The book is a synopsis of a current exhibit that has been on display in Nashville since the spring of 2015, running thru the end of this year. It's a tribute to the studio musicians of Nashville and a story about their influence, in large part as a result of the catalyst role of Bob Dylan, though you might say the key ingredient was Charlie McCoy.... or was it Bob Johnston. Hmmm. When you step back and consider the alignment of the stars, including the mutual admiration of Johnny Cash and Dylan, it really seems like the magic was serendipitous.
This book -- or rather, the exhibit -- tells the story of how the Nashville music scene blossomed in the late Sixties and early Seventies as a result of a few key trigger events. One of these was the decision by Bob Dylan to record Blonde on Blonde in Nashville.
The exhibit opens with a brief biographical section on Dylan’s career prior to his 1966 arrival in Nashville and on the events that drew him to Music City. To record his album Highway 61 Revisited, in 1965, Dylan was in New York working with producer Bob Johnston, a former Nashville resident. Johnston often had hired multi-instrumentalist Charlie McCoy to lead sessions in Nashville. At Johnston’s invitation, McCoy visited one of Dylan’s New York sessions and was asked to play guitar on “Desolation Row.”
McCoy impressed Dylan with his musicianship, and Johnston urged Dylan to record in Nashville, where there were many other skilled musicians. Dylan took Johnston’s advice; he came to Nashville in February 1966 to make the recordings that would become Blonde on Blonde. The album is considered one of the great achievements of Dylan’s career and a benchmark of American popular music.*
Well, the answer isn't blowing in the wind. It's right here in this book.
The Hawks, a.k.a. The Band, were performers first and foremost. You can read Levon Helm's This Wheel's On Fire to get the incredible story of how these guys developed their stage style, riling audiences and blistering paint wherever they assembled. But they were not a studio band. Studio work is a whole different animal. They were skilled at reading audiences, responding to the room, and that's not what studio work is all about.
Dylan recognized this, and his brief experience with Charlie McCoy gave him an inkling that there might be some alternative means of getting the tracks on his head transferred to acetate. Producer Bob Johnston became the conduit and, as they say, the rest is history.
The exhibit runs through the end of this year, so you still have a few months left to drop in at the Country Music Hall of Fame and take it in. If this isn't in the cards for you, you can still order this rich collection of stories from behind the scenes and get your heart warmed.
Much more could be said (e.g. Johnny Cash won a Grammy for his liner notes on Nashville Skyline), but you can read it yourself if you get the book. Or you can bookmark the website.*
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Magic Marc Percansky, the inimitable Paul Metsa (Wall of Power Radio Hour) and others will be part of the evening, which will include music from The Freewheelers and Cowboy Angel Blue. (i.e. lots of Dylan music!)
Tickets are cheap. I hope we'll see you there. (Link to Tickets.)
* Read more: Dylan, Cash, and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City