- Maggie's Farm
- One Too Many Mornings
- Stuck Inside Of Mobile
With The Memphis Blues Again
- Oh, Sister
- Lay Lady Lay
- Shelter From The Storm
- You're A Big Girl Now
- I Threw It All Away
- Idiot Wind
3, 4, 5 & 8 Recorded at Fort Worth, Texas - May 16th 1976
1, 2, 6, 7 & 9 Recorded at Fort Collins, Colorado - May 23rd 1976
Bob Dylan: Vocals/ Guitar/ Harmonica
Bobby Neuwirth: Guitar/ Vocals
Scarlet Rivera: Violin
"T-Bone" Burnett: Guitar
Steven Soles: Guitar/ Vocal
Mick Ronson: Guitar
Roger McGuinn: Guitar
Dave Mansfield: Steel-Guitar/ Mandolin/ Violin/ Dobro
Rob Stoner: Bass
Howie Wyeth: Piano/ Drums
Gary Burke: Congas
Rolling Thunder Review 1976
St. Petersburg, Florida
New Orleans, Louisiana
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Corpus Christi, Texas
San Antonio, Texas
Fort Worth, Texas
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Fort Collins, Colorado
Salt Lake City, Utah
"Being a musician means, depending on how far you go, getting to the depths of where you are at. And most any musician would try anything to get to those depths, because playing music is an immediate thing, as opposed to putting paint on a canvas, which is a calculated thing. Your spirit flies when you are playing music." Bob Dylan 1978.
With the 20/20 vision of hindsight, it is easy to see that Bob Dylan's decision to mount a second version of The Rolling Thunder Review in 1976 was a miscalculation. The 1976 tour was everything that the original was not, and suffered as a consequence - large venues in areas where Dylan was not as popular as he probably thought he was, along with bad weather and poor ticket sales resulted in a poor reception to the tour. Some dates had to be switched to smaller venues, some were merged with others to take up the slack, and a few were cancelled altogether. Dylan's personal life was in tatters, and these problems in his professional one could not have helped his ego or his already fractious mood. But the signs were there to be seen, when a transitional concert (Night Of The Hurricane 2) was held in Houston on January 25th, the huge Astrodome with its notoriously bad acoustics was only half full. Despite (or perhaps because of) the addition of several "superstars" Isaac Hayes, Stephen Stills, Ringo Starr, Richie Havens, Stevie Wonder, Carlos Santana etc. the event was a monumental flop. Egos got in the way and the original focus was lost "All theses guys brought their own bands." explained drummer Howie Wyeth, "They weren't doing it the way we'd been doing it. We lost the whole togetherness thing."
The Houston debacle notwithstanding, rehearsals got underway early in April at the Biltmore hotel in Clearwater, Florida, but the signs were not good, with Dylan distancing himself from the other band members and taking more of a lead role than had been the case in 1975. More illustrative of the change in focus was the choice of material, many of the 1975 songs were taken from "Desire," whereas here, Dylan went back to "Blood On The Tracks." Perhaps the most significant of these changes was "Sara" being replaced by "Idiot Wind."
The tour kicked off at the Civic Centre in Lakeland, Florida and the press reviews were less than enthusiastic, a fact that Bob Neuwirth picked up on two nights later in St. Petersburg, where he referred to one offender as a "...newspaper for the deaf, dumb and blind." Things had improved immeasurably by the time Dylan and his band returned to Clearwater on the 22nd for the third gig, where the afternoon and evening performances were being filmed for an NBC television special. However, Dylan had a falling out with film-maker Bert Sugarman, and decided not to use the footage that had already been shot. This left him with a problem as there was a contract in place, so in order to hold up his end, Dylan agreed to film a later concert at his own expense. To add to his problems, a concert in Lake Charles, Louisiana was cancelled, but things got really bad in Texas. The hasty addition of Willie Nelson to the bill was unable to save the second night in Houston from also being cancelled (the 11,000 seat Hofheinz Pavilion was barely three-quarters full for the first night), and a planned Dallas concert on may 15th met with a similar fate. The Rolling Thunder Revue instead gave a free concert at The Gatesville State School For Boys in Gatesville, Texas. During her set, Joan Baez performed Dylan's "Walls Of Red Wing." The following day the Fort Worth gig was the last date in Texas, probably to the relief of everyone. Joni Mitchell joined the band on stage, performing "Black Crow" and "Song For Sharon" from her current "Hejira" album - the concert was recorded with the view to putting out a live album, but as it happened only four songs from this event made the "Hard Rain" album.
After appearances in Oklahoma City and Wichita, Kansas, Dylan had decided to use the penultimate gig (Fort Collins, Colorado) for the long awaited TV special that was to replace the aborted Clearwater disaster. Again, luck did not favour him and his by now, frustrated troupe of musicians, the heavens opened and it remained that way for four days. Eventually, with time running out and money being wasted, it was decided to perform the concert in the rain. "It was awful" says bassist Rob Stoner recalling the dreadful weather conditions, "...everybody is playing and singing for their lives, and that is the spirit that you hear on that record" As often happens when determination battles against adversity, determination won. At the one concert that really mattered, Dylan and Guam (as the band was now named) gave a triumphant and extremely well received performance. Dylan prowled the stage like a caged lion, snarling into the microphone and glaring at his audience with what Joan Baez called his "...viper eyes." "Hard Rain" (the film) was broadcast on NBC on September 10th 1976, to a generally poor response. Among the words used to describe it were "...artless," "...an anti-special," and "...a mess." This is a pity, because viewed almost thirty years later, this is a truly compelling piece of film - it may be ragged in places, but there is more passion and intensity than you will witness in any slick, polished, ultimately false musical extravaganza in today's famous for fifteen minutes world.
