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, October 30, 2010


British beer mat from the 1980s, the flipside of which advertises Tetley's Mild

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Thanks to today's Desolation Row Information Service e-newsletter, I learn, albeit belately, that there's an exhibition of photographs by Don Hunstein on show at the Proud Gallery Chelsea in London till November 21st. The gallery's own rather quaint blurb runs like this:

Widely considered to be one of the most influential figures of the 20th century, Bob Dylan is an icon. This Autumn, Proud Chelsea presents ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’, a photographic portrait by legendary rock n’ roll photographer Don Hunstein, who worked closely with Dylan in the early 1960s whilst his star was in the ascent. The result is an intimate and touching body of work which includes the legendary ‘The Freewheelin’ (1963) album cover image which brought Dylan international fame and launched his career.

The exhibition includes images of Dylan recording ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ which is considered to be the best and most important of his albums including the tracks ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ and ‘Desolation Row’; as well as images of Dylan rehearsing for concerts and in repose. Hunstein’s images capture the young Dylan and his intrepid spirit of counter-culture which resonated the world over. Working as a photographer for Columbia Records, Hunstein has photographed Johnny Cash, Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin, Simon & Garfunkel and, of course, Bob Dylan

Exclusively showing at Proud Chelsea, this exhibition of Hunstein’s work is a must see for Dylan fans and photography fans alike.

The Chelsea Gallery is at 161 King’s Road, London SW3 5XP. Opening times 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday and Saturday. Admission free. Telephone 0207 349 0822 (+44 207 349 0822 from outside UK).

Don Hunstein, a straightforward and accessible man, has this brief entry in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia:

Hunstein, Don [1928 - ]

Donald Robert Hunstein was born in St. Louis, Missouri on November 19, 1928, studied liberal arts at Washington University there, and then, fearful of army call-up to fight in Korea, enlisted in the US Air Force instead. His squadron was sent to England, and visiting Paris he discovered the work of Cartier-Bresson, which prompted his career in photography. Discharged in spring 1954, within months he moved to New York City, where he learnt the business as a Pagano studio gofer, after which work for another photographer led to a Columbia Records publicity department job in January 1956. So it came about that he was the staff photographer who took the cover shot for Bob Dylan and, more famously, the iconic cover of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. This was taken after an amiable session, mostly on black and white film, in Dylan’s West 4th Street apartment with and without SUZE ROTOLO, arranged by publicist Billy James (who was also present), so as to build up Columbia’s stock of photos of an artist rapidly becoming ‘hot’. As the light was threatening to fade, Hunstein suggested trying some shots in the street, with happy results, taken on one roll of colour film on a Hasselblad. Hunstein is certain, despite other claims, that his back was to West 4th Street and Dylan’s apartment as he took the shot, and that Bob and Suze are walking down Cornelia Street.*

Don Hunstein took his last Dylan shots in 1965: lovely shots at the piano. He ran the photographic studio Columbia created in 1966, until it closed in 1982; after four years of corporate work for CBS he went freelance. He has not ‘gone digital’ and now, at 77, he is ‘somewhat more than semi-retired’.

[Source: Don Hunstein, phone calls from & to this writer 13 Mar 2006.]

* His recollection of which street it was has been widely challenged. I can't now recall whether anyone has proved him wrong beyond any inkling of doubt.


Here is a review by one Jason Hartley of Decatur Georgia of a recent - and his first - Dylan concert. It's full of dubious special pleading but so charmingly and (a)cutely done that I couldn't help enjoying it, envying his relish of the concert and wishing I could hear current Bob that way too. Thanks to reader Yvonne C for passing this along:

Friday, October 22, 2010


Left to right: drummer D.J. Fontana, Scotty Moore, Bill Black & Elvis, Las Vegas, May 4 1956.

Bill Black, the upright bass player on Elvis Presley's immortal Sun recordings and beyond, and on Presley's early shows, died 45 years ago yesterday - 1965 - at the shockingly young age of 39, from a brain tumour.

Bill Black and guitarist Scotty Moore worked with Elvis till September 1957 and Black continued to record with him until 1958, becoming one of the first bass players in rock to use a Fender Precision Bass, on Presley's 1958 classic 'Jailhouse Rock'. He formed Bill Black's Combo the following year and had several hits, including a revival of 'Don't Be Cruel'. In 1964 they became the opening act for the Beatles on their first tour of America after an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show - though by this time Bill himself was too ill to go on the road with his group. Paul McCartney now owns Bill's stand-up bass. OK, none of this has anything directly to do with Bob Dylan. Except of course that without that Sun studio, where Bob eventually got down and kissed the floor in homage...

Thursday, October 21, 2010


A couple of people have responded on the matter of the Sundazed (in particular) and vinyl (in general) versus Bob's new mono CDs (in particular) and digital (in general); see the Comments under the previous post. But I hope more people will contribute here, especially if they Know About Sound.

