My life is like a series of dreams too!!
These really are my back pages now. So great to see people like George Harrison, Neil Young, Tom Petty and Robbie Robinson playing with Bob on this great Dylan song.
It feels like the whole era is eroding daily as it drops into a misunderstood history.
It’s 3167 ACV and the galaxy is rockin’ and revoltin’.
Zargos Ecstasy is king of the underground.
It’s Dylan, Hendrix, John Lennon, Jim Morrison and revolution.
There’s civil rights, war and protest.
There’s Peoples’ Park, the Yippies, a cold war, a belligerent President, riots, Black Panthers and peace-power.
There’s also Big Business, Record labels and the underworld Mafia who want in on the action.
If you lived through the sixties you’ll recognise it all.
In the UK:
In the USA:
Favorite bands? Roy Harper, Captain Beefheart, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Woody Guthrie, Phil Ochs.
* First band you saw live? The Birds (with Ronnie Wood) then Them with Van Morrison – both brilliant.
* Band you have seen the most? Roy Harper (500+ times)
* Best festival? Windsor Jazz & Blues with Cream or Woburn Abbey with Hendrix
*Bands you wished you’d seen? Howlin’ Wolf, Beatles
* Furthest you have travelled for a concert? Grateful Dead in San Francisco – although I did see the Hot Potato Band in Australia!
* Ever met a band? Loads – Roy Harper, Syd Barrett, Free, Jimmy Page, Keith Moon, Magic Band, Country Joe & Fish, Nick Harper, Stiff Little Fingers, Buzzcocks, Incredible String Band…………. Back in the day you could just wander backstage and chat.
* Best gigs? Hundreds – Roy Harper at St Pancreas Town Hall, Captain Beefheart at Middle Earth, Doors at Roundhouse, Jimi Hendrix at Woburn, Pink Floyd at UFO, Son House at Hammersmith Odeon.
* Best venue? Eel Pie Island. Les Cousins in Greek St, Middle Earth or Toby Jug (saw Pete Green and Led Zep there)
* Worst venue? Loved ’em all!
* Smallest gig? I saw Arthur Brown in 1969 with just seven of us. He did his entire act full on. I saw the Nashville Teens with just nine of us. They also did their entire act full on. The best small gig was Nick Harper in a tiny room in Leeds – It was crammed and everyone sang. Also saw Jackson C Frank in a pub in Ilford back in 1969 – small audience superb gig.
* Last gig? Loudhailer Electric Company in Hull.
* Next gig? Jeff Beck in York or Nick Mason in York.
This is extraordinary.
I was on a trip to Brazil when I bumped into Geoff once again. He is an interesting guy. In the early sixties, as a student, he went off to New York. He was penniless and ended up at Gerdes where, due to his English accent, he was taken on to introduce acts. He introduced Robert Zimmerman, way back before he was called Bob Dylan, and chatted up Suze Rotolo while he played!
He kindly wrote me these reminiscences! They make for interesting reading.
A memoir of reminiscences and name dropping in
New York City.
It all began in London in 1959 at my first full time teaching job teaching geography and PE in Haverstock comprehensive school in Kentish Town. There I met John Holly, a great guy, a great teacher and a folk singer. He got me playing a tea chest bass and three or four chords on a guitar. We sang for the kids and for charity each Xmas, singing modern carols round Hampstead’s many pubs. It was the time of Robin Hall and Jimmy McGregor and one day they were to sing in a hall in Red Lion Square in Soho to raise money for the defense of Peter Seeger against McCarthy and the un-American activities witch hunt. We went to the concert which included Rambling Jack Elliot, Cisco Houston and others. I was completely sold on folk singing from then on. I even took my guitar with me when I went on my travels a year later.
I met Derek on the RMS Queen Elizabeth in 1960, both part of the “Brain Drain” of graduates to the USA. Eventually we shared a room in New York City. One evening we were broke, sitting in Washington Square at the southern end of 5th Avenue, reading a New York Times which had been left on a bench. I found an advert for “Jean Redpath-Scottish Folk Singer” at Gerdes Folk City just round the corner. “Let’s go” I said, “I love folk singing.” “Look we haven’t got a bean,” said Derek “We will even have to walk back to our room on 87th!” “Oh come on, it’s free to go in. As long as we move around nobody will notice we are not buying food or booze – let’s risk it. The worst they could do is to ask us to leave!”
