Bob Dylan in His Gospel Time: Trouble No More — The Bootleg Series Vol. 13/1979-1981

Bob Dylan by Howard Alk © Sony Music Entertainment

On a cold November night in 1998, I went with two friends to hear Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell at University of Maryland’s Cole Field House. Mitchell strutted on stage by herself, smoking and toting an acoustic guitar. Stowing her cigarette somewhere in the frettings, she let loose with “Big Yellow Taxi” and played a glorious set that ended with “Woodstock.” After a long break, during which we shivered and jumped around to stay warm, the lights dimmed and Al Santos’s voice sounded out, directing us to welcome Columbia recording artist Bob Dylan. Dylan, already at his mic, grinned wide as he launched into “Gotta Serve Somebody.” The crowd laughed at the way this sounded like a zing directed at his longtime label, and perhaps also at himself. However, it turned out to be one of the best performances of the song I’d ever heard.  When Dylan sings “Gotta Serve Somebody,” I thought, he’s not joking around.

"Slow Train," London, June 1981

He might have (indeed, did) won a Grammy for best male rock vocal performance in 1979 with this B-side single, steeped in the Southern heat and camp-meeting feels of the Alabama where it was recorded, but in 2013 Rolling Stone listed it among Dylan’s ten worst songs.  What happened between 1979 and 2013?  A lot of water, and other stuff too, under the bridge.  Dylan’s “Gospel years” of 1979-1981 (utterly incorrectly dated; more on this anon) gave way to the allegedly secular Infidels, the allegedly rocking Down In The Groove, and eventually triumphs like Oh Mercy, Love and Theft, and Modern Times.

The only child of an ordained Baptist minister, I always had understood that choice between the devil and the Lord in “Gotta Serve Somebody,” and also the qualifying “may be”s. Those records in the wake of Dylan’s Gospel years show him, critics have claimed, out of what they call his “religious phase,” as if he is a moon rather than a man. Being saved isn’t a phase, friends. It’s a part of you ever after, world without end, amen.

"Solid Rock," London, June 1981 

The newest box set in the ongoing Bootleg Series, Trouble No More — The Bootleg Series No. 13 / 1979-1981, spares you nothing in examining this point in Dylan’s life and professional career. Many stage performances of his “religious songs” flesh out most of the body of eight CDs, along with a DVD of Trouble No More: A Musical Film, reviewed here, that includes stage and rehearsal performances from 1979-1981, as well as entirely new footage with an actor as a preacher, and shot in a church.

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San Francisco, November 11, 1979.  Dylan introduces a song he will sing in almost every show. (Almost. His set lists were not yet set in stone.) “This is called ‘Slow Train Comin’. It’s been comin’ a long time, and it’s picking up speed.” The sound on Trouble No More is astounding, start to close, beautifully made at the time by the top-tier band, and remastered by Steve Addabo, Chris Shaw and Mark Wilder (Jeff Rosen, Steve Berkowitz and Gregg Geller are the producers). With only slight variation, and fully covered in the extensive liner notes, the band consists of Dylan on vocals, keyboards, harmonica and guitar; Fred Tackett on guitar; Tim Drummond on bass; Jim Keltner on drums; Dewey Lindon “Spooner” Oldham on keyboards; and Terry Young on piano and vocals. 

The chorus, or to name them more properly, choir featured some of the best-known women singing gospel — or any other kind — of music then.  Clydie King made her first recording at thirteen, and had sung with the Rolling Stones, Steely Dan, Lynyrd Skynyrd and B.B. King, among others, before joining Dylan’s band. MonaLisa Young (whose husband, Terry, was also on the “Gospel tour”) had sung professionally since she was 16 in vast churches and on opera stages, trained by her mezzo-soprano mother Catherine Ballinger. Regina McCrary, daughter of a singing minister (and now both herself), regularly opened the shows. McCrary is true gospel royalty; her father, Reverend Sam McCrary, was a founding member of the Fairfield Four. Mary Elizabeth Bridges and Gwen Evans round out the group of women who are far more integral to these shows to be collectively dispatched as “backup singers.” Other musicians join the rolling revival on stage and in the studio: Carolyn Dennis, Benmont Tench, Willie Smith, Danny Kortchmar, Madelyn Quebec, Mark Knopfler, Helena Springs.

