Category Archives: Anniversary

Bob Dylan Highway 61 Revisited

Bob Dylan Highway 61 Revisited

Released August 30, 1965

Bob Dylan Highway 61 Revisited

Once upon a time you dressed so fine
Threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn’t you?
People call say ‘beware doll, you’re bound to fall’
You thought they were all kidding you
You used to laugh about
Everybody that was hanging out
Now you don’t talk so loud
Now you don’t seem so proud
About having to be scrounging your next meal
Bob Dylan Highway 61 Revisited

Fourth greatest?

Rolling Stone magazine calls it the fourth greatest album of all time. I’m not much for top ten lists and such, but this is certainly a great album. If Bringing It All Back Home (released only five months earlier on March 22) had sounded the death knell of an acoustic folk Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited is the clarion call.

Albums have 12 songs. Highway 61 Revisited has 10.  Singles are two and a half to 3 minutes long. Like a Rolling Stone is 6 minutes 13 seconds. 

The album’s shortest song is From a Buick 6: 3:19.  The album closes with Desolation Row at 11:21 and the album’s only acoustic cut.

Bob Dylan Highway 61 Revisited

Acoustic English tour

Though Dylan had already released his “half-electric” Back Home album before his April-May 1965 England tour, the eight shows were all acoustic. He held off his public electrocution until the Newport Folk Festival  on July 25. 

He was tired and somewhat disenchanted following that spring tour. Writing Like a Rolling Stone cleansed him. 

Bob Dylan Highway 61 Revisited

Clean and in the studio

June 15 and 16 (1965) were the first two days of recording the album in Columbia Records Studio A in NYC, but it was June 16 in particular that is noteworthy. Although Dylan and the other musicians had worked a bit on Like a Rolling Stone the day before, it was June 16 that produced the version embedded in us. 

An organ riff heard ’round the world

The rim shot followed by Al Kooper’s Hammond organ riff. Al Kooper. 21. Already a musical success as a guitarist with the Royal Teens and their hit single, “Short Shorts.” About the help start the ground-breaking Blues Project and then the Blood, Sweat and Tears.

But on June 16, 1965 he was just a guest sitting in. Sitting in not as in playing, but literally sitting in to watch as a guest of Columbia producer Tom Wilson. Kooper had never played the organ before!

After those two sessions, Dylan continued to write, electrified Newport, and returned to the studio on July 29 and July 30. 

A weekend in Woodstock, NY writing and a return to the studio on August 2.  All he needed was one more day, August 4.

Six days to record the fourth greatest rock album. Nice work, Bob.

Bob Dylan Highway 61 Revisited

Reception

According to Wikipedia,  “New Musical Express critic Allen Evans wrote: “Another set of message songs and story songs sung in that monotonous and tuneless way by Dylan which becomes quite arresting as you listen.” The Melody Maker LP review section, by an anonymous critic, commented: “Bob Dylan’s sixth LP, like all others, is fairly incomprehensible but nevertheless an absolute knock-out.”The English poet Philip Larkin, reviewing the album for The Daily Telegraph, wrote that he found himself “well rewarded” by the record: “Dylan’s cawing, derisive voice is probably well suited to his material … and his guitar adapts itself to rock (‘Highway 61’) and ballad (‘Queen Jane’). There is a marathon ‘Desolation Row’ which has an enchanting tune and mysterious, possibly half-baked words.”

In September 1965, the US trade journal Billboard also praised the album, and predicted big sales for it: “Based upon his singles hit ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, Dylan has a top-of-the-chart-winner in this package of his off-beat, commercial material.”  The album peaked at number three on the US Billboard 200 chart of top albums, and number four on the UK albums charts.

Bob Dylan Highway 61 Revisited

Coda

Joe Levy in Rolling Stone has a more recent article about the album which fully praises the work. In it Levy quotes Dylan:  “I like the sound – I like what I’m doing now,” Dylan told Nora Ephron and Susan Edmiston at the time of Highway 61 Revisited‘s August 30th release. “They can boo until the end of time. I know that the music is real, more real than the boos.”   

Mr Jones

But something is happening here and you don’t know what it is. 

Do you, Mr Jones?

Bob Dylan Highway 61 Revisited

1969 Vancouver Pop Festival

1969 Vancouver Pop Festival

Paradise Valley Resort
1969 festival #33
August 22, 23, and 24 1969

Vancouver Pop Festival

Each year as I post a short piece about the many rock festivals that took place in 1969, I seem to find a few more. On my latest list, the Vancouver Pop Festival is number 29.

Paradise Valley Resort (now the Cheakamus Centre) is about 40 miles north of Vancouver, British Columbia.

Promoter Bert Gartner had planned on selling 30,000 tickets for each of the three days. He sold 15,000. The MC was well-known radio DJ Terry Mulligan. Bikers showed up and “did” security.

