“Judas!”

“Hello, yes,” came the voice with a British accent over my office answering machine early one October morning 18 years ago. “My name is Keith Butler and I’m looking for Scott Bauer. I’m the man who shouted ‘Judas!’ at Bob Dylan in 1966.”

dylan (Photo by Mark Makin)

Now, on the 50th anniversary of the concert where Keith Butler let loose with perhaps the most famous heckle in rock history, it seems like as good a time as any to recount the story of my small part in unraveling the mystery.

On May 17, 1966, Dylan was nearing the end of his first European tour with the Band where he played acoustic in the first set, then electric in the second. As has been well documented in the ensuing decades, the shift from acoustic folk (which was viewed as artistically pure) to electrified rock (which was dismissed as a commercial sell out) angered fans so much they booed Dylan and walked out of his shows.

The May 17 concert rose to prominence after being bootlegged in the late 1960s and improperly labeled as the Royal Albert Hall show, which actually took place over a week later. On the tape, after 40 minutes of catcalls and boos from the audience as Dylan played his electric set, he and the Band pause just before the last song of the show.

“Judas!” someone is clearly heard yelling, followed by a smattering of applause.

Dylan, or maybe Robbie Robertson, strum their guitars.

“I don’t believe you,” Dylan says back. “You’re a liar.”

And then, off mic but still audible, Dylan — or again maybe Robertson — urges the Band to “Play fucking loud!”

With a rocket-shot like kick of the drum by Mickey Jones, the Band opens up like a hurricane and Dylan sneers the opening lines of (in my humble opinion) the greatest rock song ever written: “Once upon a time you dressed so fine, threw the bums a dime in your prime, DIDN’T YOU?!!”

The Band, and Dylan, proceed to lay down a scathing, and utterly unmatched, performance of the song. There’s a reason why it gained so much fame and notoriety in the ensuing years.

In 1998, the bootleg was finally prepared for an official release. I was fortunate enough to propose writing a story for AP, and got to interview the drummer, Mickey Jones, and CP Lee, a British author who was there that night and wrote an entire book about the show called “Like the Night.” Dylan declined to be interviewed.

Dylan-Albert-Hall-cover

In the article, I described how a documentary crew on that tour interviewed some disgruntled fans as they left unidentified shows. Some of the footage ended up in a documentary called “Eat the Document.”

I ended the piece with a quote from one of them: “Any pop group could produce better rubbish than that. It was a bloody disgrace, it was. … He’s a traitor.”

And that was that. Or so I thought.

http://www.expectingrain.com/dok/cd/98/AP.html

A few days after the story moved worldwide on the wire, I came to work at our office in the Lincoln state Capitol. Back then, before voicemail, we used an answering machine. The light was blinking and I hit play. That’s when I heard Keith Butler’s voice.

butlerkeith

He lived in Canada and left me a phone number. He claimed to be the person who had yelled “Judas!” at Dylan. More than 30 years since the concert, no one had fessed up to the yell. But here was this Canadian banker on the other end of the phone, telling me that had hadn’t been able to sleep one night so he took a walk. He bought the Toronto Sun and saw my article. He read it all the way through, and when he saw the quote at the end, recognized his own words and recalled being interviewed by a film crew after the concert.

He also remembered yelling “Judas” and being regretful. He had no idea it had become “a thing.”

It was a story so incredible, but so hard for me to verify, I decided to enlist some help. I emailed CP Lee, the author of the book, who got in touch with Butler. Along with help from a British disc jockey, they brought him back to the Manchester Free Trade Hall where he sat in the balcony where he was that night and told his story.

“Judas” had been found.

The news was widely reported, and included in an update to Lee’s book. Keith Butler died in 2002, but he and I are now forever linked in Bob Dylan lore.

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/judas-1075546.html

http://www.mtv.com/news/512709/fan-who-called-dylan-judas-breaks-33-years-of-silence/

http://expectingrain.com/dok/who/b/butlerkeith.html

http://www.expectingrain.com/dok/who/obituaries/butlerkeith.html

In the subsequent years others have come forward to claim they were the “Judas” shouter, but my money is on Keith. He was the first, and the most earnest. When Martin Scorcese put together a documentary on Dylan for PBS, he was able to find film of the moment at the concert when the yell is made, so now we can see Dylan as the band reacts.

A few years later, when I was doing a story on “The Last Waltz,” I was lucky enough to get to interview Robbie Robertson. Even though it had nothing to do with the story I was working on, I just couldn’t resist asking him about the “Judas” shout. Now here, transcribed for the first time since my 2002 interview, is his complete answer.

Give it a read while listening to the May 17, 1966, Manchester concert tonight, its 50th anniversary.

Me: “The famous comment is when the audience member yells ‘Judas!’ out from the crowd. Do you remember that actual moment?”

Robbie: “Yes.”

Me: “Do you remember who said ‘Play fucking loud’?”

Robbie: “No, I don’t.”

Me: “OK. I know people always wonder if it was you or Dylan and I mean it’s been 40 years ago, I’ve got you on the phone I had to ask.”

Robbie: “Oh right. I know what you’re talking about now. I haven’t listened to the ….”

Me: “A guy yells ‘Judas!’ and Dylan says ‘I don’t believe you’ and someone off mic says ‘Play fucking loud.'”

Robbie: “Right. I don’t remember if that was me or one of us just kind of lashing out. I don’t know. By the time we got to this part of that tour we had been booed all over United States and Canada and Australia and all over Europe. It wasn’t like our skins hadn’t gotten a little thicker and we hadn’t built some character by then. It might have been under those circumstances. At Albert Hall, and it’s questionable how much of this is from Albert Hall and how much is from Manchester, I guess that was one of the questions in the whole thing. At Albert Hall they have all these boxes there and they were all filled with the British music scene. The Beatles were in one box, the Who was in another box and the Stones were in another box. It was like all the whole music world was there for this.

It might have brought out a little bit more pepper in somebody in that they were just like, `Fuck you.’ We did play loud, you wanted to hear this bullshit.”

manchester(Photo by Mark Makin)

It’s the most wonderful time of the year

Hating on Christmas music is easy to do. After all, starting around Halloween through New Year’s it’s unavoidable and often quite horrible. But that doesn’t mean it’s universally all bad!

That’s where the happy elves at “tailgates and substitutes” come in. We’re here to guide you through the maze of holiday tunes to spend your time listening to only the very best.

Given the plethora of Christmas and holiday music out there, we know this is just scratching the surface. But it’s a damn fine start.

One of my favorite things about Christmas music is when a band takes a well-known and overdone song and makes it new again. No one did that better than Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, with their absolutely essential 2008 release “Jingle All the Way.” Nothing says Christmas like Tuvan throat singing, banjos and drumitars.

They toured to support the record, resulting in absolutely mind-blowing concerts. Here is a taste:

 

If throat singing doesn’t do it for you, how about Charlie Brown? While the song most associated with the downtrodden cartoon character isn’t technically a Christmas song, “Linus and Lucy” gets plenty of air time during this season because it debuted on the 1965 Christmas special.

Bela Fleck did a cover of it on the aforementioned Christmas record, as have numerous other artists over the years. This year, as part of a holiday revue tour with Nick Lowe, the Mexican-wrestling mask-wearing combo Los Straitjackets has been performing it as well. And they do a bang-up job. Give a listen:

 

Speaking of Nick Lowe, the 1970s singer-songwriter-producer perhaps best known for writing “What’s So Funny ’bout Peace, Love and Understanding?” put out a fantastic Christmas record last year called “Quality Street.” The standout song, and one that many of us can unfortunately relate to, is called “Christmas at the Airport.” Here is the equally delightful video:

 

No list of rock-related Christmas songs would be complete without one of the best of all time. That’s right, it’s the Kinks and “Father Christmas”:

 

A lesser-known, but beautiful, Christmas song comes to us from Rick Danko, bass player from The Band, with “Christmas Must be Tonight”:

 

One of the more clever Christmas songs, which still rings true today for all you Scrooges out there, is “Who Took the Mary Out of Christmas” from the Staple Singers.

 

This is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg of Christmas musical goodies. What’s missing?

