In Larry “Ratso” Sloman’s terrific book, “On the Road with Bob Dylan,” he interviews Michael Bloomfield on the phone in 1975. Bloomfield, of course, famously played on Highway 61 Revisited and was in the band when Dylan went electric at Newport in 1965.
Bloomfield recounts how in preparation for recording Blood on the Tracks, Dylan came to Bloomfield’s house in 1974 to play him the songs. Dylan was thinking about having Bloomfield play on the album.
Michael Bloomfield: The last time was atrocious, atrocious. He came over and there was a whole lot of secrecy involved, there couldn’t be anybody in the house. I wanted to tape the songs so I could learn them so I wouldn’t fuck ‘em up at the sessions…”
Larry Sloman: What songs?
“The ones that came out later on Blood on the Tracks. Anyway, he saw the tape recorder and he had this horrible look on his face like I was trying to put out a bootleg album or something and my little kid, who is like fantastically interested in anyone who plays music, never came into the room where Dylan was the entire several hours he was in the house. He started playing the goddamn songs from Blood on the Tracks and I couldn’t play, I couldn’t follow them, a friend of mine had come to the house and I had to chase him from the house. I’m telling you, the guy [Dylan] intimidated me, I don’t know what it was, it was like he had character armor or something, he was like a wall, he had a wall around him and I couldn’t reach through it. I used to know him a long time ago. He was sort of a normal guy or not a normal guy but knowable, but that last time I couldn’t get the knowable part of him out of him, and to try to get that part out of him would have been ass-kissing, it would have been being a sycophant, and it just isn’t worth kissing his ass, as a matter of fact, I don’t think he would have liked that anyway. It was one of the worst social and musical experiences of my life.
Sloman: What was he like?
Bloomfield: There was this frozen guy there. It was very disconcerting. It leads you to think, if I hadn’t spent some time in the last ten or eleven years with Bob that were extremely pleasant, where I got the hippie intuition that this was a very, very special and, in some ways, an extremely warm and perceptive human being, I would now say that this dude is a stone prick. Time has left him to be a shit, but I don’t see him that much, two isolated incidents over a period of ten years.
Sloman: What do you see as the cause of that?
Bloomfield: Character armor. It’s to keep his sanity, to keep away the people who are always wanting something from him. But if a lot of people relate to you as their concept of you, not your concept of you, you’re gonna have to do something to keep those people from driving you crazy, but if that is so strong that you can’t realize who is trying to fuck with you and who just wants to get along with the business, if you can’t tell the difference, it’s very difficult.
Sloman: How did you relate to him in the early days?
Bloomfield: When I first saw him he was playing in a night club, I had heard his first album, and Grossman got Dylan to play in a club in Chicago called The Bear and I went down there to cut Bob, to take my guitar and cut him, burn him, and he was a great guy, I mean we spent all day talking and jamming and hanging out and he was an incredibly appealing human being and any instincts I may have had in doing that was immediately stopped , and I was just charmed by the man.
That night, I saw him perform and if I had been charmed by just meeting him, me and my old lady were just bowled over watching him perform. I don’t’ know what, it was like this Little Richard song, ‘I don’t know what ou got but it moves me,’ man, this can sang this song called ‘Redwing’ about a boys’ prison and some funny talking blues about a picnic and he was fucking fantastic, not that it was the greatest playing or singing in the world, I don’t know what he had, man, but I’m telling you I just loved it, I mean I could have watched it nonstop forever and ever…
Bloomfield goes on to talk about getting a call from Dylan and going up to Woodstock and Dylan teaching him all the songs for Highway 61 Revisited and then going to New York and recording them. And then Bloomfield talks about playing with Dylan at Newport.
Bloomfield: So after that we like drifted apart, what was there to drift apart, we weren’t that tight, but after that when I’d see him he was a changed guy, honest to God, Larry, he was. There was a time he was one of the most charming human beings I had ever met and I mean charming, not in like the sense of being very nice, but I mean someone who cold beguile you, man, with his personality. You just had to say, ‘Man, this little fucking guy’s got a bit of an angel in him,’ God touched him in a certain way. And he changed, like that guy was gone or it must not be gone, any man that has that many kids, he must be relating that way to his children, but I never related to him that way again.
Anytime that I would see him, I would see him consciously be that cruel, man, I didn’t’ understand that game they played, that constant insane sort of sadistic put-down game. Who’s king of the hill? Who’s on top? To me it seemed like much ado about nothing but to Dave Blue and Phil Ochs it was real serious. I don’t think Blue’s ever escaped that time, in some ways it seems like he’s still trying to prove himself to Bob. I know David’s one of Bob’s biggest champions. ..
I feel the cat’s Pavlovized, he’s Tofflerized, he’s future-shocked. It would take a huge amount of debriefing or something to get him back to normal again, to put that character armor down. But if he’s happy, who am I to say? I can’t judge if he’s happy, this might be his happiness.
“Like A Rolling Stone,” Michael Bloomfield on lead guitar:
Bob Dylan, Like a Rolling Stone (vinyl) from dispensable library on Vimeo.
– A Days of the Crazy-Wild blog post –
11 thoughts on “Michael Bloomfield Talks About How Bob Dylan Changed: ‘he had a wall around him and I couldn’t reach through it’”
This is great, a real insight into both Dylan and Bloomfield. And how fascinating to think of Blood On the Tracks with MIke on it!
Perhaps read a decent bio of Dylan first, but Ratso may have produced the best book on Bob. The book can beguile you like I’m certain Dylan’s personality did to many years ago. I’d forgotten about this Bloomfield interview, but he provides great insight and it was nice to read it again. A few years ago I saw Dylan getting out of his bus in Kalamazoo, in the hoodie, of course, walk over to the security folks and flashed a big grin to them. At the time I thought I was seeing the early Dylan and was thinking this guy could roll me in a minute.
Nicely done – good to read Bloomfield’s perceptive read on Bob.
The words of a man who had many more demons than Bob ever had
Bloomfield doesn’t seem to have had the demon of the desire for fame, one of the worst of them all.
Just like Bloomfield to be so direct and open, yet non-judgemental. Ya gotta love ‘im. The man was too pure for this world. No wonder he had to leave early; character armor was out of the question.
I guess if people wanted to break into my house, screw on my bed, steal my garbage, be so close to me that they were almost behind me….I’d be pretty distant too. I’m glad he came through all that and still plays for us….wish Mike would’ve made it too. I mean look what happen to ____(fill in the blank) wish they were here too.
Leaving ego and insecurities aside, it is worth noting that Dylan said that if Michael had stayed with him (meaning, what?, considering how many times Bob changed personnel) that he would still be alive. Take that for what it’s worth, I met Michael 40 years ago and he impressed me with his normalness and modesty.
I knew Michael and that is just the way he talked..He and Butterfield The Guys in The Band most of them, were regular people who avoided put-ons and game playing. To be fair to Bob none of us knows what it was like to be Bob Dylan especially during that era when he was a living Icon and even more to so many World Wide.. It’s a burden and changes any man..
All so interesting. It really is sad to have lost Mike Bloomfield at such a young age. I think, after watching Bob Dylan on “No Direction Home” , speaking on Mike Bloomfield with a softness in his memories of Mike B., he had lost that hard-shell attitude somewhere and is back to his real self as much as he can be! He’s still got that biting wit that l, myself find great!
I first learned to play blues guitar by listening to Bloomfield on the Super Session albums and on Golden Butter / The Best Of The Paul Butterfield Blues Band.