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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Friday, March 30, 2007


Got back last night from the Dylan Symposium at the University of Minnesota, which began with a pre-conference bus tour up to Hibbing last Saturday (24th). I've been to Hibbing twice before but the guided bus tour made it well worth going a third time around.

You always see new things on a revisit, and see the old things in different lights; you meet up with people you missed before; and you re-meet people you remember. For me it was fascinating to drive, as the young Bob Zimmerman did on his motorbike, out past the mining communities that still cling on between the trees outside of town, amid so many old railroad tracks - no wonder they're such a presence in his early poems and his songs - and to find the spot where Echo Helstrom lived with her family. It didn't have a WalMart across the road in those days. It was an honour to meet, for the first time, the splendid B.J. Rolfzen and his wife Leona, and to meet up again with LeRoy Hoikkala, Bob and Linda Hocking from Zimmy's, and Gregg French, current owner of Bob Dylan's boyhood home. A pleasure too, to take another walk around the truly remarkable Hibbing High School. Even now, they spend that little bit more than most high schools: in the library, all the computers are Apple Macs, not mere PCs.

The other special pleasure of the bus trip, naturally, was the other people on the bus, who included my old compadre Stephen Scobie; the warm and gracious Gordon Ball; Colleen Sheehy (the Weisman Art Museum's Director of Education), who had organised the symposium with mega-admin assistance from Heather Dorr; the very nice, and funny, Alessandro Carrera, Italian translator of Lyrics and Chronicles Volume One; and Celestial Monochord blogger Kurt Gegenhuber, whose photo from inside Hibbing High I have nicked.

Weird to go there in March and have a sunny, windless day. As we stood around in North Hibbing looking out into that famously "largest manmade hole on the planet", locals said the utter lack of wind up there was unprecedented, and strange. Even downtown, it seemed odd. My own previous visit had been in mid-April 2001, and there was snow piled up at the edges of the sidewalks then. This time, the frozen lakes still looked frozen, but there was almost no snow anywhere, and none at all downtown.

In Minneapolis, over the three days of the conference (Sunday 25th to Tuesday 27th) we had an odd stretch of weather too: one day it was 81 degrees and the next day half that.

I thought the conference itself a big success: surely the most intensive programme of Dylan studies ever assembled at one time, with some big-name speakers, many people from university departments and a wide spread of other writers and musicians, from Beat poet Anne Waldman to Bobby Vee, and from Koerner & Glover to Tangled Up in Bob film director Mary Feidt. So much going on that it was gratifyingly impossible for anyone to catch all the talks and discussion panels they thought sounded interesting. More on this in Part 2.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Tomorrow - March 22nd - marks the 5th anniversary of the death at a great age of Frank Edwards, the blues singer, whom I met in the course of following in Blind Willie McTell's footsteps. Frank knew Willie in Atlanta in the late 1930s. I write about his brief testimony about McTell in my forthcoming book, but here is the obituary I wrote for The Guardian a couple of days after Edwards died. It is briefer than I'd have liked, but it was written to the paper's required length:

One of the last surviving American blues singers who recorded in the pre-war era has died of a heart-attack, two days after his 93rd birthday. Frank Edwards was not one of the greats - he was a minor, quirky figure on the Piedmont blues scene - but he was a grand old man, his reputation never higher than latterly.

If that in itself was a gratifying position to enjoy, the circumstances in which he died were not bad either: he was on his way home from recording a new album.

With Mr. Frank, as he was affectionately known, on vocals and guitar, enough songs had been completed at the Hillborough, North Carolina studio to round off the record, for which he had written three new songs. Heading back to Atlanta, driven by ex-Atlanta Fire Dept. friend Larry Garret, they stopped for lunch in Greenville, South Carolina. Edwards began coughing. An ambulance was called and arrived ten minutes later. Mr. Frank stood up, climbed into the ambulance and died.

