Bob Dylan Tales-4 with Dick Curtis




By Dick Curtis

PSR Contributor


July 25th, 2015

Dylan Tales-4

Copyright © 2006 by Dick Curtis

It felt good to be back home for a while. Of course, while at home I had to put my other hat on and perform not only for Jerry Weintraub but Concerts West as well. After all they were still the ones signing my checks. That meant occasionally checking out a new act at the Roxy in Hollywood or handling an appearance of a Concerts West act passing through Los Angeles. While I was away, my wife at the time, Karen or Kay as she liked to be called, had become friends with Mary Alice Artes, Dylan’s girlfriend. I wasn’t sure this was healthy and I was right. Later on it would develop into a wart on my relationship with Bob. But that would be later; for now everything was rolling along on schedule. Weintraub was pleased with my work. Life was good. Dylan was about to record with his new group – then there would be a week at the Universal Amphitheatre.


One day Bob ask me, “When a hot rod is licensed to be driven on the street, isn’t that called, street legal?” I really wasn’t sure but it sounded plausible and I said, “Yes, I think so.” Dylan and the band recorded in April at Rundown Studios in Santa Monica rather than in a recording studio. No frills for this group. I guess Bob felt that he and everyone else were most comfortable there where they’d rehearsed the same songs for so many weeks. And it cost nothing. The name of the album, imagine my surprise, was going to be called “Street Legal.” I spent that first day of recording at the studio and into the night. I went into the office the next day and told Jerry, “Bob got four songs down last night.” I thought Weintraub would fall off his chair. I also said, “I think he’ll knock it out this week.” Jerry didn’t believe me. He was use to Neil Diamond taking six months to record an album. Street Legal took four days to record. It would be released in mid-June following Bob’s week at Universal – then we would head for Europe. A second Dylan album in which I received album credits. I don’t believe I ever had any others from anyone.


I didn’t see too much of Bob’s Universal shows. We were back in L. A. and it was easy for Weintraub to be in attendance and of course be very visible as “Dylan’s Manager.” I remained in the background. Besides I looked forward to a little less pressure for the week or so at Universal. I was about to spend the rest of the year with Dylan. That would be more than enough. The concerts at the Universal Ampitheatre had mixed reviews. To be honest, more negative than positive. I could tell it bothered Bob but he didn’t let on.


The shows, June 1st through June 7th had gone on sale May 1st at 9am.  They had completely sold out by 1pm. Some fans had camped overnight hoping to get tickets. More than five-hundred disappointed Dylan followers were turned away Monday afternoon. Scalpers were already selling tickets in the parking lot for four times the face value. A month later, on opening night, the Amphitheatre was packed with celebrities and Dylan played to the audience. Much of the performance, in this intimate setting, came across like he was performing a Las Vegas act; ala Neil Diamond. Introducing movie stars in the audience, taking the mike and moving around touching fans, “here’s a song I recorded with the Band” and launching into “Going, Going, Gone.” The audience was polite but many sat stunned. This wasn’t what they had expected. The up tempo arrangements, the background singers, it was all more than they were prepared for. This west coast, Southern California audience was reacting just the opposite as those in Australia. Brisbane now seemed a million years away. As I read the mixed reviews I somehow felt fortunate that I wasn’t there alone for this week’s worth of shows. I thought to myself, I’m sure Weintraub will dig down into his deep sack of bull-shit and convince even Bob that this was to be expected and change takes time. Before it’s all over you’ll be even bigger than ever. A week later, “Street Legal” was released. Many critics treated the album just the same as the show. Rolling Stone magazine went so far as to headline the review, “Never So Utterly Fake.” Later, in a follow-up issue, publisher, Jann Wenner, reviewed“Street Legal” himself and gave it a favorable review. Wenner remained one of the few in the business of reporting that had access to Bob Dylan. That wasn’t about to be jeopardized by one stinking review.


We were now headed to Europe and it seemed like an appropriate time to flee the country. First stop, England.


