Throughout Bob Dylan's 1975 tour Rolling Thunder Revue, the late photojournalist Ken Regan took almost 14,000 images of the tour’s travelling caravan of musicians, including Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and the main attraction: Bob Dylan.
It has been said that Bob Dylan – the character – predates Bob Dylan the musician.
Certainly the wandering minstrel is a concept as old as Christendom, but there’s more here. Dylan occupies a unique space in the American cultural idiom: Though his lyrics are not poetry, he is undoubtedly a poet. Though he speaks constantly and articulately, he seems profoundly reticent. His ubiquity is underscored by a kind of divine absence – as though he’s not really there.
A silent troubadour. A walking paradox whose words cover everything and nothing. A voice of the times, or maybe a voice for every time.
Little wonder perhaps, that photographic collections of Dylan are a key component to understanding his enduring appeal. And a new book of images by Ken Regan showcases that enigmatic persona during his 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue.
It’s certainly a revealing collection. Said Regan: “I had total access. I could walk into his dressing room at any given point and photograph anything he was doing.”
Indeed, many of the photographs appear here for the first time since they were taken forty years ago; capturing Dylan in a variety of situations – from intimate rehearsals to social occasions with friends and colleagues.
The tour itself was a giant undertaking. Covering 57 concerts in two legs, the caravan played the American northeast and Canada in the Autumn of 1975, with the second leg visiting the southern states in the spring of 1976.
It was an opportunity to test material from Dylan’s new album Desire – which was released between the two legs – and formed the basis of an NBC special alongside being documented in Larry Sloman’s book: On the Road with Bob Dylan.
The choice of Regan came after he shot two nights of Dylan’s 1974 tour for Time Magazine. During these performances, the New York-based photographer shot the same elderly woman in the crowd at each show. ‘She had a really interesting face […] I just figured she was a music freak’ said Regan.
On mentioning the pictures to the gig’s promoter, Regan was informed that it was in fact Bob Dylan’s mother, and that he should not take pictures of her. If said photos reached publication, he’d never be let ‘within 500 yards of Dylan ever again’.
Later Regan sent Dylan a selection of photographs from the concert, including the ones of his mother. Ken’s note explained that he had not sent the pictures to Time, but that he wanted Bob to have them. “There was no response from him at all, which really kind of bummed me out.”
A year later Ken was woken by the phone at 3am. On the line was – amongst others – Bob Dylan. He apologised for waking Ken so early in the morning, and explained that Ken was in the frame to photographically document the next tour.
Later that day Regan traveled to Studio Instrument Rentals’ in Manhattan, where Dylan was rehearsing. As sole photographer on the tour, he would get complete access.
Said Regan; “Bob had given me free rein to shoot it all—onstage, offstage, dressing rooms, parties, trailers, whatever was going on.”
Rolling Thunder: Photographs by Ken Regan is published by Ormond Yard Press March 2016. Limited Edition of 750 individually numbered copies. Retail price on publication £395.
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