Shut up and let him sing

One of the most magical things about great music is you never know when it’s going to transport you to someplace otherworldly, elevate your soul out of your body to a higher plane.

I’ve written a post about those rare times when that happens in concert. But these experiences aren’t limited to just live music. They can sneak up on you, when you’re listening to the radio, or your iPod, or even when you’re playing a song you’ve listened to a thousand times before but for whatever reason it strikes you in a new way. You can be alone, with friends or complete strangers.

This Friday night it happened to me and it still gives me goosebumps.

As has become a somewhat regular thing in our neighborhood, a group of about half a dozen Phish fans gathered to watch a live stream of their concert. We set up a screen outside, with professional-level speakers, and just blast out the live goodness to anyone within earshot. It’s always nice to rattle suburbia as much as possible.

On this particular night, Phish was locked in and delivering one nice, surprising tune after another. Neophytes and longtime Phish-heads were finding more than enough reasons to be ecstatic. It was the Friday night of the three-day Labor Day weekend, so everyone in attendance was in high spirits. We were laughing, sharing stories, talking about the music and generally making a ruckus. It was a grand time.

At intermission, as is also tradition, people request to watch YouTube clips to pass the time. The concert before turned into a Weird Al festival, which inspired my previous post about him. At other shows we’ve played Pink Floyd and even clips from movies. Really, whatever people feel like watching, it goes up.

This night was no different, with our host starting us off with a thoroughly entertaining, if not somewhat disturbing, clip of Shel Silverstein singing on the Johnny Cash show from 1970.

 

We were abuzz with commentary about how bizarre it was (Shel’s more of a screamer than a singer) and how incredible that this was broadcast to mainstream America on a major television network. Seeing that clip brought out the request to watch when Bob Dylan appeared on the show.

Cash invited Dylan to appear on the the very first episode of his show, taped at the Grand Old Opry in Nashville, and broadcast in June 1969.  Cash and Dylan were friends. Cash famously wrote a letter to 1964 to Sing Out! magazine defending Dylan from criticism about the direction of  his songs at the time, excoriating Dylan’s critics in the folk music world to “SHUT UP! …. AND LET HIM SING!” Dylan frequently referred to that letter throughout his life, including the statement he issued after Cash died in 2003 in which he said he has kept a copy of that magazine because the letter “meant the world to me.” Dylan referred to Cash as the North Star: “you could guide your ship by him — the greatest of the greats then and now.”

At the time Dylan appeared on Cash’s show, he wasn’t keeping the highest of profiles. Just a month prior to the taping he released “Nashville Skyline,” his country record featuring “Lay Lady Lay” where his voice sounds completely different than what it had before, thanks largely to his giving up smoking cigarettes (at least that’s what he said). Dylan wasn’t performing concerts, instead staying mostly at home to raise a family. Prior to the taping of the show, in May 1969, Dylan had been seen only once publicly before that since his 1966 motorcycle accident. In between he had been cutting the Basement Tapes with the Band.

But here he was on network TV, sitting down with the great Johnny Cash. The sing Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country.”

That’s the clip my friends and I cued up on this warm summer night, in between sets of the Phish concert. From the first haphazard notes strummed on acoustic guitar, as Cash tries to get in the groove with Dylan, mumbling something to his seat mate in the living room set, we were transfixed. No one in my group spoke. Cash looks incredibly young. Dylan looks like a child, his hair sheered short. They both are wearing suits.

“If you’re traveling in the North Country fair,” Dylan sings. His voice is clear, crystalline, it cuts through the night air. And then Cash. No one sounds like him. It’s a duet, but it’s rough. They’re not always on cue. They don’t always sing together. With Dylan sitting uncomfortably close,  they bob and fidget, duck and weave, like two musical prize fighters, never really engaging the cameras but still being utterly mesmerizing. The song ends . They shake hands.

This is a clip I’ve seen dozens of times. I’ve heard the audio of it even more. But on this night, for whatever reason, it sent chills down my spine. Our group, that just minutes before had so much to say about everything, is speechless.

When the final note floats out into the summer air, everyone takes a collective breath and reflects on what an incredible clip it is. Forty-five years after it was recorded, on a song everyone knew, two musical giants are able to captivate once again.

