dylan and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott (shared vocal).

Transcript of the performance, by Manfred Helfert:

We're going to go back to our regular folk program and bring you now a fellow who's been around the New York area for about a year. He also performs in various coffeehouses. He plays the harmonica, he sings a lot of songs by Woody Guthrie, sings a lot of his own material. He comes from Gallup, New Mexico --- Bobby Dylan.

DYLAN (while tuning his guitar):
...Came sorta up here in a hurry... don' know what to do...


DYLAN (while tuning):
...This harmonica holder isn't holding too good together... came back... it's gonna strangle me here... it's just a hanger, coat hanger...


DYLAN (while tuning):
...Huh ...sing you one of Woody Guthrie's songs... ...anybody got a knife? a knife? Any one of you people got a knife? No? ...well, that sure ain't a big knife...(?) you a little trick...
Oh... a bigger knife?


...That wasn't the trick... ok... ...oh... ok...huh? Oh, good! ...I really ain't no comedian...

I wish you could... we had television. Bobby, in case you haven't guessed by now, plays the guitar and plays the harmonica at the same time. Now, that's a bit of a trick. If you have a harmonica holder, it isn't too bad. Bobby doesn't have a harmonica holder, the poor kid... and right now, he's using a coat hanger...

I sold 'em...

...and his coat hanger is not bending right. If he could bend his coat hanger musically, it'd be more entertaining, but he can't...

...Thanks, no...

Are you ready?

Yeah, I think so.
Well, here's one... (TUNING)

All right, this gives me a good opportunity to read this little piece of paper which they've given me...They've decided that instead of me signaling to this fellow over here with six earphones on his head... that I'm gonna read the station breaks. So, in case you didn't know it, you're listening to folk music all day today... and harmonica bending... over Riverside Radio, WRVR, 106.7 FM, New York City.


Would someone volunteer to hold this thing up to Bobby's mouth while he's playing?


This... this is a friend of mine -- Danny Kalb. He plays the guitar... sings... Gonna play harmonica...


Thank you, Bobby Dylan... and that was Danny Kalb on the last song. Bobby, you forgot your coat hanger...


You've been a really wonderful audience and we'd like to bring up one more performer to sing one more song for you -- Bobby Dylan with his new harmonica holder... Bobby? 
I mean, Bruce Langhorne's harmonica holder... Well, it looks like we have another dramatic... uh... entrance...

...sing your part...

It's Blind Bob...


Doo wop?

Yeah, man...


...I'm s'posed to be at Gerde's Folk City now... I sing there with some other people, but... just couldn't tear myself away... here...

Oh, great... Thanks a lot, Jack...
Jack Elliott and Bob Dylan.

More... more...

Do you believe in democracy?

All good things, you know...

...come to an end.

RAMBLIN' JACK ELLIOTT: ...must come to an end.



Mean Old Southern Railroad:

Lyrics as performed by Danny Kalb (vocal / guitar) and Bob Dylan (harmonica), transcribed by Manfred Helfert: 

Oh, that mean old Southern Railroad,
Yes, it took my babe away. 
Oh, that mean old railroad
Took my babe away. 
I'm gonna find her, yes, I'll find her, 
Gonna bring her back some day.
Now, that mean old Southern Railroad, 
Yes, it took my babe away. 
Yes, that mean old railroad
Took my babe away. 
Gonna find my baby, 
Find her, yes, some day.

Caught you standin' on the corner, 
With the feet gettin' wet, 
Yeah, standin' on the corner, 
Her feet soakin' wet. 
Yeah, she's beggin' each and
Every man she met.

Oh, that mean old Southern Railroad, 
Yes, it took my babe away. 
Oh, that mean old railroad
Took my babe away. 
Gonna find her, yes, I'll find her, 
I'm gonna bring her back some day.


Hear the performance here:

Danny Kalb and Bob Dylan - Mean Old Southern Railroad (Riverside Church NYC, July 1961)

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Don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall

Bob Dylan and George Wallace. 


