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

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


I have been very saddened to learn of the death, earlier this month, of folklorist, blues musician and cultural historian of Newfoundland, Peter Narváez. He died of lung cancer, aged 69, on November 11.

He was an important figure on the music scene, as this Globe and Mail obituary describes. He was also proud to be able to say that he had played music with Skip James, Sleepy John Estes, Yank Rachell, Big Joe Williams, Bukka White, Victoria Spivey, Johnny Shines, Fred McDowell and others, and it was his resourceful recording of Skip James’ concert in Bloomington IN in March 1968 that was given official release in 1999.

He was also a good friend to innumerable people - in my case initially and especially in the mid-1980s when I spent three months in Newfoundland and got to know him almost immediately I arrived.

Peter introduced me to the several invaluable 1000-pages-each hardbacks Blues Lyric Poetry: A Concordance and Blues Lyric Poetry: An Anthology by Michael Taft  -  from which I came to realise how enormously Bob Dylan had drawn upon, and must have known inside-out, that great ocean of pre-war blues work. Without Peter’s lead, the huge chapter on Dylan and the blues in my book Song & Dance Man III could not have happened  -  nor the many talks on Bob Dylan & the Poetry of the Blues I have given in recent years.

Peter also gave me a great deal of other material about, and intelligent, enthusiastic comment on, the pre-war blues, including photocopying for me the sleevenotes of many rare vinyl albums that featured Blind Willie McTell - an invaluable help when, 20 years later, I was writing Hand Me My Travelin' Shoes: In Search of Blind Willie McTell. I owe Peter a great deal.

He shared his time very generously  -  at his home, at the Ship Inn in St.Johns (a live-music pub still numinous in my memory) and in showing me rural outposts he loved. He visited us in England a couple of times in later years, endearing himself immediately to our then-small children, and always sent me advance copies of his CDs. (The photo above is of the front cover of the most recent.)

He last wrote to me, as cheerfully as ever, four days after his birthday this year. We have all lost a first-rate guitarist and a distinguished folklorist; some of us have also lost a gregarious, warm-hearted, shrewd-minded friend.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Harold Lepidus, of Dylan Examiner, has published (online) a (possibly unconfirmed) report that Don DeVito, producer of Desire album and several other Dylan albums, has died. The report is here.


 Jerome Arnold, bass-player for Howlin Wolf and in the Paul Butterfield Blues Band - and thereby the man who played bass at Newport 1965 for Bob Dylan's debute electric performance - turned 75 yesterday. An interesting man, who subsequently changed his name to Julio Finn (which Wikipedia still doesn't seem to know), here's his entry in my Bob Dylan Encyclopedia:

Arnold, Jerome [1936 - ]
Jerome Arnold, a year younger than his more famous harmonica-playing brother Billy Boy Arnold, was born in Chicago on November 26, 1936. He was playing bass guitar in the city in the 1950s and from around 1957 played in HOWLIN WOLF’s band (though he didn’t play on Wolf’s records till the 1962 session that yielded ‘Tail Dragger’, to which the lyric of Dylan’s 1990 blues ‘Cat’s In The Well’ slyly alludes.) He and SAM LAY were poached from Wolf in 1963 by PAUL BUTTERFIELD, who was forming the pioneering Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Arnold and Lay were the bi-racial band’s black members, and the authentic Chicago blues rhythm section on which the band’s white soloists built. Arnold kept things solid when MIKE BLOOMFIELD introduced Indian music into the band on their second album, East-West, yet while reportedly uneasy with the ‘progressive’ organ-playing of Mark Naftalin (who joined in 1964), he was more than capable of laying down jazz-rooted bass lines flowing around behind Bloomfield on the 8-minute-long ‘Work Song’, which emerged on the Bloomfield compilation Don’t Say That I Ain’t Your Man: Essential Blues 1964-1969. He continued to play on Howlin’ Wolf records after joining the Butterfield outfit.

Arnold, described by Butterfield Blues Band enthusiast Charles Sawyer as ‘quiet and unassuming; a conservative dresser given to double knits and loafers’, was nevertheless one of those who played behind Dylan - with Bloomfield, AL KOOPER, BARRY GOLDBERG and Sam Lay - at Dylan’s controversial electric début at the 1965 NEWPORT FOLK FESTIVAL. It was the only time he played behind Dylan; he continued with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, which Butterfield disbanded in 1972.