His first recording session had taken place over 60 years earlier, in May 1941. At this first session, in Chicago, Edwards recorded eight tracks and saw half issued, as two 78rpm records: ‘Sweet Man Blues’ c/w the distinctive ‘Three Women Blues’ and ‘Terraplane Blues’ c/w the charming if widely indecipherable patriotic number ‘We Got To Get Together’.

These met with no special success and it would be almost a decade before Edwards recorded again - but he had come a long way to reach Chicago at all. Born in 1909 in Wilkes County, Georgia, he recalled that this “wasn’t nothing then but a farming place. Which I was too little to know too much about. I left when I was fourteen.” Feuding with a father who forbade him own a guitar, he left for Florida on a truck with his older brother. He didn’t return for 25 years.
He settled for a while in St. Augustine, Florida, where he met blues artist Tampa Red. He played slide guitar, adding harmonica on a neck-rack in 1934, after seeing a white man using one in Tennessee. He hoboed around the south, making Atlanta his base from 1937 and sometimes travelling north in summer. He never made it big but he kept going, recording again in 1949 and in the 1970s and performing at festivals until very recently.

Latterly Mr. Frank could be found of an evening at the bar of Blind Willie’s, a pub with live music in a funky part of Atlanta, still enjoying the blues. I met him there four months ago. Described in a 1970s blues magazine as “a dark, taciturn man”, I found him good-humoured and approachable, with kind eyes. When the live act played, he was attentive, smiling and applauding each number. He was by far the most nattily-dressed person in the crowded room.

Frank Edwards, born Washington, Georgia, March 20, 1909; died Greenville, SC, March 22, 2002. He leaves a daughter, three stepdaughters, a stepson, a sister, ten grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.


There's a French website devoted to books in English, which gives me an especially fine write-up - but there are many people called Michael Gray, and the co-author of Marlborough Revisited, a book on the same webpage, is not me. I don't think I've yet visited Marlborough a first time around. But if it has an arts centre and would like a talk later in the year on either Bob Dylan's work or on searching for Blind Willie McTell...

Monday, March 19, 2007


There's now a web page giving basic info (and cover photo) for my forthcoming biography Hand Me My Travelin' Shoes: In Search of Blind Willie McTell, on the Early Blues website. The URL for the page can also be reached via the Links List in this blog's left-hand column. More news of the book soon.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


Just an update on my own upcoming live events (talks with loud recorded music & rare footage):

Tue Mar 27, 3.30pm Bob Dylan Symposium, University of Minnesota, USA
Keynote Closing Speech - Highway 61: Dylan’s Chosen Route
Through Time & Space
Coffman Memorial Union Building or Frederick R. Weisman Art
Museum, East Bank Campus, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis MN
Admin: [001] 612-625-5267; Registration: 612-625-5267

Wed May 23, 8pm Bath International Festival, UK
Bob Dylan & the Poetry of the Blues
The Little Theatre, St. Michael’s Place, Bath BA1 1SF
Admin: [044] 1225-462231; Festival Box Office: 1225-463362

Sat Jun 9, 8pm Jersey Arts Centre, UK Channel Islands
Bob Dylan & the Poetry of the Blues
Phillips Street, St. Helier, Jersey JE2 4SW
Admin: [044] 1534-700400; Box Office: 1534-700444

Saturday, March 17, 2007


I'm sorry to have been so tardy in mentioning the deaths last month of these two figures from the Folk Revival days. Eric Von Schmidt died in his sleep in a retirement home in Fairfield CT on February 2, aged 75. Mark Spoelstra died 23 days later in Pioneer CA. He was 66. Both had their own artistic importance and their own mutual connections - among other things, Von Schmidt painted an album cover for Spoelstra - but both made, too, contributions to Bob Dylan's. Here are their entries in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia (updated to note their passing):

Von Schmidt, Eric [1931 - 2007]
Eric Von Schmidt was born in Bridgport Connecticut on May 28, 1931. He grew up listening to late-night radio and watching his father, Harold Von Schmidt, painting pictures of the old American west, most lucratively for the Saturday Evening Post. Thus he imbibed both music and art, and learnt the 6-guitar in the 1940s. A big Leadbelly fan when he first heard him on radio in 1948, he nevertheless stuck to the 6-string guitar himself when he began performing. He served in the US Army from 1952 to 1954, read Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, started eating peyote mushrooms and left the army to paint. He studied art in Florence and then in Florida, where he taught at the Sarasota School of Art but in 1957 moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he became prominent in the city’s folk scene, centered upon Club 47, befriended RICHARD FARINA and in 1961 recorded an album with Folkways artist Rolf Kahn. His paintings now extended to album covers and concert posters.

He was there in Cambridge, therefore, in the June of that same year when Bob Dylan first encountered him, slept on his couch, heard him perform and filched several song arrangements from him. One of these was ‘He Was A Friend Of Mine’, and another was ‘Baby Let Me Follow You Down’. When Dylan recorded the latter that November for his début album, Bob Dylan, he delivered, with his ever-immaculate timing, a spoken intro over his guitar-work, admitting his debt and giving Von Schmidt a namecheck: ‘I first heard this from, uh, Ric Von Schmidt,’ he said: ‘I met him one day in the green pastures of, uh, Harvard University’ - and then lit into the song, delivering it so beautifully that he made it his own. (See separate entry on the song’s provenance.) Eric von Schmidt responded after an almost 35-year delay, recording the variant ‘Baby, Let Me Lay It On You’ in a version that included the line ‘Now Bobby Dylan, he put me in a song’.

The two first came together as performers in London in January 1963, when Dylan contributed backing vocals and harmonica to several tracks on the sessions for the album Dick Fariña and Eric Von Schmidt, which was released, in the UK only, in May 1963, with Dylan billed as Blind Boy Grunt. (The story of Von Schmidt and Fariña’s time in Britain that year, with and without Dylan, is told in some detail in DAVID HAJDU’s Positively 4th Street: a book in which there is much additional material on Von Schmidt and his rôle in the Cambridge folk scene - and for which Von Schmidt was an interviewee.) Later in 1963 Von Schmidt released his well-known album The Folk Blues of Eric Von Schmidt, which became more well-known after Dylan included its front cover among the records scattered around the room on his front cover for the album Bringing It All Back Home. In a later, further self-reflexive gesture, the cover Dylan chose for his Nashville Skyline album catches him in a pose that is itself a visual echo of the Von Schmidt cover.

In 1964 came Eric Sings von Schmidt (with GEOFF MULDAUR and creepy Mel Lyman). Though he appeared at the 1965 NEWPORT FOLK FESTIVAL, Eric didn’t issue another album until his foray into psychedelia in 1969, Who Knocked The Brains Out Of The Sky?, for which Dylan contributed sub-hokum liner notes in the declamatory style you might associate with MUHAMMAD ALI or LITTLE RICHARD. (These included - and there was plenty more of the same - ‘He can separate the men from the boys and the note from the noise. The bridle from the saddle and the cow from the cattle. He can play the tune of the moon. The why of the sky and the commotion of the ocean.’ It certainly managed to avoid saying anything in particular, which for Who Knocked The Brains Out Of The Sky? was probably best.)

Back in the pre-psychedelic ’60s (peyote mushrooms notwithstanding) however, Von Schmidt had also contributed to that various-artists album The Blues Project, on which Dylan had played piano on one Geoff Muldaur track. Eric had played piano alongside Dylan on that track, and had one further track on the LP himself, ‘Blow Whistle Blow’, the second track on Side 1; he also painted the front cover. A month or two after these sessions, Dylan had visited Von Schmidt at the home he had retained in Sarasota, Florida, and one day in early May 1964 the two of them home-taped themselves on a total of 20 songs and song fragments.

