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The Late Gregg Sutton Remembers Bob Dylan's 1984 'Real Live' Tour
RIP Gregg Sutton 1949-2023
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Three weeks ago, I interviewed Gregg Sutton, the bassist for Bob Dylan’s 1984 tour immortalized on Real Live. I was planning to run it next summer to commemorate the tour’s 40th anniversary.
Then the tragic news came that Sutton passed away in his home over the weekend. He was 74.
It seemed particularly shocking because, when we spoke over two lengthy phone calls in early October, he seemed so full of life, telling wonderful and funny stories of his time on the road with Dylan. He laughed about shenanigans and mishaps, and went into music-nerd detail about specific shows and songs. When I mentioned a rehearsal tape in passing, he asked me to send it to him, then wanted to get back on the phone to share more memories that had bubbled up when he listened to it. As he explained to me, he wasn’t just a Dylan band member; he was a Dylan superfan too—so much so that his bandmates teased him about it.
So I’m running our conversation now in tribute to Gregg Sutton. In addition to playing with Dylan that summer, Sutton was a member of Lone Justice, played in several bands with another former Dylan accompanist Barry Goldberg (who I’ve also interviewed), and was the bandleader and childhood friend of comedian Andy Kaufman. Rest in Peace Gregg.
We were emailing a few days ago about “Heart of Mine,” which you guys played a couple times. Were you enough of a fan back in 1984 that you would know something like that, which is not exactly a greatest hit?
Yeah. Bob was my idol. I'd been following him since 1963. In Greenwich Village, all of a sudden all these kids showed up wearing Bob Dylan caps off his first record, with harmonica racks and no harmonica. I was one of those kids. I knew all his shit. Now I'm an older guy, but “Heart of Mine,” if I had to play it, I probably could.
I remember before one show, we were in the band dressing room, with Mick Taylor, Ian McLagan, and Colin Allen, the three Brits. Mick says to me, "Gregg, you're not actually a fan, are you?" I raised my hand and said, "Guilty. Aren't you?"
They all said, "Not particularly." They didn't like him personally, but they played the shit pretty good, for not being fans of Bob’s.
Bob could tell that I loved his stuff and knew his stuff. I mean, he could have had any bass player he wanted. He took me because I related so hard to him. Every once in a while, I would go—this is before there was digital lyrics that you could just call up, —"There’s this line in ‘Visions of Johanna’ that I never understood exactly what you were saying.” I’d prompt him and give him the line before. He’d just go, "Oh, that’s [Dylan voice] ‘Ya can’t look at much, man / As she herself prepares for him.’”
He loved that I was asking him that kind of shit. We hit it off pretty good.
I talked to Benmont Tench a while ago, and he's the same way, like a scholar of Dylan's music.
Yeah, Benmont is very scholarly. I know Benmont from my days in Lone Justice. He used to come play with us.
Did you see he and Mike Campbell played with Dylan at Farm Aid last weekend?
That's funny. Lone Justice played in between the Dylan band and the Petty band at the original Farm Aid.
That would have been only a year after you were in Bob's band.
Yeah, I went from being with Bob to being with Lone Justice.
Did you talk to Dylan at Farm Aid?
We crossed paths. Farm Aid was kind of a weird vibe. He’s with the Petty band and also Elliot Roberts, who was my manager at one time. So there was mixed vibes, let's put it that way.
I talked to him more a year or two later. Graffiti Man, the Jesse Ed Davis and John Trudell band, opened some shows for Lone Justice. Bob loved Graffiti Man. He was there to check them out actually. He and I had a little chat.
It's funny you mentioned that Graffiti Man thing because just yesterday, they released some photos from this Dylan Center book coming out. One photo, which I'd never seen before, is in 1987, with Dylan, Jesse Ed Davis, Trudell, and George Harrison. The four of them.
That would be at the Palace in Hollywood.
One of the shows with Lone Justice?
Yes, definitely one of those shows. I don't remember seeing George Harrison, but doesn't mean he wasn't there. I don't think George Harrison had any interest in saying hi to the people in Lone Justice, so he probably just went in and went out again. Who knows? I could have been doing anything. I did a lot of drugs in those days too. I could have been in the bathroom getting high. [laughs] Or waiting for Jesse Ed to get out of the bathroom getting high, so I could go in the bathroom and get high.
Let's rewind. We're talking about the end here, but let's go back to the beginning. How did you end up in that band?
I ended up in that band through my friend Charlie Quintana, who was the drummer in The Plugz. Chalo. He was a great drummer and a great guy. Bob had been using “Los Plugz” for a while.
Chalo called me up and said, "Why don't you come out to Bob's house and we'll have a play?" So I did. I understood that every bass player in town was going out there.
I didn't hear from anybody after that, so I figured I didn’t get it. Then two or three weeks later, they called me up and said, "Come on back." And it's a completely new band, except for Mick Taylor. Chalo’s gone. Colin Allen from the Bluesbreakers is there and Ian McLagan. I got the gig that day. They called me that night.
That first rehearsal where it's you, Charlie, whoever else, what happens? Take me through.
It was me, Charlie, Mick Taylor, and Bob. There was no piano player yet. It was very cool. It was happening.
Mick Taylor was living in the house we were rehearsing in, on Bob's property in Point Dume. He had been living there for like a year. Mick was a titular head of the band. He was the most famous guy in the band, my favorite of all those English guitar players. So I'm playing not only with my idol, but with my favorite guitar guy in the world.
What are you guys playing? Are you playing Dylan songs, or are you just jamming?
Yeah, we played Dylan songs. Old songs and new songs. We played a few things off Infidels, and we played “Highway 61,” “Maggie's Farm,” a lot of the shit that people would know. All Dylan songs, no covers at all.
What's your first interaction with Bob himself?
The first day, when I knocked on the door of the rehearsal house, Bob himself answered the door. He and I happened to be dressed identically. We both had on grey cloth motorcycle jackets, black jeans, motorcycle boots, and a T-shirt. Kind of a soft James Dean look. We looked each other up and down, like that Marx Brothers movie. It was funny. Then I shook hands with him; he gave me the fish handshake. He doesn't really grasp your hand, just allows you to take his hand, and goes, "Hi, I'm Bob."
I got to say, he's just like one of the guys. The whole time I played with him, he never said, "Hey, why don't you play this?" He never said to anybody, "Why don't you play it this way?" He hired people for the way they played his songs.
Then the second time I went out there, it was a new band with Ian McLagan. We started rehearsing in earnest at his house for about five or six days.
How did those go? Did you guys gel immediately? Is it a rocky start?
It was pretty happening. It's a rehearsal place, but everything sounded good. Aside from the fact that I almost killed Mick Taylor the first day.
Well, at that time I had this dynamite China White [heroin] connection. I was in the beginning of a 30-year drug habit. Well, not really the beginning, but I wasn't so strung out I couldn't go on the road or anything like that. I was sort of chipping. Two days after I get the gig, I brought out a tiny little bindle. I gave Mick Taylor some. I said, "Why don't you just take a small sniff of this?" Of course, he thought it was coke. So he's in the bathroom, and then I hear [thudding sound]. And I go, "Uh oh." The second day I have the gig, I've killed Mick Taylor.
He [comes out and] goes, "Gregg, this isn't coke." I said, "You're Mick Taylor!" You're a famous junkie. Come on now. He thought that was funny. I was so relieved I hadn't killed him, because that knock really sent a shiver down my spine.
Anyway, then we rehearsed at the Beverly Theatre in Beverly Hills for two or three days, just to be in it. A 3,000 seat theater.
But just empty, rented out for you guys?
Empty. We rented it out, which really impressed me. I was like, "This is really the big time." I’d played bigger places, but that would've been a nice gig, and we were just fucking rehearsing.
At that point, I'd seen Bob maybe seven or eight days in my life, so every time I saw him, it was stunning to me. I had to pinch myself and say, "Hey, I'm in this room with Bob Dylan right now."
On a bigger stage, we struggled a little more. The first couple of shows of the actual tour, they weren't really good.
Why were you guys struggling, do you think?
We were getting our sea legs. We just hadn't gelled. Listening to those rehearsals you sent, I know why the first shows were terrible. We were sort of half-stepping. We weren't doing it for real. I think it was your article where it said that, like in [a typical] rehearsal, Bob always out-and-out performed. He sang the shit like he was gonna sing it. And he didn't really do that with us. So we didn't really like get the feeling of what it was gonna be like and how to step up to it.
There's a snippet of "Jokerman" on that tape. Eventually we did a great version of "Jokerman," but some of the [rehearsal] versions you sent me, they just weren't that good. The version of "Shelter from the Storm" was just horrible. It sounded like some other song. But it wasn't so much the fault of the band as Bob wanting to like put that progression over "Shelter From the Storm." I think he wound up doing that in his acoustic set from time to time.
That's like the double-edged sword with him, right? He's always reinventing the songs and sometimes that's amazing, but sometimes if you're trying to make a different arrangement every time, it's going to fall on his face.
That's really true. I mean, kudos to him for never laying flat. And let's face it, some of these songs he's played thousands of times. Like listening to Shadow Kingdom, a lot of those songs are having their 50th birthday. That's a long time to be playing songs.
That's why Bob is Bob. He's an artist. But all artists, they get an idea in their head and sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't. It's to be left in rehearsal. We've never seen any of the shit that Van Gogh threw out, you know what I mean?
But yeah, it was just interesting to hear that shit. Then of course I went to YouTube to hear live versions just to edify myself. I’m saying, “We were better than that!”
I hope my sending those didn't give you self-confidence issues.
It’s a little late for me to take a hit for my self-confidence. This was just early in the process. Bob is a strange, unlikely individual. He's not like one of these guys who's going to make it easier for you. He's just doing what he's doing at any given time.
At those first couple shows, was it clear to everyone that you weren't gelling?
We all knew that the first show wasn't all that good. These are people with high standards. I have high standards. I remember there were these two Dutch writers who were friends of Mick from way back on the plane with us. They were talking about how disappointed they had been in the first show. This Dutch guy said, "I think Bob Dylan is in a very unfortunate spot as a human being, because people’s expectations are just so high.”
I thought it was an interesting point of view. I didn't really agree with it. I think Bob Dylan has always been in a pretty good spot, whatever his personal turmoils might be. He's the greatest who ever was. But I thought that was interesting. I had always thought of Bob in one way, and he's thinking of him in the other way.
But by the second or third show, we were totally happening. I remember after about five or six shows, me and Bob were walking down some hill behind a stage. I go, "Bob, everything okay on the bass? Everything cool?" He said, "Ooh, I hadn't noticed.” Which I just thought was great. That's a good sign!
If he noticed, that could mean a problem.
Nobody goes to a Bob Dylan show to hear the bass player. You just want the band to be churning.
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As a bass player, especially for the older songs, are you trying to do the “Maggie's Farm” bass part, or “Leopard Skin Pill-box Hat”? Trying to go off the originals?
I played all those songs in a very natural way. “Maggie's Farm,” we played it like the record, only with a little bit more energy. More like a hyped-up Elvis Presley “My Baby Left Me” kind of thing. If you listen to Real Live, it's just a little bit higher energy, and you got Mick Taylor doing great slide solos and everything. I just tried to make it churn. The same with “Highway 61.” I played it the way I played it, but I also played it the way they played it on the record because it's great, all that just bum-BUM, bum-BUM, bum-BUM. It's just like, stay out of the way.
I don't really hear things on the mechanical bass-and-kick-drum level. I just think the bass player has to understand everything that's going on. It's a very compositional instrument. Even in the rawest rock and roll, he's got to know when to stay and when to play. You just have to be in support, and be aware of the entire composition, what the vocals going to do, blah, blah, blah.
