Michael Bloomfield played the electrifying lead guitar parts on Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited. He was there in the studio, an active participant, as Dylan and the other musicians Dylan had assembled created a radical new rock sound.
Larry “Ratso” Sloman interviewed Bloomfield by phone in late 1975, while in the midst of reporting on Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Review tour. Sloman ended up writing an excellent book about the tour, “On the Road with Bob Dylan.”
Yesterday I excerpted part of Sloman’s interview with Bloomfield. Today I’ve got more from the interview. This picks up right after Bloomfield has spoken about meeting and hanging out with Dylan for the first time in Chicago in the early ’60s.
Michael Bloomfield: The next time I saw him was at a party in Chicago and he was traveling with a bodyguard, a big fucking Arab, named Victor Maimudes, an Arab, and he was a bodyguard, that’s what he was. I didn’t know that then, what did I know? I hung with the [blacks], what did I know about him and his bodyguard, and he was trying to get pussy and, believe me, he got a lot of pussy, and we hung out at that party and we talked…
The next time, I get a phone call from him, would I want to play on a record with him and I said, “All right.” And I really didn’t know he was a famous guy, I really didn’t know, I was so into the black music scene and Am radio that I didn’t know this guy was famous.
And I went to Woodstock, and I didn’t even have a guitar case, I just had my Telecaster and Bob picked me up at the bus station and took me to this house where he lived, which wasn’t so much, and Sara was there I think, and she made very strange food, tuna fish salad with peanuts in it, toasted, and he taught me these songs, “Like a Rolling Stone,” and all those songs from that album and he said, “I don’t want you to play any of that B. B. King shit, none of that fucking blues, I want you to play something else,” so we fooled around and finally played something he liked, it was very weird, he was playing in weird keys which he always does, all on the black keys on the piano, then he took me over to this big mansion and there was this old guy walking around and I said, “Who’s that?” and Bob said, “That’s Albert,” and I said, “Who’s Albert?” and he said that he was his manager, and I didn’t recognize Albert even though I had met him many times before. He had short hair before and now he looked like Ben Franklin, he looked like cumulus nimbus. I didn’t know who he was and I asked Bob if he was a cool guy and Bob said, “Oh, yeah.”
We fucked around there for a few days and then we went to New York to cut the record and I started seeing that this guy Dylan was really a famous guy, I mean he was invited to all the Baby Jane Holzer parties, and all these people would be walking around with him, and the Ronettes would come up to him and Phil Spector would be talking to him and I noticed that he and Albert and Neuwirth had this game that they would play and it was the beginning of the character armor, I think, it was intense put-downs of almost every human being that existed but the very few people in their aura that they didn’t do this to. It was Bob, Albert, and Neuwirth, they had a whole way of talking, I used to be able to imitate it. David Blue is a very good imitator of it, as a matter of fact I don’t even think he knows he’s imitating it. It’s just like this very intense putdown.
And he was very heavy into drinking wine, to stay calm and loose I guess. We went to this Chinese restaurant and I started putting Bob down, playing the dozens with him and I did it all night long and he and Albert loved it, they were in hysterics because it wasn’t the kind of putting down that they did, it was the dozens, and I talked about his momma and his family and everything, and I had a great time.
Oh, and then I remember one time Bob wouldn’t eat and Albert took him to Ratner’s and bought him plates of sturgeon and like mushroom barley soup and he was taking the sturgeon and just piece by little clump putting it in his mouth and saying, ‘Eat, sturgeon, good,’ I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, it was so fucking far out.
And we cut the album and that was extremely weird because no one knew what they were doing there. They had this producer who was as useless as tits on a pig, he was referred to exclusively out of his presence as Dylan’s [n–ger], this big tall guy, a hillbilly, Johnson, he was a good old boy, no doubt about it. I mean there were chord charts for these songs but no one had any idea what the music was supposed to sound like, what direction it was, the nearest that anyone had an idea was [Al] Kooper and he was there as a guitar player, and as soon as I came in and started playing, he picked up the organ, he was a good organ player but it was weird for Bob. We were doing songs like “Desolation Row” three or four times, takes and takes of that, and that’s crazy, it’s a long song. I mean the guy had to sing these fifteen-minute songs over and over again, it was really nuts. And Sam Lay from Paul Butterfield was playing the drums, and the bassist was Russ Savakus, I think it was the first time he had ever played electric bass in his life, he had been a studio upright player for years and years, and it all sort of went around Dylan. I mean like he didn’t direct the music, he just sang the songs and played piano and guitar and it just sort of went on around him, though I do believe he had a lot to do with mixing the record. But the sound was a matter of pure chance, whatever sound there was on that record was chance, the producer did not tell the people what to play or have a sound in mind, nor did Bob, or if he did he told no one about it, he just didn’t have the words to articulate it, so that folk-rock sound, as precedent-setting as it might have been, I was there man, I’m telling you it was a result of Chuckle-fucking, of people stepping on each other’s dicks until it came out right.
“Tombstone Blues” with Michael Bloomfield, lead guitar: