Part one Part two
Gray received his first feedback from the Dylan camp after he finished writing Song and Dance Man. “I had to submit the manuscript – this was before Jeff Rosen – to the New York office to show that (the book) was an honorable project. I needed permission for over 100 songs, and they let me quote them very cheaply, so that was being near to a ‘thumbs up’. Each time, I’ve always been given permission to quote the lyrics cheaply. With A.J. Weberman, the so-called concordance quote was (allegedly) something like $200 a line.”
This lead to an actual invitation to meet Bob Dylan when the “Song and Dance Man”‘ himself toured England later in the decade. “The closest I even got to Dylan was about twelve inches, backstage at Earl’s Court in 1978. He got the London CBS Records press officer to ask me if I’d like to say ‘Hello’.” Not too surprisingly, Gray agreed.
“By 1978, Dylan did not like critics. He wasn’t going to say anything nice about the book, so the press officer said that Dylan liked a piece I wrote in Melody Maker about the 1978 tour. That was his way of not saying anything nice about the book.
“We talked. It wasn’t so bad. I had my son with me, who was a child at the time. He was nice to my son, therefore it was fine. I didn’t really expect anything more, really. It was a little weird that he was someone who means so much to you, and you mean nothing to him.”
Over the years, Gray’s knowledge of Dylan’s work lead to some interesting side projects, including writing the liner notes for The Songs Of Bob Dylan (Start Records), a collection of various artists covering Dylan compositions.
“That was nothing special,” Gray said. “I just happened to know the guy in charge. I was asked to write the notes and suggest tracks, Iain McLay had to sort out the licenses. We got most of what we wanted.
“I like that it was the first time Elvis Presley was included in a multi-artist compilation. You’d never see him on any hits-of-the-50s-type records. The price was that we also had to include Bobby Bare’s terrible version of ‘Don’t Think Twice’.
“I was thankful there were songs most fans didn’t know about, like Gary U.S. Bonds’ version of ‘From A Buick 6′, and Jason & The Scorchers’ ‘Absolutely Sweet Marie’. It was an interesting selection . . . I wouldn’t have thought to include Tina Turner’s ‘Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You’.”
Gray’s reputation has also lead to “Bob Dylan Weekends”, where Gray and his wife host a weekend of food, talk, and music in the south of France.
How did it start? “I don’t know,” Gray said. “It may have been my wife’s idea. After my talks (while on tour), people come up to me and talk. Now we live in the southwest of France, and it’s a novel weekend break.
“We’ve had a terrific variety of people. Some might think it’s a lot of Dylan obsessive nerds with no life, although I never though that. Those types are not the people who read my work.
“The people who come are hugely varied. It’s not all men either. We’ve had a woman Canadian gardener, someone from Holland, an American who flew in from the States, young high-powered men and women lawyers in their 30s.”
The “New Winterlude Weekends” will be every weekend this month. From the official website:
NEW WINTERLUDE WEEKENDS:
with Michael Gray
Following the success of our Winterludes, Summer Days and Slowly Into Autumn Weekends we are pleased to announce a range of New Winterlude Weekends in November.
These offer Dylan fans and other music lovers an unusual weekend break sharing an enthusiasm for one of today’s greatest living artists.
Arrive on a Friday, stay till the Sunday and enjoy a winterlude of great food and Bob Dylan Discussion with the author of Song & Dance Man III: The Art of Bob Dylan and The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia at our home in southwest France, an 1870s maison bourgeois 40-odd miles from the Pyrenees and the Spanish border. The house lies on the edge of a small village in deep countryside but within easy access of airports and train stations.
These weekend breaks are limited to a maximum of six guests each time. Meals, with accompanying local wines, are provided by food writer and cooking tutor Sarah Beattie and taken communally. Every guest bedroom is en suite.
The after-dinner Dylan Discussions take place in the large sitting-room, making use of vinyl and CDs from Michael’s collection, again with accompanying wine. Guests can choose topics such as Dylan & the Blues; Dylan & Rock’n’roll; Dylan’s Use of the Bible; Dylan & Plagiarism; Dylan & Literary Culture; Dylan In Concert; Dylan On Film, Radio & Canvas; Dylan Bootlegs.
If you are fortunate enough to attend, tell him I said “Hello”.
For more information about accomodations, prices, etc. please visit the official webpage.
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