Extra! Daniel Kramer’s year with Bob Dylan

Written for Pulp magazine last year.

5-coverBob Dylan: A Year and a Day. Photographs by Daniel Kramer

Edited by Nina Wiener / Art Direction by Josh Baker / Design by Jess Sappenfield
Published by Taschen, hardcover in a clamshell box, edition of 1,965 (cute!)

“In retrospect, it’s clear that Bob was in the process of winding up a very large spring. I didn’t know then 
how much of that spring would be let loose in the coming months.” – Daniel Kramer

On July 20th 1965, Bob Dylan, the star of the Greenwich Village Folk Boom, exploded onto the pop charts. America’s first modern singer-songwriter, Dylan, in the six minutes and thirteen seconds that it took for the epochal “Like a Rolling Stone” to be debuted on US radio, virtually created grown-up rock music. But Dylan’s spectacular reinvention of himself and his music had not just happened overnight – it had been brewing for a while. At the beginning of this astonishing, game-changing period – the like of which had previously been the preserve of fine artists such as Matisse and Picasso – photographer Daniel Kramer found himself, through a mixture of talent, persistence and chance, in the position of recording the highs of an extraordinary year in the life of Bob Dylan.

Having first seen Dylan on Steve Allen’s variety show in February, 1964 (“It was the kind of sound I always liked. It reminded me of a voice from the hills… like a voice that had been left out in the rain and rusted…”) Kramer decided that he had to photograph this performer who was brave enough to play songs about social injustice on a mainstream tv show. He called Dylan’s management: “Naturally I was told Mr Dylan was not available. And so it went. I would call, and they would say no.” Eventually, Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman, picked up the phone. “By this time he knew why I was calling. I convinced him that I was a reasonable, completely sane, published, professional photographer. I was caught by surprise when his almost immediate answer was, Okay, come up to Woodstock next Thursday. You can have an hour. Just like that… just like that!”

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So Kramer drove two hours north of New York City on a bright August morning and spent the day following the 23-year-old musician as he read newspapers, played chess, and hung out with Sally Grossman (Albert’s wife) and his own wife-to-be, Sara Lownds. In the early Sixties, Woodstock was still a sleepy burg, a place where Dylan could keep the increasing intensity of life in New York at bay. The pictures are winningly relaxed and goofy, Dylan obviously finding Kramer a copacetic presence, and from that simple beginning, Kramer found himself photographing Dylan on thirty occasions over the next 365 days.

Kramer had come to photography early, aged 14, and later fell into a job working as an assistant at the studio of the fashion photographer Allan Arbus. “His wife, Diane Arbus, also did her darkroom work there – it turned out to be more than just a job. From Allan I learned to manage a studio, work with models, and run the business – and from Diane, I learned to open my eyes a bit wider, to think about my pictures in new ways.” His next gig was assisting Philippe Halsman, legendary Life magazine cover photographer. “From Philippe, I learned how to make light do your bidding, instead of the other way around, and how to choose a decent wine – and that photography could be a great adventure and a pathway to the whole world.”

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From Kramer’s fascinating recollections in the accompanying text, we find that he becomes one of Dylan’s travelling companions. In this role, he’s given both space and time to produce meaningful work. It’s a hallmark of Dylan’s relationships with the producers, musicians and photographers who come into his orbit – once they are admitted, they are allowed to bring their vision with them. Only Alfred Wertheimer on his trips around the country with a young Elvis Presley had such access to a popular star, with similar results – to show the nuts and bolts of the music business and lift the veil at the moment that the cultural plates were shifting.

Listen to any of the session tapes of recent release The Cutting Edge (every single note of music Dylan recorded, complete with false starts and unused takes, throughout 1965, the year of Kramer’s book) and you’ll find that Dylan’s moulding of what’s happening is subtle and understated, only occasionally direct and demanding. And if you met his approval, his world was your oyster. Kramer takes full advantage, producing classic black-and-white reportage backstage, onstage, in cars and cafes.

The book, beautifully laid out, is broken into sections (Woodstock / Town Hall / In the Studio / Bob & Joan / Early ’65 / Forest Hills) by lyrics letterpressed onto heavy matt paper, with Kramer’s excellent narrative set in typewriter, an era-specific evocation of the prevailing technology of the time.

