Posts Tagged ‘Bob Dylan & The Band’

Saturday Single No. 496

Saturday, May 14th, 2016

Here, edited slightly, is one of this blog’s earliest posts, originally offered here on February 5, 2007:

When I was a kid, the man across the alley – Leo Rau—was a jobber. That’s what my dad said he was. I didn’t know what a jobber was, but from what I could see of Mr. Rau’s work life, it was probably a lot of fun: In the Raus’ garage were boxes of candy and cases of cigarettes, and boxes and boxes of 45 rpm records.

What being a jobber meant, of course, was that Leo Rau had a chain of vending machines that he kept filled with the good stuff of life: Snickers, Nut Rolls and Juicy Fruit gum among the candy; Camels, Winstons and Herbert Tareytons among the cigarettes, and performers such as Sandy Posey, Petula Clark and Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass on the records destined for juke boxes in the St. Cloud area.

As I headed into my teens, being across the alley from the Raus seemed like a pretty good deal. Steve Rau, who was a few years older than I was, decided one day to get rid of his comic book collection, and gave it to me: Lots of Jughead and Archie, some war comics (stories of World War II, which was just more than twenty years past), and comics based on television shows of the mid-1950s, which I didn’t recall at all. It was a treasure trove.

And on several occasions, Mr. Rau passed on to me a box of 45 rpm records. I don’t recall everything he gave to me; I know one of them was Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” because I still have it. Another was the subject of this little piece, ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” by Bob Dylan and The Band, released as the B-side to Dylan’s” I Want You” (Columbia 43683). There are a few others that Mr. Rau gave me that have survived the forty years since I was thirteen.

And it’s remarkable that any of them survived. You see, at thirteen, I was distinctly unhip. I did not listen to Top 40 radio. I had only a few LPs and no singles to speak of in my record collection. And I didn’t listen to the records Mr. Rau gave me – I used them for target practice with my BB gun.

I cringe. I have no idea how many 45s I aimed and shot at, punching neat little holes in the grooves. Maybe a hundred. A lot of the records Mr. Rau gave me were country & western, a genre that was far less cool (and far more real and gritty) than country music is today. I remember a lot of Sandy Posey, Sonny James and Buck Owens, records that it would be nice to have today. But I know a good share of the records that met my BBs were pop and rock, simply because of the two for sure that I know survived: the Procol Harum and the Dylan. And it’s knowing how close I came to destroying the Dylan record that makes me shake my head in something near disbelief.

Here’s what Dave Marsh said about the record in his “Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made,” where he ranked the B-side at No. 243.

“If you liked the jingly folk-rock of ‘I Want You’ enough to run out and buy the single without waiting for the album (which only turned out to be Blonde on Blonde), you got the surprise of your life: A B side taken from Dylan’s recent European tour on which and a rock band (which only turned out to be The Band) did things to ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,’ a song from Highway 61 Revisited, that it’s still risky to talk about in broad daylight.”

Marsh continues: “Rock critics like to make a big deal about B sides but there are only maybe a dozen great ones in the whole history of singles. This one’s rank is indisputable, though, because it offers something that wasn’t legally available until the early Seventies: a recorded glimpse of Dylan’s onstage prowess. ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’ came out before anybody ever thought of bootlegging rock shows, before anybody this side of Jimi Hendrix quite understood Dylan as a great rock and roll stage performer. And so this vicious, majestic music, hidden away in the most obscure place he could think of putting it, struck with amazing force.”

The group behind Dylan wasn’t exactly The Band: The drummer for the European tour was Mickey Jones. Levon Helm had become fed up with performing in front of angry and jeering crowds who wanted to hear Bob Dylan the folksinger and were being presented with Bob Dylan the rock and roll performer. He’d gone back to Arkansas and wouldn’t reunite with the other four members of what became The Band until after the tour, when he joined them and Dylan in Woodstock (where the six of them began recording the music later released as The Basement Tapes and where The Band began work on its debut, Music From Big Pink.)

The version of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” that so entrances Marsh was recorded in Liverpool, England, on May 14, 1966, just three days before the so-called “Albert Hall” concert, which actually took place at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester (and was released in 1998 as The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966).

