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Bob Dylan Talks: A Raw and Extensive First Rolling Stone Interview

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How many songs did you go into Nashville Skyline with?
I went in with uhh . . . the first time I went into the studio I had, I think, four songs. I pulled that instrumental one out . . . I needed some songs with an instrumental . . . then Johnny came in and did a song with me. Then I wrote one in the motel . . . then pretty soon the whole album started fillin' in together, and we had an album. I mean, we didn't go down with that in mind. That's why I wish you were there . . . you could've really seen it happen. It just manipulated out of nothing.

How many songs did you do with Johnny?
Well, we did quite a few. We just sat down and started doing some songs . . . but you know how those things are. You get into a room with someone, you start playing and singing, and you sort of forget after a while what you're there for. [Laughs.]

You must have a lotta songs with him on tape . . . are you thinking of putting out a collection of them?
Well I'm not, no. But you usually have to leave those things in the hands of the producers.

Is there one afoot?
A tape?

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No, an album.
No . . . not that I know of. If there was an album, I believe that we would both have to go back into the studio and record some more songs.

There's not enough there already . . . or it's just not good enough?
Well, it's uhh . . . what it comes down to is a choice of material. If they wanted an album – a joint album – they could probably get a lot more material with a broader range on it. If we went there with actually certain songs in mind to do . . . see, that didn't happen last time.

How did you make the change . . . or why did you make the change, of producers, from Tom Wilson to Bob Johnston?
Well, I can't remember, Jann. I can't remember . . . all I know is that I was out recording one day, and Tom had always been there – I had no reason to think he wasn't going to be there – and I looked up one day and Bob was there. [Laughs.]

There's been some articles on Wilson and he says that he's the one that gave you the rock & roll sound . . . and started you doing rock & roll. Is that true?
Did he say that? Well, if he said it . . . [laughs] more power to him. [Laughs.] He did to a certain extent. That is true. He did. He had a sound in mind.

Have you ever thought of doing an album . . . a very arranged, very orchestrated album, you know, with chicks and . . . ?
Gee, I've thought of it . . . I think about it once in a while. Yeah.

You think you might do one?
I do whatever comes naturally. I'd like to do an album like that. You mean using my own material and stuff?

Yeah, using your own material but with vocal background and . . .
I'd like to do it. Who wouldn't?

When did you make the change from John Hammond . . . or what caused the change from John Hammond?
John Hammond. He signed me in 1960. He signed me to Columbia Records. I think he produced my first album. I think he produced my second one, too.

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And Tom Wilson was also working at Columbia at the time?
He was . . . you know, I don't recall how that happened . . . or why that switch took place. I remember at one time I was about to record for Don Law. You know Don Law? I was about to record for Don Law, but I never did. I met Don Law in New York, in 1962 . . . and again recently, last year when I did the John Wesley Harding album I met him down in the studio. He came in . . . he's a great producer. He produced many of the earlier records for Columbia and also for labels which they had before – Okeh and stuff like that. I believe he did the Robert Johnson records.

What did you do in the year between Blonde on Blonde and John Wesley Harding?
Well I was on tour part of that time . . . Australia, Sweden . . . an overseas tour. Then I came back . . . and in the spring of that year, I was scheduled to go out – it was one month off, I had a one-month vacation – I was gonna go back on the road again in July. Blonde on Blonde was up on the charts at this time. At that time I had a dreadful motorcyle accident . . . Which put me away for awhile . . . and I still didn't sense the importance of that accident till at least a year after that. I realized that it was a real accident. I mean I thought that I was just gonna get up and go back to doing what I was doing before . . . but I couldn't do it anymore.

What did I do during that year? I helped work on a film . . . which was supposed to be aired on Stage 67, a television show which isn't on anymore . . . I don't think it was on for very long.

What change did the motorcyle accident make?
What change? Well, it . . . it limited me. It's hard to speak about the change, you know? It's not the type of change that one can put into words . . . besides the physical change. I had a busted vertebrae; neck vertebrae. And there's really not much to talk about. I don't want to talk about it.

Laying low for a year . . . you must have had time to think. That was the ABC-TV show? What happened to the tapes of that? How come that never got shown?
Well, I could make an attempt to answer that, but . . . [laughs] . . . I think my manager could probably answer it a lot better.

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I don't think he answers too many questions.
Doesn't he? He doesn't answer questions? Well he's a nice guy. He'll usually talk to you if you show some enthusiasm for what you're talking about.

So what happened to the tapes?
You mean that film? As far as I know, it will be sold . . . or a deal will be made, for its sale. That's what I'm told. But you see, Jann, I don't hold these movie people in too high a position. You know this movie, Don't Look Back? Well, that splashed my face all over the world, that movie Don't Look Back. I didn't get a penny from that movie, you know . . . so when people say why don't you go out and work and why don't you do this and why don't you do that, people don't know half of what a lot of these producers and people, lawyers . . . they don't know the half of those stories. I'm an easy-going kind of fellow, you know . . . I'm forgive and forget. I like to think that way. But I'm a little shy of these people. I'm not interested in finding out anymore about any film.

Did you like Don't Look Back?
I'd like it a lot more if I got paid for it. [Laughter]

There was supposed to be another film that Pennebaker shot I don't know when or where maybe it was the ABC film . . .
That was it. Sure it was. That's the one you're talking about.

Is it a good one?
Well, we cut it fast on the eye. It's fast on the eye. I'd have to let you see it for yourself, to think about if it's a good one. I don't know if it's a good one. For me, it's too fast for the eye . . . but there are quite a few people who say it's really good. Johnny Cash is in it. John Lennon's in it. The Band's in it. Who else . . . a lot of different people from the European capitals of the world are in it.

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Song Stories

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

While living on the Greek island of Hydra, Cohen was battling a lingering depression when his girlfriend handed him a guitar and suggested he play something. After spotting a bird on a telephone wire, Cohen wrote this prayer-like song of guilt. First recorded by Judy Collins, it would be performed numerous times by artists incuding Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and Rita Coolidge. "I'm always knocked out when I hear my songs covered or used in some situation," Cohen told Rolling Stone. "I've never gotten over the fact that people out there like my music."

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