Forty-five years ago, on February 13, 1969, Bob Dylan entered Columbia Music Row Studios in Nashville and began recording an album that would surprise many of his fans.
Because on Nashville Skyline Dylan debuts a country-style voice we’d never heard before.
This was a new Bob Dylan, and it took some of Bob’s fans a bit of adjustment to get hip to the new scene.
While there are those who dismiss Nashville Skyline as lightweight, or damn the songs because they’re not ‘heavy,’ I’ve always dug this album.
It’s Dylan being Dylan, confounding expectations. But it also sounds great. His singing is terrific and his country songs sound like the real thing, only they’re Bob Dylan country songs.
And it’s really cool that Dylan and Johnny Cash duet on “Girl From the North Country.”
Bob did an interview with Jann Wenner, publisher of Rolling Stone, in June of 1969, two months after the album was released.
WENNER: On “Nashville Skyline”–who does the arrangements? The studio musicians, or…
DYLAN: Boy, I wish you could’ve come along the last time we made an album. You’d probably enjoyed it… ‘cause you see right there, you know how it’s done. We just take a song; I play it and everyone else just sort of fills in behind it. No sooner you got that done, and at the same time you’re doing that, there’s someone in the control booth who’s turning all those dials to where the proper sound is coming in… and then it’s done. Just like that.
And a bit later in the interview:
WENNER: On “Nashville Skyline,” do you have any song on that that you particularly dig? Above the others.
DYLAN: Uh… “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You.” I like “Tell Me That It Isn’t True,” although it came out completely different than I’d written it. It came out real slow and mellow. I had it written as sort of a jerky, kind of polka-type thing. I wrote it in F. That’s what gives it kind of a new sound. They’re all in F… not all of them, but quite a few. There’s not many on that album that aren’t in F. So you see I had those chords…which gives it a certain sound. I try to be a little different on every album.
WENNER: I’m sure you read the reviews of “Nashville Skyline.” Everybody remarks on the change of your singing style…
DYLAN: Well Jann, I’ll tell you something. There’s not too much of a change in my singing style, but I’ll tell you something which is true… I stopped smoking. When I stopped smoking, my voice changed… so drastically, I couldn’t believe it myself. That’s true. I tell you, you stop smoking those cigarettes (laughter)… and you’ll be able to sing like Caruso.
WENNER: How many songs did you go into “Nashville Skyline” with?
DYLAN: I went in with uhh… the first time I went into the studio I had, I think, four songs. I pulled that instrumental one out… I needed some songs with an instrumental… then Johnny came in and did a song with me. Then I wrote one in the motel… then pretty soon the whole album started fill in’ in together, and we had an album. I mean, we didn’t go down with that in mind. That’s why I wish you were there… you could’ve really seen it happen. It just manipulated out of nothing.
WENNER: How many songs did you do with Johnny?
DYLAN: Well, we did quite a few. We just sat down and started doing some songs… but you know how those things are. You get into a room with someone, you start playing and singing, and you sort of forget after a while what you’re there for. (laughs)
Read the whole interview here.
During the first session Dylan recorded three songs that made it onto the album: “To Be Alone With You,” “I Threw It All Away” and “One More Night.” He also cut a version of “Lay Lady Lay” that he wasn’t happy with, and two other songs that he didn’t use.
Backing Bob on this and other sessions for the album were the top Nashville session cats:
Norman Blake – guitar, dobro
Kenneth A. Buttrey – drums
Johnny Cash – vocals
Fred Carter, Jr. – guitar
Charlie Daniels – bass guitar, guitar
Pete Drake – pedal steel guitar
Marshall Grant – bass guitar on “Girl from North Country”
W.S. Holland – drums on “Girl from North Country”
Charlie McCoy – guitar, harmonica
Bob Wilson – organ, piano
Bob Wootton – electric guitar on “Girl from North Country”
Below are the tracks that appeared on the album, along with alternate takes, a live recording and a couple of warm-up takes.
Dig the music!
“To Be Alone With You” (album version):
“I Threw It All Away,” album version:
“I Threw It All Away,” 1969 Nashville sessions, rehearsal:
“I Threw It All Away,” Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, TN May 1, 1969:
“I Threw It All Away,” alternate version, February 16, 1969
“I Threw It All Away,” George Harrison session, May 1, 1970:
“One More Night,” album version:
“One More Night,” alternate take:
“Lay Lady Lay,” alternate take:
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