BOB DYLAN ENCYCLOPEDIA: A BLOG 2006-2012

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

NEW ISSUE OF THE BRIDGE: 2 GEMS

The new issue of fanzine The Bridge arrived in this morning's post. It contains two gems - the astonishingly thorough run-down on that Minnesota Dylan Symposium held in March this year: 'Go Ahead And Talk', by John Hinchey, who clearly paid everyone immense attention and had the energy and persistence over the event's several days to make detailed notes there and then (and who writes complimentarily about us all); and Roy Kelly's even longer disquisition on Bob Dylan and plagiarism, 'A Shiny Bed of Lights: Bob Dylan's Modified Versions'.

This might be said to take a while to get going, but once he's into his long stride, what we're given is a rather magnificent, majestic swell of implacable, truth-is-an-arrow argument, which utterly rejects the special-pleading defences offered all over the place by enthusiasts for Modern Times, demolishing these with wise calm in an essay that, as always with his work, eschews scorn and rancour for heart and soul. This is an important piece, and stands with the best of Roy Kelly's prose about Dylan. (For more on his body of work, see the entry on him in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia.)

PS. For anyone with an afternoon to spare, and sufficient stamina, there's a 63-minute-long interview with me online here on the website of The Generalist (a site I wrongly thought I had put in my Links list months ago; I've added it now). The interview ranges over the topics of Dylan and Blind Willie McTell, and was conducted by John May in London in July.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

BLOGGER BLAMES BLOG BLANK ON BIRTHDAY

I'm reduced to sheepishness on finding it's 12 days since my last blog. All I can say is that life has been hectic with chores and general labour, even on the 25th, my birthday. Last year I spent my 60th on holiday in a villa in Dalyan, Turkey, and went up in a microlight, circling above the beautiful delta and seeing a big turtle moving purposefully along in the sea below. (Dalyan's delta is the site of the river winding through reed beds that was used in the Bogart-Hepburn film African Queen) This year I stepped out onto Highway 61 by staying at home and painting the kitchen. No contest...

Others who share(d) August 25th as a birthday include Wayne Shorter, Joanne Whalley, Governor George Wallace of Alabama, Claudia Schiffer, Elvis Costello, Martin Amis, horse painter George Stubbs, vegetarian rapper Shock G, Ludwig I of Bavaria, Charlie Burse of the Memphis Jug Band, first black tennis champion Althea Gibson, and the 19th Century American humourist Bill Nye, whose surviving quotes include this great one: "I'm told that Wagner's music is better than it sounds."

Thursday, August 16, 2007

ELVIS

Thirty years since Elvis Presley died. I certainly remember where I was when I heard the news. I was staying overnight in an old friend's London flat, and had to go in to work at United Artists Records (I'd temporarily taken refuge from the cold of freelance writing) . . . and I travelled in to Oxford Circus on the top deck of a London bus, stunned by the momentous enormity of it all, and I naively assumed that the record company would simply cease to function, would close down, for the day, in an apt and direct recognition that this was the death of the man and artist without whom none of us etc etc... and of course it didn't happen. We were all supposed to carry on phoning and typing and bullshitting and twittering on about the Stranglers, or the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, or Shirley Bassey, or some no-hoper copycat punk act called something like Johnny Shite...


Anyway, now that's 30 years ago, and if Elvis were alive he'd be 72 years old, and according to BBC Radio 4 there are 200,000 Elvis imitators around the world, God help us. Here's the entry on Elvis Presley from The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia (much of which was re-worked from the material I wrote about him in the original version of Song & Dance Man in 1972): a small enough tribute, but a damn sight better than putting on a jump suit and a wig and trying to imitate a version of Elvis that had already become a travesty long before his death:


Presley, Elvis [1935 - 1977]
‘When I first heard Elvis’ voice I just knew that I wasn’t going to work for anybody; and nobody was going to be my boss... Hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail’: Bob Dylan.

As everyone must know, Presley came from Tupelo, Mississippi, where he was born poor in the 1930s (8 January, 1935), and moved to Memphis with his mother and unemployed father at age 13; later he got a job driving a truck. (There’s a neat Dylan allusion to this, delivered in a tough, Presley voice, on the Basement Tapes song ‘Lo And Behold’: ‘Goin’ down t’ Tennessee! get me a truck or somethin’’.) Very much a Southerner, Presley said Yes Ma’am, No Sir to hostile press reporters, was inward with a simple gospelly religion (via The First Assembly Church of God) and loved the voice of Mahalia Jackson.


Presley had the formula for rock’n’roll within him: a natural upbringing on blues and country music in its living environment. Through his extraordinary fusion of hillbilly, country, blues and rhythm & blues, he changed everything. He gave youth its separate presence; he gave white adolescence its sexual freedom; he gave black music its rightful place at the forefront of American consciousness.


All this with the direct help of four other people and a recording less than two minutes long, in the summer of 1954. That first record, issued by Sun for distribution only in the South, was ARTHUR ‘Big Boy’ CRUDUP’s blues ‘That’s All Right’, sung with a kind of subdued freneticism that sounds hillbilly, amateurish and absolutely genuine. Elvis neither prettied up nor replicated a hot blues record that day. What he started into with his restless but sensitive rhythm guitar and his gloriously fluid, expressive voice was an astonishing and complete re-working of a blues record of no particular distinction released back in 1946, when Elvis Presley was an 11-year-old schoolboy still living in a homemade shack in East Tupelo.


When Elvis lit into the song, Sam Phillips knew it but was amazed that Elvis did, and taken aback at how freely he was refashioning it. Scotty Moore and Bill Black (lead guitarist and bass player with the Starlite Wranglers) didn’t know the song - they’d never heard anything like this from one of their contemporaries - but they joined in readily with a perfect musical match. They’d never have dreamt of it yet it made sense to them at once. Whole generations soon responded the same way.


How inward, how fundamental a strength, his under­standing of the blues. He went into that studio already knowing lots of blues: ‘We talked about the Crudup records I knew - “Cool Disposition”, “Rock Me Mama”, “Hey Mama”, “Everything’s All Right” and others, but settled for “That’s All Right”, one of my top favourites’, he said in a 1957 interview. Blues came to him naturally. ‘A Mess of Blues’; ‘One Night’; ‘That’s All Right’; ‘Reconsider Baby’ (the Lowell Fulson classic); ‘Blueberry Hill’; ‘Anyplace Is Paradise’; ‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy’; ‘It Feels So Right’; ‘Heartbreak Hotel’; listen to any of these today and the claim that Presley is a great white blues singer is hard to deny. Listen to Sun 209 now and it still shimmers and bounces off the walls with the sheer delight the musicians and singer are feeling at having found themselves and at the cathartic release this brings. You’re hearing the tingling air in the room at the moment of bold, inspired creation.