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The sheer size of the book lets you feel that you’re at a really well-curated exhibition, one where the scaling and sequencing of the images are perfectly judged. The detail drawn out of the gorgeous grain of the 35mm Kodak Tri-X film that Kramer used is wonderful, and the book is a much more satisfying way to see these photographs than as individual prints in a gallery.

The colour film that Kramer shot of Dylan, the cover session for Bringing It All Back Home, one of the two albums he would release in 1965 (the other, Highway 61 Revisited, also had a cover shot by Kramer) sits happily at the centre of the book, in a section called “Intermission”. Kramer’s studio shoots (including a meeting at Kramer’s New York studio that would provide the cover for Dylan’s first book, Tarantula) give a break between the reportage either side and show that his earlier experiences in the studio with Arbus and Halsman served him well.

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But first, he needed the persuasive techniques of Bob’s manager to make these shoots happen. After Columbia’s art director, John Berg, refuses to commission the (as he saw it) inexperienced Kramer to shoot the cover of Bringing It All Back Home, Grossman intervenes. “Mr Grossman took us [Dylan and Kramer] to the art director’s office, where he proceeded to make a series of predictions of what bad things would happen [to Berg] if I did not get this assignment.”

Having been present at the recording sessions, Kramer knew that he had to deliver something that related to Dylan’s new direction – and a technique he was working on for a fashion shoot with his 4×5 view camera seemed perfect. It enabled him to make “multiple exposures on one sheet of film while moving, blurring, or keeping sharp parts of any single exposure”, a world away from the fly-on-the-wall 35mm reportage that Kramer had been shooting up to this point.

Arranging Dylan in a room set at Grossman’s Woodstock house, with Sally Grossman draped decoratively on a sofa, Kramer adds elements to make his technique work. “We scoured the house and basement to find things to put in the picture so there would be things to ‘move’ when the camera back was revolved. I wanted to say that Bob Dylan was less a folksinger and more a prince of music. So there in the centre of the turning record is Bob Dylan without an instrument, in this beautiful room, seated with a beautiful woman in a red dress… we were lucky to get one exposure with the cat looking into my lens.” Kramer can’t resist telling us that he and John Berg were nominated for a Grammy Award for best album cover photograph…

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Around this time, a new Dylan snaps into view, as the pages turn from images of joking around with old friends to those of Dylan with an early hero, Johnny Cash. Dylan is about to play one of his last acoustic shows and has morphed from the chubby-faced Chaplinesque troubadour to a more angular and focused presence. Over dinner with Cash, he seems to be burning with a particular intensity, fixing Dan Kramer and Cash both with a piercing gaze.

The next stage is about to begin in earnest, and it will lead to the alienation of Dylan’s loyal fanbase. His artistic horizons are widening to take in Pop Art and filmmaking – from Greenwich Village to the Warhol factory was only a matter of a few downtown NY blocks, but in 1965 it was an artistic chasm. On one side, the gruesomely authentic folksters, on the other, the achingly hip (yet blatantly commercial) scenesters. As Dylan moved inexorably across from one to the other, the air was thick with cries of Sell Out! and worse. Kramer finds himself shooting from the inside out.

A show at Forest Hills with electric backing will plunge Dylan into a maelstrom that the world of rock has rarely seen, as a performer’s desire to follow his muse sees him branded a Judas and pelted with objects. Visually, Dylan’s look begins to assume the sharp outlines of an icon – even in a close-field blur, with Albert Grossman far away in the stands of the Forest Hills stadium, Dylan is instantly recognisable, entering the period where he would be drawn by Milton Glaser as a rainbow-headed visualisation of the grooviness and excitement of the middle sixties.

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And that concert signals the end of Kramer’s travels with Bob. The last shots are of Dylan at one remove from his audience, backlit by blinding spotlights as someone invades the stage, chased by cops. A tour of the US and Europe awaits Dylan, his world accelerating until it culminates in a motorcycle accident that will remove him from the public glare for the following years.