"When You Gonna Wake Up," Oslo, July 1981

Trouble No More begins with that “Slow Train” in San Francisco, 1979, and ends in Earl’s Court, London, in 1981. Crowdpleasing hits have reappeared — “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Blowin’ In The Wind,” “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” — but “Slow Train” still starts the show. In the course of making your way through, you hear Dylan’s devotional songs on repeat, just the way hymns are in church. The question song “Are You Ready?”, “Saved,” “Ain’t Gonna Go To Hell For Anybody,” “Solid Rock,” and the anthem “Pressing On” are, along with “Slow Train” and “Gotta Serve Somebody,” available in various versions on the eight discs. The previously unreleased “Help Me Understand” is a sad song about divorce and its effect on a child, little Sue. “Ain’t No Man Righteous, Not No One” is a rollicking condemnation and revels in rhymes like “hypocrite” and “opposite.”  “City of Gold,” slow and full of a mournful, then joyful organ playing, finds salvation based in both the words of the Bible and of Shakespeare:

            There is a city of love
            Far from this world, stuff dreams are made of….

New lyrics are in the songs you thought you knew. I’ve been listening to and loving “Caribbean Wind” for years, but was blindsided by “I was only paying attention like a rattlesnake does when he’s hearing footsteps trampling on the flowers.”

Dylan, with Tim Drummond, by Lawrence Kirsch © Sony Music Entertainment

The essays included with Trouble No More inform, complement, complicate, and supply context, as well as personal opinion. Ben Rollins finds in Dylan’s decision to write, perform, and record his own gospel music one of the most controversial “twists and turns” in a winding career. That Rollins has quoted the beginning of The Odyssey here is both clever and apt: “Sing to me of the man, muse / The man of twists and turns.” He is right, too, to call the “Gospel tour” both “a true revival meeting” and “more of a revue, actually.” I’ve been to both. Rob Bowman’s track-by-track listing is expert, replete with detail and reason, and essential. Amanda Petrusich walks us swiftly and skillfully through the '70s, that “Me Decade” in which America lost its war in Vietnam, its faith in a president, and turned in search of something, anything to believe in again. Her Dylan seeks “a way forward,” hand in hand with the remorseful times. And Penn Jillette, in a searingly personal essay that is a thousand percent right, and righteous, understands the music on Trouble No More in a way that also understands something integral about Dylan:

Common wisdom is that Dylan went back to being a secular song writer after this period, but that’s a lie. The truth is Bob Dylan never was and never will be a secular song writer: “God said to Abraham kill me a son” – is not “Fly Robin Fly.” “I can hear a sweet voice gently calling, must be the mother of our Lord.” “I’m sworn to uphold the laws of God.” And “Narrow Way” is more about Jesus’s “narrow gate” than an answer song to Sir Mix-a-Lot.

"Making a Liar Out of Me," previously unreleased, 1980

Amen, Penn. Dylan never was, and never will be, a secular songwriter.  The songs on that trinity of “saved” albums — Slow Train ComingSaved, and Shot of Love — and the songs of his “Gospel Tour,” both familiar and unheard until now, are the portion of Dylan’s spiritual songs that lend themselves to easy definition and categorization.  But as Regina McCrary put it, years later, in an interview with Scott Mitchell for On The Tracks,

what I saw and who I saw was a man. A man who had an awesome gift from God, even down to his other music. When I got still and I listened to the words to some of the songs that he wrote before I joined him, it was awesome. God has been using him and his songs and his lyrics for a long time. And he’s been speaking out against the wrong and standing up for the right for a very, very long time. So when he did Slow Train Comin’, Saved, and Shot Of Love he only brought everything that he’s been doing to a full circle to let people know that he’s been serving a live and a living God, all his life.