Bob Dylan is thought to have written The Times They Are A-Changin' some time in September/October 1963.

A few months earlier, on June 11, 1963, a national incident took place at the University of Alabama. 

Two black students, Vivian Malone and James Hood, arrived at Foster Auditorium to register for classes. They were met by George Wallace, the Democratic Governor of Alabama, who blocked their entry by standing in the doorway in a symbolic attempt to keep his inaugural promise of "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever" and stop the desegregation of schools. 

This became known as the Stand in the Schoolhouse Door incident. 

"Flanked by federal marshals, Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach told Wallace to step aside.However, Wallace cut Katzenbach off and refused, giving a speech on States' rights. Katzenbach called President John F. Kennedy, who federalized the Alabama National Guard. Guard General Henry Graham then commanded Wallace to step aside, saying, "Sir, it is my sad duty to ask you to step aside under the orders of the President of the United States." Wallace then spoke further, but eventually moved, and Malone and Hood registered as students."

It is believed that Bob Dylan was referencing Wallace's stand with the third stanza of his song:

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside and it is raging
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changing


In 1968 - as retold by Mikal Gilmore, Rolling Stone Magazine, September 12, 2013 amongst other places - Bob Dylan reportedly told photographer Elliott Landy that he was supporting George Wallace's presidential campaign and would be voting for the segregationist. 

Around that time, Dylan even told Landy that he was going to vote for anti-civil rights firebrand George Wallace in the 1968 presidential elections. "He was a jokester," says Landy. "I told that to the guys in the Band, and they said that you never know if Bob is kidding around or not." (Crosby, who knew Dylan in the Greenwich Village folk scene, sets the record straight: "He felt very strongly about civil rights. He didn't like the war, either.")

In 2011, George Wallace Jr. published book about his father, "The Man You Never Knew".

He explains in the book that his father first ran for governor in 1958 as a moderate, even getting support from the NAACP, and he lost. Four years later, he was the staunchest candidate on segregation because that's what brought out big crowds.

"To a large extent it's about the bargain he had to make — perhaps a faustian bargain — for the power that he wanted," wrote George Wallace Jr. 

Excerpt from a review of the book: 

Wallace recalls that when he was 14 in 1965, his father stopped by one night and asked for a song. Wallace had just learned Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin.'"

The governor's face changed when his son got to the poignant lines, "Don't stand in the doorway. Don't block up the hall."

"I remember him turning to me with a startled look in his eyes. What was he thinking when he realized the lyric was about him?" Wallace asked.


Photo caption: 1963-06-11. Attempting to block integration at the University of Alabama, Governor of Alabama George Wallace stands at the door of the Foster Auditorium while being confronted by United States Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach.
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The times are a changing..
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George Harrison sings 'I Don't Want To Do It'

Three versions.

From Wikipedia:

'I Don't Want to Do It' is a song written by Bob Dylan and performed by George Harrison for the Porky's Revenge! soundtrack, released in 1985. It was issued as a single in the United States and some other countries, but failed to chart.

"I Don't Want to Do It" was written by Bob Dylan in 1968 and was little known until George Harrison's version first appeared in March 1985. The song marked the first new release from Harrison in over two years, since his Gone Troppo album in November 1982. Harrison recorded the song in Los Angeles in November 1984, with producer Dave Edmunds, who was overseeing musical contributions from a number of different artists for the "Porky's Revenge!" soundtrack. The soundtrack album was issued on Columbia Records in America on 18 March 1985, with a British release following on 28 June. As a US single from the album, released on 22 April, Columbia selected "I Don't Want to Do It", backed by Edmunds' "Queen of the Hop". The single version is distinguished by a guitar solo in the middle, while the mix chosen for the film instead features an organ solo from Chuck Leavell.

