- I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You (2020) part 1
- I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You (2020) part 2
- I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You (2020) part 3
- I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You (2020) part 4: I see thy glory
- I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You (2020) part 5: A bottle of gin loosed her muse
- I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You (2020) part 6: I knew Margo could sing it
- I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself to You (2020): part 7: The Philosophy of the Modern Song
- I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You (2020) part 8:
- I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You (2020) part 9: “Yes” is the answer to your question
by Jochen Markhorst
X A Neapolitan mandolin and a half-hidden marimba
“Gorgeous, limpid and brushed by drowsy steel drums,” writes Mark Beaumont in the New Musical Express of 15 June 2020, in his review of Rough And Rowdy Ways. Paul Haney, in his assessment for Glide Magazine, also in June 2020, hears the same thing: “A brushed snare along with subtle steel drums lend the song a celestial feel.” “The whisper of steel drums echoes the song’s sentiment,” thinks his colleague Doug Colette. Flood Magazine’s Ad Amorosi goes a step further: “Brushed snare and marimba-filled.” Someone on Tumblr analyses “chiming bells and schoolyard xylophones intersect with steel drums”, “meandering on sultry waves of marimba and ooh’s and aah’s in the background,” says Cis van Looy admiringly in Written In Music, and Uncut‘s Richard Williams gets all sultry:
“I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself To You may be the most cumbersome title of his career, but the track is also one of his loveliest creations. A Neapolitan mandolin and a half-hidden marimba conjure the image of a lone figure sitting in a waterside café on a warm evening, while male voices hum a four-note melody behind him.”
Very evocative, really. But a marimba it is not. Nor a steel drum or xylophone.
Shortly after the release of Rough And Rowdy Ways, June 2020, Blake Mills posts seven short videos on his Instagram account. The clips last no longer than a minute (except for “Black Rider” lasting 1’35”) and are visually unspectacular: a static camera films the guitar-playing Mills, who, sitting on a chair, hunched over his electric guitar, does not look into the camera once.
But the content, especially for Dylan fans, is indeed spectacular: in each clip, Mills demonstrates the guitar part he played on seven songs from Rough And Rowdy Ways: “I Contain Multitudes”, “False Prophet”, “Mother Of Muses”, “My Own Version Of You”, “Crossing The Rubicon”, “Black Rider” and “I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You”. They are partly overwhelming demonstrations of creativity and craftsmanship, they are mood- and colour-defining guitar parts, and one might suspect that Mills is sharing these remarkable clips with the world out of some sort of assertiveness. On the LP cover, he is merely listed under “additional musicians” – judging by this Instagram demonstration, that is indeed a somewhat too economical qualification of Mills’ contributions.
He himself prudently dodges confrontational questions about why he did the Instagram action, limiting himself in later posts to safe, grateful and humble words about his work for Dylan. But when interviewed by Belgian magazine Knack a year later, he is a little less restrained – Belgium is on the other side of the ocean, the interview is only published in Dutch… safe and far, so to speak;
Knack: “It has been suggested that you wanted to delicately point out with those videos that your role was bigger than the credit as additional musician you got.”
Mills: “To a certain extent that’s true, yes. See, as a fan of his music, I also understand how Bob makes his records come about in a mysterious way. There is nothing clearly outlined about it, there is no plan. That’s his art. So I do understand that his camp protects that mystery as much as possible, to put it that way.”
Interviewer Kurt Blondeel is an experienced journalist with an understanding of the music business, and knows how to drill down further. He knows that Mills is one of the house producers at Sound City, the studio where Rough And Rowdy Ways was recorded, that Mills is also a producer for top acts like Alabama Shakes and John Legend, apart from his own music, and thus assumes that Mills must also have interfered with the fantastic sound of Dylan’s album. But either Mills really wasn’t an “additional producer”, or he displays modesty very well:
“Let me say this clearly: I owe some of my fondest studio memories to that record. Why? Because he’s Bob Dylan [laughs]. I only now realise how profound that experience was for me. […] On the other hand, you shouldn’t make more out of it than it is. You are there to make a business succeed by doing your best yourself. You are generous because you are playing for an imagined audience that you know will appreciate what you are doing. At the same time, you are creating something that you would enjoy as a listener yourself.”
… with which he keeps the focus on his guitar contributions. Which, by the way, he has to find on his own. That’s what Dylan expects you to do, Mills explains:
“The most important thing remains that you put yourself at the service of the song, the story or the mood. But of course you may also follow your instinct. Dylan doesn’t tell you exactly what to play. He does expect you to play what needs to be played. That may seem the same, but it’s a world of difference.”
(Knack, 9 March 2021)
The accents with the slide on “False Prophet”, the subdued echo-simulation on “My Own Version of You”, the all-around 50s-Chicago blues sound… it’s clear why Dylan is so enamoured with Mills, incidentally practically a neighbourhood kid of Dylan’s in Malibu. In the “I’ve Made Up My Mind” clip Mills then demonstrates that supposed “marimba” (or steel drums, or xylophone): it’s his old Telecaster, a damping thumb on the bass strings and lightning-fast triplets with the fingers of the right hand on the lower strings.
The exceptionally talented boy next door has been noticed, inside and outside Dylan circles, more than once before. In a 2014 Rolling Stone interview, he is lauded by none other than Clapton: “The last guitarist I heard that I thought was phenomenal.” Longtime Dylan drummer Jim Keltner, who met him at a Jakob Dylan session, is a fan, and seems to feel a kind of paternal pride when talking about Blake (Washington Post, 12 June 2020): “He’s so good that you can’t forget what it would be like to be his age and be one of his peers – you either have to love the guy, or be very jealous.” At the 2015 Newport Festival, Blake plays a stunning “When I Paint My Masterpiece” on Dylan’s old 1965 guitar. And there he explains what fascinates him so much:
“He is a torch. And an example of a lot of bravery. People are afraid that he’s gonna do something and they’re not gonna like it. What a weird position to be placed. I just marvel it. You know, his strength.”
The sympathy of Dylan fans Mills had won long before Newport. With his wonderful cover of “Heart Of Mine” on the Amnesty project Chimes of Freedom, 2012, and especially with its superlative on national television with Conan O’Brien, also in January 2012 – catapulting himself to the level of a Derek Trucks or Ry Cooder with his guitar playing.
The Dylan love doesn’t extinguish, not after Chimes Of Freedom and not after Newport, and his name as a Dylan interpreter seems to be established; when Diana Krall, Mrs Elvis Costello, records her beautiful covers album Wallflower, she calls Mills to contribute to the only Dylan cover on the album – “Wallflower”, indeed – with a heartbreaking, tasteful guitar part and ditto solo. In 2016, Blake is mainly responsible for one of the very best “Not Dark Yet” covers at all, when he provides the guitar parts for his cousin Jon Peter Lewis, the American Idol finalist.
It must have been a godsend to be asked by Dylan for session work. And still reeling from the experience, Mills recounts what we have heard so many times from Dylan’s session musicians. You don’t get time:
“Everything that we did was happening in the room and performed as it sounds. So in that sense, it’s quick, almost like a live show. There are certain people who definitely construct records in layers, but for Rough And Rowdy Ways – I think for most of Bob’s records – you get the sense that it’s more performance-based and live. You don’t sit around with Bob and he explains the song to you – either you get it right away or you don’t.”
(Guitar.com, 7 April 2021)
No one ever told me, it’s just something I knew. I’ve made up my mind to give myself to you.
To be continued. Next up I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You part 11 (final): Things aren’t what they were
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:
- Blood on the Tracks: Dylan’s Masterpiece in Blue
- Blonde On Blonde: Bob Dylan’s mercurial masterpiece
- Where Are You Tonight? Bob Dylan’s hushed-up classic from 1978
- Desolation Row: Bob Dylan’s poetic letter from 1965
- Basement Tapes: Bob Dylan’s Summer of 1967
- Mississippi: Bob Dylan’s midlife masterpiece
- Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits
- John Wesley Harding: Bob Dylan meets Kafka in Nashville
- Tombstone Blues b/w Jet Pilot: Dylan’s lookin’ for the fuse
- Street-Legal: Bob Dylan’s unpolished gem from 1978
- Bringing It All Back Home: Bob Dylan’s 2nd Big Bang
- Time Out Of Mind: The Rising of an Old Master
- Crossing The Rubicon: Dylan’s latter-day classic
- Nashville Skyline: Bob Dylan’s other type of music