Dylan and his harmonica, from Trouble No More:  A Musical Film


In his songs today, in his releases of albums, in his live performances, Dylan has given up nothing.  He repeats his past in that full circle that McCrary describes, adding to it, and filling it, with what has come since.  Encompassed tonight by a new venue and a new crowd, he and his band, and Mavis Staples — a beloved old friend, with her God-given voice for the ages — are already pressing on.

"Every Grain of Sand," previously unreleased




all images courtesy of and © Sony Music Entertainment 2017


I'm not sure what to make of this bootleg release or your review of it. I was raised Christian and forced to go to church from the day I was born until I was 18 and considered myself saved and a dedicted Christian until I grew up. Now I'm a born-again atheist and hated Dylan's "Christian phase," as you don't want to call it. I agree with your statement, "Being saved isn't a phase, friends. It's part of you ever after..." in the sense that it has forever polluted my mind but certainly not that I'm still "saved." What I hated most about Dylan's Christian songs is how unambiguous they were. This was fundamentalist preaching with that self-righteous arrogance of, "Believe like I do or go to hell!" I just hate that. To me a real Christian is someone who loves and accepts people however they are instead of putting them down for being unable to believe your particular fairytale myth. I'm something of a Dylan fanatic and consider him the most important artist of the last century but I will be skipping this "phase" of the worst songs he ever wrote. I say that while admitting that "Slow Train" is one of the best-sounding albums he ever made but the lyrics make it almost unlistenable for me. Now if he would just change the lyrics to a song like "When you Gonna Wake Up" to a more secular meaning, one that encourages people to open their minds instead of sleep-walking through life, that would be a great song.

As you noted Dennis, the current crop of Christians is by and large an intolerant bunch if there ever was one, and is driving people away from the church in droves...that the current Chief Executive benefits from unquestioned loyalty and devotion from the Evangelical crowd speaks volumes about their true moral I'll worry about my 'ever after' without any contribution from these "pharisees"...

Faith is one thing...what you believe there is yours, who am I or anyone else to say?...religion itself may even be benign...but most religious leaders are simply using scripture to brainwash people who are looking for answers to the existential questions...we're looking for everyman..."just another dreamer, dreaming about everyman" as Jackson Browne once sang...

The exhaustion of every single thing Bob Dylan ever committed to tape you Dennis, I think this is his weakest period...glad he's saved, I'm skipping this and all the other boxed set stuff...completist is not my job title...


 could not delete the repetitive comment due to my impatiently pushing enter twice.    

Wow, Dennis.  I don't believe that these are even close to his worst songs......the comment, IMO, reflects what sounds like a personal bias against religion-see my novel response.   "Precious Angel," "I Believe in You," "When He Returns," "In the Garden," "Every Grain of Sand."  These songs are among his best. IMO, of course!  And man, your use of 'hate' is alarming.    

Between the Bowie and Dylan box sets recently reviewed on ND is there any wonder why new artists are screwed as the record companies continue to squeeze every cent from every unreleased track buried in their dusty vaults?   Support new artists, go to small shows at local venues, buy discs don't stream. Turn the page.

That's a rant I can get behind Mr. Mutt!   House concerts the next two weekends for me...then Michael McDermott at a "local" venue (except I have to drive 3 hours to get to it)... 

I agree!  Though pardon me if I pick up this new Dylan package...see my novel comments

Enjoy Terry. I don't have strong feelings about this Dylan era and perhaps I underestimated the desire to hear these albums.  Having said that, in general I have found box sets with reissues of albums most true fans have are totally redundant and rare unreleased bonus material should in general remain unreleased.