Warm-up demo version (1984), from the Beatles Rarity of the Week (BROW) podcast:

Acoustic version:

Final version from the "Porky's Revenge!" soundtrack:


Photograph credit: George Harrison and Bob Dylan, Byrdcliff, Woodstock, New York. Late November (Thanksgiving) 1968, by Jill Krementz.
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Bob Dylan Revisited

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Blank On Blank animated transcript

"This interview originally aired on WBAI FM in New York City in February of 1962. Dylan was 20 at the time and it was his first appearance on the Folksingers Choice radio show. We uncovered this recording in the Pacifica Radio Archives.

"Dylan played songs throughout the recording, including some of his own (“The Death of Emmett Till”, “Standing on the Highway”) and covers of songs by Howlin’ Wolf, Hank Williams, and Woody Guthrie. We scored the episode with Dylan tuning up his guitar and playing his harmonica. Listen to the full interview below.

"After the animated section of this episode, we’ve also included an excerpt of Dylan talking about his songwriting process from another of Pacifica’s interviews, which was also recorded in 1962."

See Also:
"I'm never going to become rich and famous." Bob Dylan was still largely an unknown back in 1962. That's when he stopped by a radio studio in New York City.
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Bob Dylan interview with Philippe Adler for L'Express magazine, June 16,1978.

Royal Garden Hotel, Kensington, London UK. 

Article published in L'Express, 3 July 1978. 

Complete interview can be read here:

And the interview is in Olof Björner's list of 1970s interviews:

These photographs were potentially taken on June 16, 1978. Bob Dylan was in London June 13 - 20 (1978) and stayed at the Royal Garden Hotel, Kensington. These photographs were taken in his hotel suite, and one of them was used as the cover photograph for the L'Express interview, "Bob Dylan Parle". As the interview also took place in Dylan's hotel suite, and the pictures do look almost 'photoshoot' staged, it seems a good bet. 

The photographs are not referenced online very clearly - and so any help with identifying them would be appreciated. As would any additions to the album. 

The interview with Philippe Adler was mentioned by Robert Shelton when he interviewed Bob Dylan in Kensington later that same week. Shelton's interview was published in Melody Maker on July 29, 1978.

Philippe Adler's Wikipedia entry: 

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A review of Barney Hoskyns’ new book, ‘Small Town Talk: Bob Dylan, the Band, Van Morrison, and Friends in the Wild Years of Woodstock’.

Issue 184 
February/March 2016 
pages 35-36
Written by Tara Zuk

‘Small Town Talk’ by Barney Hoskyns is a love story. For Woodstock is not merely a town in upstate New York; here it is a living and breathing character brought to life. It has a personality of its own. It is organic. It grows, matures and changes with the different fashions and eras.  

Bob Dylan once told Robert Shelton that Woodstock was ‘the greatest place’ and that “…we could stop the clouds, turn time back and inside out, make the sun turn on and off.”

This is what Hoskyns appears to have achieved in his well-written, detailed and warm biography of a remarkable place. He plays with time, drawing us backwards and forwards in a semi-linear style. The past and the present intertwine. The intriguing life stories and adventures of key players in the history of Woodstock are explored in the same way a tourist might wander off the beaten track on the lower slopes of Overlook Mountain; constantly winding upwards to the pinnacle for the overarching view, but with time to stop and absorb the details of the formative rock structures and the subtle changes in flora and fauna along the journey.

The good, the bad and the eccentric are treated with equal respect and an underlying fondness. Every player in the story has a perspective to be related. Every twist in the tale is driven by motive and opportunity, inspiration and artistry, power and money.

Describing itself in the blurb as, ‘a socio-cultural-musical history of the iconic upstate New York locale of Woodstock,’ Hoskyns’ book is primarily about the story of the Woodstock artistic community in the years following the arrival of Albert and Sally Grossman to Bearsville, but it is much more layered, nuanced and human than the by-line suggests. These are ‘magical times in a magical place’. Culture and history is being formed and influenced.