Jean sang like an angel. When she sang the haunting “Song of the Seals” the audience of people eating or drinking was so mesmerized you could hear the traffic on 5th Avenue 10 blocks away! I got to talk with her and she too was a geography teacher who loved folk music. She died a few years ago with an OBE having researched and recorded two CDs of Robert Burns’s songs.
Her partner when I first met her was Bob Shelton, a music critic and writer for the New York Times and he had a room filled with wall to wall folk music LPs.
I went every night to Gerdes until eventually Tony, the owner, came up to me, “You are not buying any beer! But I will do you a deal – you introduce the singers, because an English accent will go down good, and I will give you a meal and some beer every time so then I won’t have to leave my bar”
I was in heaven and I announced singers who were almost gods to me. I had long conversations with singers like Jessie Fuller (San Francisco Bay Blues) Julie Felix, Bonny Dobson, Peter, Paul and Mary, Blind Reverend Gary Davis, Rambling Jack Elliot and many more. Some were, or became, household names and some never made it. One night Tony asked me to announce a local Greenwich Village poet and song writer called Robert Zimmerman. He couldn’t play the guitar very well or sing melodically but his girlfriend Sue was delightful and I chatted her up every night – to no avail. I didn’t think much to his act. We hardly talked and I think he was fairly high on drugs anyway. He did sing, rather badly, his own stuff and he mentioned Woodie Guthrie who had recently died. At the end of the week Zimmerman and Sue moved on to be replaced by other more straightforward singers.
I got a job with Crowell and Collier, a huge publishing company in Park Avenue South, writing geography and sports articles for an encyclopedia and I also found myself involved in helping produce a magazine called “Sing Out”. The main person was …………who wrote Morning Town Ride and other well-known songs. One evening I was going to her apartment in the village when a voice shouted “Hold the elevator “. It was a tall, slightly balding man In jeans, a check shirt and boots with a banjo case across his back- none other than Pete Seeger himself! ……….gave us coffee and cake (almost a ritual in New York City) and when he had finished them he just wandered off into the kitchen and washed his cup and saucer! No side there then. I got to know him and I found him modest, hugely talented and generous, and a great lover of America and Americans despite the way he was sometimes appallingly treated by some of his countrymen.
I remember once when he came to a late night party at the flat I shared on 14th St. I was being bugged by a woman from the office. She seemed to ring just about every hour and I never knew quite what to do about her. Pete observed my difficulty and asked me for the ‘phone and my guitar. I don’t know if she ever realised that it was Pete Seeger who sang her the whole of “Go to sleep you little hobo” down the ‘phone!
Some time later one of the singers (whose name I have sadly forgotten) got married and I was invited to the wedding reception up town. There l sat with The Blind Reverend Gary Davidson (who wasn’t totally blind) and kept him supplied with Great Lakes champagne which was on ice in big tubs. After a few glasses he growled to me “Ask that guy to sing will ya?” “But he can’t sing, and he’s not too good on the guitar either” I replied. Gary’s response was “Just you listen to what he is singing. Your friend Bob Shelton thinks he is really good. ” “OK I’ll ask him. I just hope he’s not too stoned”. I walked across to him and said, “Excuse me Mr. Zimmerman, Reverend Gary Davis would like you to sing”.
His reply was “Sure but my name ain’t Zimmerman any more it’s Bob Dylan.
- I only met Dylan one further time when he and Sue came to Gerdes for a photo session for one of the LPs he was recording by then. They eventually used a shot of Dylan with Sue in the snow just outside Gerdes. In the background is my blue Volkswagen van!
Sometimes I am asked what Dylan was like and what did he talk about? My answer has to be I hardly spoke to him and he never really spoke to me. I thought he was stoned on the few occasions we met.
