By Tony Attwood, based on the research by Mike Johnson in The Never Ending Tour series.
“Tony quotes Mike quoting Heylin” – not something you’ll often find here, but it all starts in the notes below, taken from Never Ending Tour 1995, the Prague Revalation and other astonishments.
‘Dylan opens the year with one of the most remarkable performances of the “Never Ending Tour,” despite still visibly suffering the after-effects of the bug (at several points he sits on the drum rise, scrunched up in some discomfort)… the shock of the evening is not in his song selection.. but the fact that he performs almost the entire show without a guitar.. harmonica in hand, making strange shadow-boxing movements, cupping the harmonica to his mouth on nearly every song, blowing his sweetest harp breaks in years.’
Clinton Heylin (Bob Dylan: A Life in Stolen Moments Day by Day 1941-1995)
‘Anyone who has watched a sunrise over the ancient city of Prague will feel they have visited a city of magic & wonder. Anyone who has heard Dylan’s performance on the 11th will have felt a similar sense of awe.’
Andrew Muir (One More Night: Bob Dylan’s Never Ending Tour)
And of course from Untold Dylan: On March 11, 1995, Dylan descended on Prague to kick off the year’s tour with a sizzling three night stand. These concerts would astonish and tame a pretty unruly audience with a series of masterful performances that have gone down in NET history. (The Prague Revolution, Sugar for Sugar)
Here then is Spanish Boots, across two versions. Mike with his usual absolute honesty admits he is unsure which date each of these two comes from – both are apparently dated from 13 March, but one must be the 12th. But really it doesn’t matter… Except that not only is the approach different – but so is the key. I’ve never known, or perhaps I should say never noticed this before. We’re told Dylan was ill at the time, and maybe that caused him to change the key to help his voice.
Whatever the reason, the first of these two offered below is my utter favourite. The softness and gentleness of the singing and the accompaniment is, for me, utterly in keeping with the entire essence of the song. It doesn’t that we can’t understand the lyrics here, for surely we all know them off by heart. But what this first version delivers is a perfect delicacy, and that is maintained and indeed even enhanced as the double bass comes in for the instrumental break.
And if you want convincing just listen to the way Bob comes in after the instrumental break with the “lonesome day” verse – and then takes us into a second instrumental verse that builds up just a little on the previous break.
The magic of this is not only the accompaniment but the way Dylan takes the melody. If you didn’t know the lyrics it wouldn’t matter – you’d know what he was saying. And then there is the arrival of the harmonica, so controlled, so delicate, so in keeping with “So take heed, take heed of the western wind, Take heed of the stormy weather”, and yet we are still there for that absolutely overpowering ending
And yes, there’s something you can send back to me Spanish boots of Spanish leather
With these recordings we obviously take whatever quality we are offered, and quite honestly with performances like these I don’t mind one bit. The first of these two recordings is, for me, the way Boots of Spanish Leather was always meant to be, even though no one knew it, until this day in 1995, in Prague.
The Absolute Highlights series
- 1: John Brown 1987
- 2: Desolation Row. 1990.
- 3: She Belongs to Me
- 4: Tangled up in Blue
- 5: I and I – power without meaning
- 6: It ain’t me babe – go lightly.
- 7: Perfection in desolation – Gates of Eden
- 8: Girl from the North Country.
- 9: When He Returns
- 10: It’s alright Ma
- 11: Satisfied Mind
- 12: Visions of Johanna
- 13: Dark Eyes
- 14: Man in the long black coat
- 15: Don’t think twice (2000)
- 16: Silvio (1998)
- 17: Gates of Eden (2000)
- 18: One Too Many Mornings 2001.
- 19: It’s all over now baby blue 1994
- 20: The Wicked Messenger
- 21: Positively 4th Street (1994)
- 22: I and I
- 23: Restless Farewell
- 24: Botony Bay
- 25: Blind Willie McTell
- 26: Desolation Row
- Never Ending Tour: The Absolute Highlights: Love Minus Zero – 1992