By Tony Attwood, looking back at recordings presented by Mike Johnson in the Never Ending Tour series of articles. There is an index to that ongoing series here. Links to previous articles in the “Extended” series are given at the end.
Don’t think twice, it’s all right appeared of course on Freewheelin’ and became a fixture in the Tour. According to the official site, it was performed a staggering 1086 times between 1962 and 2019. Here I’m taking a look at just a few of the performances in the 1990s.
The feeling is that this is being taken at much greater speed than the original, although that is to a certain degree an illusion caused by the speed of the accompaniment – and then by the way Bob modifies the melody in order to raise the pitch in the second verse.
He has also changed a song that was three and a half minutes long into a very lively seven-minute performance through the instrumental break after each verse. And overall when he gets to the “long and lonesome road”, he’s not shuffling along with the guitar slung over his back, he’s jumped in the open sports car with the guitar sticking out from the back seat, and driving off at 100mph. Except…
Except we have an unexpected harmonica solo at 4 minutes 30 seconds – hard to make out at first but then as we get attuned to it, it grows and grows – before it fades back for a second verse… and if that were not enough, at around 5 minutes 50 seconds, everything drops to half speed. Yes, he still is looking over his shoulder. What a performance!
And then what is ever-more interesting (for me at least) is that he worked on the song, seemingly becoming more certain as the concerts progressed as to how he wanted to play with the masterpiece. I am not sure if the bass was being played in the earlier recording, but now it has a greater presence (maybe it was just not being picked up so by the recordist in earlier show, or maybe I didn’t notice…
What these two recordings from the same year of the tour show is just how much work Bob puts in between each show – yes he can take the band by surprise sometimes, but this re-arrangement from one show to another must have been fully rehearsed. And the result is much more light-hearted – he’s not driving off in a sports car, he’s now walking down the road at speed with a real jaunty step.
I’m not happy with all of it – the raising of the pitch at “precious time” and lines around there don’t seem quite right to me – but if Bob wants to that, well, he’s the boss. And those extended instrumental breaks really are something. Indeed, for me, the whole value of this series of articles is shown through such recordings. Just listen to that ending after the seven minute marker where Bob seems to go off on a jaunt of his own. This time I am not convinced the band had any idea it was coming or where it was going.
Moving on, I’m going to jump forward now to 1995 part 3: the Prague Revolution
There are more changes here – not huge in themselves but enough to emphasise that he is not only moving on, and not only moving on at speed, but now with a certain sense of desperation. I had a feeling of the moving being fun in the performance above, but now that seems to have gone – the sudden rise of the voice for “like you never did before” and the greater desperation of “you wanted my soul” all add to this.
And as I listen to these stupendous recordings once more I am again overwhelmed by the fact that if so many dedicated fans had not made these recordings, we wouldn’t be able to get these insights into the way Bob worked. The coda has changed too, and again I have the feeling that was a thought that happened on stage.
Just one more, this comes from Never Ending Tour 1997, part 3: I came in from the wilderness
Now the piece is cut a little shorter – and that tiny detail seems to me to represent exactly what is going on here… Bob will play with anything in a song to find else what there is within it. Just listen to the way he sings it this time – yes he is indeed travelling on.
And what I would say is if you have another few moments just compare this version with the first one at the top of the page – we really have travelled.
For me, where we are now is at a much greater level of enjoyment of the travelling on – there were moments before where the travelling was what he did because he was a “travelling man” – he had no choice. But now travelling on is what he wants to do. And that is right, in the sense that he is the star man – he can do what he wants, and he knows we will all travel with him.
So yes, this is the best of this little collection – it lifts me up, and makes me feel even at my advanced age (not quite as old as Bob, but not too far behind) that I can travel on too. Not physically: I’m not on tour, and I rather like the house I’ve ended up in, in the Northamptonshire countryside, but with what I do, what I watch, where I go with my pals, how I tackle what inevitably must be the latter parts of my life.
And that brings me to a concluding comment: these are very personal thoughts about the performances – and that seems to me to be what the Tour is about. Bob is endlessly facing his creations and playing with them in different ways. As a fan, I’m facing Bob’s re-creations. And the more I do it, the more I find I enjoy it.
- Absolutely Sweet Marie
- Blind Willie McTell. 1997-2006
- Blowing in the Wind. 1991-2001
- Frankie Lee and Judas Priest
- Highway 61 1989-2003
- It Ain’t me Babe from 1994-1998.
- It’s all over now baby blue
- Like a Rolling Stone 1988 to 2002
- Love sick from the very start to 2000
- Masters of War 1978 to 2000.
- One too many mornings.
- Tangled up in Blue 1988 to 1993
- The Drifters’ Escape. 1996-2005.
- The Hard Rain of 1988, 2003 and 2015
- Things have changed 2000-2007
- Visions of Johanna