Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Most Decisive Moment in Rock History - 50 Years Ago

The Most Decisive Moment in Rock History - 50 Years Down the Crossroads

If ever there was a moment in time when music was at a crossroads, it was 28 August 1965, 50 years ago, when Bob Dylan “went electric,” what Time Magazine called “the most decisive moment in rock history,” and things still haven’t been the same.

The myths and legends that have been spun around Dylan meeting Levon and the Hawks, the whole electric thing, the Basement Tapes, Woodstock, the Band, the Last Waltz and the trials and tribulations are now all part of our cultural history.

Sometimes the myths are written in stone, even though they only contain some semblance of the truth, such as the historical marker in Toronto, Canada that marks the location of where Friar’s Tavern once stood, and officially propagates the fact that this was the spot where on Thursday, September 16, 1965, Bob Dylan met and first played with Levon and the Hawks, who would become The Band.

Jana Shea, at Newsworks, writes: “It was 50 years ago (yes, ‘your road is rapidly agin’….’) that Dylan, who had rose to fame as a folk music singer-songwriter, plugged in and released ‘Bringing It All Back Home.” After playing the 1965 Newport Folk Festival with (gasp! Boo!) an electrified sound, he went in search of a back-up band for his next tour. Legend has it that Dylan discovered the group that would become The Band…in Somers Point during one of their regular summer gigs at Tony Marts nightclub. Whether the connection occurred at the Jersey Shore (as festival organizers boast) or earlier at Friar’s Tavern in Toronto, Canada (per nearly everyone else), the result was Bob Dylan and The Band hit the road together and forever changed rock music.” 

Toronto reporter and historian John Goddard makes the case for Dylan meeting the Hawks in Toronto, where they were from and did play often, and maybe did practice with Dylan in September 1965 before embarking on their “world tour,” but despite the historical marker and protests from Goddard and Shea, Dylan did not meet the Hawks for the first time in Toronto on September 16, 1965. 

How can that be true if two of the Hawks – drummer Levon Helm and guitarist Robbie Robertson performed with Dylan at Forest Hills, New York on August 28, 1965, as they most certainly did in the concert that is pointed to as “the most decisive moment in rock history.” 

Then one of Dylan’s numerous biographers, poo poos the idea that Dylan called Levon and the Hawks at Tony Marts in Somers Point, NJ and asked them to join him without having seen or played with them before, which is exactly what Levon Helm told me and recounts in his autobiography “This Wheels On Fire.” 

Who are we to believe – an unauthorized biographer writing without the cooperation of those who he is writing about? Or Levon Helm, one of the principle characters in the story? 

And it is a certified fact that Levon and the Hawks were playing on a nightly basis from late June until mid-August 1965 as the house band at Tony Marts in Somers Point and were booked and contracted to play three sets a night until Labor Day, but were let out of their contract in order to play with Dylan at Forest Hills.  

 Tony Mart's 1965

Tony mart's 1965, Levon and the Hawks, The Female Beatles

The myths that have grown up around Dylan and the Hawks are legendary, but the real truth is a matter of public record – and part of the story that I try to recount in the serialized blog The Summer of ’65 Revisited [that is being posted at http://summerof1965.blogspot.com], which details the Hawks at the Point and the most accurate account of how Dylan came to meet them. 

After writing and recording “Like a Rolling Stone,” Dylan wanted a rock band to play with and his manager Albert Grossman’s Secretary Mary Martin, from Toronto, recommended the Hawks, as did John Hammond, Jr., who had previously met the Hawks on the road and in Toronto. Grossman tracked down the Hawks at Tony Marts through their Canadian booking agent Colonel Harold Kutlets, and Dylan called them there and talked on the phone with Levon Helm, who didn’t know who Dylan was. Then Levon, Robertson and maybe Garth Hudson drove to New York City and met Dylan for the first time at Grossman’s office. 

After playing Tony Marts for the last time, Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson played with Dylan at the famous concert at Forest Hills, NY, and then the rest of the Hawks backed Dylan on his tour that included Austin, Texas and the UK. 

Read Reviews of the Forest Hills Show: 

Peter S. Brown -  http://blog.peterstonebrown.com/bob-dylan-at-forest-hills-40-years-later/

Robert Shelton - New York Times - https://www.nytimes.com/books/97/05/04/reviews/dylan-unruly.html

Al Kooper -  http://www.villagevoice.com/music/50-years-after-dylan-played-forest-hills-al-kooper-recalls-1965s-electric-summer-7544760

My continuing serial blog “The Summer of 1965 Revisited” [ http://summerof1965.blogspot.com ]  also recalls the conversion of Conway Twitty, who also played Tony Marts that summer, and successfully converted from a rock and roll star to country music, another pertinent change in direction that altered the history of music in America. 

Conway Twitty’s official web site biography says: “After eight years of playing sock hops and dance clubs, Twitty heard the ticking of an internal clock that seemed to guide all the major decisions in his life. One night on a stage in Summer's Point, New Jersey, Twitty looked out at a room full of people he didn't know. With a wife and three kids at home, he realized his days of providing background music for sweaty teens were over. Twitty put down his guitar, walked off the stage and embarked on one of the greatest country careers in history. Signed by legendary producer Owen Bradley to MCA/Decca in 1965, Twitty released several singles before 1968's "Next In Line" became his first country No. 1. And thus began a run unmatched in music history. Twitty reeled off 50 consecutive No. 1 hits.”

Most myths and legends are passed on by vocal tradition and you can tell that this version of Conway Twitty’s career that talks about “Summer’s Point,” spells Somers Point the way someone who hears it, and probably heard it from the horse’s mouth – Conway Twitty himself. 

As for how Bob Dylan met the Hawks, some of the participants are still alive - Dylan, John Hammond, Jr., Robbie Robertson and Garth Hudson are all alive and Mary Martin should be, so maybe someone should ask them how it all went down.

In the meantime, to commemorate the union of Dylan and the Hawks - Jeff Schwachter and friends are putting on a Dylan Fest show this Friday, August 28 (7:30pm) at the Dante Theater - 14 N. Mississippi Avenue, in Atlantic City, the marvelous music hall now owned by Stockton University, presenting a concert of the songs that Dylan and the Hawks performed at that time as well as some of the songs that made Tony Marts nightclub one of the most famous clubs on the East Coast.

Dante Theater Dylan Fest:

DYLAN FEST is a musical tribute to Bob Dylan (and Levon & the Hawks) on the 50th anniversary of Dylan releasing the groundbreaking record “Like a Rolling Stone,” a pair of classic albums and, most importantly, “going electric,” which has fascinating and historic connections to the Atlantic City area. Mirroring the Dylan/Hawks shows of 50 years ago, this show features the acoustic stylings of Philadelphia native singer/songwriter Peter Stone Brown, rounded out by a plugged in, electrified salute by the region’s best Dylan tribute band, the 5 Believers! 

This event pays homage on the 50th anniversary of Dylan “going electric” and mystifying audiences with the first electric/acoustic folk-rock show of its kind. In 1965, Dylan chose members of Levon & the Hawks (featuring the late Levon Helm, and which would later become The Band) after discovering them during their  summer-long residency just 15 minutes outside of AC in a Somers Point, NJ nightclub called Tony Mart’s.  

Dylan would eventually recruit the entire Hawks group for his game-changing and historic world tour (in late 1965-1966), as documented in the PBS Martin Scorsese-directed documentary No Direction Home and the official Columbia Records Bootleg Series releases.

South Jersey resident Jeff Schwachter has been studying, performing, painting — and writing about — the music of Bob Dylan for more than a quarter century. In recent years, his band 5 Believers has begun paying tribute to Dylan with several special and well-received shows and events in the Atlantic City/Philadelphia area. Schwachter, former editor of Atlantic City Weekly, also wrote the nationally award-winning piece “Somers Point ’65,” which tells the inside story of how Dylan wound up finding his electric band at the Jersey Shore and ultimately changing the course of modern rock forever and helping the Hawks become The Band.

For more information visit DYLAN FEST AC  

Follow this event on Facebook - Dylan Fest AC

Levon & The Hawks

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