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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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Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Bob Dylan's birthday the day before yesterday (May 24) was also the 35th anniversary of the death of Duke Ellington (at age 75, in New York City), while yesterday (May 25) was the fifth anniversary of the death of the great sound engineer and pre-eminent cleaner-up of scratchy old records, John R.T. Davies (at age 77, in Burnham, Buckinghamshire). The day after tomorrow (May 28) will be the 85th anniversary of the birth of Bob's early co-performer Brother John Sellers, in Clarksdale Mississippi.

Only the last of these fine people has an entry in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, and it runs like this:

Sellers, Brother John [1924 - 1999]
John Sellers was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi on May 27, 1924. Abandoned by his parents in a flood at the age of 4, he was performing in tent shows at 5, removed from a bordello at the age of 10 by Mahalia Jackson (but what was she doing there?), taken to live with her in Chicago and encouraged to sing with her and with BIG BILL BROONZY. From 1945 to 1951 he stuck with gospel but then went secular and in London sang with a jazz group that included the famous British cartoonist Trog. He recorded blues and gospel from the 1940s onwards, billed as Reverend John Sellers on Miracle in 1948 and as Johnny Sellers on some 1952 blues sides. He moved to New York City and fell in with the Greenwich Village world, recording ‘folk blues’ in the predictable way. He was not a great singer or an especially deterous tambourine-shaker, but according to Studs Terkel, whose talks he helped illustrate with song around the end of the 1950s, he had ‘a clarity and a sense of urgency…. Brother John had a way of making things come alive.’ He was best on material like ‘Wade In The Water’.

In 1961 in the Village, Dylan and MARK SPOELSTRA were ‘The Dungarees’ in Brother John & The Dungarees, playing back-up guitars and harmonicas behind Sellers at hoot nights at Folk City, where he was an MC and a regular performer. Dylan played at his birthday party there in August 1961.

In 1963 Sellers appeared in the first Broadway production of the black playwright-poet-novelist Langston Hughes’ Tambourines To Glory, 1963 (first published as a novel in 1958). He also collaborated with choreographer Alvin Ailey on the latter’s Blues Suite and Revelations and continued to perform as a musician in Ailey’s American Dance Theatre until 1997. Sellers died in New York City on March 27, 1999, in the middle of suing Ailey over royalties and copyright.

[Main sources include the Independent’s obituary, nia, seen reproduced without author byline 13 Feb 2006 online at]


Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue by Ken Regan, an exhibition of photographs, including rare and unseen images, from the Rolling Thunder Revue, is currently in Dublin. (I hope to see it while I'm there tomorrow.)

Images include, of course, the first meetings between Bob and Springsteen and between Bob and Muhammad Ali; Bob posing with Rubin Carter; Bob at a Rolling Stones party with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards; and Bob with Joan Baez. The exhibition runs until July 1 at:

Gallery Number One
1 Castle Street
Dublin 2
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat 11am-6pm, Sunday 1pm-6pm

As it says in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, "Ken Regan was born in the Bronx in the 1950s [he wasn't very co-operative about being more precise on that date], grew up there, studied journalism at Columbia and then attended New York University's Film School. His first photography work was in sports, selling a wide range of pictures including of tennis, boxing, athletics, basketball, auto racing, hockey and football to the usual heavyweight suspects: Time, Life, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated.

"In the 1970s, he founded the Camera 5 photo agency, to represent himself and 14 others. Since then he has specialised in politics and hard news all over the world - riots, demonstrations, wars, Vietnam Vets, gold mining in Brazil, famine in Ethiopia, the Kennedy family - but also in stills for Hollywood movies. In 1971 he was the principal official photographer at GEORGE HARRISON’s Concert for Bangla Desh and, 14 years on, at LIVE AID.

"All Regan’s work in music, he says, came from promoter Bill Graham having taken him under his wing, including meeting Dylan. The two first met informally at JOHNNY CASH’s house in 1972-73, but the meeting that clinched his work with Dylan came during the 1974 comeback tour with THE BAND.

"It was a fruitful meeting - for it was Regan’s photographs of the 1970s Bob Dylan, more than anyone else’s, that created the quintessential image most people have of him in that decade. All those utterly beautiful shots of him from the 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue and on the sets, therefore, of Renaldo & Clara: the shot with BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, the shots with ALLEN GINSBERG, with JONI MITCHELL, with MUHAMMAD ALI, the covers of the Desire and Hard Rain albums, almost all the generous sweep of pictures in SAM SHEPARD’s Rolling Thunder Logbook, every picture in the lavish booklet with The Bootleg Series Vol.5: Bob Dylan Live 1975 (2002) . . . all Ken Regan’s. And you can buy a gelatin print of any one of them for an average of only $1,700."

Monday, May 25, 2009


The Song & Dance Man III that never was (1994)...

Sunday, May 24, 2009


(which is not my strong point, I readily admit) - good results today. My father's family came from the Sunderland side of the Tyne, always much derided by those from the Newcastle side, so that it was naturally gratifying to see Sunderland stay in the Premier Division and see Newcastle go down - and especially because beaten by Aston Villa, the team always supported by my mother's side of the family, including son Gabriel. Meanwhile in Scotland, my old friend Andy will have been gratified by the triumph of Rangers over Celtic (though not my old friend Gerry R).

For myself, I couldn't give a damn, but for the sake of friend and family, a good day. Better news for me: the French Open grand slam tennis tournament has begun, and tomorrow sees a cavalcade of great artists on court, including Safina, Rafael and Roger.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


photo c/o
photographer uncredited

I'm told by the promoter that my gig at Whelan's, Dublin, next Wednesday (27 May) clashes with a football match, which is scheduled to start in Rome at 8.45pm Central European Time (7.45 pm in Ireland). He's decided that to accommodate people with a possible interest in both events, mine should begin an hour later than advertised - i.e should now begin at 9.30pm (ie 10.30pm Central European Time). People are offering tickets for sale for the bigger event at £500 upwards. Whelan's are offering tickets for mine for just €14.

Friday, May 22, 2009


Well now. With every other vocal Bobcat concentrating, apparently, on Together Through Life, I have finally got around to making my own 1-CD shortlist of the Best of Tell Tale Signs. My tracklist, which rules out the live tracks, goes like this - not given best-track-first etc but as I feel they make for the best running order. Essentially it begins at the most acoustic folk and blues end and swells from there:

1. Mary And The Soldier [from Disc 3]
2. 32-20 Blues [from Disc 2]
3. Most Of The Time [could almost be a Blood On The Tracks outtake, Disc 1]
4. Red River Shore [Disc 1]
5. Can't Wait [the slow version from Disc 3]
6. Mississippi [the different-words version, so surely the earliest, from Disc 3]
7. Mississippi [the folksiest version, from Disc 1]
8. Mississippi [lovely prowling, stylised voice, almost a bit 1966ish, Disc 2]
9. Dignity [Disc 2]
10. God Knows [surprisingly appealing, unlike on Under The Red Sky, Disc 2]
11. Can't Escape From You [Disc 2]
12. Ring Them Bells [Disc 3]
13. Marchin' To The City [definitely Disc 1]
14. Can't Wait [Disc 1, with some lovely alternative words].

'Duncan and Brady' nearly made it; I still dither about ''Cross The Green Mountain'. I don't dither about 'Tell Ol' Bill', 'Born In Time', 'Dreamin' Of You' and 'Huck's Tune': no no no. And while Disc 2's 'Ain't Talkin'' has the advantage of comparative brevity over the Modern Times recording, it was never going to make any shortlist of mine. So there it is. Try it before you knock it.


Coleman Hawkins, found at, painter uncredited

First, SONNY KNIGHT, whose recording of 'Confidential' - written by Dorinda Morgan - Dylan has reached for more than once (including right at the very start of things, in 1956, on the extant recording made at a custom studio in St.Paul MN that Christmas Eve with two summer-camp friends, Larry Kegan and Howard Rutman: see The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia paperback page 205). His real name was Joseph Coleman Smith, and he was born 75 years ago - on 17 May 1934, in Maywood, Illinois. He died on 5 September 1998 in Maui, Hawaii.

Second, and nothing particularly to do with Bob Dylan really - just a favourite of mine - is another person named Coleman, tenor sax genius COLEMAN HAWKINS. Coleman Randolph Hawkins died 40 years ago - on May 19, 1969 and lies in the Bronx's Woodlawn Cemetery. He'd been born in Saint Joseph, Missouri 105 years ago this November.

And third, one of the few singers who can really make cover versions of Dylan songs pleasurable (even when he mangles the words), JOE COCKER, born 65 years ago in Sheffield, Yorkshire, on May 20, 1944.

Thursday, May 21, 2009



Here is a less lovely story than the one about Bob visiting John Lennon's boyhood home. I hadn't meant to start writing about the new album yet, but...

Maybe this is a stronger sign than the album that Dylan is moving into a new phase of some spikiness, and therefore we should be interested and paying attention... but taken as a one-off, it seems simply to be attaching a small and very predictably Hollywood-conventional movie sequence to a recording so that we encounter something by way of a story (though only the violence gives it drama) and some suspense, so giving vicarious dark meaning to a Dylan track that in itself holds none at all.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Lovely story by the curator of John Lennon's boyhood home on radio in Liverpool this afternoon (following story in today's Daily Mirror, I was told by DJ Gary Quinn) that when Dylan was in Liverpool the other week, he turned up at the house on one of the regular tour buses taking customers there to be shown round. The curator recognised Dylan, but he wasn't recognised by the other punters until they were well into their tour of the house. When he was, no-one asked for his autograph; they respected the fact that he'd gone there as a person and not as a star. Or maybe Lennon was the only star in their eyes.

My BOB DYLAN & THE POETRY OF THE BLUES gigs this weekend are:

7.30pm Uppingham Theatre, Uppingham, near Leicester, UK
Box Office: 01572 820820 / / or in person at Uppingham Bookshop or at Stamford Arts Centre
tickets £8.50: also available on the door on the night

7.30pm Cotswold Playhouse Theatre, Parliament Street, Stroud, Gloucestershire
Box Office c/o Stroud Tourist Office: 01453 760960
tickets £12, £11 priority booking, £10 concessions: also available on the door on the night

7.30pm Festival of the Spoken Word, The Main House, The Maltings, Berwick-on-Tweed
Box Office: 01289 330999 /
tickets £10, £8 concessions: also available on the door on the night

Friday, May 08, 2009


Apologies for long non-blogging. Normal service will be resumed soon. Meanwhile, thanks for all the new comments (mostly on the new album), which are now posted.

Meanwhile too:

TONIGHT: Doncaster Little Theatre, 1 East Laith Gate, 7.30pm.
TOMORROW: Market Theatre, Market Street, Ledbury, 8pm
SUNDAY: Quay Theatre, Quay Lane, Sudbury, 7.30pm

Meanwhile too, MADISON WISCONSIN and HIBBING LIBRARY (May 20 & 21) ARE CANCELLED. Travel costs proved suddenly prohibitive for this trip. I'm sorry it had to be this way. I've been giving talks since the end of 1999 and have never cancelled one before.

Meanwhile finally, ONE NEW TALK ADDED: King's Head, Galway, Ireland, MAY 28.

Bye for now. I'm e route from France to Doncaster...