Welcome to the Bob Dylan 70th birthday countdown.
Today we combine two of my favorite current subjects – the anniversary of Dylan’s birth, and the New York Times.
When Dylan appeared at the Band’s 1976 Last Waltz farewell concert, he played the following set:
Winterland, San Francisco, California
Thanksgiving, 25 November 1976
1. Baby Let Me Follow You Down
3. I Don’t Believe You
4. Forever Young
5. Baby Let Me Follow You Down
6. I Shall Be Released
For the first five songs, Dylan was backed by the Band. The last song featured some additional musicians that had performed earlier in the evening, with the addition of a Beatle (Ringo Starr) and a Rolling Stone (Ron Wood).
Dylan sang and played guitar. He did not play harmonica.
Or did he?
According to an article in the New York Times, dated October 25, 2006, Dick Clark (of American Bandstand fame) was putting up some rock and roll memorabilia up for auction, including “the harmonica that Bob Dylan played in ‘The Last Waltz’.” It was estimated to sell for somewhere between $20,000 to $40,000, according to the report.
I emailed the Times, casting my doubt that Dylan played harmonica at The Last Waltz. On November 2, 2006, I received a reply:
I asked the reporter who wrote the article on Dick Clark’s auction about his source for the statement that Bob Dylan played the harmonica in “The Last Waltz.” Although he is not shown playing it in the movie version, I am told that he did indeed play it during the concert. This information is from Dick Clark’s office:
During the Martin Scorsese filming of The Last Waltz in 1976, many songs were performed during the extended, somewhat raucous event. Some of these performances appeared in the movie while many others never made it past the cutting room. Seventeen of these “passed” songs appeared on a 2002 re-issue which includes a Bob Dylan rendition of “Hazel”. When performing “Hazel,” Dylan typically played a harmonica, such as on the “Planet Waves” album.
Members of the film crew who often worked with Dick Clark’s staff vividly recall Bob carrying a harmonica on the set. Following The Last Waltz, the harmonica entered the Clifford Glass Collection where it was recorded as having originated from the set of the film. In 1992, Dick Clark acquired the instrument from that Collection. Dick placed the harmonica on public view at that time, indicating that the harmonica was from that filming. It has remained publicly displayed until it recently was removed from inclusion in the coming auction.
I sent an email back, stating that there was audio, video, and written documentation of the event, and there was not one shred of evidence that Dylan played a harmonica, or even wore a harmonica rack, at the concert. He may have “carried” it, but he certainly didn’t play it.
Later that night, I received another reply: “Thanks, whoever you are. We’ll look into it.”
I never heard another word.
In another report, CBS’ The Early Show reported that Dylan’s Last Waltz harmonica was autographed:
Bob Dylan Autographed Harmonica from “The Last Waltz.” This harmonica was used by Dylan during the Band’s farewell gig in San Francisco on Thanksgiving 1976. This Hohner harmonica, autographed in black ink by Dylan, is mounted in a framed display accompanied by a black-and-white image of Dylan with harmonica and guitar.
An AP version of the claim was repeated in USA Today , the Los Angeles Times, and MSNBC, among others. Cinema Blend went so far as to say ” the harmonica Bob Dylan played in Scorsese’s documentary The Last Waltz. “
You can view a photograph of the harmonica at Live Auctioneers:
Lot 785: Bob Dylan Autographed Harmonica: This Hohner harmonica, autographed in black ink by Bob Dylan, c. 1976. The instrument is mounted in a framed display accompanied by a black and white image from another occasion of Dylan with harmonica and guitar. Framed display: 20 1/2 x 26; Photo: 14 x 10
The web page listed the estimated price as only $2,500 – $5,000, not the $20,000 – $40,000 originally listed in the New York Times. Notice there’s no mention of The Last Waltz in the description. On December 6, 2006, the harmonica reportedly sold for $18,000. Much of the money raised reportedly went to various charities.
Dylan performed “Hazel” for the first time on stage that night. Although he played it at a soundcheck in 1978, he did not perform it on stage until 1994 for the MTV Unplugged sessions. In 2004-5, Dylan finally brought the song out and played it in public six times.
Check out Bob Dylan premiering “Hazel” with the Band – and without a harmonica – at The Last Waltz, in the embedded clip on the left.
Thanks to Enrique D. for the inspiration.
UPDATE: From “Dick Clark Memorabilia Auction – Dec 5, 2006, ” (Flickr)
I just was lucky enough to “bump” into the memorabilia auction for much of Dick Clark’s Stuff. Timothy said that Bob Dylan came in early in the morning with Yoko Ono. He wants to buy back the harmonica that he gave to Dick Clark years ago.
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