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Exploring Two Newly Unearthed Dylan/Petty Soundboards
1986-07-24, Sandstone Amphitheater, Bonner Springs, KS
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Last fall, two new soundboard tapes surfaced of complete 1986 concerts with Bob Dylan backed by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. It was the first time they’d ever been heard in full. Amazing that such a thing can still pop up four decades later.
If you’ve been reading this for a while, you know how much I love the Dylan/Petty tours. I’ve written before about True Confessions for Carol, a widely-circulated soundboard boot of a February show in Sydney (the same one the film Hard to Handle came from). And now suddenly we have two more shows from later in the year that sound just as good!
So, in a two-part series, I’m gonna dig into these pristine new tapes. The first installment today is free. The second installment will run Wednesday [update: it’s here!] for paid subscribers only.
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Today, a look at a magnificent new tape of a show in Bonner Springs, just outside Kansas City, on July 24, 1986.
Since I’ve already written about True Confessions for Carol, and since that boot and the official Hard to Handle film have made the first leg in Australia the best-known part of the tour, I decided to spotlight the nine songs in Bonner Springs that were not performed in Sydney. Plus a few new Petty tunes too.
“I gotta tell you, that’s the first time I ever played that song. Anyway, we know where we are!” Dylan exclaims after covering Leiber and Stoller’s classic “Kansas City” for the first and, as it turns out, only time to open the show. It sounds great, with jumping backing vocals from the Queens of Rhythm. And, of course, this slice of oldies R&B is right in the Heartbreakers wheelhouse, with lively solos from Benmont Tench on piano and Mike Campbell on guitar. Sure, Bob’s a little shaky on the lyrics, but the enthusiasm sells it.
“All Along the Watchtower”
Given how greatest-hits-y the Petty tours could be, and given the Heartbreakers’ strengths as a rock & roll band, I was surprised “All Along the Watchtower” wasn’t a setlist staple from day one. But Dylan only performed it once on the first leg of the tour—that’s as often as he performed “Dark Eyes”! By the time the tour came to the States in the summer though, “Watchtower” was a regular.
It starts calmer than you might expect, given the rock credentials onstage, but builds mightily. Skip to about 1:45 to hear it start its ascent to the peak. The Queens of Rhythm crush the backing “woo-ooo”s (“The Queens of Rhythm crush it” is going to be a theme here, by the way.) Love Stan Lynch’s drum fill starting around 2:51 too.
“Shot of Love”
For some reason, I’m always surprised when Dylan digs into his explicitly Christian material in these sets. I shouldn’t be; “In the Garden” appeared in practically every encore (including this show). I think of him as making a cleaner break than he actually did after the gospel tours.
And with the backing singers, this one sounds straight outta those gospel tours. The Queens steal the show when they take over entirely for the last minute or so. Before then, though, one lyric change from the recorded version: “Don’t need a shot of whiskey / take over the government.”
“We Had It All”
Dylan added this magnificent country cover for the summer tour. The song had been recorded by many people (including his compatriot Bobby Neuwirth in 1974), but I’m guessing he learned it from the version Willie Nelson put out a few years before this. As we discussed recently, Bob was borrowing a lot of songs from Willie records in the mid-‘80s.
Here’s a fun fact about one of the song’s co-writers from Derek Barker’s The Songs He Didn’t Write: Bob Dylan Under the Influence:
Donnie Fritts, one of the unsung architects of the “Muscle Shoals Sound”, who later forsook Alabama for Nashville, is both a session player and songwriter. He met the fledgling Kris Kristofferson in 1967 and soon joined his band, spending more than twenty years on the road as Kristofferson’s keyboard player. In what must have been a bit of a “jobs for the boys” move, Kristofferson got Fritts a walk-on part as “Beaver” in the film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.
Wonder if he met Bob on set. [Update with a story from a reader: “Donnie Fritts and Bob did hang out. Fritts was a buddy of mine and told me stories about he and Kris and Bob and Willie (not in the film) and others hanging out every night, drinking and singing songs, and the crazy stories of Peckinpah scaring all of them. Donnie is in his PG&BTK costume on the cover of his first record, Prone to Lean. Donnie was the greatest and wish I had recorded all the stories he shared. He was childhood friends with Arthur Alexander and co-wrote with him, and of course that impressed Bob!!”]
Bob sings the hell out of this one, his vocals beautifully supported by, of course, the Queens of Rhythm. These Petty tours often lean towards rocking-the-hell-out mode, but they could hit that slow-song sweet spot when they wanted to.
Tom Petty Set #1
The first Petty set features four songs, none of the same ones played in Sydney. In fact, on that first tour the Heartbreakers were only getting two sets of two sounds apiece. Now they had two sets with four songs each, giving Bob 20 minutes or more of backstage downtime two different times during the show.
In this one, Petty and the Heartbreakers blast through three unimpeachable classics: “Listen to Her Heart,” “The Waiting,” and “Breakdown” alongside a new track: “Think About Me,” which would be released the following year on Let Me Up (I've Had Enough). That album didn’t get stellar reviews or have Petty-sized hits (“Jammin’ Me” did pretty well), but this song sounds great here!