One thing that's amazing listening to some of those rehearsals is that in addition to his own songs, he's doing all these covers. Many of which he never actually did in a concert. I never thought I'd hear Bob Dylan sing “Always on My Mind.”
I love that. That's the thing about Bob, he's completely unpredictable. Plus he had all these other songs. Like I think the first time we played “Just Like a Woman” was on stage.
Unrehearsed. He didn't even say what it was he was playing. He just expected us to recognize the harmonica lick, and we did. [Note: They did rehearse that one; he’s probably thinking of a different song]
I mean, he has such a big catalog that he would occasionally do that. Just pick a song. He was very loose that way. He would sometimes forget what key he was in. He'd go, "Hey Gregg, what key are we gonna do ‘Simple Twist of Fate’ in?"
One time he started “Maggie's Farm” in the wrong key. He goes, "Hey Gregg, what key are we in now?" It was very childlike. I said, "We're in G, Bob, where you started it.” He said, "Well, can we go to the real key now?"
You mean you had to switch keys partway through?
Yes. He had done like the first verse and realized when he started to play harmonica, he was in the wrong key, because he had the right harmonica. So we just go “one, two, three, four, key of A,” and there we go.
To match the harmonica, you mean, as opposed to him just getting a new one.
Yeah. I just thought it's funny that he didn't know what key he was in, and it didn't really matter to him. I mean, it did, but I think Bob had his own source of medicine. I can think of a couple of times when I didn't know what key I was in, but I was extremely medicated at the time. [laughs]
Before our first show, it's 10 minutes till showtime, Bob goes, "Hey, I hear you sing. I'm going to do like seven or eight songs, and then I need you to sing while I get ready to do the acoustic set, okay?" "Okay!"
And you ended up doing that every show.
Yeah. I said, "Well, what should we do?" Mick Taylor said, "I don't care what you do, just make sure it's in the key G, so I can play slide guitar."
So for the first two or three nights we did “I Got My Mojo Working” because I knew that was in G and I'd done that in clubs. Then, I used to do “I've Got To Use My Imagination” in A, so I went, "Well, we could do ‘Imagination’ in G,” so we switched to that and got a pretty cool version of it.
I was in two bands with Barry Goldberg [co-writer of “Imagination” and in Dylan’s Newport ‘65 band]. One of the reasons I was doing “Imagination” on that tour was one of the bands I was in with him was a band called The Coup. It never saw the light of day, but we recorded a record where we did a new version of "I’ve Got to Use My Imagination." So after two or three times of doing “I Got My Mojo Working,” I said, you know, I could really show off a little more. Why don't I do “Imagination”?
The other band I was in with Barry was a band called KGB. It was a singer named Ray Kennedy, one of the co-writers of “Sail on Sailor;” Michael Bloomfield; and Barry. That's how I met Barry. I auditioned for the band. I got the gig on a Friday night. That Sunday, Robert Hilburn's column in the LA Times, on the front page of the Calendar section, says “Michael Bloomfield says don't buy this record.” It had just come out like that day. “This is just like Hollywood bigwigs putting together a super group. It didn't really happen. Fuck it, I’m going back to San Francisco.”
I love Bloomfield. I mean, Bloomfield was my Bloomfield was my first guitar hero. He had real charisma. I saw the Electric Flag’s first gig. I saw the Butterfield Band a million times. So I got to play with Bloomfield, but then he fucking quit. I'm thinking, is it something I said?
You’re in a very small group, maybe even a group of one, of a Dylan band member getting their own solo slot. I mean, Rolling Thunder was its own thing, a lot of people sang their own stuff, but beyond that, it's unusual.
I know. It's very unusual. If I had had more of a car salesman personality, I would've gone, "Well, thank you, Bob. Hey folks, isn't he great? Bob Dylan, everybody."
I was listening to a few of these performances, and I noticed he often gave you a funny introduction. He kept saying things like, "Gregg’s going to do a song he wrote coming over here in the limousine." Of course, you're doing an old cover.
