“Whenever Bob sings with The Band it’s like thunder and mountains, you know, screaming at the Gods in the sky and everything is so high-pitched, such intensity and energy.”
In 1974, after a few years of no big moves from the superstar, Bob Dylan headed back out on the road with his back up band from 1966, The Band. The Band would of course later rise to fame with their own sounds, but this particular tour after Dylan’s hiatus was already spreading fast in the media. Bob Dylan and The Band reunion tour of 1974. However the combination this time didn’t blend. Robbie Robertson of The Band quoted, “Tour ’74 was hard work, just the intensity of the music was so high that it was really straining. “Whenever Bob sings with The Band it’s like thunder and mountains, you know, screaming at the Gods in the sky and everything is so high-pitched, such intensity and energy.”
This is probably why the tour stopped in ’74. “I felt like I was Willis Reed.” Dylan said, referring to the tour with The Band. But from then on, Dylan was back in the headlines, not slowing down.
In early 1975, Dylan released Blood On The Tracks. He was spending more time in New York again, particularly back in Greenwich Village. Bob soon began to collaborate with the likes of Jacques Levy, an off-Broadway director and ex-clinical psychologist who had his foot in on some lyrics. He and Dylan hit it off immediately. Songs were being written every night and a strong energy was generating more and more. There was now plenty of material and Dylan was constantly turning to his friends to make music with. At one point Dylan had 24 different musicians in the studio, including Eric Clapton, Kokomo, Emmylou Harris, Sugar Blue and many more.
The song and sounds that were being generated were literally magical. Even Dylan was ecstatic and rumors of another tour had already begun. To everyone’s benefit, the rumors were true and Dylan had already begun to assemble a traveling musical revue. Dylan had even previously mentioned having a “gypsy caravan situation happening where it was loose and different people could get up and do different things at different times and nothing wold be out of place.” In the spring of 1975, Dylan was set on this idea of a traveling gypsy band with more harmonies and vibrations than a locomotive.
And so it happened. Dylan put together his group of cast members with the intention of traveling by old busses across the Northeast. The cast started as follows: Joan Baez, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Bobby Neuwirth, T-Bone Burnett, Steve Soles, Mick Ronson and Luther Rix. The cast was set, now the dream movie needed a name. Dylan had first envisioned “Montezuma Revue” but it quickly transferred over to The Rolling Thunder Revue. It has been said that the tour was named after an Indian medicine man named Rolling Thunder, others claimed it was named after a bad decision by Nixon in the Vietnam War. But Dylan himself sets it straight quoting, “I was just sitting outside of 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.”
From New York, he and nearly seventy people (most filmmakers) were headed to Falmout, Massachusetts to start what would be one of the greatest tours of all time.
But the one thing that set this tour apart from others was the stage set and presence of Dylan. The stage was draped in carpets, lights, candles, more carpets and sofas. It had a feel of intimacy that nothing else had. This was mood for the majority of the tour. It wasn’t until Lowell, Massachusetts that Dylan sported the white face paint on stage. This was a very, very big deal.
Some people thought it was an attempt to distance himself from the audience, others thought it was to draw attention to the most expressive areas of his face, his eyes and his mouth. When asked by Larry “Rasto” Sloman, Dylan responded, “I don’t know…there’s always people that don’t understand, always people that try to make more out of it than what it is. One reason I put it on is so you can see my face from far away.”
The tour continued on that year, even joining forces with Rolling Thunder himself in his full Cherokee wardrobe alongside his wife, Spotted Fawn. To the day, the tour album is one of my favorites of all time. If you’ve never heard it, please do. The versions on the album are more elaborate and layered than anything I have ever head. Not to mention Dylan is probably one of the coolest looking guys to walk the face of the earth.