This series reviews the Never Ending Tour from its origins in 1987 through to its cancellation with the outbreak of the pandemic. A full index of the articles is available here, and the most recent are
- Never Ending Tour 2000, Part 1 – Master Vocalist: Finding voice
- NET, 2000, Part 2. Master Vocalist – Please heed these words that I speak
- NET 2000 Part 3: Master Vocalist – Rock n roil
- NET 2000 Part 4: Back to Bedrock I
- NET 2000 Part 5: Back to Bedrock II
By Mike Johnson (Kiwipoet)
Between 1999 and 2002 Dylan often started his shows with a traditional folk, blues, gospel or country song, and peppered his setlist with such songs. Dylan has always looked beyond himself to the music of the past for inspiration. His very first album (Bob Dylan, 1962) contained only two Dylan songs, the rest being from the history of popular music. Dylan’s own music grew out of that history, and his early songs were set to traditional melodies.
He returned to these roots in 1970/71 for the songs on Self Portrait, and again in the early nineties, when he wasn’t writing his own songs, with two albums of traditional material, and he would return to that rich field, spectacularly, in 2014/15, with his ‘uncovers’ of songs from what is known as The Great American Songbook.
Just what Dylan was up to in these four years spanning the turn of the century did not become clear until his next album, Love and Theft, appeared in 2001. We’ll be looking at that in my next post.
When I came to the end of my survey in 1999, I added a whole post dedicated to these songs (See NET 1999, part 6), and feel it right to do the same thing for 2000, even though there are many repeats, and not much variation in arrangement and delivery. Writing this feels a bit like a rerun of my 1999 final post, and in a sense it is.
Take the Buddy Holly classic ‘Not Fade Away’. It first appeared for us in 1997 (see NET, 1997, part 2), but the bulk of Dylan’s 138 performances of this song were in 1999. By 2000 the song is beginning to fade away. He’d play it only once in 2001, a few times in 2002, and except for a one-off in 2009, that was pretty much it. Dylan sings it here, the band in full cry with some great harmonies. It’s a good bouncy song to get an audience jumping.
Not Fade Away
‘I Am the Man, Thomas’ by Ralph Stanley and The Clinch Mountain Boys (1971), would fully come into its own in 2002, but we have a dozen performances from 2000. Over the four years, he used it 59 times as a concert opener (See Attwood: https://bob-dylan.org.uk/archives/15113). This one’s from Anaheim.
I am the Man, Thomas
Dylan played the traditional murder ballad, ‘Duncan and Brady’, over 80 times between 1999 and 2002. Wikipedia has an interesting entry for this song:
‘ “Duncan and Brady”, also known as “Been on the Job Too Long”, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”, or simply “Brady”, is a traditional murder ballad about the shooting of a policeman, Brady, by a bartender, Duncan. The song’s lyrics stemmed from actual events, involving the shooting of James Brady in the Charles Starkes Saloon in St. Louis, Missouri. Harry Duncan was convicted of the murder, and later executed. Originally recorded by Wilmer Watts & his Lonely Eagles in 1929, it has been recorded numerous times, most famously by Lead Belly, also by Judy Henske, Dave Van Ronk, The Johnson Mountain Boys, New Riders of the Purple Sage, David Nelson Band, and Bob Dylan.’
You might notice that one of titles of the song, ‘Been on the Job Too Long’ is the last line of ‘Black Rider’, on Rough and Rowdy Ways (2020).
While Dylan no longer writes topical protest songs, he is still singing them. Despite his protestation that ‘things have changed’ from that song, some things it seems don’t change. (6th Oct London)
Duncan and Brady
Described as one of the building blocks of rock’n’roll, Willie Dixon’s ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ has been recorded by everyone from Muddy Waters to Motörhead. It was first recorded by Muddy Waters, 1954. With slow, heavy beat and bluesy feel, this song was perfectly suited to the rock wave of the 1960s. Dylan plays it straight, just as he might have heard it back in the day.
Hoochie Coochie Man
‘The Newry Highwayman’ is a traditional Irish or British folk song about a criminal’s life, deeds, and death. First sung by Dylan for the NET in 1998. More evidence here, if we needed it, of Dylan’s fascination with outlaws, outsiders and criminals. ‘Joey’ comes to mind. These are songs that tell the story of a whole life, story-telling ballads, and there always was something romantic about a highwayman. Lovely to hear Dylan singing these antique melodies. (6th Oct, London)
Newry Highway Man
‘She’s About a Mover’ is a 1965 song which was written by Doug Sahm of the Sir Douglas Quintet in 1965 and quickly covered by several other artists. The song has a 12-bar blues structure, and is quite basic and energetic. It’s part of the blues revival of the 1960s, and could have been written a lot earlier. Like ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’, this song is another reminder of the importance of the blues in Dylan’s development.
She’s about a mover
Of these antique, bluesy songs, ‘House of the Rising Sun’ must be the most famous. The song appeared in America in the 1930s, but is probably derived from a traditional English folk song. Dylan included it on his first album, which would inspire The Animals to do their epic version. For all that, Dylan has only performed the song eight times. Once in the year 2000 – this one from 17th June, George. Dylan doesn’t do it acoustically, as he originally did it. His version seems more inspired by The Animals’ version, to bring that story in full circle.
House of the Rising Sun
‘Searching for a Soldier’s Grave’ became a firm favourite of Dylan, being performed 111 times over 2000 to 2002. Written by Jim Anglin (1913-1987), although sometimes credited to Hank Williams, it was first recorded and released by the Bailes Brothers in 1946. It’s a patriotic song about someone searching for the grave of a loved one, an American soldier ‘killed in action’. It’s probably from the point of view of a wife or girlfriend. (6th Oct London)
Searching for a Soldier’s Grave
‘This World Can’t Stand Long’ was written by Jim Anglin, Jack Anglin, Johnny Wright and was first recorded by King’s sacred Quartette in 1947, although I have seen it credited to Roy Acuff. It’s a folk gospel song about how the hate and sin in the world will bring it to an end. It ties in with Dylan’s feel for the apocalypse. (Anaheim). It has a gentle beat and Dylan gives it sensitive treatment.
This world can’t stand long
‘Hallelujah I’m Ready to Go’ is a traditional song, a more upbeat, rousing gospel song than the melancholy ‘This World Can’t Stand Long’. It wouldn’t have sounded out of place during Dylan’s gospel period (1979 -81). Again Dylan uses the band to create some cool harmonies. On a personal note, this song reminds me of when I was a kid going to the local folk club in my home town (Christchurch NZ) to listen to songs like this, songs like ‘Down by the River Side’ and ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’.
Hallelujah I’m ready to go
‘Big River’ is a Johnny Cash song from 1958, so its appeal to Dylan needs no explaining. Cash’s use of place names presages Dylan’s:
‘I met her accidentally in St. Paul, Minnesota,
And it tore me up every time I heard her drawl, Southern drawl,
Then I heard my dream was back Downstream cavortin’ in Davenport,
And I followed you, Big River, when you called.’
Is there not a flavour of ‘Tangled up in Blue’ here? (October 5th London)
“Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior” is a 19th-century American hymn written by Fanny Crosby in 1868, set to music by William H. Doane in 1870. For my 1999, part 6 post on this song I wrote: ‘the song was not performed by Dylan prior to 1999, and would only be performed five times over 1999 and 2000. It’s a country music hymn, an interesting fusion that produced many such songs. Fanny Crosby herself wrote dozens of them. Still a cowboy song, it’s about salvation rather than whisky or love woes. Dylan’s arrangement here is similar to The Stanley Brothers version released in 1960.
‘It’s something of a curiosity in this context, a dark period for Dylan in which his faith is deeply called into question by the Time out of Mind songs. ‘Don’t even hear the murmur of a prayer’, he sings on ‘It’s Not Dark Yet’. Perhaps this expression of a simple, old fashioned faith appealed to Dylan during such a time, a crisis of faith if we can call it that. There’s a strong flavour of nostalgia in all of this.
There’s some particularly fine guitar work by Larry Campbell (I assume but don’t know) making his guitar sound like a mandolin – unless I’m making a fool of myself here and it is a mandolin. Whatever, it’s quite irresistible. (London, 5th Oct)
Pass Me Not O Gentle Savior
Dylan has been performing ‘Roving Gambler’ since 1960. It’s one of those songs that has been in his blood all along. Authorship unknown, one can imagine it just grew out of the taverns and gambling houses of the wild west. It was first recorded and released by Samantha Bumgarner in 1924. This one’s from Dresden, 24th May.
This brings to an end my six part survey of 2000, which must surely be counted as one of the outstanding years of the NET. Put together with 1999 and you have two years of Dylan in top form. We’ve seen Dylan as master vocalist, in full command of a number of styles from soft and spooky (‘Gates of Eden’), to full on baritone (‘Desolation Row’), to rough and gutsy (‘Watching the River Flow’), and dark and sinister (To Ramona). An extraordinary range of expressions.
His guitar playing, while still strangely off key and dissonant has become much more disciplined, and we saw the driving power of his acoustic guitar in ‘Desolation Row’ and ‘Tangled up in Blue’. The harmonica did a bit more work than in 1999, but was still kept pretty much in the background. Hard to forget the wicked harp in ‘The Wicked Messenger’.
Dylan was certainly on a roll, whatever he says on ‘Highlands’, and he would keep on rolling right through 2001 with the arrival of his next album, Love and Theft.
Until next time, stay safe and keep dodging lions.