Listen back to Bob Dylan and The Grateful Dead’s mammoth 74 track rehearsal session, 1987
We’re dipping into the Far Out vault to bring you the meeting of two of our favourite artists, the mercurial Bob Dylan and the unstoppable creative force that is The Grateful Dead.
The 1980s were an incredibly odd time for Bob Dylan. As well as not being quite revered as the inspirational musical genius that he is today, the singer had yet to really crack the charts and his glow was beginning to fade. His career was nosediving. It was a situation that would eventually land him on a farewell tour alongside The Grateful Dead.
As you might have expected, instead of The Grateful Dead providing the freewheeling’ Dylan the perfect tie-dye coffin to put his career, the band instead inspired and rejuvenated Dylan. They rekindled not only his career but his love of music, and perhaps more importantly, the love of his own music. And much of it can be traced back to one mammoth rehearsal session the Dead.
In Dylan’s autobiography, he recalls “Everything was smashed. My own songs had become strangers to me, I didn’t have the skill to touch the right nerves, couldn’t penetrate the surfaces. It wasn’t my moment of history anymore.” Dylan felt pushed aside and was more than happy to take his place in the history books one of the greats.
Following a tour with Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, however, Dylan came to a realisation “Tom was at the top of his game and I was at the bottom of mine.” Dylan was ready to retire—sick of the downward spiral he was struggling against. But before he hung up his guitar he was scheduled to do some shows with The Grateful Dead. The group invited the mercurial songwriter out to San Rafael in California to rehearse as one. It was unlike any rehearsal Dylan had ever experienced. But you already guessed that.
InChronicles, Volume 1 he writes: “After an hour or so, it became clear to me that the band wanted to rehearse more and different songs than I had been used to doing with Petty. They wanted to run over all the songs, the ones they liked, the seldom seen ones.” It saw the band ready to devour the content of Dylan’s catalogue and offer him the stage to realise the glory of performing once more.
“I found myself in a peculiar position and I could hear the brakes screech,” remembered Dylan, worried about how things would go down. “If I had known this to begin with, I might not have taken the dates…. There were so many [songs] that I couldn’t tell which was which-I might even get the words to some mixed up with others.”
It was a daunting task for an artist who thought his time was up. He left the studio and was determined to never return until a run-in with a jazz band made him reconsider. Dylan & The Dead as the live show and subsequent album was titled, was a frightening concept for the singer but “then miraculously,” he adds, “something internal came unhinged.”
It may have been the reaction the two artists rekindled in one another or it may have been the relaxants on offer at the studio but soon enough something just ‘clicked’. “I played these shows with The Dead and never had to think twice about it,” recalled Dylan. “Maybe they just dropped something in my drink, I can’t say, but anything they wanted to do was fine with me.”
The joining of Dylan and The Dead is noted as one of the most cohesive examples of its kind but what’s even better are the rehearsal sessions that began it all. Below you can listen to the full recording session (around 74 tracks) which features, ‘It’s All Over Now Baby Blue’, ‘Maggie’s Farm’, ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ and so many more.
You can listen to the session below but also find individual songs and a full playlist here.