Rolling Thunder Revue

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Rolling Thunder Revue
RollingThunderRevuePoster.jpg
Harvard Square Theater concert poster, November 20, 1975
North American tour by Bob Dylan
Location North America
Start date October 30, 1975 (1975-10-30)
End date May 25, 1976 (1976-05-25)
Legs 2
Shows 57
First leg: 30
Second leg: 27
Bob Dylan concert chronology
Bob Dylan and The Band Tour
(1974)
Rolling Thunder Revue
(1975–1976)
World Tour
(1978)

The Rolling Thunder Revue was a concert tour by American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan with a traveling caravan of notable musicians, including Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn, and Ramblin' Jack Elliott. Bob Neuwirth assembled the backing musicians, including T-Bone Burnett, Mick Ronson, David Mansfield, Steven Soles, and from the Desire sessions, violinist Scarlet Rivera, bassist Rob Stoner, and drummer Howie Wyeth. The tour included 57 concerts in two legs—the first in the American northeast and Canada in the fall of 1975, and the second in the American south and southwest in the spring of 1976.

The prevailing theory of why Dylan chose "Rolling Thunder" as the tour name was that it was named after the Native American shaman Rolling Thunder. Others maintained that the tour was named after Operation Rolling Thunder, the U.S. aerial bombardment campaign conducted during the Vietnam War. According to Dylan, there was a simpler explanation for the name: "I was just sitting outside my house one day thinking about a name for this tour, when all of a sudden, I looked into the sky and I heard a boom! Then, boom, boom, boom, boom, rolling from west to east. So I figured that should be the name."

The release of Dylan's album Desire in January 1976 fell between the two legs of the tour.

The tour was thoroughly documented through film, sound recording, and in print.[1]

Origins[edit]

In late July 1972, Dylan saw The Rolling Stones perform at Madison Square Garden.[2] According to Arthur Rosato, the soundman on Renaldo and Clara, their 1972 world tour reignited his interest in playing live, and also had a large influence on Dylan's return to the concert circuit.[2]

In October 1975, soon after completing Desire, Dylan held rehearsals for an upcoming tour at New York's midtown Studio Instrument Rentals space. The bassist Rob Stoner, the drummer Howie Wyeth, and the violinist Scarlet Rivera, all of whom were heavily featured on Desire, were retained for the rehearsals. Joining them were T-Bone Burnett, Steven Soles, and David Mansfield. The three had been dismissed during the Desire sessions in attempt to focus the overall production, but Dylan decided to recruit the trio for the upcoming tour.[citation needed]

When rehearsals began, many of the musicians were apparently uninformed about plans for an upcoming tour. At the same time, Dylan was casually inviting others to join in with the band. According to Stoner, the group rehearsed "for like a day or two - it [was] not really so much a rehearsal as like a jam, tryin' to sort it out. Meanwhile all these people who eventually became the Rolling Thunder Revue started dropping in. Joan Baez was showing up. Roger McGuinn was there. They were all there. We had no idea what the purpose for these jams was, except we were being invited to jam."[this quote needs a citation]

According to Lou Kemp, a friend of Dylan's who eventually organized the tour, the Rolling Thunder Revue "would go out at night and run into people, and we'd just invite them to come with us. We started out with a relatively small group of musicians and support people, and we ended up with a caravan."[this quote needs a citation] At one point, Patti Smith was invited to join, but amicably declined Dylan's invitation.[citation needed] However, Dylan did add one surprising element to the Rolling Thunder Revue when he invited Mick Ronson to join the tour. Ronson was the lead guitarist and arranger in David Bowie's former backing band, The Spiders from Mars. Ronson would accompany the Rolling Thunder Revue throughout the upcoming tour.

