I eagerly watched Martin Scorsese’s new “documentary” Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story, as soon as it debuted on Netflix. It’s an incredible movie, featuring footage from the legendary, always intriguing 1976 Rolling Thunder Revue tour. It’s a bit frustrating at times—because the concert footage is so great that it makes you want more. The tour came on the heels of the release of Bob Dylan‘s Blood on the Tracks, one of my top-10 albums of all time, but we only hear one song from it: a stunning, raw take on “Simple Twist of Fate”. Isn’t there a single version of “Tangled Up In Blue” in the can? And there’s a whole fictional narrative running through the movie that I found first confusing and then silly. But who cares? The backstage footage and concert clips are incredible.
To get a better idea of Scorsese’s new film and some contextual information surrounding the tour, read a great review here via NPR.
It was also amazing to see my friend and Maplewood neighbor David Mansfield onstage as a teenager. So, I started emailing him questions. His answers are below, shared with his permission.
Alan Paul: How did you and T Bone Burnett end up in the Rolling Thunder band? Bob had access to anyone, including Mick Ronson playing lead.
David Mansfield: We ended up in the band because of Bobby Neuwirth, who had a gig at The Other End in July 1975 and flew his friend T Bone into town to play with him. All kinds of famous musicians (like Ronson) were sitting in. I sat in with the band because my girlfriend had heard they might want a fiddle player. She dragged me down there—that night I joined the “band,” which really was the genesis for the Rolling Thunder Revue.
AP: How old were you?
DM: 18 at that time, 19 by the time the tour started.
AP: That must have been a bit intimidating. How much did you just keep your head down and play music?
DM: Everyone on the tour treated me with affection and respect. There was no need to keep my head down.
AP: How accessible was Bob to you and everyone?
DM: I doubt he ever said more than a few words to me during that first tour, but again, I was a 19-year-old kid. I think he was fairly accessible to his peers.
AP: The concert footage is spectacular. I hope they just release a concert film at some point. I want more music!
DM: So do I!
AP: The movie gives the feeling of the band being thrown together, but it sounds terrific. How much rehearsing was there actually?
DM: A good amount. We had rehearsals at SIR and then more rehearsing up in New England before the first show. By the end, they were pretty much dress rehearsals, fully staged.
AP: Your comments on Allen Ginsburg in the film are spot-on. I interviewed him when I was a cute 19-year-old and he invited me to his room afterward to read poetry. When I politely declined, he just leaned over and kissed me.
DM: Allen was the gentlest and sweetest of souls. He always behaved with nothing but kindness toward me.
AP: You’ve done a lot of work with T Bone. Is this where it started?
DM: Yes. We were bandmates in the Rolling Thunder Revue and continued to be for many years, first with the Alpha Band and later with T Bone’s solo records.
AP: Did you continue to play with anyone else from Rolling Thunder?
DM: Steven Soles was also in the Alpha Band, which came together after the Rolling Thunder Revue. Before that, I was part of a post-tour band with Ronson, McGuinn, Stoner, and Wyeth. We rehearsed for a while but it never really jelled, so instead we made a Roger McGuinn record called Cardiff Rose together, and then went our separate ways.
AP: Did you ever play with Bob again after this your?
DM: Yes. There was a second Rolling Thunder Revue tour the next year and also in 1978 (touring behind Street-Legal, which I played on).
AP: Did you or any other musicians see any of this footage over the years?
DM: Only the footage that was in Renaldo and Clara.
AP: Also, what are your memories of the performance at Clinton Correctional Facility in front of Hurricane?
DM: I don’t remember much, though I don’t think the inmates were all that interested in the show, at least not in parts of it.
Alan Paul is the author of the New York Times bestseller One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band and the upcoming Texas Flood: The Inside Story of Stevie Ray Vaughan.
The new Bob Dylan Rolling Thunder Revue film is available to stream now on Netflix. Watch a trailer for the film and a few assorted clips below:
Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story – Official Trailer
Bob Dylan – “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” – Rolling Thunder Revue
Martin Scorsese on Inspirations For Making Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story