While it may not be the favorite album of most Dylan fans, “Blood on the Tracks” seems to be loved by all of them. It’s an adult, emotional album inspired by the breakup of his marriage to Sara Lowndes — the source of the blood on the tracks.
Dylan originally recorded the songs at Columbia’s New York studio in September 1974, mostly with Eric Weissberg and his band. Dylan continued to mull over the songs, apparently concerned about the sound and about the overtly autobiographical nature of certain of the songs. In December he returned to his farm on the Crow River in rural Minnesota while Columbia readied the album for release in January.
Dylan’s brother, David Zimmerman, suggested that Dylan rerecord the songs that were troubling him at Sound 80, a local Minneapolis studio. David enlisted several local musicians whom he knew from his advertising and recording work. Dylan rewrote and rerecorded “Idiot Wind,” “You’re a Big Girl Now,” “Tangled Up In Blue,” “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts,” and “If You See Her, Say Hello.”
Among the Minneapolis musicians who contributed to the five tracks rerecorded at Sound 80 were guitarist Kevin Odegard, bassist Billy Peterson, and drummer Bill Berg. Mandolinist extraordinaire Peter Ostroushko was called in to contribute a mandolin part on “If You See Her, Say Hello.” Ostroushko had trouble getting the sound that Dylan wanted until Dylan explained he wanted the instrumental part to sound like “birds’ wings flapping in the air.”
Three weeks later, in January 1975, Columbia released “Blood on the Tracks” with the five songs rerecorded in Minneapolis. The album cover had already been printed the previous month, however, and the only musicians listed were Eric Weissberg’s band. The album went straight to number one, and Columbia has never bothered to correct the musician listings on the original cover.
It is a historic injustice that Kevin Odegard has labored long to correct. He has now co-authored a book on the recording of “Blood on the Tracks” — A Simple Twist of Fate: Bob Dylan and the Making of Blood on the Tracks — and put together a concert featuring the Minneapolis musicians who played on the album to promote the book. Eric Weissberg is also included in the concert lineup.
This coming Wednesday Odegard and friends will perform “Blood on the Tracks” at the Pantages Theatre in downtown Minneapolis. It should be a great event. Today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune has a good story on the upcoming concert: “Minneapolis musicians set record straight on ‘Blood on the Tracks.’”
The songs on “Blood on the Tracks” include several highlights of the Dylan catalogue. One of the special qualities of the writing is the before-and-after feeling captured in several of the songs. In “Shelter From the Storm,” for example, Dylan sings: “I bargained for salvation, and she gave me a lethal dose.” (This seems to be a lyric Dylan is ambivalent about; the linked page for the song on the official Dylan site changes “she” to “they.”) My favorite song on the album is “You’re a Big Girl Now.” If you think Dylan can’t sing, this song should disabuse you of the notion.
In the photo below, Greg Inhofer, Chris Weber and Kevin Odegard rehearse for Wednesday’s show.
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