Friday, December 9, 2011

February 24, 1974: "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" encore, Winterland

The cover to the Bob Dylan and The Band lp Planet Waves, released January 1974
I was reminded recently that on the third night of a three-night stand at Winterland in February, 1974, the Grateful Dead encored with Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue." Since the song seemingly dropped out of the band's repertoire in 1969, it had only appeared a few times in 1970 and twice in one week in 1972. The sole 1974 performance was the Dead's last version of the song until it returned to a somewhat regular part of the rotation in 1981. While it's often impossible to say why the Grateful Dead played specific numbers at specific times, I think the unexpected version of "Baby Blue" was a result of the Grateful Dead having seen Bob Dylan and The Band at the Oakland Coliseum Arena on February 11, 1974.

Bob Dylan, The Band, Planet Waves and the 1974 Tour
From 1970 onwards, Bob Dylan had kept a very low profile. After Dylan's release of his disastrous Self-Portrait album in June, 1970, he made up for it with the excellent New Morning, released soon after in October. Nonetheless, Dylan made almost no public appearances and did not tour. Up until early '74, Dylan remained a cipher. According to various stories, he was enjoying family life, fighting with his manager or any other of a number of conspiratorial theories. Now and again he would do something, like act in the 1973 movie Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid, for which he released a soundtrack, but Dylan was off of rock's grid.  The likes of Rolling Stone suggested that Bob Dylan had "lost it," whatever exactly that might have meant.

At the end of 1973, however, word leaked out that Dylan had reunited with his old compatriots in The Band, and they would not only be releasing a new album, but touring. The Dylan/Band tour would be Dylan's first US tour since 1966. It is impossible to explain today how big a figure Bob Dylan was in the rock firmament at the time. Dylan and The Band played the largest indoor arenas in the United States, usually playing both afternoon and evening shows, and tickets were only available by mail order, a first. Bill Graham, the tour's promoter, announced that they were overwhelmed with ticket requests.

The album Planet Waves was released in January, 1974, just as the tour was beginning. It's a terrific album, although everybody usually forgets in light of the records that followed it, Blood On The Tracks (1975) and Desire (1976). Planet Waves was released on Asylum Records, rather than Columbia, suggesting (as later turned out to be the case) that much of Dylan's silence in the preceding years had to do with issues related to his manager, Albert Grossman, and thus Dylan's relations with his label, Columbia. Jerry Garcia, at least, probably agreed with my assessment of Planet Waves, since over the years he would perform three songs from it. Both "Going Going Gone" and "Tough Mama" were regular parts of the Legion Of Mary repertoire in 1975 and remained in the rotation, and 'Forever Young" turned up regularly many years later.

Bob Dylan and The Band's 1974 tour ran from January 3 (Chicago Stadium--pre-MJ) through February 14 (at The Forum in LA--early Kareem the end of the Jerry West era). Dylan and The Band played two shows at the Oakland Coliseum (Rick Barry era) on February 11, right near the end of the tour. Dylan's performances in each city were treated like major entertainment news events, very rare for rock shows at the time. At some point, probably in Joel Selvin's San Francisco Chronicle column, it was reported which and how many rock stars were backstage at the Dylan concerts. It was no surprise to find out that the Grateful Dead were among them.

"It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"
"It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" was first sighted in a Dead show in July of 1966. The band was surely familiar with the song from it's March, 1965 release on Dylan's Bringing It All Back Home album. However, I have to think that the Dead's arrangement owed a lot more to the single of the song released by Them in April, 1966. We certainly know that the band liked Them--who wouldn't?--because "Caution" was a jam based on "Mystic Eyes." Another factor to consider was that the Dead were quite unknown in 1966, and playing a song on the radio was one way to connect with audiences who had never heard the band's music. Since Them and Bob Dylan were both cool, the Dead could play a popular song while still making music they enjoyed. "Baby Blue" was a great song by any reckoning, however, and it was great for Garcia's soulful guitar parts, so the song stayed in the rotation long after other 1966 radio hits had dropped away.

