Monday, November 6, 2017

No one knew the circumstance but they say it happened pretty quick


"Blood on the Tracks" is one of the most acclaimed albums in rock history.  Bob Dylan's 1975 masterpiece is also one of his most commercially successful records, topping the charts and going double platinum.  BOTT was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2015.

Gregg Inhofer plays keyboards on five of the ten tracks, but you won't find his name on any release of the album.  The same holds for the four other Minneapolis musicians who also backed Dylan on those songs. Guitarist Kevin Odegard co-wrote a fascinating book about the experience.

The short version: Dylan had recorded the ten songs for BOTT in New York City and the album was set for a release in time for Christmas, 1974.  But Dylan wasn't satisfied, so his brother suggested that he re-record some songs while in Minnesota for the holidays and delay the release. 

Backing musicians were quickly rounded up and, after two days of recording, produced the final versions of "Tangled Up in Blue," "You're a Big Girl Now," "Idiot Wind," "If You See Her, Say Hello," and the song I cover in my Q+A with Gregg Inhofer, "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts."

Since the record jackets had been already been printed, it was too late to add the Minneapolis musicians to the credits, something which has never been rectified. 

"Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts" is a long title for a very long song.  It is cinematic in scope, telling the tale of a love triangle in the Old West in 15 verses. The characters and setting are so vividly depicted that, unsurprisingly, there have been two screenplays based on LR&TJOH (neither has been produced).

The musical setting for this complex story is relatively simple, an uptempo folk song propelled by the talented Minneapolis musicians, including Inhofer on organ.

To hear what they added to the song, first listen to the rejected New York version, done in a slower and stripped down style: 

And then listen to the Minneapolis version, the one used on BOTT:

Dylan has only played LR&TKOJ live once, back in 1976.  

Gregg Inhofer is an accomplished musician, a member of the Minnesota Rock and Country Hall of Fame, a singer-songwriter and pianist whose work ranges from jazz to rock to R&B. He recently fielded my seven questions about his experience working on BOTT.

1 - What was your connection to Kevin Odegard at the time and thus to these sessions?

Gregg Inhofer
: At the time, I was working in Kevin’s band doing his originals. Kevin’s manager was David Zimmerman, Bob’s brother. When the whole session thing came up, it was decided to use the studio rhythm section which was Billy Peterson & Bill Berg. When the subject of a keyboard player came up, I was the first name on their minds since I worked with Kevin.

2 - How well did you know any of Dylan's previous repertoire?

GI: I wasn't that well versed in Dylan’s work. I was aware of the mainstream stuff & had deep respect for him as a lyricist & the voice of a generation. I would hear whole albums at parties but I never bought one.

3 - In your band at the time, This Oneness, you were one of the vocalists. Did you learn anything about singing from observing Dylan during these sessions?

GI: Yes, I was also working with This Oneness. No, I didn't learn any vocal tips from him during the sessions. He didn't care that much about vocals. It was the words. 

Funny though, years later when we did the Pantages show, I had to sing a couple songs from BOTT. In learning his vocals I thought, oh I see what he was maybe going to go for if he gave a shit….but he didn't really.

4- Did Dylan give you any direction or feedback on your organ part for Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts? You had been playing progressive rock/jazz fusion with This Oneness. Was it challenging to adapt to playing a three-chord song with a very straightforward time signature?

GI: He did not give any feedback for this song. I found the 3 chords rather boring but not in a disrespectful way. I amused myself by turning the Leslie on and off.

5 - I've read how the musicians on "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" were tired after a long night of recording when they started taping that song -- and they kept thinking it was building to an end but verse after verse kept coming. On LR&TJOH did you have any idea what the song was about or how long it was going to be?

GI: We had no idea. It just kept going and going. I learned one of my most important lessons from this song though. 

We were listening to playback & I was watching Bill Berg. He was over by the speaker talking with Bob. It was a simple train beat but Bill was explaining that he could play it Doopa dappa Doopa dapper Doopa dapper Doopa dapper or dappa dooba dapper dooba dapper dooba dapper dooba. 

Now, he was a well versed jazz drummer & what I saw was Bill as a giant reservoir of talent with a little spigot on the end. Bill was giving that spigot to Bob to open or close as he saw fit. It was a moment for me. It changed how I approached the song the next time we recorded it & subsequently the rest of the sessions & all sessions the rest of my life. My philosophy became, I’d rather have someone say, "wow, what a great session" than "what a crappy session but listen to that keyboard player."

6 - In 2004, you and the other Minneapolis musicians who played on BOTT performed all the songs from the album at the Pantages Theatre in Minneapolis. What was that experience like?

GI: I said a little about it earlier. It was a great time. Eric Weissberg from Deliverance was there. A great guy. 

I said to him, Eric, there’s a question I've been wanting to ask you for 20 years. He said, why didn't you call me? Because I didn't have your number. There were a number of expletives thrown from both sides. 

It was an honor to play with all the people there. One of my top ten musical moments.

7 - Notoriously, you and the rest of the Minneapolis musicians were not credited on the record, never received gold records, etc., just union scale. In 2002, you wondered “what might have happened if we got credit?" Has anything changed in the years since you said that?

GI: Oh, I try to take a pragmatic approach. All roads lead to now & I’m quite content with my life now. I still think about suing Sony, they bought Columbia, just to give myself some closure. 

Yeah, if we had gotten credit it could have changed my whole career. I have to take responsibility for not speaking up when the second pressing came out & we weren't on it as promised. Shoulda woulda coulda.