This is what great music is all about.

The Basement Tapes

It may not be the Holy Grail of lost music, but you can hear it from here.

I’m talking about Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes, the legendary collection of songs Dylan cut with members of The Band in the basement of the house known as Big Pink in Woodstock, N.Y. The story is so well-known, it’s almost become a cliche: Dylan, at the height of his fame in 1966, crashes on his Triumph motorcycle near his home in Woodstock. Just how bad the accident was is unclear, but it was enough for Dylan to pull the plug on more planned live shows and instead retreat to Big Pink where members of what came to be known as The Band were living.

big_pink

It was there, with keyboardist Garth Hudson‘s tape machine at the ready, that Dylan and his buddies started making music. They played old classics, tried out some new stuff, and goofed around. Dylan sent some of the songs off as demos for others to record. Soon the word got out that Dylan was making music again, quietly. Then a handful of the songs made their way onto the first bootleg album, the two-record “The Great White Wonder” that hit streets in 1969. Half of the songs were from the Basement Tapes. Dylan fans were shocked. How much more was there? Turns out there was more than anyone guessed.

dylan great white wonder

In 1975, in an attempt to beat the bootleggers at their own game, Dylan and the Band released a double record called, wait for it, “The Basement Tapes,” with 24 songs. Trouble was, Robbie Robertson added overdubs, some songs that the Band were working on that weren’t recorded in Woodstock, and generally mucked up the works.

basement_tapes_LP

Still, the fans wanted more. So it’s no surprise that over the years more and more songs from the basement at Big Pink, Dylan’s nearby home and later bass player Rick Danko‘s place, started to circulate among collectors. In the 1990s, two bootleg collections of songs _ one five discs and the other 10 _ made it out, with more than 100 songs total. They billed themselves as the complete Basement Tapes.

They weren’t.

genuine

On Nov. 4, Dylan is finally releasing what is being billed as the truly complete Basement Tapes, with 30 _ count them _ 30 songs that have never circulated before. The collection includes 138 tunes over six compact discs and has the Dylan collectors’ world abuzz with anticipation. The 20 reel-to-reel tapes had been in possession of Garth Hudson _ the guy who recorded them _ until 10 years ago when he sold them to a collector. According to Rolling Stone, Dylan’s office cut a deal with the collector in order to get them released commercially for the first time.

So what is it about these recordings that make them so special? Well, it’s Dylan and the Band in their prime, for one. Two, it’s a window into them just having fun, with no one else around, in a totally relaxed environment where they didn’t anticipate anyone would be listening nearly 50 years later. And three, the songs, man, the songs. Sure, there are a lot of goof-ups that don’t merit multiple listenings, like “See You Later Allen Ginsburg,” but then there are the others. “I Shall Be Released.” “Quinn the Eskimo.” “Too Much of Nothing.” “You Ain’t Going Nowhere.”

The lyrics are surreal without being psychedelic. They sound like they came from carnival barkers, traveling circuses, wandering minstrels. They arrived from the ground up, like they’d always been there, organic music just waiting to be unleashed. Real. Living. Awesome.

“Buy me a flute
And a gun that shoots
Tailgates and substitutes
Strap yourself
To the tree with roots
You ain’t goin’ nowhere”

 

“Ev’rybody’s building the big ships and the boats
Some are building monuments
Others, jotting down notes
Ev’rybody’s in despair
Ev’ry girl and boy
But when Quinn the Eskimo gets here
Ev’rybody’s gonna jump for joy
Come all without, come all within
You’ll not see nothing like the mighty Quinn”

 

They have titles like “Tony Montgomery,” “Lo and Behold!” “Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread” and “Million Dollar Bash.”

And then there are ones Dylan never recorded or gave to anyone else. Like “Sign on the Cross.”

 

“We were playing with absolute freedom,” guitarist Robbie Robertson said in the Rolling Stone article. “We weren’t doing anything we thought anyone else would ever hear, as long as we lived. . . . It was like the Watergate tapes. A lot of the stuff, Bob would say, ‘We should destroy this.’ ”

It’s a good thing for us they didn’t.

