Great Dylan years: 1994 part 2



I don’t know what it means either: an index to the current series appearing on this website.

Great Dylan Years: 1994. Part 1. Performances of “Masters of War” to “Dignity”

by Robert Ford

I believe 1994 was a turning point for Dylan. As with 2014 when he recorded the classic Shadows in the Night album and his voice suddenly transformed, I feel the Great Musical Experience in Nara had a similar dramatic impact on his vocal performance.  It’s another reason the Unplugged concerts exceed the Supper Club concerts in 1993.

I have always believed that Dylan’s voice, (or should that be, voices?) is his most wonderful gift, together with the unique way he uses his voice, as with his phrasing, articulation and subtlety. His vocal performance is as important, if not more important, than his poetic lyrics or his beautiful melodies.

Prior to going to Nara in May, Dylan decided to take his NET band into the Ardent Studios in Memphis where he recorded a great ‘My Blue Eyed Jane’ for his own tribute album to Jimmie Rodgers and a lovely ‘Boogie Woogie Country Girl’ as a tribute to Doc Pomus.

Bob Dylan loves and respects musical history.  He also performed one of his favourite songs ‘ Tomorrow Night’ on the The  Rhythm, Country & Blues Concert in Los Angeles on the 23rd March 1994. He had covered this song on his brilliant Good As I Been To You covers album in 1992 and had been performing the song since 1993 in concert including, of course, his 1994 concerts around the world.

There was another studio session in September when Dylan went into Sony Music studio’s in New York and recorded ‘Anyway You Want Me’, ‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy’ and ‘Money Honey’. There was some speculation that they were for some kind of Elvis tribute album.

It is common knowledge that Bob Dylan is a great admirer of Elvis Presley and was truly devastated when Elvis died in 1977. Dylan has, of course, performed and recorded Elvis songs over a long period, for example, ‘A Fool Such As I’ at the Nashville studio sessions in 1969 and ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’  at the studio sessions in New York in 1970 ( both songs were included on the rogue Dylan album released in 1973 ) and playing live versions of ‘Money Honey’ in 1999, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ in 2009 and ‘Blueberry Hill’ in 2014.

It would be wrong not to give credit to Dylan’s band during 1994. This group of musicians had been on the road with him since February 1993 and were now used to Dylan’s idiosyncratic and daring performance methods. He knew he could change 10 songs at a whim or play the song as the mood takes him and this band could rise to the challenge.

I do not know how many different songs he performed in 1994. Maybe 70? 100? However, it is easy to see and hear that this band loved the ride. I believe that special mention must be given to the great guitarist John Jackson who was in the band for several years and was one of the all-time finest musicians to play with Bob Dylan. This NET band were the 9th Never Ending Tour Band and performed 358 concerts ending on the 4th August 1996 at The House Of Blues, Atlanta, Georgia.

This year was also a prime year for lovers of Dylan’s harmonica playing. I feel that his harmonica playing enhances most of the songs he chooses to embellish whether they are acoustic songs performed solo or with his band, or whether they are electric songs.

There were too many great performances to mention them all, luckily for us many are available to listen to on bootlegs,etc. ‘Mama,You’ve Been On MY Mind’ , ‘Disease Of Conceit’ and ‘Lay Lady Lay’ are among the songs graced with the harmonica.

A closer look at the range of songs performed this year suggests to me that Dylan performed songs from virtually all of his, up to that point, 29 studio albums . From Bob Dylan to World Gone Wrong only missing out the rogue Dylan, Self Portrait and Knocked Out Loaded. Typically, he performed one song from the 1992 lost Bromberg album the quite gorgeous ‘Lady Came From Baltimore’.  Who else could or would do this ?

It has been 16 months since the last official Bootleg series and I believe 1994 would make a terrific version of the series. The box set could comprise the Great Musical Experience, Woodstock 2 and the complete Unplugged songs with all the outtakes together with a selection of great live songs such as the Hiroshima ‘Masters of War’ and the songs plus outtakes from the previously mentioned tribute albums (The Supper Club and Bromberg sessions would be a great bonus or make a superb stand alone series ). These performances would be as great a gift as the complete 1976 Fort Collins concert which was the basis for arguably his greatest official live album Hard Rain.

The first published book of Dylan’s drawings ‘Drawn Blank’ appeared in 1994 to acclaim and was the beginning of his ongoing success as a visual artist. However, his major work was undertaken on stages around the world with his performances of a myriad of incomparable songs delivered with remarkable power and passion. There are many other great years (and decades ) prior to and beyond 1994.

But 1994 is one of the most significant years in Dylan’s performing history.

Robert Ford

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