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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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Monday, September 28, 2009


This is an amended, updated version of the blog posted a couple of hours ago...

An interesting teacher called John Clark is holding a series of classes on Dylan's work ("Bob Dylan Revisited") for the Center for Lifelong Learning at Emory University, Atlanta - and for the first of these, two weeks tonight (ie. on Wednesday 12th October), I have been invited to come along and join in the discussion. It's not free to attend, and people can't just attend one session: they must sign up for the whole course - but anyone can enrol.

The class meets from 7 to 9pm. The building and room number on Emory's campus is still undetermined.

The plan for that first week is to talk about Dylan's political roots in Guthrie/Seeger/Almanac Singers, his prophetic posture and eventual distancing of himself from Seeger and the liberal agenda. And to touch briefly on the connection between the cover songs on Dylan's very first album, his exposure to Harry Smith's albums and the Lomax archives, the cover songs on the more recent World Gone Wrong and Good As I Been to You, and the way he seems to be reaching back to those old sources again on his more recent albums (e.g. Sugar Baby).

I'm not sure what the other weeks will cover, except that Week 3 (of 5) will cover Blood on the Tracks, Desire and Street Legal, plus video selections from Renaldo and Clara.

I'll be in the middle of my tour of talks about Hand Me My Travelin' Shoes: In Search of Blind Willie McTell when this course starts, but I'm happy to be able to take part in a Dylan event while I'm there.*

John Clark splits his work week between teaching high school and working on the support staff at DeKalb Technical College. He lives with his cat and wife, with the latter of whom he co-teaches another Evening at Emory course called the Meeting of the Minds. He has a Masters in Theology and has done graduate work in Popular Culture Studies. He is an avid moviegoer.

More information about the Emory University course here.

*I'm also giving the very last Bob Dylan & the Poetry of the Blues talk while I'm there, at Georgia Southern University, on October 22, 7pm. (The last UK one, at Sedbergh Book Festival last Friday, gave me a lovely venue and a very warm audience: a gratifying one to finish on.)

Thursday, September 24, 2009


I'm setting off this afternoon to head for Shropshire tonight and then Cumbria tomorrow. I wish I had time in the former to visit the working Victorian farm there that has been featured on British TV these last two nights (it continues tomorrow night): fascinating stuff, and with a tremendous shire horse and charming, youthful pigs. But I shall instead see daughter Magdalena, son Gabriel, granddaughter Indiana (for the first time) and Indiana's mum Cath. Then tomorrow...

...I'm off up the motorway to Cumbria, to give one last British Bob Dylan & the Poetry of the Blues talk at Sedbergh Book Festival. It's tomorrow night - Friday 25th - at the John Arden Theatre, Busk Lane, Sedbergh; tickets £9 (£5 to under-16s). It's the last time I shall give this performance - though it's never the same one night to the next anyway - in the UK. The last time anywhere at all will be at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro GA on October 22.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


...and want to hear them:

Saturday, September 19, 2009


I thought instead of arguing about current Bob I'd start posting a series of clips from when he was unarguable. Here's the first, from Newcastle 1966:

Friday, September 18, 2009


Too late now to use the link below to's snatches of the tracks - they've withdrawn them...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

CHRISTMAS IN THE HEART TRACK TEASERS is letting people hear little bits of all 15 tracks from the new album here. Do you really want to listen to a Christmas album in the middle of September? I've listened. So will you. I think it's horrid. You may not. You may think that because it's Bob it's wonderful, despite it sounding like a 1950s Ray Connif Singers pastiche fitfully overlaid with a Dylan who couldn't care less how he sings. As if instead of lifting other people's words, as with Chronicles, he's now found a singalong double-album from fifty years ago and thrown a vocal track on top of it. I didn't want to feel this way, but really: he could have sung better than this. Indeed I think he always has.

But talking of snowy scenes and wintry themes, can I say that there are still a few places available for our Winterlude Weekends. You could even come and argue the merits of Christmas in the Heart... Book now!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


photo by Adactio

John Carey's recently published biography of the late William Golding* - who wrote other books besides the great Lord of the Flies - reveals among other endearing things that once when not entirely sober Golding destroyed the Bob Dylan puppet a friend of his owned and buried it in the garden believing it to be Satan. No more deluded, surely, than shouting for "Maggie's Farm!" at one of Dylan's concerts.

*see RECOMMENDED column on the left (below LINKS)

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Well, he would be if he were still alive. When I wrote the Bob Dylan Encyclopedia I believed he'd been born in 1883, but Eric LeBlanc, a scrupulous authority on births and deaths dates of blues (and other) musicians, now says that it was 1884. Cannon didn't get his own entry in my book, but he certainly featured in the entry blues, inequality of reward in:

Then there are the salutary cases of the innovative Noah Lewis and of Gus Cannon, another towering Memphis figure. When Bob Dylan chose to open his performance at the 1996 Aarhus Festival, Denmark, with an approximation of the GRATEFUL DEAD’s ‘New New Minglewood Blues’, he’s likely to have chosen it not because it’s a Dead song but because it isn’t: because, rather, it’s based on ‘New Minglewood Blues’ by Noah Lewis’s Jug Band from 1930, itself a re-modelling of ‘Minglewood Blues’ by Cannon’s Jug Stompers (comprising, in this instance, Gus Cannon, Ashley Thompson and Noah Lewis) from 1928. The Dead’s recording may well have reminded Dylan of the song, but there’s no reason to suppose that he hadn’t been familiar with the original Noah Lewis’s Jug Band recording, since this had been vinyl-reissued in the early 1960s.

