My Photo

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

Subscribe to
Posts [Atom]

Follow 1michaelgray1 on Twitter

Sunday, January 31, 2010


Or rather, he would be if he were still alive. All the same, it seems the opportunity to republish the entry on him in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia:

Lomax, Alan [1915 - 2002]
Alan Lomax was born in Austin, Texas on January 31, 1915, the son of the indefatigable folklorist John A. Lomax. He was driven all his life by the need to prove himself to his father in the same field - which he more than managed. It is not possible here to list or delineate his unparalleled success as a collector of folksongs and blues in many lands; it must be enough to note that had he not chosen the path he did, our entire understanding of American music would be immeasurably the poorer and our troves of recorded sound vastly less.

Everything would have developed differently without him: the Library of Congress would be smaller, its archive of pre-war field-recordings less extensive and less valued; the Folk Revival movement would have supped on a far thinner gruel and the conditions that nurtured Bob Dylan’s career so different that Dylan’s own creative canon could not have been the same.

Lomax was - to mention merely a couple of ways his work concretely affected Dylan’s - a great advocate of WOODY GUTHRIE’s importance (‘No modern American poet or folk singer has made a more significant contribution to our culture’), and a tireless field-recorder, like his father, of men on prison farms (not least in father and son thus first recording LEADBELLY), so retrieving exactly the kind of magical material HARVEY ABRAMS said that the young Bob Dylan was a purist about (‘He had to get the oldest record and, if possible, the Library of Congress record’).

Dylan refers to Lomax directly a number of times in Chronicles Volume One, introducing him first as ‘the great folk archivist’ and a few pages on describing a tangible feature of the Village’s musical topography, ‘Alan Lomax’s loft on 3rd Street. Lomax used to have parties twice a month where he’d bring folksingers to play…. You might see Roscoe Holcomb or CLARENCE ASHLEY or Dock Boggs, MISSISSIPPI JOHN HURT, Robert Pete Williams or even Don Stover and The Lilly Brothers – sometimes, even real live section gang convicts that Lomax would get out of state penitentiaries on passes and bring to New York to do field hollers in his loft. The invitees to these gatherings would most likely be local doctors, city dignitaries, anthropologists, but there’d always be some regular folk there too. I’d been there once or twice…’

On January 20, 1988, Alan Lomax was, bizarrely, in the audience during Dylan’s acceptance speech at his induction into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame; Dylan included Lomax in his thanks, adding: ‘I spent many nights at his apartment house listening to and meeting all kinds of folk music people which I never would have come in contact with.’

Dylan was also taped by Lomax at this apartment, in early 1963 (the tape is undated but has to have been made after Dylan returned from England that January and before the assassination of Kennedy on November 22). The result consists of Dylan singing a rather beautiful version of ‘Masters Of War’, Lomax asking him where he wrote it and Dylan going into a somewhat drunken-sounding monologue about having written it in England where people don’t like Kennedy and then about General de Gaulle and Russian Premier Khruschev. Altogether the tape last around 8 minutes, with the singing running to 4½.

This item was unlogged by Dylan discographers until very recently. The Alan Lomax Archive keeps adding to its online lists, and this item only appeared in fall 2005, though it had been offered to Dylan’s office as an item for inclusion in the No Direction Home movie some time earlier (but not used).

By the time he made this tape, Dylan had also known some of Alan Lomax’s own performing of folksong. The album of sea-shanties he was introduced to by SPIDER JOHN KOERNER back in Minneapolis included, he remembers, ‘Alan Lomax himself singing the cowboy song “Doney Gal”, which I added to my repertoire.’ Indeed he did: he was recorded performing it in his sweetest pre-New York voice as early as May 1960 in a St.Paul apartment. Later, at the NEWPORT FOLK FESTIVAL of 1965, it was Alan Lomax who introduced the PAUL BUTTERFIELD BLUES BAND with some disparaging comment that no-one can quite remember (it is quoted differently in every account), prompting Dylan’s manager ALBERT GROSSMAN to wrestle him to the ground. Lomax was 50 years old at the time; he had decades of work still to achieve.

As it happened, by this point Lomax had long since impinged upon Dylan’s personal life too: in 1961, Lomax’s personal assistant was one Carla Rotolo, and through her, Dylan was introduced to her younger sister, SUZE ROTOLO.

Lomax’s biggest book, The Land Where The Blues Began, was published in 1993, when he was 78 years old. He had become an eloquent writer about the geography of the Delta, as well as about its music, and equally good on the work song as the main source of the poetry of the blues. By now he was, too, unafraid to make the broadest kind of statement, as here: ‘Singing and making music are a kind of dreaming out loud, pulling the listener into the dream and thus taking care of his deep needs and feelings.’

Alan Lomax was no saint - but since this has not been the place to list his achievements, nor should it be the place to list his faults. He died at age 87, on July 19, 2002 in a place whose name must always reverberate with sad irony when someone dies there: Safety Harbor, Florida.

[Alan Lomax, quote on Guthrie from The Penguin Book of American Folk Songs, Harmondsworth UK: 1964. Other works include many co-written with his father, plus The Folk Songs of North America, Garden City NY: Doubleday, 1960 and The Land Where The Blues Began, New York: Pantheon, 1993. Lomax taped interview with Dylan listed at, foot of page, seen online 9 Oct 2005; the tape is Alan Lomax Collection aggregate no. AFC 200404, tape no. T1248. Bob Dylan, Chronicles Volume One, pp. 55, 70 & 239.]

Friday, January 29, 2010


This may be a daft question - I don't know much about football myself - but is there anyone out there who could sell a pair of tickets to the Carling Cup Final match at Wembley on February 28th, between Aston Villa and a team from Manchester, at non-blackmarket prices?

I ask because my son Gabe very much wants to be able to take his son, my grandson, to the match - momentous for them because they are lifelong Villa fans.

If anyone can help please would they send me a Comment, giving an e-mail address and/or phone number. This info will not be published. Many thanks.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


John Baldwin's Desolation Row e-newsletter is among the many sources reporting further details. These include:

The concert (held in the East Room) will also feature opening remarks by President Obama and readings from Civil Rights speeches and writings. The concert will be streamed live at starting at 5.15 pm Eastern Standard Time - 10.15pm in the UK (11.15pm in France) - and then televised on February 11 at 8pm ET on public broadcasting stations across the US. Their National Public Radio will also produce a one-hour concert special edited down from this event for broadcast on NPR stations throughout February, beginning February 12. This will be available on

But before all that, Michelle Obama will host Music that Inspired the Movement, a workshop some of the concert performers will lead for 120 high school students from across the country on February 10 from 1-2pm. ET. The intention is to stress the continuing relevance of music from the Civil Rights Movement to today's generation as well as its original impact in the 1960s. This too will be streamed live on

The First Lady launched this White House Music Series last year with a Jazz Studio, and since then has hosted a Fiesta Latina and celebrations of Classical and of Country music.

It says something about American political life that they had to celebrate all those genres before daring to go for this one.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


It's reported that Dylan has accepted an invitation to perform at the White House on February 10, at an In Performance concert to celebrate the songs of the Civil Rights movement.

Morgan Freeman and Queen Latifah will MC. Other performers will include Smokey Robinson, Seal, Blind Boys of Alabama, Natalie Cole, Jennifer Hudson, John Legend and John Mellencamp. The concert will be streamed live on the White House website starting at 5:15 p.m. ET. PBS will broadcast a television special the following evening, Feb. 11, at 8 p.m. ET. A one-hour "concert special" is slated to be posted online at NPR Music.

No Joan Baez?

Monday, January 25, 2010


I'd like to add my belated voice to those marking with great sadness the death of Kate McGarrigle. She was born February 6, 1946 and died this January 18. The McGarrigles' first album was one of those rare records that seemed to come out of nowhere, fully formed and radiantly beautiful, making the listener ache with nostalgia as much for things never experienced as for personal loss. The only sound theirs reminded me of was the young Maria Muldaur's on the exquisite track 'Cool River' from her Waitress in a Donut Shop album.

I saw the McGarrigles in concert in London once, in the 1970s, in a comparatively small theatre, perhaps in Victoria. It was the most shambolic concert I've ever seen by professional performers. Which, considering the number of "loose" Bob Dylan concerts I've seen, is saying something. Kate & Anna were wandering about, dithering not just about what number they might have a go at next, but which instrument they might use, which area of the stage to occupy (though "occupy" is a strong word for it) and whether to talk to the audience, the band or each other.

Didn't spoil the records, though - which at that point were just that incomparable debut album Kate & Anna McGarrigle and the more faltering but still terrific Dancer With Bruised Knees.

Here's a sample performance from the recent Transatlantic Sessions shown on BBC4 TV. (NB: like Joni, Neil & Leonard, the McGarrigles are not American but Canadian.)


As requested in a Comment recently, here's the entry on Freddy Koella from The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia. I see that I mentioned Django Reinhardt here too:

Koella, Freddy [1958 - ]
Frederic Koella was born on October 16, 1958 in Mulhouse, France, where he grew up. He first started listening to Bob Dylan when in his twenties. He was a crucial guitarist on three albums by the cajun singer-songwriter Zachary Richard - Snake Bite Love (1992), Cap Enragé (1996) and Couer Fidèle (1999), the first of these recorded in New Orleans and the others in Paris. In 1996 he had two tracks (‘Back to New Orleans’ and ‘A Man’s Gotta Do’) on the Various Artists album Everybody Slides, Vol. 2.

Playing both guitar and violin, he has also toured with Doctor John and Willy DeVille, in whose band he played from 1990 to 2002; he has played on numerous albums (including DeVille’s 1996 album Loup Garou) and produced the Richard Gilly album Le Nouveau Monde (2000), the eponymously-titled Kenny Edwards (2002), and Miracle Mule by the Subdudes (2004). Koella also plays featured guitar on Bjorn Schaller’s ‘Mandarin’ on the soundtrack of Eric Byler’s 2002 movie Charlotte Sometimes. In 2005 he rejoined Willy DeVille but also produced his own début album, the instrumental Minimal, which, suprisingly, is all acoustic guitar. But more important than any of that, he was, from 2003-4, a member of Bob Dylan’s Never-Ending Tour Band.

And how. Freddy (as he prefers to spell it) was Dylan’s best-ever lead electric guitarist (and just might be the best electric guitarist altogether since the heyday of Hubert Sumlin). ROBBIE ROBERTSON was near sublime - the next best, a very close second - but Freddy was better. And in THE BAND all the other musicians were crucial too, whereas in Dylan’s band Freddy had to carry the whole front line.

Of course you could say MIKE BLOOMFIELD was right up there, but he was, though a virtuoso, essentially more limited (Dylan had to tell him, for ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, to play ‘none of that B.B. King shit’); and G.E. SMITH was terrific, but safe. You never wondered excitedly what he might do next. Whereas Freddy played by living on the edge, like Bob, fusing Django Reinhardt and CARL PERKINS and playing as if it were 1957 now. He was the electric lead guitarist Dylan himself would have been, had Dylan ever bothered to master the instrument.

Tragically, Koella’s stint with the Never-Ending Tour Band was all too brief. In February 2003, the band was rehearsing in Los Angeles and looking for a guitarist to replace CHARLIE SEXTON. Koella says he ‘was lucky enough to get invited to one of the rehearsals, and that’s how it started.’ He first played with them in Dallas, Texas on April 18, 2003 - it was the opening night of the first US leg of that year’s touring - and his last performance was just under a year later, on April 14, 2004 in Atlanta, Georgia. He played a total of 121 Dylan concerts and - like bass-player KENNY AARONSON before him - was forced out through illness. He has recovered fully now.

If you can, listen to ‘Watching The River Flow’ and ‘Memphis Blues Again’ from the concert in Graz, Austria, on October 26, 2003. There is Freddy Koella’s genius.

[Freddy Koella: Minimal, nia, Minimal, US, 2005. Zachary Richard: Snake Bite Love, New Orleans, 1992, A&M 75021 5387 2, 1992; Cap Enragé, Paris, 1995, Initial ADCD 10093, 1996; Couer Fidèle, Paris, 1999, nia, 1999. Willy DeVille: Loup Garou, Discovery 77040, US (East-West 24562, Germany), 1996. Various Artists: Everybody Slides, Vol. 2, Rykodisc, 1996.]

Saturday, January 23, 2010


Today is the 100th birthday of Europe's greatest jazz guitarist, Django Reinhardt (though he died in 1953). The first real UK Reinhardt Festival is happening this year in London - indeed it's nearly over - at Battersea's Le QuecumBar, 17–25 January.

In Fort Worth, Texas, Arts Fifth Avenue opens its seventh annual Django Reinhardt Festival tonight. It runs for three nights.

My mother's cousin Don Clarke was a drummer and the leader of a small combo that played in the 1950s in the lounge of the old Birmingham Airport. He died in 2007. His last dog was called Django. It was a tribute. Django was a nice, funny, misshapen, spirited dog. He died too, not so long ago. That's my tribute.

What's this to do with Bob Dylan? Well, that could be a Dylan quiz question. The answer would be that when Bob brought Slash into the studio for a session for Under The Red Sky, he pissed him off and mystified him by asking him to "play like Django Reinhardt".

