Bob Dylan has recently been spotted on the streets and in the cafés of New Orleans. But he isn’t just visiting the Crescent City to sample the local cuisine or to enjoy excursions on the St. Charles Avenue streetcar: Dylan has been spending much of his time in New Orleans working on an album that is being produced by Canadian Daniel Lanois.
Lanois, who has also worked with U2, Robbie Robertson and Peter Gabriel, has been in New Orleans since last summer, when he produced the Neville Brothers’ latest album, Yellow Moon. Like the Nevilles’ album, Dylan’s sessions are being recorded at Lanois’s aptly named Studio on the Move, where Lanois had been working on his own album prior to beginning the sessions with Dylan. The makeshift studio — which contains several hundred thousand dollars’ worth of the producer’s recording equipment — is currently located in a spacious home in an upscale neighborhood of New Orleans.
Although Dylan has been touring in recent months with a trio featuring guitarist G.E. Smith, drummer Chris Parker and bassist Kenny Aaronson, he has been using various local musicians on his New Orleans sessions. The Neville Brothers’ rhythm section — drummer Willie Green, bassist Tony Hall and guitarist Brian Stolz — has been enlisted, as have guitarist Mason Ruffner and his band, which includes drummer Roddy Colonna and bassist Glen Fukunaga. Lanois has also played guitar on some tracks.
Although the sessions have been shrouded in secrecy, one musician participating in the recordings says they have been going well. ”Naturally I was thrilled just being in the studio with Bob Dylan,” says the musician. ”He does a tune a number of different ways until he hits a groove that works. If things aren’t working right after a few takes, he just goes on to another song and tries again later.” Adds another person close to the project, ”It’s an enlightening experience, watching a great poet embark on a new voyage.”
Dylan’s presence in New Orleans has caused a stir among the locals. Residents are abuzz with reports of various Dylan sightings, and a gossip columnist for the local newspaper, the Times-Picayune, has gone so far as to install a semiregular Dylan Watch as part of a daily column. But one local hairdresser claimed that no one in the city could possibly recognize Dylan — because to disguise him, she had cut off all of his hair.
This is a story from the May 18, 1989 issue of Rolling Stone.