A Close Listen to Bob Dylan's First Gospel Tour Finale
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In the course of researching this show - the final night of Bob Dylan’s first gospel tour (a planned third Tucson show the following night was scrapped due to low demand) - I came across The Gospel Project.
On this old website blessedly still up – maybe angelfire.com is an auspicious domain for Dylan’s gospel era – Watt Alexander listened to every single 1979 Dylan show. He wrote song-by-song notes on each one, and they go deep. Well beyond “‘When He Returns’ stuns” type stuff. Of course it did; “When He Returns” stunned every night. He pinpoints the minute variation in the songs from night to night. Because, as followers of the Rough and Rowdy Ways tour know, even when the setlists don’t change much, the way Dylan performs the songs can change a lot from night to night.
So I listened to this final show using Watt’s notes as a guide. You can read his full writeup here, but I broke out a few highlights from the Gospel Project notes [marked “GP”], embedded the associated moments from the recording so you can listen along, and added a few notes of my own. The clips are very short, just a few seconds in some cases. If you want them in more context, the full download is at the bottom as always.
Monologue -> “If I've Got My Ticket, Lord”
GP: “By the third prayer, the crowd is cheering her on, and the piano intro to "If I Got My Ticket, Lord" is drowned by applause. Regina then lets ride the gorgeous, earthy first lines of "If I Got My Ticket, Lord," and the three singers, together, sweep the audience before them.”
Before we get to the Dylan portion, one note from the gospel singers’ set that preceded him. Regina McCrary told me how she began telling this long story about a woman on a train to kick off the show. The transition here to the singing – after she’s been talking up there alone for over three minutes – is powerful.
“Gotta Serve Somebody”
GP: “drops down nearly full octave on "serve somebody" at end of chorus following this stanza”
See what I mean about detailed? Only someone listening to every single show would notice him singing just two words in a different register than he had for the month prior.
“When You Gonna Wake Up”
GP: "Spiritual advisors and gurus to make you hold your breath; instant inner peace and every step you take leads down to death."
A lyric change here; the album version is “Spiritual advisors and gurus to guide your every move; Instant inner peace and every step you take's got to be approved.”
“When He Returns”
GP: "before you aaaaassssssssskkkkk"
A quick bit of vocal acrobatics in what was Bob’s best-sung song just about every night. I spoke to pianist Spooner Oldham about accompanying Bob on this one every night, just the two of them. That’ll be in the book!
Maybe my favorite of the batch. Listen to how the chorus evolves. Bob sings it differently, with or without the backing singers, every time he hits it.
GP: “first chorus Dylan: "shine your light . . . on me"”
GP: “second chorus, w/ backing, Dylan:"shine your light, (skips)//shine your light, (skips)// shine your light, shine your light on me"”
GP: “third chorus Dylan: "Shine your light, shine your light on me//Shine your light, shine your light on me//Shine your light, shine your light on me"”
One more refrain. This one is only the backing singers on the “shine your light” bits. That part’s like the album version, but instead of fading out (hard to pull off live) Dylan takes over for a “little too blind to see” finish.
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After “Precious Angel”
GP: “CROWD: "Everybody must get stoned!" Dylan: "Who was that, who said that? Give me that person's name who said that." CROWD: "Dylan!" (Dylan chuckles)”
GP: "I don't care about ecology; I don't care about astrology."
Another small but notable lyric change. The original is “economy/astronomy.” Now it’s “ecology/astrology.”
“Do Right to Me Baby (Do Unto Others)”
GP: “interesting guitar work at the end by both Dylan and Tackett”
Judging by the Toronto 1980 video, that’s Tackett on the acoustic guitar you’re hearing, and Dylan on the electric.
GP: “Dylan waits a two full measures after guitar solo to kick in, with nice singing by Helena in interim and bass, guitar interplay.”
Watt mentions the bass and guitars after Helena stops wailing, but for me the high point here is drummer Jim Keltner’s energetic playing. Without Bob starting to sing where he usually would, it’s basically an unexpected drum break. Some rap group should sample this.
GP: “Stumble to end, then set into blues prowl of chorus ending, more prominent in winter”
Not sure I hear the stumble, but love that half-time ending. Like how Elvis would do “Hound Dog” live. Interesting that it would grow in prominence over time.
“What Can I Do for You”
GP: “not his best harp solo at the end”
Oof! That’s putting it mildly. Did he grab a harmonica in the wrong key by accident?
“Blessed Be the Name”
GP: “strumming guitar and Dylan essentially solo through first line”
And there you go! There are plenty of other remarks at the Gospel Project, not to mention similarly detailed notes on every other 1979 show as well, but those are the ones that jumped out at me listening along. Thanks to Armando B whose request for a ‘79 show inspired this deep dive (don’t forget any Annual subscriber can request a show).
PS. Did I mention ONLY ONE MORE WEEK TO PREORDER MY BOOK?
Oh, I did?
So I guess it would REALLY be redundant to include the button again below huh…