New Zealand musicians have recorded over 100 songs written by Bob Dylan, so many excellent versions missed out in the AudioCulture column “Dylan Down Under”. Here are 10 more from the database of Bill Hester, New Zealand Dylanologist. Plus, an extra from a multinational lineup.
Hammond Gamble – The Groom’s Still Waiting At The Altar (1994)
Since his earliest days with Street Talk, Hammond Gamble has been noted for his fiery guitar playing and burred, soulful singing voice, both of which are on full display in this high-energy performance. Though not known as a Dylan interpreter – he has always had plenty of his own material – this selection shows him to be a covert connoisseur. Dylan wrote this song at the time of 1980’s Shot Of Love and it was added to that album only when it was reissued on CD in the 1990s, having first appeared fleetingly as the B-side of a single, ‘Heart of Mine’. Wordy and apocalyptic, it marks the latter phase of what has been referred to as Dylan’s Christian period. Though Hammond Gamble’s was one of the first covers of this tune, many artists have since released versions, including Rod Stewart. This recording was made in 1994 at The Gluepot, Gamble’s old stamping ground, not long before the legendary Ponsonby hotel closed its doors forever. It sits alongside covers of Ray Charles and Sam Cooke as well as several Gamble originals on what would become Gamble’s best-selling album, Plugged In and Blue.
The La De Da’s – All Along the Watchtower (1975)
After its spectacular reinvention by Jimi Hendrix, this became the Dylan song that magnetised guitarists the world over, and it is no surprise to find it here in the hands of one of New Zealand’s true guitar heroes. Kevin Borich started out in the 60s with West Auckland mod quintet The La De Da’s; by the end of the decade the group had conquered New Zealand’s charts and club scene and was looking for new audiences. Settling in Australia, they underwent various line-up changes, ultimately leaving Borich the only founding member and sole New Zealander. By the time of this recording they had stripped down to a power trio, focused firmly on Borich’s spectacular playing. But they are augmented by another local legend, musician and actor Bruno Lawrence, whose percussion lends extra propulsion to an already soaring performance.
Peter Caulton – The Man In the Long Black Coat (1999)
With this brooding ballad it is as though Dylan was trying to script a gothic western and write its theme song at the same time, and it finds an ideal narrator in the late Peter Caulton. Originally from Gisborne, Caulton was a larger-than-life character with a huge rich baritone voice and a feel for the drama of country music. In the early 70s he founded Wellington institution the Country Flyers, then handed the reins over to Midge Marsden as he moved on to front Distillery, a popular show band on the breweries circuit. Before long he was in Australia where he became well-known for what his friend Dave Dawson called “his outlaw spirit and humour”. This atmospheric reading comes from Caulton’s 2011 album Raining on the Rock. He brings an appropriate gravitas to the vocal lines, which are offset by the unexpected but oddly evocative strains of an electric sitar.
Rod MacKinnon – Walkin’ Down the Line (1965)
Wellington-based folk singer Rod MacKinnon was one of the first New Zealand artists to record a song by Dylan (check out his version of ‘To Ramona’ on the earlier playlist) and he went on to record several more. But this might be as close as any local artist came to turning a Dylan tune into a pop crossover. Dylan wrote and recorded this proto-road song in the early 1960s, sometime between his first and second albums, yet his version would not be released until 1991 on the first volume of his Bootleg Series. In the meantime, numerous other artists had a shot at it, including Joan Baez, Jackie DeShannon and MacKinnon. Though the song’s narrator is a hobo with a worried mind, whose money “rolls and flows” through the holes in the pockets of his clothes, MacKinnon injects a note of optimism with his lively delivery and the arrangement accentuates the tune’s naturally jaunty rhythm with percussive stop-time accents that shift it in the direction of Buddy Holly’s ‘Not Fade Away’.
Hamilton County Bluegrass Band – You Ain’t Going Nowhere (1974)
After numerous appearances on television and headline slots at all the major folk festivals, by the late 60s the Hamilton County Bluegrass Band were national stars. Like others who reached the top at home, they went in search of bigger pastures, basing themselves for the remainder of their career in Australia where they recorded ‘You Ain’t Going Nowhere’ for their 1974 album Kersbrook Cottage. The song comes from Dylan’s Basement Tapes, which would not be officially released until the following year, but this version takes its impetus from the one on the Byrds’ groundbreaking Sweetheart Of The Rodeo album. Though it was Colleen Trenwith who often stole the spotlight with her fiddle solos, it is Graham Lovejoy’s mandolin that is the real instrumental star of this performance. Produced by New Zealander Rod Coe, who also oversaw The La De Da’s track in this playlist.
Sophie Moleta with David Härenstam – Buckets of Rain (2010)
Wellington-born singer and pianist Sophie Moleta is another New Zealander better known in Australia than at home. She started out as drummer and singer with Perth punks the Brautigans and has spent many years teaching classical piano, but it’s her sensitivity as an interpretive singer that shines on this collaboration with Swedish guitarist David Härenstam. The closing song from Blood On The Tracks is full of sly Dylanesque humour, and Moleta approaches the lines in a wry, conversational way. She also proves to be an excellent whistler.
Kokomo – Absolutely Sweet Marie & Tryin’ To Get To Heaven (2008)
Kokomo earned their two tracks in this playlist by making an entire album of Dylan songs, their 2008 release In The Well. The Tauranga-based Kokomo began life as a blues band under the name Kokomo Blues, but evolved into a more eclectic outfit, centred on the voice and guitar of their British-born founder Derek Jacombs. A deep Dylan fan, Jacombs delved into some less-explored corners of the Dylan catalogue to find the dozen selections that make up Kokomo’s tribute. A standout is their imaginative arrangement of ‘Absolutely Sweet Marie’, the most upbeat song from Blonde On Blonde, recast in an almost-Dixieland style with trumpet and harmonica winding through and around the vocal. ‘Tryin’ To Get To Heaven’, from 1997’s Time Out Of Mind, is taken at a wearier pace, appropriate to the lyric of this later Dylan masterpiece.
Paul Ubana Jones – House Of The Rising Sun (2011)
Not a Dylan song, but a folk ballad from Appalachia of unknown authorship. Nevertheless, for six decades most versions, including the Animals’ iconic 1964 hit, have derived in some way from the one Dylan recorded on his first album in 1962. (Dylan himself later admitted his arrangement was copied from an arrangement by his friend Dave Van Ronk). This version, too, is Dylan-derived, though the British-born, New Zealand-based Paul Ubana Jones firmly places his own stamp on it, with deep tolling guitar chords and his honey-and-sandpaper voice extracting maximum drama from these cautionary verses.
The Breakaways – She Belongs To Me (1965)
Bringing It All Back Home marked the start of Dylan’s electric revolution, featuring a fully amplified band for its entire first side. For Taranaki R&B band The Breakaways, it meant Dylan’s music was now accessible, and on their debut album Let’s Take A Sea Cruise! With The Breakaways this distinctive major-key blues sat alongside songs by John Lee Hooker, Chuck Berry and Jimmy Reed – all discoveries made via the British R&B revival. The Breakaways’ arrangement sticks remarkably closely to Dylan’s, with Dave Hurley replicating Bruce Langhorne’s fingerpicked leads, a young Midge Marsden chopping through the chords, and singing drummer Brian Beauchamp adding just a touch of sweetening to his Dylanesque delivery of this mysterious ode to an indomitable muse.
Suzanne – If Not For You (1971)
By the end of the 1960s, sister-duo The Chicks had parted ways, and Suzanne, the younger of the pair, embarked on a solo career. Her version of ‘If Not For You’ appeared on Walk A Little Closer, the second of two albums she made in 1971. The treatment is clearly inspired by the Olivia Newton-John version, a hit that same year, which in turn borrowed its arrangement from George Harrison, whose recording of the song had come out in late 1970, just a month after Dylan’s. But Suzanne ratchets the melody up into a higher key than Newton-John’s, bringing to it a lightness and unashamed romanticism. Credited as bass player and arranger on the tune is Bruce Lynch, who Suzanne would marry the following year.
One more cup of coffee …
Crowded House with Roger McGuinn – Mr Tambourine Man (1989)
With enough iconic songs of their own to fill an evening and still leave an audience calling for unplayed favourites, Crowded House hardly need to bolster their set with Dylan tunes. But when the group played US shows in 1989 with Byrds founder Roger McGuinn, there could hardly have been a more rousing or appropriate encore than this. Coining the name Byrdhouse, McGuinn would join the Crowdies onstage at the end of the night for a jangling version of the song with which the Byrds first flew to the top of the charts in 1965. It’s a bit of a Stars on 45 arrangement, compressed to just a single verse and a couple of choruses, but it is performed with plenty of spirit, and Neil Finn sings a soaring harmony to McGuinn’s lead, ably making up for the absence of any other Byrds.
Dylan Down Under Revisited: an AudioCulture Playlist