Thursday, January 21, 2010


For the May 2002 issue of Uncut magazine I, along with a number of other people, was asked to submit a list of my all-time favourite Dylan tracks. In the event, they published one item from each person's list, so the rest has never been published. I just stumbled upon the text I supplied, and I thought it might be of interest - especially since nothing Dylan has done since early 2002 makes me want to dislodge any of my 10 to make room for it.

Here's what I wrote:

Ten is an impossibly low number to select, so mine are chosen so that each track really represents a whole phase of his work, or a whole group of songs that stand alongside each other:

This is from his perfect earliest phase, when he sings with heartstopping intimacy in various regional accents, and mixes sweet youthfulness with immortal gravitas. As such it stands for ‘Song To Woody’ and ‘North Country Blues’ too. It also stands for Dylan’s greatest stuff he didn’t write: eg. ‘Spanish Is The Loving Tongue’, solo and live, ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ and ‘Love Henry’.

The original album version showed a vaulting of his songwriting above all others and so for me epitomises all those long pre-electric masterpieces like ‘Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll’ and ‘Chimes Of Freedom’ through ‘Lay Down Your Weary Tune’ to ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’. The song has also been a brilliant vehicle for wholly different live performance styles in many Dylan periods.

A favourite from a favourite album, Another Side Of. So alive, inventive and un-Tin Pan Alley, it also catches that moment when he starts to be risk-takingly sloppy/informal and to write about sex and love; so it represents all those wily, sexy, exuberant songs like ‘All I Really Want To Do’, ‘I Don’t Believe You’, ‘If You Gotta Go, Go Now’ and ‘To Ramona’, and it’s a vote for the joys of Dylan’s minor works instead of keeping to the confines of his masterpieces. So it’s a vote for Nashville Skyline too.

Captures full-on the spirit, colour, sound and spiky warmth of the incomparable Blonde On Blonde, and a cousin to the unreleased wonders from the same era, like ‘She’s Your Lover Now’.

Sums up the murky, wayward genius of the basement tapes - for me, every wondrous item from ‘Royal Canal’ to ‘Tears Of Rage’ - and also the Dylan who masters the Dramatic Monologue and high comic mimickry: the Dylan of ‘Black Cross’, ‘Brownsville Girl’ and ‘Highlands’.

A flawless track on one of his best albums, John Wesley Harding: transcendant, visionary, dignified, unique.

This shimmers with grace, light and authoritative ardour from opening note to all-too-soon last whisper. It stands for (a) the sumptuous Planet Waves (b) the Dylan who can muster rich, immaculate production - the Dylan also of ‘Let’s Keep It Between Us’, ‘Caribbean Wind’ and ‘Not Dark Yet’; and (c) the Dylan who writes so beautifully about the Minnesota terrain of his childhood.

Another song that Dylan has done inspiredly live, in the 1970s and 1990s, and is also, in its early unreleased form, a high point of the studio sessions for Blood On The Tracks - so of course it also stands for ‘Simple Twist Of Fate’ and ‘Tangled Up In Blue’.

Every version of this great song is tremendous, but especially two: the unissued studio original, for his singing - the same sweet 1983 voice that gave us ‘Blind Willie McTell’, ‘Lord Protect My Child’ and ‘Someone’s Got A Hold Of My Heart’ - and the March ’84 TV version with The Plugz for its punk chutzpah.

Favourite from “Love And Theft”, a warm and vividly surprising, creatively great, delightful album right up there among the best twelve or so he’s ever made, and certainly the best since Desire 25 years earlier.


Monday, January 18, 2010


Bob and his great, great lead guitarist Freddy Koella in happier times. And talking of New Orleans, can you believe that President Obama has wheeled out George Dubya Fucking Bush to help lead the US effort in Haiti?!!!

It's hard to recall any one political gesture more tactless and crass. What the hell must the poor still-abandoned, still-homeless and still-displaced of New Orleans feel - more than four years after Katrina struck - to see this hopeless moron, this walking combo of evil and incompetence, wheeled out into public life again specifically to help the poor homeless displaced people of Port-au-Prince and beyond? Utterly contemptible. Inexcusable. A disgrace.

Monday, January 11, 2010


Sunday, January 10, 2010


It's finally snowed here now. It fell during the night of the 8th, and then all day yesterday. It's looking very beautiful and this morning the sky is blazing blue and there's real warmth in the sun. Luckily we're not stuck in an airport or in an all-mouth-no-trousers 4x4. Ain't no reason to go anywhere, except to take Mavis for a walk in the local woods.