For example-Has anyone listened to the first four tracks from Springsteen's "Chapter and Verse" more than once? Without those tracks no Springsteen fan needs to buy that disc. With those tracks most Springsteen fans will wish they didn't. Disclosure: I didn't not buy the Springsteen disc but heard it. 

Regarding NoDepression. It sounds like you are now part of the select group of excellent contributors (often volunteers) ignored/shoved aside until they don't bother to contribute.  

Hi there Dennis, Jim and Anne, 

My experience and perception of Dylan and his era of evangelical Christian music are much different than your comments. I've been waiting years for this release and I was overjoyed by this new package. I'll be getting the full box set for this one.

First, let me say, I respect both of you, Jim & Dennis. I don't blame you for the conclusions you reached regarding Evangelical Christianity or Dylan's three albums and his preacher-like ways during that time. I, like Anne, was raised Baptist. And like Dennis, I was forced to go to church Sundays and Wednesdays. I empathize with Atheists. I don't believe in the god they don't believe in as well.   

In 1975, I experienced a spiritual conversion though not a dogmatic one. I couldn't come to terms with the evangelistic slant. And I felt guilty for it. My spiritual faith evolved over many years to a place of Christian mysticism-see Thomas Merton, Henry Nouwen- within a Catholic community of centering prayer. This came about partially through my Zen Buddhist friends exploring with me the kind of meditation practice that would be best for me. Through Mt Baldy Zen Center, where Leonard Cohen lived at the time, they pointed me in the right direction.  

Now, I practice a contemplative faith daily along with 12-step sobriety. The faith I've experienced has saved my life again and again. It has shown me that there is far more than Evangelicalism to the diverse paradigm of Christianity. Evangelicalism is relatively new and a very narrow group in the history of Christianity. I agree with you on their affection for 45. Disgusting.   

In the mid-70s, I landed smack in the middle of the Southern California 'Jesus Movement.'  Richie Furay was there at the same church. Music follows me everywhere, like the hound of heaven.  My friends rejected me as dumb. I believed them until I read C.S. Lewis, Paul Tillich, Evelyn Underhill, Frances Schaefer and Fredrich Buchner. It was a much larger world than I had been led to believe.

When Dylan converted I absorbed Slow Train because it spoke directly to where I was at the time.  Finally, Dylan was following my steps instead of me following his. I saw at The Slow Train shows the same Dylan who took the stage at Newport and forever changed rock and folk music. He was doing the same in 1979 at Warfield and at The Santa Monica Civic. This was one of Dylan's peaks, IMO. This time he paved the way for many of his peers to include songs about their faith on their albums. U2 was always outspoken..and they came along after Dylan's gospel era. Van Morrison, who had always been so inclined, became bolder and more specific. Bruce Cockburn made clear faith statements in his music. He had always done this, but it was accepted in the music industry after Dylan and he became commercially successful. Arlo Guthrie's Outlasting the Blues also included songs about faith due to his conversion to Roman Catholicism. And need I remind you about Johnny Cash and the intensity of his faith?  Dylan provided a bridge that allowed faith to be an acceptable topic in songwriting. 

What I find missing from your (Dennis & Jim) comments is the fact that Dylan also evolved over the course of those three albums. He moved through the early stages of spiritual consciousness during those years. Buddhist thinker Ken Wilbur has outlined the stages of spiritual growth in his writings. 

Slow Train was his early, evangelical fire-much like Blind Willie Johnson-but, some of the songs were deeply personal, raw, vulnerable and beautiful ("I Believe in You"). Saved was the next step of growth, with personal testaments ("Saving Grace") and confessions,(“What Can I Do For You”) He framed the album in the revivalism of the early part of the 20th Century especially black-Pentecostal gospel music and the songs of Thomas Dorsey. And "In the Garden" is simply a Dylan masterpiece. IMO. 

