Saturday, December 31, 2011

Townes Van Zandt, March 7, 1944 - January 1, 1997

  Dead Flowers (Townes)

"To Live Is To Fly" (Guy Clark)

"If I Needed You" (Emmylou Harris)

"Buckskin Stallion" (Jimmie Dale Gilmore)

"Tecumseh Valley" (Nanci Griffith)

"Pancho and Lefty" (Willie and Bob)

"The Tower Song" (Alejandro Escovedo)


"Waiting Around To Die" (Evan Dando)

"Lungs" (Lyle Lovett/Steve Earle)

"Flying Shoes" (Robert Earl Keen)

"White Freightliner Blues" (Gillian Welch/David Rawlings)

"For the Sake of the Song" (Townes)

"Snowin' on Raton" (Townes w/Blaze Foley)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Day Bob Dylan Played
"George Jackson" Live

John Prine, Steve Goodman

Bob Dylan didn't perform at any dates of his own in 1971. He played short sets at the two Bangla Desh benefit concerts, went almost unrecognized as a sideman for an Allen Ginsberg TV performance, and dropped in at the Band's New Year's show at year's end (probably after midnight). But he also played informally on a few other occasions, mostly unnoticed (or misreported) in the standard Dylan chronicles.
Two of these apparently took place on November 4, 1971, the day Dylan went into Columbia's Studio B in Manhattan and recorded his just-written "George Jackson." One of these, a short harmonica-and-backing-vocals walk-on with John Prine is fairly well-known, but usually (and quite inaccurately) reported as taking place a year or two later. Both Clinton Heylin and Michael Gray report it as a September 9, 1972 performance; Robert Shelton had it in 1973; and none of them could identify the first of the three songs Dylan played on. Let's clear that up now.

Prine and his fellow Chicago singer-songwriter Steve Goodman came to Manhattan in the fall of 1971 for a showcase gig at the Bitter End, opening on November 3. Prine's debut album was about to hit the stores, while Goodman's had appeared a few months earlier. Billboard reviewed the stint in its November 20, 1971 issue, with comments that they might have applied to Dylan a decade earlier: "Prine is an essentially functional singer who throws away his songs in a deceptively offhand, head-scratching manner. His songs though are exceptional, enabling him to put across some strong ideas in a simple format often taking refuge in humor." (Unfortunately, the anonymous reviewer identified him as "Tom" Prine.) The New York Times review on November 5 noted a heavy Dylan influence, and declared him "a cut above the new generation of folksingers." It got his name right, too.

"I played my first gig ever outside of Chicago," Prine remembered in 1981. "I needed a harmonica player. I asked if there was anyone around.  Now, this is only my second night, and Dylan comes up.  He had brought a harmonica and learned the words to all the choruses of my songs.  I introduced Dylan and about two people were clapping.  No one believed it. They thought Dylan was either dead or on Mount Fuji." Dylan played harp and sang backing vocals on three Prine compositions: "Far From Me," "Donald and Lydia." and "Sam Stone." 

When Dylan leaves the Bitter End, he returns to Columbia Studio B for a post-midnight session to finish work on "George Jackson," which required more than a dozen takes to complete. It's often reported that he also recorded a cover of Prine's "Donald and Lydia" at one of the day's sessions.

Dylan turned up for Prine's second set of the evening.  There's a pretty nice tape floating around of Prine's first set. The late show apparently went unrecorded.

How did Dylan know Prine's songs?  Prine had been signed to Atlantic Records by Jerry Wexler, driven by a strong recommendation by Kris Kristofferson. The enthusiastic Wexler sent Dylan an advance copy of Prine's first LP earlier in the fall.

But there was a second, quite informal, live performance by Dylan that day. Earlier in the day, at the rather unDylanesque hour of 10am, he went into the Columbia studios and recorded "Wallflower" and his first efforts at "George Jackson." That session broke around lunchtime, and, it seems, Dylan left for . . . Carly Simon's Greenwich Village apartment.

Simon wasn't there, but Kris Kristofferson was. Kristofferson had invited Prine and Goodman over for the afternoon, promising "a surprise for you guys." As Prine remembered things a few years ago, "There’s a knock on the door and in walks Bob Dylan." The four soon begin passing Kristofferson's (or perhaps Simon's) guitar around, playing their recent songs. When it reaches Dylan, he plays "George Jackson." When he finishes, in Prine's words, "Goodman looked him dead in the eye and took the guitar from him," saying "That’s great, Bob. It’s no 'Masters of War,' though. Man, I’ll tell you. It’s no 'Masters of War.'"

Dylan was "taken aback," but receives Goodman's jibe in good humor. He surprises Prine by singing along as Prine plays "Far From Me." When the guitar comes back to him, he plays "Wallflower." The quartet soon turns to running through Hank Williams songs. When they finish, as the sun sets in the late afternoon, Goodman needs to visit a nearby guitar shop, and Dylan takes him there on his motorcycle.

