As most folks know I’m a huge Bob Dylan fan! So when I heard the mighty mighty Sid Griffin, who had written “Million Dollar Bash” (regarding the Bob Dylan Basement tapes), was going to tackle the Rolling Thunder Review tour I was thrilled! I clicked the BUY button on Amazon and ordered his new book “Shelter from the Storm: Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Years”! and set up an interview for my Rockonomics Q&A series.
Q: I believe there was about were about 60 shows during the Rolling Thunder Review Tour. If we were able to travel back in time, what show would you take me to and what might we expect?
A: I would think Toronto on the first tour or maybe Madison Square Garden on the first tour as that was good too. On the second I like both Fort Worth and Oklahoma City, those were two smokin’ shows but very different from the first tour’s sound and style. As for what you might expect I am afraid I discuss that at length in the book, I explain both tours shows and what you would see if you had been there. So I can’t get into that now or a key reason for buying the book is gone! But they were like old time R&B tours where various singers came out and sang a few songs and then split while the backup band was the same. Imagine that with folk-rock people instead of R&B or rock musicians and that is what, in essence, the Rolling Thunder Revue tours were. A lot of the time Bob Dylan was not onstage at all!
Q: Is there a story behind Mick Ronson getting involved and being a part of the Rolling Thunder Review?
A: Yeah, the bottom line is he walked into a Bob Neuwirth gig at The Bottom Line in the summer of 1975 and he and Neuwirth hit it off. So that was good enough to get him an invite to play on a lot of the Rolling Thunder gigs but he was not used on some of them. It is very strange, he was the best guitarist onstage by far and yet Dylan left him backstage at times. Go figure. Even stranger is Bob played some lead guitar! I noticed on the mixes of Hard Rain that Dylan’s guitar is not very loud in the mix at times because his fills, his lead guitar fills, are pretty shakey.
Q: The Rolling Thunder Review Tours were known as traveling caravans of musicians. Who were a few noteworthy musicians that might’ve been invited but missed the wagon?
A: I could not say for sure. I wasn’t there and I am not Bob Dylan. The rumor was Phil Ochs and Eric Anderson wanted to be invited desperately but of course were not. I am sure there were tons of Dylan’s buddies who wanted to be invited but he had McGuinn, Joan Baez, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, later Kinky Friedman, a young T-Bone Burnett…you could hardly complain about who he picked! And then at various gigs Arlo Guthrie, Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot showed up…not too shabby there, either. My only bummer is he should have let Allen Ginsberg come out front and read a poem every night. He NEVER let Allen read a single poem, not once, and the guy is America’s most favorite poet of the twentieth century! He is/was the Walt Whitman of our era and he was kept backstage. Go figure that too.
Q: This is a selfish question, I absolutely love Michael Bloomfield’s guitar playing especially on Highway 61 Revisited – Bob Dylan (1965). Is there a story you might know that involves Bloomfield and Dylan that you’d like share?
A: I don’t have any Bloomfield stories you have not heard before. It is a tragedy his insomnia and his drug dependency fed on each other and got so out of hand. Bloomfield should be here now, playing today. It’s funny, but if you read my first Dylan book Million Dollar Bash everyone says Robbie Robertson was a better guitarist than Bloomfield back in the mid-sixties. That’s quite a claim to fame.