by Michael Crimmins


‘Cantina Theme (Workin' For The Law)'


The cascading liquid guitar introduction to “I Don’t Believe You!” from the album “Another Side of Bob Dylan” would have made, in my opinion, a nice introduction to a record that is not just another side of the artist, but is also a whole other approach in the making of a record. It is almost a live album! There were, as we know, other people present at the recording session. One suspects that these people, so close to Dylan at the time as to be invited along, were connected in some ways with some of the songs! Their very presence, at least, contributes to the unique atmosphere that is captured on the disc. The presence of others is more prominent on certain tracks; especially the one’s where Dylan giggles. One such track is “I don’t Believe You”.

The song is, ever so slightly, Tex Mex in feel, and as such is probably the first recorded evidence of Dylan’s love for things neo-Spanish. There were of course other lesser  references beforehand, such as the actual pronunciation of the place name ‘Barcelona’ in “Boots of Spanish Leather” the title of which, in itself, conveys a certain yearning. 

Listening to a few songs from ‘Another side’ the listener, of which film maker Sam Peckinpah could have been one, could hardly fail perhaps to notice a certain cantina feel. 

…though her skirt it swayed as the guitar played,
her mouth was watery and wet

Or this from the opening of “Spanish Harlem Incident” 

 “Gypsy gal, the hands of Harlem cannot hold you to its heat” 

One wonders if the delicious creature, that surely must be the same one present in both songs, is present at the recording of them, and more to the point the one causing Dylan to giggle so. Something is so hot in “Spanish Harlem Incident” so very hot!

Gypsy gal, you got me swallowed.
I have fallen far beneath.
Your pearly eyes, so fast an’ slashing,
An’ your flashing diamond teeth

(Phew!) Pure conjecture of course, regarding who might have been present in the studio. It could of course only have been Ramblin’Jack and a bottle of Jack Daniels! 

The actual first evidence on record, as far as I am aware, as to what Allen Ginsberg termed “Ancient blood singing” in reference to Dylan’s 1975 album ‘Desire’ comes much earlier in the form of “The Drifters Escape”. Dylan’s vocals on this particular track, stand out like a beacon, an act of singing unsurpassed in the pop milieu!  Strangely though, the rest of John Wesley Harding’ that has undoubtedly some of Dylan’s finest songs is also matched by some of his most unsure sounding vocals! 

By 1973 Dylan gave us the amazing “Billy” from his soundtrack to the Sam Peckinpah film ‘Pat Garrett &Billy the kid’. The music from the film acts as a bridge to a feast of this type of Dylan vocalising from 1975/76. His superb redemptive cantillations on songs such as “One More Cup Of Coffee” and “Oh Sister” on ‘Desire’, perhaps an outward sign of a subconscious spiritual search, had all of the European Arabic and Hebraic inflection of the Flamenco, that the earlier Peckinpah tracks such as “Billy” had had, yet with the necessary amount of good to great songs that are the usual from a Bob Dylan record. 

Dylan’s guitar playing of this period is voice connected genius also (the Bakers son got a good deal!). Witness the ‘Hard Rain’ duet of “Blowin’ in the wind” with Joan Baez and the flamenco strum that punctuates the lyric to make this version one of the songs greatest arrangements. Note also, in comparison, an earlier version of the same song duet from the scrapped Clearwater Special of April 22 that does not feature that same guitar figure. It is still a fine fine version, and to watch the performance on film is a special delight, if only to see an uncanny intimacy between Dylan and Baez that takes place right in front of you!

Bob Dylan is not usually one for half measures. Nevertheless the sound track to ‘Pat Garrett’ was just that, a half measure, an unfinished album! For whatever reason this came to be the case does not really matter. What does matter is that Dylan, besides not being one for half measures, is also rarely one to return to a project after he has done with it. I believe that the Peckinpah experience somehow left Dylan frustrated. Frustrated enough for him to want to fully realise the potential of songs like “Billy” or the half formed Cantina themes.  Perhaps the earlier venture had been a little too close to another cinematic dream, one that told a story through just one line! “All the Tired Horses”   Whatever! The great thing is that at the end of the day, we got those and also one’s as great as “Romance in Durango”. 

The Rolling Thunder Revue realised this music’s potential up to the hilt. Yet before it actually got off the ground Dylan, Scarlet Rivera, Rob Stoner and Howie Wyeth appeared on a TV Special (taped on Sept 10th 1975 in Chicago) as a tribute to Dylan’s friend John Hammond ‘The World of John Hammond’.  Here, in what I think of as Bob Dylan’s greatest performance, we can witness all the intensity and stripped bare emotion that made ‘Blood on the Tracks’ such a great album. We can witness a theatrical setting so real, that people actually believed… Well this is the way that Robert Shelton had it 

“Observers were fascinated with the violinist in a long dress, with dark gypsy eyes and flowing hair. Some believed her to be a real gypsy Dylan had discovered walking along Second Avenue with her violin case”

During the three songs performed, “Hurricane”, “Oh Sister” and “A Simple twist of fate” Dylan  displayed so much emotion and concentration that it would be hard to actually say that he could have enjoyed his performance!  The same, to a lesser degree, could be said for Scarlet too! Every note that she played she took from his eyes! Just watch those eyes! 

A friend asked me recently after reading an edition of Freewheelin “What is the point of all this endless speculation regarding material that in some cases is up to thirty and forty years old? It is not as if it hasn’t all been gone over a million times before, or that you are going to possibly have something new to say!” 

Of course this may be, in my case at least, admittedly true. Still my answer to his question: What is the point? Could have been one word. Enthusiasm!  In fact I went on to say that, of course now and again there does come a saturation point, created by too much writing, reading and listening all connected with one artist. Consequently, in the listening department, I will dig out something else to listen to. Quite often that “something else” will have been around a long time too. In some cases it may have been around for hundreds of years! Yet that fact does not seem to act as a barrier to the continued enthusiasm, writing etc, for that artist’s particular work! In fact it is that very enthusiasm, listening, writing, performing etc that keep any artists work alive. What use the tune without an ear! Or the painting without an eye. 

Oh alright I will admit it, I am a bit of an anorak!


For information on Michael's band "Dylanesque", including a gigs guide, go to his website.