Yet More...

Looking at recent aspects of Dylanology, it's fairly obvious that Dylan is, in many ways, like many of his sixties fans, another member of the fraternity of Music Freaks. While people were looked at each reincarnation of Dylan as a seemingly separate entity - wannabe Woody Guthrievoice of his generation protest anthem folkie, polka-dot shirted amphetamine Rimbaud clone - it seems that each was Dylan trying on a new shirt that seemed to fit at the time.

I suspect the real Dylan that lurked under the surface was someone with a deep and extensive knowledge of American music and a bower bird inclination to pick up bits and pieces from all over the place. That's probably a view that'd find supporters among certain members of the early sixties English folk fraternity, for example, and the man's tendency to dredge through, and allegedly make off with selections from, his acquaintances' record collections.

So the Dylan that turned up at the sessions that turned into The Basement Tapes arrived with a pot pourri of songs that would presumably be fun to play around with.

His collaborators on the sessions, the aggregation we later came to know as The Band, had their own story. An outfit that had gradually coalesced around rockabilly merchant Ronnie Hawkins before heading off believing they could make more money on their own, The Hawks were a bar band eking out a living playing blues and R&B in the sort of places where the wire mesh to protect those on stage from flying beer bottles was a handy safety precaution.

They'd recorded a bit, and the results can be sampled on Disk 1 of the Musical History box set. It's unremarkable stuff, largely written by Robbie Robertson, and includes The Stones I Throw, covered in Australia by Normie Rowe. On the other hand, being out on the road they weren't quite au fait with the latest musical trends, and must have wondered what hit them as they hit the road as Dylan's second set electric band. Drummer Levon Helm didn't last long and bolted back to comparative safety in Arkansas, and when Dylan crashed the sickle the rest of them, presumably on a retainer, ended up in Woodstock needing to do something to fill in the time while the boss was recuperating. 

When the recuperative process extended to playing a bit of music they were fairly obvious collaborators.


B© Ian Hughes 2012