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Jelly, jelly so fine

Friday, March 15, 2024

Obviously Five Believers

I was listening to this cut from Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde the other day and marveling at various things. The rhythm section was so tight I was wondering if it was Arnold and Lay from Butterfield's band. Was that Mike Bloomfield on guitar? Such a great harmonica too, definitely not Bob. I did some research.

I was blown away to see that it was actually Robbie Robertson on guitar. I love his writing but was never a big fan of his twang and guitar style. Too many off notes. Yet in Levon Helm's book Wheels on Fire he says that J. Robbie could play circles around Bloomfield at that point in time. I guess the late Hawk and Band member was once really good.

McCoy and Dylan

So who else is playing? It is the great Nashville session player Charlie McCoy on harp. Obviously Charlie could play the blues harp as well as, well, anybody. 

Dylan is also credited on guitar as well as Wayne Moss, a Nashville session guy who started the excellent Area Code 615 and Barefoot Jerry bands. Not sure which licks he was playing, will need to listen again. Joe South also played on the record but apparently not on this song.

Al Kooper on organ, Pig Robbins on piano, Kenny Buttrey on drums and an amazing performance by Henry Strzelecki on bass that just kills. The first call Nashville bass player of his time, he played with Roy Orbison, Chet Atkins, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Eddy Arnold, Johnny Cash, Ronnie Milsap and Merle Haggard among others.

I read Robertson say that his performance on this track is what got other musicians to finally respect him. What a great song. No wonder the Allman Brothers and Berry Oakley later borrowed the syncopated bridge for You don't love me.

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Charlie McCoy and Dylan (from Wikipedia)
McCoy was visiting in New York in 1965; his friend and producer, Bob Johnston, mentioned that he was producing a Bob Dylan session, and he invited McCoy to come and meet Dylan. They were recording tracks for the upcoming album. "Highway 61 Revisited ". After the introduction, McCoy was surprised when Dylan said that he personally owned one of McCoy's records, "Harpoon Man"  Then Dylan said, "Hey, I’m getting ready to record a song, why don’t you grab that guitar and play along.  The song was "Desolation Row", and McCoy remembered that it was 11 minutes long. It took only two takes.  The success of this impromptu session is credited in part with Dylan later agreeing to come to Nashville to record, and doing so against the wishes of his label and management executives.Several months later, McCoy got a call that Dylan was indeed coming to Nashville, and a date had been set. McCoy would be the session leader and was tasked with picking the musicians. It was a big deal back then, because Nashville's connection for recording with folk singers was not stellar.

In 1966, Dylan recorded "Blonde on Blonde" in Nashville, his seventh studio album, a double LP. McCoy brought Kenny Buttrey and Wayne Moss, Hargus Robbins, Jerry Kennedy, Henry Strzelecki, Joe South, and Wayne Butler.Dylan brought Robbie Robertson and Al Kooper. One session was booked for 2 pm, but Dylan did not arrive until 6 pm; he said he had not finished writing the first song.  They ended the song "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" at 4 am.  McCoy said the album took 39 hours to record, "an eternity by Nashville standards". 

Critics called Blonde on Blonde "a benchmark in American Music". In 2003, it was ranked number nine on Rolling Stone magazine's list of "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time".McCoy said, "There were no folk-rock people performing here [Nashville] before Blonde on Blonde; and after that came out, it was like the floodgates opened...It was Joan Baez, Buffy Sainte-Marie, The Byrds, and Leonard Cohen."

Dylan returned to Nashville to Columbia Studios in late 1967 to record "John Wesley Harding", with McCoy playing bass. Dylan's third Nashville session was "Nashville Skyline" again featuring McCoy. Johnny Cash also performed on the album.

At the session, Dylan told the producer to temporarily name the song “Five Believers.” After the recording was complete, Dylan asked the group what it should be called. Robertson said, sardonically, “Obviously, Five Believers.” Dylan said, “that’s it”.

         Dylan didn’t play the song live until he started using it as the show opener in 1995. 

1 comment:

Ken Seals said...

Really enjoyable! Al Kooper has always been a favorite of mine, since 1969.