Bob Dylan celebrated his 71st birthday on May 24th.
I have been a huge Dylan fan ever since the release of Like A Rolling Stone. It was one of those 45s that I played over and over and over again. I couldn’t get enough of that six minute single, an electric Bob Dylan song that exploded out from the radio with that incredible opening snare drum shot and improvised organ riff from Al Kooper. I wasn’t really into his early folk work at the time, but after Like A Rolling Stone, I went back and picked up most of his early records. Years later, Rolling Stone Magazine listed it as the greatest song of all time. I can’t really argue with that, although there are several other songs, that for me, are right there along side of it.
I continued to follow Dylan’s musical path though every single album he released after that. From favorites like Blond on Blonde, John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline from the 1960s to New Morning, Blood on the Tracks and Slow Train Coming from the 70s and on to the more recent Time Out of Mind, Love and Theft and Modern Times from the past decade. All great records that show an unparalleled evolution of musical styles and sounds..and of course in Dylan’s case, voices.
February 11, 1974 was the first time I ever saw Bob Dylan perform live. It was at the Oakland Coliseum, part of a massive 40 concert tour, with The Band backing him up. It was Dylan’s first tour in almost eight years, and as I recall, a very hard ticket to acquire. Dylan and the Band really pushed his songs to the limit, into loud and fast rock and roll versions before the Band themselves played a set of their own original material. After a long intermission, Dylan played a solo-acoustic set that led into another Band only set. Then Bob Dylan and the Band, played several more songs, ending with a rousing version of Like a Rolling Stone. Several minutes of thunderous applause passed, and they all retuned for a couple of encore performances to end the evening. It was such an exciting and memorable show, seeing and hearing a musical icon and one of my favorite artists for the very first time. After the Flood , a live album from the tour (recorded mostly in Los Angeles), was release in June of 1974.
The next time I saw Dylan perform live was in 1976 at the Band’s Last Waltz at Winterland in San Francisco. He performed five songs, two of which are included in the film (all five are on the soundtrack). It was one of the most amazing concerts I have ever attended. $25. for a Thanksgiving turkey dinner and musical extravaganza. If you haven’t ever seen the Martin Scorsese directed film, the Last Waltz is a must see for all music fans.
Over the years I have seen Bob Dylan about two dozen times. The next time were two shows I attended at the Warfield Theater in 1979. Dylan started his Slow Train Coming tour, playing an extended run of fourteen shows at the San Francisco venue. I was there on opening night when he only performed Born-Again Christian songs from the newly released Slow Train album along with several unreleased songs that would appear on Saved, in 1980. Not one of his secular hits was performed and people booed and walked out during the performance. It was quite the controversial evening. It was hysterical. Dylan had converted to Christianity and had been saved. He was a Christian for about three years until he reverted back to Judaism and had his son Jakob, Bar Mitzvahed in Jerusalem. I was not invited!
Bob Dylans’ music has meant a lot to me over the years. His songs have touched and inspired me. His concerts have excited and frustrated me, but I have stuck with him and followed his music through the ups and down of his long career. I have always found something wonderful in each album and I continue to get excited when he releases a new record or puts out another never-before-released classic from his Bootleg Series recordings.
Recently I pulled out and scanned these photographs I took of Bob Dylan and the Band at the Oakland show in 1974. It was a time when you didn’t need a press/photo pass to bring a camera into a show. I used a 200mm lens on a Mamiya-Sekor body shooting a very high-speed Agfa transparency film which I pushed two or three times. Seeing these images again after all these years, really brought me back to that wonderful time in Dylan’s long illustrious career and I time when I would go to shows almost every week. Great memories of a great musical performance. Enjoy the images!
Bob Dylan and the Band at the Oakland Coliseum, 1974 : Bob Dylan – guitar, piano, vocals, harmonica, Robbie Robertson -guitar, vocals, Rick Danko – bass, fiddle, vocals, Richard Manuel – piano, vocals, drums, Garth Hudson – organ, clavinet, piano, synthesizer, saxophone and Levon Helm – drums, mandolin, vocals
All photographs © Norman Maslov