By 1978 he had changed his name to Julio Finn and moved to London. Now playing more harmonica than bass, he played with jazz acts, including Archie Shepp (for instance on the album Black Gipsy) and the Art Ensemble of Chicago (Certain Blacks, recorded in Paris in 1970). On the 1970 eponymously-titled album by Archie Shepp & Philly Joe Jones, Finn is credited as composer of the 21-minute-long ‘Howling in the Silence’, on which he contributes vocals as well as harmonica.

In 1981 he was asked to write the sleevenotes for the UK label Charley’s album Crying and Pleading, by his brother Billy Boy Arnold. He agreed, mentioned their relationship in his notes but still signed as Julio Finn. Interested in gay rights and in black history, he wrote the 1986 book The Blues Man: The Musical Heritage of Black Men and Women in the Americas, which was published in London by Quartet Books.

Finn / Arnold still keeps open his playing and academic options, and still ranges widely without abandoning the blues. In 1998 he played harmonica on the Linton Kwesi Johnson album Independent Intavenshan; in 2000 he was the respondent at a panel discussion on ‘The Blues as Individual and Collective History’ at a conference on ‘The Blues Tradition’ at Penn State University.

[Bob Dylan with Jerome Arnold et al: ‘Maggie’s Farm’, ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ & ‘It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry’, Newport RI, 25 Jul 1965. Charles Sawyer quote from ‘Blues With A Feeling: A Biography of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’, 1994, online Jul 2 2005 at]

Thursday, November 24, 2011


I'm delighted to give over this post to the writer Nigel Hinton. It seems to me to encompass all the pros and cons of current Bob Dylan  -  and to be full of humanity and verve:

Of course, so much of how one reacts to a live show can depend on circumstances and mood. My c + m on Saturday were not very good. I’m the same age as Bob and it was hard  work standing, still and squashed, for 3 and a half hours. I was surrounded by newbies agog at seeing Knopfler and Bob - "You know that Denzel Washington film about a boxer? You know, he's accused of murder. Well, Dylan made a song about him. It's eight minutes long!" "Eight? He's a legend, innit.". I also fell into brief conversation with a Norwegian guy in his fifties who had seen him over a hundred times and admitted that 60% of those shows had been mediocre at best. "But it is when he is great that makes it worth it. I think tonight he will be great."

After about four songs of Dylan's set, a young guy in his early twenties and his fat little girlfriend came back towards us - probably because, being so short, the girl hadn't been able to see where they had been - and peremptorily displaced us. The Norwegian was edged sideways to behind a tall guy where he couldn't see and me back a couple of steps where I could still see. The Norwegian leaned in and said something to the guy - I can't imagine it could have been anything other than a mild rebuke. Whereupon the young guy grabbed hold of the Norwegian by his jacket, pulled him close and said, "What? Don't fucking speak like that to me. You fucking hear? Speak nice or I'll tear your fucking throat out!" Then he pushed the guy who staggered into some other people before righting himself and trying to go on listening to the show. A couple of songs later the young guy turned again to the Norwegian who had said and done nothing and twice repeated his threat to "Fucking tear your fucking throat out". This was the end of the exchanges and the young guy continued to appear to be enraptured by the music when not necking his girlfriend who twice spent some longish time reading her text messages. He particularly responded to those crowd-pleasing, climactic build-ups that Bob understands gets the audience going and feeling that they are seeing something good and powerfully significant rather than the primitive rabble rousing which it is.

So, I was not really in the mood to enter into the spirit of what all those people round me obviously thought was so wonderful that they were obliged to record it for posterity on their annoyingly, distractingly, held-aloft mobile phones. I was feeling misanthropic. So, tough on Bob. I thought the show started reasonably - the voice was not too phlegmy and it seemed strong. Don't Think Twice was OK-ish. Things Have Changed was OK too but a bit of a blur. I was happy to hear Mississippi live and it was respectable. Then it all started to go downhill for me. Honest With Me was forceful but I dislike the song and could hardly hear a word. Then he seriously started to get into that find-a-doodle-on-the-organ-and-then-adapt-the-melody-of-the-song-to-it mode, especially on Hattie Carroll and Hard Rain. I actually was less offended by Hattie Carroll , because I thought the silly melody he found was quite pretty, though obviously inappropriate. The nadir for me was Hard Rain, where the three note baby fairground nursery jingle was completely inane. People round me went apeshit. And even madder when he whipped them into a frenzy with Highway 61. Then came Thin Man and its echo which I found sad and cheap - though he delivers it with some force. I can't even be bothered to remember the rest. Although I did notice the "Oh I am so bored" hand on hip while I play a few silly doodles with two fingers on my organ stance which I suppose other people take as charming or amusing.

So, you can imagine I was not expecting much for Monday, and Bob goes and confounds me again.

Was it me? Mood and circumstances? I was seated, so easier on my hips, but a long, long way back in the balcony and only able to get close through the use of binoculars. And seated or not, I was still depressed by much of humanity, and still prey to murderous thoughts as people bobbed up and down and shuffled along rows to get their drinks - is it because they were demand fed as babies that they can't last 90 minutes without shoving something down their throat? And seemingly more intent on talking to their neighbour, or texting to absent friends - "Hi I'm on the train. Oh no I'm not - I'm at a rock concert. Freaking Bob Dylan for chrissakes", or waving their phones around recording the moment rather than living it.

Or was it him? Certainly there were none of the more grotesque manglings like Hattie Carroll and Hard Rain and much less of that doodle riff becomes doodle sung melody. And he sang Forgetful Heart and Man In the Long Black Coat and It's All Over Now Baby Blue and Desolation Row and Forever Young - and I like all those songs and haven't had them done to death.

Me? Him? I honestly don't know. But whatever, all I can report is the effect of whatever it was, and I wasn't alone: my wife and the two friends who came with us had the same reaction, I felt privileged to be there. It was as if all the failings and inconsistencies which were still indubitably there did not matter. Somehow the overall effect reached out and touched me and evaded my critical mind. And moved me. And filled me with love and gratitude to the guy standing on stage, for all he has given me over the years.

I genuinely don't know if the show was a good show and perhaps recordings of it will sound awful and give the lie to my reaction. All I can say is how it felt for me. My heart opened. And everything – this time his gauche movements seemed to make him look like a toreador: stylish arrogant hand on hip like the imagined young bridegroom in Romance in Durango with his new boots and an earring of gold; his clumsy keyboard playing; his sudden darting leg movements; the stuttering and tentative harmonica playing; even the rabble rousing band thrashes; everything - came together and made sense (and that is definitely not the right phrase but as close as I can get). Fitted, perhaps. It came together and took me into its embrace and made me feel the vulnerablity and transience of song, and me, and Bob, and Life. The first five songs softened me - yes, even Honest With Me, yes, even Spirit on the Water from that album I dislike - then Forgetful Heart undid me and I was there with him, engaged, uncritical, open. So that by the time we got to Forever Young I was trembling with emotion and as Mark Knopfler sang the line "May your song always be sung" and gestured towards Bob, tears sprang and I was overcome with love and gratitude.

Perhaps I was in the grip of some kind of semi-religious delusion. I honestly can't explain it. And maybe someone else would have thought it was a shit show and I wouldn't be able to argue with them. All I can say is that I have reported accurately what, inexplicably, happened to me. He's done it to me before, of course, in whole shows in 78 and 90, in some songs on other tours, and so many times on disc - lifted me to somewhere that is not ordinary, into a kind of ecstatic state. Where involuntary moans or sighs or little bubbles of joy are jolted out of you because he has touched you with his genius, a touch of genius which has, you suspect but can’t be sure, given you a glimpse of something beyond. Truth and Beauty. Something ineffable.

But who would have thought he could do it to me now? Not me.

So, him or me? Perhaps it was both of us. For,compared to those other times in the past, I've not known before such a feeling of fragility and kinship with him.

Like two old men, I guess.


Here's a better video version of the final song of the final night of Dylan's European tour, thanks to YouTube user Knopflermania:


And I'm about to post a superlative piece about Two Nights At Hammersmith by the wonderful Nigel Hinton.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Mick Gold has sent me (and others, it must be said) his review of / thoughts on Bob at Hammersmith last night. And I'm pleased to say that Paolo Brillo has sent me more of his truly exceptional photos from the same venue. Here they are:

Bob-cats pushed relentlessly forward against the bar at the front of the former Hammersmith Odeon, hats on their heads. Mark Knopfler was caressing liquid guitar solos from his Stratocaster. On Brothers In Arms, the notes flowed down his fretboard like drops of sonic quicksilver.

A random cross-section of the audience (i.e. two men standing next to me) told me their main motive for coming to see Bob was “He may not be back again”. One of them said, “Once we came to listen to him. Now we come to be in his presence.” There was plenty of presence tonight.

Bob and the band kicked of with Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat, with Mark Knopfler and Charlie crouching and strutting in gun-slinger guitar poses. It’s All Over Now Baby Blue had a staccato vocal rhythm, with fluid guitar breaks from Knopfler holding things together. On Things Have Changed, Bob delivered high, keening harp solos, his notes cutting across Knopfler’s guitar. George Recile played a racket at the end, banging the sides of the drums, churning up the rhythm.

