Old Crow to perform Bob Dylan’s ‘Blonde on Blonde’ at Symphony Hall


Bob Dylan recorded “Blonde on Blonde” in Nashville in 1966, with a group of some of Music City’s best musicians, plus two of his most simpatico sidemen, keyboardist Al Kooper and guitarist Robbie Robertson of the Band.

Ranked among the greatest rock recordings of all time, the sessions for what would become the landmark double album captured former folk singer Dylan at the height of his “electric years.”

It also revealed his songwriting in tones that shifted from playful and surreal to bitter and achingly poignant, with signatures such as “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35,” “Visions of Johanna” and “Just Like a Woman.”

“The closest I ever got to the sound I hear in my mind,” Dylan said, “that thin, that wild mercury sound.”

Last year, in a move that might be considered almost as audacious as the original, the Nashville-based string band Old Crow Medicine Show recorded a live performance of the 14 songs on “Blonde on Blonde” — in order, from beginning to end.

The celebration at the CMA Theater at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum marked 50 years since the album’s debut.

And in turn, it spawned the newest Old Crow album, “50 Years of Blonde on Blonde,” which was released earlier this year. Fittingly, it’s the band’s first on Columbia Records, the label that first signed Dylan in 1961.

RELATED: Bob Dylan picks up Nobel Prize in private ceremony in Sweden

Since April, Old Crow has been on an extended international tour that will bring the band to Atlanta to perform “50 Years of Blonde on Blonde” in its entirety on Oct. 20 at Symphony Hall.

Founding member Ketch Secor, who’s been playing folk and old-time music since he was a kid growing up in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, vividly remembers the first time he saw Dylan perform live.

“When I was 12 years old, I got a copy of ‘Infidels.’ That was my entree to Bob,” Secor remembered in a recent phone conversation. “And then I went to see him. That was my first concert, in 1990, in Charlottesville, Va.

“In the whole show, I could only make out about four words. And they were hey and mister and tambourine and man. But that’s all I needed. With those four words, hung the cosmos. I’ve probably seen him 30 or 35 times, since.”

Of course, Dylan is well known for changing up even his most iconic songs to suit his whims, often altering the lyrics and tempos. But Secor said that turned out to be a plus when it came to covering “Blonde on Blonde.”

“That was one of the things that was really fun about recording the album,” he said. “Reviewing all of these live recordings, in which Bob was doing just that. Being completely new with an old song.”

Surprisingly, “Blonde on Blonde” is not among Secor’s favorite Dylan albums.

“I never really related to it,” he said. “I certainly know the songs. But for me, if I want to listen to Bob in a rock ‘n’ roll band in that era, it’s ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ for sure. It’s got that piercing harmonica, and the band seems kind of confused at times. It’s like pop art.

“But if ‘Blonde on Blonde’ isn’t the record that I love the most about Bob Dylan, it was a really good record for Old Crow to do, because it’s kind of wide-open. It wasn’t hard for me to scribble in the margins and breathe a different life into it. I think we exceeded everyone’s expectations, including our own.”

Asked if there was trepidation in taking on material that many consider sacred, Secor said the band was typically fearless in finding a method to the madness.

“A lot of that fearlessness was channeled into the memorization of the lyrics,” he said. “That part was really challenging, but really great. It’s a lot like theater. I thought a lot about William Shakespeare throughout this project. It was great to have lines, and have them be such masterful lines.”

And what of the challenges of a mostly acoustic band playing famously electric rock?

“We’re a string band, but we really became a rock ‘n’ roll band to do ‘Blonde on Blonde.’ It was a real training ground for us,” Secor said. “When this band started, I think we wanted to be Dylan at Newport in ’65. But Old Crow wasn’t very good at playing rock ‘n’ roll together.

“It took ‘Blonde on Blonde” to learn how to do that. We’re not playing on electric guitars. But there’s certainly that thin, wild mercury that Bob talks about coursing through all of these performances. And that is electric.”

CONCERT PREVIEW

Old Crow Medicine Show, “50 Years of Blonde on Blonde”

$25-$45. 8 p.m. Oct. 20. Atlanta Symphony Hall, 1280 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 404-733-5000, atlantasymphony.org.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Living

‘Take Every Wave’ looks at life, work ethic of surfing star
‘Take Every Wave’ looks at life, work ethic of surfing star

It takes a lot of work to be a surf bum. “Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton,” the latest documentary from Rory Kennedy (“Last Days in Vietnam”), is partly the life story of Hamilton, widely considered the world’s best big-wave surfer, and partly a study in obsession. Kennedy bounces back and forth between times...
Biopic remains superficial tearjerker
Biopic remains superficial tearjerker

“Breathe” is meant, no doubt, as a sincere homage to the late disability advocate Robin Cavendish, who died, after living with polio for 36 years, in 1994. Commissioned by his son, producer Jonathan Cavendish — who plays a minor role in the film — and directed by Jonathan Cavendish’s business partner, actor Andy Serkis...
‘Only the Brave’ is gripping story of firefighting heroes
‘Only the Brave’ is gripping story of firefighting heroes

Wildland firefighting is a mysterious art: a delicate dance with a raging, unpredictable force. It’s bested only with a unique mastery of weather, fuel and wind to extinguish fire with fire itself. If our image of firefighting is a big red truck and a hose, “Only the Brave,” directed by Joseph Kosinski, tweaks that image, introducing...
Canada heartbroken: Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie dead at 53 of brain cancer 
Canada heartbroken: Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie dead at 53 of brain cancer 

The lead singer of the Canadian alt-rock band the Tragically Hip, Gord Downie, died Wednesday night after a battle with terminal brain cancer. Downie, 53, passed away surrounded by his children and family, according to a family statement on Twitter. "Gord knew this day was coming – his response was to spend this precious time as he always...
Fox Business host Neil Cavuto celebrates a career milestone, personal growth

Fox Business News host Neil Cavuto beat Stage 4 cancer and was dealing with a multiple sclerosis diagnosis when he got some more great news from his doctors: he needed open-heart surgery.  With hospitals finally in the rear-view mirror after his return a little over a year ago, Cavuto, who...
More Stories