A longish anecdote involving Jack Bruce, "a Tex Mex song from 1948" and some sage advice when working with Bob Dylan
I interviewed Phil Manzanera in the current issue of Uncut for our regular An Audience With… feature. Among the questions he answered was one from a reader asking about the time he played with Bob Dylan in October 1991, when Manzanera was Musical Director of the Seville Guitar Legends festival. We could only run an edited version of Manzanera’s reply, so I thought it would be fun to run the story here in its full glory…
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I got asked, “Would you like to rehearse Bob Dylan for a week?” Because it’s 90 degrees, we were going to be underneath the stage in Seville, in an air conditioned room. I went out and bought all his albums, so I knew all the material. I got Jack Bruce on bass, I got the best drummer in the world, I got backing singers, I got everything you could possibly want. So Bob comes in with the manager. The manager says “Hi Phil, this is Bob…” Because I’m musical director of the whole bloody thing – and the tag is guitar legends – I had to say to him “We want to do ‘All Along The Watchtower‘. But we’re not doing your version we’re doing the Hendrix version.” So I held my breath. I’d read lots of instances of all these people like George Harrison working with Bob Dylan where they expect one thing and he doesn’t do it. So the manager says, “Bob might come on, he might not. If Bob doesn’t come on, then Jack, can you sing his song?” Jack Bruce is a fiery Scotsman and he replies, “Uh, fuck. I’m not bloody fucking singing songs.” So that was the way it progressed.
“All Along The Watchtower” has only got three chords. Dylan would rehearse with us, and he would wait and wait and while we’d play them over and over before he came in singing anything. He really was playing with us. At one point he said, “You know, I think we should all be acoustic…” Thinking about it now, he probably thought I was Mexican or something, because of my name, and he said, “Do you know that Tex Mex song from 1948 called blah blah…” I said “Mmmm, no. Jack do you know that?” Jack shakes his head and says, “No.” Then I asked our drummer, Simon Phillips. “Simon, do you know this song?” It turns out, he doesn’t either. I ask everyone, they all say no, they don’t know it. So I said, “I tell you what, Bob. You start playing it and we’ll just pick it up.” He played it differently every time. Soon, people started making excuses to leave the room. “I got to make a phone call, can I just…” I was left there with Bob. But I thought to myself, ‘You know he’s Bob Dylan he can do what the fuck he likes. I admire him so much, I don’t give a shit.’ I think Phil Ramone was in the truck. He had produced him, and over lunch one day he gave me a piece of advice. “Take whatever you can from him if he turns up.” It’s nothing personal.
I knew he liked Richard Thompson, so I rang up Richard who was playing in Holland or somewhere, and said “Richard, would you like to play with Dylan?” “Yeah sure!” He arrived, so I sent him in before the concert to find out what numbers Bob was going to do. He came out and said, “Right, we’re doing this and this…” So we went on stage. The manager had said, “If Bob does come on, make sure you introduce him.” So we went on stage – “It’s Bob Dylan!” – and of course he doesn’t play any of the numbers we rehearsed. We’re all looking at each other, wondering what key he was playing… But you know, he’s a genius. So who cares…