He makes it his own. As he does with the bluegrass classic on the other side, Bill Monroe’s ‘Blue Moon Of Kentucky’, a parallel re-invention. His later ‘Shake Rattle & Roll’ makes BIG JOE TURNER’s a different animal without compromising its animal nature, disproving the charge of making a cleaned-up product for whites. Elvis doesn’t flinch from the sexual raunch of ‘I bin over the hill and way down underneath / You make me roll my eyes and then you make me grit my teeth.’ In other words, Presley trusts himself absolutely to stick to lyrics that are low-down and dirty and, equally, to abandon verses that do nothing for him, often substituting lines from elsewhere or of his own invention. All his Sun sides do this. So much for Presley being ‘just’ a singer of other people’s songs.


He makes this then under-attended music his own, and in doing so makes it everybody’s: most especially letting it speak straight to the souls of the young. For the truth is, when we were that young, we couldn’t identify sexually with these older black singers: not because of their color but because we thought they sounded, well, elderly. At the very least they were clearly grown-ups. Even when they were exuding innuendo, they sounded like comfortable uncles. To young ears, Wynonie Harris makes ‘Meet me in the alley’ sound sedate, and Arthur Gunter sings ‘Baby Let’s Play House’ as if they’ll be choosing the curtains. Elvis transforms its mood, reclaiming gleefully the forbidden thrill of its suggestive propositioning for teenagers still trapped in their parents’ houses.


With an artistic self-knowledge beyond his years, he seized a music that thrilled him and made perfect sense to him as a vehicle for expressing his own vision, in such a way that it liberated millions. The upshot is a ‘copy’ or a ‘cover’ more original than the original.


Of course ‘originality’ wasn’t the point of the blues. It began as a communal music, and the great body of blues lyric poetry mainly comprises moveable stanzas shared between everybody from the city street-corner guitarist to the men in their forties before ever they recorded, who then found, like BLIND LEMON JEFFERSON, that banjo-picking Appalachian hillbillies were hearing them too.


Elvis’ fusion was therefore the inspired articulation of something long in the air. His originality lay partly in coming out with it, and partly in his brilliant perception that the mysterious music of middle-aged black men, sung in a patois largely shared by crackers like the Presleys, could be the perfect expressive form for pent-up white youth.


There need be no divides, he realised. And he changed the world when he opened his mouth and let out that uniquely yearning voice - that voice in which inner nobility is as audible as the need to bust free of a stultifying, gentility-filled future.


From 1956 to 1960, his music was golden and he was the untouchable and inaccessible prototype superstar. What, after that, went out of Presley’s world? All the sex; all that curious amalgam of insinuation and bluntness he had introduced; all the radiant and thrilling charisma that had more than compensated for the false posturing of everything in the pre­-Dylan years; all the therapeutic, role-distancing humour; an impeccable control in a strong voice that understood (rare thing then) nuance; and an avowing, ever-present nobility.


When he started, the two striking things in his music were lack of inhibition, and sex. Adolescents admired him because he could be socially unacceptable and get away with it, on stage and on record and in the mind, even if not more than once on the Ed Sullivan TV show. Sullivan was right, by his own lights, to take Presley’s hips out of camera-range: they were being rude. And certainly a lot of teen singers who came after him were to discover that getting up on stage and yelling Waaaaahhhh!!! is like exposing yourself in public without being stigmatized.


Sexually, Presley offered a new world, at any rate to whites, and offered it with a blunt statement of interests. There was none of the sycophantic ‘dating’ appeal that was the context of the most of the ’50s stars’ records. ‘At The Hop’, ‘Teenager In Love’, ‘Lonely Boy’: these were the typical titles of the time - but not for Elvis. His titles suited the black labels that announced them. Presley’s titles were ‘Trouble’, ‘I Got Stung’, ‘Jailhouse Rock’, ‘Paralysed’, ‘King Creole’ - these all fitted the various significant elements that made Presley a unique, thrusting and ominous force. He embodied an untapped violence (it lurks in that prophetic, pre-Pete Townsend line ‘He don’t stop playin’ till his guitar breaks’) that a song like ‘Trouble’ made explicit and the kind of hard bravado that ‘Jailhouse Rock’ merged with ecstasy. ‘Jailhouse Rock’ is a direct descendant of ‘Hound Dog’, where the voice seems to rage like King Kong in chains.


Most rock’n’roll stars tried to be aggressive and masculine, and made love to the stage microphone (GENE VINCENT most endearingly): but only Elvis Presley projected himself so well that he seemed often to be bearing down sexually on the listener. In the love songs he offered to the young and virginal a constant implication of prior sexual experience and a corresponding cynicism others could never bring off: ‘Hey baby - I ain’t askin’ much o’ you / No n-no n-no n-no no baby - ain’t askin’ much o’ you: / Just a big-uh big-uh big-uh hunk of love will do.’ In 1959 that came across as freshly candid, its message the forerunner of that line from Dylan’s ‘If You Gotta Go, Go Now’, ‘It’s not that I’m askin’ for anything you never gave before’. The two share the same ambiguity, the same ostensible politeness.


It was a unique stance at the time: unique, at least, in reaching the mass of white middle-class adolescents. Elvis was having sex with you while RICKY NELSON was singing ‘I hate to face your dad / Too bad / I know he’s gonna be mad / It’s late . . . / Hope this won’t be our last date’ and in the mournful, sexless world of Eddie Cochran (despite his macho posturing), ‘Six hot-dogs oughta be just right / After such a wonderful night.’ Presley, in contrast, got down to the eternal verities of’passion underlying the middle-class Saturday night: ‘If you wanna be loved, baby you gotta love me too / Cos I ain’t for no one-sided love affair: / Well a fair exchange ain’t no robbery / An’ the whole world knows that it’s true’. And ‘Why make me plead / For something you need?’


Presley’s cynicism had such pungency that it provided, over the years, a sharp, concerted attack on the two-faced conventions imposed on the children of the ’50s. His delivery gave a stylishness and authority to these open, soliciting songs that was utterly lacking in the other rock artists. Not just by sneers but by his pent-up tremble in the bass notes, the sudden, full-throated rasps and the almost confessional, mellow country moans. Presley was saying ‘Let’s fuck’ years before John and Paul were wanting to hold your hand. Millions of eager teenagers, weary of the pudge next door, could respond a good deal more honestly when Elvis sang ‘Stuck On You’, ‘Treat Me Nice’ and ‘Baby Lets Play House’. Even at his most melodic (which he was never afraid to be, and which he always carried off without false delicacy) there was a saving power.


