Concert Review: Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue – Rochester War Memorial November 17, 1975 (early show)

Experience the complete Rolling Thunder Revue!

Bob Dylan’s travelling circus tour, which he called The Rolling Thunder Revue, is getting a huge revisit these days. Netflix is making available Martin Scorsese’s new documentary, Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story today. Clocking in at 142 minutes the film mixes fact and fantasy, old footage and new.

Along with that, Columbia Records has rolled out a 14-disc box set featuring performances from the fabled tour. In addition to 5 full Dylan sets from shows dating between November 19th to December 4th, 1975,we also get 3 discs of never-before-heard rehearsals and another “bonus disc” of rare performances.

All of these discs focus on Dylan’s own performance…many with Joan Baez singing alongside him. But there was a lot more to the Rolling Thunder Revue. The backing band, named “Guam’ consisted of long-time Dylan hanger-on Bob Neuwirth, the then-unknown T Bone Burnett, guitar ace Mick Ronson, fresh from playing with Mott The Hoople, bassist “Rockin” Rob Stoner, who acted as musical director, former Byrd Roger McGuinn, mysterious violinist Scarlett Rivera, who would make her mark on Dylan’s soon-to-be released Desire album, along with Steven Soles, David Mansfield, Howie Wyeth and Luther Rix.

The Rolling Thunder Revue would begin with an hour of music from Guam, along with any guests that would be on hand. This all before Dylan would make his appearance.

So, we here at The 13th Floor offer you the opportunity to enjoy the full Rolling Thunder Revue experience!

Marty Duda attended one of the classic Rolling Thunder Revue shows on November 17, 1975. There was a special guest…it was Joni Mitchell…and the show was full of great performances. Here he is to to give you an eyewitness account of that show. And along with it, you can listen to a rare recording of the entire three-hour concert!

Warning: the sound quality is pretty rough at the beginning, but it improves dramatically a few minutes in.


So here is Marty with a song by song rundown of The Rolling Thunder Revue:

Hi, needless to say, I was very excited to have scored a couple of tickets to see Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue. The show took place on a Monday in Rochester, New York at the War Memorial Auditorium (a venue very similar to Auckland’s Spark Arena).

I had tickets for the early show, which meant, if memory serves me, that it was to start at about 3pm. Our seats were on the floor, about halfway back. There was definitely an air of excitement, as no one really had any idea what to expect.

The show began with a rag-tag looking group on musicians on stage, none of whom was Bob Dylan. They were, in fact: Bob Neuwirth (guitar & vocals), Rob Stoner (bass & vocals), Howie Wyeth (drums), Mick Ronson (guitar & vocals), T-Bone Burnette (guitar & vocals), Steven Soles (guitar & vocals), David Mansfield (pedal steel & vocals), Scarlett Rivera (violin), and Luther Rix (percussion).

I’ll preface each song with a timing so that you can go to the appropriate spot on the recording:

00:00 Good Love Is Hard To Find: Sung by Bob Neuwirth, this is a countrified of an old song previously recorded by Eddie Hinton (sorry for the sound quality.)

“Welcome to our Living Room,” says Neuwirth. “Our small concert tour that you may have read about in the Buffalo Evening Groaner.” Apparently the Buffalo Evening News had given the previous show, held in nearby Niagara Falls, a less-than-glowing review, and Neuwirth was annoyed. Although I’d bet that most of the crowd had no idea what he was talking about.

01:30 Sleazy: I think this is a Neuwirth original. There’s a nice solo by Ronson, and Scarlett’s violin comes through strong. “That was Sleazy for sure,” comments Neuwirth when its over.

05:20 Hula Hoop: Neuwirth introduces the then-unknown T Bone Burnett. “This one is from my friend on the left… from Lisbon, Portugal… from Ft Worth, Texas… Frank Sinatra, Jr… it’s T Bone Burnett.” Hula Hoop would eventually appear on Burnett’s 1983 album, Proof Through The Night.

09:23 Don’t Blame Me: Now Neuwirth introduces “Stevie Soles, from Long Island.” Soles, Burnett and Mansfield would later for the highly underrated Alpha Band, releasing three albums. Don’t Blame Me is an old Jimmy McHugh song that Soles had recorded with his previous band, Tidbits in 1973.