Daniel Kramer moves onto a long and successful career straddling editorial, advertising and motion-picture work, and never photographs Dylan again. And Dylan? Well, he’s still “on the road, heading to another joint…”, not stopping long enough to be pinned down. But we, luckily, have this epic production to linger over, reliving that remarkable year when the times were truly changing.

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The book of Five Things is available from Amazon here.

Front Cover

He writes with the insight of someone who has inhabited the world of the professional musician but also with the infectious enthusiasm of someone who is a fan like anyone of us. He also comes at the subject from an entirely personal, slightly sideways perspective, with no agenda and no product to sell. It’s entertaining and inspiring in equal measure.”

“A terrific book, stuffed to the gills with snippets of news items and observations all with a musical theme, pulled together by the watchful eye of Martin Colyer… lovingly compiled, rammed with colour photos and interesting stories. Colyer has a good ear for a tune, an eye for the out-of-ordinary and he can write a bit too.”

Monday, May 8th

I’ve managed to stop howling at GQ Style’s Brad Pitt feature long enough to post these things that amused/interested me in the last couple of weeks, thus making it Eight Things…

This week’s Eight Things is sponsored by the letter “F” and features rather a lot of videos…

ONE STOCK FOOTAGE

splitIt’s so hard to find new ways to put images together. This absolutely rocks – beautiful split-screen use of stock footage (apart from the cheap sensationalism of a couple of splices. And the song, a rather pale “Get Lucky” a-like, by Cassius feat. Cat Power & Pharell). Just how much stock footage did director Alex Courtès (or his researchers) actually have to look through?

TWO SELF-FLAGELLATING
Born to Run. It seems an unimaginative title for Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography – but, as it pans out – becomes the only title that could possibly fit. It’s actually exhausting following Bruce’s downbeat road-movie retelling of his life. He’s excellent on the awkwardnesses inherent in the whole friend/bandmate/employee thing, and brilliant on the hard craft that went into maximising what he saw as an everyday set of talents, but I always end up wanting more about the construction of the music and how it feels to play it. Publishers, I guess, want more details of angst and love and sex – which they think is relatable stuff for a general audience. However, it’s precisely because you can’t relate your life to his that makes his so interesting…
nb. I also zoomed through Clinton Heylin’s book on the E Street Band years (it was cheap at Fopp). Pretty good, although, as always with Clinton, his habit of telling the artist what they should have done with their life, and which songs “should have been recorded/should have been binned” is typically tedious. It’s a shame, as he’s a really thorough and engaging writer.

THREE “I’M HAVING THE SAME REACTION THAT YOU’RE HAVING, WHICH IS FREAKING OUT…”
Paul F Tomkins unboxing Aimee Mann’s new release, “Mental Illness”.

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FOUR OLD FAVOURITES: YOU SAY YOU WANT A REVOLUTION?
In Classic Rock World™ news recently, Wendy and Lisa get the band back together…
Wendy Melvoin [talking to David Browne of Rolling Stone]: All this is fluid right now. But the plan today – and it’s changeable – is we only perform songs that don’t distance us as the band. So in other words, if we perform “Darling Nikki,” none of us are going to sing it. We’re going to have someone come out and do it. Wherever we go, there’s going to be an artist who loved him deeply and they can come up and sing that song.

But the other tracks that were specifically geared around a band – say, “Let’s Go Crazy” or “Controversy” – we’re going to [sing them]. We’re also going to do some of the songs that didn’t call for a lot of his calisthenics or his screaming. There’s no one who could do that. No one. You’re going to see us doing things more like “Girls and Boys”, “Love or $” [the B-side of “Kiss”]. There’s a massive catalog of what we can perform. Most of it is the big hits… and people who are saying, Who’s going sing “Purple Rain”? Fuck, we just… Once again, let’s break this down. Why doesn’t everybody in the audience sing it? We’ll play it, we’ll put a couple microphones out there, and you sing it! That song is bigger than any of us now. It’s a group vocal. Everybody sing it.

In your mind, how different were the Revolution from his later bands? “We’re not the most thrashy musicians he had. After we broke up, he had guys that were, like, notating their parts. We’re just not that. We’re scrappy. We were a band. Bobby says it all the time: We were the last band Prince was ever in.
 
Also, here’s Don Was on playing The Band’s songs [for The Last Waltz 40 Tour], talking to Bob Ruggiero of the Houston Press: Was knows he has big shoes to fill in playing Rick Danko’s parts, though he’s not interested in doing a “karaoke” take on them. “If you listen to the live recordings, the thing about Rick is that he never played the same way twice. It’s not like if you play “Something” by the Beatles, you have to play that bass exactly right! My thing is to try to get into [Rick’s] head and conjure up the spirit of what he was doing. The thing that I can relate to is at the core, he’s an R&B bass player. And me growing up in Detroit with soul and Motown music, there’s a relation.”

And finally in CRW™… The Classic is the name given to a new series of two-day concerts in the US that bring back the rock stars of yesteryear – Fleetwood Mac, Eagles, Steely Dan, Journey, Earth, Wind & Fire and The Doobie Brothers. They will perform at the Classic East and Classic West two-day festivals in July. The first event will be held on July 15-16 at Los Angeles’ Dodgers Stadium, followed by Classic East from July 29-30 at Citi Field in New York City. Yesteryear. Don’t you love that word?

FIVE FOURTEEN?
This is the songwriters’ credit list for Jidenna’s “Classic Man”, as used on the soundtrack of Moonlight. 14 people! It’s on Wondaland Records, Janelle Monae’s label (whose fine acting graces both Moonlight and Hidden Figures.) My favourite name on the list is Roman GianArthur Irvin, although Amethyst Amelia Kelly runs him close.

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SIX “THAT’S HOW YOU F****ING DO IT!”
Haim come back with a live-in-the-studio-in-real-time video of a new song. I’m not sure the song’s all that great, but it’s a pretty cool video, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Este Haim: “My mom was studying to be a teacher and to get your credentials you have to shadow another teacher. My mom gets a gig at a school in the Valley, shadowing the art teacher. First week, the teacher has a heart attack in the parking lot and my mom becomes the sole art teacher. My mom was younger than me, like 22/23, and she now has 5 or 6 classes of kids. She would always talk about this one kid named Paul, that she loved – he was very energetic, artistic, vivacious. We’d turn the TV on and Boogie Nights would come on or Magnolia and our mom was like, ‘oh that’s Paul’s movie.’ That being Paul Thomas Anderson. We were like, Mom are you talking about Paul Thomas Anderson? And she was like, ‘Yes that is Paul, I taught Paul.’”

SEVEN FONDA & FRISELL’S INSPIRATION
Rest In Peace, Bruce Langhorne. The real Mr Tambourine Man has sadly passed away, so I listen to Peter Fonda say goodbye on Last Word (Radio 4): “Universal said, Fonda – you just can’t go hiring your friends to play on the soundtrack [of The Hired Hand], and I said, Listen, this cat’s a virtuoso on forty-two stringed instruments – he can play an entire symphony orchestra sound!” Writing an article for Pulp magazine about Taschen’s enormous book of Daniel Kramer’s great photographs, Bob Dylan, A Year and a Day, I discover an image that I’ve not seen before, of Bob ’n’ Bruce playing on the Les Crane TV show. They’re both playing parlour guitars [Langhorne’s a 1920 Martin 1-21] and Bruce is a few steps behind Bob in half-shadow. Then I put on The Hired Hand, Langhorne’s soundtrack to Fonda’s movie, twenty-four minutes of beautifully hand-stitched music, and undoubtably an imfluence on the soundtrack work of Ry Cooder.

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The programme said that he did the soundtracks to Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia, which wasn’t the case, although he had worked with Jonathan Demme on Melvin and Howard and Swing Shift. Jonathan Demme: “Just occasionally, you come across these geniuses. Bruce Langhorne was one. These people all tend to work in the same way: they respond instinctively to the visual image. I still remember the insane thrill of being with Bruce in his apartment, with his guitar and other instruments, and looking at scenes from Melvin and Howard. He was playing things and I was just saying, ‘Oh my God, that’s amazing.’ Bruce Langhorne has done some of the most beautiful scoring that I have ever been involved with, or ever known.”

Bill Frisell talking to Michael Ross on premierguitar.com: “I didn’t realise how big an influence he was until many years later. It was almost subliminal, but that is too soft a word. He had this gigantic effect… I used to listen to the early Bob Dylan records he was on when I was a kid, lying on the floor with the speakers next to my head, playing them over and over. I just heard him as part of the total sound. Years later I realized his playing was this line between accompanying and having a conversation, being spontaneous and completely integrated into the music from the inside out, playing a part but not a part, unpredictable… that was the way I have been trying to play my whole life.”
 
EIGHT WTF…
“A $30 bag of Doritos chips that plays the entire soundtrack of Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2 has sold out instantly. The controls on the packet fit around the image of a cassette deck. The crisp bag is rechargeable so you can listen to the soundtrack more than once.  The follow-up soundtrack to the first Guardians flick, which went on to become one of the best-selling vinyl records of recent years, features a huge range of stone-cold ’70s hits.”

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Tuesday, June 28th

ONE THE MOST TIMELY QUESTION IS, WHY?

beatlesFrom this month’s issue of Vanity Fair, the maestro Beatles watch. Aesthetically a complete non-starter, this is what you get: “The 13 Beatles’ album titles are written all around the bespoke dial, with a special “Help” index at 4 o’clock which recalls the cover of the iconic album released in 1965. The silver galvanic dial matches the polished steel bracelet. It features the official Beatles logo and a date window at 3 o’clock. This unique timepiece paying tribute to the legendary Fab Four is limited to 3,000 pieces.” A “Help” index?You can join the discussion at #RWThe Beatles.” What discussion? Who’s discussing this? “It retails at around £950.” I know, I know, we can’t wait ’til we get to the shop… “Each maestro Beatles will be presented with a dedicated watch case celebrating the music icons. An impressive drum with the official Beatles logo decorates the top of the box.” Believe me, the drum box is not impressive…

TWO THIS IS WHAT THEY WERE LISTENING TO FIFTY YEARS AGO IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA…! KHJ29June66.jpg

THREE THE QUIETEST MUSIC VIDEO EVER
Greenpeace: “Through his music, acclaimed Italian composer and pianist Ludovico Einaudi has added his voice to those of eight million people from across the world demanding protection for the Arctic. Einaudi performed one of his own compositions on a floating platform in the middle of the Ocean, against the backdrop of the Wahlenbergbreen glacier (in Svalbard, Norway).”

 

FOUR CRUISING UP PARK LANE AT NIGHT IN A DROP-TOP MERC…
…with Joan Armatrading’s “Love & Affection” and “Down to Zero” on the sound system. An enjoyably bonkers Chelsea School of Art reunion/event ended up with a lift in Kwok’s new car with a suitably late-seventies soundtrack. I was recently reminded of her odd, stern, almost solemn voice when I watched current act Rationale on Later… with Jools Holland. And those songs still sound unusual as pop hits…

FIVE SNAP SHOT!
Loving the groovy table at Snap Gallery – the place for all your Rock music photographic needs. I remember Guy’s first gallery in the Custard Factory in Birmingham, which, if memory serves me well, featured Daniel Kramer’s photos as its opening exhibition.

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And now Dan Kramer returns to Snap in Piccadilly Arcade for A Year and a Day: “Daniel Kramer first photographed bob Dylan on 27 August 1964 in Woodstock, and his final photographs of Bob Dylan were taken on 28 August 1965, just over a year later. Dan was in the studio when Bob Dylan recorded Bringing It All Back Home, and took the Grammy-nominated cover photograph for that album, and its follow up Highway 61 Revisited. He photographed Dylan live in many guises – solo, duetting with Joan Baez (triptych, below), and in his final session, electrified with The Hawks at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium – and behind the scenes, relaxing off stage with friends.”

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AND ON THE MUSIC PLAYER…
to the right, from last week’s post, hear Van Morrison and the Caledonia Soul Orchestra awesomely funk up “Sweet Thing” as John Platania’s guitar and David Hayes’ bass burn up the Rainbow. From the recently released It’s Too Late To Stop Now, Volumes II, III and IV.

For the full 5 Things experience, please click on the Date Headline of the page in the email and you will go to the proper site (which allows you to see the Music Player). Also all the links will open in another tab or window in your browser.

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