The second version of Rolling Thunder wound up two days later in Salt Lake City on May 25th, Dylan celebrated his thirty-fifth birth on the day between Fort Collins and Salt Lake City. It had not been a happy experience and even at this show the 17,000 seater arena was only half full and Dylan apparently told Joan Baez that he wanted the tour to go on forever but this probably reflected his emotional condition rather than his enthusiasm to carry on performing. Ironically this was one of the strongest shows and Dylan and Baez duetted on a showstopping performance of "Lily, Rosemary And The Jack Of Hearts" (Dylan had to write the first line of each verse of this epic tale on his shirt cuff), but sadly this final show which lasted a reported four and a half hours was not taped, and no recording of it, official or otherwise has ever surfaced.
"Hard Rain" (the album) was released on the same day as the TV film, but of course has a different track listing. Five songs ("Maggie's Farm," "One Too Many Mornings," "Shelter From The Storm," "You're A Big Girl Now" and "Idiot Wind") are from Fort Collins, while four ("I Threw It All Away," "Stuck Inside Of Mobile," "Oh, Sister" and "Lay Lady Lay") are from Fort Worth. It is an album that sounds better today than when it was released, at least I think so, but I still prefer the "Bootlegs Vol. 5 Live 1975" recording of the original Rolling Thunder concerts. That said, "Hard Rain" shows Dylan rocking at a time when most people were still coming to terms with him as a rocker. "Maggie's Farm" is a gutsier version than the twelve year old original, and Dylan's Oh-Oh-Oh and dramatic pause between verses is something to behold. "One Too Many Mornings" is a song that has been performed in many different guises over the years, some more successful than others (witness the unreleased version on the Johnny Cash/Nashville sessions). Here Dylan brings it back to the intensely personal song that it began as - in lyric if not in performance. Tellingly, he adds a new ending "I've no right to be here/And you've no right to stay/We're both just one too many mornings/And a thousand miles away."
"Stuck Inside Of Mobile," is a shortened version that sounds vaguely like a refugee from "Before The Flood" though sadly Guam are not The Band. This is not really a song that, to me, lends itself to live performance, I much prefer the studio version, but its inclusion here is worth a listen, if only for Dylan's vocal idiosyncrasies and Howie Wyeth's insane drumming. "Oh, Sister" is very well received, even though people are shouting for "Lay Lady Lay" during the intro. This is the only "Desire" song on this album, and one of the high points. Dylan is calmer and more subdued on this song, although the harmonies are shouted and a tad raucous - from here he rips into a very different "Lay Lady Lay," which bears no relationship whatsoever to the original. The bawdy, lustful and largely rewritten piece of lechery is a far cry from the sensitive entreaty of 1969. "Forget this dance, let's go upstairs/Let's take a chance who really cares" is for a coarser, more sexually casual era.
"Shelter From The Storm," is a brutal, much punchier version than the thoughtful, reflective original. Dylan's savage and remorseless vocal gives the song a whole new meaning as he fights a wall of guitars vying for prominence - Mick Ronson wins it by a short head. The other "Blood On The Tracks" song that follows, "You're A Big Girl Now" is sung by a man who sounds as if he is about to crack under the physical, mental and emotional pain he is suffering. The vowels are drawn out almost to breaking point and only Scarlet Rivera's violin is more plaintive than Dylan's vocal. "...like a corkscrew to my heart" he whimpers, and you can almost feel it there, undoubtedly one of the finest performances on the album, as attested to by the audience response. "I Threw It All Away," is not as drastically rewritten as its "Nashville Skyline" stablemate, and it sounds just a little forced. In all honesty I cannot think of a good argument for including it here, there were several worthier candidates from either of the two shows that make up this album - one of the Dylan/Baez duets even, but perhaps contractual problems prevented that.
"Idiot Wind" is a song that began life as a sorrowful meditation on a failed relationship - the original version is very different to the one that was released on the reworked "Blood On The Tracks," where sorrow was replaced by anger. Here the anger is replaced by sheer rage and this is surely the most venomous rendering of the song. Some of the emphasis is shifted for dramatic effect, and the lyric changes, though few, are particularly meaningful, "Visions of your chestnut mare" becomes "Visions of your smoking tongue" and "I can't even touch the books you've read" transmutes into "I can't even touch the clothes you wear." Sara Dylan witnessed this performance a few feet from the stage, as her husband's shake of his head on the drawn out "...so sorry" spoke volumes. "Bob was in a pretty awful state of mind..." was Dave Mansfield's masterly understatement, but if that was the case it is without doubt his most passionate and emotional live performance ever.
Reviews were, in the main, generally poor, but as already stated "Hard Rain" sounds better today than it did in 1976 - "Like a true primitive, Dylan's work functions as a direct megaphone to himself. The result has been some of the most brilliant art that popular culture in this country has ever produced. But it also means that Dylan is at once his own best and worst critic. Hard Rain is the product of the latter," said Kit Rachlis in Rolling Stone, awarding it three stars. Sam Shepard in his Rolling Thunder Logbook was kinder and perhaps more accurate "Dylan creates a mythic atmosphere out of the land around us. The land we walk on every day and never see until someone shows it to us." The album sold moderately well, but came nowhere near matching Dylan's last three studio albums which had all gone to number one in the album charts. The 2002 release of "Bootlegs Vol 5 Live 1975" allows us to compare, and to me it is the superior album, but "Hard Rain" remains an interesting if not essential record of Rolling Thunder part 2 (or Distant Thunder as Robert Shelton referred to it). It would be almost two years before Dylan released his next studio album.