So, to put the day in more chronological order: 10 am - 1pm, 1st George Jackson session. Afternoon, informal musicmaking with Prine, Goodman, and Kristofferson. Night, guest spot with Prine at the Bitter End. 2-6am, 2nd George Jackson session. A rather interesting 20-hour stretch.

Note on the chronology: I've pieced this together from several sources, and none of them (except the session records) give any specific, accurate date. But Prine was quite specific about Dylan showing up on the second night of his Bitter End gig. The Times reported that Prine opened on November 3, 1971. The Columbia session records then frame the day neatly.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

How Bill Graham Jump-Started
The NeverEnding Tour  

Bill Graham, who died in a helicopter crash 20 years ago this week, was one of rock's great entrepreneurs. His booking and promotion practices transformed the industry. His legendary music showplaces, Winterland and the Fillmores East and West, during their short but storied histories, presented runs of shows rivaled only by the greatest jazz clubs. He was affectionately parodied in the cult favorite film Get Crazy (which also features Lou Reed, in one of his first theatrical roles, as a certain reclusive singer-songwriter known as "Auden").

Graham, of course, had important connections with Bob Dylan. Their first encounter, at a 1965 press conference, is well-documented, and Graham's role as tour organizer (1974, 1984) and promoter (most notably for the 1979 and 1980 Warfield residencies). That he occasionally functioned as an advisor to Dylan is hardly obscure, but his intervention in the early days of the NeverEnding Tour is rarely remarked on and goes unmentioned, so far as I know, in the standard Dylan bios and concert books.

The NET began inauspiciously. Dylan had planned to promote the tour (and his upcoming album) with a performance on the Saturday Night Live season finale, but that was scuttled bu the TV writers' strike. The opening date in Concord featured some energetic work from the band and a lovely 3-song acoustic set, but Dylan's set was surprisingly short, barely stretching beyond the hour mark, and was described in the press as "cursory" despite Neil Young's unannounced appearance. Two days later, the Sacramento concert was nearly a debacle: Perhaps half the seats were sold (more likely only a third), Neil Young failed to show up, and Dylan delivered a short, perfunctory performance. The Sacramento Bee described him as "sleepwalking" and said he "practically spat in the faces of the small but devoted audience."

The next night's performance in Berkeley was a triumph, of course, one of the landmarks in Dylan's career, and a spectacular turnabout from the two desultory shows that preceded it. There's all sorts of speculation about Dylan's return to form, but Bill Graham's almost forgotten intervention likely played a central role.

Graham wasn't at those first two shows, but he heard the negative reports about them. He undoubtedly had his hand in Dylan's upcoming Bay Area appearances, and was concerned about potential weakness in both the ticket sales and the music. He had been disappointed in the Dylan/Grateful Dead shows, saying "I think the lack of attendance [in 1988] can be attributed to the qualitative merits of his recent visits. . . . I'm a big fan, and I'm very concerned about Bob and the merits of his performance. I've had problems with the conviction, the woodenness. . . . But I don't want to be negative about him -- on any given night, he's the best there is."

So Graham confronted Dylan. ""I spoke to him prior to the Greek show (in Berkeley),'' Graham told a reporter a few days later. "I talked to him about conviction and why you walk on stage. It was not an easy conversation. I don't know what it's like to be an entertainer, but I do know that if you buy a ticket, you should be entertained."

Graham was particularly upset over Dylan's refusal to play an encore in Sacramento. "I would have asked him to play more. Artists' feet are touching some other planet sometimes, and they need to be reminded that people love them, that they want another song or two." He remembered an occasion during Dylan's 1984 European tour when he stopped Dylan's departing tour bus and hauled him back onstage for a final song.

"Think of any artist you really enjoy," Graham concluded. "You go to friends and say 'Check this out, when you go you'll see why I love him.' And you go and it's not quite what you remembered. The third, fourth or fifth time, you're not gonna go back. I judge any artist not on how many people came last time, but by how those that came felt when they left."

No doubt the explanation for Dylan's sudden switch from a "sleepwalking" to a galvanizing presence in June 1988 isn't susceptible to an explanation as simplistic as "Bill Graham shook Bob up." But Graham was notoriously, and successfully, demanding with artists. On Dylan's 1974 tour, he managed to up the energy levels, and drive Dylan to connect with his audience, by unilaterally changing the lighting cues. For the legendarily abrasive Graham to acknowledge that the conversation wasn't "easy" signals a very serious concern, and one that even Bob Dylan would have found difficult to put aside.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Bob Dylan's First Art Exhibition: 1971

With all the hubbub over Dylan's paintings and the "Asia Series" at the Gagosian Gallery, it's interesting to take a look back forty years or so (actually, nearly forty years to the day) to the first time Bob Dylan's work made an appearance in an art exhibition, in a show curated by Yoko Ono in, of all places, Syracuse, New York.

