Los Angeles – In the cautious, cryptic and unpredictable manner that has infatuated his fans and infuriated the press for years, Bob Dylan has decided to make a live comeback. And maybe more.
It was announced last week – suddenly and somewhat secretly – that Dylan and the Band will tour the country in January – Dylan's first tour in eight years and his most ambitious ever.
The announcement led to a flurry of predictions from industry sources that a joint Dylan/Band album of all new material will be released before the tour, possibly on Elektra/Asylum Records. If that happens, it will be a significant coup for David Geffen, the fast-moving, 30-year-old chairman of Elektra/Asylum, whose personal desire to sign both Dylan and the Band are hardly a secret in the record business.
In an interview with Rolling Stone several months ago, Geffen stated: "The person that I would most like to manage, that I don't, is Bob Dylan. To me he's just one of the great talents of all time. I think he could certainly use a good manager since he fired Albert Grossman." Since then, with the Band and Dylan having moved from Woodstock to Malibu, rumors had persisted that Geffen and at least the Band were getting together.
Trouble is, Geffen pretty much denies everything, sort of.
"There is no album," he said. "That's all fantasy – complete and total bullshit, complete fantasy."
But could one be recorded before January?
"That's not impossible. It's possible there will be an album."
But on Elektra/Asylum?
"I can't comment on that.
"They came to me just because I'm a friend of theirs," explained Geffen. "Why should there be more to it than that? My efforts in this whole thing are just accommodating some friends . . ."
"Why did Dylan decide to tour at this moment? Why not?"
The tour itself was primarily arranged by promoter Bill Graham, at the instigation of Geffen, and was somehow kept secret for three months. Reportedly Graham was able to reserve two dozen major concert halls – including Madison Square Garden, Chicago International Amphitheater, Oakland Coliseum, Missouri Arena, the Spectrum in Philadelphia, Capital Centre in Washington, D.C., and the Forum in Los Angeles – without revealing to hall owners who was to play.
Auditorium owners, however, do not offer sites, acts unseen. As Bill Cunningham, general manager of the Oakland Coliseum, explained, "There's a difference between calling and saying 'Are you open February 11th' and 'Send me a contract for February 11th and I'll tell you later who the attraction is.'" Graham's office, he said, called some five weeks ago to ask availabilities – without saying who was being booked. "We just told them it was available February 11th, and later. Bill called and told me it was Dylan and asked me to keep it a secret."
Even after the tour story broke apparently unintentionally last week, through a "leak" from Band leader Robbie Robertson, Graham and Geffen remained unusually tight-lipped.
"For once, Bill Graham will keep quiet" was the only quote Graham would OK for attribution.
But Graham's office did release these particulars: The tour will begin January 3rd at Chicago International Amphitheater, and will end February 14th at the Forum in Los Angeles. Between those dates Dylan and the Band will play 39 shows in 25 cities. Tickets will be handled on a mail-order basis only, and will cost from $6.50 to $8.50 in "primary markets" and from $5.50 to $7.50 in "secondary markets."
Graham's office emphasized that concert locations, particularly in major cities, are subject to change, but that all arrangements will be completed by Sunday, December 2nd. On that day, newspaper ads will appear in all cities concerned announcing exact concert locations and where requests for tickets may be mailed. Customers will be limited to four tickets each.
Surely this is the most enterprising tour that either Dylan or Graham, as a booking agent, has undertaken. The Graham people predict they will sell, for example, 75,000 tickets in New York, 60,000 in Los Angeles and 38,000 in St. Louis. Assuming most shows will sell out, the tour can be expected to gross between $4 and $4.5 million.
Dylan last toured, though not on such a grand scale, in 1965, backed up by a band that later became the Band. Since then he has toyed with the idea of trying it again (In 1969 he announced to Rolling Stone in an interview that he would tour medium-sized halls in November or December of that year), but nothing ever came of it.
Last January he again mentioned the idea of touring – to Robert Hilburn of the Los Angeles Times. "I'd like to play-some out-of-the-way places," he said. "That would be fun."
But Madison Square Garden and many of the other arenas scheduled hardly qualify as out of the way. Hence the supposition by many that Dylan's decision was timed to something else, possibly a new commercial deal of some sort. Hence an incentive to tour: promotion. Dylan's contract with Columbia, for example, expired last January, although Columbia executives, from Clive Davis months before his dismissal, to a vice president contacted last week, steadfastly refused to confirm Dylan's freedom. One high source at CBS, however, has told this publication of difficulties in negotiating with Dylan's attorneys. His wariness, was combined with grudging acknowledgment of the importance of retaining Dylan, long a winning point in enabling Columbia to attract important artists to the label.
Dylan has been reported to have spoken with several other record companies – Warner Bros, and Atlantic are most prominent in such stories. Warners said meetings had taken place, but no serious business discussions had occurred; Atlantic has worked with Dylan on two recent projects: his participation in the Doug Sahm album and his co-production, with Jerry Wexler, on a new Barry Goldberg LP. And Dylan was reportedly a free agent with his soundtrack album of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, which was purchased by Columbia from MGM. There is merit, then, to all the talk.
Still, there are some pretty good arguments, on the surface at least, against a joint move by Dylan and the Band. For one thing, the Band, under their current contract, owes Capitol Records three albums (although an "escape clause" allows them to record single albums with Dylan on any label). For another, Columbia reportedly owns a number of Dylan tapes – outtakes from earlier albums and some impromptu, off-the-wall stuff – that could be released at any time. (Whether or not they are objectionable to Dylan, he presumably would lose any influence over their release if he formally broke with Columbia.)
A top executive at Warner Communications Incorporated, the parent company that owns Warner Bros., Elektra/Asylum and Atlantic, said he'd understood that Geffen and Columbia were currently engaged in intense bidding for two Dylan albums – the planned Dylan/Band album of new material and a live recording of the tour. He'd heard that Geffen was offering an advance of half a million dollars, plus lavish royalties. (At the same time, Columbia executives admitted, without explanation, they had suddenly put a "hold" on an album of old Dylan material, material written by other composers, that was scheduled for release this month.)
Geffen scoffed angrily at the suggestion of any deal or attempts at a deal.
"Whoever you spoke to has to be full of shit, 'cause it's just not true. It's just more insane, moronic fantasy – that's not a denial, that's a fact."
But then he added: "Of course, if Bob Dylan or the Band suddenly came over and said, 'We want to sign with you,' I mean, we're not gonna say, 'No, you can't.' But that hasn't happened."
This story is from the December 6th, 1973 issue of Rolling Stone.