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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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Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Sarah and I were watching a TV profile of Merle Haggard the other night (which among other things confirmed how strongly he was influenced vocally, but also revealed how he was helped, by Lefty Frizzell). At one point Merle told the interviewer he wasn't trying to trade on his time in prison. Odd, then, that he mentions it in almost every sentence and every song. What struck Sarah, though, is how clearly current Merle seems the sartorial style model for Bob Dylan.

As it says at the end of his entry in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, "Haggard’s official website greets you with the branding ‘Haggard: Poet of the Common Man’. The common man, of course, retires; like the common woman, the performer generally doesn’t, and Merle, in his 70s, grey-haired and - well, yes, haggard - keeps on keeping on." Again, just like Bob.

Today marks the 5th anniversary of the death of Long John Baldry (no connection intended). He died in Canada, aged 64.

Monday, July 19, 2010


Yesterday was jugbandmeister and Cambridge folkie Jim Kweskin's 70th birthday. The photo, copyright Steve Covault, comes from the current website of the Me&Thee Coffeehouse in Marblehead MA, where there's a Q&A session with Kweskin. Here's his entry in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia:

Kweskin, Jim [1940 - ]
James G. Kweskin was born on July 18, 1940 in New England and attended Boston University, where he was inspired by local folk group the Hoppers, centred upon John ‘Fritz’ Richmond. After Fritz was drafted Kweskin began to perform himself, cultivating a lightly humorous stage presence and a large moustache. Looking much like Dennis Weaver, in fact, he linked up with GEOFF MULDAUR and in 1963, together with harmonica and banjo player Mel Lyman and a returned Fritz Richmond, he formed the Kweskin Jug Band. A mix of energetic playing, pre-war repertoire and comedy made them an immediately popular live act and earned a Vanguard Records contract. Augmented by Maria D’Amato (who swiftly became MARIA MULDAUR), the Kweskin Jug Band remained Cambridge-based.

Mel Lyman left the group in 1964 and was replaced by ex-Bill Monroe Blue Grass Boy Bill Keith - but Lyman still played on ‘solo’ Kweskin albums like 1966’s Relax Your Mind and his malign influence over Kweskin was ever more ascendant. Soon after the band signed to Reprise and made various national TV appearances, Jim Kweskin disbanded it and moved into Lyman’s monomaniacal religious commune ‘family’ in Boston’s scuzzy Fort Hill, where he remained for some years. In 1971 came the album Jim Kweskin’s America co-starring Mel Lyman & the Lyman Family, which had been recorded in San Francisco with Lyman on harp and vocals, Kweskin on guitar and vocals and Jim’s wife Marilyn Kweskin on further vocals. The tracks were familiar old songs like the MEMPHIS JUG BAND’s ‘Stealin’’, Stephen Foster’s ‘Old Black Joe’ plus ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ and ‘Dark As A Dungeon’, but the sleevenotes included a long, myopic declaration by Kweskin about the soul of America, ending with this: ‘I am singing America to you and it is Mel Lyman. He is the new soul of the world.’

Lyman eventually disappeared, in still-mysterious circumstances, and Kweskin re-emerged, making further records, forming the 1980s group the U & I Band and remaining in Boston. He was among those who turned up and played at the celebration reunion held in 2000 in the old Club 47 premises soon after ERIC VON SCHMIDT had been given an ASCAP Lifetime Achievement Award for Folk Music.

Dylan first met Jim Kweskin when both appeared at the Indian Neck Folk Festival in Bransford, Connecticut in May 1961. That September, at Gerde’s Folk City, Dylan and Kweskin were performing together when someone taped the two sharing vocals on JESSE FULLER’s ‘San Francisco Bay Blues’ and WOODY GUTHRIE’s ‘The Great Divide’; and at some point that fall, according to CLINTON HEYLIN, he and Dylan shared a Gaslight residency. Peter Stampel of the Holy Modal Rounders, interviewed on Bob Fass’ radio show on WBAI in New York in about 1970, recalled seeing Kweskin and Dylan together at the Gaslight back then:

‘He’s very easy to play with, Dylan is, and, uh, we did a couple of things. He did a lot of things with Jim Kweskin.... somebody must have tapes of him and Kweskin singing together, man. They were doing...folk-hippie 1961 tunes like “Long Black Veil” and “San Francisco Bay Blues” when hardly anybody was doing it, and they did like the best of that I’ve ever heard.... I play kazoo. Wow, it was just mind blowing. Dylan would flatpick and Jim would fingerpick, and they’d play like in... they’d use capos so that they would both play in different configurations so they wouldn’t get on each other. They were so gas...’