A final point on Presley’s sexuality. It is true that the pre-rock chart-toppers and radio-favorites, the night-club stars whose idea of perfection was a Cole Porter song and the Nelson Riddle Orchestra, dealt with sex too - but never, never with passion. Physical contact, desire, sexual aspiration always come across From SINATRA, Tormé, Tony Bennett and the rest as a kind of world-weary joke that goes with old age. The standard it’s-one-in-the-morning-and-we’re-pretty-smooth treatments of ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’, ‘Night and Day’, etc, could as easily be addressed to the bottle as to the babe.


Against this lifeless background, Presley’s initial impact coast-to-coast in America, and in Britain also, was cataclysmic. Yet lack of inhibition, sex and the voice to carry it was not all that he offered. He also gave out a fair share of the vital humour that goes with the best hard-line rock and that FATS DOMINO, CHUCK BERRY and Little Richard all used very well: a humour that shows itself aware of outside values and of the inextricable mixture of the important and the trivial, the real and the stylized in the pop medium. And if you go back now to the original Presley recordings, the pungency and freshness of this humor can still hit home.


Where to begin, on how Presley influenced Dylan? It’s almost too all-embracing to bear delineation. But in the first place, Dylan would have heard at least part of his old blues material second-hand through Presley - to whom it seemed an entirely natural, fluid medium in which to express, well, everything. Elvis was a living demonstration of how this could be done. When we acknowledge that Dylan has worked the blues so strongly and resourcefully that he has given it something back, the nearest comparison must be to Presley.


You can see the extent of Dylan’s drawing on the poetry of pre-war blues in a song as ‘new’ as ‘It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry’ (and in a couple of earlier songs), from looking at just one such old blues, Leroy Carr’s ‘Alabama Woman Blues’: ‘Did you ever go down on the Mobile and K.C. Line / I just want to ask you, did you ever see that girl of mine / I rode the central and I hustled the L & N / The Alabama women, they live like section men… / Don’t the clouds look lonesome across the deep blue sea / Don’t my gal look good when she’s coming after me.’ But additionally, though by the nature of the process inseparably, Dylan’s lines draw in the couplet Presley sings so beautifully in the cathartic, lulled middle of his stormy Sun recording of ‘Milk Cow Blues Boogie’: ‘Don’t that sun look good goin’ down / Well don’t that old moon look lonesome when your baby’s not around?’


Here, in one revelatory musical moment, we glimpse how electrifyingly such stuff passes along. To hear Presley sing these lines is to hear it all: to hear the graceful, rueing heart of the old country blues - never better voiced than in the brilliant ellipse of the opening line of BLIND BLAKE’s ‘One Time Blues’ in 1927: ‘Ah the rising sun going down’ - yet to hear at the same moment the liberation of the soul that Elvis found in the blues almost thirty years later, a liberation he passed on to all of us whiteys when he first sang out - and in that same moment to hear too a sound that travels forward thirty-odd years to illuminate what Dylan has swirling around him when, on 1990’s Under The Red Sky song ‘10,000 Men’, he comes to sing its second line not as a full repeat of the first (‘Ten thousand men on a hill’, which might be thought abrupt and spare enough) but honed to the absolute minimalism of ‘Ten thousand men, hill,’ so that Dylan, sounding old as the hills himself (and pronouncing ‘he-yi-ull’ exactly as Elvis always did), stands shoulder to shoulder across the sixty-year gap with Blind Blake. Sure has been a long hard climb; yet it has been a shared journey, and the terrain is constantly replenished.


(When Dylan recorded ‘Milk Cow Blues’ in 1962, he used part of Kokomo Arnold’s lyric, part of Presley’s, part of ROBERT JOHNSON’s ‘Milkcow’s Calf Blues’ and part of LEADBELLY’s ‘Good Morning Blues’, shuffling these elements around in the course of two still-unreleased takes.)


Yet Dylan’s debt to Presley reaches beyond the blues. We find Elvis in many corners of Dylan’s canon. Perhaps it was even hearing Elvis’ belatedly-issued version of Lonnie Johnson’s hit ‘TOMORROW NIGHT’ that reminded Dylan of the song, and prompted its inclusion on his 1992 album Good As I Been To You. More certainly, Dylan’s lyric and tune on ‘One More Night’, on Nashville Skyline, are heavily reminiscent of Elvis’ ‘Blue Moon Of Kentucky’. ‘That’s All Right’ is down there in the Bob Dylan songbook. The clear allusion to Floyd Cramer’s piano-style on the end of ‘Tell Me That It Isn’t True’ is an allusion to a style much associated with Elvis and his RCA Victor studios at Nashville. The opening lines of ‘Lay Lady Lay’ do what Presley did all along - it’s the same kind of ennobled overture that comes across in a hundred Elvis songs - while the immaculate soulfulness of ‘I Threw It All Away’ is like Presley’s great ‘Is It So Strange?’. Elvis’ ‘Milkcow Blues Boogie’ and ‘Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream’ both begin and then stop and start again. Elvis says ‘Hold it fellas!’ and Dylan’s producer echoes this with ‘Hey, wait a minute fellas!’ It may have been Dylan who, recognising the parallel, insisted on retaining it on the released version of the track. If so, it is not the only Dylan amendment of a Presley line. In the much later Elvis song ‘Cotton Candy Land’ there is the line ‘We’ll ride upon a big white swan’; Dylan’s knowingly gauche ‘Country Pie’ amends it to ‘Saddle me up a big white goose!’ And it is impossible, when Dylan was recording his countrified version of ‘Blue Moon’ for the 1970 album Self Portrait, that he could have forgotten the eerie cowboy version - complete with the clip-clop of horses’ hooves - that Elvis had recorded in the 1950s.