For me it was a pleasure to read someone writing unequivocally that 1960s vinyl sounds better than anything that's come along since. But is it true?... Certainly I remember the first time I ever heard a CD it was blaring out of a hi-fi shop as I was walking past - and it sounded mind-blowingly fantastic (even though it was Simon & Garfunkel). This was partly because of the then-eerie lack of any hiss or crackle, but it was probably mostly because they were playing it on mega-expensive equipment of an unattainable nature.

Then further down the line I read that engineers were building a bit of hiss back into CDs because the music sounded funkier that way... and certainly when I played Bob's 'I'll Keep It With Mine' directly from one of the Great White Wonder LPs to some Dylan Discussion Weekenders last month, the noise that rose up with the music produced a certain fond amusement.

I may well have said all this before, but if I had money, my sound system of choice would be a shockingly pricey turntable and two mono valve amps in sync for stereo, linked to excellent speakers. The change from valves to transistors was for cheapness' sake, and sold on its convenience - transistor radios on the beach - not for anything to do with sound quality. As for digital, well, I don't know enough about it. Maybe you do...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


though as several people point out, the Sundazed vinyl has the best sound...

Monday, October 18, 2010


There's an interview with Sean Wilentz by David Hepworth offered as a podcast by Word magazine here. In it, Wilentz is asked about the writing of his chapter about Blind Willie McTell. He says "I was helped a lot by a wonderful biography by Michael Gray, Hand Me My Travelin' Shoes." OK Geoff?

Saturday, October 16, 2010


Tonight's competitors performed material supposedly by their music heroes. Nobody claimed Bob Dylan as one. I'm just saying.

However, I'm told that on Saturday evening they used a version of 'To Make You Feel My Lurve' on Strictly Come Dancing. This song really has found its own level...

No: I don't watch it. Never have, never will. The trailers told me all I needed to know. I'm just saying.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


I'm pleased to report that, albeit two months late, the 2010 ARSC Awards have been announced, and in the Blues Etc category, while I wasn't the winner, I was awarded one of the two Certificates of Merit, for Hand Me My Travlein' Shoes: In Search of Blind Willie McTell. The press release, received this morning, begins like this:

The Association for Recorded Sound Collections is pleased to announce the winners of the 2010 ARSC Awards for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research. Begun in 1991, the awards are presented to authors and publishers of books, articles, liner notes, and monographs, to recognize outstanding published research in the field of recorded sound. In giving these awards, ARSC recognizes outstanding contributions, encourages high standards, and promotes awareness of superior works. Two awards may presented annually in each category—one for best history and one for best discography. Certificates of Merit are presented to runners-up of exceptionally high quality. The 2010 Awards for Excellence honor works published in 2009.

Best Discography: Chuck Berry International Directory, by Morten Reff (Music Mentor)

Certificates of Merit:

Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues, by William Ferris (University of North Carolina Press)
Hand Me Down My Travelin’ Shoes: In Search of Blind Willie McTell, by Michael Gray (Chicago Review Press).

This would be more pleasing if they had troubled to get the name of my book right.

Monday, October 11, 2010


I only learnt yesterday that Larry Fabbro had died. My copy of the UK-based ISIS fanzine always arrives late here in France, and it gave me the sad news that Larry had died unexpectedly this August 25, aged 69, in Pontiac MI.

Lawrence L Fabbro was one of Bobby Zimmerman's fellow students at Hibbing High and played guitar in Bob’s first Hibbing group, the Shadow Blasters (as the wider world first learnt from Dave Engel's excellent book Just Like Bob Zimmerman's Blues: Dylan in Minnesota, 1997). Bob's girlfriend Echo Helstrom wrote in Larry's high school yearbook that she really liked the way he played guitar, though he was only learning the instrument as he went along, having played the trumpet till he helped form Bob's group.*

News of Larry's death saddens me in particular because on my own first visit to Hibbing, in 1998, it was Larry who showed me around the town and drove me in his car out to North Hibbing in the snow and pointed out its remaining traces, reading them almost like an archaeologist who'd known the place in a previous life. Dave Engel tells me that Larry was also one of the first to be helpful to him when he started researching his book.

When I returned to Hibbing a second time, in 2001, to give a talk at the public library, Larry and his then partner Deborah Irish were among those who bought a copy of Song & Dance Man III - they were living on Hibbing's 3rd Avenue East at the time - and Larry hung back at the end of the event till others had finished talking to me, to take me for a drink. He was a gracious guide and a thoughtful, loyal old friend to Bob, and he made no attempt to claim any relevance of his own to the later Dylan.

*Dave Engel's book is long out of print, but there's a short account, titled Hibbing rock'n'rollers, drawn largely from his research, in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia.

Saturday, October 09, 2010


The group Old 97 have a song called 'Champaign, Illinois'. It has nothing to do with the Bob Dylan-Carl Perkins song of that name - but obviously its melody is entirely to do with Bob's 'Desolation Row'. I'm told he's been given a share of the writing credits. Sometimes he's that scrupulous himself.