Nov. 4.

Circle it on the calendar.

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The best worst concert

What’s the best worst concert you’ve ever been to?

Sure, we all want every concert we attend to be a transcendent experience — our own personal Woodstock. But hey, life just don’t work like that. Am I right? Unfortunately, sometimes we fork over our hard-earned cash, invest all our hopes in dreams on whoever is taking the stage and, well, things just don’t work out as planned.

We’re not talking tragedies, like people getting trampled at The Who concert in Cincinnati, stabbings while the Rolling Stones played at Altamont or anything like that. We’re just talking harmless stinkers, for whatever reason.

Now, one person’s trash is another’s treasure. So what we may think royally sucks may be remembered as one of the greatest shows of all time. We don’t have to dig very deep in the “tailgates and substitutes” archive to find the most famous example of that. We’ve written about it before, and we will again, and we are right now:

Bob Dylan, Manchester Free Trade Hall, May 17, 1966: Long mis-reported as from the Royal Albert Hall, this show is so famous entire books have been written about it. For those who don’t know, this show came in the midst of Dylan’s European tour in where he played electric, with The Band, for the first time. And why does this matter? To folk purists, playing electrified rock music was the equivalent of selling out, giving up on The Movement. It may be hard to fathom today, but it was a very real feeling.

Luckily for us, the tour is well documented both in audio recordings and through film shot by famed director D.A. Pennebaker. The anger from the crowds each night was palatable, from the slow hand-clapping to the boos to the people who walked out. But the most famous night was in Manchester when, just before Dylan was about to play the last song of the night, someone yelled out, “Judas!” The crowd claps and chatters nervously. Dylan, their folk-rock idol, had just been called the betrayer of Christ. Dylan strums his guitar and slurs into the mic, “I don’t believe you. Your’re a LIAR.” Then someone, perhaps Dylan, maybe Robbie Robertson, maybe even Rick Danko, says, “Play FUCKING loud.” And with that, drummer Mickey Jones hits the snare like a rocket shot, the band explodes in the most glorious cocaphony of sound, and Dylan just sneers the best live version of “Like a Rolling Stone” known to man.

Now, nearly 50 years later, and even earlier than that, this is recognized as one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, moments in rock history. But that night, to many in the crowd, it was pure musical blasphemy and the worst show they ever saw.

In a future post I will tell the story about my small role in the history of this night, which occurred years before I was born. It’s a fun tale, but one off-topic and too long for now.

“1776 was a long time ago”: While opinions were divided the night of that Dylan show, it was a near unanimous feeling that the Black Sabbath concert in 1980 in Milwaukee was a total disaster. How do we know? There’s a recording. The widely accepted title of said concert, Black Sabbath Riot, is just about right. If you’ve never heard it before, you’re welcome in advance. This is truly one of the best moments of live music disaster ever captured. Just know that the band was hours late, someone threw a bottle, the crowd was drunk, the Sabbath’s stage guy, complete with thick British accent, didn’t exactly calm the waters by dissing the American revolution. The whole thing is awesome, but fast forward to 3:30 for the money shot:

 

Bob Dylan, Keith Richards and Ron Wood, Live Aid, July 13, 1985: OK. I’m a Dylan fan. Get over it. But if we’re going to explore some of the truly worst concert performances of all time, we have to touch on Dylan’s Live Aid set, which happens to correspond with one of the lowest points of Dylan’s long and storied career. Picked, rightly, to close the American portion of the epic worldwide extravaganza, Dylan gets an appropriately star-studded introduction by none other than Jack Nicholson, but things go downhill from there. Dylan breaks a guitar string, Wood gives him his guitar, and well, then things get weird.

 

But you know what saves this whole performance? Dylan’s off-hand comment, once again against the tide, saying that raising money for starving people in Africa is great and everything, but why isn’t anyone doing anything to help farmers pay off their bank loans back in the United States?

 

Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp took note, and Farm Aid was born. Dylan, of course, was invited to play and he redeemed himself with a killer set, with a little help from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers:

 

Grateful Dead, Woodstock and Monterey Pop: Jerry Garcia used to joke about how the Dead always failed at the worst possible times. Case in point, their performances at two of the seminal rock festivals, Woodstock and Monterey Pop. At the first, in 1967, the Dead were sandwiched, as Jerry said, in the worst possible slot in rock history. They came after The Who’s American debut, where they smashed their instruments and blew the mind of the audience, and just before Jimi Hendrix did his thing, which we all know about. Well, what about Woodstock? At that one, something went wrong with their instruments. They weren’t grounded correctly for electricity. So every time they played a note, they got a shock. No wonder they didn’t make the movie, or that their live set from either show has yet to be officially released.

This awesome appearance from 9-17-1987 on David Letterman captures some great Garcia moments, including the interview where he talks about their failures. That’s at the 13 minute mark. But take 15 minutes and treat yourself to the whole thing:

And now it’s your turn. What are you best worst concert moments? 

Have you ever met a rock star?

Have you ever met a rock star?

And sorry, no, running into the dedicated “tailgates and substitutes” staff does not count.

When I talk about meeting a rock star, I’m looking for stories about chance encounters, random meetings, and even organized events that resulted in good tales to tell. I know there are stories out there, because I’ve heard them from you. I’m thinking of a certain someone whose dad ran into Prince at the height of “Purple Rain” fame when he made a quick stop at a Minneapolis convenience story, full entourage in tow.

Image

Entire books have been written about encounters with rock stars. One of my favorites, “Encounters with Bob Dylan,” collects first-person accounts of running into the always enigmatic Dylan. He, perhaps more than anyone, seems to leave people with funny, odd or just plain bizarre tales to tell.

Recently Dylan fan Mikel Kelly passed along this anecdote in a story he wrote about his desire NOT to run into Dylan:

A co-worker of mine spotted him at the airport years ago and did not hesitate to greet him.

“Mr.Dylan, I really enjoy your music,” she said.

“Oh, yeah?” he countered. “Name three of my songs.”

She got so flustered she couldn’t think of any and he left her there flabbergasted and embarrassed.

Similarly, I remember a story written for the University of Nebraska-Omaha student paper back in the 1990s when Dylan was playing there. Two students said they saw Dylan walking out of the local Fuddruckers and approached him.

“You’re Bob Dylan,” one of them said. Dylan, whose hands were in his coat because it was winter, said nothing. “Can I shake your hand?” the young fan asked.

“No,” Dylan replied.

“Why not?” the student asked.

“Because my hands are in my pockets,” Dylan said.

One summer I worked at the Three Penny theater in Lincoln Park in Chicago. It was right next door to Lounge Ax. I never saw any rock stars, but a woman I worked with told me about the homeless man, wearing a hooded sweatshirt in the middle of a hot summer, who came to see the 1992 John Mellencamp movie “Falling from Grace.” Ever heard of it? Don’t feel bad. No one has.

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The homeless man bought his ticket and sat down inside the nearly empty theater. A large man who was with him also bought a ticket, but stood in the back the entire time. When the movie was over, they left together. The ticket seller was perplexed until someone ran up to her as the odd couple crossed the street: “Do you know who that was? It’s Bob Dylan!”

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Unfortunately, I have no Dylan encounter story to tell. I have been lucky enough to interview several people close to him, including Roger McGuinn, the drummer from his famous 1966 tour Mickey Jones and the Band lead songwriter and rock icon Robbie Robertson. I got the chance to ask Robertson if he recalled the infamous show where a fan, angry at Dylan breaking with his folk roots by “selling out” and playing electric guitar, shouted “Judas!” from the crowd. Robertson had no idea what I was talking about. More about that show in a future post.

There is no other performer I would like to meet more than Dylan. I’ve tried many times over the years, but I’ve found the closer you come to him the weirder it gets. For years, whenever I would seek an interview, the process was to type out three questions, fax them to Dylan’s publicist Elliot Mintz, and await a response. Each time, after about a week, Mintz told me the same thing: “Mr. Dylan has reviewed your questions. He will decline the interview request.”

