Dylan Goes Electric (Hats Off To Mike Bloomfield)

JFK had been assassinated, civil rights were anything but, the U.S. had sent “advisors” to Vietnam and we periodically practiced climbing under our desks should Khrushchev decide to vaporize Southeastern Michigan. Yes, there was plenty of fodder for protest songs in the early '60s.

I missed the Bob Dylan folksinger hoopla by about seven years, however. There was a fair amount of Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul and Mary being played at home, but no Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger or... Bob Dylan. And once I heard Bobby Darin, Ray Charles, Dave Brubeck and the Beatles, I never felt compelled to investigate folk music. To my ear, even the most poignant lyrics have always been incidental to the instrumental accompaniment.

It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.

My introduction to Dylan has been circuitous. It started in the late '60s with debut albums by two then-new groups: Blood, Sweat & Tears (with founder Al Kooper on keyboards and vocals) and the breakout group, Electric Flag (led by guitar phenom Mike Bloomfield). A couple of years before, both musicians found themselves playing on Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited, featuring such tracks as Like a Rolling Stone and Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues. Their appearance on a Dylan album, then backing him up onstage, led to a public uproar.

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In the DVD, Bob Dylan—The Other Side of the Mirror: Live at the Newport Folk Festival 1963–1965, we get to see early footage of Dylan the solo artist—singing, playing acoustic guitar and playing harmonica. The emcee reminds us that Dylan has “captured the essence of today’s (that of ’63) youth.” Later, we see him in a duet role with his then-girlfriend, Joan Baez. (Seeing Dylan playing a year after his Newport debut, it's interesting to note that at about this time he first met the Beatles and introduced them to "The New Mary Jane.") This is all interesting in its historical context, but it makes for a rather sleepy home concert video.

J&R Computer/Music World

But then the REAL show starts. It’s 1965 and Dylan has “gone electric,” daring to show up at Newport with the Highway 61 Revisited musicians. While the crowd is busy booing, the viewer is treated to but a glimpse of the genius of Mike Bloomfield, as well as that of Dylan’s for including the guitarist in the controversial lineup.

For footage of Bloomfield leading Electric Flag, see The Complete Monterey Pop Festival, also featuring a performance of Kooper’s earlier group, The Blues Project. And we also recommend Martin Scorsese’s DVD biography of Dylan, No Direction Home, available in at Amazon in Video On Demand format.