As well as playing guitars, they shared vocals on two improvised songs, one ‘Black Betty’ and three attempts at ‘Stoned on the Mountain’. Dylan took the lead vocal on ‘Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies’, ‘Money Honey’, ‘More and More’, ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ (probably the earliest extant recording), ‘Susie Q’, ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ (oh yes) and ‘Walkin’ Down the Line’. Dylan also took lead vocal and played harmonica on two tries at ‘Long Johnny CooCoo’; he played harmonica behind Von Schmidt on a further blues improvisation, a further instrumental and a revisit to ‘Glory, Glory’; and he played harmonica and sang backing vocals on their final number, Von Schmidt’s best-known composition, ‘Joshua Gone Barbados’. This tape has never circulated, but ‘Joshua Gone Barbados’, quite new at the time, was on Eric’s latest album (Eric Sings von Schmidt) and quickly became a widely-covered song. Dylan himself attempted the song on the Basement Tapes sessions in 1967 (circulated but officially unreleased) but it remained unreleased. But the lyric includes, after the title phrase, the line ‘staying in a big hotel’, which Dylan liked enough to use verbatim after his title phrase at the beginning of ‘Went to See the Gypsy’ on the 1970 album New Morning.

Von Schmidt never gave up painting, and in more recent years came to regard it as his prime purpose in the world, despite making further albums with the participation of many well-known musicians, including GARTH HUDSON. In 1979, with Jim Rooney, he published the book Baby, Let Me Follow You Down: The Illustrated Story of the Cambridge Folk Years. In the 1980s Von Schmidt returned from Provo, Utah, where he liked to paint, to his parents’ home in Westport, and in December 1985 participated in the 25th Anniversary Reunion Concert of Club 47 performers (along with BAEZ, MIMI FARINA, Richie Havens and many others) at Boston Symphony Hall. Latterly, Eric Von Schmidt was fighting throat cancer, and his days as a singer were over. He remained committed to painting, and launched a website devoted to his own and his late father’s art.

Eric Von Schmidt died in his sleep in a retirement home in Fairfield CT on February 2, aged 75.

[Eric Von Schmidt: The Folk Blues of Eric Von Schmidt, Prestige/Folklore 14005, US, 1963; Eric Sings von Schmidt, Prestige 7384, 1964; Who Knocked The Brains Out Of The Sky?, Smash SRS 67124, US, 1969; ‘Baby, Let Me Lay It On You’, nia, Baby, Let Me Lay It On You, Gazell GPCD2013, US, 1995. Dick Fariña, Eric Von Schmidt & Blind Boy Grunt: ‘Glory, Glory’, ‘Xmas Island’, ‘Cocaine’, London, 15 Jan 1963, Dick Fariña and Eric Von Schmidt, Folklore F-LEUT-7, UK, 1963; ‘Overseas Stomp’ (several takes), London, 15 Jan 1963, unreleased (the LP version excludes Dylan). ‘Blow Whistle Blow’, NY, early 1964, The Blues Project, Elektra EKL-7264, 1964. Eric Von Schmidt & Jim Rooney, Baby, Let Me Follow You Down: The Illustrated Story of the Cambridge Folk Years, New York: Anchor Books, 1979; 2nd edn. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1994. The Eric & Harold Von Schmidt website:
David Hajdu, Positively 4th Street: the lives and times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Fariña and Richard Fariña, New York, Farar, Straus & Giroux, 2001. Thanks too to the unreliable, interesting profile of Von Schmidt by John Kruth, seen online 04 Sep 2005 at]

Spoelstra, Mark [1940 - 2007]
Mark Spoelstra was born on June 30, 1940 in Kansas City, Missouri, but grew up in El Monte, California, where he was playing guitar by age 11. His third gig was opening act for Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee. He moved to New York City (via Berkeley) and joined the folk revival scene, playing a big B-45 Gibson 12-string guitar.

According to his own breezy account, ‘A friend of mine ran into me on the street one day and said there was a guy he thought I should meet. He was sitting alone in a joint, having just come to town. So I was one of the first acquaintances Bob Dylan met when he came to the big city. We hung out together a lot, because at the time we had a lot in common. One night we were playing at the Café Wha?, and JOHN COHEN, who was with the NEW LOST CITY RAMBLERS, came in and was blown away by my JOHN HURT style guitar and Bob’s blues harp...’

