's Rolling Thunder
Revue began in Plymouth
, in the fall of 1975. Plymouth was chosen because it was near the site of the Pilgrims
' landing in America. Dylan invited Joan Baez
, Ramblin' Jack Elliott
, Roger McGuinn
(of The Byrds
), and Bobby Neuwirth
as supporting acts. Dylan used the same core band that had recorded the as-of-yet unreleased "Desire
" album in the summer of '75:
Scarlet Rivera--Electric Violin
To which he added guitarists Mick Ronson (most famous for his work with David Bowie in the early 1970s), and Steven Soles, multi-instrumentalists T-Bone Burnett and David Mansfield, and percussionist Luther Rix. The Revue also attracted a following of such luminaries as poet Allen Ginsberg.
Dylan's stated intention was to play small venues with little advance warning, though the Revue sometimes had to play larger arenas to make expenses. Dylan intended to use the money raised by the Revue to finance his film "Renaldo and Clara".
The 1975 tour wrapped up on December 8th, 1975, in New York City's Madison Square Garden with a benefit for jailed boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter. Dylan was performing most of the unreleased "Desire" record every night, including an 8-minute ballad, "Hurricane", which detailed Carter's plight. Though the concert raised only $50,000 (after expenses) for Carter's defense, the resulting publicity helped him get a retrial.
After a six-week layoff, the Revue played a second benefit for Carter in Houston, with guests Stevie Wonder and Stephen Stills. The Revue embarked on a tour of the southern US in spring 1976. The official recording from the tour is the nine-song live record "Hard Rain", recorded at two of the 1976 shows.
The Rolling Thunder Revue was quite possibly the peak of Dylan's career as a performer. His vocals were strong and expressive, and his 1960's classics were given sometimes-drastic rearrangements. The duets with Joan Baez have never been officially released, but were definitely one of the Revue's highlights. They performed many old folk songs together, including beautiful renditions of "The Water Is Wide" and "Dark as a Dungeon".
The Revue ended under something of a cloud, as the "Hard Rain" album was mostly ignored (for no explicable reason, except maybe the song arrangements were too inventive for Dylan's fans), and the four-hour "Renaldo and Clara" film was widely panned upon its release, though it has apparently become something of a cult favorite in Europe.
"This thing has been a thing that Bob's been talking about for years. I'm sure he would have liked to have taken it all the way and done it by train. He's always wanted to have that kind of Gypsy caravan situation happening where it was loose and different people could get up and do different things at different times and nothing would be out of place".
"Ever see those Italian troupes that go around in Italy? Those Italian street theaters. Commedia dell'arte. Well, this is just an extension of that, only musically".
"Everybody's soaked, the canopy's leaking, the musicians are getting shocks from the water on the stage. The instruments are going out of tune because of the humidity. It was awful. So everybody is playing and singing for their lives and that is the spirit that you hear on that record."
--Rob Stoner, on "Hard Rain".
*Quotes from Clinton Heylin's "Behind the Shades", p. 264, 274, 284.