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Bob Dylan Drummer Winston Watson Talks MTV Unplugged, Woodstock '94, and More Memorable Shows
Plus Supper Club, Patti Smith, Prague, Sinatra, the Dead, and more
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Update June 2023: This interview is in my forthcoming book ‘Pledging My Time: Conversations with Bob Dylan Band Members.’ Buy it now!
Today marks the 30th anniversary of Winston Watson’s first show drumming for Bob Dylan. As Winston told me in the first half of our interview, he played that mid-tour Kansas City concert with zero preparation — he hadn’t even met Dylan when he took the stage — but it started him down a path he’d follow for the next four years.
So today, I’ve got the second part of our conversation. Part one gave an overview of his time with Bob, so for part two we talk about ten particularly notable shows and tours. Winston tells me about the big moments he sat behind the drum kit for — Woodstock ‘94, MTV Unplugged, the Supper Club shows — plus a few lesser-known shows with good stories.
Supper Club shows, Nov 16-17 1993
The place was a speakeasy, like a private place for mob guys or something. It was a dinner show; the stage was tiny. They made clothes for us, these oatmeal double breasted suites that I thought were pretty spiffy.
We did some pretty cool songs like “Jack-A-Roe” and stuff that wasn't so raucous. We did Letterman right after that. I just remember thinking, man this keeps getting better and better.
Nirvana came to see us one of those nights. They were playing at Irving Plaza or someplace like that. Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl were upstairs. My drum tech had given Dave a pair of those sticks I later used on our MTV Unplugged, with the red tape on them. If you watch Nirvana’s Unplugged [taped the day after the Supper Club shows], Dave's using those. I think those are the ones I gave him.
We were at a hotel in Albany near the airport. I met Nine Inch Nails, Cypress Hill and some other bands all raging at the airport bar. The Nine Inch guys thought I was in Cypress Hill, and the Cypress Hill guys thought I was with Nine Inch.
We go to the site the next day. It’s raining and it takes forever to get there. It takes so long that they bring food out to us, all stone-cold by then. At one point, they asked if we wanted to take the helicopter in. Everybody said no. I never got one speck of mud on me. We changed into our stage clothes on the bus, got off, stepped on stage without getting any mud on us whatsoever.
At one point, I asked Bob if he wants a cigarette. The two of us were smoking stage right, and I remember a million cameras clicking. I remember thinking, "Wow, I wonder who just showed up." I looked past his shoulder, and they were all pointed at us. That was pretty shocking.
The stage was huge. I wasn't near anybody. I hate those gigs. I grew up playing in bars. Even if you're in an arena, I like my boys close. I know arenas make money or whatever, but I would rather do a multiple night stand in a nice theater. It was too big. Did anybody hear anything? I don't know.
Pete Townshend would say [about the original Woodstock], "Oh, I hated it. It changed my life, but I hated it.” Yeah, I know exactly what you're talking about, Pete. Not my favorite gig, but to have everybody you know from home call and tell you that they just saw you on TV, that was pretty cool.
Roseland 1994 & Playing with Bruce, Neil, Little Richard
I love playing with Bruce. He and Neil Young are two of the loudest guitar players I've ever played with.
Neil, I'm not surprised, but I didn't know Bruce was so loud.
Do you remember the legendary Roseland show where both of them got up on stage with us?
Yeah, in '94. They just played guitar; I don’t think they sang.
That was as loud as MC5, most def. Solid as a rock too, man. Bruce is a great rhythm guitar player. I was lucky to do that twice with him and twice with Neil Young. I think at Shore Line, Neil stepped on with us, and then we did a little thing somewhere in Germany, I think in '95. Having him around was always fun because the two of them are really good friends.
The gig of gigs was when we played with Little Richard in Finland. That was awesome. The guy that I think is the originator, with the guy who is the originator. You don't see that too often. We all sat stage left and watched Richard's show. Bob and I looked at each other, like two students. Just like, "Man, what a band." It was the Jerry Hey horn section, like a church band, and they had moves. They were tight as a snare drum and Richard was just so, so great.
It was almost embarrassing to go on the next night and do our show after seeing those guys. Bob felt the same way.
There's the show they released, and then there's a whole other show that had no hits, nothing anybody would really recognize. There's this footage of us in our street clothes doing rehearsals and stuff, and he liked that better than the actual shows. We played all these stuff that wasn't included in the final version.
There's a really cool version of “I Want You” that's been circulating on YouTube now. I'm surprised they haven't got it off there. We're in our street clothes. Again, it's a rehearsal.
I think it was two nights. After we taped the first one, all the executives were complaining that there were no hits. No “Once upon a time you dressed so fine,” no “Everybody must get—" There was none of that. They were bent about that.
At one point, Bob said, okay. The finished product is what happened. I think it's a mixture of the two nights, but mostly the second night, I think.
So they got plenty of hits after they badgered him. I'm surprised he capitulated.
It was a good idea in the end, I guess, but I thought the cool part about it is that we weren't going to do that stuff. That was me being eager to see what he was capable of outside of that stuff. I don't think the general public gave a shit what he was doing, aside from the hits they could tell their kids about or they did their dissertation on or whatever.
Sadly, people don't really want to remember you as you are, they want to remember you as you were. They have that embalmed memory of you.
It seems like Bob has been fighting against that since the mid '60s.
Since day one. Wayne Kramer [of MC5] would tell you the same thing too. I mentioned that term I use, “memory embalmers.” He thought that was fantastic.
We were talking earlier about Bob’s guitar playing. I want to ask you about the time he didn't play guitar. The shows became famous for his singing, center stage with no instrument, Prague in 1995. I guess he was sick.
Both of us were. We were so sick. The joke was is that I got Bob sick, but it was [from] the plane on the way over. I could just tell there was something. There were sick people on the plane and I could just tell. This was before they were scrubbing cabins. This is '95, no one knew how filthy human beings were on airplanes. I got facetiously blamed for all that.
As the day wore on, I think I called [tour manager] Victor Maymudes at 1:30 or something in the afternoon. I said, "Man, you got to come to my room. I don't think I can make the show." Then I got in the shower, and I guess I didn't come to my door. He had the porter open the door, and they found me in the shower passed out with the water running. I had a fever, I had thrown up my weight, basically. I was emaciated and dehydrated and all fucked up.
What I didn't know is that they pulled the plug on the show. I had a reprieve because I was determined – even though I couldn't stand up, I was determined to go and play that show. But there was just no way I could have done it. Just no way. When I found out that we had canceled the show and we had a day off, I actually could relax. I was a lot better by the time we did our show the next day, but my throat was raw, my ribs felt like they had been kicked in.
He didn't play guitar, which kind of threw me for a loop. That’s what I was telling you about that rhythm. I would watch his right hand and the headstock of the guitar. As it would swing in a certain direction, I would know what to do. So I had to look for other cues. That took a minute to get used to.
And you're still sick on top of everything else, trying to figure this out.
I'm hoarse, I can barely talk to anyone and I still have a little bit of a temperature, but nothing has ever cured me faster than sweating it out in a rock and roll gig. For the next few days coming back was slow, but I was getting much better. We didn't have any days off after that.
Those gigs sound fairly rough for you guys, but they've become legendary amongst fans.
People keyed in on that immediately. It became the thing of lore. It made the papers for sure. He had his moves, which I thought were cool. Anything he does that's animated, or out of the ordinary, you're going to want to see it. Especially when he speaks. Like any time he speaks onstage, that makes the paper. Isn't that funny?
1995 Shows with the Grateful Dead
I remember being one of the only people, according to Jerry’s crew, that talked to him during that period. [Longtime Dead roadie] Ram Rod told me that. I thought he was putting me on.
We had our first show with them in Highgate [Vermont]. They tore the fence down and came in, like Woodstock. That was cool.
I was notorious for breaking sticks. I had to get a different brand that didn't break when we were playing. If I played lighter, Bob would've noticed that. He wanted me to play where I was at. During the first Dead show, I was chopping lumber like a beaver. Bob thought it was funny, because stuff was landing all over the place.
The next day, we were soundchecking, and Ram Rod says, "Some of us in the crew want to have a word with you when you get a chance." I thought, "Oh fuck, what did I do now?"
We finished our soundcheck. I said, "Man, if it's about the sticks, if I broke anything, see our accountant, I’ll pay you a check or whatever. I get carried away sometimes throwing them.” Because a couple of times I saw that the broken sticks flew toward their backline. I thought I had knocked something out or ruined one of Jerry's precious little stage tokens or whatever.
They look at each other and they start laughing. They said, "No, fuck all that. We want to know what you talked to him about." I said, "Who?" "Jerry." Ram Rod says, "I've been with the guy longer than you've been alive. I haven't said a word to him in 13 years. I want to know what the fuck you guys are talking about.”
I thought that was the funniest thing. We didn't really talk about anything! [Jerry] wanted to know where I grew up. I remember him saying that I looked so young. I'd just gotten into my 30s and I still looked like I was 18. But we just talked about our lives and stuff every day.
At one point, we were playing with them at RFK Stadium, and I had exhaustion. I actually fell out and had to be given oxygen. When I came to, my friend was there with me. Right next to him, I saw the beard and the glasses. He's looking at the medic, serious as a heart attack. "Take good care of my man here. We need him tomorrow."
I said [imitates wheezing]: "Don't worry, Jerry…I'll be fine…" I thought that was pretty cool, that he actually cared.
We did talk a lot. He just loved the fact that I loved doing what I was doing. It was such a charming thing to him to see the two of us playing together specifically. Because he'd seen Bob on a million times. I said, "You know, we've been doing a few of your songs as of late. I never thought I'd have a chance to do that." He thought that was pretty cool. I'm looking at their setlist and I said, "I don't know which of these you're going to have to cut out of your set. Or maybe you can just do them and no one will notice." [laughs]
I believe the last time Garcia sat in with Dylan was at one of those RFK shows. What do you remember about that?
That Bob wouldn't let him play!
What do you mean?
I wanted to hear what I'd been waiting to hear. It kinda never came.
You want to hear Jerry be Jerry, go into outer space
Yeah! He doesn't need to be doing Johnny Winter and Floyd Radford. As we were playing, I just remember thinking, "I hear your part, Bob. You going to let Jerry get in there?" But it was obviously the thing they do as brothers, do you know what I mean? It's like Bob was going, "Oh, yeah? Well, check this out."
1995 Show with the Rolling Stones
There is a funny story to us arriving there. He's on our bus, so we all get there together. We're pulling up and he goes, “Looks like there's some kind of big snake up there. What do you reckon that is?"
He's pointing to that Stones thing, it's like a cobra's head or something. Do you remember that from Voodoo Lounge? It's this like big metal cobra I guess, that spits fire or whatever.
I said, "I have no idea, man. It's big, whatever it is." He goes, "Yeah…maybe we should get two of those.” [laughs]
Like one is fucking ridiculous, but two would be— I think that's just so absurd and funny. It's like Stonehenge in Spinal Tap. First of all, it so over the top. I'm sure that thing doesn't work all the time, like all stage props. To even joke about having two of them, I just think is funny.
Mud Island, Memphis - October 19, 1995
The time we played at Mud Island, Taylor Hawkins was playing in Sass Jordan's band and Percy Sledge opened for us. It was Sass Jordan, Beck, Percy Sledge, and then us. I spoke to Beck years later, and he remembers security being really hard on him and his entourage, because they weren't allowed to come say hi to us.
Then Taylor became the Taylor that we all know and miss. I remember it like it was yesterday. The sun had already gone down. We were headlining, and I looked to my right, and there Taylor was sitting at the threshold of the stage watching our set. He wasn't even with Alanis yet. He had just arrived. I'll always remember that because when the Foo Fighters became what they are, I was like, "Wow, I can't believe that's the same guy who watched me play drums so long ago." Funny how this life goes, and now he's gone.