A couple of months after they met, as an extant photograph confirms, Dylan and Spoelstra performed together at the Indian Neck Folk Festival in Branford, Connecticut in May 1961; the corollary tape catches Dylan singing ‘Talking Columbia’, ‘Hangknot, Slipknot’ and ‘Talking Fish Blues’: all WOODY GUTHRIE songs. Spoelstra’s main influences, Mississippi John Hurt aside, were JESSE FULLER, PETE SEEGER and Skip James.

That summer, the two often appeared behind BROTHER JOHN SELLERS at Gerde’s Folk City hootenannies, backing up his gospel shouts and tambourine with guitars and harmonica (and were even announced as Brother John & the Dungarees). Spoelstra says in the film No Direction Home that in these early years, Dylan shared with him and so many others the belief that song could help to abolish racial segregation and change the world for the better: that they talked about these things with enthusiasm.

In Chronicles Volume One Dylan describes Spoelstra as ‘a singing pal of mine’, recalls their playing with Brother John Sellers and recalls the day when, having arranged to meet up with Mark at ‘a creepy but convenient little coffeehouse… run by a character called the Dutchman’, who ‘resembled Rasputin’, he arrived to find Mark Spoelstra there waiting for him and the Dutchman lying dead in the doorway with a knife in him, killed by the old man who was his landlord.

Spoelstra got a record deal with Folkways that same year, and recorded two albums for them, The Songs Of Mark Spoelstra With Twelve-String Guitar and Mark Spoelstra Recorded at Club 47 Inc., which were both released a bit belatedly in 1963.

He was one of the featured artists on two different albums on which Dylan appeared as Blind Boy Grunt. On the Various Artists album Broadside Ballads, released in October 1963 (on which Dylan performed ‘John Brown’, ‘Only A Hobo’ and ‘Talkin’ Devil’), Mark Spoelstra performed his own topical song ‘The Civil Defense Sign’; and on the Various Artists album The Blues Project in 1964, on which Dylan played on a GEOFF MULDAUR track, Spoelstra had a track on each side of the LP, with renditions of ‘France Blues’ and ‘She’s Gone’. The other featured artists were DAVE RAY, ERIC VON SCHMIDT, DAVE VAN RONK, Ian Buchanan and DANNY KALB.

Like Dylan, Spoelstra also became an occasional contributor to Broadside magazine, and appeared at the 1965 NEWPORT FOLK FESTIVAL. Unlike Dylan, his career never took off, despite having an early hit single in Canada (‘Walkin’ ’Round town’ by Mark & the Two Timers), despite signing to Elektra and making another two albums, released in 1965 and ’66, despite a couple of his pieces being used on the soundtrack of that great film Electra Glide In Blue, and despite Janis Joplin covering one of his songs. In part, but only in part, this was because he was a conscientious objector placed in ‘alternative service’ instead of being called up, and so he was prevented from touring to promote those mid-60s albums.

In San Francisco he formed a rock band; it got nowhere. In 1969 Columbia signed him as a solo artist again, and released one album, Hobo Poet (from which the Electra Glide In Blue tracks are taken) but by this time Spoelstra and his family were ‘almost starving’. He gave up trying to find music-industry success and found God and a series of dayjobs instead.

Mark Spoelstra long retained one dayjob, driving a shuttle bus at a northern California Indian Casino. He stayed with God, too; but in 2001, after a gap of more than 20 years, he released a new album, Out Of My Hands, for the distinguished blues-revival company Origin Jazz Library, with a cover-painting by Eric Von Schmidt and a soundbite from Tom Paxton: ‘I always wanted to play guitar like Mark Spoelstra. I still do and I still can’t.’

Mark Spoelstra died on February 25, 2007, in Pioneer CA. He was 66.

