Bob’s Grammies part 3: 1997. a) Best rock vocal performance (male)

By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

Part 1 of this series covering Bob’s 1969 nomination for Best Folk Performance appeared here: Bob’s Grammy Nominations and Wins

And part 2: Bob’s Grammy Nominations and Wins 2: Best male rock vocal 1980!

Aaron: Now moving on to what we have rather controversially decided to call part 3 of this series, we get to 1997 which was Bob’s most successful year at the Grammy’s with 3 nominations and a clean sweep of wins!

Over the next 3 articles we will look at the 3 categories Bob competed in this year.

First up it’s: Best Rock Vocal Performance, Male

Bob’s winning track – “Cold Irons Bound”

The studio version is not on YouTube so here is Bob’s live performance from the Grammy night itself!   (And there is a rare old collection of Bob Dylan smiles here).

Tony: There is an interesting commentary on this song on Wikipedia, which I think is worth taking a peek at…

Dylan was inspired to write the song in the studio after hearing drummer David Kemper, who had arrived early one day, playing an unusual beat. As Kemper explained in an interview with Uncut:

I heard this disco record with a Cuban beat, and when I got to the studio, I sat back at the drums and I slowed the beat down, and turned it upside down, and I was just playing, and there was nobody there. No one was expected for a half hour. So I was playing this drum beat, and then Bob snuck up behind me and said, “What are you playing?” I said, “Hey Bob, how are you today?” He said, “No, don’t stop, keep playing, what are you playing?” I said, “It’s a beat, I’m just writing it right now”. “Don’t stop it. Keep doing it”. And he went and got a yellow pad of paper and sat next to the drums, and he just started writing. And he wrote for maybe ten minutes, and then he said, “Will you remember that?” And I said, yeah, I got it. And then he said, all right, everybody come on in, I want to put this down”.

Well I got it in my head, and by then everyone had arrived and tuned up. And take one, he stepped up to the microphone, and “I’m beginning to hear voices, and there’s no one around”. And I think we did two takes, and then he said, “All right, let’s move on to something else”. I remember Daniel Lanois wasn’t happy; he didn’t like it. It was one of his guitar breaking incidents. He said to Tony (Garnier) and I: “The world doesn’t want another two-note melody from Bob”. And he smashed a guitar. So I thought, well, there goes my chance of being on this record. Next time I saw Daniel was at the [Grammys] because we had performed that night, and all of a sudden, Male Vocal Performance of the Year, came from that song – the one that Dan was adamant wouldn’t get on the record

Tony: Back in 2015 I had a bash at explaining my understanding of the song (at least I think I wrote it – it reads like one of my pieces but with the modesty for which I am justly famous across the world, there’s no author’s name).   I try and explain why it is all about the rhythm – and that was written before seeing the article above from Uncut.  It’s at Dylan’s Mathematical Songs

The other nominees were

David Bowie – Dead Man Walking

Well now, you want a pounding rhythm?  There it is.  And some freaky guitar work too.

What makes this really work for me is the inclusion of the background male vocals, just at the moment when we think it is all going to be about beat and fuzzy guitar.  That is one of those rare touches of musical genius which leaves me wishing I knew who decided on that.  Was it DB, or the producer, or someone in the band?

If you have just played the piece and didn’t notice the male voices behind the music at various points, and if you have a few minutes to spare do go back and listen again.  The lyrics they sing are strange too…

Gone gone gone spinning slack through the end?
Deadens? my brain falling up through the years
Till I swivel back round then I fly fly fly
Losing breath from the water then I'm gone gone gone

John Fogerty – Blueboy 

Yes well when someone calls out “Are you ready” during the opening bars of a song I tend to meander onto another planet and contemplate the lesser known literary works of the English Civil War.

It’s really strange listening to this after the two previous entries, because there is no comparison in terms of musical composition, improvisation, vocal exploration, rhythm or… well, anything.

Nothing wrong with the song, it is indeed very pleasant, but with the two previous entries you have composers at the top of their game exploring where else they might take the genre.  This is a track of top quality musicians doing their thing that they’ve done lots of times before.

Still nothing wrong with that, but then again, there’s nothing wrong with me sitting in my English country garden for a few hours in the sun, watching the wind blowing the tall trees.

John Mellencamp – Just Another Day

Strange start which I suspect will get rather tiresome if one listened to this a lot.  But it the bass and the harmonies which tell us this is going to be something else.  Yes it is just another rock song, but the production and the laid back calmness of the whole piece really makes me listen and want to listen again.  Nothing is forced, nothing is that original but it really grabs my attention.  He really is a superb vocalist.

Bruce Springsteen – Thunder Road (live 95) from the b side to the Secret Garden single

Tony: The lyrics of this song – or rather should I say the lyrics at the end of this song – really get me every time.   They are for me the perfect example of using every day words in a way that can send a chill through my bones.

But when you get to the porch they're gone on the wind
So Mary, climb in
It's a town full of losers
And I'm pulling out of here to win

Left on their own they are not that special, but put into the song and performed they become something oh so powerful.  I have no idea what it really means, but it seems to mean something, and I love phrases like that.   These days as an ol’ timer I don’t need lyrics to mean anything but I do want them to sound as if they ought to mean something.

Maybe they move me as the father of three daughters, thinking of all that I tried to do to give them every chance in life and the endless fear that they would take all the freedom I tried to offer and then just wander into the distance.  (I’m so lucky; they didn’t).

Aaron: It’s a pretty strong selection this time. The only one I didn’t know prior to this was the Fogerty track, and whilst it isn’t a patch on Bob, Bruce or Bowie it’s still a decent tune and great vocal. I’m a massive fan of 3 of these acts (plus I’ve been known to listen to a bit of Mellencamp from time to time). So, for me it’s a close run race between Bob, Bruce and Bowie – With Bob probably getting the win…just!

Tony: For me Bob gets the win for the rhythm, but that’s not what the competition was all about!



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