There are also many take-offs of Elvis slipped into Dylan’s work - but they are never so much take-offs as tributes. Presley is melodramatic, and Dylan mocks that, mocks the exaggeration; but always he does it with a smile that confesses he can’t help falling for Presley, that he notices the good things just as keenly. These take-offs/tributes include the end, musically, of ‘Peggy Day’. Elvis’ songs often end like this, right from his very early ‘I Got A Woman’ through to ‘Beach Boy Blues’, ‘Steppin’ Out Of Line’ and ‘Rock-a-Hula Baby’. On the Basement Tapes version of ‘Quinn The Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)’, Dylan’s voice is deliberately near to the Presley voice of ‘Trouble’. And two versions of ‘Nothing Was Delivered’ from those sessions evoke the Presley world. The one with the heavy piano backing is a finely measured acknowledgement of Elvis’ handling of Domino’s ‘Blueberry Hill’; the version with Dylan’s monologue is a wide-open laugh at Presley’s posturing monologues on ‘That’s When Your Heartaches Begin’, ‘I’m Yours’, ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ and, again, ‘Trouble’. On the last of these especially, Elvis ‘talks tough’, like a young Lee Marvin; Dylan simply makes the hollowness transparent by using the same bravado on weaker lines. Elvis stands there as if all-powerful, delivering the goods; Dylan comes on like a swindled consumer to talk from positions of weakness in the same posturing voice: ‘Now you must, you must provide some answers / For what you sell has not bin received / And the sooner you come up with those answers / You know the sooner you can leave.’ On the Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid soundtrack album, Dylan does three versions of a song called ‘Billy’, the last of which, ‘Billy 7’, is actually a beautiful imitation of how that Lee Marvin imitator James Coburn would sound if he were singing it. And the effect of this - as he sings with an astonishingly deep voice set against sleazy, smoky guitar lines and even sound effects of ominous thunder - is to give us a Dylan parodying exactly the kind of toughness that belongs to Presley.


Dylan also began to come clean, at the end of the 1960s, in acknowledging the special place Elvis Presley occupies in his canon of influences. First, when Rolling Stone asked whether there were any particular artists he liked to have record his songs, he replied (and was widely assumed to be joking at the time), ‘Yeah, Elvis Presley. I liked Elvis Presley. Elvis Presley recorded a song of mine. That’s the one recording I treasure the most… it was called “TOMORROW IS A LONG TIME”.’


The New Morning song, ‘Went To See The Gypsy’ seems to be about going to see Presley, and when Dylan’s record-company issued their ragbag album of warm-ups and reject tracks, Dylan (1973), it contained Bob Dylan versions of two Presley hits. Just as Elvis made versions of Dylan’s ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’ and ‘Tomorrow Is A Long Time’ (and, it was eventually revealed, a ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’), so Dylan had recorded Elvis’ ‘A Fool Such As I’ (on the Basement Tapes and then again at the first of the Self Portrait sessions) and a most lovely, fond, humorous version of ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’ (a warm-up for an early New Morning session), plus, on the Basement Tapes, a version of another song much associated with Elvis’ Sun recording of it, ‘I Forgot To Remember To Forget’. Two decades later, accepting an American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers Founders Award in a Los Angeles restaurant, Dylan even reached for the cornier side of Elvis, saying: ‘I would like to quote, like Elvis Presley, when he accepted some award, and he said: “Without a song, the day would never end / Without a song, the road would never bend / When things go wrong, man ain’t got a friend / Without a song.”’ (Presley had never recorded ‘Without A Song’, but had, as Dylan suggests, read out part of the lyrics during his acceptance speech when presented with an award as one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men Of America by the Jaycees in 1971, the day after this ‘young man’ turned 36.)


The spirit of Presley’s last year as a great artist, 1960, glides around the edges of Dylan’s Oh Mercy album (see entry for details), and then on the next album, 1990’s Under The Red Sky, Dylan gives Presley a sympathetic namecheck, in ‘TV Talkin’ Song’, when a snarl against the intrusiveness of television ends with ‘sometimes you gotta do like Elvis did and shoot the damn thing out’. (Elvis had done this in Asheville, NC, while watching TV after a concert, July 22, 1975.) And after Dylan’s recovery from illness in 1997, Dylan commented: ‘I really thought I’d be seeing Elvis soon.’


On September 30, 1994, Dylan went into a New York City studio and recorded multiple takes of three songs associated with Elvis, ‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy’, ‘Money Honey’ and the glorious ‘Any Way You Want Me (That’s How I Will Be)’. None has been released, and only a take of the third song has circulated - and it’s the sort of performance only a Dylan fan would appreciate, but it’s a lovely thing. The opening electric guitar noise replicates 1957 so beautifully it’s heartstopping; then Dylan’s voice comes in weakly on the very phrase ‘I’ll be strong’, but while he can’t throw his head back and let out those orgasmic sobbing moans like Elvis, yet he finds a way to sing it that is at once a truly touching tribute and a re-invention: a way of translating those moans into his own expressive cadences, calling back across time to convey the numinousness of the 1950s moment anew. It’s absurd that this recording remains unreleased.


In June 1972 Bob Dylan was ‘spotted’ attending one of Presley’s four concerts at Madison Square Garden, NYC. The idea, suggested by ‘Went To See The Gypsy’, that Dylan might have met Presley in Minnesota (a) when both were famous (b) after a Presley Las Vegas stint and (c) ahead of the New Morning songs being recorded, is impossible, though they might have met elsewhere. That Dylan might have seen Presley in concert in Minnesota is another matter: Presley first performed in Minnesota in St.Paul, 13 May 1956; next, 15 years later, was Minneapolis, 5 November 1971; then St.Paul, 2 & 3 October 1974; Duluth, 16 October 1976 and Minneapolis the following night; Duluth, 29 April 1977; and lastly St.Paul, 30 April 1977.


Presley also recorded a very foreshortened version of one further Dylan song, ‘I Shall Be Released’: he sings the chorus twice, unaccompanied, and then stops, adding the single word ‘Dylan!’, as if to identify the composer for the benefit of others in the studio. It is impossible to interpret Presley’s attitude to Dylan from the tone of voice with which he speaks his name. On stage, however, in one of the 1970 Las Vegas concerts, he suggests an attitude toward Dylan’s voice when he says to the audience: ‘My mouth is so dry it feels like Bob Dylan spent the night in it.’


Elvis didn’t need to listen to Dylan himself to pick up his material. As Peter Guralnick writes, about an Elvis session of April 1966: ‘...before going to the studio, they listened to Peter, Paul & Mary In Concert or the trio’s latest, See What Tomorrow Brings, and Odetta Sings Dylan was never far from the turntable. Elvis showed a keen interest in IAN & SYLVIA as well, along with his usual gospel, blues, and rhythm and blues favourites, and when they all got together to sing, he was as likely to suggest Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind” as a Statesmen number…’ (Odetta Sings Dylan included ‘Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right’ and ‘Tomorrow Is A Long Time’, and Peter, Paul & Mary In Concert unsurprisingly included ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’. ‘I Shall Be Released’, of course, came later.)


Years ago, when Dylan was held to be the absolute opposite, the antithesis, of Presley, it would have been, if not actually heretical, at least controversial to argue that Dylan could owe Elvis anything. Now, recognition has grown for what Presley has achieved, even though the clichés and artifice that are a discountable part of it for those of us who heard his early work when it was new, must surely be too obtrusive for new listeners except on a few early classic tracks. But Dylan grew up with it, and would have grown up a different person, and a different artist - perhaps not an artist at all - if not for Elvis.
Elvis Presley died at Graceland, Memphis TN, on August 16, 1977. He was 42 years old.

[Elvis Presley: ‘That’s All Right’, Memphis, Jul 5-6, 1954, Sun 209, Memphis, 1954; ‘A Mess Of Blues’, Nashville, 20-21 Mar 1960, RCA Victor, NYC, 1960; ‘One Night’, Hollywood, 23 Feb 1957, RCA Victor 47-7410, 1958 (RCA 1100, London, 1959); ‘Reconsider Baby’, Nashville, 3-4 Apr 1960, issued Elvis Is Back, RCA Victor LPM/LSP 2231 (RCA RD27171 & SF 5060 - mono & stereo - London), 1960; ‘Blueberry Hill’, Hollywood, 19 Jan 1957, Just For You (EP), RCA Victor EPA 4041 (Elvis Presley, RCX 104, London), 1957; ‘Anyplace Is Paradise’, Hollywood, 2 Sep 1956, Elvis, RCA Victor LPM 1382, 1956 (Elvis (Rock ’N’ Roll no.2), HMV CLP 1105, London, 1957); ‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy’, NYC, 3 Feb 1956, RCA Victor 20/47-6642, 1956 (HMV POP 408, 1957: B-side of different single); ‘It Feels So Right’, 20-21 Mar 1960, Elvis Is Back; ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, Nashville, 10-11 Jan 1956, RCA Victor 20-6420 & 47-6420 (78rpm & 45rpm), NYC (HMV Records POP 182, London), 1956; ‘Tomorrow Night’, Memphis, 10 Sep 1954, first on Elvis For Everyone, RCA Victor LPM-3450, 1965, but first issued properly on Reconsider Baby, RCA Victor AFL1-5418, 1985 & CD-reissued on the essential The King Of Rock’n’Roll - The Complete 50s Masters, BMG/RCA PD90689(5), 1992. ‘Blue Moon Of Kentucky’, as ‘That’s All Right’; ‘Shake Rattle & Roll’; ‘Baby Let’s Play House’, Memphis, 5 Feb 1955, Sun 217, Memphis, 1955 (HMV POP 305, 1957). ‘Trouble’, Hollywood, 15 Jan 1958, & ‘King Creole’, Hollywood, 23 Jan 1958, were both written and recorded for the film King Creole, Paramount Studios, US, directed Michael Curtiz, 1958 (based on Harold Robbins’ novel A Stone For Danny Fisher, 1952); King Creole, RCA Victor LPM 1884, NYC (RCA Victor RD 27088, London), 1958. ‘I Got Stung’, Nashville, 11 Jun 1958, RCA Victor 47-7410, 1958 (RCA 1100, London, 1959). ‘Jailhouse Rock’, Hollywood, 30 Apr 1957 (title song from the MGM film, US, directed Richard Thorpe, 1957), RCA Victor 20/47-7035 (RCA 1028), 1957: a no.1 hit single USA & UK, and also title-track of a no.1 EP, RCA Victor EPA 4114, 1957 (RCX 106, 1958). ‘Paralyzed’, Hollywood, 2 Sep 1956, on Elvis, 1956 and EP Elvis Vol.1, EPA 992, 1956 (UK single on HMV POP 378, 1957); ‘Hound Dog’, NYC, 2 Jul 1956, RCA Victor 20/47-6604 (HMV POP 249), 1956; ‘A Big Hunk O’ Love’, Nashville, 10 Jun 1958, RCA Victor 47-7600, (RCA 1136), 1959; ‘One Sided Love Affair’, NYC, 30 Jan 1956, on Elvis Presley, RCA Victor LPM 1254 (Elvis Presley (Rock ’N’ Roll), HMV CLP 1093), 1956 (his first LP, & a US no.1); ‘Give Me The Right’, Nashville, 12-13 Mar 1961, Something For Everybody, RCA Victor LPM/LSP-2370 (RD-27224 / SF 5106, London), 1961; ‘Stuck On You’, Nashville, 20-21 Mar 1960, RCA Victor (RCA 1187), 1960; ‘Treat Me Nice’, Hollywood, 5 Sep 1957, B-side of ‘Jailhouse Rock’; ‘Milkcow Blues Boogie’, Memphis, prob. 15 Nov or 20 Dec, 1954; Sun 215, Memphis, 1955 (1st issued UK on EP Good Rockin’ Tonight, HMV 7EG8256, 1957); ‘Is It So Strange?’, Hollywood, 19 Jan 1957, on the EP Just For You (Presley had earlier sung the song at the legendary ‘million dollar quartet’ jam-session at Sun Studios with Carl Perkins, JERRY LEE LEWIS and, briefly, JOHNNY CASH: Memphis, 4 or 11 Dec 1956); ‘Cotton Candy Land’, Hollywood, Aug 1962, It Happened At The World’s Fair, RCA Victor LPM/LSP-2697 (RD/SF 7565, London), 1963; ‘Blue Moon’, Memphis, 19 Aug 1954, RCA Victor 20/47-6640, NYC, 1956; ‘I Got A Woman’, Nashville, 10 Jan 1956, Elvis Presley; ‘Beach Boy Blues’ & ‘Rock-A-Hula Baby’, Hollywood, 23 Mar 1961, Blue Hawaii, RCA Victor LPM/LSP-2426 (RCA RD27238 / SF 5115), 1961 (‘Rock-A-Hula Baby’ was also a single); ‘Steppin’ Out Of Line’, Hollywood, 22 Mar 1961, Pot Luck, LPM/LSP-2523 (RD 27265 / SF 5135), 1962; ‘That’s When Your Heartaches Begin’, Hollywood, 13 Jan 1957, B-side of ‘All Shook Up’, RCA 20-6870 (78rpm) & 47-6870 (45rpm), March 1957; ‘I’m Yours’, Nashville, 25-26 Jun 1961, Pot Luck; ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’, Nashville, 3-4 Apr 1960, RCA Victor 47-7810 (‘living stereo’ version 61-7810), (RCA 1216, London), 1960; ‘Tomorrow Is A Long Time’, Nashville, 25-28 May 1966 (the sessions include musicians Floyd Cramer, PETE DRAKE & CHARLIE McCOY), Spinout, RCA Victor LPM/LSP-3702 (California Holiday, RCA SF 7820, London), 1966; ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’, Nashville, 16-17 May 1971, Elvis (nb. not 2nd LP, which had same title, 1956), RCA Victor APL1-0283 (SF 8378, London), 1973; ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’, Feb 1966-early 1967, Hollywood, Platinum: A Life In Music, RCA/BMG 07863 67469-2, 1997; ‘I Shall Be Released’, Nashville, May 20, 1971, Elvis - Walk A Mile In My Shoes - The Essential 70’s Masters, RCA/BMG 7432130331-2, 1995. NB: The great first post-Army album, Elvis Is Back, has been reissued complete with many outtakes and the singles recorded at the same sessions, plus outtakes from these, as a highly-praised 2-CD set, Elvis Is Back!, Follow That Dream 8287 667968-2, US 2005.

