Dylan crew revealed
In late 1974, a studio in south Minneapolis took center stage in Bob Dylan’s musical life -- the rerecording of half of the songs on his “comeback” album, “Blood on the Tracks.”
It was, as those who were there like to quote the song, a simple twist of fate that brought them together to help energize one of Dylan’s most critically acclaimed and biggest-selling albums.
“This was a whole bunch of coincidences, beginning in New York ... that conspired to bring together a masterwork,” says Kevin Odegard, who played guitar on the Minneapolis sessions.
Nearly 30 years later, those musicians remain largely anonymous and still uncredited on the album sleeve. But that anonymity is about to end.
A new book, “A Simple Twist of Fate: Bob Dylan and the Making of ‘Blood on the Tracks,’ ” by Odegard and British rock journalist Andy Gill, hit the shelves in February. The Minneapolis musicians will reunite to perform the album from start to finish tonight at the Pantages Theatre in downtown Minneapolis. They’ll be joined by Eric Weissberg, known for the 1973 hit “Dueling Banjos,” who performed on the album’s New York sessions.
The following night, the musicians will play and discuss the recording at the Mill City Museum in Minneapolis.
Don’t expect Dylan to be there for the concert, though. He’s scheduled to perform that night in St. Louis. He did not respond to an interview request.
“Blood on the Tracks” came at a crucial time for Dylan, who had returned to Columbia Records after a stint with Asylum. His marriage to Sara Lowndes was breaking up, and the songs on “Blood on the Tracks” are mainly about love and loss.
“This is the meatiest piece of work he has ever done,” Odegard says. “He was in a lot of personal anguish.”
“Tangled Up in Blue,” Dylan’s jangly reminiscence about a lover and the 1960s when there was “music in the cafes at night and revolution in the air,” is among the songs from the Minneapolis sessions that made the album.
A lover of folk music, Odegard had recorded two albums in the 1970s when he got a call from his friend and manager -- David Zimmerman, Dylan’s brother. Zimmerman was looking for a rare 1930s Martin guitar, the type favored by singer Joan Baez.
“Right away my antenna went up,” Odegard says. He contacted his friend Chris Weber, who owned a guitar store near the University of Minnesota. By coincidence, Weber had received a similar guitar on consignment.
Odegard swore Weber to secrecy -- the guitar was for Dylan.
They headed across the Mississippi River on Dec. 27, 1974, to Sound 80, a studio in a working-class neighborhood where guitarist Leo Kottke and singer Cat Stevens had recorded and where the 1980 hit “Funkytown” was recorded (Sound 80 has since been sold and is now used by Orfield Laboratories Inc. for testing products’ acoustical properties).
In walked Dylan, quietly, “just like one of the guys,” Odegard says.
“He wasn’t ultra-strange and scary and standing in the corner and people walking on tiptoes,” Weber remembers. The rock poet -- 34 years old at the time -- stuck out his hand and said, “Hi, I’m Bob Dylan,” Weber says.
Weber says he showed Dylan the guitar in a cramped vocal booth, and -- at Dylan’s invitation -- played a couple of his own songs for the songwriter of his generation. Dylan began teaching Weber “Idiot Wind.” Weber thought he was just a “fifth wheel” at the session and was about to retreat when Dylan gave him a “funny look” and said, “I need you to play guitar.”
“So that’s when my heart really jumped out of my chest,” Weber says.
Dylan had recorded “Idiot Wind” in New York City that September at sessions overseen by producer Phil Ramone (known for his work with Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Sinead O’Connor). But Dylan sounds venomous as he denounces a former lover in the Minneapolis version of “Idiot Wind” that ended up on the album.
Odegard credits the liveliness of the Minneapolis versions to the rhythm section of drummer Bill Berg and bassist Billy Peterson, known for their jazzy style.
Peterson, who went on to tour with rocker Steve Miller, praises Dylan’s spontaneity. After a few rehearsals with musicians who were hearing the songs for the first time, Dylan would quickly record them. “He was a genius, man,” Peterson says. “He captured the creative process. He never belabored it.”
“I think we hit a mark because he was just full of feelings and emotions, and lyrics were just streaming out of him,” says Berg, who grew up in Dylan’s hometown of Hibbing and later became a Disney animator.
Dylan held another session with the Minneapolis crew three nights later. In early 1975, “Blood on the Tracks” came out to reviews that hailed it as Dylan’s best work in years. Rolling Stone magazine recently named it No. 16 of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. It’s sold 2 million copies in the United States alone, placing it with “Blonde on Blonde” and “Desire” as among Dylan’s biggest-selling studio albums.
But the Minneapolis musicians weren’t credited on the initial pressings of the album sleeve, and nobody has bothered to amend the credits since, said Gill, co-author of “A Simple Twist of Fate.”
“Hopefully our book will redress the situation ... and accord the musicians their due,” he said in an e-mail.
While he’s disappointed he’s not credited, guitarist Weber says he holds no grudges: “I was honored and pleased that a simple twist of fate came my way.”
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