If you'd like to hear more about Gregg's musical career, you can watch him here: 

Monday, September 25, 2017

Wanna Buy Five Copies For My Mother


Dennis Locorriere of Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show

Dennis Locorriere, a founding member of Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show, a guitarist, songwriter and vocalist, took time recently to answer my seven questions about one of the funnest songs ever to grace the Top Ten, "The Cover of the Rolling Stone." He is currently touring worldwide, fronting "DR HOOK starring Dennis Locorriere." 

Dr. Hook (the "& the Medicine Show" was jettisoned in 1975) is one of the most underrated bands of the '70s and early '80s. They're the kind of act that, when you hear one of their songs, you start thinking about their other hits and before you know it you have a longer list than you expected.

They broke through with 1972's "Sylvia's Mother" (which peaked at #5) before scoring a #6 hit with "The Cover of the Rolling Stone." 

It took three years before their next hit, a cover of Sam Cooke's "Only 16," a #6 hit, followed shortly thereafter by "A Little Bit More" at #11.

1978 brought "Sharing the Night Together" (#6); 1979 delivered "When You're in Love with a Beautiful Woman" (#6 - they must have the record for most #6 singles) and "Better Love Next Time" (#12); and in 1980 they scored another #5 in with "Sexy Eyes."  

Ten Top 40 hits from 1972-1982 -- six of which reached #5 or #6 -- is an impressive run.  Maybe too successful as a pop act, because despite being comprised of very talented singers and musicians who put on highly entertaining live shows, Dr. Hook doesn't get as much credit as some of its peers.  

I get it.  They had hit singles but their albums never broke through, they sang a lot of what McCartney called "Silly Love Songs," and they always looked like they were having way too much fun to be "artistes." 

That said, I've never met anyone who doesn't like "The Cover of the Rolling Stone," Dr. Hook's only hit that wasn't a love song, one with more of a country rock feel and which showcases the band's innate and solid sense of humor.

TCotRS was written by renaissance man Shel Silverstein, who also wrote Johnny Cash's "A Boy Named Sue," but is probably best remembered today for children's books like "A Light in the Attic" and "Where the Sidewalk Ends."

To find out what Dennis Locorriere has to say about Silverstein, "Rolling Stone," and Dr. Hook, read on...

1 - You sang lead on virtually every Dr. Hook hit record, with the exception of "The Cover of the Rolling Stone." Was it because your voice was, essentially, too good, given the loose feel of this song?  Or were you needed to do the harmonies and backing vocals?

Dennis Locorriere: I've always seen The Cover of Rolling Stone as an ensemble piece. It was appropriate. After all, it was the whole band who was begging to be on the cover.

The first voice you hear is mine, saying "Hey, sugar! Tell 'em who we are." Then Ray kicks it off perfectly in the first verse, making the band's case for immortality.

Second verse is sung by George in his low, ominous tones, extolling the virtues of someone named Cocaine Katy. 

From there the song is sung pretty much in harmony and ends with me talking again. "I can see it now, man...awwww, beautiful!"

2 - How did you come up with the hilarious guitar solo (I've read that you played it on the record, though not in concert)?

DL: I literally closed my eyes and dove in, not considering the notes I was playing at all. What came out was what we used. I couldn't have played it again if I'd wanted to. I felt sorry for the poor guitar players out there who may have tried to duplicate it!

3 - Shel Silverstein called the band at a hotel and asked if you wanted to get on the cover of Rolling Stone.  When you first heard him play the song, did you think his plan would work?

DL: You never know what's gonna 'work' in this business. What we did know was that it was a brilliantly funny, cleverly written song and we wanted it in our repertoire.

4 - Why didn't Shel record the song himself?  

DL: Shel always said he didn't need or want the attention and passed a lot of songs, TV appearances and the like on to us. The band had just gotten some attention with our first big record, Sylvia's Mother (also written by Shel!) and I suppose he thought this song could only help. He was right!

5 - You and the rest of the band look like you're having a great time on every live performance of CotRS I've seen. Was your humorous patter leading into the live versions off the cuff, or did you have a couple of standard lines you liked to work with, given how many times you must have performed that song?

DL: The things I said on the record were off the cuff. I just rambled until we found something we thought might work. Didn't take all that long as I recall.
In concert, we just played the song without any commentary. The lyrics spoke for themselves.

6 - The image of Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show in CotRS, on the first few albums and on stage was, "this band knows how to party!"  However, you look and sound great now, tour the world performing with your band, and seem younger than your years.  Good genes, or was that image more an act than a reality?

DL: When you first go on the road you think you should have a party every night because you're sure the good times can't possibly last very long. Once it becomes evident that this is your job, and not a hobby, you have some choices to make. I was never one to seriously over indulge, believe it or not. We had a shambolic stage persona that worked for us for awhile, but, truthfully, we weren't 'always stoned' any more than Bowie was really 'from Mars.'

As far as seeming younger than my years these days, I thank you for the compliment. I feel terrific. Guess we'll see how long that goes on.

7 - When the song was released, Rolling Stone sent 16-year old Cameron Crowe to profile the band.  When you watched his film, "Almost Famous," which is based on Crowe's experiences back then, did that bring back any memories?

DL: Tho I haven't seen him since those very early days I have fond memories of Cameron. He was a sharp kid and you were left with the feeling he was gonna go on to bigger things.

The last time I had contact with him was by post, after Almost Famous was released. He told me he had tried to reach me and wanted me to be a consultant on the film. I was sad we hadn't connected because the film is great - very accurate as far as the behind the scenes stuff goes. I also would have loved to work with Cameron, the man. But I was still very flattered that he'd even considered me after so many years. 

Judging by his tweetsDennis is one of the hardest working men in show business, touring with his band and making the media rounds.  I'll leave you with this entertaining interview Dennis did a couple of years ago on Australian TV: