Interview: More Blood, More Tracks…More Bob Dylan Stories

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photo by Gregg Inhofer

It may have been an inadvertent mistake but feels like a universal action of karmic retribution. When lyrics from a four-page section of a Bob Dylan notebook were left out of a lavish new box set More Blood, More Tracks, what might have been an oversight instead carries with it the weight of history.

It eerily echoes a printing error a long time ago when the cover of Blood On The Tracks had already been designed and only listed some of the backing musicians. Missing were the names of five musicians who played with Dylan over two secretive December nights in Minnesota on new versions of songs he had first recorded three months earlier in New York. They resulted in the final songs and defining versions of “Tangled Up In Blue,” “You’re a Big Girl Now,” “If You See Her, Say Hello,” “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts,” and “Idiot Wind.”

With the release of the nearly entire Blood on The Tracks sessions captured on six CDs, the contributions of what Rolling Stone writer Paul Nelson once called “that wonderful pseudonymous band from Minnesota” have been officially documented and accounted for. The names of guitarists Chris Weber and Kevin Odegard, keyboardist Greg Inhofer, drummer Bill Berg, bassist Bill Peterson and mandolin player Peter Ostroushko (along with engineer Paul Martinson) join the New York players in the annals of history.

When I asked guitarist Kevin Odegard what emotions ran through him upon the release of More Blood, More Tracks, he had three words: “Exhilaration, exoneration and redemption in that order. I’m still processing the sheer joy this release has given me after a lifetime of waiting.”

To understand what those words mean, you have to go back all the way to the Christmas holidays of December 1974. Bob Dylan was home in Minnesota and wanted to make changes to some tunes he’d originally recorded in New York three months earlier. Kevin Odegard was sitting in his flat when he got a call from Dylan’s brother David Zimmerman asking him if he could find a rare 1930’s Martin guitar for his brother. Odegard was an aspiring musician who was working as rail brakeman for the Northwestern Railroad. He had recorded demos of Dylan songs for publishers through his connection with Zimmerman.

Odegard called Chris Weber who owned a local music store. Weber had one that had just come into the store. The next call he received stunned Odegard. Zimmerman asked if he could assemble a group of musicians. Odegard didn’t know it at the time but by week’s end the local musicians would help to change history, nailing definitive versions of some of Dylan’s most emotionally gut wrenching and riveting songs, making for a career defining album and one of the greatest and most influential records ever made.

In 2004 Odegard joined with music journalist Andy Gill in a wonderful book A Simple Twist of Fate: Bob Dylan and the Making of Blood On The Tracks. The book provided an inside look at how Dylan created the changed sound that became Blood On The Tracks. The lively book provides a sense of adventure and suspense, bringing you into the sessions as an eyewitness with participants who knew that they had witnessed history.

Simple Twist

On the second night of the sessions, Dylan brought with him a small red notebook, the one that’s reprinted in the box set. It had the words to “Tangled Up In Blue,” the first song he wanted to work on that night.

In one pivotal passage the authors write: “Dylan scrawled a few changes in the margin of a newspaper, tore it off and handed this most skeletal of charts to Inhofer saying, “Here’s the chords to the next song.’” Dylan continued to tinker with the lyrics as the musicians and engineer familiarized themselves with the song.

At one point Dylan asked Odegard what he thought of the New York take of “Tangled Up In Blue.” It was done in the key of E and now Dylan wanted to change it to G.

Odegard, believing the song was “just lying there tamely, not nearly as animated as the lyric demanded,” told him the New York version was passable.

“Passable?” Dylan repeated twisting his head slightly and giving Odegard that look he gives Donovan in Don’t Look Back, that expression of mild incredulity that can shrivel an ego at fifty paces.

Odegard turned red realizing what he had just said. He wrote how he had to frantically work to salvage the situation.

“Yeah it’s good but I think it would be better, livelier if we moved up to A with capos. It would kick ass up a notch.”

“Alright,” he said nodding. “let’s try it.”

An image in this article, courtesy of Gregg Inhofer,  features the original chords of “Tangled Up In Blue.” You can see Dylan’s handwriting in the left column and Inhofer’s transposed chords in the second.

The authors rightfully conclude that In the end the change in delivery brought a new intensity to the song, one that the authors write the musicians assembled all recognized was a classic, “a future standard and something that would become a vital part of millions of lives.”

More Blood, More Tracks features six CDs and eighty-seven tracks. The bulk of the songs are pulled from the New York sessions. The final takes of the five songs re-recorded in Minnesota are remixed and remastered from the original release and fill out the sixth cd.

When I asked Odegard about tapes that no longer exist from the Minnesota sessions, he believes that nothing good was lost.

“I was there and I can tell you a rehearsal is a rehearsal is a rehearsal,” he responded. “The best takes were preserved and shared at the artist’s behest. It is Bob’s prerogative, his right and his whim that we all share today.”

By the time the story about the secretive Minnesota sessions was first broken by University of Minnesota student Monica Bay and journalist Jon Bream, the original cover had already been printed. It only included the names of the session players who played in the New York sessions that past September.

In a passage from A Simple Twist of Fate, David Zimmerman is said to have addressed the issue. But the book also explored the resulting issues the uncredited musicians dealt with for decades.

“We were standing, all of the musicians I think by the door to the control booth in the studio, and we were shown the album jacket, already pressed, that said ‘Eric Weissberg and Deliverance’ on it,” Gregg Inhofer is quoted as saying in the book. “David Zimmerman made a little speech along the lines of ‘There are a half million copies of these printed up, and we certainly estimate that it’s going to sell out and on the second printing your names will be printed on the album.’ It was only years later that I realized what it could possibly mean to have a credit on an album of that magnitude.”

Ironically Dylan scrapped the original cover in favor of a second version that replaced Pete Hamill’s essay with an illustration.

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One of the disappointments of the box set is how it confines the cover to barely a footnote of history. The companion booklet mixes images of press clippings, posters and memorabilia. If you weren’t paying close attention, you might fly past the condensed reprint of the original back cover side by side with its successor. Hamill’s essay is there but you’d have to provide your own magnifying glass to read it. In his accompanying article in the box set, Jeff Slate excerpts a passage but admits there’s not much more he can say that isn’t in Hamill’s original essay. One might have expected the producers to have reprinted it in full. You can find it on the web just as you can the missing pages from Dylan’s notebook.

Odegard’s comments provide supporting narrative in Jeff Slate’s essay as it takes the listener through those cold Minnesota nights. As satisfying as it is to read Slate’s notes as you move chronologically through September and into December, the experience of going through the six CDs feels more complete reading the book. Through the years it’s been a wonderful story unto itself and now is a required companion piece to More Blood, More Tracks.

When I asked Odegard about the reactions he and Gill received to the book, he brought up two negatives. One was in response to the extensive details provided about the equipment used in the sessions

He disagrees that he spent too much time and energy focusing on gear, mics and guitar makes and adds:  “That the book remains available fourteen years later tells me the critics were wrong,” he told me. “But I do regret submitting interviews describing family interactions. That crossed a line I would never cross again, knowing as I do that all families deserve privacy.”

As Odegard writes in the book, leaving the first session produced an earth shaking feeling, a story that the players in the room knew they would be able to tell their grandchildren.

Now retired and living in the Tropics, he and his wife are collaborating on a book about a goofy story about a criminally desperate geezer band reunion.

“America needs to laugh out loud again,” he concludes.

The four missing pages from Dylan’s nineteen cent red pocket notebook are the focus of chatter on Amazon’s user reviews for More Blood, More Tracks.

“They should send out replacement books because of the printing error,” writes Minnesota Babe.

“We are not perfect!” a news flash reads on the bobdylan.com website. “We’re including them here, with our apologies.”

Such acknowledgment was not made for another printing error in another era.  But perhaps time and a new box set  has healed old, unresolved feelings.

“We recently got together to reminisce, discovering in our emotional reunion that the greatest gift we received from doing those long-ago sessions was a lifetime of brotherhood and undying friendship,” Odegard reflects.  “We were strangers then. Now we are a tight circle of very close friends, like a men’s round table that stayed together forty plus years.”
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A Simple Twist of Fate: Bob Dylan and the Making of Blood On The Tracks is available here.

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