Patti Smith channeling Bob Dylan, by Judy Linn
George Harrison and Bob Dylan rehearsing “If Not For You” before the Sunday afternoon show of the Concerts for Bangladesh, Sunday, August 1, 1971. It’s messy, but adorable.
Like The Beatles, Bob Dylan had quit touring in 1966. Unlike The Beatles, and apart from a 1969 TV performance with Johnny Cash, and an appearance with The Band at the Isle of Wight, Bob had all but disappeared. While he was generally up for lending a hand to George’s effort, he was by no means sure what to sing, and was even less sure if he was going to be able to pull himself together to even show up at the appointed hour. When George introduced him that afternoon, he was by no means certain that Bob would actually walk out.
While they were working out which songs to perform together, “If Not For You” was an obvious place to start. A lovely tune that Bob introduced on New Morning almost exactly a year earlier (August 12, 1970), George covered it on his own album All Things Must Pass, which was the #1 album in the US for the first 7 weeks of 1971, and for the months of February and March 1971 in the UK.
Neither Bob nor George released “If Not For You” as a single, but in May 1971, it was the debut single for 22 year old Olivia Newton-John. Based on George’s arrangement rather than Bob’s, it reached #7 in the UK, and in the US, #25 on the Billboard Hot 200, and eight weeks straight at #1 on Billboard’s Easy Listening chart!
(Yes, I bought it. Yes, I still love it. Yes, I will post it later.)
Our boys passed on performing this for the big show(s), but this rehearsal is an enduring reminder that beyond being two of the all-time giants of popular music, and rock gods, they were also both just so incredibly fucking adorable.
George Harrison & Bob Dylan, rehearsal for Concert for Bangladesh, August 1, 1971, New York City.
Bob Dylan, by Jerry Schatzberg
Bob Dylan, Newport 1966 by Barry Feinstein – presumably just about to plug in, which he most definitely did.
Bob Dylan and Suze Rotolo, 1962, by Don Hunstein
Bob Dylan, Brown Sugar (2002) OMG, you gotta hear this! I do emphasize “hear” because the picture is blurry (pre-HD, pre-smartphone – it’s a miracle this exists at all), but don’t miss Bob’s shimmying and shaking his way through the 1971 Rolling Stones classic.
Taken from an October-November 2002 run that became known as The Tribute Tour, this was Rockin’ Bob with a twist: it featured a solid handful of covers every night. Specifically, in tribute to Warren Zevon, who’d just announced that he had terminal cancer. Most often played were “Accidentally Like A Martyr” and “Mutineer”, two of Warren’s loveliest ballads (at least one of these was played every night; often both), but Warren’s “Lawyers Guns and Money” and “Boom Boom Mancini” also popped up along the way, as did songs like “The End of the Innocence” (Don Henley), “Old Man” (Neil Young), and “Carrying A Torch” (Van Morrison), among others.
I don’t know which date this video is from, but it definitely captures the vibe of the night I saw it myself, November 16 in Boston. That night, he played the two Warren ballads (both perfect), “Old Man” (which I found deeply moving), and this rip-snorting “Brown Sugar” that brought the house down.
I had seen The Stones themselves play this very song in this very room just weeks earlier, and they were fantastic (complete with Bobby Keys blowing his unforgettable sax part like his life depended on it)…but it felt like Bob added a little something. Maybe it landed with extra weight just because it was so unexpected, but I think that stripping out the sax and putting three guitars up front also made it feel even crunchier than usual.
My favorite Stones cover is always going to be Linda Ronstadt’s “Tumbling Dice”, but this is giving that a run for its money in a very close second. That said, this one might well be my favorite cover tune (by anyone!) to have witnessed in person. Many thanks to YouTuber luistoluces for capturing this gem of a performance!
Positively 4th St.: Baby Bob in his first NYC apartment, 161 W. 4th St, 1961, by Ted Russell
Bob Dylan goes electric, 1965, by Daniel Kramer