After being dropped by the end of 1970, "Baby Blue" had still made two appearances in September, 1972 (Sep 23 and Sep 26). Since both appearances were in the second set, on some level the band must have had some plans for the song, but it disappeared again. I have no idea what caused band members to suggest or choose an obscure number that hadn't been played in some time, but certainly the singers had to have veto power. Thus Garcia had to be in favor of singing "Baby Blue" on February 24, 1974, for the encore on the final night of a three night stand at Winterland. The decision may have been casual, but Garcia must have had Dylan on the brain because he had just seen him live 13 days earlier, probably for the very first time. Even if Jerry just walked on stage for the final encore and said, "hey, let's do 'Baby Blue,'" it's hard not to think that having just seen Bob Dylan live put the idea in his head.

Garcia and the Dead performed so much, they didn't get out and about much to see other artists. On top of that, many of the artists that they covered were long gone. It wasn't like Garcia could go see Obray Ramsey and think "hey, we've gotta do 'Cold Rain And Snow' again," so the opportunities for such inspiration were few. Dylan's unique status with respect to rock and folk music and the Grateful Dead meant that the band seems to have made a rare field trip to see him play, so they must all have had a little Dylan on the brain.

The only possible point of comparison would have been the Dead's visit to see the Rolling Stones at Oakland Coliseum Arena on November 9, 1969, a momentous occasion for different reasons. I suppose we could stretch things and suggest that the Dead started performing "Not Fade Away" in a Rolling Stones-style arrangement in December 1969, that might have perhaps been inspired by the Stones, but that's a bridge too far, even for me. I think the February 24, 1974 encore of "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" stemmed directly, if perhaps unconsciously, from the band seeing Bob Dylan live on February 11, and for now it seems to stand as a truly unique sequence of events.


  1. I buy it. To be clear, you're saying there was a published report that members of the GD were backstage at the Dylan/Band show?

    I had never connected it to Baby Blue, but there was a weird Rolling Stone piece in ca. September 1972 in which Dylan is said to be lurking around backstage at a GD show in Jersey City or somewhere. The implication was that he was trying to hook up with the Dead, but didn't manage it. I just thought about that in light of Baby Blue popping its head up around that time.

    A propos of nothing, I used to wonder what drew Garcia to Going Going Gone and Tough Mama, until I heard them on Planet Waves. I gotta think it was the great guitar tone on the album versions that attracted him.

  2. Yes, I recall a published report saying the Dead were backstage at the Dylan concert, but it's been some decades, so I'd be hard pressed to prove it.

    Planet Waves really is a good album--it's just that Blood On The Tracks came right after it, and everyone forgot it.

  3. A soundboard of the 2/11/74 Dylan show can be found here:

  4. Actually February 1974 was during the last season of Jerry West's plaaying career in Los Angeles; Kareem was still toiling in Milwaukee at this point.

  5. Supposedly Dylan saw the Dead at Roosevelt Stadium in September, 1972 which was only days before Baby Blue was resurrected then, so your speculation seems to have a good chance of being true.

  6. The 3/28/74 issue of Rolling Stone reported that at Dylan's second Oakland show, "in the audience was the San Francisco pop scene, members of the Grateful Dead, Santana, the Airplane and the Doobie Brothers."

    A couple days later on February 13, Dylan played the L.A. Forum. Garcia went to see that show too, but apparently couldn't get in:
    "Jerry Garcia, who'd seen the concert two days before in Oakland, was at the Forum box office. Someone, he said, had claimed his will-call ticket, and he was standing there..."What, me bummed?" smile on his recently shaven face. He was hoping to get word in to Bill Graham. He never did."
    (Dylan & Garcia were already friendly, so if this anecdote is true, this seems to indicate that Dylan kept his guest list more tightly controlled than the Dead did! Of course, as the article goes on to say, the Forum was packed with LA celebrities who also wanted to see Dylan, and even Roger McGuinn couldn't get a ticket...)

    1. You know what? Looking at Dylan's setlists - he did not even play 'Baby Blue' at Oakland.
      (He did, however, play it at the final Forum show on Feb. 14.)

  7. In the GD Archives, there was some indication that the GD bought 31 tix for Dylan in this timeframe, I presume in Oakland.