Artists, artisans, craftsmen, musicians, writers, photographers and poets are amongst those who have been drawn to Woodstock over the years. From the power of Overlook Mountain - with its spectacular views and talk of ancient burial grounds - to the Karma bka' brgyud Tibetan Buddhist community, and the ‘new age’ dabblers who consider Woodstock to be located on a spiritually profound ley line; the creative, the artistic, the unconventional misfits, and the contemplative have all been moved to gather in the neighbourhood.

Contributors to Hoskyns’ book repeatedly talk of mystical creative vibrations, karma, and the sense of peace that people often find in Woodstock - which is precisely the escape and refreshment that the overloaded minds of stressed celebrity artists have been seeking in more recent times, away from the urban spotlight.

And yet, Woodstock is a place of contradictions that Hoskyns is determined to investigate.

In the book’s prologue, following the author’s failed attempts to contact Sally Grossman, and preceding a furtive drive past the ‘No Trespassing’ warnings for a foray along the driveway to catch a glimpse of the Grossman Bearsville property, Artie Traum tells Barney Hoskyns, “There’s a veil of secrecy around all this stuff,” adding, “But one of the whole things Dylan started was ‘Don’t talk to anybody.’”  

It is a dissonance that anyone who has lived in a small town may understand. The halcyon outward appearance of tranquility and a close-knit community often conceals an undercurrent of scandal, resentment, old grudges, paranoia, and a desperate attempt by public figures to retain their privacy in an environment where everybody seems to know (or wants to know) everyone else’s business.

The book accurately reflects the contrast between the dark and light. The veneer of a gentle country idyll in the mountains, where people go to seek peace and inspiration, conceals a place with dark and shadowy corners. Drug use, substance abuse, prostitution, fear, distrust, and those gated, high-fenced, properties. Hoskyns mentions, for example, how Bob Dylan became less at ease in Woodstock over time, especially as news of the Charles Manson murders hit the international headlines. Being stalked up those lonely, dark mountain roads by fans willing to hide out in trees overlooking your private space. People invading your property and home, desperate to get some contact with the mysterious idol of the age. The tranquility of Woodstock was transitory. It had become the ‘place of chaos’ Dylan describes in Chronicles.  

It is interesting that the generally more politically conservative population of a small and sleepy, somewhat cloistered, bolt-hole, has opened its arms over the years, and embraced the more liberal, bohemian, and outré of newcomers with (mostly) a modicum of grace and harmony -- despite the occasional friction regarding public nudity and alcohol.

Even Bob Dylan fell into that contradictory area between progressive and conservative. Bruce Dorfman recounts to Hoskyns how in 1968, Dylan expressed support for George Wallace, the pro-segregation governor of Alabama who ran for president. As Dorfman puts it, “He was a small-town kid, and a lot of his thinking politically was quite conservative.” How serious was Dylan? Hoskyns adds a wry footnote. During his iconic photo session at Hi Lo Ha, Elliott Landy was told the same thing by Dylan, about supporting Wallace. When Landy later ran into Richard Manuel and asked whether Dylan was on the level, Richard is said to have replied with a chuckle, “I don’t know, you can never tell with Bob if he is serious or not.”

So were these opinions genuine or part of the Woodstock pastime of  building an image? Dorfman’s recollections are continued by Hoskyns.  

Affectation or not, Dylan took his country-boy act to such an extreme that when he needed a new suit, he asked Dorfman to accompany him to Sears, Roebuck in Kingston. “He had this big truck, and he put Buster in the back,” Dorfman recalls. “At Sears he found a horrendous green suit with saddle-stitched collars and pockets. He thought it was terrific, and I don’t think he was making it up. Innocence gets shattered at some point, but then it comes right back again.” When Dylan showed the suit to Sara -- who in her hippie-maternal way was quite chic -- she smiled. “She said, ‘That’s a lovely suit, Bob,”” says Dorfman. 'She just tolerated this stuff in a bemused way.' 