[Mark Spoelstra quoted in Eric von Schmidt & Jim Rooney, Baby, Let Me Follow You Down, Garden City: Anchor Books, 1979, p. 204 and précis’d from No Direction Home, dir. Martin Scorsese, 2005; The Songs Of Mark Spoelstra With Twelve-String Guitar, NYC, 1961, Folkways FA 2444, NY, 1963; Mark Spoelstra Recorded at Club 47 Inc., Boston MA, 1961, Folkways FG 3572, 1963; ‘The Civil Defense Sign’, NYC Feb-Mar? 1963, Broadside Ballads, Broadside BR301, NY, Oct 1963; ‘France Blues’ & ‘She’s Gone’, NYC early 1964, The Blues Project, Elektra EKL 264, NY, Jun 1964; Five & Twenty Questions, nia, Elektra EKL-283 / EKS-7283, NY, 1965; State Of Mind, nia, Elektra EKL-307 / EKS-7307, NY, 1966; Hobo Poet, San Francisco, nia, Columbia CS 9793, 1969; ‘Meadow Mountain Top’ & ‘Song of Sad Bottles’ also on Electra Glide In Blue (dir. James William Guercio) soundtrack album, United Artists UA-LA062-H, US, 1973; Out Of My Hands, nia, Origin Jazz Library OJL 2001, Thousand Oaks CA, 2001. Mark & the Two Timers: ‘Walking Around Town’ c/w ‘Corinna Folkways’, nia, F45001, NY, 1964. Bob Dylan: Chronicles Volume One, pp.74-75.]

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Prompted by the current, charmlessly right-wing pope's public expressions of disapproval that his slightly less right-wing predecessor included Bob Dylan at the World Eucharistic Cogress in Bologna, Italy in September 1997, here's a photograph [source unknown] from that moment after the performance when Bob granted John Paul II an audience.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


New issue of the fanzine Isis - no.131, March/April - has a very lovely cover photo of Bob, April 1965 - astonishing, really, that he can have done so much already by then and still look so young (he was 23).

Andrew Muir, author of Razor's Edge: Bob Dylan & the Never Ending Tour and Troubadour, having wound up Judas! (and Homer, the slut, before it), now edits his own section of Isis, and the new issue includes this for the 1st time around.

Everyone who's got hold of the new De Luxe 2-DVD edition of Dont Look Back already is raving about it - and stressing that it has far more to it than the bootleg of outtakes footage that emerged in 2005. Out in the US now, it is due out in Britain in April.

The first time I saw the original film release was in a cinema in North Devon, probably 1971 - when New Morning was the newest album, and the Dylan of 1965 seemed almost as long gone as he does now.

Friday, March 09, 2007


Those who posted indignant comments because I'd helped drive a couple of Ferraris up through Central America last October might enjoy being annoyed all over again if they look at a very flashy magazine just on sale "exclusively at W.H. Smiths", the Spring/Summer issue of Lifestyles. Same trip - so I haven't doubled my carbon footprint sins - but a different article, this time in diary form. Lavish pix, too. In real life I'm still driving a very likeable Peugeot 207.

Meanwhile the last couple of days have been taken up with going through the copy-edited version of the manuscript for Hand Me My Travelin' Shoes. This is nitpicky work indeed, and has to be finished this afternoon. Then I must sort stuff out for travelin' to Minnesota for the Bob Dylan Symposium at the university in Minneapolis, March 23-27. Trains from North Yorkshire to Gatwick, overnight stop, plane courtesy of horrible NorthWest Airlines - and the day after arriving, there's a special bus trip up to Hibbing. It'll be my third visit. That's quite a few visits, really, from one North Country to another.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


Sorry about this, but the only way I seem to be able to get this photo up on the Profile bit (top left) is to put it on a blog entry (to put it online, in order to give the jpg name to the profile-edit bit). You used to be able to do this temporarily, and then delete the posting with it on, and it would remain as the profile image - but under the newer-fangled Google-owned version of Blogger this no longer seems to happen. Can anyone out there talk me through solving this problem please? (Naturally the Blogger Help section is no help at all.)

