by Richard Lewis


A week or so ago I went to see Roger McGuinn at the City Varieties in Leeds. It was a good evening with McGuinn alternating between his electric Rickenbacker and an acoustic 12 string. He opened with an electric “My Back Pages” followed by an acoustic “Ballad of Easy Rider” which he introduced by telling us how Peter Fonda had taken Dylan to a New York screening of an early cut of the film. He managed to get Dylan to agree to write a song for the film. Dylan immediately scribbled the lyrics down on a cocktail napkin and handed them to Fonda saying, “McGuinn will know what to do”. Fonda then went to McGuinn saying, “Bob wants you to have this” so McGuinn put them to music.

Also in the set were “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” (without the McGuinn verse), “Mr Tambourine Man”, “Pretty Boy Floyd” and “Dink’s Song”. He also sang ‘Rabbit’ Brown’s version of “Times Ain’t What They Used To Be” with the couplet “Sugar for sugar, salt for salt / If you get in trouble, it’s your own damn fault. He did an amazing version of “Eight Miles High” inspired, he said, by Coltrane, Shankar and Segovia. The song was written about the Byrds experiences on their first visit to England in 1965. I remember going to see them at Finsbury Park Astoria with David Crosby in a wonderful green suede cape.

By coincidence I have just read “All The Rage” which is the autobiography of Ian ‘Mac’ McLagan of the Small Faces. In 1996 he was in the lounge at Los Angeles Airport when he spotted Graham Nash and David Crosby. He waved to Nash who he had known since the Small Faces and Hollies toured together in 1966. He says hello and Nash introduces him to Crosby.

Though I’d bumped into him a couple of times since those early days I didn’t expect him to remember me. He didn’t. We chatted until it was time for my flight, then I went back to the line of people waiting to board. As I turned to wave, I caught David pointing at me with a knowing look and saying something I was too far away to hear across the airport lounge. Graham beckoned me back.

‘David didn’t recognize you, I told him you’re Ian McLagan of the Small Faces’

‘We loved you’, said David, pointing a fat finger at me, his big face beaming. ‘In “Eight Miles High” that line is about you guys!” You could’ve knocked me down with a feather! Whenever I’d heard that song, the two words ‘small faces’ had always stuck out, even if I wasn’t paying attention but I’d never worked out exactly what it was about. Now I knew. The line was ‘In places, Small Faces abound’ and was meant as a salute from one band to another. It had taken a long time to find that out. But the moment I got to Memphis I bought a Byrds Greatest Hits CD so I could hear it, knowing what it meant, for the first time. I wish Steve had known.

The whole book is a good read with a few Dylan references including the famous exchange when Dylan was approached by a large man saying:

Hello, Bob. I’m Peter Grant, I manage Led Zeppelin.’ There was a short tense silence, then Bob said: ‘I don’t come to you with my problems.’

There is a chapter devoted to how Mac came to be in Dylan’s band for the 1984 tour of Europe. There is not much communication between Dylan and the Band but having already been in Verona for two days and not seen him he suddenly joins them for a drink. They drink ‘greyhounds’, a combination of vodka and grapefruit. They get talking about songs.

We asked all the questions that we’d been waiting years to ask. I mean, he was talking plain and pulling no punches, he was answering all our questions, but it was too much all in one go. The next day I could hardly remember anything about our heartfelt conversation I’d looked forward to for years, all I had was a list on the back of a hotel postcard, another bleary self-portrait and a bad hangover. Of the seven songs he wrote down, we did play two of them: ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’ and ‘Forever Young’.

At the Coliseum in Verona the band go to their dressing room and Dylan goes to his.

After a while it became apparent that Bob wasn’t going to see us before the show, and even worse, we weren’t going to get a set list. When Bill Graham came into the dressing room I asked if he could have a word in Bob’s ear and soon after he came back and brought Bob with him. He was still wearing the same clothes from two days ago, and before we got to the question of a set list, he said:

‘Hey, Ian, what are they wearing out there?’

‘Bob, it’s raining, they’re wearing raincoats.’

‘What colours are they wearing?’

‘Black, some yellow, a few red, you know, raincoats.’ I couldn’t believe I was having this conversation.

‘Hey, I like your shirt.’ He was pointing at me. This was my chance to show solidarity with my hero.

‘Would you like it? It’s yours,’ I said, unbuttoning it and handing it to him.

‘Thanks.’ He put it on over his T-shirt. Bob never wore my shirt again after that night in Verona, but for some reason he kept it with him, and carried it over his shoulder every day as he walked to the bus and to the plane.

It was odd, but the following year I saw a photograph of him wearing it on the back cover of his next album, Empire Burlesque.

He also mentions that in late 1996 there was meant to be a Faces recording session at Ron Wood’s home studio in Ireland. Naturally Rod Stewart doesn’t show. Mac gets to the studio before Woody and goes for a sleep in one of the guest bedrooms. He is awoken by Woody saying guess who is sleeping in the next bedroom. It is Dylan and so ‘we recorded a dozen new Dylan tunes that may never see the light of day.’

Definitely worth a read. They’re stories about lots of others from Bonnie Raitt to Billy Bragg.