And then we see maybe the deepest irony of all: the men who forged the first semblance of the modern day incarnation of Woodstock were overtly anti-semitic. For example, Woodstock was a place where, in the opening years of the twentieth century, Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead had arrived looking for a sanctuary away from the Jewish migration to resorts in the Catskills. He might not have believed that six decades later, his son Peter Whitehead was the person who sold Bob Dylan Hi Lo Ha (without comment on a Whitehead selling Woodstock land and property to a Zimmerman - and it is hoped by Hoskyns that the son had evolved far enough from his father’s ‘ingrained prejudice’ for it not to have mattered or been an issue).

Indeed, it is maybe the most delicious incongruity that the modern phenomenon of the near mythical status of Woodstock in today’s culture, language and music, was brought about primarily by the power, influence, and vision of two Jewish men.

Albert Grossman and Bob Dylan.

There are countless others who have played significant roles in establishing and maintaining the reputation of the Woodstock area. The book is full to the brim with their stories, anecdotes and recollections - either from personal reminiscence, or through gathered writings and interviews.

And yet, Grossman and Dylan are the two pillars, the walls and roof of this modern history of Woodstock.

Hoskyns provides ample detail about Albert Grossman’s fascinating biography and influence. There are plenty of stories, anecdotes and facts to inform and entertain those interested in the background of Bob Dylan’s connection to Woodstock. In fact, Grossman and Dylan weave through every section of the book in one way or another. Sometimes solid entities with active roles, sometimes no more than smoke and mist curling around the legs of the players and silently pushing them forward.  

Janis Joplin, The Band, a lovely insight into Levon Helm’s later years before his passing, Van Morrison, Todd Rundgren, Paul Butterfield, Jimi Hendrix… far too many iconic performers and celebrities are included in the book to be listed here. They explode into the narrative and then are gone, with their stories all interconnected.

And, of course, some pages are dedicated to that elephant in the room - the Woodstock music and arts festival, that “Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music” which took place in August 1969. The book shows how Woodstock and ‘The Woodstock Festival’ are not synonymous in either spirit or in location (the festival being held 69 kilometres southwest of Woodstock, near White Lake, Bethel). In fact, for many people ‘The Woodstock Festival’ irreparably and negatively changed the town of Woodstock. Many shared Bob Dylan’s distaste for the idea, and it was unsurprising when Dylan himself opted to perform at the Isle of Wight festival in the UK in the summer of 1969, rather than attend the festivities in Bethel.  

‘Small Town Talk’ includes 16 pages of black and white photographs that are unfortunately rather small and not always as clearly reproduced as one would like. However they do serve to illustrate much of the important historical content of the book.   

With a solid bibliography, thorough notes on quotations and sources, and even a small playlist suggestion that takes any readers unfamiliar with the performers in the book on a musical tour of Woodstock from 1968 - 2010, this book is informative, entertaining and eminently readable.

Certainly, ‘Small Town Talk’ has neatly caught the significance, the atmosphere, the characters, and the social history of Woodstock. Although it is geared for the more general cultural and musical history enthusiast, and much of the information is covered in other books, this is a fine addition to the library of anyone interested in the music of Bob Dylan. It includes the stories of some of the people surrounding Dylan and working with him during the 1960s and early 1970s, with openness and touches of humour, offering more in content and approach than a standard celebrity biography.   

‘Small Town Talk’ by Barney Hoskyns (hardcover, 380 pages) is due to be released through Da Capo Press, March 15th 2016.

