Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue, unreleased Prince

By Tom Von Malder | Jul 07, 2019
Photo by: Legacy Records Sometimes Joan Baez would paint her face white like Bob Dylan's during the Rolling Thunder Revue of 1975.

Owls Head — Bob Dylan: Rolling Thunder Revue – The 1975 Live Recordings (Columbia/Legacy, 14 CDs, 633 min.). This is the second time that Legacy Records has dipped into the well that was Dylan’s triumphant 1975 tour. The fifth volume of the label’s ongoing, official Dylan Bootleg Series, “Bob Dylan Live 1975” (2002, 2 CDs), featured 22 tracks from the tour, tracks that were considered the best of the recordings. However, now that director Martin Scorsese’s “Rolling Thunder Revue” film has finally come out, and the tapes were listened to once again, the label decided to issue this box set of the complete five shows that were professionally recorded, plus three discs (2:25:21) of the rehearsals that were recorded for the film and a disc (44:37) of rare audience recordings and Nagra tapes that included songs played only once on the tour or songs given unique arrangements.

The tour, which only lasted seven weeks, was a gypsy caravan of sorts, utilizing his friends Joan Baez (11 songs on vocals and guitar), Roger McGuinn (of the Byrds on guitar and vocals on two songs), Joni Mitchell (vocals), Ramblin’ Jack Elliott (guitar, vocals) and Allen Ginsberg (vocals, finger cymbals). The core band, in addition to Dylan, consisted of Bobby Neuwirth (guitar, vocals), T Bone Burnett (guitar, vocals), Steven Soles (guitar, vocals), Mick Ronson (guitar; worked with David Bowie, Lou Reed), David Mansfield (steel guitar, mandolin, dobro, violin), Rob Stoner (bass, vocals), Howie Wyeth (drums, piano), Luther Rix (drums, percussion, congas), Ronee Blakley (vocals) and Scarlet Rivera (violin). It was Rivera’s terrific violin playing that brought new life to Dylan’s songs, especially on the forthcoming “Desire” album (released Jan. 5, 1976, only weeks after the recordings here).

Most of the songs on “Desire” were debuted during the tour, and what a great batch of songs they were, including “Hurricane,” “Isis,” “Oh, Sister” and “Romance in Durango,” all written with Jacques Levy, and his solo compositions, “One More Cup of Coffee (Valley Below)” and “Sara.” “Hurricane” was Dylan’s protest song over the incarceration of boxer Ruben “Hurricane” Carter, found guilty of murder due to racial profiling and racism. (Carter was convicted twice, but eventually released after 20 years in prison.) Another protest song performed on the tour included “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” a 1963 song about the death of an African-American barmaid and the light sentence her white killer got. He also performed his classic “Blowin’ In the Wind” as a duet with Baez.

Other Dylan classics performed included “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” “It Ain’t Me, Babe,” “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Tales a Train to Cry,” “Simple Twist of Fate,” “Just Like a Woman,” “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” and during the fifth show, ”A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.” Some shows included “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” The ensemble closed each show with Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.”

The recorded shows took place in Worcester, Cambridge and Boston (2), Mass., and Montreal, Canada. The rehearsal tapes were recorded in New York City (2 discs) and a motel in Falmouth, Mass. The New York rehearsals were to test instrument rentals, while the Falmouth rehearsal was more to get ready for the tour. Of the 17 tracks on the first rehearsal disc, seven are incomplete versions; however, the rehearsals show Dylan’s penchant for always tinkering with his songs, whether it be arrangements or, in the case of “Hurricane,” the lyrics. Among the other rehearsal highlights are “Rita May,” “Joey,” “Isis,” “One More Cup of Coffee” and a cover of Merle Travis’ “Dark as a Dungeon” with Rivera’s violin, and a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready.”

Of the rare material, there is a very different arrangement of “Simple Twist of Fate,” played at a mahjong parlor, with an almost military beat, plus a cover of Smokey Robinson’s “The Tracks of My Tears.” There also is a solo acoustic performance of “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).” The sound quality varies and sometime is far from the best on this final disc.

Through the rehearsals and performances, one can hear Dylan’s’ approach to certain songs, like “Hurricane” and “Isis,” change. The set comes with a 56-page booklet, packed with photos of the tour and a lengthy essay by Wesley Stace, a novelist and musician who has had a variety show, “Cabinet of Wonders,” in New York City for 10 years. Grade: A+

Prince: Originals (NPG/Warner Bros. CD, 63:50). This album, culled from Prince’s archives, presents his original demo and studio recordings of 15 songs he gave to others to record. Fourteen see the first light of day. The tracks were selected by Troy Carter, on behalf of The Prince Estate, and JAY-Z. All but one of the tracks were recorded by Prince between 1981 and 1985.

Many were written for his “stable” of proteges, who included The Time (their signature song, “Jungle Love,” plus “Gigolos Get Lonely”), Vanity 6 (“Make-Up”), Apollonia 6 (“Sex Shooter”), Jill Jones (“Baby, You’re a Trip”), the Family (“Nothing Compares 2 U”), Mazarati (“100 MPH”) and, especially, Sheila E. (“Noon Rendezvous,” “Holly Rock” from the “Krush Groove” soundtrack, “The Glamorous Life,” “Dear Michaelangelo”).

Sometimes Prince’s original demo recordings would be used as master takes on their albums, with only minor alterations to the instrumentation and a replacement of the vocal tracks. Other times, the artists would use his demos to guide them through their own recording process. When it worked best, it was very successful. Sheila E.’s “The Glamorous Life” topped the dance charts in 1984, while “Manic Monday,” recorded by The Bangles, reached number two on the pop charts, as did the “Different Light” album it appeared on. “Jungle Love” helped The Time’s “Ice Cream Castle” stay 57 weeks on the Billboard 200 chart, while the single itself made the Top 20. In 1991, Martika had international success with “Love … They Will Be Done,” reaching the Top 10 in France, Australia, the UK and the United States Sinead O’Connor also had a hit with “Nothing Compares 2 U,” while Prince’s original version, included here, was released as a single last year.

Of the Prince versions included here, “Sex Shooter” has a slinky funk and “100 MPH” is strutting funk. Other highlights are the ballad “Baby, You’re a Trip” and his versions of “The Glamorous Life” and “Jungle Love.” Prince uses a smother, lower vocal for the ballad “You’re My Love,” recorded by Kenny Rodgers in 1986. Grade: B+

Willie Nelson: Ride Me Back Home (Legacy CD, 43:26). This is the third album of Nelson’s unofficial trilogy about mortality. The other two were 2017’s “God’s Problem Child” and 2018’s “Last Man Standing.” In all, this is Nelson’s 13th album for the Legacy label, as well as his 13th album in just over a decade that was produced by Buddy Cannon. Cannon and Nelson co-wrote three new songs: “Come On Time,” which very much reflects the mortality theme; “Seven Year Itch” (more amusing as the singer “scratched it out in three” years); and “One More Song to Write,” again touching on one’s time on Earth. Nelson wrote “Stay Away from Lonely Places” by himself way back in 1972 for the album, “The Words Don’t Fit the Picture,” while the rest of the album are well-chosen covers.

The title track, written by Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member Sammy Throckmorton and his daughter Debby and two others, actually has a personal connection to Nelson. The lyrics express a love for horses and their spirituality. Throckmorton, it turns out, lives next to Nelson’s Luck studio. Cannon said Throckmorton “said he wrote that song because he was over there and saw Willie’s horses. I don’t even know if Willie knows that or not.” Those horses are a group of more than 60 that Nelson has adopted over the years to rescue them from slaughterhouses.

The title track is a standout, as are the three songs written with Cannon. Two of the covers are by the late Guy Clark: “My Favorite Picture of You” from 2010 and written with Gordie Sampson; and the timely reminder, “Immigrant Eyes,” written with Roger Murrah last year and recalling a grandfather’s passage through Ellis Island and the heroism it took to start a new life in a new country. The latter has a very nice guitar solo during the middle break. Nelson also does a tasteful version of Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are” and performs Mac Davis’ humorous “It’s Hard to be Humble” with his sons, Lukas Nelson (of Promise of the Real, who often play with Neil Young) and Micah Nelson. “Humble” hails from 1980, while Buzz Rabin’s “Maybe I Should’ve Been Listening,” about a broken relationship and featuring pedal steel, is from 1977. Another new song is “Nobody’s Listening”; written by Skip Denenberg and Dan “Bee” Spears, it tells how a songwriter feels compelled to talk about those whose businesses fail or those devastated by hurricanes and floods. Bassist Spears, who died in 2011, had played with Nelson for more than 40 years.

Earlier this year, Nelson’s “My Way” musical homage to Frank Sinatra took home the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album. It was Nelson’s 13th Grammy win. Grade: A

Santana: Africa Speaks (Concord CD, 64:31). For his latest album, Carlos Santana teams up with Spanish singer Buika (aka Conche Buika), who sings lead and writes most of the lyrics, and producer Rick Ruben (Johnny Cash, Adele etc.). Buika’s album “Niña de Fuego” was nominated for the 2008 Latin Grammy Award for Album of the Year and her “La Noche Más Larga” was nominated for Best Latin Jazz Album at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards in 2014. She is the daughter of Equatoguinean parents.

The album opens with a spoken intro on the title track, which features very nice drumming by spouse Cindy Blackman Santana. The drums really come through much bigger during the closing “Candombe Cumbele,” which has answering backing vocals and a more typical Santana sound. Throughout, the music is very adventuresome and possibly excessive on the likes of the raucous middle of “Blue Skies,” which begins as a ballad and is one of two songs sung in English. The other song in English is the obvious single choice, “Breaking Down the Door,” the story of Tina, whose marriage to a rich, handsome man turned deadly. It features bright horns.

Usually Santana uses more than one lead singer, so I’m not sure I am particularly fond of his using just one, especially with most of the songs not in English. Nonetheless, the album grows on the listener and seems to get stronger as it progresses. “Batonga” rocks out and features a jazz bass, while “Oye Este Mi Canto” sways in typical Santana fashion. There is more of a bass and guitar funk beat to “Paraisos Quemados,” which is another very Santana-like track. “Los Invisibles” is based on the song, “Bara Bara,” cowritten by Rachid Taha and English guitarist Steve Hillage (solo career, former member of Gong). It is a rocker with a nice underlying melody. Grade: A-

Upcoming Hit Men Concert. The Hit Men, classic rock’s unique supergroup of legendary side men, will perform 8 p.m. Saturday, July 13, at the Vinegar Hill Music Theatre, 53 Old Post Road in Arundel, Maine. The five-man group recently was named Road Warrior Award winners “for their years of dedication to the music, and the countless miles … that they have traveled in delivering so many hits throughout the world” by the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville.

The Hit Men spent decades recording or performing with classic rock superstars Paul McCartney, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger, Carly Simon, Cat Stevens, David Bowie, Lou Reed, and members of The Who, Cheap Trick, Foreigner, Toto, Journey, The Ramones and dozens more. The group consists of Lee Shapiro (keyboards/vocals, and Frankie Valli’s former musical director), Jimmy Ryan (lead guitar/vocals, and Carly Simon’s former musical director), Russ Velazquez (keyboards/percussion/vocals), Jeff Ganz (bass/vocals) and Steve Murphy (drums/vocals).

Some have compared The Hit Men to The Wrecking Crew, who meant so much to the pop music revolution of the 1960s.

“Night after night, month after month, year after year, they are out there keeping the music alive and keeping it real, seldom getting the recognition that they all richly deserve,” said Joe Chambers, founder and CEO of the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum, in a press release. “The Musicians Hall of Fame takes great pride in recognizing the Hit Men for their years of dedication to the music, and the countless miles — which nobody sees — that they have traveled in delivering so many hits throughout the world.”

The legendary side men deliver a concert experience designed to showcase even more of the hits they first played with the original superstars, plus additional classics emerging in their shows as the tour marches on. Songs they have performed in concert include “Joy To the World”, “Good Lovin’,” “The Locomotion,” “Peace Train,” “You’re So Vain,” “Leroy Brown” and “Dec. 63, Oh What a Night.”

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