Gas or not, Dylan and Kweskin don’t seem to have played music together again since 1961. Nor has any tape of the two of them ever surfaced, except for those two songs from Gerde’s.

[Jim Kweskin & Bob Dylan: ‘San Francisco Bay Blues’ & ‘The Great Divide’, Gerde’s, NY, Sep 1961. Jim Kweskin: Relax Your Mind, nia, Vanguard VRS-9188/VSD-79188, NY, 1966, CD-reissued Universe CDKWESKRELA, US, 2003; Jump For Joy, nia, Vanguard VRS-9243/VSD-79243, NY, 1967; Whatever Happened to those Good Old Days . . ., nia, Vanguard VSD-779278, NY, 1968; Jim Kweskin’s America co-starring Mel Lyman & the Lyman Family, SF, nia, Reprise RS6464, US, 1971. Jim Kweskin Jug Band: Unblushing Brassiness, Vanguard VRS 9139/VSD-2158, NY, 1963; Jug Band Music, Vanguard VRS-9163/VSD-79163, NY, 1965; See Reverse Side For Title, Vanguard VRS-9234/VSD-79234, NY, 1966; Garden of Joy, Reprise R-6266/RS-6266, US, 1967. Stampfel interview as transcribed by Harvey Bojarsky, seen online 2 Oct 2005 at ‘Bob Dylan Roots’, at]

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Anneke Derksens, a long-time Bob follower, has put these photographs up on Facebook. She reports that they show Dylan with Rabbi David Pinto in Paris in 1994, and were published in the magazine Or Haïm Ve Moche [Hevrat Pinto (Centre Pahad David)] in 1994 and in 1996. She says there's nothing mentioned on either the covers or the contents list. The photographer too appears to be uncredited; but at least we can surmise of the rabbi that his favourite albums include The Band.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


©, 2010: thanks to RV for forwarding this
Boris Becker at Berlin Fashion Week, yesterday.

Friday, July 09, 2010


Grumpy old Ringo Starr was 70 the day before yesterday. Here's his entry in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia. Since it was written mega-millionaire Ringo has announced rather tetchily that he's not prepared to sign any more autographs ever again. The burden of fame, eh...

Starr, Ringo [1940 - ]
Richard Starkey was born in the Toxteth district of Liverpool on July 7, 1940, in a terraced house the city council is now determined to demolish. Ringo moved out of it at age 4 and grew up across the city in Dingle. Ill-health scarred his childhood, consigning him to much time in hospital and leaving him semi-literate (though not unable, in later life, to narrate many UK children’s TV series of ‘Thomas the Tank-Engine’). He learnt drums and played in his first group, the Eddie Clayton Skiffle Group, in 1957. Following a stint in the Raving Texans, he joined Rory Storm & the Hurricanes and while playing with this well-known Liverpool beat group in Hamburg, West Germany, in 1960, first met the rest of the Beatles. When they sacked Pete Best in August 1962, Ringo replaced him. When the Beatles met Dylan in 1964 and Dylan handed JOHN LENNON the first joint any of them had encountered, John immediately passed it to Ringo (as a king to his taster); Ringo, not knowing the etiquette, smoked the whole thing himself.

Never the brightest starr in the firmament, and one of its dullest vocalists, the point about Ringo has always been that he is one of rock’s greatest drummers. After the Beatles disbanded in 1970, he was surprisingly quick off the blocks with his solo albums: Sentimental Journey and the better-received Beaucoups of Blues both came out that year, followed by hit singles like ‘It Don’t Come Easy’ (1971) ‘Back off Boogaloo’ (1972) and later the US no.1 hits ‘Photograph’ and a remake of Johnny Burnette’s ‘You’re Sixteen’, both from ‘his first rock album’, Ringo, in 1973.

By this time he had already also starred in the movie version of Terry Southern’s Candy (1968), in The Magic Christian (1969) and That’ll Be The Day (1973) and played both FRANK ZAPPA and Larry the Dwarf in Zappa’s 200 Motels (1971). He had also been a participant in the August 1971 Concert for Bangla Desh, at which he played tambourine behind Dylan. Later film rôles included being the Pope in the Ken Russell film Lizstomania (1975) and the Mock Turtle in a US TV film of Alice In Wonderland ten years later. He has been married twice, detoxed after becoming an alcoholic in the 1980s, has suffered the further ignominy of TV-advertising Pizza Hut, has inevitably voiced himself in ‘The Simpsons’ (1991) and in 2005 agreed to work with comic-books legend Stan Lee on the creation of an animated musical featuring an unlikely, Starr-based new superhero.

