Friday, September 1, 2017

Origins of Bob Dylan's Never Ending Tour

Original painting by Susan Laing. John Bushey on the Air at KUMD
After Sam Shepard passed last month I was visiting with John Bushey, host of the KUMD's Highway 61 Revisited, when the topic of the Rolling Thunder Revue came up. I had written a blog post tribute about Sam Shepard the day before. John asked if I'd read Shepard's Rolling Thunder Logbook about the tour and I had to confess I was unaware that he'd written such a book. John then mentioned that he had a signed copy of the book at one time, which included signatures of several others who were on the tour and in the book, but he know longer had it because he showed it to Jessica Lange, even she did not know Sam, her husband, had written this book. (Trivia: Both John Bushey and Jessica Lange are originally from Cloquet, 20 minutes south of Duluth.)

This led John to ask if I'd read Larry "Ratso" Sloman's On the Road with Bob Dylan, a.k.a. Rolling with the Thunder. Though I own and have read two dozen other books about or by Dylan, I confessed I had not, and later than night decided to order up a copy. I was reading Sartre's What Is Literature? and Hillbilly Elegy when it arrived, so it took a couple weeks to finally get to it.

Right off the book has captured me. By pages nine and ten we're getting introduced to Scarlet Rivera, whose electrifying violin became one of the mesmerizing elements of the Revue's signature sound. On page ten I read about how Scarlet was walking through Greenwich Village, violin case in hand, and Dylan, in a car, rolls down his window and asks where she's going.

Scarlet, who went on to have a long career of her own, has won the hearts of many here in the Northland for her performances on behalf of the Duluth Armory and water conservation issues. Her violin continues to sizzle and her musical interests continue to evolve. My interview with Scarlet in 2012 has the most accurate account of her first meeting with Bob.

* * * *
I'm not sure if there's really a specific date when the Never Ending Tour (NET) actually began, though Swedish researcher Olof Björner claims that Dylan's October 2007 concert in Dayton was his 2000th show on the NET. That kind of declaration would indicate that the NET's birth was indeed at a specific moment in time. Whether true or no, and as with many Dylan truths it's ambiguous, nearly everyone is in agreement that it was in the late 1980's that a lifestyle of touring had re-commenced.

According to the Wikipedia account of the Tour the name Never Ending Tour was coined by a journalist writing for Q Magazine in December 1989, Adrian Deevoy.

The origin for this travelling gypsy circus, I'd somehow come to believe, was shortly after Dylan's cross-country tour with the Grateful Dead in the summer of 1988. What I'd always speculated, with no visible means of support, was that Dylan took his inspiration from the Deadhead caravan that followed them endlessly, a readymade devoted fan-base.

Where my idea for this theory came from I can't entirely say. It may have been suggested in my readings or it may have come from some of the people who circulate here in the swirl of Duluth Dylan Fest.

Well, I have a new piece of data to add to this concoction. It's on page 19 of Ratso's book that I've this week begun reading. Dylan starts talking about taking this group out on the road. He wanted to tour big time. He cites an Off-Broadway play called The Fantastics that's been running for ten years and it sets his imagination on fire. "And he said," Sloman writes, "that what he really wanted was the kind of tour that would last forever."

The vision he had at the time for the never ending was not one in which he was the center of attention. Rather, it was a band of gypsies made of all stars and when he wanted he could come and go, leaving for family time and returning to re-connect when he got bored. It would be an energy center, power tour. "It was very important to him that everyone know that there was this show going on..."

Everyone thought it was a great idea, so they set out to name it. The show would be self-contained, including sound systems, lights and crew, with the only real need being stages on which to play. "Wherever there was an empty stage we could perform."

This all took place more than a dozen years before that first concert cited by Mr. Björner

Well, so much for all that.

If you have other references for the origin of Dylan's Never Ending Tour, I'd like to here about them.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Get into it.


Gerbrand said...

The tour with the Grateful Dead was in Summer 1987, not 1988. The first NET concert was June 7, 1988 in Concord, California. See Olof Björner's website.

Ed Newman said...

Thanks for the correction. I meant to check my facts on that (Grateful Dead tour) before posting but it got late. I know two women who were following that tour. One was a Dead fan and the other was travelling with Dylan. I always wondered if their paths crossed along the way.

Was it called Never Ending Tour at the outset, or dubbed that later? I have read conflicting stories.

I found it interesting that the idea of an ongoing tour had been many years earlier.

jd said...

Hi. I heard Bob talk about the name Never Ending Tour years back. NET I think was the name of a specific tour for a year or so. Whatever. But the name stuck. I don't think bob ever refers to what he has been doing for years as NET. But everyone else calls it that. the name stuck and I think he's afraid not to be working so it seems never ending. But in the interview he had many names for tours. I can't recall them but apparently he didn't seem to like to call what he does the NET. but the name seems to fit.

Anonymous said...

Read the sleeve notes by Bob to 1993's magnificent World Gone Wrong. He explains everything you need to know about the so called Never Ending Tour up to that point.

Ed Newman said...

Yes, tis true.
I found it interesting to read his notion of an endless travelling revue back in the mid-70s...

For those who don't know where to look, here are the liner notes Anon. referenced.
by the way, don't be bewildered by the Never Ending Tour chatter. there was a Never Ending Tour but it ended in '91 with the departure of guitarist G.E. Smith. that one's long gone but there have been many others since then. The Money Never Runs Out Tour (fall of '91) Southern Sympathizer Tour (early '92) Why Do You Look At Me So Strangley Tour (European '92) The One Sad Cry of Pity Tour (Australia & West Coast America '92) Principles Of Action Tour (Mexico -- South American '92) Outburst Of Consciousness Tour ('92) Don't Let Your Deal Go Down Tour('93) & others too many to mention each with their own character & design. to know which was which consult the playlists.
-- Bob Dylan

Unknown said...

The common designation of the NET was the beginning of the 1988 tour, one which ran in a fairly consistent pattern for all of the years since. That is regular annual touring all through the USA and Europe (and occasionally Asia) with a regular band that was hired specifically for touring. Before that, most tours were short segments, often limited to one region, and often with a guest band (like Tom Petty). But the key difference before 1988 was that one would never be quite sure that Dylan would continue touring. He was off the road for all of 1982, 1983 and 1985. The tours of 1984, 1986 and 1987 were basically special events and typically with a guest band.

There is little doubt that 1988 was the turning point. It is easy to say and true to an extent, that the seeds were planted with the Rolling Thunder tours, or with the 1987 tours. But from 1988 onward, it was substantially different.

Anonymous said...

I believe much of this was down to the Grateful Dead and their work as a band on the road playing shows every single year. Bob was very much influenced by the whole philosophy I believe, certainly around 92/93. The sets, Dead covers and 2 drummers. Also well known that Dylan asked if he could join the Dead - all members OK'ed it apart from Phil Lesh, so it never happened. People are not that kind about Dylan's 1987 tour with the Grateful Dead however I feel that was the catalysis for the last 29 years of constant touring. 29 years! God it only seems like yesterday I heard my first NET bootleg - Jones Beach 88.