Another musician invited on the tour was introduced to Dylan on October 22, when Dylan went to see David Blue perform at The Other End. It was there that he met Ronee Blakley, the actress/singer who had recently starred in Robert Altman's celebrated film Nashville. At the end of Blue's show, Blakley joined Dylan on-stage for a few songs, joined by poet Allen Ginsberg and guitarist Kenny Davis (Leichtling); afterwards, Dylan extended her an invitation to join the Rolling Thunder Revue. She initially declined due to prior commitments, but eventually changed her mind and appeared at rehearsals two days later.[citation needed]

However, the same day Blakley showed up for rehearsal, Dylan returned to the recording studio to re-record Desire's "Hurricane" (due to legal concerns involving the song's original lyrics).[citation needed] Employing Blakley as a substitute for Emmylou Harris (who had prior engagements to attend to), Dylan quickly recut "Hurricane", the last recorded work done for Desire before its release in January 1976.

Sometime in October, Dylan also contacted an old friend and filmmaker, Howard Alk. Dylan's ambitions apparently included a film of the tour, and Alk accepted Dylan's offer to shoot the film. When the tour rehearsals were still in progress, Alk reportedly began filming scenes in Greenwich Village for possible inclusion in the film.

Dylan also contacted the actor/playwright Sam Shepard. Shepard was still relatively unknown at the time, and probably Dylan was introduced to him by Jacques Levy, who at that time had been co-writing with Dylan some of the lyrics of the Desire album (Shepard was also a former lover of Patti Smith). Shepard flew in from California and met with Dylan at rehearsals, where Dylan asked him if he had seen Marcel Carné's Les Enfants du Paradis or François Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player. Dylan said that those were the kinds of films he wanted to produce on the tour.[3]

The poet Allen Ginsberg would accompany the tour for most of its 1975 run, but his planned recitations, as well as some performances by other Revue members, were cut before the opening date to keep the concerts at a manageable length. However, Ginsberg's recitation was restored at one concert, at the prison where Rubin Carter was serving his sentence.

The Fall Tour of 1975[edit]

On October 30, Dylan held the first Rolling Thunder Revue show at War Memorial Auditorium in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The first leg of the tour was relatively small, spanning thirty shows and reaching only towns along the northeastern seaboard, including some in Canada. However, the secrecy surrounding the tour's intended destinations, the new material Dylan was premiering, and the inclusion of Joan Baez on the same bill as Dylan for the first time in a decade ensured the tour a good share of media coverage.[citation needed]

According to Larry Sloman, who documented the tour in On the Road with Bob Dylan (1978)—later characterized by Tim Riley as an attempt to "cop the Tom Wolfe technique of turning the backstage story into a plot with the journalist as beleaguered hero"—"onstage it was like a carnival. Bobby Neuwirth and the back-up band [dubbed 'Guam'] warmed up the audience. Next, Dylan ambled on to do about five songs. After intermission, the curtain rose to an incredible sight, Bob and Joan, together again after all these years."[4] Dylan and Baez often opened the second half of the show duetting in the dark on "Blowin' in the Wind".[5] As per Sloman, "after a few numbers, Baez took center stage for a dynamic six-song set, followed by a solo set from Bob. Then he was joined by the band for a few numbers, and the finale, Woody Guthrie's 'This Land Is Your Land,' featuring everyone on stage from Allen Ginsberg to Bob's mother Beattie one night. The spirit was so amazingly warm that when Joni Mitchell flew in to play one concert, she wound up staying for the remaining three nights of the tour. And it all came to a dramatic finale December 8th in Madison Square Garden where, with the help of Muhammed Ali, Roberta Flack and 14,000 screaming partisans, Dylan performed a benefit concert for imprisoned boxer and Dylan's latest cause, Rubin Carter. That concert was known as 'The Night of The Hurricane.'"

Perhaps taking a cue from Ronson's glam-rock experience, Dylan made the surprising theatrical choice of wearing whiteface make-up at many of the shows. Sometimes, he even walked on stage wearing a plastic mask, only to toss it aside after the first song to play harmonica on "It Ain't Me, Babe."[6] According to Rivera, one heckler asked Dylan "Why are you wearing a mask?" to which Dylan replied, "The meaning is in the words."[7]

There is a critical consensus that the tour failed in one regard, the making of the film Renaldo and Clara.[8][9] Shepard soon discovered that his nominal function as screenwriter was somewhat superfluous, for much of the film would be entirely improvised with little guidance or direction from Dylan. He elected to record his impressionistic divagations in a journal eventually published as The Rolling Thunder Logbook (1977).

