Dylan the sideman: Jack Elliott, Geoff Muldaur and Neill Young (plus Carolyn Hester)

By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

As ever, Aaron chooses the music and writes the introductions, and then sends his notes across the Atlantic where Tony tries to respond – but sometimes goes way off message.

Aaron: Just the two tracks in this episodes…

Tony: Sorry Aaron, I’ve subverted, as you’ll see.

Aaron: Tony, I was wondering if you’d like to provide some commentary around the tracks, particularly the Geoff Muldaur track with Bob on piano…to my untutored ear it sounds really different what Bob’s doing here, so I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on what’s going on!

The first track I’d like to present today is Ramblin’ Jack Elliott’s “Will The Circle Be Unbroken”. This was released in 1964 on the “Jack Elliott” album – for some reason it won’t pop up into a block image to click on – just click on the link.

https://youtu.be/8Wuz2Vyrv5Y

Bob appears under the wonderful name Tedham Porterhouse. He’s definitely playing harmonica but some reports state that he is also playing guitar. It’s a track Bob knows well even all these years later.

Here’s Bob playing it in 1961.

And again, just a year ago, in Kilkenny with Neil Young

Tony: This is where I can slip into research mode as in the “Rare performances” series.  Just in case anyone is interested.  This is a hymn written in the first decade of the last century with lyrics by Ada Habershon and music by the appropriately named Charles Gabriel – although many people attribute it to “traditional”.  Ramblin Jack brought it into the modern era.

Here’s the opening verse

There are loved ones in the glory
Whose dear forms you often miss.
When you close your earthly story,
Will you join them in their bliss?

Personally if Neil Young and Bob Dylan made an album out of reading the telephone directory (if you remember telephone directories that is) I’d buy it; I just love these two working together, even though most performances seem as if they’ve hardly rehearsed what they are going to do.

I’m not sure if either of the guys is the sideman – I guess we take this from the artists’ listings, but for me they perform as equals.  And I should add if you want to get a real insight into Neil Young you should take in Aaron’s excellent review “If it sounds like me” which has multiple Neil Young videos on it.

Aaron: The second track also comes from 1964. This time Bob is backing up Geoff Muldaur on the track “Downtown Blues”.

Bob is credited as Bob Landy and is playing some interesting piano. Over to Tony to explain what’s going on here!

Tony:  So Bob is playing right up in the treble end of the keyboard (the right hand side as you look at it).  It sounds as if there isn’t a microphone near the piano, and given that it is just the treble notes being played we can only hear it in the background – but what we can hear suggests Bob is using both hands in the upper register, and the piano ain’t be tuned for a while.

It’s a standard 12 bar blues, so any decent musician could join in straight away without a rehearsal, but what makes this even more interesting is that Bob on keyboard does get the bounce absolutely correct to make his part fit with everything else.  I’ve not heard this done before in this sort of track – although I’m sure others will have tried it.  It’s a good idea.

Aaron: I’d never heard of Geoff Muldaur until recently but he is much respected amongst fellow musicians. Richard Thompson said, “There are only 3 white blues singers – Geoff Muldaur is at least two of them”. Van Dyke Parks commented “Bob Dylan didn’t want to be Woody Guthrie. He wanted to be Geoff Muldaur. Geoff was the Big Man On Campus. He still is”..

And Bob said “Geoff’s the female Carolyn Hester”!

Tony: Well as you’ve introduced Geoff Muldaur and Carolyn Hester, here’s Geoff doing the piece as a solo – very interesting 90 seconds of him giving the background.  Such a down to earth guy.

Apart from Geoff being this sensational performer he is a great, great storyteller.  But even if you don’t want to hear the stories, please do listen to this utterly brilliant musician, who for reason I think we’ve not discussed before.

And I guess to explain Bob’s comment more fully I ought to offer this as well.  I still, after a lifetime of listening, never come to terms with Carolyn Hester’s voice.  It is not that it sends shivers down my spine, it turns me into shivers.  And reduces me to tears.

OK I’ve probably lost most of our audience Aaron, and I know I have wandered far from the topic, but I hope you found something here of interest.  What’s more if you leave this video running it takes us onto more Carolyn Hester.  As I finishing preparing my little comments, it is still running.  I don’t know how long it goes on for, but it is one hell of a find.

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