Why has Dylan never played this live? Part 1: Narrow Way

by mr tambourine

As we begin a new series on this massive page, in this very first episode I would like to start from the more recent cases and go further to the past.

The focus should be mostly on Dylan originals, maybe a collaboration with someone else in the songwriting process here and there too. But no covers.

The first one we can mention is “Narrow Way” from Tempest, a heavy blues where Bob “raps” typical Dylanesque lines, which many people view as an unfortunately what-seems-to-be buried song already. Maybe not?

We don’t know what the future holds for Dylan’s live performances. But never say never. Still, at this moment, it’s untouched live and we have to try and understand why.

Tempest currently, compared to other Mod-Bob albums (albums from Time Out Of Mind onward, without Rough And Rowdy Ways in this case since it never even had a chance to be promoted live in concert) has three songs that are untouched live.

All three of those, to be fair, to me at least, look like very expected and understandable choices.

Those songs are along with Narrow Way: Tin Angel and Tempest. Three very lengthy pieces.

So we ask ourselves now, why Narrow Way?

Aside from being lengthy and would need Bob to either memorize a lot of lyrics, or have him sit on the piano while reading the lyric sheets?

First of all, Dylan is no stranger to ignoring bluesy numbers.  Previous albums had their own ignored blues numbers: Dirt Road Blues, Someday Baby, Shake Shake Mama.

But why Narrow Way? It seems like a song Dylan could play. If he did Rollin’ And Tumblin’ and Highway 61 Revisited and similar styles, why ignore this one?

I’m not a fan of this song, to be honest. I don’t like the studio version. I do find a lot of brilliance in the lyrics. And I’m not saying the song is bad. For my taste, it’s too repetitive. I’m not sure I ever finished it unless I decided to listen to the full Tempest album.

That’s not to say that live it wouldn’t be better. Maybe it would. Still, I’m glad it was rejected.

I have barely swallowed Summer Days and its 800+ live performances over the last 20 years now. Or even Thunder On The Mountain which improved in the 2017-2019 period.

I’m pretty sure that if Bob ever debuted this one, it would get 500 performances at least and other songs like Early Roman Kings and Pay In Blood would be played less because of this one.

Luckily for me, unluckily for some fans of this song, it never happened.

But still… Why?

I really can’t say, other than the song is pretty tricky because of its length and the lyrics that keep spinning around.

The sound of the song is very easy for his band to catch, and Charlie Sexton would probably be the leader in those arrangements, and I can absolutely see it working on piano for Bob.

But then again “it’s a long road, it’s a long and narrow way”, lyrically speaking. It would probably feature a lot of lyrical revisions too.

I would imagine this song sounding its best in 2014 and 2015. Bob’s voice would be perfect then for this song. Mixing standards with this one would have been some great gigs for sure.

Maybe we’ll get to hear it some day live if all goes well?   But until then, it’s a long and narrow way.

You may also enjoy

Narrow Way available free on Spotify

Narrow Way, Bob Dylan’s absolutely ultimately most brilliant blues ever 

One comment

  1. Although it is many years since I played in rock and blues bands I know that both in the old days and now I would be utterly horrified if I had been asked to play lead guitar part. Eight minutes of playing that riff over and over again would have driven me insane.

    Of course there are billions of guitarists far more adept than I am, but even so, over seven minutes of repeating that same riff with its tiny tiny variation would be too much to ask.

    It might have been recorded with the guitarist actually playing it, and of course that is what Dylan likes to do, but I suspect that this time even he might have agreed to looping the tape in endless repeats having got one or two verses right.

    Three minutes maybe, but seven and a half? No I think even Bob’s own band would have rebelled.

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