Rolling Thunder Revue
|North American tour by Bob Dylan|
Harvard Square Theater concert poster, November 20, 1975
|Start date||October 30, 1975|
|End date||May 25, 1976|
|No. of shows||
First leg: 30
Second leg: 27
|Bob Dylan concert chronology|
The Rolling Thunder Revue was a concert tour by American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan with a traveling caravan of musicians, including previous collaborators 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 self-identified 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.
In late July 1972, Dylan saw the Rolling Stones perform at Madison Square Garden. According to Arthur Rosato, the soundman on Renaldo and Clara, their 1972 American tour reignited his interest in playing live, and also had a large influence on Dylan's return to the concert circuit.
In October 1975, soon after completing Desire, Dylan held rehearsals for his second tour in two years (following an eight-year hiatus) at New York City's midtown Studio Instrument Rentals space. Bassist Rob Stoner, drummer/pianist Howie Wyeth and violinist Scarlet Rivera were retained from the Desire sessions for the rehearsals. Joining them were T-Bone Burnett (electric guitar, piano), Steven Soles (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, backing vocals) and David Mansfield (dobro, mandolin, violin, pedal steel guitar). Although the trio had been dismissed during the Desire sessions in an attempt to focus the overall production, Dylan yielded to his original instincts and decided to rehire them for the tour. Luther Rix (drums, percussion) was also added at an indeterminate point.
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." 
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." Disinterested in performing in a country/folk milieu, Patti Smith amicably declined Dylan's invitation. Bruce Springsteen also turned down an invitation "because he had plenty of touring commitments of his own and was on a roll" following the breakthrough success of Born to Run, released that August. However, Dylan did add one surprising element to the Rolling Thunder Revue when Mick Ronson agreed to join the tour. Ronson was the lead guitarist and arranger in David Bowie's former backing band, The Spiders from Mars.
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; 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.
However, the same day Blakley showed up for rehearsal, Dylan returned to the recording studio to re-record "Hurricane" (due to legal concerns involving the song's original lyrics). 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.
On October 23, 1975, owner Mike Porco's 61st birthday, Dylan and a group of friends took over Gerde's Folk City as the main show was ending. Dylan and Joan Baez sang "One Too Many Mornings", followed onstage by Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Eric Andersen, Patti Smith, Arlen Roth, Bette Midler, Buzzy Linhart, Phil Ochs and others. Dylan and his group brought in lights and cameras and filmed the session, which began well after midnight; a brief scene of Phil Ochs trying to tune Eric Andersen's guitar from open to regular tuning made it into Renaldo and Clara. A week later, on October 30, the Rolling Thunder Revue played its first concert.
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 contacted actor/playwright Sam Shepard to work as a screenwriter on the film. Having only recently returned to the United States following an extended sojourn in London to become the playwright-in-residence at San Francisco's Magic Theatre (where he would create most of his notable works, including the Family Trilogy), Shepard was still considered to be a cult figure at the time. However, he was closely associated with several figures in Dylan's circle, including Jacques Levy (who directed much of Shepard's 1960s Off-Off-Broadway oeuvre and co-wrote seven of Desire's nine songs), Patti Smith (who was Shepard's former lover and dramatic collaborator) and Ginsberg (who worked with Shepard on the 1969 Robert Frank experimental docudrama Me and My Brother). Upon meeting Dylan at rehearsals, the songwriter asked Shepard 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.
While Ginsberg accompanied the tour for most of its 1975 run, 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.
1975 fall tour
On October 30, Dylan held the first Rolling Thunder Revue show at the War Memorial Auditorium in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Intended to contrast with the bombast of his 1974 tour with The Band, the first leg of the tour was relatively small, spanning only thirty shows. The majority of the first Revue was booked at relatively intimate venues, including smaller arenas, theaters and gymnasia; aside from a four-show Canadian leg and the concluding concerts in the New York metropolitan area, the tour's itinerary was entirely confined to New England. However, the secrecy surrounding the Revue'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 prominent media coverage.
On November 2nd, 1975, the tour stopped at the University of Lowell, a new institution that arose from the merger of the Lowell Technological Institute and Lowell State College. Dylan's inspiration for playing Lowell was Jack Kerouac, a pivotal influence on his oeuvre who was born and raised in the city. Dylan, Beat Generation colleague Ginsberg and various band members visited Kerouac's gravesite the next day to shoot a sequence for the film.
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." Dylan and Baez often opened the second half of the show duetting in the dark on "Blowin' in the Wind". 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 Muhammad 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." According to Rivera, one heckler asked Dylan "Why are you wearing a mask?" to which Dylan replied, "The meaning is in the words."
There is a critical consensus that the tour failed in one regard, the making of the film Renaldo and Clara. 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. Shepard elected to record his impressionistic divagations in a journal eventually published as The Rolling Thunder Logbook (1977).
A number of critics highly praised the tour. "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." 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."