In the fall of 1971. in part to commemorate John Lennon's thirty-first birthday, Ono staged her first museum show at the Everson in Syracuse. The Everson Museum, a "bastion of the avant-garde," according to The New York Times and "a famous location for skateboarders" as reported by Wikipedia, hosted her display of "conceptual art" for a three-week run.

The exhibition, titled "This Is Not Here," included more than 80 "works" by Ono, including "Iced Tea," an ice sculpture of the letter T (soon to melt away), "Painting To Let The Evening Light Go Through" (a sheet of clear plastic), and the notorious "Apple" (simply an apple on a pedestal which, inevitably, was eaten during the opening reception, by some accounts at Ono's suggestion). John Lennon contributed a few works, including some edible clothing.

One of Ono's "works," usually known as "Water Gallery," consisted of pieces submitted by 100 invited guest artists, which Ono would, collaboratively, fill with water. Frank Zappa sent a Volkswagen. Peggy Guggenheim, less creatively, sent a vase. Andy Warhol sent a thirty-minute videotape of a water cooler.

Bob Dylan sent a fish tank. But not just any fish tank. This fish tank contained a copy of Nashville Skyline. Just the album, no sleeve or jacket.

The exhibition goes well. Nearly 6000 attend the opening, where Ono sports black velvet hotpants. Dylan reportedly takes in the exhibit during its three-week run. The local press denounces it. It becomes the subject of a PBS TV special. Museum membership grows. Various audio and videotapes made for Lennon are circulating.

Why Nashville Skyline? Was there any other Dylan album, then or later, with fewer references to water (or rain) in its lyrics? Perhaps Bob thought it needed irrigation. Perhaps not.

The things you learn when trying to fill in a few blank spots for a blog post. In a news story I only turned up earlier today, I discovered that someone I knew in college had been an invited guest of Lennon's at the opening (or at least her then-boyfriend was), and had been at his private birthday party later that night. It never came up in our conversations. I'd have remembered that, even after nearly forty years.

Friday, October 07, 2011

50 Years Ago This Week: Dr. Hunter S. Thompson Drops In At Gerdes Folk City

Robert Shelton's review for The New York Times is well-known, of course. There are folks who'll tell you it launched Bob Dylan's career, although the truth is rarely that simple. But Shelton wasn't the only journalist who wrote a review of that booking. 

At the end of the summer of 1961, Hunter Thompson was just beginning his career as a writer. He was facing eviction from his quarters in Big Sur. Somehow he made his way to the east coast, apparently stopping in New York City on his way to Kentucky. And, one Saturday night in the early fall, he found himself in Gerdes Folk City.

What Thompson saw that night stuck in his memory. He wrote about the music in a piece he wrote for Rogue magazine, then an ambitious weak sister to Playboy in the mens' magazine market, edited by the legendary Harlan Ellison. He was so struck by what he saw and heard that he wrote about it again a few weeks later, "on location" in Lexington, in another piece for Rogue about traditional mountain music.

But what the future Raoul Duke couldn't get out of his head was the performance by The Greenbriar Boys.

"Folk City was so dead that even a change of scenery would have been exciting," Thompson wrote. "So I was just about ready to move on when things began happening. What appeared on the tiny bandstand at that moment was one of the strangest sights I’ve ever witnessed in the Village. Three men in farmer’s garb, grinning, tuning their instruments, while a suave MC introduced them as 'the Greenbriar Boys' straight from the Grand Ole Opry."

The Good Doctor was not impressed, to say the least; he thought them "a hideous joke."  "I was dumbfounded, and could hardly believe my ears when the crowd cheered mightily," he continued. "A man next to me grabbed my arm and shouted: 'What the hell’s going on here? I thought this was an Irish bar!'" 

Thompson was annoyed by the band's inauthenticity, calling them "fraudulent farmers." "Here I was, at a 'night spot. in one of the world’s most cultured cities, paying close to a dollar for each beer," Thompson raged, "surrounded by apparently intelligent people who seemed enthralled by each thump and twang of the banjo string–and we were all watching a performance that I could almost certainly see in any roadhouse in rural Kentucky on any given Saturday night. As Pogo once said–back in the days when mossback editors were dropping Walt Kelly like a hot pink potato–'it gives a man paws.'" (Thompson's raging would, of course, become more memorable and more imaginative a few years later.) 

Thompson also noted that the Greenbriar Boys were the first "group of hillbilly singers" to be booked by "a recognized night club" in New York City. As a certain young folksinger noted in those days, the average Village club owner might want folksingers, but would toss you off his stage if you sounded like a hillbilly.

But what did Dr. Thompson think about the Greenbriar Boys' opening act, that young Dylan fellow Shelton had raved about?  It turns out that he didn't bother to even mention him. He never says. Thompson is said to have known Dylan in his Village days, and this would be the most likely time they'd have met, but there's no trace of an actual meeting at this gig.