When I returned to the UK in 1963 I got me a black and white TV set and who would I see in a strange play but Dylan playing his guitar at the top of some stairs?
Bob Shelton was indeed a great Dylan promoter in the New York Times and he also wrote the notes on the back of at least one of Dylan’s earliest albums. Bob unfortunately died soon after I got back to London because I would have loved talking over those early Dylan days with him. I did meet up with Jean a few times in London and I was aware of her work regarding Burns. I was shocked to hear she had died. She was just about the same age as myself, and so is Dylan. This is all a bit morbid but Sue also died a year or so ago.
I did bump into Pete Seeger a couple of times in London. The first was at a party of Ewan McCall’s just off the Grays Inn Road. I answered the door, as one sometimes does at these kind of parties, and there was Pete; denims, check shirt, boots etc. “You’re the guy who lived on 14th Street. Can you find me the fellow living with my sister?” Peggy came out then and looked after him. Both Pete and Ewan have since died but Peggy sang at the Ropetackle, our local Arts and Entertainment Centre just a few months ago.
The early Bob Dylan had a knack of taking an important subject, such as war, and encapsulating the emotion and presenting the case against in a few words. The songs were simple, had poetic content and were effective. They aroused the sensibilities of a generation and captured the mood of everyone involved. He put into words what everyone was thinking and helped them to make their own feelings and thoughts more concrete. He took us all on a journey into our conscience and helped us empathise and understand in a way nobody else had done. He drew people in so that what started as a small number became a much bigger movement. It fed directly into the late sixties protest movement. I wonder if all the sixties underground would have happened without him.
Albert Grossman recognised the potential (as did the Queen of Folk Joan Baez) and harnessed it. He took Blowin’ in the Wind and persuaded the more poppy Peter Paul and Mary to record it. It was a breakthrough. Dylan was big business. Protest was born. Dylan went on to change the course of Rock Music. He created an adult-orientated movement in both style, structure and content. The man is a genius.
In this time where the world is in uproar, barrel bombs are being dropped in Syria on children, schools, hospitals and relief convoys, we need our protest singers more than ever. Where is the new Bob Dylan? Someone to galvanise our horror into action?
Where is the old Bob Dylan? How about a new album of protest and outrage?
Bob Dylan – Blowin’ In The Wind
Before you call him a man ?
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand ?
Yes, how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they’re forever banned ?
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.Yes, how many years can a mountain exist
Before it’s washed to the sea ?
Yes, how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free ?
Yes, how many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn’t see ?
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.Yes, how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky ?
Yes, how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry ?
Yes, how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died ?
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.
There are few people who have had as much social impact as Bob Dylan. He is a man whose creative skills have flourished throughout the fifty five years of his career. He has reinvented himself time and again. His word skills have been applied to poems, songs, books and interviews. He has been successful at everything he turned his hand to – whether that be poetry, song, writing or hosting Radio Shows.
His career can be viewed in a number of ways. Chronologically it reveals a bit of a chameleon
Stage 1 – Folk-Blues.
I first encountered Bob in the early sixties when my friend Charlie had a job as a merchant seaman and brought his first album back from the States. He played it to me and told me (a young lad of about thirteen) that Bob was going to be big and would have hits if he released singles. I didn’t believe him. I was into Blues and Woody Guthrie but I didn’t hear anything great on that first album. It was reasonably folk-blues in my opinion – I’d heard Fixin’ To Die played better.
Stage 2 – Acoustic Masterpieces of songwriting
Then came a trio of acoustic masterpieces (Freewheelin’, The Times They are A-Changing and Another side of). Bob had moved from covering folk-blues to doing his own songs. And boy what songs they were. He had started basing his style on Woody Guthrie but this took song writing to a new level. He took up Woody’s themes of social justice and ran with them. His melded in poetry to take them to a new level of complexity, imagery and power.
There were songs of Civil Rights like the Ballad of Emmett Till, The Ballad of Hollis Brown, Only a Pawn in the Game, Oxford Town, Chimes of Freedom, To Ramona
There were songs about the futility of war and nuclear war – Blowin’ in the Wind. Masters of War, A Hard Rains Gonna Fall, Let me Die in My Footsteps, With God on our Side
There were love songs that were miles away from the standard pop trivia. These were mature poems – Don’t Think Twice it’s Alright, Restless Farewell, Boots of Spanish Leather, One Too Many Mornings, All I Really Want To Do
There were songs about the racist establishment and communist haters – Talkin’ John Birch Society Blues, When the Ship Comes in
There were humorous songs with a message – I shall be Free Number 10, Talkin’ Bear Mountain
Bob opened people’s eyes to what was going on. He articulated people’s feelings. He motivated and aroused, he spelt it out, highlighted it and got a whole new generation turned on to social injustice and antiwar. He raised our sensibilities and empowered us to try to put things right. That is something that has never died in me.
And yes – he did release singles and Times They Are A-Changing was a big hit.
Joan Baez adopted him. Peter Paul and Mary popularised him and he was lauded by everyone as a poetic genius, songwriter extraordinaire, social activator, Protest Singer, and all-round genius – the voice of a generation.
Not only that but his songs were being covered by Beat Musicians. Pop and Rock was a teenage music. The lyrics (apart from the odd Chuck Berry one here and there – like Too Much Monkey Business) were all about love, cars and school. Bob changed that. The Animals, Byrds and Manfred Mann covered his songs and created FolkRock. But more importantly bands like the Beatles were freed from the normal strictures of the Pop/Rock song to experiment, get poetic and tell stories with real social importance. It transformed Rock into a more mature, adult structure, more complex, meaningful and poetic. That all came to fruition in the late sixties underground. Without Dylan we wouldn’t have had the later Beatles, Pink Floyd, Doors, Country Joe and the Fish, Buffalo Springfield, Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, Jefferson Airplane, later Rolling Stones, Traffic, Jimi Hendrix, Cream or the like. He opened minds to the possibilities.
Stage 3 – The Electric explosion
At the height of this deification Bob transformed himself. He’d always been a rocker and seized the opportunity to go electric. He left behind the Civil Rights and Antiwar songs and developed the poetry a stage further into the flow of consciousness of the Beat Generation. There was still a social message but it was interspersed with all manner of strange underworld denizens and imagery.
Phase 2 had been incredible by phase 3 was mind -blowing. He released 3 albums that blew everyone’s minds (though some took longer to adjust than others). He produced a sound like nobody had ever heard. With the power of the Butterfield Blues Band (Mike Bloomfield on searing guitar) at Newport and then a variety of musicians and the Hawks in the Studio and on tour. Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde were extraordinary in every respect. Everything about them was new – the sound, the song structure, the lyrics and the appearance. He took Rock by the short and curlies and shook it up.
There were barbed social songs – It’s Alright Ma I’m Only Bleeding, Subterranean Homesick Blues, Maggie’s Farm, Positively Fourth Street, Gates of Eden, Ballad of a Thin Man, It Takes a lot to Laugh, It Takes A Train to Cry, From a Buick 6, Tombstone Blues, Like a Rolling Stone, Desolation Row, Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues
Love songs of incredible beauty and lyricism – Love minus Zero/No Limit, Mr Tambourine Man, It’s All Over Now Baby Blue, Queen Jane Approximately
Then the awesome majesty of what must be the greatest album of all-time – (apart from Roy Harper and depending what mood I’m in) – Blonde on Blonde – ever track a poetic masterpiece of imagery and imagination.
1 Rainy Day Women #12 & 35
2 Pledging My Time
3 Visions of Johanna
4 One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)
5 I Want You
6 Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again
7 Leopard‐Skin Pill‐Box Hat
8 Just Like a Woman
9 Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine
10 Temporary Like Achilles
11 Absolutely Sweet Marie
12 4th Time Around
13 Obviously Five Believers
14 Sad‐Eyed Lady of the Lowlands
If that doesn’t blow your mind nothing will. There was nothing quite like this James Dean ultra-hip, mercury-mouthed, super-cool, poetic demon. No-one looked like him, sounded like him or could be as sharp.
But the guy was strung out on amphetamine, stressed to the heavens, hounded on all sides and driven insane with the demands for product, performances, books and interviews. It was a treadmill.
It had to end and it did. He crashed and decided to use it as a break. He did not want to be the Voice of a Generation or any part of this machine. He quit. He cleaned himself up.
Stage 4 – Opting Out
He bought a house in Woodstock, shacked up with the Band and started playing the old stuff, writing simpler and doing what was basically Americana. There were no obligations and we saw a simpler in-hip Dylan emerge who sang with Johnny Cash on Country songs and adopted a low-key image and produced three mediocre albums – the OK John Wesley Harding (with the great All Along the Watchtower), the lamentable Nashville Skyline (Which I smashed and threw away the day I bought it) and the dreadful Self-Portrait (Which I didn’t bother buying). He did a poor performance at the Isle of Wight and we all reckoned he was gone.
Stage 5 – the Return
Well New Morning was a slight return but it was with the albums Planet Waves, Blood on the Tracks, Desire and Street Legal, that we saw any of the real power return. It did not get to the peak of those sixties albums but these were really good. The poetry and imagery were there with tracks like Isis, Dirge, Forever Young, Tangled Up in Blue, Idiot Wind, Shelter From the Storm, Hurricane, Oh Sister, Sarah and Senor (Tales of Yankee Power).
This was the time of the live Rolling Thunder Review with nits attempt to bring people together and create some of that spirit again.
Stage 6 – The Religious holiday
Just when we were getting to hope that he might just begin to produce something absolutely majestic he dumped it all and saw the light. We had to tolerate two albums of Born Again sermonising. Least said.
Stage 7 – Mediocrity (by comparison to his own heights)
There followed a string of albums that were alright – Shot of love, Infidels, Empire Burlesque, Knocked Out Loaded, Down in the Groove, Oh Mercy, Under the Red Sky, Good As I Been to You, World Gone Wrong
Stage 8 – Renaissance of a patchy sort
The great Time out of Mind heralded a return to form and that was followed up with Love and Theft, Modern Times, Together Through Life and then the dubious Christmas in the Heart, The Tempest, Shadows in the Night and Fallen Angels.
These were the days when he did his fabulous Radio Shows and wrote the brilliant Chronicles.
So here we are. He deservedly receives the Nobel Prize for Literature. Nobody deserves it more.!!
I look forward to Leonard Cohen, Roy Harper, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Nick Harper receiving their due recognition now.
Well done Bob – We all owe you the world!! From scruffy Woody urchin through James Dean Rebel, Country hick, Thunderous mannequin to poet, radio presenter, novelist and chronicler – you’ve taken us on a journey!
A lot of people are bewildered by Bob doing a no-show for the Nobel prize for literature – I’m not. I think he found all that business of being ‘The Voice of a Generation’ a millstone round his neck. He doesn’t need it. It stops him being creative by putting too much weight of expectation on him. That dries up the creativity. He jettisoned all that as quickly as he could.
Having these colossal accolades and titles, they get in the way.
If I wasn’t Bob Dylan, I’d probably think that Bob Dylan has a lot of answers myself.
You’re going to die. You’re going to be dead. It could be 20 years, it could be tomorrow, anytime. So am I. I mean, we’re just going to be gone. The world’s going to go on without us. All right now. You do your job in the face of that, and how seriously you take yourself you decide for yourself.
I consider myself a poet first and a musician second. I live like a poet and I’ll die like a poet.
There’s a soundtrack to my life,
Illustrating my feelings,
Feeding my mind,
Nourishing my spirit.
A soundtrack to love.
A background to work.
It is the music,
Intertwined with memories,
That gives colour,
Stokes the fires inside,
To bring me fully alive.
That soundtrack contains my essence.
Opher – 2.1.2020
As I have grown up music has played a huge role in my development. The lyrics, the poems, the sounds, have entered into me, expanding my vision, intensifying my experience.
Now, when I hear a certain track, it conjures up memories, feelings and thoughts.
Music is inextricably linked to my life and inner being.