Here’s a clipof Bob Dylan with the centerpiece track taken from one of his strongest efforts, 1975’s Blood on the Tracks. The album would be one of the most critically praised albums of his career, coming as he was out of something of a creative slump, and also at the beginning of the end of his marriage to wife Sara Lownds Dylan. At the end of a writing stint after his first tour in eight years, he had the best songs in five years on his hands, and he knew that he owed it to his own muse to make sure that they were conveyed properly.
In the winter of 1974, Bob Dylan ruminated on his latest recording session for his upcoming Blood on the Tracks album. The album was recorded months earlier in New York City, with hot session musicians under the watchful eye of producer Phil Ramone. The sessions had been productive but tense, with Dylan’s modus operandi grating on the nerves of the musicians.
Dylan is a spontaneous mercurial artist demanding the same of his band. And on this occasion, these sessioners demanded consistency and time to “get it right” from their leader. But, Dylan never played the same song the same way twice, sometimes even with different chords. And as usual, he changed the words to the songs on the fly, making the establishment of cues for the musicians to be something of a moving target.
Needless to say, although the tracks were serviceable ( and a few later to appear on the The Bootleg Series, Vols. 1-3 : Rare And Unreleased, 1961-1991 compilation in the 80s), Dylan knew that the material was his best in years, deserving a treatment that was off the beaten track. So after the New York sessions, and after the release date for the record was pushed back, Dylan had time to re-think what it was that he really wanted. In an effort to bring it all back home, that’s where he went; back to Minnesota. And with a call to his brother David, a local music producer, he arranged sessions at a local Minneapolis recording studio, Sound 80.
David Zimmerman had several connections on the local scene, mostly for the advertising world who needed musicians and studio space for their ad campaign jingles. He also provided studio time for local musicians and songwriters, often using the same musicians on the sessions. Such were the conditions of this particular set of sessions, around Christmas time in ’74. Additionally, Dylan asked his brother to see if he couldn’t locate a 1937 0042G Martin acoustic guitar, a half-size guitar which had been made popular by Dylan’s former flame Joan Baez.
Luckily, a local musician and music shop owner Chris Weber had one, although it was a ’34. He was asked to bring it to the session to see if Dylan was interested in buying it and using it on the record. Dylan introduced himself to Weber, and introduced his young son Jakob too. Weber played the guitar for Dylan, the two men in a small sound booth, sheltering there while the rest of the band tuned up. After asking Weber to play a tune, Dylan played one of his own, using the guitar. “You play well,” Dylan said. “Here’s one of mine.” The song he played was “Idiot Wind”, the first song soon to be recorded at the session that day. It seemed that the guitar Weber had would do.
Just before the session began, Weber loitered in the booth while the musicians gathered around Dylan. Weber hoped that he’d be allowed to stay and watch the recording. Then Dylan turned, looking through the booth at Weber with a puzzled look on his face. Weber’s heart sank. “I was hoping I could stay and watch the sessions”. Dylan eyed Weber. “No, man,” he said. ” I need you to play guitar on this.”
Weber jumped from the booth in excitement, guitar in hand, knowing that he would play on one of Dylan’s greatest tracks. He would be a part of history.
For more about on this incredible story of Bob Dylan’s re-recording of his Blood on the Tracks album, read Andy Gill’s A Simple Twist of Fate: Bob Dylan and the Making of Blood on the Tracks as I’m doing right now.