Thompson wrote the evening up as an item called "New York Bluegrass 1961" and sent it off to Ellison. But while Rogue published two other early Thompson pieces, it rejected this one. It sat unpublished until 1997, when the Good Doctor included it in The Proud Highway: Saga Of A Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967. You can read it here or at Google Books. A few weeks later, in a Rogue-published piece called "Traveler Hears Mountain Music Where It's Sung," about his fall 1961 trip through Kentucky, Thompson has a few more cranky references to the "Bluegrass banjo champs" of New York City. Like Jerry Garcia, who reportedly walked out on Dylan's 1963 Monterey Folk performance because Dylan's acoustic guitar was amplified, Dr. Thompson was quite the purist in those days.

Now maybe I've taken a few liberties here. Maybe Thompson arrived during the break between Dylan's set and the Greebriar Boys', although he doesn't make it sound that way. Maybe the Greenbriar Boys were rebooked at Gerdes shortly after the gig with Dylan (not so likely if the evening was as dead as Thompson reports). But Thompson's piece pulls a fact or two from Shelton's review, and the Greenbriar Boys were still on his mind in Renfro Valley just a few weeks later. So I think I'm on target here. As missed connections go, this one's near the top.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Bob Dylan, Ralph Rinzler, and Folkways: A Vision Shared

Ralph Rinzler, Bob Dylan, John Herald

Fifty years ago tonight, Bob Dylan played his second major booking in New York City, opening for the Greenbriar Boys at Gerdes Folk City. At that time the Greenbriar Boys were led by singer-guitarist John Herald, with Bob Yellin on banjo and Ralph Rinzler on mandolin.

There are video clips of the Greenbriar Boys floating around, but so far as I can tell, all of them were recorded after Rinzler left the group in 1963. Rinzler was no slouch of a musician, but he was more influential as a folklorist. 

Rinzler published a piece in Sing Out! in 1963 which was a keystone in establishing Bill Monroe's role in the development of bluegrass music, served as Monroe's manager at a key point in Monroe's critical and popular resurgence, and even played as a Blue Grass Boy for a while. (Rinzler has also been credited, on occasion, as the first writer to use the term "bluegrass" in print, though that is likely an exaggeration.) He also brought Doc Watson to the national stage and identified and recruited scores of traditional musicians for the Newport Folk Festival.

In late 1966, Rinzler began working with the Smithsonian Institution, where he would spend the rest of his professional life. Initially recruited simply as a consultant for its planned folk music festival, he successfully pressed to expand its focus to folklife and folk arts generally. By 1976, he organized the Smithsonian's 3-month-long bicentennial folklife festival, then became director of its Office of Folklife Programs. His professional biography is rich in achievement.

In the mid-1980's, Rinzler became determined to acquire the Folkways Records archives from its founder, Mo Asch, and reissue its recordings as part of its successful music program. But the Smithsonian's newly installed chief executive refused to support the plan, forcing Rinzler to try to find business and corporate donations.

On July 5, 1986, accompanied by his son Jesse, Bob Dylan turned up at the Smithsonian's annual Folklife Festival, looking for Rinzler. He introduced Jesse to him, telling his son "This is the guy whose band I played opening act for on my first club date." Their conversation turned to Rinzler's projects, and his setback on the Folkways deal. The next day, Rinzler met with Dylan and his management team to develop the Folkways: A Vision Shared album project. With artists like Bruce Springsteen and U2 enlisted, donating their royalties, the $400,000 guarantee for the benefit disc, half the cost of the acquisition, making the purchase feasible. An unidentified private donor contributed another $200,000, allowing the deal, which also included Woody Guthrie's papers and personal archive, to close in 1987. (The balance was apparently funded by later artist-donated royalties, an HBO TV special and home video, and earnings from the revitalized label.)

After an extended illness, Ralph Rinzler died July 2, 1994. The Washington Post described him as "The man who brought America to the National Mall." The New York Times, citing his efforts to expand the Smithsonian's folklife programs beyond their traditional focus on Anglo-American culture, curiously and incorrectly described him as African-American. The Smithsonian renames a section of its archives in his honor.

Somehow I expect Rinzler would have appreciated what's said and shown here more. The video also includes a much better account of Rinzler's life than I've written here. It also includes a short clip of Rinzler performing (a song Dylan played once with the Dead, coincidentally), comments from the other two Greenbriar Boys who played that night 50 years ago, and various other folks you'll recognize.

Songs for Ralph

Curiously enough, you can't buy the Vision Shared album through Folkways Records (it's on Columbia). But you can buy Folkways: The Original Vision, the Guthrie and Lead Belly recordings of the same songs, from them, and Rinzler might have been more pleased if you bought that, too.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Bob Dylan's Second Appearance on "Saturday Night Live"

Dylan's first appearance on SNL is well-documented and well-remembered, a benchmark in his career. It was the first exposure for most of his audience to the freshly-minted fire-and-brimstone preacher, on a TV show enjoying among the highest ratings of its long run, reaching perhaps fifty times as many viewers as people who had already bought the LP.

But who remembers even the build-up for his second appearance on the program, nearly a decade later, on the heavily promoted 1988 season finale, hosted by Gilda Radner. With an eagerly-awaited new album about to hit the stores, with his longest tour since 1978 to follow in just two weeks, Dylan surprised the audience as he fronted a small group featuring SNL bandleader G. E. Smith and delivered a riveting performance of his new single, "Silvio," as well as a sensitive acoustic rendition of another song from his new album, . . . 

OK, that didn't happen. Never took place. I made it up -- but only sort of. It was on the schedule. It was planned. But the internal warfare in the entertainment industry kept it from happening. Somehow it's gone virtually unreported, even by those of us with the most determined interest in documenting Dylan's career.

In the spring of 1988, the late night TV show had narrowly avoided cancellation just two years earlier after a period of creative and popular decline; but now the retooled SNL was recovering smartly. Lorne Michaels, by the beginning of March, had mapped out a top-drawer season finale, featuring Gilda Radner as host, making her return to the show after eight years, and Dylan as musical guest. 

And then in early March, the Writers Guild of America went on strike. While most of the 1987-88 TV season was unaffected, the scripted-on-the-fly, live or same-day taped series like Tonight and SNL were forced to shut down. The strike, the longest of its kind, dragged on until August. 

When SNL production resumed in September, no effort was made to repackage any of the cancelled bookings. Radner never hosted the show; she died within the year. In a pair of striking if unimportant coincidences, she died on May 20, the date of the 1989 SNL season finale, and was buried on May 24, Dylan's birthday. 

Dylan has not yet appeared again on SNL. While there were rumors of a Wilburys appearance during the 1988-89 season, it never happened, although the 1990 season finale featured Mark Knopfler's Notting Hillbillies. seen by some as a minor league version of the Wilburys.

The plans for Dylan's return to SNL were first reported, so far as I can tell, by AP reporter Kathryn Baker, who interviewed Dylan in August in Los Angeles and Michaels in early fall in New York, mentioning it in a nationally syndicated piece on the TV show's return to the air.

It's tantalizing to think about what might have happened. The SNL broadcast would have very high-profile, particularly with Radner's health drama and the tabloid focus on her failed marriage to G. E. Smith. A rousing performance by Dylan, along the lines of most of the early NET dates, would have washed away the memories of the televised Live Aid shambles and the less-than-exciting Farm Aid miniset. Then, a few days later, Down In The Groove would be released, to a chorus of mostly favorable reviews.

What's that, you say? Wasn't DITG scorned and castigated when it was released? Well, that's how it's remembered, but that's just not what happened. Rolling Stone's review may have been lukewarm, but its tone was friendly, and the high-circulation USA Today raved that the album was "a glorious achievement."  Most newspaper reviews found it enjoyable if less than major. Its reputation has steadily declined, but its initial reception was warm and supportive.

So, in this history-that-never-happened, following a smash TV appearance and a happily received album, Dylan goes out on the road in June 1988, not seen as the haphazard 60's refugee that the US press saw after the Petty and Dead tours pf the two prior years, but as the "reborn singing songwriter and collector of great tunes" that USA Today praised. It's hard to see him playing to the string of half-filled smaller arenas that faced him in the real 1988. It's easy to contemplate a triumphant fall appearance at Madison Square Garden in October, perhaps with a Wilbury or four in tow for the encores.

Of course, he might have decided to play "Ugliest Girl In The World," "Had A Dream About You Baby," or even "Shenandoah." He might have stumbled over his lines in a Candy Slice sketch with Radner. Not every promising opportunity turns out as well as one would hope. Even if the TV show went well, would the suddenly higher visibility have been such a good thing? I doubt the Bob Dylan who wrote Chronicles would have thought so. The NeverEnding Tour, as it actually played out, has had a pretty good run after all, at least so far.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Lucinda Williams Wedding Videos

Most online wedding videos are rather dire, more interesting (if interesting at all) as train wrecks waiting to happen, and weddings that close with AC/DC songs are particularly unlikely to appeal to anybody not interested in ridiculing the participants.  However . . .

Two years ago, Lucinda Williams kicked off her "30th Anniversary Tour" at First Avenue in Minneapolis, a 650-seat club converted from a former Greyhound bus depot in 1970. About a week before the concert, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune broke the news that Williams and her fiancé-manager Tom Overby had scheduled their marriage ceremony between the main set and the encores of the September 18 concert.

The suggestion for an onstage wedding reportedly came from Williams's father, onetime U.S. poet laureate Miller Williams. An inspiration was apparently Hank Williams's onstage wedding in 1952.

There doesn't seem to be an audio recording of the concert in circulation, but there are lot of photos to be found, and, even better, enough audience videos to allow a pretty good record of the event. Williams began the show with "Motherless Children," running through a brief history of her recording career with "Stop Breaking Down," "Lafayette," "Happy Woman Blues," "I Just Wanted to See You So Bad," "Big Red Sun Blues." "Changed the Locks," "Pineola," "Sweet Old World," "Concrete and Barbed Wire," "I Lost It." "Joy," "Out of Touch," "Essence," "Real Live Bleeding Fingers," "Righteously," and "Come On." (It's a little surprising not to see "Passionate Kisses" in there, at least to me, but the song wasn't a regular feature of her 2009 setlists.) The main set finished with "Honey Bee," and there's a pretty good video of the performance.

Honey Bee

Williams then returned for two solo acoustic songs. The first, "Plan To Marry," pretty clearly sets up the remainder of the evening.

Plan To Marry

Lucinda finishes with what is probably the musical highlight of the night, her first performance (I believe) of the Hank Williams lyrics she set to music, "I'm Happy I Found You" for the Dylan-curated project, The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams

I'm Happy I Found You 

And then we come to the ceremony itself, beginning with a poem read by the father of the bride, who played a similar role at Bill Clinton's second inauguration. (No, not me, the other guy.) By the way, the guy in the tux who's been showing up from time to time is not the groom, but is Lucinda's guitar tech.

The main event

Then, of course, we get the newly-wedded couple's first dance. Untraditionally, they also perform the song they dance to. OK, it's mostly performed by the bride; she did, after all, bring her own band.


And then, the sentimental standard that closes the evening.

It's A Long Way To The Top 
And, as is the case for so many modern couples, you can find their official wedding photos online, too. 

The photo page 

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Dylan's Aura Was Purple, Just Like Buckminster Fuller's

The story goes that, in mid-1977, with Sara having at least temporarily having won custody of their children, Bob Dylan sat down with T-Bone Burnett, and that Burnett read him warnings from the Bible about how those who consort with astrologers and other practitioners of the supernatural would be punished with the loss of their families.

Burnett was certainly familiar with the sorts of unworldly folks Dylan had been consorting with. The Rolling Thunder Revue, especially during its 1976 leg, included a house astrologer and other New-Age style occultists in its entourage.

One of them was palmist and tarot reader Elissa Heyman. Heyman is now based in Santa Fe, NM, where she offers "psychic consultations," in person or by telephone, and related services including "house clearings," at a base rate of $135/hour. She accepts Visa, MasterCard, and PayPal.

But back in 1976, the 25-year-old neophyte psychic had recently left a long-term internship at a Santa Barbara mental health clinic and, following guidance from her Tarot, had just flown to Fort Worth when, as Heyman tells it, Bob Dylan drove up to her while she was sitting on a curb and invited her to join the Rolling Thunder Revue.
(This would have happened on May 15, 16, or 17, meaning her actual time in the Revue would be less than two weeks, hardly the official "psychic reader for Bob Dylan's 'Rolling Thunder'" she seems to be touted as these days.)

Heyman, although she recognizes Dylan, is initially hesitant to join the tour, saying she needs to wait for "an omen." But she soon enough agrees to join. Dylan warns her "You can't just come with me, you've got to do something." So she begins by reading his palm, going on to read tarot for members of the troupe.

She remembers that Dylan had an unusual, intense purple aura, indicating a "tremendous investment in knowledge." She can recall only one person with a similar aura, the late Buckminster Fuller. 

You can experience a recent interview on Heyman's life and career at Tarot Joy Radio, with audio here

Tarot Joy Radio (July 13 program)

and video here 

Tarot Joy Radio video

The video starts a bit later in the webcast, but goes on longer and includes full psychic readings.

I wouldn't worry that listening to/viewing these will cause you to lose your family. I'm pretty sure God would view the experience as pretty much punishment itself.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

48 Years Ago Today: The Lost Bob Dylan TV Broadcast

The more one roots around in 1960s sources, the more things you can turn up that aren't well-reported, or even reported at all. A few years back, I found a listing in the New York Times for an unknown New York City benefit concert with both Bob Dylan and Cecil Taylor on the bill. And I dug around a bit more and managed to exchange emails with another performer who'd been on the bill, who confirmed that the show had indeed taken place and that Dylan had performed (although, unsurprisingly, she didn't recall many details).

But this was one that took me quite by surprise. A 1963 TV broadcast of a Joan Baez concert with a "special appearance" by Bob Dylan. A concert whose date hadn't even been pinned down by those of us who obsessively try to document Dylan's every public moment. And, maybe, only maybe, the live debut of a just-composed Dylan song.

In August 1963, Dylan was accompanying Joan Baez on her concert tour around the northeastern United States, emerging after intermission to play a short solo set, then joining Baez for several duets, usually if not always on Dylan compositions. He squeezed his own recording sessions in on off days, when the tour was near enough to New York City. On August 10, they appeared in Asbury Park, NJ. Then, on August 11, Baez was booked into the Oakdale Musical Theatre in Wallingford, CT. Here's a newspaper ad for the show.

Yes, you're reading that right. Baez and Dylan, on an almost-double-bill with "Mr. Showmanship," Liberace. Twenty years before the Letterman TV show where they actually shared a stage. Somehow I doubt there were many folks who caught the afternoon spectacle, caught a quick dinner nearby, then came back to see Joan and Bob. (So far as I know, nobody had confirmed the date for this show, perhaps not even the location. Heylin and Bjorner have it a few days later.)

The Dylan legend goes that, at some point during this August week, Dylan and Baez arrive at their New England hotel, only to have Bob denied a room over his typically scruffy appearance. Baez threatened to leave with him (presumably taking whatever passed for the tour crew with her), and the hotel relented. This is a pretty good fit, and I've even seen reports that place the incident in Connecticut. As you can see from the newspaper ad, the hotel that lodged the Oakdale performers wouldn't have been expecting a fellow of Dylan's sartorial habits.

Dylan was said to have been enraged at the hotel's treatment of him, and his creative blood ran hot. He quickly put together a response, the legend goes, performing the song at the evening concert. The song is "When The Ship Comes In." Baez almost confirms the account in her memoirs, saying "that evening, by the time the concert was over, he had written an entire song called 'When Your Ship Comes In.' It was outraged, vengeful, strong and lyrical." She doesn't actually say he sang it at the concert, though; but why else might she know he'd finished it by the end of the show?

It's possible, maybe even likely, that this isn't the date. Dylan and Baez may have played another Connecticut date two days later, and at least one Massachusetts date before the week ended. A bit more telling, the next day Dylan was Columbia's studios recording new songs, but "Ship" wasn't among them. Maybe Dylan didn't think he was finished with it yet. He didn't record it until September, after playing it at the March on Washington at month's end.

Lots of maybe's there. Here's something definite. The concert was videotaped for a September TV broadcast. (There's a slight chance it was filmed, but it's not likely.) RKO General, one of those wonderful 1960s proto-conglomerates that supplied movies, TV programs, and tires, had begun building up a library of pop/folk concert recordings for the TV stations it owned and, I think, for theatrical distribution after the TV broadcasts. (They didn't have a national network of stations, and the ones they controlled were mostly in smaller markets; they were trying to do the same thing with sports events.) Their music library began in 1962 with a Kingston Trio concert, and possibly a "soundtrack" LP. I haven't tracked down any others yet.

Yes, it sounds a bit odd. Why would a movie/TV studio, even one once owned by Howard Hughes, be producing higher-cost original programming for its motley set of off-network TV stations that typically ran the "Million Dollar Movie," reruns of shows that had already worn out their welcome on the networks, and knockoffs of syndicated shows like "Highway Patrol"?

Because they were running the world's first pay-per-view TV operation, in 1963, in Hartford, Connecticut, home of Wallace Stevens and the world's largest collection of actuaries. Really. I'm not making this up, even the part about the actuaries. Here's the ad that ran in a local newspaper.

That's right, the TV station, WHCT-TV, channel 18, "Subscription TV," had an audience of only 3400 customers. And the "subscription" in the name was misleading. It was actually pay-per-view.

The local newspapers took the ads, but they didn't review the program. It ran twice, so far as I can tell, on Sunday, September 15, and Thursday, September 19. On 9:00 Sunday night, it went up against "Bonanza," "The Real McCoys," and the 1960's version of "Law and Order," called "Arrest And Trial." Ed Sullivan had been on the previous hour on CBS; his musical guests included Connie Francis, Jan Peerce, Xavier Cugat, and Abbe Lane. Yes, ladies and gents, we're in the pre-Charo era here. On Thursday night, at the same time, it went up against "Dr. Kildare," "The Jimmy Dean Show," and "Hazel." ("Hazel" is still running, in reruns, of course, on something called "Antenna TV" on Sunday mornings, at least in the US. It makes "Jersey Shore" look like "The Sopranos.")

Who knows how many of the 3400 customers Channel 18 had tuned in for Joan and Bob? It doesn't seem to have been very many. RKO wanted to build a library of programs it could run on its other stations, exhibit in theaters (this was still the era when neighborhood theaters were almost as common as neighborhood full-service grocers, and third-, fourth-, fifth-run movies popped up in brief runs. You could seem them in color there. Not like those third-rate black-and-white TV broadcasts), and otherwise exploit to death.

It looks, unhappily, like that didn't happen with "An Evening With Joan Baez." It never hit the theaters. There's no indication it ever was broadcast again, either in Connecticut or on any of RKO's other TV stations, or anywhere else. Maybe the videotapes survived, and are sitting in a vault somewhere. But you'd think somebody would have noticed by now. RKO's film library has been sold and resold, carved up and, for a while, scattered, and the original TV shows probably went with it. In the US, Time Warner now holds most of the rights to whatever's survived. Internationally, the rights are even more scattered, country-by-country; Silvio Berlusconi may hold the Italian rights and such. Is he a Bobcat?

But let's be realistic. Most 1960's videotapes were wiped and reused. There's a better than-average chance that "An Evening With Joan Baez" survived, especially if RKO managed to sell some international broadcasts. But it's not likely.