Hoskyns, Barney. Small Town Talk: Bob Dylan, the Band, Van Morrison, and Friends in the Wild Years of Woodstock. Boston : Da Capo, 2016. 9780306823206

(c) Tara Zuk, 2016
All Rights Reserved
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+Ron Chester originally shared:  
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Performed 30 June 1988 by Bob Dylan

This is a good one to play for wooden eared friends who have swallowed the media incantation, "Dylan can't sing." Don't let them get up or leave the room until you've replayed it a few times. If they still don't get it, kick them out and tell them to go get some scratchy Caruso 78's. Lock the door on their way out. --Ron Chester
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Bob Dylan changes direction, 1964

In the December 20, 1964 issue of Broadside magazine, U.S. folk music critic Paul Wolfe provided music fans with his personal opinion of Bob Dylan’s artistic direction. 

See the original article here:


(Ed. note: The direction Bob Dylan has taken in his latest song writing has stirred up considerable controversy. Below is a piece on the "new" Bob Dylan by Paul Wolfe)

"Half-racked prejudice leaped forth; "Rip down all hate, I screamed, 
Lies that life is black and white, spoke from my skull, I dreamed, 
Romantic facts of musketeers, 
foundationed deep somehow, 
Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now." 

--Bob Dylan, MY BACK PAGES 

The Newport Folk Festival of 1964 formed an important milestone in the resurgence of topical music. It brought many of the younger performers into first contact with large segments of the folk music world; it proved that topical music, when delivered with artistry and sincerity, can be heartily appreciated by a wide and diverse audience; it outlined many of the goals toward which the various writers must strive.

But the Festival’s most significant achievement was specific and twofold: it marked the emergence of Phil Ochs as the most important voice in the movement, simultaneous with the renunciation of topical music by its major prophet, Bob Dylan. It was the latter event that proved most surprising.

Dylan’s “defection” into higher forms of art was predicted. His preference for free-verse, uninhibited poetry over topical songs has been apparent for quite a while; his dissatisfaction with concert tours and adulating fans is also no secret. But his new songs, as performed at Newport, surprised everyone, leaving the majority of the audience annoyed, some even disgusted, and, in general, scratching its collective head in disbelief. The art that had, in the past, produced towering works of power and importance, had, seemingly, degenerated into confusion and innocuousness. “Your new songs seem to be all inner-directed, inner-probing, and self-conscious,” wrote Irwin Silber, editor of SING OUT!, in an open letter to Dylan. “You seem to be relating to a handful of cronies behind the scenes rather than to the rest of us out front.”

And this disappointment in his new songs was heightened by their juxtaposition, on the stage of Newport, with the eloquent musical force of Phil Ochs. While Dylan was telling his perennial, anonymous girl friend, “All I really wanna do is, baby, be friends with you,” Ochs was informing the leaders of the government, “I ain’t marchin’ anymore!” While Dylan sang "It Ain’t Me, Babe,” and, in the guise of rejecting a persistent female, told his thousands of worshippers to look elsewhere for someone to walk on water, Ochs took the time to denounce the labor unions for their betrayal of the civil rights movement; in “Links On The Chain"—Ochs’ supreme artistic achievement—and perhaps the most important topical song of the year—he calls upon the “ranks of labor” to ponder their own “struggles of before” and tell, ironically, which side they now are on in the Negro struggle for equality.

There, the difference between the two performers became manifest; meaning vs. innocuousness, sincerity vs. utter disregard for the tastes of the audience, idealistic principle vs. self-conscious egotism. And even in his attempts at seriousness Dylan was bewildering. “Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man,” while underlain by a beautiful poetic idea, must be termed a failure; somehow, a forced monotony of rhymes seemed much more effective in “Only A Pawn In Their Game.” And in his other song, “Chimes of Freedom,” the bewilderment is raised to the highest degree. In this incredible jumble of confused, obscure images piled atop one another, Dylan traces the pursuit for higher forms of freedom, spanning a human lifetime, encompassing all of human life. This probing journey through anguish begins “far between sundown’s finish and midnight’s broken toe” and ends, some eight grueling minutes later, with the chimes of freedom flashing “for every hung-up person in the whole wide universe.” The fallacy inherent in the concept of chimes flashing is annoyingly obvious. It is also obvious that Dylan was too enmeshed in his own ego and seeming adoration of words (no matter how meaningless his combinations of these words renders them) to consider the absurdity of treating a subject of such scope in a song. As Irwin Silber said, the Dylan we once knew, the author of “With God On Our Side” and “Hattie Carroll,” “never wasted our precious time.” “Chimes of Freedom” brings to mind once again the fable of the Emperor’s new clothes; and a short story entitled “Face In The Crowd” by Budd Schulberg (it was made into a noted movie). The protagonist of that story is a hillbilly singer who, through publicity, slick management and an overpowering ego, rises to such heights of stardom and popularity he thinks he can get away with anything on the public. The tragedy is that he cannot, and, in the end, is ruined.

