Life with Bob Dylan, 1989-2006

Uncut talks to the musicians, producers and crew who have worked with Dylan from 1989 to 2006, and catches an unprecedented glimpse of the real Bob…

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Electing to become his own producer as the pseudonymous “Jack Frost”, Dylan moves into the 21st Century with one of his richest, strangest records. A work of theft, reference, collage and invention that bends old sources until they meet the mood of weird new times, it’s released on September 11, 2001

Chris Shaw, engineer: “I’ve heard stories from other engineers and producers about, y’know, how Bob can be difficult to work with. I’ve found it to be exactly the opposite. The thing about Bob is: he knows exactly what he wants. I think the people who have said Bob is difficult were trying to put what they wanted on the record. For Bob, if he can’t get a song completely recorded in a day, he thinks there’s (a) something wrong with the band, (b) something wrong with the song or (c) something wrong with me or the studio. There’s 12 songs on “Love And Theft”, and we did 12 songs in 12 days, completed. Then we spent another 10 days mixing it – and we mixed four songs in one day. He hates being in the studio on that part of the process. 85 per cent of the sound of that record is the band spilling into Bob’s mic, because he’d sing live in the room with the band. Without headphones. That’s why the record has this big, thick, almost swampy sound. He loves that sound.”


Augie Meyers, organist: “We did “Love And Theft” in New York, at night. I was surprised we didn’t have a producer, but Bob knew what he wanted. He said it was a lot more comfortable. I think he enjoys making records, but gets tired of all the hoopla, everyone trying to put their two cents in.”

Shaw: “Bob wanted to get the live sound of the band he had at that time. Just get the whole band in the room playing. You can never, ever predict what Bob wants. We went in thinking he was going to be playing guitar, and he had this whole concept about ‘singing into the corner’. He wanted to face the corner, like that Robert Johnson album cover. So, we spent a whole day creating this setup. Bob walks in, and he starts doing the singing into the corner thing – and within, like, two minutes, he abandoned the whole idea, wandered over to the piano, and never got off it for the rest of the session, except for two songs, ‘High Water’ and ‘Po’ Boy’.”

Kemper: “We had the advantage of years on the road together. That band remained the same for four and a half years. Soundchecks every day. Sometimes trying to figure out a song we were having trouble with, but more just to play music. We’d play Dean Martin songs. ‘Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime’. Then we’d put all of that music away, never play it again. I didn’t realise we were actually headed somewhere. I wasn’t smart enough to realise: You are in the School of Bob. When we went in to record “Love And Theft”, I realised then, because the influences were so old on that record, from the turn of the century and the 1920s. Bob would bring in amazing examples of early Americana, songs or artists I’d never heard of. So it was like: Oh my God, he’s been teaching us this music – not literally these songs, but these styles. That’s why we could cut a song a day for 12 days and the album was done.”

Shaw: “His songs continuously evolve. For him, it’s all about getting the track to fit the words, not the other way around. That’s why there are so many bootlegs, six versions of ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, four ‘Visions Of Johanna’. Bob is constantly changing it: ‘What key are we in?’ ‘G.’ ‘What tempo?’ ‘85 bpm, Bob.’ ‘Okay, well let’s do it in C-minor, and let’s crank up the tempo to 104, and, Charlie, I want you on electric instead of acoustic, Tony, I want you to play upright bass instead of electric, oh, and I want you playing lap-steel.’ And we’re like, ‘Ooookay…’ He’s always trying to find the arrangement that works best with the sentiment he’s trying to express. He might say, ‘I’m kinda hearing this old Billie Holiday song.’ And so we’ll start with that: the band will actually start playing that song, try to get that sound, and then he’ll go, ‘Okay, and this is how my song goes.’ It’s a weird process, unique to him out of any bands I’ve worked with over 22 years.”

Meyers: “I did some recording with Tom Waits, and I’d say they were something the same. They had a certain sound they heard, and, somehow, they got it out of you. They’re both on the same level. Both genius. Bob said, ‘Play what you feel.’ One time, though, I did a little run on my keyboard, and he gave me a look while we were recording. When we got through, he said, ‘I’ve heard that sound, on “Like A Rolling Stone”.’ And I said, ‘Yeah. That’s where I came from.’ He said, ‘Well, we gotta do something different.’”

Shaw: “Bob really, really hates to repeat himself. A lot of times he’d do a version of a song and he’d say, “Aw, I’ve done that already. We gotta figure out some other way.” That’s what it’s all about with him.”


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