More Than Flesh And Blood (1978) part IX – final Good groove, strong hook

More Than Flesh And Blood (1978) part IX – final

by Jochen Markhorst

IX         Good groove, strong hook

A few months after his death (7 September 1978), Keith Moon’s unbridled, restless ghost seems to have found a new haven: The Knack. Especially on stage, singer Doug Fieger has an appearance and facial gesticulation uncanny similar to the young Moon, but the real spirit of the legendary Toilet Terminator is where it should be: behind the drum kit. There is the irresistible Bruce Gary, who should have gotten a Grammy for his distinct opening claps on “My Sharona” alone, and who has elevated himself to the status of the one and only True Heir of Moon the Loon, not least thanks to his staggering contribution to “Your Number Or Your Name”.

 

The story of The Knack is the story of a comet: fierce, bright and short. The debut single is a world hit in the summer of ’79, at the end of ’81, after three albums and six singles in less than 30 months, the band falls apart. Drummer Gary, who before The Knack had already built up a reputation as an accompanist to such big guns as Albert Collins, Jack Bruce, Mick Taylor and Dr John, does not fall into a black hole. In the 80s, he keeps on drumming, for George Harrison, Rod Stewart and John Lee Hooker – to name just a few – and starts a career as a producer. For The Ventures, for example, and especially for the famous Jimi Hendrix Blues compilation (1994).

His paths do cross with Dylan a few times. In January 1978, Bruce checks in at the Rundown Studios for the Far East Tour Rehearsals, which can be heard on the bootleg The Rundown Rehearsal Tapes (2002); Gary plays on three songs on CD 1 (“Going, Going Gone”, “Simple Twist Of Fate” and on that remarkably arranged “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go”). Incidentally, that’s also the session where actress Katey Sagal (Peggy Bundy from Married With Children) can be heard in the backing chorus, which she has – understandably – been telling in every interview for the past thirty years;

“I was like 19 or 20 years old. I shouldn’t have been in the band in the first place. I’d already been in a band with one of these girls that was a friend of Bob’s. She said Bob’s looking for singers, come with me to the rehearsal. So I went. He just hired us, he didn’t even listen to us. So before I knew it, I was in the band. I worked with him for like two months in rehearsal, then he fired all of us girls a week before the tour. But I still always consider it like I sang with Bob Dylan. I don’t care if it was a week, you know what I mean?”

In other interviews, she is eighteen years old and starstruck, and the tenure lasts sometimes three months and sometimes four months. In January 1978, Sagal turned 24, and it can’t have been very much more than four weeks (the first rehearsal is 30 December ’77, the last before her dismissal 1 February), but who cares. As Katey says: “I always put it on my resume, ’cause it is so impressive. I was so impressed by it.”

Katey will never work with Dylan again, but Bruce Gary stays in the picture. In ’79, Dylan’s drummer and mutual acquaintance Jim Keltner invites him backstage a couple of times at the gospel shows, which make quite an impression on Gary. He is even invited to play along a few times, when Dylan wants to try out performing with two drummers, just like the Grateful Dead:

“I’d just left the Knack. Keltner and Kooper, on the same phone, called me up from New Orleans and said, ‘Listen, we know you’re depressed, we spoke to Bob and we asked him if it would be okay for you to come and play,’ because there’s two drum sets anyway. The drummer roadie was playing on the second drum set because Bob liked the idea of two drums at the time. So Kooper says, ‘All you gotta do is get on a plane and get to New Orleans, and we’ll take care of everything from there.’ So I jumped on a plane and the following night I played at the Saenger Center two nights in a row […] The best thing that happened to me was the confirmation from Bob, he came up to me, wanted to thank me, [saying] that I’d breathed some new life into the shows.”

… which must be the performances of 10 and 11 November 1981. A final collaboration with Dylan is most mysterious and takes place in June ’82. Bruce is called again. Whether he could drop by the Rundown Studios.

“He had a little makeshift studio setup, like an eight-track machine … He sat down at the piano and started playing, and then he moved over to the bass. This went on for about three and a half hours, just jamming along. He played guitar, keyboards, bass. It was all being recorded and the afternoon was climaxed by Clydie King showing up, and Bob sat at the piano and played a couple of songs … They ended up leaving together in a white Cadillac.”

(Clinton Heylin, Behind The Shades Revisited, 2001)

Also with Heylin, in Still On The Road, is the otherwise unsubstantiated claim that Bruce Gary produced “More Than Flesh And Blood”:

“Dylan and/or Springs decided it was far too good a song to discard, cutting a version for a Helena Springs single, backed by the tour band, produced by Knack drummer Bruce Gary.”

Heylin dates the studio recording September ’78, which seems like a mistake; September 15 is when the American leg of Dylan’s World Tour begins on the East Coast, in Maine, and Dylan and the band stay there, on the East Coast, for the rest of September. The song is played twice during a rehearsal (17 September in New Haven, Connecticut), and it seems rather unlikely that Dylan, prior to the tour, i.e. in the first half of September, had Bruce Gary make studio recordings in Los Angeles of an insignificant throwaway song.

On the other hand, the guitar playing, the sax and the bass do sound like they could be Billy Cross, Steve Douglas and Jerry Scheff. This is also Billy Cross’s guess, with reservations though:

“I remember the song and actually I liked it a lot. Good groove and a strong hook. Is this from the Street-Legal sessions or just a rehearsal recording? It was all done in the same room so sometimes it’s difficult to tell. […] I’m not 100% certain it’s me but since I heard the saxophone in there, I simply assumed that it was Steve Douglas and that would definitely make it the Street Legal Band and me. It also sounds like me but… we’ll never know. As to the sound, they re-mixed Street-Legal in the 90’s or thereabouts and the sound of the remixed CD is very close to the sound of that recording so assuming that they remixed this along with the album if they came from the same sessions… well that would explain it. I also think it sounds like Jerry on bass.”

The sound, Mr Cross means, is much clearer than the Street-Legal sound. The clarity of the remastered 1999 recordings is indeed closer, but it’s still unlikely that during that restoration time and energy would have been spent on a throwaway, sung by a backing vocalist. Anyway, the “More Than Flesh And Blood” studio recording is excellently mixed – so well, in fact, that it comes awfully close to the sterile 80s sauce. Not quite, thankfully; the synthesizers and bathroom reverb that make many of the 80s records sound so dated are not used here.

But a short paragraph on page 92, the show news page of the Ottawa Citizen of Friday, March 27, 1981 throws open the gate to Heylin’s “Bruce Gary hypothesis” again. Between the announcement that Dolly Parton is excitedly looking forward to working with Burt Reynolds on the film adaptation of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and the tidbit that Eagles’ guitarist Don Felder will be featured on Jefferson Starship singer Mickey Thomas’ second solo LP Alive Alone, the name “Bob Dylan” stands out:

“Knack drummer Bruce Gary is producing an album by former Bob Dylan backup singer Helena Springs in L.A. Among the songs is a Dylan-Springs collaboration, Flesh and Blood. Players include Gary and fellow Knackers Berton Averre and Prescott Niles, with the Doors’ Robbie Krieger on guitar.”

Indeed, the drummer on the recording is exceptionally good, occasionally throwing in small, unobtrusive but definitely unusual, Keith Moon-like fills and at the same time seems to be holding back enormously – it could just be Gary Bruce. The introductory guitar solo, on the other hand, does not sound at all like Robby Krieger, The Doors guitarist who, for all his virtuosity and musicality, always remains a bit messy. It could be The Knack’s Berton Averre, though.

We can no longer ask Bruce Gary, unfortunately – August 2005 he dies at the age of 55 of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the disease that is quite literally worse than flesh and blood can bear. At the Tarzana Regional Medical Center in Tarzana, where Bob Dylan some 36 years before in the Vineyard Christian Fellowship had seen the Light. The Light that made him turn away from all worldly songs – like from the worldly song with the good groove and the strong hook that he had just written with Helena Springs, from “More Than Flesh And Blood”.

 

Jochen is a regular reviewer of Dylan’s work on Untold. His books, in English, Dutch and German, are available via Amazon both in paperback and on Kindle:

 

What else?

You can read about the writers who kindly contribute to Untold Dylan in our About the Authors page.   And you can keep an eye on our current series by checking the listings on the home page

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