Dylan’s Acoustic Set
Dylan’s three-song acoustic set features two songs different than Sydney: “To Ramona” and “One Too Many Mornings.”
To be honest, this tour loses something when the Heartbreakers leave the stage. Dylan keeps that same energy level, but that just makes his solo songs shouty and strummy, almost like acoustic-punk. Billy Bragg with an American accent. That’s not necessarily how you want to hear “To Ramona,” but “One Too Many Mornings” comes off better. Check out how many notes he crams into the word “good” at 2:10.
“Band Of The Hand”
“Band of the Hand” wasn’t played in Sydney. At least, it wasn’t played onstage it Sydney. It was, however, recorded there, the only official studio recording by Dylan and the entire Heartbreakers band (with Stevie Nicks on backing vocals, no less). Drummer Stan Lynch recalled the session when we spoke:
It was quick. I think we learned it in the studio. You can hear me trying way too hard, because I'm still in live mode. I'm like, “I'm not making a record, I'm making a live document of our aggressive fabulousness.” I probably came in, beat the shit out of my drums for a couple of hours, and they said, “Get outta here.” [laughs]
“Band of the Hand” is on no one’s list of top-ten Dylan songs, but it kicks ass here. Tench’s organ blasts through the intro while Campbell slashes at guitar chords. Both of them deliver some killer solos at the end too.
Tom Petty Set #2
After a few songs he’d been doing all year (including a very different “When the Night Comes Falling from the Sky,” which I’m gonna write about in part two), Dylan again leaves the stage. Petty and co. do another four tunes, two he did in Sydney (“Straight into Darkness” and “Refugee”) and two he didn’t. One of those is “Spike,” off Petty’s latest album Southern Accents.
The other, though…that’s where it gets interesting.
It’s labeled on this tape as “Tonight Might Be My Night,” but there’s no studio recording of that song. I thought it might be a cover, but turned up empty there too. So I asked the guys. Lynch has no memory of it, but Tench thinks it’s something they recorded in the studio for Let Me Up that didn’t make the final cut. Fodder for a future box set maybe? It’s a cool song, swampy and gritty and featuring some wild yelps from Petty.
“Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat”
The last original song we hit amidst a run of repeats is “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat.” It starts pretty shaky, collapsing almost immediately at first. Dylan cuts them off within seconds of starting, then sings the first line off mic to cue them in for another go.
There’s a good reason for the sloppiness: This is the only time they ever played it! I wonder if they’d even rehearsed it. I doubt it; you can tell from the Queens of Rhythm, who don’t seem to find a way in until halfway through. It’s rough and ragged and very fun.
In my new book (ahem), both Tench and Lynch told me about similar moments of spontaneity onstage. Now I wished I’d asked them about “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat”! But here are stories of other times this happened with other songs:
He said in Philadelphia one night, “Can we play ‘I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine’?" I'm sure we didn't rehearse it; we may have done it in the dressing room at most. That song is one of the songs that brought me in deep to his music. When John Wesley Harding came out, I heard somebody playing it out of a dorm window, and I just went straight to the record store and got lost in it. So we got to play “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine.”
Later on, he did that with “Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” and he did it with “Tomorrow Is a Long Time.” He and I were walking next to each other when the band got on stage. For small talk, I said, "What do you want to do for a slow song?" He said, "Do you know, ‘Tomorrow Is a Long Time’?" I said, "Yeah." He said, "Let's do that, just you and me and maybe Mike." When the time came, he started playing “Tomorrow Is a Long Time” with just me and Mike. It was Gothenburg, Sweden, and it was 20,000 people. We had never played it with him before, or with each other. It was transcendent. It was transcendent.
We're playing a big gig [one night]. I think three songs into it, Bob turns to me he says, ''Hey, Stan, what do you want to play tonight?" I'm thinking, "Uh, loaded question?" But I took it right at face value and, I went, "Well, how about ‘Lay Lady Lay’?” Because we'd never done it. I wanted to do that cool beat that's on the record, that beautiful mandolin swing. It just feels like mandolins are bashing into the wall. I really wanted to try that rhythm live.
That's how fearless you are. It didn't even occur to me that that might not be a good idea [to pick a song we’d never played before]. He says, "What key?" You never ask a drummer what key! I see Mike in the corner going, "A! A! A!" I go, "How about A?" Everybody has a big sigh of relief. Then Bob walks up to the microphone and proceeds to play a song I can't even recognize. Like, if this is “Lay Lady Lay,” I have no fucking idea, but it was fun as shit. It was the Ramones doing “Lay Lady Lay.”
“Shake a Hand”
The show ends with five songs, four original-song holdovers from Sydney (“Rolling Stone,” “In the Garden,” “Blowin’,” “Knockin’”) plus an old-time-rock-and-roll cover: “Shake a Hand.” The song had been recorded by Little Richard among others, and was a staple of the summer tour. In fact, only a month before this tour, an Ike and Tina Turner album from the vaults was released containing their version of this song. Wonder if that was the inspiration. Either way, it was a barn-burner. Dylan and Petty often opened shows with it, and you can see why.
Grab the full tape below! In two days [update: here!], we delve into the second soundboard that recently surfaced. That one’s gonna go out to paid subscribers only. Hop aboard: