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Bob & Bruce at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
1995-09-02, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, OH
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Last year, I wrote about the most recent time Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen performed together, when Dylan guested at an E Street show for a truly shambolic run down “Highway 61 Revisited.” Today, we look at the first time they sang together (outside of a few all-star things and guitar sit-ins), at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum concert on September 2, 1995.
I’d seen the video years ago of them doing “Forever Young” together, but, not having been following Dylan when the performance took place, didn’t know much about the context. So I called up Joel Gallen to tell me about it. Gallen has directed and produced 18 different Rock Hall induction ceremonies, as well as a variety of the Hall’s special events. The Bob-Bruce performance took place at one of those, a stadium show in Cleveland for the Hall of Fame museum’s grand opening.
The lineup is bonkers, the show lasted six hours, and you can see an edited version of the broadcast below. Bob’s five-song set starts about an hour and 56 minutes in, but I’d encourage you to watch the whole thing, or just click around to get a taste.
Here’s my conversation with Joel Gallen, touching on what the concert was all about, Dylan’s last-minute appearance, a few other times he’s produced TV events with Dylan, and more.
Can you give an overview of how this show came together and what your specific role was?
I had started working for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on an annual basis doing their induction ceremony, I think in 1993. I was still pretty new. Once they started to break ground building the museum, it was always like, "Hey, when the museum is done, let's have a grand opening concert." I started explaining to them, this is going to be very expensive, way more than doing these little induction ceremonies in a banquet room at the Waldorf Astoria.
Is that what they had been doing up until that point? They were still in this private event mode, rather than a big public thing like it is now?
Yes, they were in the private event mode, I think all the way to like 2007 or something when it became a much bigger show. [Editor: With a couple of exceptions, the annual induction ceremonies were private events at the Waldorf Astoria until 2012, though those events started being consistently televised in 1997 (via Future Rock Legends)]
Getting back, we needed to get a license fee from a network, because otherwise we were not going to be able to afford to put the show on, even with ticket sales and all that stuff. They still were very inexperienced when it comes to television. I knew some people at HBO. We went in there and presented the show. They got all excited, and they basically paid for the concert.
Did you have any names officially attached yet?
We had no names attached initially, but we made a list of who we thought would come, and basically over-delivered. I think that their condition was you got to get at least three or four of these really big names, and we got like 10 of them.
The concept of the show was this. We book artists to each do two songs, sometimes three. We said, if you're in the Hall of Fame, you'll do two of your own songs. If you're not in the Hall of Fame, we want you to do at least one song as a cover of an artist that is in the Hall of Fame.
They got everybody. Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry and Little Richard all confirmed right away. Then, of course, we got Springsteen and the E Street Band, which at the time hadn’t played live together for seven or eight years.
Were you involved in the artist outreach process of it?
Yes, I was definitely involved with that, along with Suzan Evans, who was the executive director of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She probably booked most of it, but I would come in and get creative with, "Okay, why don't we get this for a special guest?" because there were a lot of layers in that show.
We had a turntable stage so we could make the changes very seamless, but we also had an acoustic stage. I booked in a lot of artists to do that. I got Nancy and Ann Wilson of Heart. They came on and did “Battle of Evermore” by Led Zeppelin. Jackson Browne came out with his acoustic guitar; he did Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.” Bon Jovi, who was booked on the main stage, did, unrehearsed, “With a Little Help from my Friends” with Richie [Sambora], because we needed some more people on the acoustic stage to make some stage changes.
I remember one of my big missions was, how do I get Sly and the Family Stone to be at this show? They were just inducted in '93, and Sly actually showed up. He didn't say anything, but he showed up, picked up his trophy, and left. I reached out to every single member of the Family Stone. I talked to literally every other person in the group and they all came. But we couldn't get Sly to come, so the actual reunion didn't come to fruition. Except then we got George Clinton and P-Funk. We asked them to do, as part of their set, a Sly and the Family Stone tribute. Basically, we have 30 people on stage, all P-Funk and all the members of Family Stone. That to me was really, really a great moment.
The backstage was unbelievable, seeing Bob Dylan hanging out with James Brown and, of course, Bruce Springsteen hanging out with Chuck Berry or this or that. Unfortunately, we don't have a lot of that on the broadcast, but it was all happening.
I remember we had to take down all the McDonald's signage in the stadium when Chrissie Hynde hit the stage. She said she wouldn't go on stage if we didn't take it down, because she's a hardcore vegan and really hated McDonald's.
I saw Dylan was billed as a surprise guest. Was that because he was a late addition?
It was the very last second. I was trying to get Bob Dylan from day one, but Bob doesn't make decisions very quickly. I know one of his managers really well, Jeff Kramer, so I just worked on him for a while. Bob, you never know with him.
He's not one of those artists that does a lot of charity events or awards shows or whatnot.
Exactly. He flew in on Thursday night. We had found an offsite rehearsal space for him and his band on Friday. I think we rehearsed them during the day on Saturday even before we open the doors, and we got Bruce to come out on his set to do “Forever Young.”
Is that just one of those things that happens or is that something you're trying to plan in advance?
Once we knew Bob was coming, I immediately worked on that. Bruce, no hesitation. I believe they had never sung together before that night. I talked to Bob's camp about it. It was just coming up with what the song would be. I think Bob is the one who suggested “Forever Young,” and who's to argue?
They may have gotten a very little bit of rehearsal, maybe they had one pass at it before we opened the doors. A lot of stuff just didn't have the rehearsal that it needed.
Someone more polished like Bruce, you know 100% is going to deliver a home run at an event like this. Dylan is not that predictable. The last few big TV things he had done - like Live Aid was famously terrible. His performance at the Grammys a few years earlier got a decidedly mixed response. Was there any worry about him?
I don't remember worrying about it at all. I don't remember his management worrying about it. I think everybody was there for the right reasons, and for the same reasons, the spirit of the history of rock and roll. I didn't think about Live Aid. I probably didn't see the Grammys thing. I think everybody felt like they were in good hands.
The only hitch that happened [in the show] was at the end of the night we did a spontaneous unrehearsed final song, which you probably never have seen because it was awful. It was Chuck Berry's “Rock and Roll Music.” I think everybody, especially Chuck, was playing it in a different key. I had to make a solemn promise; if the footage ever got out, people would be coming after me.
I saw a Nils Lofgren quote where he said “I don’t think [Bruce and I] have ever participated in something that godawful musically since we were probably 13 or 14.”
There you go. Nils Lofgren, perfect summation.
I've had some good luck with Bob because I've had him on three or four different shows. I've had him on that Rock and Roll Hall of Fame show we're talking about. I had him on Eric Clapton's show at Madison Square Garden for his Crossroads Center.
I didn't know you were involved in that.
Yes, it was 1999. Bob came out and did three songs with Eric, including “Crossroads.” I remember Eric saying, "Bob keeps asking me if I think he's a good enough guitar player now." Bob was looking for positive affirmation from Eric that he's a better lead guitar player than he used to be. I always remembered that.
I did this show that was based on an album that came out in the mid-'90s. It was called Rhythm, Country and Blues, where it was basically rhythm and blues artists dueting with country artists. Now, Bob Dylan was not on the record, but I ran into Jeff Kramer literally like two nights before the show and told him about it. I said, "If there's any chance Bob's in town and he wants to collaborate with a country artist, let me know."
He said, "What about Trisha Yearwood?” Bob asked if she would be on the show. We said, "Yes, she’s doing something with somebody else, but we could obviously have her do a song with you, Bob." They did a song together, so that was really cool.
Are you having any personal interaction with Bob at these, or is he just with his people?
No. Usually, Bob is doing his own thing, and I'm just trying to shoot him so he looks handsome.
When I did my first-ever Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 in LA, when Creedence was inducted, it was a very controversial night. John Fogerty wouldn't play with the other guys. He played with Bruce Springsteen and Robbie Robertson instead. [Editor’s note: And our old friend Jim Keltner on drums!] They were great, but I think Bruce regrets that because he didn’t want to supersede the band members.
Anyway, I invited Kramer to come to the show and he brings Bob with him. Bob is on the side of the stage watching this show, and especially watching the Cream reunion. We have great footage somewhere of Bob and Eric talking in the kitchen of the Century Plaza Hotel, right after the Cream performance.
Any other performances or interactions with the musicians stand out from that show in Cleveland?
I would say Bruce Springsteen had the most killer set. Obviously, Bruce Springsteen [usually] does like a four-hour set; this was only 30 or 40 minutes, which was the longest set of the night. Because he's Bruce, we let him do it. He also did a couple songs with Jerry Lee Lewis. I remember somebody jumped up on stage and gave Bruce a hug at the end, and Bruce ends it with like, "That's rock and roll."
Here's an interesting story. After the show, which aired live, we're going to do this three-and-a-half-hour highlight [for rebroadcast]. Because it wasn't going to start airing again until a couple of weeks later, we had the chance to remix all the music. I have engineers that I use to remix stuff, but sometimes there's an artist like Bruce Springsteen that says, "Give us our masters, and we'll do our own remix." I was telling that to Jeff Kramer, and he's like, "Well, see if Bruce's engineer [Toby Scott] will remix Bob's set also." I asked [Springsteen manager] Jon Landau and he says yes.
I went over to Toby's place, which is like an adjacent house to where Bruce and Patti lived. I got to go because Jeff wanted to supervise the Bob mix. We get there, and [Toby’s] working on the Dylan mix, and Jeff's giving him some notes. Who walks in but Bruce Springsteen?
This was maybe the second time I'd worked with Bruce because I did the Bruce Springsteen Plugged that was supposed to be called Unplugged. I hadn't met him that much, but he gave me a big hug as if we were best friends. He sat around with us for a little while while we're mixing the Bob and Bruce section. I guess he wanted to make sure we didn't ruin his part, because we were focused on Bob's part.
I remember just talking to him about “Darkness on the Edge of Town.” I'm a Springsteen fanatic; that’s absolutely one of my favorite songs. His performance that night, I just want to make sure I wasn't crazy. I said, "I’ve seen you do that song 20 times. Was that like the best live version of that song ever?" He said to me, "It may be, the stars were aligned." I don't remember exactly what he said, but he just felt like it was working on all cylinders, and it was magic. Incredible version. Just to confirm my instinct from the guy himself was pretty cool.
You mentioned earlier that photo with James Brown. Do you remember if Bob hung around all night? Did he stay ‘til the end?
Bob did stay until the end, and I'll tell you why I know.
We rented like a Boeing 707 or something to take the LA artists home, like an 80 to 100 passenger jet, as opposed to one of these fancy 12 to 20 passenger jets that a lot of the artists take. I flew back with Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, Melissa Etheridge, I can't remember who else.
Bob Dylan, sitting literally right across from me, still didn't say a word.
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