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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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Sunday, February 28, 2010


In a review in the latest issue of London Review of Books, though of a book published in December 2008 - Anna Letitia Barbauld: Voice of the Enlightenment by William McCarthy - I found this passage quoted from one of this largely forgotten C18 poet's early poems, 'An Address to the Deity', which celebrates seeing God in everything and seeing every thing in God:

Not less the mystic characters I see
Wrought in each flower, inscrib'd in every tree;
In every leaf that trembles to the breeze
I hear the voice of GOD among the trees...

(For a close examination of Dylan's great song 'Every Grain of Sand', including some discussion of the complexities of meaning in the Biblical texts summoned by Dylan, and how Dylan's lines relate to passages by William Blake, see Chapter 12 of my Song & Dance Man III.)

Thursday, February 25, 2010


The Winterlude Weekends proving a success, Sarah and I have decided to have some similar weekends in June, when it's really like high summer here. For the full story of these Summer Days events - and in the hope that you might be tempted - see a new blog page at

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of singer Johnnie Ray's death. He shot to prominence in 1951 with the double-sided US no.1 hit 'Cry' and 'The Little White Cloud That Cried'. I failed to mention him in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, but Dylan has said that he was "The first singer whose voice and style I totally fell in love with". I remember seeing him on TV in the 1950s - probably on Sunday Night at the London Palladium - and thinking he was amazing, while my father sat there scoffing indignantly . . . and then about five years ago I saw a clip of him gulping and whimpering his way through one of his hits on a piece of old footage and thought my father had been right: he seemed embarrassingly bad.

Others disagree, of course. According to the fan site "The memory of Johnnie Ray lives on in current popular music today; Johnnie Ray is mentioned in the lyrics of Billy Joel's 'We Didn't Start The Fire' ... & Jimmy Ray's 'Are You Jimmy Ray?' from 1997 in which all the famous 'Rays' are mentioned, like Link Wray, Faye Wray, etc. It is 'Johnnie Ray' who is mentioned in the first verse of the song. Johnnie Ray's voice can be heard sampled in Portishead's 'Biscuit' ... and Johnnie is the topic of the first three verses of the number one hit 'Come On Eileen' by Dexys Midnight Runners (Johnnie is also in the video). Johnnie Ray can also be seen in the Billy Idol video 'Don't Need A Gun' ... Johnnie Ray is a favorite among the likes of Ringo Starr, Morrissey, Marshall Crenshaw and even David Bowie liked Johnnie Ray... Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones once said 'Johnnie Ray was one of the first to make me really open my ears. That was like 2 or 3 years before Elvis.' "

Elvis must have taken notice too, for one of the great recordings on the marvellous Elvis Is Back album from 1960, recorded as soon as Elvis came out of the US Army, was a pent-up version of a song he'd heard from Johnnie Ray's 1954 recording of it, 'Such A Night' (written by pianist Lincoln Chase, who made records himself and also managed Shirley 'Name Game' Ellis). Johnnie's record was banned by the BBC for being too suggestive - too many orgasmic grunts, apparently.

Here's Johnnie Ray performing the song on Dutch TV in 1958. I was surprised, seeing this, to find him morphing between Sinatra and Rex Harrison:

Sunday, February 21, 2010


by Matilda Lowe
photo by R. Lowe

I'm pleased to say the artist is my niece

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


In the course of the Winterlude Weekend just gone, we were, among much else, entrancing ourselves with a Paris 1978 recording of 'Tangled Up In Blue'. And then today, via Cat Power's quite interesting 'Song To Bobby' and KT Tunstall's 'Simple Twist of Fate', I found this, from the latter's appearance on a Jools Holland TV show - and though it's no good trying to compare it to Bob in Paris (or London) 1978, there's something pretty good about it:

Monday, February 15, 2010


An official White House picture, photographer uncredited:
and a rather lovely picture, found here, taken from the Russian edition of Esquire magazine for February 2010, photo credit also not known to me:

Thanks to Rainer Vesely for alerting me to both photos.

Friday, February 12, 2010


. . . or rather, there might have been more but wasn't. Another YouTube video has emerged, just showing the end of the 'Times They Are A-Changin'' performance - but then lingering on Dylan and showing, I think very clearly, that he was expecting to be singing a second song (which would supposedly have been either 'Blowin' In The Wind' or 'Chimes Of Freedom') - and after a minute's uncertainty, he's told he can't do another. (Presumably because of the strict scheduling.) It's an interesting moment, and it's here. Thanks to John Baldwin's Desolation Row e-newsletter for drawing it to my attention - and also for relaying these much more positive comments from other newspapers:

Washington Post:
“Onstage, no one seemed rushed -- especially not Dylan. Giving his first performance at the White House, America's most iconic pop songwriter ambled onstage and dragged his wonderful, weather-beaten voice over a handsome piano and bass arrangement of "The Times They Are A-Changin'." After the song, there was an awkward pause, a handshake with the president and a hasty exit.”