1976 spring tour
A second Hurricane Carter benefit was held at the Astrodome in Houston, Texas on January 25, bridging the two legs of the tour. For this performance, Ringo Starr and Joe Vitale augmented the core band. 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. Flanzer and Silver quickly provided several stars (including Stevie Wonder and Dr. John) to help make this concert the most commercially successful event of the tour, with Dylan giving a strident performance. Dylan asked Flanzer to accompany him on the chartered flight to oversee these guest stars.
Rehearsals for the spring leg were held in Clearwater, Florida during April, and the first show was on April 18 at the Civic Center in Lakeland, Florida. With an itinerary dominated by arenas and stadiums due to the ballooning budget of Renaldo and Clara, the tour continued throughout April and May in the American South and Southwest. (Performances by Dylan and Baez during the Clearwater rehearsals were taped and aired on The Midnight Special.) Although most of the fall complement (including Baez, McGuinn, Ronson and the Neuwirth-led Guam) returned, Elliott, Blakley, Rix, Ginsberg and Shepard moved on to other endeavors. Kinky Friedman and Donna Weiss joined the ensemble as featured performers, essentially replacing the former two, while percussionist Gary Burke replaced Rix. New guests included Dennis Hopper, who recited Rudyard Kipling's "If" at The Warehouse in New Orleans. Joni Mitchell returned to preview two songs ("Black Crow" and "Song for Sharon") from Hejira in Fort Worth.
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. "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.
The final Rolling Thunder show took place on May 25. Held at a half-empty Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, it would be Dylan's last performance for twenty-one months (save for a short set backed by The Band at The Last Waltz in November 1976), and it would be another two years before Dylan recorded another album of new material.
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.
Dylan and Shepard's completed film, now the symbolist-romance-cum-concert-film Renaldo and Clara, would not be released until 1978 to a largely fallow critical reception. For many years, it was 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. Later in 1978, an edited version of the film appeared that omitted many of the dramatic scenes in favor of focusing more on the performances.
Most performances from the fall 1975 tour were professionally recorded (in addition to wide bootlegging). 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. 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.
Following the tour, the trio of Burnett, Soles and Mansfield continued to work together as The Alpha Band until 1979. During the hiatus between the two legs, Ronson produced McGuinn's Cardiff Rose; the backing band included Ronson, Mansfield, Stoner and Wyeth.
|October 30, 1975||Plymouth||United States||War Memorial Auditorium|
|October 31, 1975|
|November 1, 1975||North Dartmouth||Southeastern Massachusetts University|
|November 2, 1975||Lowell||University of Lowell|
|November 4, 1975||Providence||Providence Civic Center|
|November 6, 1975||Springfield||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||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||Bangor Municipal Auditorium|
|November 29, 1975||Quebec City||Canada||Colisée de Québec|
|December 1, 1975||Toronto||Maple Leaf Gardens|
|December 2, 1975|
|December 4, 1975||Montreal||Montreal Forum|
|December 7, 1975||Clinton||United States||Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women|
|December 8, 1975||New York City||Madison Square Garden|
Carter benefit show
|January 25, 1976||Houston||Astrodome|
- Rare photos of Bob Dylan's epic Rolling Thunder tour, CBS News, retrieved April 14, 2016
- Notable items include two books, two albums, a TV Special and a movie:
- Larry "Ratso" Sloman, On the Road with Bob Dylan. Helter Skelter Publishing, 2005, 466 pages. ISBN 1-900924-87-0
- Sam Shepard, Rolling Thunder Logbook. New York: Penguin Books, 1978, ISBN 0-14-004750-6 (pbk)
- Hard Rain 1976
- The Bootleg Series Vol. 5: Bob Dylan Live 1975, The Rolling Thunder Revue (2002)
- Hard Rain, TV Special
- Renaldo and Clara
- Heylin 2003, p. 336
- Heylin 2011, p. 407
- Heylin 2011, p. 408
- Sloman 2002, p. 35-28.
- Gray M, op.cit. 371
- Riley 2010
- Heylin 2003
- Maslin, Janet (January 26, 1978). "Movie Review – 'Renaldo and Clara,' Film by Bob Dylan:Rolling Thunder". NY Times. Retrieved August 25, 2018.
- "Music Video Review: Bob Dylan's Renaldo & Clara".
- Heylin C.,loc. cit[clarification needed]
- Riley 2010, p.257
- Riley 2010, p. 258
- Janet Maslin (July 12, 1979). "Album Reviews: Bob Dylan: At Budokan". Rolling Stone.
- "Renaldo and Clara".
- Erlewine, Stephen Thomas (2002-11-26). "Bob Dylan Live 1975". allmusic.com. Retrieved 2009-01-04.
- Rolling Stone article: "Dylan's New 'Bootleg' to Feature Unearthed Live Show."
- Heylin, Clinton (April 1, 2011). Behind the Shades: The 20th Anniversary Edition. Faber & Faber. ISBN 978-0-571-27241-9.
- Heylin, Clinton (April 29, 2003). Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades Revisited. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-06-052569-9.
- Riley, Tim (2010-12-29). Hard Rain: A Dylan Commentary. ISBN 9780307773043.
- Sloman, Larry (2002). On the Road with Bob Dylan. Three Rivers Press. ISBN 978-1-4000-4596-9.