The Gospel Project -
Bob Dylan Live 1979-80
Tim Drummond was an established session musician at the time of this tour. Drummond had backed the likes of James Brown and Lonnie Mack in the late 1960’s; Neil Young and a variety of Crosby, Still, Nash & Young side projects in the mid-1970’s. Drummond was brought in to join Mark Knopfler and drummer Pick Withers in creating the tighter, stripped down sound of the Slow Train Coming recording sessions. Drummond shares co-writing credit for “Saved,” the only shared composition on either Slow Train Coming or Saved.
Jim Keltner was one of the foremost session drummers for a wide variety of major rock-n-roll acts with a similarly extensive resume to his name. Keltner continues to partner closely with such musicians as John Hiatt, Eric Clapton, and Neil Young. This tour marked the beginning of a nearly exclusive two-year commitment by both session men to Dylan’s touring and studio work.
Fred Tackett also compiled an impressive resume as a session guitarist during the 1970’s. However, for much of this period, Tackett had been a third guitarist, and accomplished composer, for Little Feat -- without question one of the finest performing bands around. Tackett has since assumed a lead role with Little Feat after their hiatus following Lowell George’s untimely death in 1979.
Dylan chose to employ two keyboardists, Spooner Oldham and Terry Young. Alabama-born, Dewey Lyndon “Spooner” Oldham served his musical apprenticeship as part of the Fame Recording Studio house band at Muscle Shoals. He partnered with Dan Penn in composing a number of soul and deep country standards and was widely sought after for his understated keyboard playing.
Terry Young provided a much more traditional gospel sound both as keyboard player and backing vocalist. He and his wife, Mona Lisa Young (on backing vocals during this tour), have a large number of subsequent credits on a number of gospel and non-gospel recording sessions for a wide variety of artists.
Dylan also employed a number of backing singers throughout this and subsequent tours. The exact line-up of singers changed with each leg of this tour and is noted in the relevant tour leg summaries. However, three individual singers deserve special mention here.
Regina McCreary Havis is the only backing singer to perform during all three legs of this tour. She is also the woman who presents the introductory monologue about the woman on the train every night during this tour. In a later interview, Dylan refers to her as the daughter of Reverend Sam McCreary who performed with the Fairfield Four, a notable gospel group. A strikingly beautiful woman with exceptional vocal range -- including a purring lower register -- she remains a prominent feature of Dylan’s performances through 1981.
Helena Springs performs as a backing singer only during the first leg of this tour. Without entertaining rumor and biographical supposition, I think it is fair to say Springs and Dylan shared a remarkably close working relationship during 1978 and 1979. They co-wrote a number of songs during this period, including “Walk Out In The Rain,” “(You Treat Me Like A) Stepchild,” “Stop Now, ” “I Must Love You Too Much,” and “More Than Flesh And Blood” which all received some type of public performance; “Walk Out In The Rain” as a cover by Eric Clapton, and the rest performed by Dylan during the 1978 tour supporting the release of Street Legal. Springs performed backing vocals during the entire 1978 tour as well as the autumn 1979 leg of this tour. Apparently, she continues to perform as a singer and studio session backing vocalist.
Clydie King first appears as a backing vocalist on the third leg of this tour. King’s voice is far more brusque -- in the Sippie Wallace, Bessie Smith tradition -- than any of the other singers who appear during this tour. She would remain a fixture of Dylan’s live and studio work into the mid-1980’s, including some wonderful duets with Dylan during his 1980 and 1981 tours. These duets and Dylan’s reference to an entire album-worth of similar duets with King suggest that, in her, he felt he’d found an especially sympathetic performing partner.
Last Revised: 11/1/01 11:37 AM