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

Saturday, May 29, 2010


I'm pleased to have heard that the American hardback edition of Hand Me My Travelin' Shoes has been nominated as a finalist for this year's Association for Recorded Sound Collections Awards for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research, in the category Best Historical Research in Blues / Gospel / Hip-hop / R&B.

Though there are only four other finalists in this category, and it's an honour to be alongside them, I fear I'm unlikely to win, given that three of the others are blues-research heavyweight Steven Calt; associate director of the Center for the Study of the American South, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, author and documentary film-maker William Ferris; and the great pioneering blues scholar Paul Oliver.

I see that in the category Best Research in Recorded Rock and Pop Music one of the nominated finalists is our old friend Clinton Heylin. He's up against 12 other contenders.

Winners will be announced in August 2010 and awards presented at a ceremony in May 2011 during ARSC’s annual conference.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Folk veteran Len Chandler is 75 today. Here's his entry in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia:

Chandler, Len [1935 - ]
Leonard Hunt Chandler Jr. was born on May 27, 1935 in Akron, Ohio, and became one of the best-known black guitarists and folk singer-songwriters active in the early 1960s folk scene. He was trained in classical piano and oboe, joined the Akron Symphony Orchestra but was introduced to pre-war blues records by a professor and began performing converted folk songs with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra before moving to New York City at the age of 15. Playing regularly at the Café Wha at the beginning of the 1960s, he told the then New York Times folk critic ROBERT SHELTON that ‘he had thrown over his classical background to rediscover his people’s music.’ His best-known song is ‘Keep Your Eyes On the Prize (Hold On)’, a civil rights anthem which he performed, with Bob Dylan and JOAN BAEZ as back-up participants, at the momentous March on Washington performance at the Lincoln Memorial in D.C. on August 28, 1963, film of which can be seen in the MARTIN SCORSESE film No Direction Home (2005).

This marked the high point of Chandler’s career, though Robert Shelton says he was still regarded as ‘a rising figure’ at the time of the 1964 NEWPORT FOLK FESTIVAL. On the evidence of the March on Washington footage he seems to have resembled an earnest schoolteacher (which is what he had wanted to be), far from charismatic as a performer. Yet Dylan says the opposite - ‘His personality overrode his repertoire’ - and found him a compelling, audacious companion of some personal power, as he attests in Chronicles Volume One, where he writes of him warmly and recalls him as one of those who ‘would play poker continuously through the night’, stresses that he was ‘one of the few’ who wrote his own songs (‘topical songs’ that were ‘pretty much accepted…because they used old melodies with new words’), who ‘Besides being a songwriter…was also a daredevil’, and who became a friend of Dylan’s after sharing bills at the Gaslight:

‘Len was educated and serious about life, was even working with his wife downtown to start a school for underprivileged children [St. Barnabas House]…. One of his most colorful songs had been about a negligent school bus driver in Colorado who accidentally drove a bus full of kids down a cliff. It had an original melody and because I liked the melody so much, I wrote my own set of lyrics to it. Len didn’t seem to mind.’

This breathtaking ingenuousness tiptoes around the ethics of how Dylan stole the chords and tune of ‘The Bus Driver’, a song Chandler often performed but never recorded, about an incident in Greeley, Colorado plucked from the newpapers, and turned it into the superior ‘The Death of Emmett Till’. He was more straightforward when playing it for CYNTHIA GOODING in early 1962, saying then: ‘I stole the melody from Len Chandler… He uses a lot of funny chords, you know, when he plays, and he’s always getting to, want me, to use some of these chords…trying to teach me new chords all the time. Well, he played me this one; said “Don’t those chords sound nice?” An’ I said they sure do, an so I stole it, stole the whole thing.’ Playing the song on the Billy Faeir radio show on WBAI-FM that October he added informatively: ‘Before I met him, I never sang one song in minor key.’

Eventually, Chandler retaliated. Broadside no.51 publishes his song ‘Ain’t No Use To Sit and Wonder Why, Chuck’, which has the final line ‘Don’t think twice, we might fight.’ This is not a knowing parody but a dreadful, ingenuous protest song of Chandler’s own. Or rather, not.

Chandler was strongly involved with civil rights activity - and with Broadside, which he greatly helped. (The issue for November 5, 1963 got round to focussing on him, publishing several of his songs - ‘Secret Songs’, ‘To Be A Man’ and ‘Keep On Keeping On’, plus two pages of biography, mainly about his anti-war efforts and civil rights activism.) He was married to JUDY COLLINS’ sister in the mid-1960s and appeared at the NEWPORT FOLK FESTIVAL as late as 1969, still singing topical songs (this time notably ‘Moon Men’, about the moon landing by US astronauts). In 1971-72 he was one of the troupe that took the anti-Vietnam War show F.T.A. (officially ‘Free the Army’ but often understood to mean ‘Fuck the Army’) around the US west coast and across the Pacific, playing as near as possible to US military bases; the show was a mix of satirical sketches and song, and the actors involved were principally Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland and Peter Boyle; Len Chandler was its main folk star. The show was filmed and the result, F.T.A. (1972), contemporary re-release of which Fonda has allegedly squashed, provoked predictably mixed reactions.

The show’s audiences were mainly servicemen and women, and at the time (and more so now) the film’s power lies in the interviews with individual serving troops ‘who openly question the purpose and planning of the American involvement in Vietnam. Most memorable here are the members of the U.S.S. Coral Sea, who presented a petition to their superiors demanding a halt to the bombing in Vietnam; African-American soldiers and marines who angrily decried racist attitudes among the white commanding officers at the U.S. military installations, usually with an upraised fist of the Black Power movement; women serving in the U.S. Air Force who talk unhappily about sexual harassment from their male counterparts; and soldiers who pointedly refer to the dictatorial government in South Vietnam which was being presented as the democracy which they were supposedly defending. The extraordinary air of dissent that rises out of F.T.A. provides a rare glimpse into a unhappy and demoralized fighting force stuck in a war which they did not believe in…. As for the F.T.A. show itself, it was actually a rather benign event full of soggy antiwar folks songs and silly military skits.’ So reports Phil Hall for the independent film review website Film Threat (recirculated on that other independent film review website Rotten Tomatoes).

In the early 1970s too, Len Chandler formed the Alternative Chorus-Songwriters Showcase to promote new talent, as a direct result of which over 300 writers have been signed to recording and publishing contracts.

Eventually, despite two 1967 Columbia Records solo albums of his own (To Be A Man, produced by JOHN HAMMOND, and The Lovin’ People, on which he plays not only guitars but organ and ‘English horn’), and despite his fine track record, he moved to the West Coast and worked in the field of education. At the same time, he became a co-founder and director of the Los Angeles Songwriters Showcase and a Senior Editor of something hideously called the Songwriter Musepaper.

[Len Chandler: ‘The Bus Driver’, unreleased; ‘Ain’t No Use To Sit and Wonder Why, Chuck’, unreleased but published Broadside no.51, NY, 20 Oct, 1964. To Be A Man, Columbia CL 2459 / CS 9259, US (CBS BPG 62931, UK, 1967; The Lovin’ People, Columbia CL 2753 / CS 9553, US, 1967. Broadside Chandler profile in no. 34, NY, 5 Nov 1963. F.T.A., dir. Francine Parker; Duque Films / Free Theater Associates, US, 1972; Phil Hall, review for Robert Shelton, No Direction Home, London: Penguin edn, 1987, pp. 93 & 257. Bob Dylan, Chronicles Volume One, 2004, pp. 260, 47, 91, 81-82. Dylan to Cynthia Gooding, NY, 13 Jan 1962, broadcast ‘Folksinger’s Choice’, WBAI, 11 Mar 1962.]

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Among the people who wrote in asking to buy a copy of the Chronicles Volume One Index after the last time I mentioned it, four were never heard of again when they were sent the details. Of course if they've simply changed their minds about wanting it, that's their prerogative (though it would have been polite to let me know). But possibly the PayPal system has been malfunctioning, though it had always worked before. So perhaps the four readers could let me know? They are:

Nick Nelson
Pete Ross

Many thanks.

Friday, May 21, 2010


Monday, May 17, 2010



Sunday, May 16, 2010


Bob Dylan, Victoria Spivey, Len Kunstadt & Big Joe Williams, March 1962; c/o

A couple of anniversaries: Len Kunstadt, the man who took the photo of young Bob Dylan with Victoria Spivey published on the back of New Morning (Len was her husband and manager) was born 85 years ago yesterday in New York City. And Taj Mahal, also born in NYC, will be 70 years old tomorrow.

Howard Sounes' BBC radio programme The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll has been postponed and will now be on at 11a.m. UK time on Monday (May 17) on Radio 4.

Thanks to the whole new wave of people who've now ordered my Index to Chronicles Volume One (for details of how to order see previous post).

And thanks too for all the very interesting comments about cover versions. I hope more will come in, and I hope to respond soon.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


First, there's an interesting list of covers of Dylan songs posted by "Paul" as a Comment under the Allmans' 'Blind Willie McTell' item. It's a weird topic, covers, I always think. Essentially, granted that Dylan is such a tremendous songwriter, why is it that more than 90% of the covers of his songs are so unsatisfying? And is there any consensus among Dylan afficionados as to which are the exceptions, the really good covers?

Second, I thank all the people who have ordered copies of my Index to Chronicles Volume One. This is still available to anyone who's interested. Just send a Comment giving your e-mail address; this won't be published, but it will used to request the £6 price payable for the Index and then to send it as a PDF file. It runs to 31 pages, and contains 1,384 entries: in total 6,517 words and page-numbers. It applies to all US and UK editions, and presumably to any other English-language editions.

Third, a couple of anniversaries of people with musical connections to Dylan: today is the 60th birthday of Stevie Wonder, and the 35th anniversary of the death of Bob Wills (of & His Texas Playboys). Stevie was born in Saginaw, Michigan; Bob died in Fort Worth, Texas.

Monday, May 10, 2010


I'm grateful to Waldo Floyd III of Macon GA for letting me know that the Allmans performed at the Macon Auditorium for the first time in almost 20 years last month, and for giving me a link to this recent performance by them of Dylan's song 'Blind Willie McTell'. In my opinion a fine vocal and terrific lead guitar from a band that was always one of my favourites:

Sunday, May 09, 2010


We've always had more than enough bees here, despite the bee-population crisis elsewhere in the world. Not long after we moved, we had to have a wall of my study largely demolished to remove the vast bee population that had colonised the gap behind the room and between room and roof and was trying to expand into the room itself. The big old wooden pillars, seven feet tall and a foot wide, were coated in historical accretions of honey. The bees were removed by professionals.

This time, on Friday, more and more bees started to gather together on a branch of a plum tree about four yards from the kitchen window - until the branch was lowered to the ground by the weight of them, and the frenzied buzzing calmed for the night. On Saturday morning they were still there. The man next door has an uncle who keeps bees, so he was called in, and along with Kevin (he's French), the excellent boy next door, he arrived yesterday afternoon to lure them all into a hive, which he then took away in the back of his van. His estimate was that there had been 30,000 bees on our tree. Watching him giving them a helping hand into their new home was quite something.

Thursday, May 06, 2010


Since I mark so many anniversaries I'd like to note that it's 25 years ago this week that my Frank Zappa biography, Mother!, was first published - by a very dodgy outfit called Proteus Books. In the States it was either published or at least distributed by Cherry Lane Books, from whom I never saw a cent. It wasn't a great book: I had no budget for proper research or to go and interview any of the Mothers, or others, though I did interview Frank and did attend the surreal court case when he was in London suing the Royal Albert Hall for cancelling his scheduled concert there, so those parts are the real highlights.

It's long out of print, of course, though an updated version was published later by another very dodgy outfit with the similar name of Plexus Books. They've re-published it several times since, most recently in 2007. They haven't given me a royalty statement in over two years and if I could afford to sue them I would.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010


I'm back on the track. I've been away attending the christening of my first granddaughter, Ms Indiana Gray-Woodhall, daughter of my son Gabriel (the one who met Bob Dylan in 1978) and Catherine; staying with my mother; and visiting my daughter Magdalena in Manchester. I flew out of Liverpool John Lennon International Airport ("Above us only sky") yesterday and got back home last night.

One of the things I came home to was an e-mail from TV film director and Bob fan Mick Gold alerting me to David Cameron's remarks about Dylan, given to Mick Brown in The Telegraph on Monday. I knew Dave had included the 1984 live version of 'Tangled Up In Blue' in his selection of Desert Island Discs a while back, but now we learn this:

"I’ve been to see him in concert a couple of times. I went to see him at the Hammersmith Odeon, probably 10 years ago, on my own because I couldn’t find any fellow Dylan fans, which is the best way to see him because you don’t have anyone annoying you with questions about why it’s not like the song they thought it was. The great thing about Dylan is that you can go through life discovering things you’ve overlooked. I’ve suddenly started listening to Street Legal – so I keep finding new Dylan albums that I love. It’s a joy."

I hope this doesn't persuade anyone to vote for him.