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Bob Dylan's Record Geek Radio Hour

Cue the thunder and the sound of rain splashing on concrete. A husky-voiced, female announcer says:

"It's nighttime in the big city. Rain is falling. Fog rolls in from the waterfront. A night shift nurse smokes the last cigarette in her pack. It's Theme Time Radio Hour, with your host Bob Dylan."

Then comes that irreplaceable, raspy, moody voice: "It's time for Theme Time Radio Hour - dreams, schemes and themes."

And Bob is on the air.

This week's much-anticipated debut of Dylan's XM Radio show gave us something we certainly hadn't heard before - the chatty, Record Geek side of Bob. You always knew he probably started out like so many rock and folk icons, spending whatever resources he could muster obsessively tracking down the obscure vinyl of his heroes, and obtaining them by whatever means necessary. Serious collectors are truly ruthless about their passions. It reminded me of the story told by a still-somewhat-bitter Tony Glover in Martin Scorsese's No Direction Home about how Dylan stole Glover's rare folk records in Minneapolis in the late '50s because he wanted to listen to them so badly and it was the only way he could.

Old record geeks never die, I guess; if they're good enough they get their own radio shows. And as the title of his show indicates, Dylan will take a theme each week and play songs whose titles and lyrics touch on the subject. This week it was "weather." Not a bad device, I suppose. I probably would have preferred something based on musical influences or strains, but I think what this may show is that first and foremost Dylan is a poet and cares most about the emotions and images conveyed by words.

Chicago's place in the pantheon of Dylan's musical imagination is pretty apparent right off the bat. The very first song he plays he introduced by saying, "We're going to start out with the great Muddy Waters, one of the ancients by now but whom all moderns prize. One of his early songs on the Chess label, 'Blow Wind Blow,' featuring Jimmy Rogers, Otis Spann and Little Walter. From the Windy City of Chi-ca-go, 'Blow Wind Blow.' Here's Muddy."

Then, after Muddy wraps it up, Bob continues:

"Chicago's known as the Windy City, but it's not the windiest city in the U.S. The windiest city in the U.S. is Dodge City, Kansas. Other windy cities are Amarillo, Texas, and Rochester, Minnesota," which he pronounces the Coen Brothers-Fargo way of "Minn-ee-soooh-tah."

As a Minn-ee-soooh-tahn, all I can say is . . . cooooool. Bob is all about his roots, after all. (He also pointed out that Judy Garland, "like Prince," is from Minnesota. She was born only a few miles from Dylan's Iron Range hometown of Hibbing, in Grand Rapids, Minn.

Indeed, Dylan was a font of fascinating music trivia during the show. He noted that former Louisiana Gov. Jimmie Davis performed "You Are My Sunshine" at his 100th birthday party in 1999; mused that we forget how much Elvis wanted to be Dean Martin; told the story of how the governor of Tennessee arranged for prisoner Johnny Bragg to be released in 1953 to record for Sun Records; riffed on "alto-cirrus and alto-cumulus" clouds and how the Santa Ana winds are like "the winds of the apocalypse"; noted the difficulties of mastering the tremolo bar; reported how Fats Domino was found alive after Hurricane Katrina; and reminisced about "probably" seeing the ill-fated 1959 Winter Dance Party Tour with Buddy Holly, "the day the music 'supposedly' died."

Oh, man, he knows his stuff. Of course, we knew that, but still . . . it was thrilling to hear The Man himself tell these stories. He likes to use a noir-ish voice to recite some of the lyrics of the songs he's about to play, giving us a spoken-word version of the song interpretation skills we all know so well. It's an invaluable glimpse into what makes Dylan the music fan tick.

One other note for XM Radio listeners: His delivery and the style of the show are very similar to Tom Petty's DJ turn on the satellite station, Tom Petty's Buried Treasure. Both concentrate on early rock-roots tunes and come from their private record collections. Together, they alone are worth the $13 per month subscription fee.

Here's the playlist from Dylan's first show:

1. Muddy Waters, "Blow Wind Blow"
2. Jimmie Davis, "You Are My Sunshine"
3. Joe Jones, "California Sun"
4. Dean Martin, "I Don't Care If the Sun Don't Shine"
5. The Prisonaires, "Just Walking In the Rain"
6. The Consolers, "After the Clouds Roll Away"
7. Jimi Hendrix, "Wind Cries Mary"
8. Judy Garland, "Come Rain Come Shine"
9. Irma Thomas, "It's Raining"
10. Saint Basil/Deaf Poet, "Didn't It Rain"
11. Slim Harpo, "Rainin' In My Heart"
12. Lord Beginner, "Jamaican Hurricane"
13. Fats Domino, "Let the Four Winds Blow"
14. The Spaniels, "Stormy Weather"
15. Stevie Wonder, "A Place in the Sun"
16. Frank Sinatra, "Summer Wind"
17. Staple Singers, "Uncloudy Day"
18. Carter Family, "Keep On the Sunny Side"


Posted on May 4, 2006

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