1969 Vancouver Pop Festival

Dead or not?

There is some dispute as to whether the Grateful Dead played the event. Some sites state they did; others dispute it. Unusual is that there is no recording of their performance, something that almost always occurred.

The Jerry Garcia’s Middle Finger site comes down on the “did not play” side with the following information:

Here are the listings from the great San Francisco Express Times, vol. 2 no. 32 (August 21, 1969), p. unk. There’s lots of interest here, of course. But I have circled the item that interests me most greatly. It’s under the listings for Sunday, August 24, 1969, and reads as follows:
Hippy Hill: Trans-Cultural Rip-Offs, Inc. presents Steve Gaskin & the Grateful Dead in concert with Shiva Fellowship. Bring dope (the sacrament) and good vibes. noon. free.
“Hippy Hill”, a.k.a. Hippie Hill, is apparently at the far eastern edge of Golden Gate Park, close to the entry from the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. It seems like a perfectly good place to go share a sacrament and a free show by the Dead.

I show the listing referred to below. It is too small to read, but if you click on it you will likely be able to see a larger view:

1969 Vancouver Pop Festival

1969 Vancouver Pop Festival

MC Terry Mulligan

In 2011, MC Terry Mulligan wrote his biography, My Life…So Far. In it he included his memories about the event. He felt it had held much promise, but failed to deliver.  He also said that the Grateful Dead did not play. Among the several paragraphs about the event, Mulligan includes…

I had my own experience with an unruly music event when…I introduced the acts at the Vancouver Pop Festival–three days of rain, cold and miserable hippies….
Nobody was ready for the pissing rain and cold. People were in sleeping bags on the wet ground in a mountain valley that was mostly shielded from the sun.
I was the guy who promoted the event on the air, so many people thought it was my event. Every half-hour there was somebody loud and angry in my face, spittle flying. “My old lady just got robbed.” “These are bogus tickets.” “You took my money, man!”
1969 Vancouver Pop Festival

Vancouver Sun report

Yet like any event, perspectives change with who one was and where one sat. Vancouver Sun reporter Eileen Johnson wrote:

…the music was excellent, the sound system worked fine, the weather couldn’t have been been better, the light show was a delight, and there were so few people…no one could have suffered from overcrowding
1969 Vancouver Pop Festival

Attendee David Chesney

And yet another statement from the same article by attendee David Chesney,

It was like every outlaw motorcycle gang in the Pacific Northwest came to this thing….The bizarre part was when Little Richard came on. All these bikers right up front. …Little Richard was mincing it up big time, and questioning their sexuality while flaunting his.
1969 Vancouver Pop Festival

Old Man Woodstock Reflections

Old Man Woodstock Reflections

The Irony of Woodstock

Though the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, in our rear view mirror, many continue to reflect upon that iconic event and its impact.

Thank you to Charlie Maloney, Woodstock alum and a guy who “gets it” when it comes to what the spirit of the 60s and Woodstock has come to epitomize.

It was he, who while surfing the internet one night, found an article written by Robert Hilburn for the Los Angeles Times. It kept Charlie up later than he’d planned, but it was worth the lost sleep.

1989 was the 20th anniversary of Woodstock. Like 50, 20 was a number that summoned reflection as well.

Old Man Woodstock Reflections

Robert Hilburn

Hilburn’s point was that if Woodstock had been held in 1989 it would have been a very different event. By 1989 the commercialization of rock music had gone from the 1950s fear of rock to a late-20th century commercial embrace with branded events.

The article’s first  example is Janis Joplin‘s bringing a bottle of Southern Comfort on stage with her in 1969. In 1989, such “product placement” would have cost the liquor-maker. For the article, famous concert promoter Bill Graham suggested that, “…Southern Comfort would pay her a million dollars for just holding that bottle….”

Hilburn wrote that Graham’s viewed Woodstock, “...not principally as a great musical moment, but as the day corporate America saw the big money to be made in rock. Indeed, Woodstock itself was a grand attempt to escalate the scale of rock.”

Old Man Woodstock Reflections

Woodstock legitimized Rock

The article quotes Joe Smith, a Capital-EMI exec, “Woodstock legitimized rock ‘n’ roll, and it sent out the message that there was a lot of money to be made in it.”

Lou Adler, one of the organizers of rock’s “first” festival, the Monterey International Pop Festival, said, “If Monterey made rock ‘n’ roll an art form, Woodstock made it a business.”

Old Man Woodstock Reflections

Really?

Old Man Woodstock Reflections

Woodstock Ventures didn’t just lose its shirt that weekend, it lost its Army-surplus jacket, sandals, hat, and underwear. None of the four organizers, Michael Lang, Artie Kornfeld, John Roberts, or Joel Rosenman, ever got rich from it. They did continue to get plenty of grief and a mailbox full of lawsuits. Within days, Ventures sold the movie and music rights to to just begin to get out of the financial hole it found itself in. It was more than a decade later before that hole was filled. Not what I would call an acceptable rate of return.