We were opening at Earl’s Court in London on June 15th for a six-day run. According to our English promoter, Harvey Goldsmith, the 100,000 tickets had sold out in record time. Everyone in London was talking about Bob Dylan’s upcoming concerts. I had never been to London before and between shows I did the tourist thing, taking in the sights. After the sound checks and prior to the shows, I was introduced, by our English drummer Ian Wallace, to an English pub near Earl’s Court. There I learned that everything I’d heard about the English pub was for real. People really were playing darts and singing songs. There was a piano player and everyone around was a frustrated singer and weren’t afraid to show it; most times quite loudly. The English beer, with much more alcohol content than in the states, kicked in and I felt an uncomfortable buzz as we headed back to Earl’s Court for our opening night. I wanted to be in full control and was disappointed that I hadn’t watched myself better at the pub. It had snuck up on me. I wasn’t out of control or slurring or anything like that but to myself I knew I wasn’t at the top of my game.


Anyway, the show was underway and as I walked from the dressing room to the backstage area, there stood Jerry Weintraub and Tom Hulett. They’d flown from Los Angeles to catch the opening night in London. I’m sure Jerry was very aware of Dylan’s feeling following the Los Angeles performances and this gave him a chance to again make an appearance, show his concern and buoy up Bob’s feelings. Weintraub most likely wanted company and told Tom to come along. A good time would be had by all. As I passed by I got the glad hand from Jerry. “How’s Bob?” “He’s doing great,” I told him. I meant it. I think Bob was very relieved to leave L-A and was feeling good in London. Tom said very little aside from hello. Damn, it was always so hard for me to accept that I was responsible for this bastard being in the business to begin with and always felt that he looked down on me. I swear it wasn’t jealousy or anything like that. I just didn’t like his “I’m a star and you’re a peon” attitude. I spent very little time with the pair and went to the apron of the stage where I could immediately sense this was going to be much better than Los Angeles. The crowd was loudly applauding, cheering and giving Bob his due. Not as boisterous as Brisbane but he was going over big time, new arrangements and all.


Our concerts at Earl’s Court were accompanied by celebrities backstage all wanting to see Bob. Robert Shelton was writing a book about Dylan which he released in 1986 titled “No Direction Home – The Life and Music of Bob Dylan”. Bianca Jagger was flitting about with some guy whose main occupation was “being seen with Bianca” – most likely his only occupation. Actually Bianca came off like a very nice person. Jack Nicholson was there along with several others I didn’t even know. A couple of guys that were musicians and had played on the bill with Dylan years earlier at Gerde’s Folk City in New York during the beginning of Bob’s career were hanging around. Nicholson by the way was in London filming the Stanley Kubrick movie, “The Shining.”


Following the concert that second night we were all outside on the bus that would take us back to the hotel. Last to arrive was Dylan. After he jumped on the bus he said to me, “We’re going to a party.” I said, “Okay, where is it?” “Soho,” he explained, “only they don’t know we’re all coming.” The bus pulled up in front of the house and I could tell by the look of surprise that they weren’t expecting us. You see, Nicholson and Bianca had invited “Bob” to this party. Dylan took it upon himself to include the rest of us on the bus. The get-together was co-hosted by Nicky Haslam and Bubbles Harmsworth. It was at the home of Bubbles. I’m not making this up. She had planned on a cozy little gathering of 400 people. We inflated that figure a bit. Anyway, I had a good time and made a fool of myself. You see, Princess Margaret’s boyfriend for many years, Roddy Llewellyn was there. And it was in Bubble’s kitchen that he introduced me to Polish vodka. I apparently took a great liking to it. Margaret Trudeau, the former first lady of Canada and I had a lengthy conversation about the difficulties of being a celebrity. Something I knew nothing about but fortified with Llewellyn’s vodka I could carry on with the best of them. Margaret told me several stories of her escapades with the press and others when she was married to Prime Minster Pierre Trudeau. She said she was staying in London to write her memoirs. Then I walked over to Jack Nicholson and proceeded to tell him about this guy I knew in Los Angeles. I have to backtrack to tell the story. It was the day Elvis died and I’m at work in the Weintraub offices in Beverly Hills. In comes Tom Murphy, an L-A DJ. We were both disk jockeys together in Seattle at KJR. He’s standing in the reception area and shouting something like, “The king bought it huh?” I came out and shushed him up telling him it’s not a funny thing to say in these offices. Elvis made up large share of Weintraub’s income. Elvis’s death isn’t something to joke about and I hustled him out to lunch. Murphy was living in the San Fernando Valley and working at a station in the Los Angeles area. He tells me about his friend, who I also knew, Jeff Thomas. Jeff is a very funny guy and had a rock group called “The Fastest Group Alive.” Jeff ended up married to actor and dance man Donald O’Conner’s daughter. If you ever watched the old situation comedy “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” Jeff was the piano player on Mary’s recording sessions. Since I’m working with Bob Dylan, Tom thought he’d sing to me Jeff’s impression of Jack Nicholson doing Bob Dylan. It was funny. So I couldn’t resist myself that evening at Bubble’s London party doing my impression of my friend Jeff Thomas doing Jack Nicholson doing Dylan. Nicholson looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Oh ya, tell him he was second” and he left me standing there and headed for the living room. I guess he HAD done the Dylan impersonation before; perhaps in the shower.  Who knew? After a couple of hours it was time to escape with the band. We all once again boarded our bus and headed back to Kensington where we were staying.