I look at the fragile 45 that survived my BB gun and shake my head. It’s undeniably a treasure, but it didn’t survive because I knew that. It didn’t survive when so many other records were splintered by BBs because it was by Bob Dylan. As unhip as I was at the ages of twelve and thirteen, I had no real good idea who Bob Dylan was; that awareness would take at least another four to five years. It was an accident, pure and simple, that I never looked past the sights of my BB rifle at the Dylan record – a happy accident, to be sure. Historically, the sounds on the record are priceless; musically, they’re astounding.

Dave Marsh sums up his comments about the record: “Today it sounds like the reapings of a whirwind, Dylan’s voice as draggy, druggy and droogy as the surreal Mexican beatnik escapade he’s recounting, Robbie Robertson carving dense mathematical figures on guitar, Garth Hudson working pure hoodoo on organ. Slurred and obtuse as Little Richard reading Ezra Pound, there’s a magnificence here so great that, if you had to, you could make the case for rock and roll as a species of art using this record and nothing else.”

The riddle I find is this: The label on the 45 from 1966 says clearly “Recorded in Liverpool, England,” and the date of that show was May 14, 1966. And the Live 1966 “official bootleg” set released in 1998, says just as clearly that everything in the set was recorded in Manchester three days later. But the video below from the Live 1966 set sounds the same as my B-side.

So is it Liverpool or Manchester? I don’t know, but because the first recording date that I saw for that singular B-side was fifty years ago today, the supposed Liverpool performance of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” by Bob Dylan (and most of The Band), is today’s Saturday Single.

‘Well, It’s Sugar For Sugar And Salt For Salt . . .’

Monday, August 16th, 2010

A couple of days ago, my mom and I were out running some of her errands, including a stop at the tailor shop at the far end of Waite Park, the city west of St. Cloud. Now, the St. Cloud area is not all that large, and the tailor shop is really not all that distant; when we were in the Twin Cities, the Texas Gal and I would drive that far for a quart of milk. But during the nearly eight years of living once more in the small scale of the St. Cloud metro area, my sense of distance has shifted back, and going to something “all the way on the other end of town” seems like a longer trip than it used to.

And on this trip, as we left the tailor shop with a few more stops left, the sky gave us the rain it had been promising all morning. As we wended our way east, we did so to flashes of lightning, the rumble of near-constant thunder and the heavy splash of rain on the car as it came down almost faster than the windshield wipers could deal with it. I drove slowly, but was never forced to stop as we made our way back to the East Side and her home in Sauk Rapids. The rain eased a little as we got near her place, and I realized I was half-humming, half-singing a Bob Dylan tune under my breath: “Crash On The Levee (Down In The Flood).”

The first time I heard the song was on Dylan’s second greatest hits package, which included an informal version of the tune recorded with Happy Traum. Here’s how the song sounded on New Year’s Eve 1971, when Dylan joined The Band at the New York Academy of Music near the end of the concert that wound up being released by The Band as Rock of Ages. (This performance and three others featuring Dylan with The Band were released in 2001 as part of a remastered and expanded version of Rock of Ages.)

Video deleted

At All-Music Guide, one can find listings for about a hundred CDs that contain versions of the song, whether it’s called “Down In The Flood” (as it was on that second Dylan hits set in the early 1970s), “Crash on the Levee” or “Crash On The Levee (Down In The Flood),” as it’s currently listed on Dylan’s website. And there are some interesting versions of the song out there. One of them comes from what seems to me an unlikely source: Blood, Sweat & Tears covered the song for the opening track of its New Blood album in 1972. It’s an odd arrangement. I don’t think the horn parts work, but there’s a nice groove that would otherwise have worked nicely if it had been left alone.

Another performer who covered the song early was British folksinger Sandy Denny, who included it on her 1971 album, The North Star Grassman And The Ravens. Here’s Denny performing the song as a member of Fairport Convention. I believe the performance is from May 4, 1974, at the Sanders Theater on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Thanks to The Night Owl Presents for some information.)

I wrote the other week about current bands I listen to, and I missed one: The Derek Trucks Band. Trucks is, of course, the nephew of Butch Trucks, long-time drummer for the Allman Brothers Band; that association brought the younger Trucks an apprenticeship that would be hard to match anywhere, and the Derek Trucks Band has been recording and releasing music since 1997. Last year’s Already Free led off with a blistering performance of “Down In The Flood.”

That should do it for today. Have a good Monday, and I’ll most likely be back here Wednesday with another installment of the Ultimate Jukebox.