No-one here talks about the weather. If, out walking, you say to someone "Ooh, it's cold today!" they smile a small nonchalant smile and say "Well, it's the winter." And that's it.

Friday, January 08, 2010


One of the people I interviewed for my biography of Blind Willie McTell (Hand Me My Travelin' Shoes) was the Wobbly and folktale teller Bruce Utah Phillips, and in telling me about the one time he met Willie, which must have been in 1958, he tells me something very interesting about Willie's alertness and receptiveness to contemporary music right up there towards the end of his life. Utah said:

"Delta blues, Piedmont blues: I was not familiar with that completely. And I had the yen, you know, I had just from listening to people talk understood that these blues men that I - that I got to know later on, you know... I became good friends with John Jackson and especially Robert Pete Williams - and Mississippi Fred McDowell, because we worked together a good bit - and Junior Lockwood - but to that point, you know, I had a yen to understand that the music, it wasn’t very old but it had a long tradition and that all these people used to play that music when they were young - when they were young men, when they were my age at that time: when they were in their late teens or early twenties. And I knew that then there’s a long period of time that no-one pays much attention to them at all, like Son House, and then finally were “discovered” because of the folk-music revival. But I was curious about what this music, when it was in the jazz houses and the jook joints: what did it sound like? When you were young, what d’you sound like? And McTell said “You want to hear what we sounded like when we were your age, you listen to early Elvis Presley, old Elvis Presley.”

Thursday, January 07, 2010


According to John Baldwin's Desolation Row e-newsletter this morning, though as yet unconfirmed by, Dylan will be going on from his March dates in Japan to play several concerts in the People's Republic of China - and, provocatively, in Taiwan - in early April, followed by Hong Kong and South Korea. Dates look like this:

March 12, Zepp Osaka, Osaka, Japan: Capacity: 2200
March 13, Zepp Osaka, Osaka
March 15, Zepp Osaka, Osaka
March 16, Zepp Osaka, Osaka
March 18, Zepp Nagoya, Nagoya, Japan: Capacity: 1800
March 19, Zepp Nagoya, Nagoya
March 21, Zepp Tokyo: Capacity: 2709
March 23, Zepp Tokyo, Tokyo
March 24, Zepp Tokyo, Tokyo
March 25, Zepp Tokyo, Tokyo
March 26, Zepp Tokyo, Tokyo
March 28, Zepp Tokyo, Tokyo, unconfirmed
March 29, Zepp Tokyo, Tokyo
April 2, Taipei, Taiwan
April 4, Beijing, China
April 6, Shanghai, China
April 8, Hongkong , China
April ??, Seoul, South Korea

Then we're told he'll later be playing Gothenburg, Sweden on May 28th and very possibly in St. Mark’s Square, Venice, Italy, on July 10th (both unconfirmed).

Tuesday, January 05, 2010


A reader of my McTell blog has sent me the URL to a terrific and mysteriously authored blogpage. The authorship wouldn't be so intriguing if it weren't written in such an attractively confident, relaxed way. (Maybe if I'd explored further I'd find there was no mystery to it at all, but there we are. I'm passing this on in a hurry, trying to get other stuff done today, before the Christmas tree and stuff comes down tomorrow morning.)

The blogpage, part of, er, Heart on a Stick, is about the couplet with the first line 'I'm standin' here wonderin' will a matchbox hold my clothes', and discusses it in relation to Blind Lemon Jefferson and onwards to Carl Perkins, Sam Cooke and others but also backwards from Jefferson to the great early blues women, from whose songwriterly records so many of the pre-war guitarist-singers (and pianist-singers) took bits and pieces of lyric to make new songs. Eric Clapton - another person with an entry in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia - is also featured.

The blog in question is here.

Sunday, January 03, 2010


I know I don't normally sound off on political matters but now and then when they affect everyone on the planet I feel like shouting, and the dismal failure of the Copenhagen Climate Conference has been one such. Where, after all that wretched fudging, is Obama's "new kind of politics" now? Here is the wonderful, desperately sad front cover of Private Eye magazine for 11-24 December, which says it better than any shouting:

Friday, January 01, 2010


I'd like to wish all readers of this blog (and of my Blind Willie McTell blog) a very happy, prosperous and healthy 2010.

And for anyone who is feeling good/better about their own economic future, we are now offering the following Winterlude Weekends:
Full details are available at the Winterlude Weekends blogpage, which has been updated.

The originally offered weekends of Feb 12-14 and March 5-7 are fully booked.