Copyright © 2006 by Dick Curtis
After arriving at Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport we moved through customs. Just outside customs area the place was packed with photographers and reporters. I went out to talk to them and told them there would be no interviews. One reporter hollered, “What if we try?” I said, “Good luck.” That wasn’t the smartest thing to say because some of the reporters decided to try and really push their luck. As one Sidney reporter wrote in the AGE publication, “cameras collided, a lens crashed to the floor, luggage trolleys capsized and inane questions – like “Mr. Dylan will you be singing your protest songs of the 60s?” – were hurled above the general racket, followed quickly by “Mr. Dylan why won’t you talk to the press?” The reporter went on to say that Dylan walked right past the chauffeur with the plum Mercedes who was hired by the promoter to pick up Bob only to board a bus along with the rest of the musicians. He said the chain-smoking driver missed the moment he’d been waiting for – driving Bob Dylan.
Now I know why our promoter Pat Condon was so nice to us. It was still “summertime” down under and we opened in an old, five-thousand seat building called Festival Hall in Brisbane, Australia. We were going to play four nights in stifling heat in this building that lacked air-conditioning. You know what. Those four nights in Brisbane were among the best performances in Australia.
The band was really coming together although we were now getting some criticism in the press about Dylan’s approach to this 1978 world tour; no acoustic numbers, background singers, upbeat rock arrangements to several of the Dylan classics. It didn’t seem to bother him at all. That was the approach Bob intended to take and the fans were flocking to see truly a legend in his own time. Craig McGregor, a columnist with the Sydney Herald, had a rare, lengthy interview with Bob. He was permitted to watch the sound check the afternoon of the first show in Brisbane. After watching the performance it was obvious that he was astonished at the different sounding Bob Dylan. McGregor wrote in his review titled, “Dylan: The Hurdy Gurdy Vagabond Magic Man.” The writer was at first taken aback by Dylan’s new approach then warmed up to it saying, “The turning point of the whole evening is “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.” It’s a classic early song of Dylan’s, both slow and bitchy. But he has rearranged it as a jaunty reggae number; and it is such a daring, disrespectful thing to do, so damn shocking, so irreverent, and it works so well. Dylan standing his own music on its head and making it funny and endearing and mocking at the same time, affectionately satirizing the man who wrote it, but suddenly I realized, HE’S BROUGHT IT OFF! He’s the Virtuoso, Mr. Maestro, utterly reworking his old material, making it not better but different and caring not a damn what he loses in the process, or gains, or what everyone thinks. It’s life, and life only…”
The thousands of fans, some very young but most in their twenties, overwhelmingly approved of the new arrangements. Following the show they roared and hollered and screamed. Finally Dylan returned for an encore, “The Times They Are A Changing.” Australian “performance number one” was in the books…or at least we thought it was. But the crowd wouldn’t leave. I ordered the hall lights turned on. The piped in classical music began and the roadies started packing equipment but the five-thousand people kept on stamping and shouting for more. Twenty minutes later, after all attempts to remove the people failed Dylan returned to sing “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.” According to public relations man Paul Wasserman, the last time Dylan preformed TWO encores was in 1974 at Madison Square Garden.
The next three nights in Brisbane were just as rewarding. So far it was evident they loved Bob
Dylan in “Aussieland.” Another reporter, this one from Brisbane wrote,
”The elusive and reclusive singer/poet who inspired a whole generation with songs of peace and protest no longer sings at people, hunched over a stool. He sings with them and to them – in a faster more ‘rocked-up’ way than ever before, and last night’s two-and-a-half hour concert was a brilliant show of the result. The capacity audience was entranced.” It was obvious that Dylan was appreciative of the response. Rather than go back to Sidney for a couple of off days before an outdoor show in Adelaide Bob decided he’d rather just stay in Brisbane. To report on his first Australian tour in a dozen years, Melborne Age columnist, Helen Thomas told of the softer, friendlier Dylan around the Brisbane area. A Dylan who walked to the hall from the hotel for sound checks, talking to people in the hotel lobby, shopping in the heart of Brisbane and signing autographs. Following his final show in Brisbane Thomas wrote about Dylan’s stage persona. “Thank you, thank you” Dylan told the audience. “We hope it has touched you because it has really touched us.” Thomas went on to say, “Australia seems to be witnessing the warmer side of a hero so much has been heard about since his last visit here in 1966. I had to laugh when Thomas referring to me said, “and then there’s the ‘executive’ icing to the cake: Mr. Dick Curtis representing Dylan’s manager.” I’d never thought of myself as cake frosting but I guess sometimes my personality can turn icy depending what I have on my mind.
During our stay in Brisbane I got a call one afternoon from promoter Pat Condon. He told me our two shows were sold out in Melbourne. He wanted to add a third. I told Pat, “Only if you can guarantee me a sell-out.” He said he could and after talking to Bob a third show was added. The reserved seats portion of the Myer Music Bowl sold out in five minutes although there were some grass seats available for about an hour.
Adelaide was our next stop where Dylan played Westlake Stadium on March 18th. The Dylan patter toward the end of the show was nearly the same every night with a few exceptions. “On the keyboards tonight, Alan Pasqua. On the violin and the mandolin, David Mansfield. Tenor saxophone, Steve Douglas. On the rhythm guitar we have a man responsible for what we call that outlaw sound. From San Antonio, Texas, Steven Soles. On the drums, Ian Wallace. Bass guitar, Rob Stoner. On the background vocals tonight we have three beautiful young ladies from Shreveport, Louisiana. On the right is Debbie Dye. In the middle is my childhood sweetheart, Jo Ann Harris. On the left is my current girlfriend, Helena Springs. On the conga drums, Bobbye Hall. Lead guitar, Billy Cross. This one’s called, “It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding.”
Then the rains came. We were playing the Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne, the first of three nights. The facility is very much like Saratoga Springs in New York, the Garden State Arts Theater in New Jersey or so many other similar facilities with reserved seating then room for another four to five thousand on the lawn. The crowd was a little more subdued than in Brisbane but not much. John Hall, a reporter for the Herald newspaper in Melbourne wrote, “For most of the performance the audience seemed stunned; overawed by the depth and richness of the sound Dylan and his countrymen were producing. Too much of a good thing, perhaps. Dylan classic upon Dylan classic with only seconds separating them and then the man was gone and the audience really came alive.” Hall went on to say, “A five-minute standing ovation brought Dylan back on stage with “The Times They Are A-Changing.” The line “and accept that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone” brought a roar of amused approval. They were all drenched but wanted more. “Choruses of the encore were lost in the chanting from the crowd. Then Dylan was gone again. More standing ovation…three…four minutes. Back came the emaciated hero of folk-rock for his last encore. Two numbers. First the slow, dramatic “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” and then the beautiful “Knocking On Heavens Door.” He left the stage for the last time. He was spent and so was the audience. They had come, seen and heard…and Bob Dylan had conquered.” The weather let up some for the next night; for night three it was beautiful. I loved the city. Melbourne with over three-million people was very clean and metropolitan. It reminded me much of London. Now we were about to do some real traveling. The tour was heading for the most isolated city in the world, Perth, Australia on the other side of the outback. It’s also referred to as the “Gateway to Australia.” Perth was 3,438 kilometers or about 21-hundred miles away. The trip back to Sydney would be even longer, over 41-hundred kilometers.
The Perth Entertainment Center holds around nine-thousand people. According to the manager of the facility, Howard Lawrence, the center sold out in very little time. In fact Lawrence said, “Tickets sold faster in a shorter space of time than any other concert ever to visit Perth.” I liked the facility. Despite the size it was very “theater like.” We arrived in Perth the day before Good Friday. I had no idea things would be so “closed” on Good Friday. Everything was buttoned up for this national religious holiday, even some of the restaurants. But the sun was out and Perth felt to me like the beautiful vacation spot it was to so many Australians. We spent most of the day as guests of a prominent Australian who owned a string of television stations. For the life of me I can’t remember his name. He had quite a spread and some of us played a few games of tennis and drank Australian beer.
We opened on Saturday with shows scheduled for Monday and Tuesday. While the response wasn’t as wild as in Melbourne and Brisbane it was satisfactory. A Perth reporter, Seona Martin, perhaps upset that she hadn’t gotten a private interview, wrote a mean spirited review. It was obvious that Dylan wasn’t having too much of the press during a group interview prior to the concert. He was barefoot and told them that Viet Nam was Australia’s problem and we were just helping out. She wrote, although I didn’t hear it, that Dylan claimed he had made 75 billion dollars. Obviously that’s an absurd statement and any knowledgeable writer should have seen that Bob was just being flippant. She called his attitude arrogant and the review went downhill from there. It was apparent she had been expecting a 1963 Bob Dylan. She told how many fans walked out after the first set. I swear, I never saw that happen. She kept referring to the bead wearing, “folkies” that still gather in Perth. Martin closed her article by saying “Whether Dylan wanted to or not, Dylan was and is a folk hero and a prophet to folks who take their folk seriously.” It’s incredible how different reviewers can watch the same concert and come to startlingly different conclusions. Seona Martin needed to “loosen the knot.” Two more shows in Perth and it was time for that long plane flight to Sidney.
The concert was going to be held at the Sydney Showgrounds, a huge rugby, cricket and soccer stadium also used for other venues. Karen Hughes was a young journalist in the very beginning of her career who just happened to run into Dylan in Adelaide and to her astonishment found herself not only asking for an interview but getting promised one in Sydney. The forty-five minute interview was conducted on the afternoon of our final full day in Australia at the Boulevard Hotel where we were staying. It was originally printed in Rock Express and was reprinted in the unauthorized “Talkin’ Bob Dylan … 1978.”
Bob played to about fifty-thousand people on that Saturday night, April fool’s day. The concert was upbeat and so were the reviews. The bootleggers got a 2-CD set out of the concert. We were heading home on our Pan Am flight, back to Los Angeles where the fun was just beginning. First there was an album to cut then Dylan would play a week, the first week of June, at the Universal Amphitheater. I would put my nose to the grindstone and place the finishing touches on a sixty-two city tour of America I’d nearly finalized before heading to Japan. So, all in all, it had been a successful tour – a different Bob Dylan. Polished, rockin’, upbeat; just what he had wanted to accomplish prior to setting off on this month-and-a-half of concerts. The only off stage problem I hadn’t anticipated happened in Sydney’s Boulevard Hotel during our final night in Australia. And it wasn’t that big of a deal and wouldn’t have even gotten any press but it just so happened that we upset the “Man From Atlantis.” Yup, who
knew that Patrick Duffy was staying in that same hotel…one the floor below us. Duffy would go on to achieve greater fame as Bobby Ewing in the long running television show, “Dallas.”
If you missed any of Dick Curtis Memories with Frank Sinatra, 1, 2, & 3, Bob Dylan 1, 2, & 3 View HERE