If anything, it might be more accurate to say that corporate America saw the potential for “big money” in Woodstock’s muddy aftermath and its may brethren festivals that summer.

It’s many brethren? Until I began training as a docent at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts’ Museum, I had, as most recollect and the article implies, that Woodstock was one of the two memorable festivals that year. The other, the sad counterpoint, being Altamont and its association with Hell’s Angels violence and failed security.

Old Man Woodstock Reflections

Where were…?

That was not the case.

My research led me to dozens of other festivals that summer. None had the huge attendance that Woodstock had, but many had the same names. In fact, the lack of Black artists and Black bands at Woodstock (given the number available and touring that summer), stands in contrast to those other festivals.

For example, none of the following were at Woodstock, but appeared throughout that summer at other festivals: The Chambers Brothers, Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Taj Majal, Elvin Bishop, Sun Ra, Bukka White,  Carla and Rufus Thomas, Ike and Tina Turner, Marvin Gaye,  Albert King, Albert Collins, Edwin Starr, Slim Harpo, Big Mama Thornton,  Champion Jack Dupree, John Lee Hooker, Edwin Hawkins Singers, Buddy Guy, Bo Diddley, Charles Lloyd, BB King, Little Richard, James Cotton Blues Band, Sam and Dave, Fred McDowell, Deacon John and the Electric Soul Train,  or Junior Walker and the All Stars.

That same summer, Tony Lawrence helped created the Harlem Cultural Festival which featured  three days of Black artists. Summer of Love,” a movie of that event has been released.

I am not suggesting that Woodstock’s invited line-up was a biased or poor one. It was great (as were the many others). And I am certainly not suggesting that all of those listed above should have been there, otherwise the true musical coexistence that the spirit of Woodstock implies would ring hollow.

But why not any?

Old Man Woodstock Reflections

Personal view

As a Woodstock alum, myself, it is a thrill to hear “my” festival so celebrated and anointed with such importance, yet when Lou Adler stated that, ““My feeling has always been that if it hadn’t rained, we may not have heard that much about Woodstock, or at least heard about it in a different way…..More than the music, it was the story of people pulling together against all these adverse elements. That’s what made it such a dramatic and universal story” I cringe a bit.

The rain did happen, but the weekend was not a wash-out by any means. Sunburned backs attest to that.

Old Man Woodstock Reflections

Old Man Woodstock Reflections

Sense of Solidarity

That those of us who attended did return home with a sense of solidarity seems to be accurate. The most common theme I note after conversations with returning Woodstock alum at the Museum was the sense of “Us” that we had there and afterwards. Always remember that on that misty Monday morning when Hendrix finally closed the (actually) 4-day event, there were “only” 30- to 40-thousand people left.

Most of us had gone home. We were tired. We were hungry. We were wet. We were muddy. We wondered whether our car was still there. And we had to get back to our jobs–whether that was a full-time one or a summer job before college began.

Old Man Woodstock Reflections

Love for Sale

Old Man Woodstock Reflections
Locals along 17B on Saturday 16 August selling hot dogs and soda. $1 each.

Woodstock’s mythic story intensified what had already begun. FM rock stations and college stations (always underrated in terms of their influence) became a bigger influences. Hillburn writes that, “Woodstock changed the progressive rock format from an experiment to a boom.”

The record industry did continue to increase its profits, but not, until the mid-70 did sales skyrocket: “$2.37 billion in 1975 . . . $2.73 billion in 1976 . . . $3.50 billion in 1977 . . . and $4.13 billion in 1978.” And those profits are credited to Woodstock’s fame.

Old Man Woodstock Reflections

Mainstream

The end result by 1989 is that the counter-cultural music scene had gone mainstream. Stadium shows with commercial sponsors and ticket prices that make Woodstock ticket-buyer wax nostalgic.  The idealism of the 60s could still be found, but now part of a subset, not the primary aim.

A disillusioned Bill Graham quit the promotion business. Temporarily. He  returned to help create hundreds of stadium shows and help oversee a merchandising-related company. Ironically, he died in a helicopter accident after a successful meeting with Huey Lewis about doing a benefit concert.

Old Man Woodstock Reflections

Today’s economics

Nowadays, even a not-for-profit venue like Bethel Woods Center for the Arts has to charge what seems to many to be exorbitant ticket prices to make ends meet. Ends that aren’t meet by ticket sales alone and depend on the generosity of others to close the gap and finally end in the black.

The COVID pandemic was a death knell for so many businesses and it will take years for those like Bethel Woods to recover.

Apparently the intersection of Hurd and West Shore Roads will always be a beautiful, iconic, and historic site, but not a profit-making one.

Old Man Woodstock Reflections