The 1957 interview quoted from Charlie Gillett: Sound of the City, 1971. The 1970 Las Vegas quote, and details re Elvis shooting the TV, from The Elvis Atlas: A Journey Through Elvis Presley’s America, Michael Gray & Roger Osborne, New York; Henry Holt, 1996. Presley’s Madison Square Gdn concerts, one of which Dylan attended, 9-11 Jun 1972. Dylan quoted from Rolling Stone no.47, San Francisco, Jun 1969. Peter Guralnick, Careless Love: The Unmaking Of Elvis Presley, New York; Little Brown, 1999, p.223.

Arthur Crudup: ‘That’s All Right’, Chicago, 6 Sep 1946, known by Elvis Presley from its issue on 78rpm on Victor 20-2205 (c/w ‘Crudup’s After Hours’), NYC, 1946-7; ‘Cool Disposition’ & ‘Rock Me Mama’, Chicago, 15 Dec 1944, Bluebird 34-0738, NYC, 1945;‘Hey Mama, Everything’s All Right’, Chicago 7 Oct 1947, Victor 20-3261, 1947-48; ‘If I Get Lucky’, Chicago, 11 Sep 1941, Bluebird B8858, NYC, 1941.

Arthur Gunter (1926-1976) cut ‘Baby Let’s Play House’ at his first session, Nashville, 1954, Excello 2047, Nashville, 1955; Bob Dylan: ‘If You Gotta Go, Go Now’, live NYC, 31 Oct 1964, Bootleg Series Vol. 6; ‘Milk Cow Blues’, NYC, 25 Apr 1962, unreleased; Ricky Nelson: ‘It’s Late’, Hollywood, 21 Oct 1958, Imperial 5565, LA (London American HLP 8817, London), 1959; Eddie Cochran: ‘Drive-In Show’, LA, 1957, Liberty Records 55087, Hollywood, 1957; Leroy Carr: ‘Alabama Women Blues’, Chicago, 9 Sep 1930; Kokomo Arnold: ‘Milk Cow Blues’, Chicago, 10 Sep 1934; Robert Johnson: ‘Milkcow’s Calf Blues’, Dallas, 20 Jun 1937, 2 takes; Leadbelly: ‘Good Morning Blues’, NYC, 15 Jun 1940 or Summer 1943. Blind Lemon Jefferson: ‘That Black Snake Moan’, Chicago, c.Nov 1926; ‘Black Snake Moan’, Atlanta, 14 Mar 1927; Ishman Bracey: ‘The ’Fore Day Blues’ (alternate take), Memphis, 31 Aug 1928; Lonnie Johnson: ‘Tomorrow Night’, Cincinatti, 10 Dec 1947. Fats Domino: ‘Blueberry Hill’, LA, Jul 1956, Imperial 5407, 1956. Odetta: Odetta Sings Dylan, nia, RCA LSP-3324, NYC, 1965 (the CD reissue of which does include ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’, plus ‘Paths of Victory’, each taken from earlier Odetta albums); Peter, Paul & Mary In Concert, Warner Bros. 1555, NYC, 1964.]

Sunday, August 12, 2007

DYLAN'S DRAWN BLANK PAINTINGS EXHIBITION

Here's the press release for the forthcoming first exhibition of the 200+ watercolour and gouache paintings Bob Dylan has created, sketches for which were published in his book Drawn Blank in 1994:

Bob Dylan: The Drawn Blank Series Watercolor and Gouache Paintings
Exhibition 28 October 2007 - 3 February 2008

NEW YORK, Aug. 8 /PRNewswire/ -- Bob Dylan has agreed to allow the first-ever exhibition of his work at Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz, beginning 28 October 2007. Although Dylan has been a committed visual artist for more than four decades, this three-month event -- titled "The Drawn Blank Series" -- will mark the first museum showing of his work.

Exclusively for this exhibition, Bob Dylan has produced more than 200 remarkably intense color variations on pictorial motifs from a book of drawings and sketches done from 1989 to 1992, which were published in 1994 under the title Drawn Blank by Random House. In the book's preface, Dylan explained that these works were intended as sketches for paintings that he eventually planned to complete. These now fully realized works -- photo-lithographs transferred to deckle-edged paper -- have been stunningly reworked by the artist in watercolor and gouache and will be displayed for the first time in Chemnitz.

When asked how Chemnitz came to be the venue for "The Drawn Blank Series" exhibition, Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz Director Ingrid Moessinger explained, "I first came across Bob Dylan's book of drawings at an historical exhibition about Bob Dylan at The Morgan Library & Museum in New York. I went straight out and bought my own copy and immediately began to track down the originals."

Bob Dylan commented, "I was fascinated to learn of Ingrid's interest in my work, and it gave me the impetus to realize the vision I had for these drawings many years ago." He added, "If not for this interest, I don't know if I even would have revisited them."

An extensive catalogue (in German and English) with numerous color and black-and-white reproductions will be published by Prestel Munich, New York, and London to mark the exhibition. The catalogue will be edited by Ingrid Moessinger and Kerstin Drechsel and will contain essays by Prof. Dr. Frank Zoellner, Leipzig; Diana Widmaier-Picasso, Paris; and Dr. Jens Rosteck, Nice.