Monday, March 05, 2007


Ruth Willis died 45 years ago today, aged 64, in Atlanta. Aka Ruth Day and Mary Willis, she made several records - including with Willie McTell - but had to keep a day-job as a maid.

Her first session was for Columbia in Atlanta in October 1931, when she was accompanied by McTell (who speaks and sings as well as playing 12-string guitar) on four tracks: 'Rough Alley Blues', 'Talkin' To You Wimmen About The Blues', 'Experience Blues' and 'Painful Blues'. The first two were issued as a single on the OKeh label, billed as by Mary Willis, accompanied by Blind Willie McTell; the other two tracks were issued as a Columbia single as by Ruth Day accompanied by Blind Sammie.

A week later, on Hallowe'en, she made another OKeh single, 'Low Down Blues' c/w 'Merciful Blues', accompanied this time not only by Willie but by his splendid friend Curley Weaver, and issued as by Mary Willis.

She had one more day in the studio - in New York City, in January 1933, this time without McTell.

She and Willie got on well. Then he married Ruthy Kate Williams, in January 1934. The two women's names were similar enough that people have sometimes conjectured that they were the same person. They certainly were not. In fact after Ms Williams married Willie, she stopped Ms Willis coming round to the house.

Ruth Willis died the same year as Curley Weaver (1962), and three years after Willie. His wife survived a further three decades.

The photo (and I'm sorry to say that I've lost track of where it came from or who it belongs to) shows housework training in Macon, Georgia in 1935...

Sunday, March 04, 2007


We saw Willy Mason at the Band Room, Farndale the other week. I'd never heard anything by him, nor read about him, so went with no expectations. He was the most mesmeric new singer-songwriter I've heard in many a long day. Just acoustic guitar, voice and words. I didn't like all his songs but those I did like, and they were the great majority, really touched me. He had the freshness of the young Bob Dylan, but wasn't the slightest bit Dylanesque, even when the topics of his songs sometimes were. He had a highly engaging casual intimacy of manner onstage, his singing was somehow both plain and exploratory, and the words were, over and over again, radiant with emotional clarity, powered by imagery that was personal, convincing, marvellously free of cliche and of artsy pretence. The Band Room was the ideal place to see him: it holds 100.

Friday, March 02, 2007


Here are the details I have so far about my Willie McTell biography... The title and subtitle are HAND ME MY TRAVELIN' SHOES: In Search of Blind Willie McTell. The UK hardback (the first edition) is published in London by Bloomsbury on July 2nd. Because it's much longer than the publisher expected - though not long by the standards of Song & Dance Man III: The Art of Bob Dylan or The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia - it will be priced at a recommended £20, rather than the £17.99 which is given as the full price on

It can be ordered from them already, apparently, though some price adjustment may be needed later. Anyway, you can click on the box somewhere here in the left-hand column, should you wish to order it this far ahead. The ISBN is 0 7475 6560 0, and under the crazy new 13-digit ISBN system it's 978-0747565604.

The front jacket is going to look something like the above.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


Greetings. You may have noticed that February appeared to pass me by, blogwise. I was slithering through the mires of finishing the manuscript of my new book HAND ME MY TRAVELIN' SHOES: In Search Of Blind Willie McTell, which is coming out as a UK hardback on July 2nd, published by Bloomsbury. Today saw the end of fiddling about with permissions, acknowledgments and photo credits.

Today, 7 years ago, was the publication date of the US edition of SONG & DANCE MAN III: The Art Of Bob Dylan (New York: Continuum), which I'm pleased to be able to say is still on sale, 5 reprints later. I found a new review of the book - well, it was new to me - here this afternoon: This German musician's website lets you here his version of the Dylan song 'Blind Willie McTell'. How very much better this is than the astonishingly dreadful version by some bloke claiming to be Mick Taylor, available on YouTube.

Today is also the birthday of Harry Belafonte, who has a sizeable entry in THE BOB DYLAN ENCYCLOPEDIA.

And now it's March. The frogs in our pond have already produced copious frogspawn and spring is surely on its way.

It's good to be back.