A number of critics wrote about the tour with a great deal of praise. "The Rolling Thunder Revue shows remain some of the finest music Dylan ever made with a live band," wrote Clinton Heylin. "Gone was the traditionalism of The Band. Instead he found a whole set of textures rarely found in rock. The idea of blending the pedal-steel syncopation of Mansfield, Ronson's glam-rock lead breaks, and Rivera's electric violin made for something as musically layered as Dylan's lyrics...[Dylan] also displayed a vocal precision rare even for him, snapping and stretching words to cajole nuances of meaning from each and every line."[10] According to Riley, "these are rugged and inspired reworkings of many Dylan standards—[Dylan] even talks casually to the audience (now a thing of the past). He lights into a biting electric version of 'It Ain't Me, Babe,' and then a thoroughly convincing rock take of 'The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll'...and an 'Isis' that makes the Desire take sound like a greeting card."[11]

The Spring Tour of 1976[edit]

A second Hurricane Carter benefit was held at the Astrodome Houston, Texas on January 25. Before the Concert, Dylan chose to meet with the man that discovered him, Roy Silver, and Silver's partner, manager Richard Flanzer for some advice. Silver and Flanzer quickly provided artists including Stevie Wonder, Ringo Starr and Dr. John, to make this concert the most successful event of the tour, with Dylan at his best.

Dylan then tried to recreate the Rolling Thunder Revue's success in the spring of 1976. Rehearsals were held in Clearwater, Florida during April, and the first show was on April 18 at the Civic Center in Lakeland, Florida. The tour continued throughout April and May in the American South and Southwest.

The penultimate show of the tour took place on May 23 at Hughes Stadium in Fort Collins, Colorado. Comments about it typified the feeling about the spring tour: "Although the band has been playing together longer, the charm has gone out of their exchanges," wrote Tim Riley.[12] "The Rolling Thunder Revue, so joyful and electrifying in its first performances, had just plain run out of steam," wrote music critic Janet Maslin for Rolling Stone.[13]

The final Rolling Thunder show took place on May 25. Held at a half-empty, 17,000 seat Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, Utah, it would be Dylan's last performance for twenty-one months (except for The Last Waltz in November 1976 for The Band), and it would be another two years before Dylan recorded another album of new material.

In recent years, the second leg of the tour has been held in higher regard by fans and critics.

Aftermath[edit]

The May 23 Colorado show was filmed for the September 1976 NBC television special Hard Rain; the Hard Rain live album containing selections from that and another late May date was released simultaneously. The television special garnered poor reviews and disappointing ratings, despite a TV Guide cover of and interview with Dylan. Live album sales were modest.[citation needed]

Dylan and Shepard's completed film, now the symbolist-romance-cum-concert-film Renaldo and Clara, would not be released until 1978; the critical reception largely negative.[citation needed] It was, for the most part, the only official release documenting the live shows from the fall 1975 leg. However, a majority of the film consisted of the haphazard, fictional drama filmed during the tour.

Most performances from the fall 1975 tour were professionally recorded (in addition to wide bootleg recording). The Bootleg Series Vol. 5: Bob Dylan Live 1975, The Rolling Thunder Revue, incorporating performances from a number of the fall shows, saw issue in 2002. As the first official release to capture the Revue at its peak, it was warmly received by fans and critics.[14] In August 2010, a source close to Dylan told Rolling Stone that a documentary about the Rolling Thunder tour had been in development for years and could be released relatively soon.[15]

Following the tour, the trio of Burnett, Soles and Mansfield continued to work together as The Alpha Band.