His work with Dylan did not stop at the Concert for Bangla Desh, however. At THE BAND’s Farewell Concert in San Francisco on November 25, 1976, Ringo made a surprise appearance to sharing drumming duties on the Dylan-plus-ensemble version of ‘I Shall Be Released’. Five years later, on May 15, 1981, Ringo was in the studios in LA with Bob recording a session for the Shot Of Love album, from which one track, ‘Heart Of Mine’, made it onto the album and became a single. Though the liner notes for the album credit Ringo with playing drums on an unspecified track, in fact he plays tom tom on this track, and on this track only.

On April 14, 1987 (Beatle people say April 29, but they’re less reliable), Dylan repaid the favor, dropping in on a Starr session at Chips Moman’s studio in Memphis to share vocals on ‘I Wish I Knew Now (What I Knew Then)’ - a session it’s reported that Starr had videotaped. This entire album, blighted by Starr’s alcoholism at the time of the prolonged sessions (they’d begun that February), never came out except on bootlegs; Moman tried to issue it but Starr blocked its release, which was to have been in 1989.

That was also the year Ringo turned up again with Dylan, this time at a Never-Ending Tour concert in Frejus, France during the summer festivals season, when Starr was back in action and touring the first of his Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band line-ups (in which at different times various members of The Band, among others, took part). Coinciding geographically, Starr came on stage during Dylan’s June 13 concert to play drums on the last two pre-encore numbers, ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ and ‘Like A Rolling Stone’.

In LA on December 17, 1997, Ringo was in the audience for another Dylan concert. At one point Dylan said from the stage: ‘One of the great drummers on this kind of music is in the audience tonight - Ringo Starr! Where are you, Ringo?’ Pause. ‘I guess we don’t want to put the spotlight on him.’ Ringo was up in the balcony’s VIP section. He gave a cheery wave, as in the long-gone moptop days.

[Joint-smoking, see Aronowitz, Al. Ringo Starr: Sentimental Journey, ; Beaucoups of Blues, ; Ringo, . Candy, dir. Christian Marquand, ABC / Corona, France-Italy-US, 1968. The Magic Christian, dir. Joseph McGrath, Commonwealth United / Grand Films, UK, 1969. 200 Motels, dir. Tony Palmer & Charles Swenson, Bizarre / Murakami-Wolf, US, 1971. That’ll Be the Day, dir. Claude Whatham, EMI Films, UK, 1973. Lisztomania, dir. Ken Russell, Goodtimes / VPS / Warner, UK, 1975. Alice In Wonderland, dir. Harry Harris, CBS-TV, US, 1985. ‘The Simpsons’ series 2, no.18, ‘Brush With Greatness’, 11 Apr 1991.]

Thursday, July 08, 2010


Comment is still coming in to the Photo from Padova blog item, discussing current Bob Dylan in performance. I thank all who've contributed.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Bill Haley and His Comets rehearsing at the London Dominion Theatre, February 6, 1957
Photo via Corbis-Bettmann (it says here)

Tomorrow, Bill Haley, born in Highland Park, Michigan, would have been 85. I never thought he was young but I never realised he was the same age as my mother...

And talking of age, any reports from Hop Farm, anyone? (Thanks already to Jack, for a comment now sent under the earlier blog entry 'Padova'.)


Highly pleased to learn today that the BBC's planned closure of its often excellent digital radio station BBC 6 Music has been overturned. The BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyon has listened to the widespread clamour against this, and has rejected the closure proposals. It was going to be closed down to save £7m a year, as part of the Corporation's budget cuts. To put this in perspective - if also to repeat myself - until recently the same Corporation was paying Jonathan Ross £6m a year. (I was going to indulge in a small rant too against Fiona Bruce, but have thought better of it.)

Michael Lyon might well have thought Ross' salary an argument in itself: he has also called for the BBC to publish the fees/salaries it pays its top "stars". Of course Mark Thompson, the BBC's useless Director-General, is against this, and says "it would be wrong and it would be damaging and destructive to the BBC and its ability to get top stars to actually publish individual salaries.” Well he would say that, wouldn't he?

Meanwhile Radio 6 Music lives!