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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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Tuesday, December 05, 2006


In the circumstances I felt I had to switch on Comment Moderation, but in doing so I managed to turn off the possibility of comment altogether. I certainly didn't mean to do that. Civil comment is still welcome, as in the past. I hope the settings are now twiddled appropriately so that this now works.


Blogger Ross McCague said...

Michael Gray was the first person to look serioulsy and with keen insight at Bob Dylan's work. He deepened my appreciation for his art and is probably more responsible than any other single person for raising Dylan's work beyond the confines of popular culture and making the word genius and Dylan synonymous in even literary circles. The internet leads to all kinds of misunderstandings and rancour. I think everyone owes to Mr. Gray a certain level of respect for making Dylan discussions what they are today. Whatever inaccuracies exist, the reader should keep in mind his larger and most welcome achievement. Like Hitchcock, Dylan has a cast of hundreds who make it possible for his genius to thrive. I just want to say thanks.

7:23 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Michael,

Am I right in thinking that you would have loved Jimi Hendrix to have covered 'I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine' as much as me?

It's such a shame that Hendrix chose not to do it. I read somewhere, possibly in one of your books, that it was his initial choice when considering which song to cover from the John Wesley Harding LP, but that he decided not to do it because he thought it was too personal a song. I know we got 'All Along the Watchtower' instead, but I sometimes wonder what 'Augustine' would sound like played by Jimi.

Wish I'd met him back in the day like you, but I wasn't born until 74. Quel dommage. Was he as nice a guy as the interview footage of him suggests? Also, I know you say he talked admirably of Dylan at that gig (York?) but did he mention anything about the blues?

A lot of questions, but I guess I'm just curious.

Mr K

P.S. One more question - how's the Blind Wille McTell book coming along?

3:14 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Thanks, Ross: it's kind of you to say all this. I really appreciate it.

Mr. K (and you're definitely not that Mr. K): this question makes a refreshing change of topic. The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia does indeed state that Jimi Hendrix's first choice from the John Wesley Harding album was 'I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine', but I didn't know that Hendrix decided not to do it because he thought it too personal a tale...

Actually I find it hard to envisage him giving that song anything like the same kind of treatment he gave 'All Along The Watchtower', but then who, hearing Dylan's album version, could have imagined how Hendrix would transform it? And yet I can envisage a Hendrix version of 'St. Augustine' as a slow, churning, restless, impassioned track . . not unlike 'Purple Haze' in pace and turbulence, in fact. Certainly a loss that he never did it.

His posthumously released 'Drifter's Escape' is one of my favourite Hendrix tracks but I'm not an especially avid collector of his entire canon so there's lots of things I probably still haven't heard.

As for how he was as a person, well, it was almost 40 years ago so my recollections are a little on the purple hazy side, and I wasn't interviewing him tape-recorder in hand: just chatting really. But he was smiley, quietly-spoken, thoughtful, modest and calm-centred. In the background Noel Redding was buzzing about primping at his ludicrous Hendrix-imitation Big Hair, exuding spindly self-consciousness and shallowness - and Hendrix was superbly unphased by either Redding's hyperactive vanity or by having suffered troubles with the van on the road getting to us (and in those days the roads across Yorkshire were hardly better than in the days of Dickens and donkeys and clogs: we see glimpses of this vanished England in the footage of Dylan watching from the train in Don't Look Back as he traverses the North of England). I don't remember him talking about the blues: all I really recall is our mutual enthusiasm for Dylan, and his expressions of respect for Dylan's work. Of course this was only 9 months after those transcendant May 1966 Irish & British concerts, and just seven months after the motorcycle crash. None of us knew whether Dylan would ever return to public life, let alone survive and keep on working through so many subsequent decades. Or of course that Jimi would be dead in less than five years time, at the age of 27.

Don't be sad that you were only born in 1974, by the way: if you'd been old enough to see Dylan in 1966 and talk to Hendrix in 1967, like me, you'd be 60 instead of in your early 30s.

("Well, I'd trade places with any of them / In a minute, if I could"... except of course that if I could, I wouldn't have those I love so close at hand...)

The McTell book is proceeding. That's all I can tell you.

But thanks for asking.

9:21 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your lengthy response Michael, interesting to hear your thoughts. It must've been in a Hendrix biography that I read about 'Augustine' being too personal. However he'd have done it, it's just a loss that he left us, as you say, at only 27. I watched some footage of him playing 'Killing Floor' (his opening number) at Monterey the other night, it's simply staggering in every way. When I hear his records it seems like he's a true bluesman, far more than Clapton or Page or any of the other pretenders of his era. So that's why I asked about the blues - he seemed to draw from it just as much as Dylan did, although maybe in a slightly different way. Anyway, you were lucky to see them both at their peak, though I take your point (and the wonderfully apt quote) about my age.

Cheers - and good luck with Blind Willie . . . I look forward to reading it when it appears.

Mr K

10:52 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

By the way, for those of you who are interested, the Hendrix version of Howlin Wolf's 'Killing Floor' that I was talking about can be can be found at the following link. Such fluid playing!

11:09 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I see my previos comments on the treatment of country music in Song & Dance man obviously did not make the cut. Re-reading the section (pp,. 110-111) I am struck again by how perfunctory it is & how artists as diverse as Patsy Cline and Flatt & Scruggs are simply lumped together into this category.

This approach is so different from the approach taken in the excellent Blues chapter, that it strikes me as very odd.

It seems to clear to me also that the discussion of Hank Williams influence on Dylan is much too brisk to be really effective. For instance, the influence of his "Luke the Drifter' recordings on John Wesley Harding would repay much closer attention than is given here.

Indeed, given that George Jones & Merle Haggard are two of the artists name-checked in Chronicles - and Dylan's recent cover versions of a number of Merle Haggard songs, the lack of detail in this section seems even more peculiar.

I am also dubious about the idea that"Nashville Skyline' is an album 'unrivalled in country music - in fact, it is a very pleasant, light-weight album, which does not stand up very well against the best albums by, say, George Jones or Merle Haggard.

What is also an intersting question is the extent of Dylan's influence on a number of very fine 'country' or 'roots' artists - like, for exzample, Steve Earle, Guy Clark, John Prine, Joe Ely, Lyle Lovett & so on.

By the way, as an Irish person, i musy say I am perplexed by your admiration for Dylan's sloppy & hurried version of Arthur McBride which is not a patch on Paul Brady's version or on the recent live version by Planxty.

Given the fact that "Tomorrow Night' is one of the great Dylan performances of recent times, I am surprised you prefer "a McB' to it.

4:32 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thought these notes from Steve Earle's class on Bob might interest you.

Some interesting stuff...

6:01 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Incidentally, Bob name checks Guy Clark as one of his favourite songwriters in his recent interview with Bill Flanagan.

5:40 am  

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