As a side note, those unfamiliar with Mintz should check out the website he just created that includes hundreds of hours of interviews of rock stars over the years including Dylan, John Lennon and more. Just make sure to skip the overly long and somewhat creepy intro video:

http://www.elliotmintz.com/

While Dylan remains out of reach, I have had the chance to interview many rock stars over my career and have met a handful in person. I was lucky enough to interview Pete Seeger by phone twice. The first time I called, I had to wait for him to get on the line because he was out in the barn fixing a washing machine. How perfect is that? Even though he was 89 at the time, Seeger sang songs, told stories and was a great interview.

Probably the most entertaining rock star interview I did was with Kid Rock. Harley-Davidson set it up to announce he would be headlining the motorcycle maker’s 110th anniversary concert in Milwaukee. The PR people arranged a time for me to talk with him and indicated that someone would be calling to connect me with Mr. Rock. Sure enough, right on schedule, my phone rang. Caller ID showed it was a Michigan 248 area code. I answered the phone.

“Hi. This is Kid Rock.”

He was calling me from his home phone.

Rock went on to tell hilarious, profanity laced stories about the last time he played the Harley show and how the crowd turned ugly when the surprise headliner turned out to be Elton John, not Bob Seeger or Aerosmith as Rock said many of the fans had told him between sets they were hoping for.

“I’m friends with Elton. I was at his wedding. I love him, this, that and the other. But not for fucking Harley Davidson’s 100th anniversary!” Rock said.

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But enough about me, now I want to hear from all of you. I know there are more close encounters stories out there beyond the one about Prince. I’ve heard you tell them! Now is the time to share.

 

 

Beneath the Waves: The country edition

Gentle readers, after a couple jam-band heavy postings it’s time to shift gears for our midweek news update. For whatever reason, much of the news that’s come across the transom of late has to do with our two favorite kinds of music: country and western. So sit back, kick your boots off, and check out these new and upcoming releases:

Sturgill Simpson: This is a new name to us here at “tailgates and substitutes,” but any fan of true country music will want to check out Sturgill Simpson. He’s part Willie Nelson, part Waylon Jennings, part Dale Watson, and all original. He’s out with just his second record, the awesomely titled “Metamodern Sounds In Country Music”on May 13. You can listen to the whole thing here:

http://tiny.cc/4a9hfx

Anyone who feels like modern country is nothing more than pop-ish bubblegum nonsense that all sounds the same, and is generally about blue jeans and pickup trucks, need to give Simpson’s roadhouse hillbilly songs a listen. If you want to see him in the flesh performing, there is this clip from Tuesday night:

 

The Old 97′s: These guys didn’t blow me away when I saw them in concert three years ago, but their latest record, “Most Messed Up,” is making me give them another shot. It’s down and dirty, gritty and bloody, perfect for the late-night, hazy country bar. Give it a listen here:

http://tiny.cc/m2aifx

Sure, the songs start to sound a little repetitive after a while, but The Old 97’s do a great job here singing about what it’s like to hit middle age, still on the road, still heading for another joint, just a little worse for wear. You won’t find these themes explored much on most of the music that passes for country on the radio nowadays.

Kelsey Waldon: This little-known alt-country singer/songwriter has a little more twang than may be to the liking of those who prefer their country delivered by the likes of Willie and Johnny, but she can deliver a well-crafted 3-minute song with the best of them. Her full-length debut, “The Gold Mine,” comes out May 24. Here’s a little taste of her doing an acoustic version of “High in Heels”:

http://kelseywaldon.com/

The Levon Helm Band: Coming out July 1 is the latest installment in live recordings made by Levon Helm, the former drummer for The Band, at his barn in the final years of his life. “The Levon Helm Band – The Midnight Ramble Sessions Volume 3″ features performances from between 2005 and 2010 including guest artists Chris Robinson, Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint, among others. This song isn’t on the new release or anything, but it does capture the band from the same era. Helm was bringing it, all the way up to the end, even though his voice was gone:

 

And now for something completely different…

It was 37 years ago today that the Grateful Dead delivered what many, including me, to be their best concert ever. That would be the famous Cornell 5-8-77 gig. Unbelievably, the Dead organization claims they can’t release it because they don’t own the original reels. I’m not buying it. Expect a massive box set at some point in the future. But until then, soak it in here: