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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, January 25, 2010


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.]


Blogger Judas Priest said...

I must say Michael, it continues to surprise me the intensity of this love affair of yours with Freddy. Don't get me wrong, I certainly liked him at times and he did undoubtedly live on the edge-but Dylan's best lead guitarist ever???

I only saw him live twice within the space of a couple of days. Wembley Arena 2003 was a gig I enjoyed very much (and a very decent Crystal Cat boot is readily available out there) where Bob was in strong voice (actually much stronger than the vaunted trilogy of shows later that month in Lonon's smaller venues)and Freddy took off in certain parts that really worked and his sound is a very distinctive one. Contrast that to Dublin's Point Depot 48 hours later...I can't recall which songs exactly but at several points (right at the front this time-Wembley had been towards the rear) I stood horrified as he spectacularly failed to get a certain groove going. He was fumbling and noodling (not unlike Bob on a particularly bad night on the keyboards) and frantically looking for lift off but it never came...

When he worked, he worked well (although I'd still have Sexton or Campbell light years ahead of him)but when he lost the plot...not good.

My favourite boot that he features in is Paris 03. The HV version as tweaked by Stew. Fantastic stuff and he really delivers-strongly recommended. That Desolation Row from Berlin in 03 is also dynamite thanks in huge part to Freddy.

1:26 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Hi Judas:
"He was fumbling and noodling (not unlike Bob on a particularly bad night on the keyboards)..." Well I wasn't there and haven't heard it, but it just makes Freddy seem even more attuned to Bob...

1:59 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Freddy Koella was excellent and gave the band a cutting edge. He was not afraid to display his skill or personality.

Dylan has had some great guitar players including Mike Campbell and choosing the best is difficult.

Hendrix is surely the greatest ever. Hendrix was, of course, a huge Dylan fan and it is fair to say idolised Dylan ( Highway Child ). I am not aware of them playing together.

I have recently located the Farm Aid backstage TV footage of Dylan talking to Lou Reed ( seen years ago at a Dylan Convention..Sachas, Manchester ?? ) The recent footage is extended and includes a lovely exchange between Dylan and B.B. King as they are being photographed. B.B.asks Dylan if he needs a guitar player and then adds " I will fly to wherever you are ". Priceless.


7:07 pm  
Anonymous likeatrain said...

Thanks for putting up the entry, Michael. I can only agree with your assessment. Freddy's solos seemed to emerge from somewhere deep within the songs; some were real masterpieces of nuance and musical empathy. One looked forward to every solo because the solos so enriched the performances, they told you more about what the song meant at that particular moment in time - in this sense, they were revelatory.

I recall an astonishing It Ain't Me, Babe from Spring '04 (sadly can't remember which show) in which Freddy's guitar solo is so breathtakingly beautiful, so simultaneously 'spikey' and tender (Koella is a big Monk fan, perhaps unsurprisingly) that it provokes an immediate response on the harp from Dylan, a kind of cathartic outburst that soars wonderfully. A great moment.

But it's not just about solos. Listen to 'Can't Wait' from Berlin 2003, where Freddy's jabbing, tensed-up fills say as much about where the singer is at in the song as his own words do.

7:34 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Paul -
You write re Farm Aid backstage TV footage of Dylan: "...recent footage is extended and includes a lovely exchange between Dylan and B.B. King as they are being photographed. B.B.asks Dylan if he needs a guitar player and then adds 'I will fly to wherever you are.' Priceless."

Is this available eg on YouTube now?

8:41 pm  
Anonymous Carl Finlay said...

hey i just found the Farm Aid footage.
what i think is being said is BB:"anytime were near each other,i wanna know youre there.Please do me a precious favour and let me know,ill come out where you are" Dylan doesnt seem to interested and doesnt respond
heres the link:

2:34 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I located the Farm Aid footage about 8 months ago on YouTube.

I did not recall the B.B. King segment but I guess it must be 20 years since I first watched this at a convention.

I paraphrased the exchange from my recollection of the event...I have just watched it again.

Carl....I would not say Dylan is not interested. I feel his discreet pat on the back and his shake of the hand away from the camera is telling.


2:05 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Koella played on these Willy DeVille albums: Victory Mixture (1990), Backstreets of Desire (1992), Willy DeVille Live (1993), Big Easy Fantasy (1995), Loup Garou (1995), Horse of a Different Color (1999), and Acoustic Trio Live in Berlin (2002).

He toured with DeVille for many years and you could say he apprenticed with him. I personally think DeVille put him to better use than Dylan. He also played a good violin. Check out this video of Koella on violin backing up Willy DeVille:

8:15 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Superb read, but why nothing about freemasonary? I thought Dylan lived his life on the square? all seeing eye?

10:27 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dont know if you have seen this article re Dylan & Lou Reed

L Reed:

3:38 am  

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