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||57
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 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.
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 world 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 an upcoming tour at New York City'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 an attempt to focus the overall production, but Dylan decided to recruit the trio for the upcoming tour.
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." At one point, Patti Smith was invited to join, but amicably declined Dylan's invitation. 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; 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.
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 Dylan was probably 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.
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.
1975 fall tour
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.
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. 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." 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 Houston, Texas, on January 25, in between the two legs of the concert. 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, Ringo Starr and Dr. John, to help make this concert the most successful event of the tour, with Bob Dylan giving a stellar performance. Dylan asked Flanzer to accompany him on the chartered flight to oversee these guest stars.
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. (Performances by Dylan and Baez during the Clearwater shows were taped and aired on The Midnight Special.)
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, 17,000 seat Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, 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.
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; the critical reception largely negative. 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. Later in 1978, an edited version of the film appeared, omitting many of the dramatic scenes, and focusing more on the performances.
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. 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.
|October 30, 1975||Plymouth||United States||War Memorial Auditorium|
|October 31, 1975|
|November 1, 1975||North Dartmouth||Southeastern 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||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||E.M.C.F.W|
|December 8, 1975||New York City||Madison Square Garden|
Carter benefit show
|January 25, 1976||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|
- 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
- "Memorial Hall".
- Riley 2010
- Heylin 2003
- "Movie Review – 'Renaldo and Clara,' Film by Bob Dylan:Rolling Thunder". NY Times.
- "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.
- 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.