Part 1 of 13 of our extended transcripts: Micajah Ryan (engineer)
BOB DYLAN SPECIAL: The Complete Tell Tale Signs
In this month’s issue of Uncut, we celebrate the release of Tell Tale Signs, the Bootleg Series Vol 8, Bob Dylan’s astonishing 2 and 3CD collection of unreleased material from 1989-2006.
We spoke to the musicians, producers and crew who worked with him during this period. And now, here’s your chance to read the full, unedited transcripts of those interviews.
Today, we start with engineer Micajah Ryan, while full interviews with Don Was, Daniel Lanois, Jim Keltner and others will follow in a further twelve parts in the coming weeks, starting Monday (October 6). Yes, twelve parts.
Ryan’s engineering career has taken him from John Prine through Guns N’ Roses, all the way to Megadeth. One of the few witnesses to the creation of Dylan’s bare-boned acoustic albums, Good As I’ve Been To You and World Gone Wrong…
“Debbie Gold [long-standing Dylan friend] had convinced Dylan to record with just acoustic guitar and vocals. She was my manager, and while I was on vacation she called me to record just a couple of songs for a day or two. I wanted to be professional, got everything prepared. Then in comes Bob Dylan and all bets are off. There just isn’t anyway to prepare for a moment like that. Dylan was on a roll, and I didn’t get back to my family until a couple of months later, when we finished what became Good As I’ve Been To You.
“On World Gone Wrong, it seemed to me that Bob had a very strong idea of what songs needed to be on the record. My job was to record everything he did, and of course I was very nervous at first – who wouldn’t be? But Debbie was in control as producer, so that took some of the edge off for me – and for Dylan as well. He’d come in each day with at least a couple of songs to work on. He’d do several takes in every key and tempo imaginable; speeding up or slowing down, making it higher or lower in pitch until he felt he got it. He didn’t talk with me at all about songs or what he wanted to do, but he consulted Debbie on every take. He trusted her and I got the feeling that was unusual for him. She was never afraid to tell him the truth, and, boy, was she persistent; often convincing him to stay with a song long after he seemed to lose interest in it.
“He was rarely conversational with me – but I can remember him being very concerned with things like the difference between analog and digital and how digital recording was ruining modern music. It was fun to be a part of this discussion and it was a great learning experience. He was quite adamant about the negative aspects of the medium. He told me about different techniques that he had heard of – like not letting the digital recording ever go completely to “black”. This was in an effort to simulate the analog recording medium that always has some sound on it – even if is hiss.
“Only Debbie and I were in the control room when Bob played. In fact, no one else ever came to the studio the entire time we recorded World Gone Wrong and Good As I’ve Been To You. I believe that intimacy had a lot to do with the warmth in the sound of his performances.”