Shot of Love showed much of the ambiguity that Dennis mentioned missing in his earlier gospel work.  It also gave us one of the best songs he ever wrote,"Every Grain of Sand."  It is a beautiful, William Blake-like reflection on mortality and the struggle with personal faith. Again, this was another stage of growth. He also paid tribute to Lenny Bruce. "The Groom's Still Waiting at the Alter," is riddled with ambiguity and metaphor. 

Infidels included "Man of Peace." Down in the Groove is mostly filler and outtakes until you come to” Death is not the End.” It is brilliant, beautiful, honest, and visionary. If you don’t like Dylan doing it, check out Nick Cave’s cover. Again, IMO. 

 With all due respect to you both, I cringed at a few of the statements in your comments. The assumption that these three albums are his weakest seems based on anti-religious bias rather than an honest listen to the albums on their own terms. Slow Train belongs among his best. The other two are flawed, but have flashes of brilliance and reflect his growth and transition at the time. 

Also, 'hate,’ is a strong word. Isn't hate the very thing we accuse the religious right of being engaged in?  I'm very far from my evangelical past, but I still love the community-which includes my brother and sister- and feel a kinship with them. Hate is what 45 and his fans do, not those of us who love Dylan and his work. Just something to think about in our use of language. Hate is a jarring and disheartening word. 

Dylan was overzealous perhaps...but, the story those three albums is one of change, growth, and renewal.  Also, forgive my bias, but one of the things that makes me crazy is when Evangelicals are referred to as if they are the only representatives of Christianity. I follow Jesus in a very different way than they do and so do millions of others in Christendom. Like the Elephant Man, I often feel like saying, "I am a Christian and a Human Being, I am not an Evangelical!" The other pet peeve of mine is when myth is equated with fairy tales or fiction. Myth is neither. The function of myth is to illustrate universal truth, not lies or tall tales. I'm dusting off my post-modern Joseph Campbell. 

 I don't expect either of you to change your mind about Dylan's music of faith.  He remains very quietly a Messianic Jew with much more wisdom than the first miles of his spiritual highway. What he moved through contributed to who he is today. Without this period, there would not have been Oh Mercy, Time Out of Mind or Love and Theft. The Tom Petty/Dylan tour was heavily influenced by the gospel sound he developed. He kept playing the great, "In the Garden," declaring Jesus as his hero-see the film Hard to Handle in 1986. This was long after the gospel era. 

A few months back during a long lunch with Peter Himmelman (Bob's son-in-law-but you knew that!), it became clear that Dylan has covered his family in the Judaism of childhood. From the impression Himmelman left with me, he is a good father and grandfather. 

Sorry, this is so long. It stirred up a lot of stuff in me. I don’t have much of a forum on ND anymore…most submissions go ignored….I posted a Tom Petty tribute for his birthday and it’s still gathering dust.  So, it's nice to interact with folks again. And you both have always given me good feedback. Thank you for that! And I mean no disrespect to you and our diversity of opinion here. I just thought it would be good to put down my thoughts. We can certainly agree to disagree and keep listening to Bob with gratitude that he is still with us.

Thank you both-if you've read this far- and thank you, Anne, for your fine article. 

If you took that much time to write that much Terry, it obviously meant a lot to you...and thoughtful commentary it was...

One of my favorite artists is Bill Mallonnee who is as Christian as they come...real Christianity I have no problem's a really long story that I won't go into here...but thanks for taking the time to write and I am happy that your faith has seen you through the years...

Hi Jim,  Thank you for your response. I'm you see beyond the evangelical rubble. Especially today.  It appears that religion touches a nerve in so many. You put it succinctly in the term, 'real Christianity.'   So did Dennis with the idea that people of real faith accept and embrace others as they are. My priest always says before giving me communion, "God loves you just the way you are."   From the first time he said he was dubbed, "Father Billy Joel."  I'd love to hear your long story sometime.   