KUNSTSAMMLUNGEN CHEMNITZ Collection

The museum has a collection of 65,000 art works, including 25,000 drawings and prints (Honore Daumier, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Picasso, et al), and paintings, sculptures and drawings mainly from the end of 18th to the end of 20th century (C.D. Friedrich, German Expressionists, Edvard Munch, et al). The museum, on purpose-built premises, was inaugurated in 1909.

What this press release doesn't seem to mention is the address or phone number of the venue. The Kunstsammlungen is actually in the German town of Chemnitz, which used to be in East Germany and is close to, and south of, Leipzig and Dresden, and very near the border with the Czech Republic. The address is Theaterplatz 1, 09111 Chemnitz, and the phone number including international code is +49 371 4884424.

Friday, August 10, 2007

ISIS DYLAN DIGEST & TOMMY MAKEM

Isis fanzine has introduced a handy new feature on their website (the link from here is in the bits with buttons in the Links section somewhere down the left-hand column), called the Dylan Digest, intended to keep Dylan news updates coming in. It was only from reading this t'other day that I learnt of Tommy Makem's recent death. He died on Wednesday August 1, in Dover, New Hampshire, from complications arising from lung cancer. He was 74.

In The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia he crept under the far from infallible radar screen of the indexer, even though one of the book's entries, reproduced below, is...


Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem

An influential and popular US-based Irish folk group from the end of the 1950s onwards: the musically respectable flipside of the Dubliners - despite, as Dylan noted when comparing them to Northern Ireland’s McPeake Family, having ‘that touch of commerciality to them: you didn’t mind it, but it was still there’, and despite looking, in photos, like ads for knitting patterns. They’re to be seen proving the point in archive footage unearthed in the film No Direction Home (2005).


Paddy Clancy was born in Carrick-on-Suir, Ireland in 1922; brother Tom was born there in 1923; Liam was born in 1936. The older two left Ireland for Canada in 1947, crossed illegally into the US in 1948, working first in Cleveland, Ohio and then moving via Chicago to New York City. Tommy Makem, born in Keady, Northern Ireland in 1932, first joined them in 1956 in Chicago, shortly before the move to New York, where Paddy helped Folkways and Elektra to record Irish music and set up his own label, Tradition, which issued LPs by the McPeakes, Josh White, ODETTA and, from 1959 onwards, by, er, the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem.


They had wanted to be actors, not singers, and Tom Clancy had some success at this - even playing on Broadway in Orson Welles’ King Lear - but the others struggled in small venues until they switched to singing, which was immediately more popular with audiences. Their first two LPs, The Rising of the Moon and Come Fill Your Glass With Us were followed by a 1961 appearance on the Ed Sullivan TV show that emblazoned their name at once on the American public mind. In the late 1960s, Paddy Clancy returned to Ireland to take up dairy farming, and Tommy Makem went solo in 1969.


In Chronicles Volume One (2004) Dylan recalls, while dismissing the concept ‘protest songs’ and endorsing the very different category of ‘rebellion songs’, that the Clancy Brothers ‘and their buddy Tommy Makem’ were crucial purveyors of ‘rebellion songs’. He says that these ‘really moved me’ and that ‘they sang them all the time’, and that in the White Horse Bar on Hudson Street in the Village, where he befriended Liam, its clientele, ‘mostly…guys from the old country…would sing drinking songs, country ballads and rousing rebel songs…’ In No Direction Home Dylan calls the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem ‘musketeers’.


But Dylan was enthusing about them long before this. He told interviewers David Hammond and Derek Bailey much the same things at Slane, Ireland, in 1984: ‘The times I remember the Clancy Brothers most was not mostly in the clubs where we played [the Village Vanguard, the Village Gate and Gerde’s Folk City] but in those bars…the White Horse bar…you could always go there, any time, and they’d be singing…Irish folk songs. Actually I learnt quite a few there myself…. Liam always sang those ballads which always would get to me - I’d never heard those kind of songs before, close up, you know. I’d heard them on record but I hadn’t heard them close up. All the legendary people they used to sing about - Brennan on the Moor, or Roddy McCorley - I wasn’t aware of them, when they existed - but it was as if they’d just existed yesterday.’ In the televised part of this interview he also said: They just reached a lot of people, you know, with their exuberance and their attitude. They’re all great singers. They’re all so different, too, aren’t they?’ He adds: ‘I never heard a singer as good as Liam ever. He was just the best ballad singer I’d ever heard in my life. Still is, probably.’


Liam Clancy is also to be seen in No Direction Home, sat at that White Horse Tavern bar doing his Stage Irishman act (once an actor…) and saying highly interesting things: particularly about Dylan being one of that recognisable category of person the Irish have a term for - a ‘shape-changer’; but he too was recorded talking about Bob Dylan two decades earlier, and talking too about what Dylan had told him he remembered about him from the White Horse days. He told PATRICK HUMPHRIES in October 1984:


‘. . .I was coming through La Guardia Airport about six months ago, and I had the bodhran on my back, and the guitars, and the next thing I felt this body behind me, and I got this great hairy kiss on the cheek. Now when that happens in New York you’re going to turn round and belt whoever it is. So I turn around and it’s Bob Dylan. We stood talking for a little while and suddenly the whole thing flooded back to me - what it was all like at that time. He says: “I love you guys. And I love [ROBERT] SHELTON for bringing me to your first concert in [New York] Town Hall. You know what I remember about that concert, Liam? You sang a commercial about Donnelly’s sausages!”’


In 2002 Liam Clancy published his autobiography, The Mountain of the Women: Memoirs of an Irish Troubadour, and in it he describes the importance of the White Horse bar not only to the Clancys but to the life of Greenwich Village in general: ‘For us,’ he writes at one point, ‘the White Horse Tavern was the poetic, singing center of the Village.’ But it was also where Dylan Thomas had committed suicide by whiskey in 1953, so it was on the tourist trail, and regulars sometimes perforce valued the back room more than the bar itself:


‘Crowds of students would come on weekends to worship at the shrine. We, the locals, resented the invasion. This was our sanctuary: the back room was our singing place, the place where sea shanties, rebel songs, and raw love songs were exposed. This was where THEO BIKEL could cry over the beauty of his Old Testament recitals, where RICHARD FARINA could hold forth with snatches of his novel in progress’ and ‘where Jimmy [i.e. James] Baldwin could flaunt his homosexual intellectualism and snort scornfully at our ballsy shanties…’ (Fariña was, according to Clancy, ‘a regular’ at the White Horse and a ‘close friend’, whom he calls ‘the poet/singer/revolutionary’.)