I remember that. He was really funny. There was one time we were making jokes, and he couldn't stop laughing. I don't remember what show it was. We had said something to each other, probably about some girl who was at the side of the stage or something, and he's going, "Gregg Sutton's going to-- [chuckles] Gregg-- [chuckles]”
We got along great until I asked him for a raise, and then we didn't get along.
Was that partway through the tour?
It was almost at the end. I just shouldn't have done it. He got pissed off.
The truth is, looking back at it, first of all, he's not the one to ask, and second of all, I would've paid him.
A raise, I would've put it all up my arm anyway, so what the fuck? It was just hard to know I was the lowest-paid member of the band and watch eight duffle bags full of cash leave the stadium every night. But it doesn't really matter.
He had these three guys, Bob Myers, Gary Shafner, and Bob something else, who read me the riot act. They actually made me sit in the chair on the carpet and let me know how displeased Bob was with me. I think he considered it a betrayal, but he should have just said it to me himself. He's not that kind of guy. He doesn't confront people.
Shafner said, "Oh, you really blew it, Gregg, because Bob was going to keep you. The hell with the rest of the Englishman, but he was going to keep you." Which is a total fucking lie because the next band was the Petty band. They weren't going to break up the Petty band and get rid of Howie [Epstein] to have me play. They were just trying to be mean-spirited, but what the fuck? Live and learn.
Before things went south with your relationship with Bob, were you guys hanging out backstage a lot?
He had a separate dressing room. Every once in a while, I'd come into his dressing room, especially if I had a good-looking girl for him to meet. He liked that. I got around.
Also he gave me a black motorcycle jacket, so I gave him a white leather suit jacket that I had, which he really liked. I would go in there, trade clothes with him. Every once in a while he'd go, "Oh, don't go on the bus, come in my limo.” I'd make him laugh. I was like the court jester.
Are you guys the same size, trading clothes all the time?
Yeah, absolutely the same size, and we had very similar tastes. He's always been a very well-dressed man. Of course, he can pay anything for his clothes, but he liked the way I dressed.
It wasn't just Dylan. Santana was on the tour too.
He would always come on and play for an encore jam. Very animated player. Very often we'd have Mick Taylor, Eric Clapton, and Carlos Santana on the stage playing “Tombstone Blues” or whatever it was. He was a very nice guy, but I don't think he ever learned my first name. He'd always call me, "Hey, man." It was kind of insulting.
It’s a long tour, and you guys playing together pretty much every night.
I had even been up to his room a couple of times. I even said, "What's my name?" one time. He didn't answer me. He pretended he was talking to Bill Graham or somebody like that. Probably asking Bill what my name was, because Bill knew me.
Bill Graham was a great guy. When I was a kid growing up in New York, I had a friend who was an usher at the Fillmore, and I lived in the hood. One day I was walking by the Fillmore and decided to go in to see my friend the usher, which I'd done a bunch of times.
It so happened that, that day, Rahsaan Roland Kirk's drummer had beat up one of the ushers who tried to stop him from coming in. [The usher] didn't know who he was. This was a cat who had just gotten out of jail on a gun charge or something, and he just beat the shit of this guy.
So they were all pretty uptight. I didn't know that. I walked into the Fillmore. Bill Graham saw me, looking like neighborhood trash. He took me by the scruff of my neck and by the seat of my pants, lifted me up off the ground, and threw me out on Second Avenue.
When we're backstage [on the ’84 tour], I said, "You and I have actually met before." I told him about it. He was so mortified that he had done that to me, and now here I was playing for Bobby. He couldn't do enough for me after that, which I thought was cool.
Joan Baez was on the tour too, at least for the first part. Did you have much interaction with her?
I did. Not as much as I would've liked to have had.
Before the first or second show, she came into the band dressing room. She probably couldn't get into Bob's. We were just sitting around getting high, laughing. She goes, "Boys, I want you to know that I consider it to be my right to walk on stage at any time during the show. I just want you to be ready for that."
Nobody knew what to say, because it was so apropos of nothing. We were all talking amongst ourselves, and then all of a sudden, Joan makes this insane announcement. There was this uncomfortable silence. I did my best Jack Benny imitation. I said, "Joan, that's ridiculous." It sort of broke the ice.
After that, she and I were friends. I remember after one show, I was trying to give something back to Bob or something. I couldn't get near him. She came up to me and said, "Does he frustrate you as much as he frustrates me?" She dug her nails into my palm.
I was very good-looking at the time. I could have wound up with Joan, which I should have done. Shoulda closed the deal that day, but I didn't. [laughs] I loved Joan's voice. To me, “Diamonds & Rust” is a great, great, great song. So personal and so real. There are no other songs written about Bob Dylan [like that]. It's so intimate.
She wrote one of her books that there was all sorts of bad vibes between her and Bob on that tour.
Bob didn't like having her around. That's another reason why I hesitated to close the deal, because I thought it might be a weird situation. Thinking back on it, I would've liked to have spent the night with her.
You guys did a few dozen shows. I'm sure most of them blend together, but do any particular shows stand out?
We did a show in Newcastle, the first show back in England, that was really great. Also, I thought the London show was really great.
What about Newcastle, before we get to the other one?
By that time, we were like a well-oiled machine. We were a big-sounding band. We sounded like Bob Dylan with The Rolling Stones from Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! It was just big and boisterous. Coming on with “Highway 61” in that kind of groove, it was exciting. People went nuts. It like the first English-speaking crowd that we had seen in a long time.
I had this feeling for the first time in my life in Paris on July 1st, which is my birthday, and Newcastle. It was the only time in my life I was ever really proud to be an American. Standing on that stage, playing “Highway 61” with the greatest American songwriter who ever lived. I'm not a patriot or anything like that. There was just something about it. It was like a karmic moment.
And you were one of I guess just two Americans on stage.
I was one of the two Americans on stage, me and Bob Dylan. Did you ever see the movie Zelig?
I don't think so.
Zelig is this Woody Allen movie where he interjects himself, this character Leonard Zelig, into all these moments in history. He does it with film tricks and stuff like that; it's very clever.
I've had a Zelig-type of life. I was one of two Americans on that tour. I played in the only band that ever opened a show for Elvis Presley. I was Andy Kaufman's bandleader at Carnegie Hall. All these things just happened to me that were like Zelig-type moments. The whole Bob tour was like that. Playing with Eric Clapton and Mick Taylor and Carlos Santana—that's the reason why I did it to begin with, before I even knew who any of those guys were.
I don't want to get too off track here, but I got to ask about being Andy Kaufman's bandleader at Carnegie Hall.
Andy Kaufman was my best friend from the time we were 10 years old till the day of his death. I was his musical director for everything he did, except for like if he was on The Tonight Show, he'd use the Tonight Show band. I traveled with him. We did Carnegie Hall together; I wrote the score. I even wound up working with Robin Williams because of him, and also I was Rodney Dangerfield's bandleader for a while because Rodney Dangerfield loved this one character Andy did.
Tony Clifton. Tony Clifton is like this Las Vegas performer. But like a really bad Las Vegas guy. He'd come out smoking a cigarette and was very vain and mean. Rodney Dangerfield loved him. He hired Tony to open for him for about two weeks. I was Tony's bandleader, so Rodney made me his bandleader.
Andy and I met in the fourth grade. We were the only two Elvis fans in the fourth grade. We were always, always best friends. Next to Bob, Andy is the most singular thing that I ever did. Because to me, he was like Bob, a one-of-a-kind artist. The only comedian who wasn't necessarily going for laughs. He was funny, and people laughed, but that wasn't really what he was trying to do.
I'm younger, so I wasn’t around during his era, but I'm a Saturday Night Live fan. A couple of years ago, I went and watched some of the early seasons and the first one--
Mighty Mouse! He does Mighty Mouse.
Exactly! I knew the name, but I didn't really know anything. He comes out and does the Mighty Mouse thing. Mind-blowing. I’d never seen it.
Listen, on YouTube, there's all this stuff on Andy that’s worth checking out, especially Carnegie Hall. Carnegie Hall, if you have an hour and a half, is just absolutely surreal.
Also, I'm just thinking of Andy's best stuff, he did “Old Macdonald,” and it's very, very funny. He just did it to a recording and would bring like four people from the audience up. It’s something he did from the time he was doing kids' parties when he was a teenager.
In the background here, while you've been talking, I've just been pulling up things on Google to hit play on once we get off. But, is this right, did he pass right before this tour with Dylan?
I found out he passed while I was on tour with Bob. Right before the Bob tour, Andy told me he had lung cancer. At first, I said to him, "Andy, that's not funny." I thought he was doing some kind of bit. He said, "No, I really do." He went to all these doctors. Nobody could help him. We had this sort of live wake for him at the Improv. It was weird. Andy was there; he was already bald. I knew it was going to be the last time I ever saw him.
I remember we were someplace in Italy. We were coming downstairs for a gig, and this was one of those hotels with a magazine shop in the lobby. I picked up a copy of People magazine. It said, “Andy Kaufman dead at 34.”
With all the Bob stuff that had been going on, my mind had been somewhere else. I remember I just couldn't control myself. I sat down and was crying in the lobby when the rest of the band came down. It was a bad scene, but I just really just couldn't help myself. The timing on that was bizarre.
You're having, on the one hand, this career highlight moment…
And I lost my best friend. We had grown up together, taken group acid trips together, all this shit.
I wonder if Dylan was an Andy Kaufman fan. I could certainly see it.
He was. I talked to him about it. Because that day, he said, "Why don't you ride with me?" I told him about it, and he said he liked Andy. He liked the bizarre aspects of Andy. He liked the fact that he was way left of center.
One show I did want to ask about because it seems like a fairly big deal at the time, was the Slane Castle tour finale.
That was an amazing gig. An amazing gig.
Well, first of all, it's the last show of the tour, and it's also Ireland, right? Ireland is different than any other place on earth. As we get there, there was a riot because they ran out of Guinness. There was all this shit thrown into the street and everything as we were trying to get to the gig. The kids had really fucking rioted because they ran out of beer.
Van Morrison was there with Bob. Both of them, both Bob and Van Morrison are sort of standoffish kind of guys. But the two of them were like two little Chatty Cathys. I watched them walk away with their arms around each other, just laughing. They couldn't get the words out fast enough or tell each other enough stories. They had some beautiful woman with them, who knows what went on the night before.
Okay, so the crowd was lubricated again; they got like emergency Guinness out to the place. It’s summertime, so the sun is out till about eleven o'clock at night in Ireland in the summer. We went on around eight o'clock and it was still just bright daylight. We did a really great show and then Van came out and did “It's All Over Now, Baby Blue.” It was just amazing. Eric was there. Chrissie Hynde was there. There were a lot of stars, right?
Finally, he calls “Blowin' In The Wind.” Every star singer on the stage did a verse of “Blowin' In The Wind.” Of course, they’re singing Bob's verses
It's growing in intensity, getting a little bit more rocking. Bono, who is staying with Lord Slane and wearing a black hat, is the last one to sing. He starts into it, and I realize he's making up his own words. He's a homeboy, so the crowd is just really with him. He keeps going and going. Everybody else has done a verse and put the mic back, right? He won't drop the fucking mic. He's marching up and down in his little black hat, making up his own lyrics to “Blowin' In The Wind.”
After about three or four or five verses, a long time, Bob walks off. Eric has left, Carlos is gone. It’s like the core band, and we're backing up Bono. He's still marching up and down. It's like a Nazi rally at this point.
Eventually, Mick Taylor, in disgust, puts his guitar standing up, so he's got the headstock balanced on his finger, and just lets his guitar drop. And walks off. The soundman mutes his Marshall pretty fast, but I could hear him. So there we are, me and Mac and Colin and Bono. We can't stop, ‘cause Bono is still spewing.
That doesn't stop him, Mick Taylor loudly dropping his guitar?
No, no. It didn't stop Bono. I don't even think he noticed, to tell you the truth.
After a while it petered out, and we finally stopped. Meanwhile, this is the last number I'm ever going to play with Bob Dylan. He's gone. He's not coming back and saying thank you to everybody.
We get on the bus to get out of there and Bob goes, "Hey Gregg, that Bono blew me away."
Sincerely or sarcastically?
I think both. I think he was being sarcastic, but at the same time, it's true. Bono took over. It was like a hostile takeover. I think Bob had the macro view. I think he got a laugh out of it. Also, it sounded so Bob: "Hey, that Bono blew me away."
I remember one time, I gave him the wrong key to one of the songs. He came off stage and went [Dylan voice], "That was absolutely, positively the wrong key." It was almost worth making a mistake to hear him say that. Just because it sounded so much like Bob, it was just like, "Wow. This could be ‘Positively Fourth Street’."
Did you feel Real Live did justice to the tour?
I did and I didn't. I thought that there could have been some other songs picked. It's a live record; why not put a couple dozen songs on it rather than [just ten]?
Most people think it doesn't sound good or something. [Producer] Glyn Johns knew what the fuck he was doing. Pete Townshend in London said it sounded like Bob playing with the Rolling Stones. I thought the record could have had more of that.
Maybe they knew all along that they were going to make a live record, but they certainly didn't tell us until Glyn Johns arrived with a week to go in the tour. Frankly, I think in the first week or two, they weren't sure if they really wanted to make a record, but as things went along, we started to sound great.
There's one version of “Imagination” where Mick Taylor is doing just this insane stuff that he did on some of Bob's songs too. He would get a harmonic going with the slide and then bend the harmonic. It's impossible to do for a mere mortal. It just sounded amazing. I think he would do it on “All Along the Watchtower” as well. I didn't hear any of that in Real Live. It would have been nice to have had one of Mick Taylor's most exquisite solos because he's as good as anybody.
Did you say Pete Townshend was at one of the shows?
He was at the London show. London was really something because backstage was wall-to-wall stars. I think Pete was in the royal box, which you can see from the stage.
Is that intimidating?
No, not at all. It's great. He was there to see what you've been doing. There's nothing intimidating about it. It's like an opportunity. Not that I'm looking to audition for The Who or anything like that, but it's just, this is what we do. Serious rock and roll.
Would you watch when Dylan would do the solo acoustic stuff?
Absolutely. Always. Nobody else in the band did, but I did. In fact, every once in a while, I would say, "Hey, Bob, why don't you do ‘Desolation Row’ one of these days?" He'd go, "Oh no no. Too many lyrics, Gregg." Then like two nights later, he just played it. He looked over at me. He could see I was standing there.
Also, he rewrote “Tangled Up In Blue” and just played it one day. To me, it's like that's one of his greatest songs, and the rewrite is even greater. It’s a continuation of the same story.
Yeah, it’s not like a line or two changed here or there. It's like the same music, totally different lyrics.
He added a third character. Well, there are three characters, but he made the third character stronger. There's new action. It's a total rewrite.
Was that just something you saw when he's doing it on stage in front of a huge crowd and were like, "What is he singing?"
Yeah. His head of security was a dentist named Stan Golden. I used to talk to Stan about this stuff, because he'd be watching. The reason why Stan was the head of security is ‘cause he could carry a bag of medicine through any border in the world. He didn't know the first thing about security.
Anyway, we both went, "Wow. Were you digging ‘Tangled Up In Blue’? It's like a total fucking rewrite." And it's not like Bob said anything. He didn't say, "Here's ‘Tangled Up In Blue.’ It used to go like that, but now it goes like this." He just played it.
A few of the shows we talked about: