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Bob Dylan’s time out

I’m not a one-eyed Dylan worshipper but acknowledge him as one of the all-time greats of rock music. To put it in context, my favourite Dylan album is his thirtieth – Time Out Of Mind (1997) – probably because I related to its themes of world-weariness at the time – and for large stretches of the late 1970s to mid-1990s I regarded him as having completely lost his mojo, possibly permanently.

During his heyday, of course, he was – and some believe remains – possibly the greatest and most influential music-grounded prophet/innovator of all to emerge during the Sixties.

Even now, aged 77, he stands out as the living embodiment of certain aspects of American musical history – almost a sage of his life and times, plus others besides.

His 2004 autobiography Chronicles: Volume 1, typically of the man, took as its references just the years 1961, 1970 and 1989 and was apparently intended as the first of three parts, the second and third of which have never seen the light of day.

His weekly radio show Theme Time Radio Hour (broadcast weekly between May 2006 and April 2009) comprised an amazing and eclectic series of music, listeners phone calls, tape messages from artists and musicians, old radio promos and his own thoughts – whatever took his fancy – mostly recorded in his hotel as he continued travelling the globe, as he has done since 1988, on his 100-plus gigs per year Never Ending Tour.

A few weeks ago, though I had seen it before, I took the opportunity to record off television and recently watch again the Grammy-award winning 2005 Martin Scorsese documentary No Direction Home: Bob Dylan.

It remains a fascinating window upon this intriguing character.

The other day I was trying to explain the course of Dylan’s career between 1966 and 1972 to someone who had little knowledge of it but was willing to hear about it.

In July 1966 – after five years of unbelievable mayhem, taking him from obscurity to global superstar status, a body of seminal work borne of a journey from niche folk artiste to an (initially vilified) rock-band front man and a sex, drugs, rock & roll-lifestyle – he needed a break.

A fortuitous one came along in the form of a motorbike accident in which, depending upon which rumour or legend takes your liking, he broke his neck or just bruised a few vertebrae. Whichever, it allowed him to take a much-needed break.

The following year, having teamed up with a combo now called The Band, formerly The Hawks who had backed singer Ronnie Hawkins, began writing and recording new songs in and around his home base in Woodstock in what became known as The Basement Tapes.

Initially it seemed that for Dylan in was just an opportunity to write and make music, the body of work not intended for public consumption save perhaps as demos via which perhaps other artistes might record some of the songs.

(Brits will perhaps most famously recall the Manfred Mann 1968 UK Number 1 hit version of The Mighty Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo)).

Over the years many songs from these sessions trickled out in either bootleg or ‘official’ cover versions and then in 1975 Dylan gave Columbia Records permission to release a selection from them as The Basement Tapes. It was issued to great acclaim.

My own personal ‘connection’ with them came when I bought a copy of Columbia Record/Legacy’s 2014 anthology The Bootleg Series Volume 11 – The Basement Tapes Complete, a 6-CD set of recordings of no fewer than 139 tracks, 30 of which had never been heard previously.

The whole body of work was a revelation, especially when one considered the circumstances in which it was originated and Dylan’s carelessness as to what happened to it.

Winding back to 1967 and Dylan’s official recording career.

In December 1967, eighteen months after his motorbike accident, he issued the album John Wesley Harding (December 1967) of which the lady to whom I was telling my story had never previously heard.

It was just about as controversial as each of his previous seven album releases, this time because he had abandoned his – what some regarded as drug-fuelled, chaotic, ‘runaway train steaming down a track’ style rock/blues-based music – and adopted a gentler country music-like approach. And his voice had changed significantly.

As an example, here’s a link to the track I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine, courtesy of – YOUTUBE

As I described the album and sought out some of its tracks I was reminded of what many regard as the greatest-ever cover version of a Dylan song, one of those on John Wesley Harding and today I thought I’d give Rusters the chance to compare said cover with the original.

Before doing so I would only remind readers that, for Dylan, a recording of a song is simply a starting point. Anyone who has ever attended a Dylan concert – as I have twice in my life – will know that he routinely takes the opportunity to play his songs in randomly different ways every time he performs them.

Anyway, here’s Dylan’s original (John Wesley Harding) recording of All Along The Watchtower, again courtesy of – YOUTUBE

And – you know what is coming next – here’s what a one-off genius did with it, having heard an acetate copy of Dylan’s version just weeks before its official release – Jimi Hendrix performing All Along The Watchtower, courtesy once more of – YOUTUBE

 

 

About Michael Stuart

After university, Michael spent twelve years working for MELODY MAKER before going freelance. He claims to keep doing it because it is all he knows. More Posts