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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, June 28, 2010


There's a whole set of pictures here. Such awful clothes...

Sunday, June 27, 2010


The terrific Doc Pomus would have been 85 today. Here's his entry in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia:

Pomus, Doc [1925 -1991]
Jerome Solon Felder was born in Brooklyn on June 27, 1925, and in childhood was struck down by polio, learnt the saxophone and was turned on to the blues by hearing Joe Turner on the radio. He performed, standing on crutches, as a white blues singer from the late 1940s to the mid-1950s before concentrating on songwriting. He wrote the words and, with pianist Mort Shuman writing the music, they became, from 1958-1965, one of the greatest of all the songwriting partnerships of the era. If you thought ‘Leiber & Stoller’ first, you certainly thought ‘Pomus & Shuman’ second, and that went for ELVIS songs and songs in general.

By the time of this partnership, Pomus had already written ‘Boogie Woogie Country Girl’ for Joe Turner, RAY CHARLES’ smash hit ‘Lonely Avenue’ and the Coasters’ ‘Youngblood’ with Leiber & Stoller (a song revived to gothic effect by LEON RUSSELL and performed by him at the Concert for Bangla Desh in 1971). With Shuman, Pomus wrote ‘A Mess of Blues’, ‘Surrender’, ‘Little Sister’, ‘His Latest Flame’, ‘Viva Las Vegas’, ‘Suspicion’ and others for Presley, and for others ‘Teenager In Love’ (Dion & the Belmonts), ‘I’m A Tiger’ (Fabian), ‘Go, Jimmy, Go’ (Jimmy Clanton), and for the Drifters ‘Sweets For My Sweet’, ‘I Count the Tears’ and the much-covered ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’.

The two of them visited England in 1964; Shuman started composing with other people, and Pomus, back home in 1965, had a serious fall that confined him to a wheelchair for the rest of his days. There’s something especially poignant about a man crippled by polio writing ‘Save the Last Dance For Me’.

He stopped writing altogether, and spent ten years as a professional gambler until squeezed out by the mob, who sent two masked gunmen round to his 72nd Street apartment. He returned to songwriting, collaborating mostly with Dr. John on songs for B.B. King and many others.

At Pomus’ posthumous induction into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame, the distinguished blues folklorist Dick Waterman said this of him: ‘He never felt that he was creating High Art. It was his gig. He got up in the morning and went to work writing songs just as if he was delivering mail, driving a cab or practicing medicine.’

His son, Geoffrey J. Felder, e-mailed a Dylan discussion group in 1997 to say that he remembered ‘the time Dylan came over to my dad’s apartment to discuss life, songwriting, etc. My dad was very impressed with Dylan and always thought highly of him.’

It was mutual, and for the 1995 tribute album Till the Night Is Gone, a compilation of specially-made recordings by Roseanne Cash, John Hiatt, LOU REED and others of 14 Doc Pomus songs, mostly co-written with Shuman, Bob Dylan went right back to the start of the story and recorded a version of ‘Boogie Woogie Country Girl’, in Memphis in May 1994, backed by his touring band of the day. It wasn’t, of course, a patch on the great Joe Turner version, but it was meant well.

Doc Pomus died of lung cancer in New York on March 14, 1991.

[Bob Dylan: ‘Boogie Woogie Country Girl’, 9-11 May, 1994, Till the Night Is Gone: A Tribute to Doc Pomus, Rhino R2 71878, US, 1995. Geoffrey J. Felder e-mail, 22 May 1997, quoted from, online 13 Oct 2005.]


I'm told a reading from Jack Kerouac's On the Road is played each night for about 45 - 50 minutes before each current Dylan concert, mixed at some points with bizarrely inappropriate music (one song from Evita and one from Cats).

But who's reading? One of our assiduous Vienna correspondents tells me he's pretty sure it isn't Kerouc himself, and that he's tried various readings from those available on itunes but none of them seem to be it. The recordings of Kerouac easily found online do seem to yield a more expressive voice than this, and a more youthful one - but mightn't it just sound unnecessarily different because of the tinny recording quality on the pre-concert recording?

This is a sample. Anyone?

Meanwhile thank you for the many generous responses to the previous post. (I've added a comment to the others there too, which also mentions Jackson Browne's terrific set at Glastonbury yesterday.)

Friday, June 25, 2010


Thanks to one of our Austrian correspondents, here's a decent photograph of Dylan from his Padova concert. The picture is © Paolo Brillo 2010. Our correspondent also reports that recent concerts have felt like "real Bob Dylan", with better singing and far more of Bob standing centre stage and wanting to commune with his audiences.

My question is: is there convincing aural evidence of this? (I'm not suggesting that the answer is no: I'm simply asking.) Would anyone like to suggest a particular song performance, preferably one available on YouTube?

Saturday, June 19, 2010


I see it's been 15 days between blog posts here. On the other hand I also see that four posts ago now, I reached the milestone of having written 500 posts on this blog - which began in March 2006. That's a lot, you know! Anyway...

Update 1: the Slowly Into Autumn Weekend on "Dylan, Plagiarism & Bootlegs", 24-26 September, is almost fully booked. There's a vacancy for just one more person, or one couple - so if anyone out there is still debating whether to come, please decide soon! The earlier weekends, primarily on "Dylan's Use of Bible & Blues" (Sept 10-12) and primarily on "Dylan & the Romantic Poets" (Sept 17-19) both have vacant places too. Full details here at Slowly Into Autumn.

Update 2: copies of my Chronicles Volume One Index can still be bought for just £6, simply by sending in a Comment giving your e-mail address, which will then be used to invoice you and send you the Index. Your e-mail address will not be published.

Update 3: I'm pleased to hear that the distinguished music critic Dave Laing, among many other things author of books on Buddy Holly and a founding editor of Let It Rock, is planning a selection of Robert Shelton's writings (The Robert Shelton Reader) which has the blessing of Bob's surviving sister and his nephew. Further details will follow.

Friday, June 04, 2010


NEWS: Sarah and I have decided to offer a new group of just three themed Dylan Discussion Weekend Breaks this coming September.

This time there are specific main discussion topics fixed for each weekend:


The weekends run from Friday afternoon till Sunday morning, and include terrific food, good local wines, en suite accommodation and the evening discussions.

Called Slowly Into Autumn, these weekends should still be offering beautiful weather and we hope to meet more readers of this blog, if any can make it.

Full details, including testimonials from those who've been, are here.

Thursday, June 03, 2010


Music critic Ralph Gleason died on this day in 1975, aged only 58. He made an immense contribution to "the music", being the first critic to make an American mainstream newspaper pay any real attention to jazz and popular music. (The photo shows Gleason interviewing Jerry Garcia & Phil Lesh; at the time, of course, they thought Gleason was the one with the stupid haircut... )

I knew him slightly, after he gave me a belated write-up of the first American edition of Song & Dance Man in Rolling Stone, calling it "the hidden Dylan book". Perhaps with that he hoped to shame my American publisher, E.P.Dutton, for their non-marketing of that first US hardback - I certainly did - but it made no difference. In the short interval between then and Gleason's death, we enjoyed some correspondence. I especially relished the grand, wide-ranging contempt his letters expressed for Jann Wenner, with whom he'd co-founded Rolling Stone. Anyway, here's his entry in the updated paperback edition of The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia:

Gleason, Ralph J. [1917 - 1975]
Ralph J. Gleason (‘the “J” was for Joseph, although we often joked that it stood for “jazz”’, said his son Toby) was an old-fashioned music enthusiast and journalist based in San Francisco, an influential American jazz and pop music critic in the 1950s who adjusted painfully to the decade that followed, but having done so, co-founded Rolling Stone magazine as an ‘underground paper’. The name Rolling Stone came from Gleason; co-founder and editor JANN WENNER wanted to call it Electric Newspaper. There was little love lost between the two. (See the entry Wenner, Jann and unloading heads.)

Gleason was born in New York City on March 1, 1917, attending Columbia University before moving to the West Coast in his early thirties. He began contributing to the San Francisco Chronicle in 1950, and there introduced the first regular coverage of jazz and popular music in US mainstream media. He interviewed, among others, HANK WILLIAMS, FATS DOMINO and ELVIS PRESLEY, helped bring about San Francisco’s cultural flowering in the late 1950s and, as Joe Selvin notes: ‘At a time when there were practically no books on the subject, he wrote the history of jazz on the back of album covers, writing literally hundreds of liner notes in the golden age of long-playing albums.’ He was also a radical who spoke out in the McCarthy era, and later was named on Richard Nixon’s Enemies List.

He became an earlyish supporter of, and copious commentator on, Dylan’s work, having been an early champion of LENNY BRUCE and Miles Davis; later he was similarly enthusiastic about San Francisco’s pioneering rock groups, and in 1966 wrote a paean to FRANK ZAPPA and the Mothers of Invention, ‘Those Mothers Can Really Play’, in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Gleason continued to contribute to Rolling Stone until his death in 1975. He was also an associate editor and critic on Down Beat, and his weekly columns in the New York Post were syndicated in the US and in Europe.

Gleason produced and hosted many TV documentaries, including a series of nearly thirty jazz and blues programs, Jazz Casual, featuring musicians from Dave Brubeck to B.B. King; a documentary on Duke Ellington; a series on the Monterey Jazz Festival; and several looks at San Francisco rock, notably A Night At The Family Dog, catching the Haight-Ashbury scene in one night’s performances from the GRATEFUL DEAD, SANTANA and Jefferson Airplane (1970).

His books, compiled from articles and reviews, include Jam Session (1957), The San Francisco Scene (1968) and Celebrating The Duke, & Louis, Bessie, Billie, Bird, Carmen, Miles, Dizzy & Other Heroes (1975).

He was writing for the San Francisco Chronicle in 1963 when Dylan, then a rising star, performed at the Monterey Folk Festival. Gleason slated the concert, telling ROBERT SHELTON: ‘It was an old Dylan concert and I didn’t dig it. The talking blues stuff was poor imitation GUTHRIE. He looked wrong to me and I didn’t like his voice. Although I didn’t like “Hard Rain”, I became haunted by it. Jesus, it was disturbing.’ (PETE SEEGER, THEODORE BIKEL and others wrote a protest letter in response to this review, and Gleason recanted: ‘I was deaf,’ he wrote.)

From then on, Gleason’s advocacy of Dylan never faltered. His was a useful voice, since he was of an older generation and could address its doubts from the inside, as here, in 1964: “To the generations raised on solid Judeo-Christian principles, on the rock of moral values of our fathers, on the idea that cleanliness is next to Godliness, the deliberate sloppiness, the disdain for what we have thought of as perfect by Dylan’s generation is shocking. But we are wrong. Look where our generation has gotten us… a hard core of reality connects the music of Dylan, the best of jazz, of contemporary poetry, painting, all the arts, in fact, with the social revolution that has resulted in CORE and SNCC, Dick Gregory, James Baldwin and the rest.’

An aeon later, after the unenthusiastic response to Self Portrait in 1970, it was Gleason, in Rolling Stone, who came out with the now almost notorious claim in response to hearing New Morning: ‘We’ve got Bob Dylan back again!’

The Rex Foundation, a non-profit charity organization founded by the Grateful Dead and friends, established the Ralph J. Gleason Award in 1986, and 1989 saw the launching of the annual Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Awards, sponsored by Rolling Stone, BMI and New York University.

Gleason, who died aged 58, in Berkeley, California, on June 3, 1975, after suffering a massive heart attack, was a catalyst and an enthusiast. He was not an especially good writer - as his widow said in 2004: “He was not a good writer. He wrote about interesting things.”

Gleason had been an audience participant at Dylan’s classic San Francisco Press Conference of December 1965, and many decades later was named on the front of a technically enhanced DVD release of this riveting event, Ralph J. Gleason Presents [posthumously] Dylan Speaks - The 1965 Press Conference In San Francisco.

[Ralph J. Gleason: 1st two quotes taken from Robert Shelton, No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan, p.170 & p.250; 3rd quote Rolling Stone no.70, SF, Nov 12 1970. A Night At the Family Dog, Sep 1970, is DVD-issued by RED Distribution, 2005. Joe Selvin & Mrs. Gleason quotes, Steven Rubio’s Online Life, Dec 23 2004, seen 16 Aug 2005 at Toby Gleason, e-mail to this writer, 3 Oct 2005. Ralph J. Gleason Presents - Dylan Speaks - The 1965 Press Conference In San Francisco, 3 Dec 1965, DVD, Eagle Rock Entertainment, 2007 (Executive producer Toby Gleason).]

Wednesday, June 02, 2010


He was 74, and died - like Frank Zappa - of prostate cancer diagnosed too late.

An interesting figure in his own right in more than one branch of the arts, and a very hardworking film-maker, his name occurs on the fringes of Bob Dylan's work a couple of times, if seldom directly. Dylan's Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid co-star Kris Kristofferson made his film debut in the Hopper-directed The Last Movie in 1971, while Tim Drummond, co-composer of the title track of Dylan's Saved album and bass-player for Bob in the studio and on the road, played on the soundtrack of Hopper's 1990 film The Hot Spot, in (as mentioned in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia) a heavyweight ensemble led by Miles Davis, John Lee Hooker and Taj Mahal. Decades earlier, Hopper had also directed the film Easy Rider, to which Dylan did or did not contribute a morsel or two of what became Roger McGuinn's title song.

Less tenuous connections are that Dylan's rather lacklustre 1989 recording of 'People Get Ready' appears on the soundtrack of the 1990 film Flashback, which starred Dennis Hopper, and is not to be confused with the same year's Backtrack (aka Catchfire), which was directed by Dennis Hopper and Alan Smithee, in which Bob appears briefly, and unbilled, as a "chainsaw artist".