Bob Dylan: Freewheelin' Through The Village

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A couple of nights later, Dylan played the Fourth of July hootenanny Colby held at the Other End. But it wasn't until a week and a half later when Neuwirth put together a scraggly pickup band to play on the same bill with Texan Rusty Weir and locals Jake and the Family Jewels that anyone really got a taste of what Dylan has been up to these weeks in New York.

Neuwirth, ever the astute observer of the scene, sensed that something special was happening in the Village again. He got on the phone to friends on the West Coast, talked to Paul Colby, and in a few days had what he called a "house band" for the Other End, a nifty little outfit that could play with anybody who walked in the door. Each night, the Neuwirth band would play a few songs of its own, mostly country songs written by Neuwirth, Cindy Bullens or T-Bone Burnette, a Texas swing band leader from Los Angeles. Guest appearances were made by Garland Jeffreys, Patti Smith, Sandy Bull, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Eric Kaz, Loudon Wainwright, Murray Weinstock and Mick Ronson, the English rocker who found himself onstage for four nights running playing lead electric or acoustic rhythm guitar, depending on what equipment was available.

"Where is that goddamn English punk?" Neuwirth would demand from the stage, and the skinny Ronson would find his way to a guitar and an amp, plug in and deliver amazing licks while undergoing constant abuse from Neuwirth. Mate Ian Hunter sat alone against the wall in a T-shirt and shades. No one recognized him.

Photos: Bob Dylan Through the Years

On opening night, Dylan made a perfunctory appearance to cheer on the Neuwirth band. He watched Jake and the Family Jewels and the Neuwirth band's set, then went next door. Neuwirth showed up with a couple of guitarists, Ramblin' Jack and T-Bone sat in, and Dylan sang three of his new songs. One was the song previously mentioned. Another was "Isis," an extraordinary, folky love song with a refrain that changed one word each verse, very much in the style of "Visions of Johanna" and the other songs for which he is best remembered, those from the bleak years, '64-'65, from Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde. Without stopping, he went straight into the "Ballad of Joey Gallo," a ten-minute opus that had the whole bar singing along. Dylan threw his head back and laughed as he sang the refrain: "Joey! Jooooeeeeey! King of the streets, child of clay! What made them want to come and blow you away?" Later, Neuwirth, Ramblin' Jack, T-Bone and others sang while Dylan played rhythm and harmonized. Nobody crowded around. Someone from Columbia said Dylan had recorded the three songs he sang plus one other. He said Dylan had been down to Trenton State Prison to visit Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, the former boxer who'd been convicted of murder and is now appealing his conviction. Dylan wrote a song for him, too, as yet unrecorded.

"This is a very busy time for him [Dylan]," the Columbia man said. "He's writing a lot, he's recording and he's looking for something new to get into. You get the feeling he really digs being back in New York. He's looking into doing a show on Broadway, maybe a play. And he's looking closely at TV, maybe a special. But most of all, after these nights down here at the Other End, he'd like to tour small clubs like this. There has been some talk of getting a van and driving around the country, dropping in, unannounced like tonight, playing a couple of nights and moving on. Nobody would know he was there until he showed up, so there wouldn't be a crowd scene. And nobody would know where he would strike next. That's what he wants to do most. Play bars, small clubs again. When was the last time something like this happened, Bob Dylan playing to a roomful of people, no microphones, no autograph hounds, no craziness? 1962? 1963? This has been good for him. And everybody up at Columbia is so excited! This new song, 'Isis,' they say it's the best song he's ever written, and after hearing him sing it tonight, I believe it."

Talk of the resurgence of something akin to the old Bleecker and MacDougal scene has grown, but interestingly, it hasn't centered on Dylan, despite the fact that the whole Village knows he's back in town and writing like he did in the early Sixties again. Most of the talk is about Patti Smith, whose act can't be categorized. She sings her own rock poetry, folk poetry and interpretations of oldies with various insane kickers and surprises thrown in. She recently signed a $100,000 contract with Arista, and expects to go into the studio in a few weeks. Close on her heels is Jake and the Family Jewels. Led by Alan "Jake" Jacobs of the Fugs and Bunky and Jake in the Sixties, the Family Jewels are a tight little band that plays a quirky, uptempo assemblage of oddball material, most of it original, all of it funny as hell. The "Jakettes," Diana May and Kathy Whelan, sing harmony on Jake's songs and solo on hot disco hits like "Shame, Shame, Shame." Their novelty numbers — complete with production choreography and four-part harmony — had the crowd at the Other End splitting its sides. "This is the hottest band in New York City," Neuwirth screamed above the din one night. "Any label that doesn't want to sign them right away is out of its mind."

As usual in New York, one hip, cynical "rock critic" noted that the innocence which complemented the folk scene in its heyday is no longer with us, and called the scene at the Other End a short-lived vacation from the serious business of making music these days. But those onstage saw things differently.

"This was special, sure," said Cindy Bullens, best known in L.A. as the head Sex-O-Lette on the Bob Crewe-produced Disco Tex album, and for her sessionwork with Rod Stewart and Don Everly. "But nobody's going to forget it. It's the most incredible thing any of us have been involved in for years. Everybody has had such a good time, it's got to continue to happen. Nobody wants to let this scene go."

Neuwirth, the catalyst of the week's activities, tried to play it cool, but five nights of madness at the Other End had penetrated even his thick veneer of hip. All week he kept asking from the stage, "Getting your four dollars' worth? This enough for you? So what if we've only been together for 29 minutes. We got Mick Ronson and we are tight." Late one night Neuwirth admitted: "Look, in a way this week was a tease. Everybody figured because I'm on the bill, Dylan's going to play. But what's really happening is this: Musicians want to get back in the clubs and hang out. Everybody's tired of the concert scene. So we got Loudon singing three of his new songs. We got Kaz singing 'Love Has No Pride,' one of my all-time favorites. Where else are you going to hear Mick Ronson picking lead on an Ernest Tubbs song sung by Larry Poons, the world's greatest abstract painter? Or Ramblin' Jack do-wopping and yodeling while Patti Smith sings, 'You cheated, you lied' around a poem about King Faisal's nephew? New York has got it. This is the hippest city in the country and the Other End is the best club for musicians since the days we used to close the Gaslight."

Needless to say, Paul Colby agreed. "I'm going to start charging four bucks to get onstage," he claimed at the end of a busy, crazy week. "At this rate, I'll make more money that way."

This story is from the August 28th, 1975 issue of Rolling Stone.

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