12:40 Catfish: Musical director and bass player Rob Stoner steps up to give up an Elvis-style version of Catfish. It’s a song Dylan co-wrote with Jacques Levy and recorded for 1976’s Desire album. It didn’t make the final cut and eventually appeared on the Bootleg Series in 1991. It a tribute to baseball pitcher Jim “Catfish” Hunter.

17:00 Life On Mars?: No, it’s not the Bowie song, but it is Bowie’s ace guitarist Mick Ronson singing. In fact, the tune was written by a guy names Roscoe West (aka Bob Barnes) from Texas. Great to hear Ronno!!

21:40 Band intros> Bob Neuwirth introduces the band, but that review from Buffalo is still on his mind. “If there’s any reporters from the Buffalo papers you can blame the fact that this band is named Guam on me. My name is Bob Neuwirth and they can go fuck themselves!” He then introduces the first guest of the evening…the girl-singer who is the star of the film Nashville, Miss Ronee Blakely.”

23:10 Alabama Dark (aka Hank Williams): Ronee and Bob Neuwirth sing this tribute to the late, great Hank Williams together. Ronee takes the last verse herself.

27:00 Please: Ronee plays one of her own songs on piano. Its from her just-released album, Welcome.

31:40 Cindy (When I Get Home): a bit of confusion here. Blakely starts to introduce another guest, but stops short. Instead, Neuwirth sings this trucker’s song. The CB craze was going strong at the time.

36:00 Edith & The Kingpin: Neuwirth: “Here’s another friend I’d like you to meet, Miss Joni Mitchell.” The place explodes and Joni appears. She begins singing the song from Hissing Of Summer Lawns, but stops, after being distracted by screaming in the audience. “All that action down there.” She restarts and suddenly we are transported to a Joni Mitchell concert.

40:30 Don’t Interrupt The Sorrow: Joni follows with another track from Hissing Of Summer Lawns, this time with the band accompanying her. And then she’s gone, not to be heard from again until the finale.

45:50 Mercedes Benz: “This is a song for another girl singer who can’t be with us…this is her guitar, you’ll recognize it.” Indeed we do. Neuwirth co-wrote Mercedes Benz with Janis Jooplin, who had died in 1971. David Mansfield shines on the dobro.

48:40 Ramblin’ Jack: Bob Neuwirth sings this tune as a way to introduce our next guest, Ramblin’ Jack Ellliott, the song sounding a bit like Me And Bobby McGee.

50:00 Mule Skinner Blues: Ramblin’ Jack himself appears and sings this old Jimmie Rodgers chestnut, complete with mandatory yodelling. Elliott was something of a mentor to the young Robert Zimmerman when he arrived in NYC in 1961.

53:40 If I Were A Carpenter: Jack continues his set with this Tim Hardin classic.

59:20 Salt Pork, West Virginia: more from Ramblin’ Jack. This time he reaches back to 1949 and a tune originally done up by Louis Jordan & His Tympani Five. Love that fiddle!

1:02:30 Rake And Ramblin’ Boy: Jack wraps up his set with this tune he wrote with Derroll Adams back in the 50s. You can hear Dylan sing in the new Rolling Thunder box set as part of the rehearsal tapes.

1:06:30 When I Paint My Masterpiece: Over an hour into the show and Dylan appears! He and “Guam” kick right in to a rockin’ version of this tune from The Band’s Cahoots album. Some fine mandolin playing by possibly T Bone Burnett.

1:11:00 It Ain’t Me Babe: A strong vocal performance by Dylan…and I love the way the guitar solo (Ronson) segues into the pedal steel. This band is tight. And of course cheers erupt when Dylan blows his harmonica.

1:16:15 The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll: Dylan practically shouts, rather than sings this strident version. Again, Ronson turns more fine guitar playing.

1:22:50 It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry: By now the band is on fire! Mick Ronson proving to be MVP.

1:26:40 Romance In Durango: Here’s our chance to hear the “new” Dylan. Desire wouldn’t be released for a couple of months yet. Scarlett Rivera plays that violin!

1:32:30 Isis: Dylan speaks! “This song is called Isis, it’s a true story.” Another preview of Desire.

Thus ends the first half of the show. The lights go up and we get a 30 minute intermission.

Then suddenly…

1:38:05 Blowin’ In The Wind: The light go down and two very familiar voices are heard coming from the darkness on stage. Its Dylan and Baez, back together again, singing Blowin’ In The Wind. Halfway through the song, the curtain rises and we see the two of them together, singing and strumming acoustic guitars.

1:41:00 Mama You Been On My Mind: The Bob and Joanie show continues with this beauty.

1:44:10 I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine: Some of the bandmembers are back and there’s a lovely mandolin solo on this tune from John Wesley Harding.

1:46:50 Never Let Me Go: Dylan speaks again: “This song here is an old Johnny Ace number. Remember Johnny Ace? Nobody remembers Johnny Ace?”. The crowd reacts by calling out to Dylan. Johnny Ace was the 1950s R&B star who famously accidentally shot and killed himself backstage at his concert on Christmas Eve, 1953. But not before recording tunes like Pledging My Love. Paul Simon also paid tribute to him on “The Late, Great Johnny Ace”. Never Let Me Go was record by Johnny Ace in 1953. Dylan, Joan and band turn it into a country weeper and its beautiful. More great pedal steel from Mansfield.

1:50:25 I Shall Be Released: Dylan’s on a roll…”We’ll do this one for Richard Manuel, who sends you all his best.” It was, of course, Manuel, who sang this one with The Band. More fine pedal steel and more Ronson.

1:55:10 Diamonds And Rust: And now to what was probably the most emotionally powerful part of the show. Dylan leaves the stage…”Bobby will be back,” assures Baez, and Joan sings this dramatic version of her own tribute to Dylan. Just before she starts, someone yells out, “I love you.” Joan, who has a wicked sense of humour, responds, “Thank you… are you the one who said it to Joni Mitchell, too?”

1:59:55 Do Right Woman – Do Right Man: Joan follows with an a capella version of this Aretha Franklin hit. The crowd cheers as Baez sings, “You’ve got to have a little respect for me,” perhaps remembering Dylan’s treatment of her in the film, Don’t Look Back.

2:02:00 Sweet Sir Galahad: Joan introduces this as the first song she ever wrote for her sister…Mimi Farina.

2:05:30 Joe Hill: Ever the activist, Joan takes us back to Woodstock and dedicates this to the United Farm Workers.

2:08:20 Help Me Make It Through The Night: Joan alters Kris Kristofferson’s opening line to: “Take that gibbon from my hair”. Very funny. She also ends with a line from Goodtime Charlie’s Got The Blues.” In between, a wonderful version played by an excellent country band.

2:11:40 Please Come To Boston: Joan throws in this yearning Dan Loggins hit from 1974. Scarlett Rivera’s violin is lovely. Someone named Kevin plays piano.

2:16:05 Chestnut Mare: After some extended tuning Roger McGuinn steps up to sing his late-period Byrds classic. McGuinn must have been impressed with Mick Ronson, he hired him to produced his next solo album, the excellent Cardiff Rose.

2:21:32 The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down: Joan returns to play her big hit.

2:25:30 Simple Twist Of Fate: Dylan returns. And thankfully we get at least one tune from Blood On The Tracks.

2:30:30 Oh Sister: We’re back into unchartered territory. Another beauty from the as-yet unreleased Desire. Scarlett shines once more.

2:34:45 Hurricane: What can I say…simply awesome! (the single had just been released that week)

2:43:00 One More Cup Of Coffee: Bob thanks the audience and we’re back with more Desire.

2:47:10 Sara: Someone shouts out a request and Dylan responds, “Next show.” First he needs to make up with the wife.

2:52:20 Just Like A Woman: Love songs, nothing but love songs!

2:56:50 Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door: We’re getting close to the end, although Scarlett Rivera shows no sign of slowing down.

3:01:50 This Land Is Your Land: Three and a half hours after the start, Dylan brings everyone back to sing Woody Guthrie’s anthem. Joan Baez seems to have taken over MC duties introducing McGuinn and Neuwirth as they take solos and thanking the crowd.

And that’s all, folks!

Incredibly, they did it all over again an hour later.