The Rolling Thunder Revue: Ken Regan’s sparkling images of Bob Dylan in 1975

Ken Regan was a well-seasoned photographer when in 1974 he answered the call from music promoter Bill Graham to photograph Bob Dylan and The Band at the end of their tour for a piece in Time magazine.

During the gigs Regan had noticed the same elderly woman in the crowd. Regan would later say “She had a really interesting face but she looked really out of place. She was about forty years older than anyone else in the crowd.”

In truth, she probably was, as when Regan mentioned to Bill, the promoter quickly informed him that in fact, it was Dylan’s mother in the crowd. Bill then went on to press the matter and said Regan shouldn’t take pictures of her if he valued his career with Bob. Regan relayed “I’d taken about four dozen! He told me not to release them because I’d never be let within 500 yards of Bob ever again.”

Sticking to his word Ken sent out the pictures to Bob with a note saying that he had not sent the images on to Time Magazine but that he thought Dylan should still have them. He received no response from Bob.

Until, in the summer of 1975, Ken received a 3 am phone call with an opportunity that would shape much of his life. On the phone initially was Barry Imhoff, Bill Graham’s partner who is keen to know where Regan will be over the next few months. Imhoff babbles on a bit, there’s talk of a tour but not as we know it, there’s more talk and then Lou Kemp jumps on the line.

Kemp, a childhood friend of Dylan’s again speaks of the same (slightly different) tour and that his company Kemp Fisheries would be co-promoting the tour for Bob Dylan. Regan, a somewhat surly man from The Bronx demands Barry get back on the phone “Barry, if this is a fucking joke, I’m gonna hunt you down and take you apart completely.”

Another voice comes on the line. An instantly recognisable one. Bob Dylan is on the other end of the phone acting a perfect gentleman. He apologises to Ken for waking him so early, he then thanks Ken for not only sending him the photos of his mother but for not sending them to Time magazine. He has clearly gained the great man’s trust and with that trust comes a proposition to come on board and cover the tour. 

On that same day Regan makes his way to Manhattan studios Studio Instrument Rentals where Dylan is rehearsing. Bob goes on to elaborate on what The Rolling Thunder Revue actually is. He explains it will be lasting a few months in two halves, with Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, T-Bone Burnett and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot already on the bus. What’s more, Regan would find himself as the only photographer on the tour. “Bob had given me free rein to shoot it all—onstage, offstage, dressing rooms, parties, trailers, whatever was going on.” The only restrictions being placed on releasing any images of his wife and children. Regan was hired that very day without a contract in sight “We shook hands, and I never betrayed that trust.”

A tour of two halves Regan covered The Rolling Thunder Revue from October 30th 1975 to December 8th. Below are some of the standout images from Ken Regan’s time with Bob Dylan in 1975. 

Dylan and the band warm up, during Ken’s first shoot in October 1975, documenting a day of rehearsal sessions in New York.

Bob Dylan Ken Regan
Bob Dylan standing in dressing room doorway
Durham, New Hampshire, where Ken takes close up portraits of Bob Dylan in whiteface. “I want the people way in the back to be able to see my eyes.” Ken recalls Bob Dylan explaining to him.
Bob Dylan Ken Regan
Bob Dylan Ken Regan

(All Images © Estate of Ken Regan/Ormond Yard Press)

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