Forgetful Heart was one of the highlights of the evening, a lovely, simple tune bouncing off Donnie’s fiddle. Those haunting last words, “The door has closed forever more, If indeed there ever was a door” were delivered with a dying fall. One of my favourites, Man In The Long Black Coat, was enlivened by a slick, faster rhythm which suited the song. As Bob sang, “When she stopped him to ask if he wanted to dance, He had a face like a mask”, a self-deprecating grin flitted across his face. All evening there were a series of grins and frowns and little laughs, like micro-emotions scurrying over that face.

Another highlight was Desolation Row, delivered in waltz time, with practically every verse present and correct. Ballad of a Thin Man was done with great panache, electronic echoes giving extra bite to words like “lepers and crooks”, Bob’s voice positively caressing the lines “you’re very well read, it’s well known”. There were only a few songs when his voice sounded like a hoarse bark; Honest With Me was one, and Thunder On The Mountain was another. All Along The Watchtower managed to sound both staccato and lyrical. Like A Rolling Stone was slow, stately and sorrowful, with no hint of derision in the vocal delivery.

Then there was a flurry on the stage and suddenly Mark Knopfler was back in the spotlight centre stage, beaming and waving to the audience, as they launched into Forever Young. Knopfler took over the vocal on the second verse, “May you grow up to be righteous…” with Knopfler and Charlie both injecting elegant guitar lines between the words, conjuring up memories of Robbie Robertson at The Last Waltz. On the third verse, Bob began singing "May your hands always be busy..." and then Knopfler’s voice rose up to take over the lead, and as he sang, “May your heart always be joyful, May your song always be sung”, he lifted his arm and gestured towards Bob, and the audience roared with approval and devotion. It was a memorable ending.

main text © Mick Gold, all photos © Paolo Brillo


This morning I've seen Bob Egan's latest detective-work in hunting down previously-unidentified locations for well-known Bob Dylan photo-shoots. I blogged before about his establishing of where the cover shot of Highway 61 Revisited was done. Now he's posted some new results here. I think the work he does on this is rather brilliant, and that he's admirable for both the originality of the task he's set himself and the ingenuity he brings to it. I think it's a pity he calls his site PopSpots  -  RockSpots would sound a little less quaint/gagafied  -  but more power to him anyway.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Thanks to Paolo Brillo for permission to blog these. I think he takes the best NET photos of anyone who's tried:

And best of all:

I think I like the pictures better than the sound . . .

Thursday, November 10, 2011


I found this on YouTube today, not long after putting up the previous post. I thought it was wondrous (and the song itself is one I loved when Ray Charles released it 50 years ago)  -  and I couldn't help but experience it as a strong riposte to the argument that it's OK to sing the songs badly as long as you're hamming up a song & dance man routine. But don't hold it against Richard Manuel that this is how I'm feeling:


I was listening, the other day, to 'Sugar Baby' from Hanover  -  and it was terrible: just terrible. So bad I felt almost bereft. And then I said so, in private, to the estimable Rainer Vesely of Vienna, and he sent me this response, which seemed to me so admirably expressed that I asked (and obtained) his permission to reprint it here. He wrote this:

Back from Innsbruck and all the way on the road I was thinking about how to describe for you why I really liked the concert. Even more: why I was deeply impressed... I think what he is doing now, and maybe since 2010  -  since he crawled out from his hiding place behind the keyboard, where he ducked away from 2005-2009  -  is staging a 90-100 minute drama, in which he puts much, much more emphasis on his physical presence than ever before. He really acts(!) and recites, gestures, mimicks, uses – very consciously!! – his weird way of walking, knee-bending, staring, half-closing or wide-opening his eyes etc. and not only when being center stage but also behind the keyboards. And this presence is so overwhelming, especially since he looks so trim and fit again, that you (well, me and many others) just don’t mind the bellowing and raspy sounds coming out of his mouth.
             I understand very well that just listening to a CD or mp3 of the concert can make one shiver with embarrassment. The thing is: where in years long gone the singing, real singing, has been the main attraction, the recitation now is just part of the whole experience. There’s no use any more in recording it: you have to see it, have to be there. Also, the moments that stick in one's mind after the show, and that are exchanged with friends, have shifted from “Oh, when he stretched those vowels over five bars …” to “ Oh, when he pressed both fists to his chest when singing ‘Don’t get up gentlemen’ and then opened his arms and eyes wide for ‘I’m only passing through’”. I dare say, Michael, that even you would have loved it if you haad been with us in the front.
             So I guess we really (once again) have to change our expectations and our views of what a Bob Dylan concert is.

Friday, November 04, 2011


Rav Ben-Tov with Bob

photo by Yosh Cohen