[For another great drummer’s story from a different Mud Island show, check out my interview with Chris Parker]
1995 Patti Smith tour
That was one of my very favorite tours. I was in love with Patti’s drummer Jay Dee Daugherty. He was a hero of mine. The Paul Collins' Beat, The Church – Jay Dee played with everybody. I got to watch their set every night and watch my hero Jay Dee work.
Those runs that we filled in at the Beacon Theater were a riot. We did one when Michael Jackson cancelled and freaked out. He had the whole sixth floor of the Four Seasons, where we were staying at the time, which is pretty funny. That extra night was like, the stuff of legend. Probably some of the most fun I've had.
I would later go on to play with Oliver Ray, Patti’s partner and guitarist for like ten years. He was a child then. We saw each other 20 years later. He had moved to Tucson, had been there a year. We had a chance meeting. I was playing with a group called Greyhound Soul, and there was some kind of artists night or whatever. He and his wife were bored to tears and were just about to leave. Then he saw me. He waited the entire show to reintroduce himself after 20 years.
Me and Oliver, we're in this band Saint Maybe. We played with them in Mexico City. We played at the Diego Rivera Museum, and Patti had never played Mexico City. It was awesome. There were 6,000 people there, and we were like nobodies. They loved us, because they remembered Oliver from being in her band earlier.
We wound up jamming at Mexico City's oldest punk rock club. Lenny Kaye came down and sat in with us, and we just tore the roof off the place.
[I recapped this whole mini-tour last year — click here, then scroll down to 1995]
“Restless Farewell” for Frank Sinatra
We rehearsed a couple other songs. “This Was My Love,” I think. I loved playing Sinatra songs. But I think Frank liked [“Restless Farewell”] a lot. I could hear him saying "When's that Dylan kid going on?" When you watch it, you can see the genuine affection that both of them have for each other. Frank is looking at him and Bob was looking at Frank like he looked at Little Richard.
I got to wear my Marvin Gaye suit. I was standing next to Tom Selleck who's really big. I'm 5'8" or 5'9", 135 pounds soaking wet. He’s big across and very tall. He’s looking at my suit. It was lime green, I was wearing a turtleneck, the slip-on Billy Fury shoes. I could have been a Panther; only thing that was missing was the beret. He’s like, "My, that's some suit," in that voice of his.
The food that was backstage was like looking at a scene in Caligula where there’s dead animals strewn across this huge long table or whatever. A sumptuous feast is understating it.
Anyone you could imagine was there, like Don Rickles, all the Rat Pack, anybody that was like a Soprano or whatever, they’re all there. Our table was really fun. I sat next to Bob. There was Frank and Barbara Marx, his wife. Clayton Cameron, who plays with Tony Bennett, was sitting on the other side of me. So the two of us were sitting next to Bob, and on the other side of him was Danny Aiello and Rickles. Then the table next to us, there was Patrick Swayze and Roseanne Barr and Johnny Depp and Kate Moss. It was like we were in one of those Hirschfeld drawings, caricatures of people decorating a room in a Hollywood event like you’d see in a New Yorker magazine.
Actually doing that song, I didn't have to do very much, just not make so much noise. Did you see just the way that they showed the crowd, watching us as we did the song? It was reverent. Everyone was moved by it. At one point when they cut to the audience, no one is saying a word, no one's talking. They're all like, really solemn. These are people that I've been seeing my whole life in one medium or another, and there they are looking at us, and here I am in my Marvin Gaye suit just having a bit of fun. You can see the solemnity as they do the wide pan stuff.
It meant that musically, we had done our job, which I always felt we did in that band to the best of our ability. Even though some nights we didn't get it right, I think no one would ever say that we didn't try or that I didn't give 110%.
Thanks Winston! Here’s part one if you missed it, and here’s a download of Winston’s first gig, thirty years ago today:
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