On paper, it seemed like a great idea: in 1975, Mr Bob Dylan, along with a gaggle of guest musicians, set out to play a string of dates in some of the forgotten backwaters of the US.
A decade on from “The Times They Are A-Changin’”, Mr Dylan was not in a good place. Earlier that year, the songwriter had released his 15th studio album, Blood On The Tracks. Charting the collapse of his first marriage, the record is today considered among the best in his back catalogue, but at the time was met with distinctly mixed reviews. What’s more, his return to the stage in 1974 – his first major tour in eight years – had been by all accounts a dispiriting experience.
A 57-date tour split into two legs, the Rolling Thunder Revue was supposed to be a reset. For Mr Dylan, it was a chance to tap into the mythology of the American highway, and a return to playing more intimate venues rather than huge, soulless stadiums along the way. As he put it, to “play for the people”. For his revolving bill of performers, which included Ms Joni Mitchell, Mr Allen Ginsberg, Mr Mick Ronson of Mr David Bowie’s Spider From Mars, boxer Mr Rubin “Hurricane” Carter (of the song) and Byrds frontman Mr Roger McGuinn, it was a platform alongside a counter-cultural icon. Actor, screenwriter and director Mr Sam Shepard, who was enlisted to help realise Mr Dylan’s ambitions to turn the tour into a film, reported of a “circus atmosphere”.