Tour dates[edit]

Date City Country Venue
North America
October 30, 1975 Plymouth United States War Memorial Auditorium
October 31, 1975
November 1, 1975 North Dartmouth Massachusetts University
November 2, 1975 Lowell Technical University
November 4, 1975 Providence Civic Center
November 6, 1975 Springfield Civic Center
November 8, 1975 Burlington Patrick Gym
November 9, 1975 Durham Lundholm Gym
November 11, 1975 Waterbury Palace Theater
November 13, 1975 New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum
November 15, 1975 Niagara Falls Convention Center
November 17, 1975 Rochester Community War Memorial
November 19, 1975 Worcester Worcester Memorial Auditorium
November 20, 1975 Cambridge Harvard Square Theater
November 21, 1975 Boston Boston Music Hall
November 22, 1975 Waltham Brandeis University
November 24, 1975 Hartford Hartford Civic Center
November 26, 1975 Augusta Augusta Civic Center
November 27, 1975 Bangor Municipal Auditorium
November 29, 1975 Quebec City Canada Colisee de Quebec
December 1, 1975 Toronto Maple Leaf Gardens
December 2, 1975
December 4, 1975 Montreal Montreal Forum
December 7, 1975 Clinton United States E.M.C.F.W
December 8, 1975 New York City Madison Square Garden
January 25, 1976 Houston Houston Astrodome
April 18, 1976 Lakeland Lakeland Civic Center
April 20, 1976 St. Petersburg Bayfront Arena
April 21, 1976 Tampa Curtis Hixon Hall
April 22, 1976 Belleair Starlight Ballroom
April 23, 1976 Orlando Orlando Sports Stadium
April 25, 1976 Gainesville University of Florida Field
April 27, 1976 Tallahassee Tully Gymnasium
April 28, 1976 Pensacola UWF Field House
April 29, 1976 Mobile Expo Hall
May 1, 1976 Hattiesburg Reed Green Coliseum
May 3, 1976 New Orleans The Warehouse
May 4, 1976 Baton Rouge L.S.U. Assembly Center
May 8, 1976 Houston Hofheinz Pavilion
May 10, 1976 Corpus Christi Memorial Coliseum
May 11, 1976 San Antonio Municipal Auditorium
May 12, 1976 Austin Municipal Auditorium
May 15, 1976 Gatesville Gatesville State School for Boys
May 16, 1976 Fort Worth Tarrant County Convention Center Arena
May 18, 1976 Oklahoma City State Fair Arena
May 19, 1976 Wichita Henry Levitt Arena
May 23, 1976 Fort Collins Hughes Stadium, Colorado State University
May 25, 1976 Salt Lake City Salt Palace

References[edit]

  1. ^ Notable items include two books, two albums, a TV Special and a movie: see also: Michael Gray, The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, New York:Continuum books, 2006
  2. ^ a b Behind the Shades Revisited, pp. 336
  3. ^ Gray M, op.cit. 371
  4. ^ Sloman L, op.cit.[this quote needs a citation]
  5. ^ Riley, Tim (2010-12-29). Hard Rain: A Dylan Commentary. ISBN 9780307773043. 
  6. ^ Heylin C, Behind the shades, p417
  7. ^ Heylin, Clinton (2003-04-29). Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades Revisited. ISBN 9780060525699. 
  8. ^ http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9A03EFD71330E631A25755C2A9679C946990D6CF
  9. ^ http://blogcritics.org/music-video-review-bob-dylans-renaldo/
  10. ^ Heylin C.,loc. cit
  11. ^ Riley, T., op. cit. p257
  12. ^ Riley, Hard Rain, p. 258.
  13. ^ Janet Maslin (July 12, 1979). "Album Reviews: Bob Dylan: At Budokan". Rolling Stone. 
  14. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas (2002-11-26). "Bob Dylan Live 1975". allmusic.com. Retrieved 2009-01-04. 
  15. ^ Rolling Stone article: "Dylan's New 'Bootleg' to Feature Unearthed Live Show."

External links[edit]