Does Bob himself give a concrete reason for the emergence of the “new” Dylan? One might be found in the song “My Back Pages” in his latest album Another Side of Bob Dylan. It is an intensely honest, revealing self-portrait, indeed a brutal denunciation of the “old” Dylan. It characterizes the latter as a deceived, impotent “musketeer” whose main stimuli to action were confusion and immaturity, rather than a fiery poetic spirit reacting to the injustice he saw all around him. Thus a seeming disillusionment with both himself and the ideals he fought for looms as a factor.

Other forces shaping his new posture include his own artistic drives and capabilities (which are indeed considerable) running headlong into the limitations of the musical form. As Phil Ochs said in the 1964 Newport brochure: “I think he’s slowly drifting away from song-writing because he feels limited by the form. More and more of his work will probably come out in poetry and free verse, and I would not be surprised if he stopped singing altogether, considering the over-adulation of his fans and the lack of understanding of audiences that identify with him.” Indeed there are reports not only that he is working on a book of his own poetry but that he plans to start up a poetry magazine (further Dylan artistic endeavors include a motion picture, which Dylan has written, is directing, and stars in himself). These varied artistic projects imply his abandonment of topical song writing; an artist must express himself through the most effective mediums at his command. But they do not explain his new songs; nor, if he is discontented with singing, why he continues to give concerts; or why he is still cutting records. Contradictions have followed Bob Dylan from the time his folk-singing career began. Now, seemingly at the end of it, they have yet to be dissipated.

The paths of Bob Dylan bear extreme relevance to the course of today’s topical songwriting. For instance, take Phil Ochs. His career is still evolving and expanding, but considering what has happened to Bob, an inevitable question arises concerning Phil: will he follow in the footsteps of his predecessor? Will Phil too eventually be disillusioned, or in some way become discontented, with his personal messages of protest, and abandon them? Only time—of course—can tell. But an analysis of the facts renders this unlikely. The difference between Ochs and Dylan, both as artists and personalities, are striking. Ochs is much more deeply committed to the broadside tradition. To news and politically-oriented songs, most of which are focused on specific events and do not range into the wide scope of human events and variegated problems that characterize so many of Dylan’s most famous works. In addition, Dylan has undergone repeated metamorphis as a performer; each of his four albums differs radically from the others. This has not been so with Ochs, whose second L-P (by Elektra) plainly will be a continuation of the work foundationed by his first (Ochs’ 2nd L-P is scheduled for release in January 1965). Quite to the contrary, Phil’s basic melody and lyric patterns have remained constant from the very beginning; indeed many of his first songs, notably “William Worthy” and his talking analysis of Cuba and Viet Nam, occupy important positions in his current repertoire. Thus, the constant change of character and outlook, the reluctance to stay in one “bag” of song-writing for an extended period of time, that have engendered Dylan’s renunciation of topical music, are not evidenced in Ochs. Nevertheless, the influences of Dylan have found their way into several of Ochs’ new songs. In “In The Heat Of The Summer” and “The Hills of West Virginia,” Ochs has attempted to subtlety and poetry where before he used power and irony. Thus, those two songs differ artistically from all his previous ones; indeed in the first song, dealing with the recent riots in various Negro ghettos, he goes so far as to abandon rhyme scheme altogether. It is a novel artistic experiment; but, unfortunately, this first attempt at poetry-in-song is unsuccessful. “In The Heat Of The Summer” emerges as little more than an exercise. But in “The Hills Of West Virginia,” some reflections during an automobile trip, Phil’s simple, unpretentious, easy-flowing imagery, encased in what could be his most beautiful melody, weave a sharp and colorful tapestry of observation. It is certainly one of his best songs and proves Ochs doesn’t have to protest to be good. It also proves that one can absorb the good influences of Dylan without being affected by the non-artistic sides of the latter’s enigmatic career.