So there we have it. A Joan Baez/Bob Dylan concert, recorded in 1963 by a major studio for a TV broadcast. And it's just evaporated. No reviews. No reports of what was in it. Nobody remembers seeing it. Nobody even remembered that it happened. The great pay-per-view TV experiment of the 1960's sputtered out by the decade's end, a quite dismal failute, with WHCT sold to a crazy preacher named Gene Scott. (That guy made Glenn Beck look like David Brinkley. Maybe David Brinkley on crystal meth, though.)

Who knows? "Folk Songs and More Folk Songs" turned up after 40 years. Maybe there's a kinescope. Maybe RKO filmed the show and made prints; in 1963 they'd supposedly switched from videotape to film for the sports events they added to their library. I'm not holding my breath, but if people start looking around for this in video archives and such, who knows.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Bob Dylan, Canadee-I-O, and Nic Jones' Return to Live Performance

One of the more pointed disputes about Dylan and the folk process, at least until "Love and Theft"'s sporadic yakuza roots were highlighted, was over the credits on Good As I Been To You (some of which were clearly wrong). The most heated one was probably over "Canadee-I-O," which certainly showed the influence of Nic Jones, though perhaps no more so than other influences on any number of other songs that Dylan had recorded in the past.

Still, Jones's situation aroused sympathy. A stone brilliant, marvelously distinctive interpreter of British traditional music, Jones was very badly injured in a devastating car crash in February 1982, which left him unable to perform or record. Clinton Heylin asked, in one of his more notorious open letters,
"How about an arrangement credit for the man you purloined it from, Bob, a man who has no means of making a living, no longer even able to play the guitar because of a horrific car accident that ended a promising career?" Jones's manager had already rejected the charges, but they persist.

Here's Dylan's version:

And here's Nic Jones's:

And juxtaposing them, I can't buy into the complaint. Jones's performance of the song is accomplished, his guitar work lovely, his rendition almost impossible to fault. His instrumental figures ornament the song beautifully, and he delivers the lyrics with a distancing that highlights the age of the song, probably more than 150 years old when Jones released it in 1980.

But where Jones performs the song, Dylan inhabits it. His version of the song is rough-hewn and immediate. His guitar work is more than simply functional, but it does not ornament the song; it echoes and underscores Dylan's vocal cadences (which to be sure show Jones's influence). He delivers the lyrics without distance, as though they are events he remembers involving people he knew, yet with freshness, as though they are memories he is rediscovering after not coming to mind since the events themselves (a feature of some of Dylan's finest vocal performances).

What these two performances have most in common is that they are extraordinarily good, and bear the individual stamp of each musician.

After his accident, Nic Jones reportedly spent six weeks in a coma. He suffered both extensive physical injuries and, probably, what is today referred to as a traumatic brain injury. After a long, long period of rehabilitation, he managed to regain part of his ability to play guitar (or "do battle with it," as his family described it on his website). In 2010, at a tribute concert, he performed some vocals with the Bandoggs, a group he was once featured in.

On May 28, 2011, a still-fragile Nic Jones gave his first solo performance in nearly 30 years, a brief but thrilling set at a concert honoring him and his music. Publicity for the concert had said only that he would again sing with the Bandoggs. The set concluded with a performance of one of Jones's signature pieces, "Ten Thousand Miles," accompanied by his son on guitar.

Nic Jones and his wife Julia offer what's available of his music for sale here:

It would be fine value for your money as well as a way to support and appreciate a more than deserving musical artist.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

48 (Not 38) Years Ago Today

We all (or at least many of us) know about Bob Dylan's appearance at a Joan Baez concert at the Forest Hills tennis stadium, in New York City. It took place on August 17, 1963, and a partial recording of the show, including Baez's solo tracks and two Dylan-Baez duets, but not Dylan's solo songs or the last duet, circulates. One duet, "Troubled and I Don't Know Why," was released some years back on a Baez box set.

Hardly anybody remembers that Dylan himself topped the bill at a "hootenanny" at the Forest Hills stadium a month earlier. Sharing the top of the bill were Odetta and Bud and Travis. I haven't found any accounts of that concert so far, no setlists, certainly no recordings. It probably was Dylan's warmup gig for the Newport Folk Festival a few days later.

Bud and Travis retired long ago, and both have since died. But an interesting relic of their career turned up on YouTube three years ago, a televised cover of "Tomorrow Is A Long Time." It's quite nice. There's also a short introduction where they talk about "Bobby Dylan," which to me makes it likely that this clip comes from 1963, rather than the later date attached to it on YouTube. But that's just guesswork.

If the embed doesn't work for you, this is the basic link:

There are a lot of almost-forgotten Dylan history and chronology from the early 1960's out there to be found, and sadly fewer and fewer folks who can give us their recollections.of those events. I've turned up a small pile of "vanished" dates (no recordings, sorry) and they'll be among the things I talk about here, going forward.