Thursday, October 07, 2010


This review of Duane Eddy's concert at the Royal Festival Hall a couple of days ago may be of interest to some of this blog's readership (those of a certain age, like me):

Reviewed by Pierre Perrone, The Independent
Thursday, 7 October 2010

His 1959 debut might have been called Have 'Twangy' Guitar Will Travel, but the legendary Duane Eddy hadn't graced a British stage since a tour with the Everly Brothers in 1991. All dressed in black, including an immovable Stetson, and playing his beautiful Gretsch signature guitar, Eddy rolled back the years from the off with "Detour" and his debut hit, "Moovin'N'Groovin". Backed by Richard Hawley's excellent band and a very adept saxophone player, he re-created his run of instrumental hits that are so evocative of the late Fifties and early Sixties. Eddy and his co-writer and producer, the late Lee Hazlewood, had a way with a title – cue "Cannonball" and the even snappier "Yep!" and "Shazam!" – and moved the guitar on from Les Paul's clean sound to a meaner, leaner rock'n'roll style.

"3.30 Blues" and support act Pete Molinari singing the country standard "Tennessee Waltz" provided just the right change of mood and tempo, though they were soon eclipsed by two female vocalists who added a bit of oomph! and ooh la la! to "Dance with the Guitar Man" and "Play Me Like You Play Your Guitar". Most endearing was the obvious bond between Eddy and Hawley as the Sheffield indie crooner guested on sepulchral versions of Hazlewood's "The Girl on Death Row" and "Still As the Night". It all ended with the humungous riff of "Peter Gunn", the irresistible track Eddy re-recorded with the Art of Noise in the mid-Eighties, and an appropriately riotous "Rebel Rouser".

The guitarist's guitarist is now 72 and dropped two songs from the set but, as they shuffled along to "Hard Times", the sole encore, his devoted fans, some of whom had travelled from as far afield as Italy, didn't seem to mind. Five decades on, Eddy is still twangin' up a storm.

Duane Eddy, Richard Hawley, Jarvis Cocker and Ellie Goulding play Tennessee Comes to Town at the Clapham Grand, London SW11 (020 7223 6523) tonight

Monday, October 04, 2010


Janis Joplin died 40 years ago.

She co-wrote her well-known song 'Mercedes Benz' with Dylan's old associate Bob Neuwirth. As I wrote in the entry on the latter (there is no entry on Ms Joplin) "Dylan’s memoir Chronicles Volume One ... gives a vivid description of Neuwirth’s spiky character, without managing to explain what he liked about a man who seems to so many the archetypal snivelling sidekick, stroking Dylan’s ego all through Don’t Look Back while kicking and belittling everyone else around - as when he says of JOAN BAEZ, right in front of her, ‘Hey, she has one of those see-through blouses that you don’t even wanna’ - and generally game-playing, suffused with the vicarious power of being Bob’s friend, a position he first assumed in February 1964..."

On the cover of Highway 61 Revisited, Neuwirth's "are the legs standing behind motorbike-persona Dylan, his black-jeaned crotch just off to one side of Dylan’s head, while his fist, thumb in pocket, holds a dangling camera on a strap. Those legs have always contributed a very, very slight hint of Warholian arty eroticism to the photo..."

A decade later, "there was no getting away from Bob Neuwirth in the film Renaldo & Clara, and in the concert footage, he’s the one mugging the bulbous-eyed faces and, in David Faciane’s happy phrase, ‘jumping around like he had to go to the bathroom’."

The entry concludes:

"In the 2000s [Neuwirth] has co-produced Down from the Mountain, the D.A. Pennebaker film about the musicians who contributed to the hit movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and performed Bascom Lamar Lunsford’s trademark song ‘I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground’ at the ‘HARRY SMITH Concerts’ in New York and London in 2004.

"Yet whatever else he does, Bob Neuwirth will always be Robin to Dylan’s Batman (or to put it another way, always batman to Bob). He is therefore also an interviewee in Scorsese’s No Direction Home; by the time of this filming he had grown quieter, dessicated and slightly camp; but he remained articulate and gave illuminating testimony, as for instance when recalling that on the Village scene in the early 1960s, a key question always asked about any performer, even a musician who never used words, was ‘Does he have anything to say?’ In Dylan’s case, of course, the answer had been an emphatic ‘Yes’. In Neuwirth’s case, it had probably been ‘Neu’."

Friday, October 01, 2010


I very much like this, from the Barack Obama interview in the current Rolling Stone:

Q: You had Bob Dylan here. How did that go?

A: Here's what I love about Dylan: He was exactly as you'd expect he would be. He wouldn't come to the rehearsal; usually, all these guys are practicing before the set in the evening. He didn't want to take a picture with me; usually all the talent is dying to take a picture with me and Michelle before the show, but he didn't show up to that. He came in and played "The Times They Are A-Changin'." A beautiful rendition. The guy is so steeped in this stuff that he can just come up with some new arrangement, and the song sounds completely different. Finishes the song, steps off the stage — I'm sitting right in the front row — comes up, shakes my hand, sort of tips his head, gives me just a little grin, and then leaves. And that was it — then he left. That was our only interaction with him. And I thought: That's how you want Bob Dylan, right? You don't want him to be all cheesin' and grinnin' with you. You want him to be a little skeptical about the whole enterprise.