Bob Dylan Collaborators Recall Intense ‘Blood on the Tracks’ Session
Keyboardist Thomas McFaul and assistant engineer Glenn Berger recalled the intense first day in the studio with Bob Dylan as he began to record the groundbreaking 1975 album Blood on the Tracks.
They shared moments of irony and humor as Dylan tracked “Idiot Wind” on Sept. 16, 1974, with a group of musicians that was about to be fired in favor of a raw acoustic approach. The version they recorded that day didn’t appear on the LP.
“Dylan was already at A&R [studios in New York City] when I arrived,” McFaul said in a new interview with Uncut. “He was cordial at the outset, asked us if we wanted to go on the road with him, said he wanted to play only prisons. Before we started recording, Dylan was sipping grain alcohol from a paper cup, but I don’t recall him ever seeming to be intoxicated.”
He noted that he didn't remember Dylan "saying much at all about the music. Sometimes he would ask to roll tape before running the song down all the way through even once. He’d say something like, ‘Then there’s a bridge; it’s like any other bridge, you’ll get it.’ ... I remember the lyric of ‘Idiot Wind’ was about fame, and how fame is isolating, with no one telling you the truth anymore. I was thinking how ironic that was because that was exactly what was going on at the session – no one told Bob what they were feeling.”
“My first session had been with Paul Simon, who could take a year to make a record," said Berger, who was 19 at the time and working with Phil Ramone on Blood on the Tracks. "And then Dylan came in and appeared not to care about the production at all. He didn’t care who the musicians were. There was no producer. Phil was just the engineer. It was mind-boggling.”
He added that, in normal circumstances, a backing band could expect “two or three hours minimum” to arrange the backing for a song they’d never heard before. “We never got to that point,” he said.
“Dylan would just start playing another new tune without telling anybody. We were racing to keep up. ... He’s cutting ‘Idiot Wind’ and just spitting this mean, angry, hurtful song, and it’s so incredibly intense and vulnerable and real. And then he turns to us in the control room and says, ‘Was that sincere enough?’ I think it was such an intense emotion that he had to make some distance from it, by making that funny remark.”
Blood on the Tracks is the latest Dylan album to receive the Bootleg Series box set treatment, arriving on Nov. 2. A movie based on the LP is under production, after Oscar-nominated director Luca Guadagnino and screenwriter Richard LaGravenese created the script. Dylan is touring the U.S. until Nov. 10.