I'm Gonna Tell You How It's Gonna Be

2000-03-29, Civic Centre Arena, Bismarck, ND

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Our look back at Bob's spring-2000 covers today wraps with a section I'm calling Old Time Rock & Roll. If you missed the first few, also named after Bob Seger songs, they are Heavy Music (Part 1 and Part 2) and Lookin' Back.

I'm grouping three songs into the Old Time Rock & Roll, comprising the three midcentury rock or rock-adjacent songs: "Not Fade Away," "Hoochie Coochie Man," "Big River." One of these he played way more than the others. I'll save it for last.

"Hoochie Coochie Man" he played one time this spring, on March 15th in Santa Cruz. It was the third time he'd ever played it - and the last.

We don't know why Bob picks some of the songs he covers. And we don't know why some of them don't stick. In this case, he no doubt knew Muddy Waters' 1954 hit version, but he probably knew others too. If you only know five blues songs, there's a good chance "Hoochie Coochie Man" is among them. It was composed by Willie Dixon, who wrote some 500 blues songs, earning himself the nickname "the poet laureate of the blues" (hmm, now why does that phrase ring a bell?). Bo Diddley soon stole the riff for "I'm a Man," then Muddy stole it back for his response "Mannish Boy.” Muddy later said, "Bo Diddley, he was tracking me down with my beat when he made 'I'm a Man'. That's from 'Hoochie Coochie Man.' Then I got on it with 'Mannish Boy' and just drove him out of my way."

There are dozens of great versions of "Hoochie Coochie Man." Bob's one 2000 attempt is not among them. He gives it the old college try vocally, but the band's performance is slow and plodding, more blooze than blues (the two ‘99 attempts were faster, and better). Once the novelty factor wore off, it probably made a good mid-show bathroom break. No wonder Bob retired it pretty quickly.

"Big River" was also played once this spring, the next night in Santa Cruz, and also for the third and final time. It is the only song of all these covers that Dylan has performed alongside its original writer, Johnny Cash. Last year their duet came out on the the 15th Bootleg Series, Travelin' Thru, 1967-1969. It holds up better than some of their joint performances do. They both know the words, for one.

It might have been fresh in Dylan’s mind. Two years earlier, he and The Band played it a couple times during the Basement Tape sessions. After listening to a few versions, the complete one may be my favorite, buoyed by Garth's levitating organ. Then Bob brought it back again once in 1988, for a version that, like much from that year, verges on being a punk song. It works better than you might expect. Then back on the backburner it went until the turn of the century - once in 1999 and once this spring. Unlike "Hoochie Coochie Man," he should have stuck with it one longer. It’s rough but fun, and would have really taken off with a few more outings (and maybe some band harmonies).

Bob revived "Big River" twice more in 2003, joining the post-Jerry Dead onstage during their tour together. By this point, he may have associated it with the Dead almost as much as he did with Cash. I wrote yesterday about Bob covering a bunch of Dead-associated tunes in the late ‘90s, and his pair of '99/'00 performances may be a vestige of that, as it was one of their most-played covers. 

But you know what the Grateful Dead's #1-most-played cover in their entire history was? "Not Fade Away." It would also be Dylan's most-played cover of this tour.

The first time he performed it publicly was in fact with the Dead themselves, sitting in at one of their shows in 1989. But his connection to the song goes back thirty years earlier at least, to when young Bobby Zimmerman saw Holly at one of his final shows. Rumor is Buddy closed his shows then with "Not Fade Away" - which would make it the last song he ever played before his death a few days later.

Bob spoke about that show when he won the Album of the Year Grammy for Time Out Mind in 1998, recalling, "When I was sixteen or seventeen years old, I went to see Buddy Holly play at Duluth National Guard Armory and I was three feet away from him...and he looked at me. And I just have some sort of feeling that he was — I don't know how or why — but I know he was with us all the time we were making this record in some kind of way."

He elaborated a year later in an interview with Guitar World:

“While we were recording, every place I turned there was Buddy Holly. You know what I mean? It was one of those things. Every place you turned. You walked down a hallway and you heard Buddy Holly records like 'That'll Be the Day.' Then you'd get in the car to go over to the studio and 'Rave On' would be playing. Then you'd walk into this studio and someone's playing a cassette of "It's So Easy." And this would happen day after day after day. Phrases of Buddy Holly songs would just come out of nowhere. It was spooky. [laughs] But after we recorded and left, you know, it stayed in our minds. Well, Buddy Holly's spirit must have been someplace, hastening this record.”

That same year, 1999, he started performing it often, which he continued on this tour the following spring. It is, in fact, the only song he played every single night. Even standbys like "Rainy Day Women" and "Blowin' in the Wind" took the occasional night off in spring 2000. Not "Not Fade Away." 

And you can see why he stuck with it. It's a crowd-pleaser, for sure. But more importantly, it also seems to be a Bob-and-the-band-pleaser. They rarely sound so joyful as when they're hollering these words together. The harmonies are ragged, Bob’s voice is sometimes a little rough this late in the evening, but it never matters. The ramshackle quality only adds to its charms. 

The first two songs in today's post were one-off curios of varying quality. The gospel and folk covers explored in previous posts were almost uniformly great, but no one song held center stage for long. "Not Fade Away," on the other hand, might be the definitive song of this tour. It features much of what made it distinctive, from the full-band vocals to the sheer consistency, delivering the goods night after night. And, in every show, it sounds like Bob having the time of his life.

2000-03-29, Civic Centre Arena, Bismarck, ND

PS. A fun bonus Buddy Holly cover. Bob’s covered “Not Fade Away” over a hundred times. He’s covered “Heartbeat” once. And there was only one person in the audience.