“Street Legal” had just been released in Great Britain and while in London Bob was often occupied with people from the record company and busy with interviews. Elle Smith was the CBS publicist that was with Bob constantly during those days. He seemed to enjoy the company of the transplanted American and their work was paying off. “Street Legal” was getting favorable reviews and was selling at a good clip. A week’s appearance in London would help spur sales and at the conclusion of our European tour we’d be back in England for a huge outdoor concert with Eric Clapton at the Blackbushe Aerodrome in Camberley.


The above article appeared in Women’s Wear Daily

We next flew to Amsterdam in The Netherlands. Bob would be performing an outdoor concert in a city about thirty miles away, Rotterdam. My wife Karen had now joined me and we were both seeing Amsterdam for the first time. I was very intrigued by this city. We walked the streets at night through the area where prostitutes display themselves in windows like store-front mannequins, most wearing lingerie in the dim red lit rooms. We visited the Rembrandt Museum and then on to the museum of another famous Dutch painter, Vincent Van Gogh. We toured the house of Anne Frank at Prinsengracht 263 in Amsterdam. She, her family and some friends hid in this house for over two years, avoiding the Nazi’s before they were finally betrayed. It was here she wrote in her famous diary. It gave one an eerie feeling to just be inside this very same building.

The Anne Frank House In Amsterdam

The Anne Frank House In Amsterdam


The Rotterdam concert would be on a Friday night at the Feyenoord Stadium. Eric Clapton was also on the bill. While Rotterdam boasts of cutting edge architecture, the bustling port and factories mark it as one of the most industrialized areas in Western Europe. We decided to have a sound check at the stadium the night before the concert. So on this Thursday night, riding on the bus from Amsterdam to Rotterdam past the windmills and Dutch countryside; I had a similar feeling as I would have had driving from Seattle to Tacoma. Not that there’s any comparison to the surroundings but the sizes and different make-up of the cities caused me to feel that way; Seattle the larger, more metropolitan city like Amsterdam – Tacoma the smaller, industrialized city like Rotterdam. The next night Dylan, with Eric Clapton opening the show, played to about thirty-thousand in Feyenoord Stadium. The fans, most of them in their twenties and thirties, seemed to enjoy themselves and showed their approval with screaming applause after every number. Clapton played Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” during his set. The next time we would see Eric would be in about a week at another outdoor venue in Nuremberg. We were on our way to Germany.


The last time I’d been to Germany had been while I was in the U.S. Air Force in 1953. I spent nearly a month in Bremerhaven and Frankfurt before the military decided to send me to North Africa. We were going to travel in style through Germany and France. The tour was using the Keiser Wilhelm railroad cars dating back many decades; four cars that we had rented for the tour. Bob and I had two suites with showers which made up one car. The band had their car. There was a lounge and restaurant car and the fourth railroad car was for luggage and equipment. The train cars would be hooked up to an engine pulling other cars in our direction. Patrick Stansfield had come up with the idea of using the railroad cars. I’m sure it was something Neil Diamond had done in the past. So we headed out of Amsterdam by train toward Dortmund, West Germany. The distance was only about 125 miles so our trip was quite short.


We played two nights at the Westfalenhalle in Dortmund. Because of the language barrier it was hard to judge the audience but it seems like things went well. None of these European crowds compared in enthusiasm to what Dylan experienced during the week at Earl’s Court. However one reviewer did write, loosely translated, “its appearance did not have the force of expression like the interpretations on record from the sixties.” The review was titled “It’s All Over Now.” I would compare the Dortmund audience acceptance to being slightly better than the Los Angeles reception at Universal. We then went into East Germany and on to West Berlin.


The trip was a little less than three-hundred miles. Passing through the border guards in and out of East Germany would take some time which meant we most likely would be on the train for about ten hours. After a couple of hours the train came to a halt. It was time to cross into communist East Germany and I had no idea what to expect. I had envisioned being kept there for some time while they investigated every piece of luggage and equipment. Quite the contrary. Once again Stansfield had taken care of the guards by loading them down with Bob Dylan albums. It was a sight to see – these communist border guards walking down the tracks next to our cars happily carrying their Dylan albums. I would have given anything to have had a camera handy. That picture was worth the proverbial thousand words.


The day of the show in West Berlin, Mike Crowley and I, along with my wife, hired a cab driver to take us into East Berlin. That was some experience. Crossing over was like going from day to instant night. While West Berlin was a bustling city, East Berlin was dead. It looked depressed everywhere you turned. I gazed at some of the apartments and thought about the people that lived there; a brother on one side, another on the other side. One can even see the other’s house but they may never meet again. How sadly we treat one another. The driver took us around town and eventually to the famous Hansel and Gretel Park. When we returned I was happy to be back in western civilization. That is until the concert that night.


There was a lot of apprehension in the audience. After all, Bob Dylan’s poetry is taught in German schools. That was quickly forgotten, because as the show began and Bob appeared on stage with the eight-piece band and backup singers, I knew we had problems. The boos began almost immediately. They wanted “acoustic Bob” not what Dylan had prepared for them. As the concert continued, the crowd got louder and Dylan launched into “Ballad Of a Thin Man,” “You walk into the room, with your pencil in your hand; you see somebody naked and you say, who is that man? You try so hard but you don’t understand; just what you’ll say when your get home.” I rounded up the truck drivers, large guys for the most part; had them stand in front of the speakers and by the mixer board. I wanted to make sure if we didn’t get out alive at least our equipment did. “Because something is happening here but you don’t know what it is; Do you Mister Jones?”  Dylan took his intermission on schedule and then went back for more. I was hoping he would play right through. It was then that the eggs started flying. These folks came armed. Still no acoustic and there wouldn’t be any either. And then it was over. I was never so glad to have a concert conclude as this one. We all were gathered backstage. I was ready to bolt but Dylan didn’t seem to be in a hurry. I said, “Bob, let’s get the hell out of here.” He blurted out, “Why, I’m going back” and he did! Dylan went back on stage and performed TWO more encores. The first was, “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight.” Then amongst the boos Bob lay flat on his back at the front of the stage and launched into “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” “Come gather ‘round people wherever you roam, And admit that the waters around you have grown; And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone.” Dylan was actually singing the song lying down. “The line isdrawn, the curse it is cast. The slow one now will later be fast. As the present now will later be past. The order is rapidly fadin’; And the first one now will later be last. For the times they are a-changin’.”  The booing ceased and turned into cheers. The audience was totally taken by surprise. Bob Dylan was a master. I had looked for the easy way out; running away. Dylan instead chose to play with their heads. With that, the concert was concluded. I thought to myself; NOW let’s get the hell out of here!

Dick Curtis


If you missed any of Dick Curtis Memories with Frank Sinatra, 1, 2, & 3, Bob Dylan 1, 2, & 3  View HERE


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