The key figure here, then, is the pioneering and splendid harmonica-player Noah Lewis, whose work set new expressive standards in the pre-war period (and who is credited as the composer of ‘Minglewood Blues’ as well as of ‘New Minglewood Blues’: the two may share a tune but are otherwise dissimilar songs - different in lyrics, pace and mood). Lewis was long thought to have been murdered in 1937, but Swedish researcher Bent Olsson discovered that in fact he had retired to Ripley, Tennessee in the ’30s, where in his old age he got frostbite, had both legs amputated and in the process got blood-poisoning, from which he died in the winter of early 1961.

Cannon was by far the better-known figure by the time Bob Dylan reached Greenwich Village. He was one of the featured artists on both HARRY SMITH’s 1952 anthology
American Folk Music and on the next crucial release of the period, SAM CHARTERS’ 1959 compilation Country Blues. Cannon’s track on the former, indeed, was ‘Minglewood Blues’ while on the latter was his 1929 cut ‘Walk Right In’, which was taken up by the Rooftop Singers, who topped the US charts with a single of the song, complete with beefy 12-string guitar sound, in 1963.

Cannon’s own career was first ‘revived’ in 1956 when he was recorded, for the first time since 1930, by Folkways. They let him cut two tracks. Then in 1963, in the wake of the Rooftop Singers’ success, Cannon cut an album issued by Stax (!) which featured ‘Walk Right In’ plus standards like ‘Salty Dog’, ‘Boll-Weevil’ and ‘Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor’. He also made appearances at the Newport Folk Festival. He survived to the age of 96, living long enough to still be around in Memphis at the time of Elvis Presley’s funeral there in 1977.

Despite his eminence and his ‘rediscovery’, Gus Cannon too suffered neglect, poverty and lack of respect. His situation is described eloquently by Jim Dickinson, the Memphis session-player who features on Dylan’s Time Out Of Mind album twenty years after Cannon’s death:
‘In the summer of 1960, a friend and I followed the trail that Charters left to Gus Cannon… He was the yardman for an anthropology professor. Gus had told this family that he used to make records and he had been on RCA and they’d say, “Yeah Gus, sure: cut the grass.” … He lived on the property, back over a garage, and he took us up into his room, and on the wall he had a certificate for sales from ‘Walk Right In’, for which of course he didn’t get any money. And he had a copy of the record that Charters had made for Folkways, but he had no record-player. That was a real good introduction to the blues.’

One of Jim Dickinson's famously great wealth of stories. (There's a posting about Dickinson's death a few entries below this.)

Wednesday, September 09, 2009


For the details see here. Thanks to Rainer Vesely for letting me know about this. Personally I don't get it. The vocal imitation is as awful as most, the animation of the supposedly Bob person pedestrian and the face nothing at all like Dylan's. The old black guy is better, though he owes a lot to Robert Crumb. The unseen guitar player is the star. The storyline makes me ask: "And your point is?" I just don't get it.

Saturday, September 05, 2009


Well OK: I only managed nine days' silence. Have to blog today to say that yesterday was very special (for me and mine, that is). It saw the arrival of my first granddaughter, Indiana, a daughter to Gabriel and to Cath Woodhall, in Shrewsbury Hospital. They're all doing well; no photos yet. I shall be seeing them later this month.

And as it happened, an hour before Indiana arrived in the world, Sarah and I acquired a new dog. Digby died in February and we finally felt ready. We got her from the not very nice dog-rescue centre outside Auch, where she'd been for four months after being found abandoned near Toulouse. Their vet thinks she's four years old. She's a wire-coated pointing griffon, mostly black and brown, and her new name is Mavis. Photos already, of course.

As for Georgia (USA) and New York, the following talks of mine are now confirmed for October:

THURS OCT 8, 11am:
SEARCHING FOR WILLIE McTELL: A British Writer in Georgia
Ward Hall Great Room, Farmingdale State College, 2350 Broadhollow Road
Farmingdale, Long Island, NY 11735-1021
Tel: (631) 420-2050
Admission free but spaces limited

FRI OCT 9, 6.30pm:
SEARCHING FOR WILLIE McTELL: A British Writer in Georgia
Decatur CD, 356 W Ponce De Leon Ave, Decatur, GA 30030-2439
Tel: (404) 371-9090
Admission free but spaces limited

WED OCT 14, 7pm:
SEARCHING FOR WILLIE McTELL: A British Writer in Georgia
Central Library, One Margaret Mitchell Square, Atlanta, GA 30303
Tel: (404) 730.1898
Admission free but spaces limited

THUR OCT 15, 7pm:
SEARCHING FOR WILLIE McTELL: A British Writer in Georgia
The Douglass Theatre, 355 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, Macon GA 31201
Tel: (478) 742-2000
Tickets $15 ($12 students & seniors)

TUES OCT 20, 7pm:
SEARCHING FOR WILLIE McTELL: A British Writer in Georgia
The McDuffie Museum, 121 Main St., Thomson, GA 30824
Tel: (706) 595-9923
Admission free but spaces limited

THUR OCT 22, 7pm:
Georgia Southern University, 1400 Southern Drive, Statesboro GA 30460-8074
Tel: (912) 478-5115 / 478-5027
Admission free but spaces limited

FRI OCT 23, 7pm:
SEARCHING FOR WILLIE McTELL: A British Writer in Georgia
The Averitt Center for the Arts, 33 East Main Street, Statesboro GA 30458
Tel: 912-212-2787
Tickets $18