Many talented people today are writing topical songs. But, to me, Phil Ochs stands virtually alone in his field; very few writers are very close to him in quality and productivity. This is a happy fact for topical music. However, the cash registers are ringing in his ears more and more; legions of adulating fans and his identity as a “celebrity” grow larger as time goes by. Thus, one final question must be posed in connection with the path of Phil Ochs, hence the path of topical music. Can he overcome the pressures, the lures, the rewards and the egotism attached to being a celebrity? Can he maintain a sincerity of principle despite material prosperity? It is evident that he will continue writing protest songs; the question now is whether he will continue meaning them. For Phil Ochs, on whom the future of topical music rides, “these are the days of decision.” 

--Paul Wolfe
(Broadside magazine--issue 53/1964)



Phil Ochs - Links on the Chain

Phil Ochs - I Ain't Marchin' Anymore

Bob Dylan - My Back Pages

Bob Dylan - All I Really Wanna Do

Bob Dylan - It Ain't Me, Babe
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Bob Dylan Revisited

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Gene Vincent, 'Hot Rod Gang' and 'Baby Blue'.

In the movie 'Hot Rod Gang' (1958), Gene Vincent sang a song called 'Baby Blue'. It is a song that Bob Dylan name checks as the influence for the title of 'It's All Over Now Baby Blue'. 

From the Biograph notes, Bob Dylan said:

"I had carried that song around in my head for a long time," said Dylan, "and I remember that when I was writing it, I'd remembered a Gene Vincent song. It had always been one of my favorites, Baby Blue...`when first I met my baby, she said how do you do, she looked into my eyes and said... my name is Baby Blue.' It was one of the songs I used to sing back in High School. Of course, I was singing about a different Baby Blue."

See the movie clip here:

The Gene Vincent song was from the movie 'Hot Fury' (originally 'Hot Rod Gang'). "Crazy kids . . . living to a wild rock 'n' roll beat!". It's about a young man who wants to drag race and plays rock and roll to raise the cash.

The narration of this movie says: "This story is true-only the facts have been changed."

Another Dylanesque twist! ;)

Robert Shelton's 'No Direction Home' confirms that this Gene Vincent song 'Baby Blue' (from the movie) was in Bob Dylan's teenage vinyl collection.

"Abe took me around the house. In the basement recreation room, where Bob's James Dean collection once lined the walls, the parents now had a gallery of their own young rebel: posters, album covers and publicity and magazine photographs of Dylan. His parents played me old practice tapes of his various high-school bands. Bob's young, harsh voice belted out "Rock 'n' Roll Is Here To Stay." Piles of moldering 78s and 45s stood in a corner, a cross-section of the 1950s. Here was "Dearest" an "There Ought To Be A Law" by Mickey and Sylvia, "Baby Blue" by Gene Vincent and the Hot Rods, Hank Snow and Nat "King" Cole, then a flood of Hank Williams' lonesome blues, Bill Haley, Pat Boone, Bobby Vee, Johnny Ace, Webb Pierce, and, inevitably, Buddy Holly's "Slippin' and Slidin'," Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti," and Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel" and "Blue Suede Shoes."" 

--Robert Shelton, No Direction Home, page 50.

Shelton, Robert. No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan. New York: Beech Tree Books, 1986. 068805045X 

Gene Vincent on Wikipedia:
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