“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.”
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.”
(Photo by Mark Makin)