Wall Street Journal:
“The highlight of the evening may have been the brief appearance by Dylan, who sang an arrangement of his song “The Times They Are A-Changin’” that featured piano, stand up bass, and acoustic guitar.”

For myself, I still like it, and having watched the PBS videos on YouTube of Joan Baez's performance of 'We Shall Overcome' and Smokey Robinson & Jennifer Hudson's 'People Get Ready' - the first with its gushy spoken intro and its inappropriate schoolmarmy getting-everyone-singing stuff in the middle, the other so showbizzy (a great song, of course, but so slick and safe a performance) - the more I appreciate Bob Dylan's having achieved something so one-off and so reflective. It's to his credit, isn't it, that he brought something so precarious to so over-polished an occasion?

Thursday, February 11, 2010



photographer unknown; found at

The man who gave us 'Be-Bop-A-Lula' would have been 75 today (had he not died almost 40 years ago). I saw him once or twice on a multi-talent bill at the Liverpool Empire. He was charismatic, exciting and compellingly vulnerable. Here's his brief entry in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia:

Vincent, Gene [1935 - 1971]
Vincent Eugene Craddock was born in Norfolk, Virginia on 11 February 1935 and died from a bleeding ulcer in Newhall, CA, on 12 October 1971, aged 36. He was in a motorcycle crash in July 1955, the year before his first and greatest hit, ‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’, and his left leg was permanently damaged. Onstage he made much of this, limping around melodramatically in black leather. No wonder Ian Dury found him appealing. He also survived the car crash that killed Eddie Cochran in England in 1960, and lived there for many of his sunset years. He had a lovely voice but his career was all downhill.

Vincent, like Eddie Cochran, JERRY LEE LEWIS and BUDDY HOLLY, enjoyed short-lived popularity in the USA but great career longevity in Britain (including posthumously in all cases except that of Lewis, who both survived and had some success in the USA as a country singer from the 1970s onwards).

In 1987 Dylan recorded two takes of Vincent’s ‘Important Words’ during the Down In The Groove sessions, though they remained unreleased; and in 1992 when he [Dylan] recorded an exquisitely-sung version of the old Jo Stafford hit ‘You Belong To Me’ (1952) for the soundtrack of Oliver Stone’s film Natural Born Killers, [it] was in clear remembrance of, though didn’t copy, the version Gene Vincent includes on his best-known album, Gene Vincent Rocks! & The Blue Caps Roll. This album also included a Vincent version of ‘Frankie and Johnny’, a traditional song that Dylan recorded for Good As I Been To You as ‘Frankie and Albert’ at the same sessions that yielded ‘You Belong To Me’.

[Gene Vincent: ‘Important Words’, Nashville, 18 Oct 1956, Capitol 3617, LA (Capitol CL 14693, London), 1957; ‘You Belong To Me’, Hollywood, prob. 5 Dec 1957, and ‘Frankie and Johnny’, 9 Dec 1957, both on Gene Vincent Rocks! & The Blue Caps Roll, Capitol T970, LA & London, 1958. (‘You Belong To Me’ was also a US Top 20 hit in 1962 by The Duprees, nia, Coed 569, NYC, 1962.)
Bob Dylan: ‘Important Words’, LA, Apr 1987; ‘You Belong To Me’, Malibu, Jul-Aug 1992 (at the Good As I Been To You sessions), issued on Natural Born Killers, UNV Interscope ITSC-92460, USA, 1994.]

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Thanks to Rainer for alerting me to this. Apparently it happened a day early because of the "snowmaggedon" on the US East Coast.

As the person who uploaded this says, Bob is playing acoustic guitar, the other musicians have been pruned down, and it's good!

Tuesday, February 09, 2010


SCOOP: A Novel About Journalists, by Evelyn Waugh
He's a notably elegant writer of scabrous wit and very politically incorrect views, and this is one of his funniest novels. It's about between-the-wars English snobbery, newspapers like the Daily Express (here the Daily Beast), and the competing wiles of the western powers in a war of their own creation in black Africa (modelled on the Abyssinia of the 1930s - now Ethiopia plus Eritrea). It is both dated (his own snobbery, the utterly changed technology of news-gathering) and spot-on (the media's conduct, motives, greed and incompetence, and the gullibility of decent people). Incidentally it's the book the gives us the expression "Up to a point, Lord Copper" as a polite rejoinder when someone's asserted to you something that's actually bollocks. Evelyn Waugh's books aren't all predominantly comic: there's the elegaic Brideshead Revisited (recently done a great disservice on British TV by a revival that couldn't hold a candle to the 1970s version), and, much the best, his tremendous war trilogy Sword of Honour (consisting of Men at Arms, Officers and Gentlemen and Unconditional Surrender).

FINGERSMITH, by Sarah Waters
I haven't read all her novels so I shouldn't say that this is the best, but I can't imagine it being bettered. Her early terrain was Dickens-period England, and she's shiveringly good at it. It's usually pointless to try to do Dickens, and ends in pallid pastiche, but this is wonderfully achieved and compellingly authentic throughout. It's also gripping with a plot that twists so cleverly, so vividly, so plausibly yet unpredictably. For its prose, its plot and its intelligence, it's a book I can't imagine not enthralling you. Sarah Waters was born the year Blonde On Blonde came out.

Monday, February 08, 2010


Apparently Joan Baez is now among the performers at the White House celebration of Civil Rights songs the day after tomorrow (Feb 10). There's a slightly salacious report here - though despite its best efforts, I can't see that there's any grounds for the suggestion that Joan and Bob might be going to perform together. On the other hand, I suppose it's possible. How would that look and sound?

Saturday, February 06, 2010


Today would have been Bob Marley's 65th birthday. He was born at Rhoden Hall, Jamaica, on February 6, 1945.

Connections with Dylan? Few. But when John Bauldie and I assembled the material for the book All Across The Telegraph: A Bob Dylan Handbook (which has never been republished since the 1977 Sidgwick & Jackson hardback and 1978 Futura paperback), one of the items was this:

supplied by Tony Jowett

Stephen Davis' Bob Marley: The Biography (published by Arthur Barker, London, 1983) is worth reading in its own right, but also has an intriguing mention of a Wailers' version of 'Like A Rolling Stone', with words altered by Marley:

"Although few of Bob Dylan's early records reached Jamaica, Bob Marley was very attentive when one of Dylan's mid-1960s AM radio hits came beaming in from Miami. One of the most amazing Wailers' cover versions was the group's take (credited to Bunny & Coxsome) of Bob Dylan's 'Like A Rolling Stone'. After a spooky blues piano intro, the Soul Brothers slip into a sinister groove that's a mixture of 1965 American folk-rock and early Jamaican rock-steady. Although the chorus is the same as Dylan's, the verse and melody are different: "Nobody told you he was on the street/But that's what happens when you lie and cheat/You have no nights and you have no morning/'Cos time lights come just string without warning/ How does it feel/To be on your own/With no direction home/Like a complete unknown/Like a rolling stone?" It's a sentiment that Bob Marley knew all too well." [page 49]

Various other references [in the same book] establish that Dylan had an important influence on Marley - and Marley, in a succinct quote in his own inimitable patois, acknowledged his admiration for Dylan. Introducing this, the book refers to a Wailers concert at Santa Monica in the summer of 1976, which Dylan attended:

"The show at the Roxy was a particularly brilliant and gem-like performance, in part because Bob Dylan was in the audience and Dylan was a favourite of Bob's. 'Him's really say it clear,' Marley had said of Dylan earlier in the year." [page 153]

It occurs to me now that after catching that Marley concert, the next time Dylan toured was 1978, which is when he regularly featured a reggae version of 'Don't Think Twice, It's Alright'.

Friday, February 05, 2010



Wednesday, February 03, 2010


Encouraged by feedback from people telling me they'd bought Alan Lomax's The Land Where The Blues Began on my recommendation I thought I'd take time to list a few more books and records that seem to me to have achieved greatness and/or that I love. If some things on the list seem obvious, well, so be it.

First, a few items from the list of favourites on my Profile Page:

A contemporary novel set in a highly atmospheric but never swamp-gothic clichéd Louisiana, powerfully written, driven by strong narrative and equally strong, real characters, fused together with compelling ingenuity. Scrupulous, admirable, humane: a wonderful book.

MIDDLEMARCH by George Eliot
The greatest novel I have ever read.

FEAR & LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS by Hunter S. Thompson
Funny, acerbic, angry, unique right from the opening page. Thompson gets an entry in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia that includes this: "By his style, passion, humour and vividly conveyed sense of horror, he captured and magnified, perhaps even helped to develop, a hip public’s sense of rabid disgust at the politics and politicians of Amerika. Watergate was made for him..." and this: "His masterpiece...was Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, published in book form at the end of 1971, which charmed and captivated a generation right from its combative and seductive opening sentence: ‘We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.’ There are striking connections and correspondences between this great early-1970s prose work and the Bob Dylan of 1966 - especially the Dylan of ‘Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again’.

COLD MOUNTAIN by Charles Frazier
The film was likeable, but the novel is magnificent, and surely one of the best books of any kind centred on the American Civil War.

NOW IN NOVEMBER by Josephine Johnson
A magnificent, bleak and beautiful novel written in, and set in, the Depression and the 1930s drought, told as from the inside, about an urban family struggling to be tenant farmers. This sounds depressing, and it is, but this début novel by the 24-year-old Johnson also has a towering poetic majesty, and at the same time an unerring eye for detail that makes it scintillating to read its prose. The book was a huge success when published in the 1930s, but she never matched its popular success again and it has become a largely forgotten masterpiece. Which is absurd, because this is right up there with The Grapes of Wrath and Woody Guthrie's Bound For Glory.

More recommendations will follow in a day or two.

Obviously if anyone unfamiliar with any of the above is moved to try one or two, they could buy or order them from their local independent book store; but for those on a budget, I've put links to them on Amazon (US and UK where possible) in the updated Recommendations column on the left. I know this is now a long column, but you'll still find the Links section underneath it.