In 1992, at the so-called Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration in New York City, the Clancy Brothers and Robbie O’Connell with special guest Tommy Makem performed a gloriously unrockist, moving ‘When the Ship Comes In’ (with Paddy Clancy on harmonica and vocals, Liam on guitar and vocals, young whippersnapper Bobby Clancy on percussion and vocals, Tommy Makem on banjo and vocals, Robbie O’Connell on guitar and vocals, and G.E. SMITH on bass).


Paddy came out of retirement for this concert - for the second time; they had re-formed in 1984 for a one-off concert and a new album, Reunion. For the party after the Dylan ‘Celebration’ concert, everyone repaired to Tommy Makem’s club, the Irish Pavilion. Liam wasn’t happy with the sales figures of the 2-CD set of the concert. As HOWARD SOUNES recounted it, sales were good ‘in the first few months and then…fell sharply. Artists who were on the CD received a percentage of royalties and were surprised to see how modest these were. “Some of the statements I got didn’t read very well,” [said] Liam Clancy. “You know, Denmark: two copies.”’


In Patrick Humphries’ 1984 interview with the Clancys, Paddy suddenly offers this odd little story about Dylan and his absorption of material back in the early days: ‘You want to know where Dylan got his stuff? There was a little folk club here in London, down in the basement; we sang in it one night.... Anyway, AL GROSSMAN paid somebody and gave them a tape-recorder, and every folk-singer that went up there was taped, and Bob Dylan got all those tapes...’ And Liam agrees with this, adding: ‘Yes, and the tune of “Farewell” [a song Dylan copyrighted in 1963 and is included in his official songbooks]...whoever was singing harmony was closer to the mike than the guy singing melody, and when [Dylan] wrote his version, he wrote it to the harmony not the melody line.


The Clancys were carriers, not composers, of their material, so they have no cause to complain that Dylan took things from them (and generally they don’t), but the songs he probably took specifically from hearing the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem performing live are: the traditional ‘Brennan on the Moor’, which becomes his ‘Rambling Gambling Willie’ (copyrighted 1962, and an outtake from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, 1963), the traditional ‘The Parting Glass’, which mutates into ‘Restless Farewell’ on The Times They Are A-Changin’, and the Appalachian song ‘The Nightingale’, whose tune Dominic Behan used for his song ‘The Patriot Game’, which the Clancys sang and from which Dylan in turn created ‘With God On Our Side’.


Liam Clancy certainly recognised Dylan’s artistic legitimacy: indeed he specifies the moment at which this really struck him, again in the interview with Patrick Humphries. He is recalling seeing Dylan at the 1965 NEWPORT FOLK FESTIVAL and reacting to the solo acoustic performance of ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ that came after ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’:


‘I was actually filming at the Newport Festival that year. I was up a 12-foot platform filming with a telephoto lens, so I could zoom in close. And Dylan came out, and it was obvious that he was stoned, bobbing around the stage. Very Chaplinesque, actually. He broke into that “Tambourine Man” and I found myself standing there with tears streaming down my face, because - I saw the butterfly emerging from the caterpillar. I also saw, for the first time, the immense value of what the man was about. When he sang “my ancient empty street’s too dead for dreaming”, I knew it was Sullivan Street on a Sunday. So it was not only a street, it was our street. I suddenly realised that this kid, who had bugged us so often, had emerged into a very major artist.’


Tom died in Cork (Ireland) on November 7, 1990; Paddy died of cancer at home back in Carrick-on-Suir on November 10, 1998; Liam Clancy and Tommy Makem survive.


Sadly, this last statement now needs amending.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

MINNESOTA RADIO INTERVIEWS WITH CRITICS

Minnesota Public Radio has put online the interviews it conducted, with various Dylan critics and other relevant figures, live on the walkway outside the Weisman Museum while the Highway 61 Revisited symposium was happening in March this year.

The artists interviewed were Anne Waldman and Bobby Vee, and the critics were Greil Marcus, Christopher Ricks, Dave Marsh and me.

I thank Terry Kelly for drawing all this to my attention. I was completely unaware of it. I listened to my own interview first, of course, and it was just about ok - mostly a plug for my own books, and full of the lazy use of the word “thing”, and all pretty facile - but then I listened to Greil Marcus and, as when I heard him speak at the symposium, I’m impressed by his sincerity, undiminished affection for Dylan & respect for his artistry, and his unfaltering articulacy.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

LEE HAZLEWOOD, DUANE EDDY & BOB

The BBC Radio 4 news report of Lee Hazlewood's death, and the obituary on NME.com, failed equally to go much beyond the man's dreary association with Nancy Sinatra. It's a sign of age on my part, I suppose, that I could be shocked at the absolute failure to mention his key role in the work of Duane Eddy. Even the long and generally assiduous obit in the Daily Telegraph throws in a mere mention of their connection.

Yet Lee Hazlewood produced and co-wrote that crucial slew of hit singles which were part of the consciousness of everyone who listened to rock'n'roll in the late 1950s and to "pop" in the pre-Beatles 1960s - hit singles that sounded, at first, from the same black-leather jacketed, tough world that Elvis Presley occupied back then, and were at least as responsible as anyone else's work for making the instrumental single a hit genre in its own right.

Starting with 'Movin' n' Groovin'' and 'Rebel Rouser' in 1958, the Duane Eddy hits he co-wrote with Hazlewood included 'Cannonball', 'Yep!', 'Some Kinda Earthquake', 'Shazam' and 'Kommotion'. Hazlewood was also the producer of the other hits Duane Eddy achieved and were written or co-written by band-leader Al Casey and Duane, notably 'Ramrod' and 'Forty Miles Of Bad Road'.

This last title was a phrase Bob Dylan deploys in the lyrics of 'Things Have Changed'. At other times, Dylan uses two of the key sax players from those original Duane Eddy hits, Jim Horn and Steve Douglas.

After those hits were over, Duane Eddy signed to RCA and reinvented his sound to incorporate girlie-group singers (and therefore words) - and Lee Hazlewood was again his co-inventor, for the big hit '(Dance With The) Guitar Man' and the charmingly barmy 'Your Baby's Gone Surfin''.
Soon after this Duane Eddy recorded his album largely of Bob Dylan songs, Duane Eddy Does Bob Dylan, issued in 1965. The songs covered on this LP also included Barry McGuire's 'Eve of Destruction' and two songs by... Lee Hazlewood, who was, yet again, Duane's producer.

Lee Hazlewood died of cancer on Saturday, August 4, aged 78.