Bob Dylan’s Before The Flood 40 Years Later
Look back at Bob Dylan’s Before The Flood and you’ll know you’re hearing iconic performances by Bob Dylan and The Band. Spend some time on the internet and you’ll know how this tour and show affected fans who were there. I’d never quite seen anything like the outpouring of love and adoration that came from the audiences.
For me, at 22 years old, being on what may be considered one of the top 2 or 3 tours of all time, was an exciting time. We were fresh off a three day session and had just recorded Planet Waves. That album ended up being Dylan’s (and mine) first #1 album.
The following random thoughts aren’t intended to a be a complete picture of Before The Flood or the ’74 tour. After all, I have to save something for my books.
Before The Flood’s energy crackles 40 years later.
That’s the result of the tour and playing the songs with The Band in a tight fashion night after night. They’re kind of just disciplined about playing songs. While Bob will change the arrangement from one tick to the next, The Band’s deliberateness bleeds through to Bob a bit and that’s what you pick up on.
They started rehearsing for the tour 3-4 weeks before recording the Planet Waves album. I was told they only did three of the songs at the rehearsal and the rest they followed Bob’s hands at the session. They didn’t even write down chord charts. They were that attuned to him that they could just watch him and follow him.
The tour song order
That’s an interesting story, the way that worked. The first show was in Chicago. They all went on stage together and the first song was Bob and he played a couple. Then, The Band played a couple then Bob played a couple. Sometimes, a there were 1 2 or 3 and it was was back and forth. At the end of the show, we really knew it wasn’t right.
So, here I am, a young kid, and said, ‘you know what I think we should do?’ I said I think The Band should open the show, then Bob should do a set with The Band. Then, intermission, next Bob alone for 3 songs. Then, The Band should come out and join him and they should play together another set and the show is over.
They did it the next night and it worked really well. That became the template for the rest of the tour. So, the record sequence isn’t necessarily the way the shows were played.
I remember from the tour, Most Likely You Go Your Way And I’ll Go Mine, I always liked, it was a good start to the tour. I liked the way he went into Lay Lady Lay. It was always kind of a moment to take a breath and he’d say “it’s great to be here”.
I really liked the acoustic set. It was always very riveting and you could hear a pin drop, very powerful stuff.
The Band stuff was just the normal Band stuff, same arrangements, very well played as per usual. The rest of it, I mean, was just real interesting. I thought they were really great electric versions of some of these songs because The Band was so good. Every time they brought something to the situation, they’d make it really good.
Something to prove?
A lot of the press said Bob and The Band had something to prove. I don’t think that was ever an issue for anybody. I don’t think anyone was ever thinking like that, they were just excited about doing this. Bob was just excited to play again.
Bill Graham promotes the tour
He placed a full page newspaper ad, 28 or 24 cities all together. Every city with the same full page ad, but mostly a blank page. When you’re going through a newspaper a blank page is pretty striking. The ad said “Bob Dylan/The Band”. At the bottom it said ‘in concert’ and told the venue with the ticket prices. It was a first come first serve thing so you got your money in first you got the best seats. Anyway, they played to about 650K+ people and Graham got 5.5m ticket requests.
If you do the math, Graham hung onto about like 80 some million dollars for about a month before sending it back. He claimed he was doing it by some kind of a lottery, so all of the money was deposited and whoever didn’t get tickets got their money back. So, Graham collected interest for a month.
Planet Waves not represented on Before The Flood
Well, I thought it was interesting, but I’m just guessing. I thought David Geffen would’ve pressured for more of Planet Waves. I think that in a way he kind of liked the idea, that from his point of view, Planet Waves was Dylan’s first record on Asylum. With Before The Flood being the second, Geffen got more of Bob’s songs onto Asylum.
My Dad’s sister lived in Illinois and she was from Minnesota. They had a house and sold this house to Bob Dylan’s parents when Bob left home to go to New York to become Bob Dylan. Bob’s folks wanted a smaller house so they bought my dad’s sister’s house.
When started working on Planet Waves, my aunt heard through my parents that I was working with Bob. She said “Oh I sold his parents my house”. She sent me these 5 photographs, 3 of inside, 2 of outside. They were black and white with crinkled edges on the top and bottom. I thought “I can’t show Bob these pictures or he’ll think I am A.J. Weberman and think I’ve been digging in his trash. So, I ended up keeping them with me.
I think we’d been on the tour for about 4 weeks and so one day, Bob and I happened to be the only 2 people who were awake on the plane. I went over and sat next to Bob and said “Here’s something I want to show you”. He said “what’s that” so I handed him the pictures He had them in his hand and he looked at it and stared up at me. He looked at the next one and stared at me with each one. He said “Where’d you get these?” I told him it’s not like that. My Dad’s sister sold your parents their house. The pictures are from her. I showed him the letter, he was fascinated and that was that. But at first, he was taken aback.
Before The Flood mix
Because of the way it’s mixed, it has not exactly a studio sound, but more of an upfront sound than a normal live record.
The mix took awhile because we had to go through all the takes. There were a number of shows we considered. It required going through all the stuff and deciding which performances where the best. Weirdly enough, there wasn’t enough snare drum on a couple songs. Levon doesn’t play real hard. The way Phil Ramone had miked the drums, he didn’t get enough snare drum somehow.
Levon heard it and didn’t like it so he overdubbed the snare drum to a couple of the songs. That isn’t easy to do. You can’t let them flam, you have to get them exact. That took some time, it took an afternoon to do one song. That’s not a big deal in the whole picture, but for a double album like that, we probably spent almost a month mixing. It wasn’t uncommon spending a whole day mixing a song. You’d start at 10 and finish at 8.
Live things present you with a lot of different situations and problems that you don’t have in the studio. Little noises or problems you have to fix. Adjustments you have to make that you don’t have to do in the studio recording that add a little time to the mix, nothing extreme, just little stuff.
The lighters on the cover
I love the cover. People started holding their lighters up at the end of this tour, it just started spontaneously. Photos would appear in newspapers and it just became a thing that people started to do. I thought it was very astute of the album cover photographer. One of the first times it happened, he said, “Wow man look at that it is so incredible”. All those people with lighters was really quite awe inspiring.