Thanks Terry for your very articulate and intersting response. I actually agree with you which might surprise you given my earlier diatribe. I have an older sister who is a Christian much like you who moved on from a sort of mild fundamentalism of our church to the enlightened Christian she is today and she always says people come to God in their own way. Her partner, who came from a Catholic background is the same--just a loving person who likes to help people. When I said my being "saved" polluted me I meant that besides feeling intellectually stunted it also made me less tolerant of what I think of as psuedo-Christians which are finger-pointing moralists who claim anyone who doesn't believe like they do are evil. And that is the kind of Christian Dylan came across in "Slow Train" and it really made me sick. He's obviously evolved beyond that mindset and I assumed he was still some sort of believer but since he stopped condemning we skeptics with such judgmental songs I have no problem with him now but still do "hate" that period of his music. And when I say hate, I mean it in the sense that Dylan did in a song where he said you shouldn't hate anything but hate, even though I know he said that to be ironic and it was presumably a sort  of dig at liberal dogma but I still think there is some truth in the statement. Also, ironically, I seem to be drawn to musicians who do seem to  hold to Christian teachings like Van Morrison, Peter Case, Tonio K., Bruce Cockburn and T-Bone Burnett but they seldom preach or condemn skeptics and I don't like songs where they do. I found your comments about how such artists felt more free to express these beliefs after Dylan's example as very astute. Finally, I feel for you, my sister and all the other Christians like you who are embarrassd and ashamed by how evangelicals use Christianity to justify their bigotry. It must be very frustrating how we non-believers equate Christianity to them simply because they are the most vocal and political and influential in ways that make for an uglier world.

I should also admit the two Christian albums after "Slow Train" are the only studio released albums by him I don't have (except for his recent Sinatra ones which I've eschewed after disliking the first one) so I don't know those songs at all because I knew I couldn't relate to them. But I do like "Man Gave Names to All the Animals" which I heard on Tim O'Brien's wonderful Dylan tribute album "Red on Blond" because that song is just a fun childrens' song. I can also appreciate "Every Grain of Sand" because it doesn't condemn. I've read Joseph Canpbell too and recognize the importance of myth but that feeds my skepticism about Christianity rather than convinces me of its monopoly on truth.  I just can't read many of these Bible stories as an adult and not shake my head that adults can believe them literally so they are like fairy tales to me. I assume you don't believe a lot of them literally either.

At least Christianity has the aura of antiquity Dennis. What about Joseph Smith with his magic googley glasses and his make-believe tablets? And having said that two of the nicest people I've known followed his teachings. One calls himself a fallen Mormon and now brews beer. The other still believes. And neither ever tried to convert me perhaps intuitively knowing I was a lost cause.

That's true Mr. Clown and the Bible is a remarkable human document--I just can't believe it's the word of God. I'm much like the Bible scholar Bart D. Ehrman, author of about 30 books including "Misquoting Jesus." He began as a born-again fundamentalist Christian convinced the Bible was a holy book and decided to study it as a career. But precisely from that study and how it came to be written, edited, censored and changed he is now convinced it is a work of man, not God, and for 15 years became a liberal Christian like my sister and I assume Terry. But now Mr. Ehrman has moved on to being an agnostic atheist which is a pretty good description of my evolution--I just skipped the liberal Christian part. Although as a young hippie I saw myself as a secular Christian in that I believed the pacifist preachings of the New Testament without the dogma and even became a C.O. during the Vietnam war based on that.

What do you get when you cross an atheist with an agnostic dyslexic? Someone who doesn’t care if there’s a dog.

Funny and imaginative!

I love dogs.  That is quite hilarious...


If Jesus came back and saw what's going on in his name, he'd never stop throwing up - Frederick, "Hannah and her Sisters"    

"We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we must respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart."   H L  Mencken

As you know Rudyjeep, Mencken is my go to...but Woody Allen works too!


Yeah myth, many of the stories of the Bible have deeper meaning. Taking them as historical fact leads down a rabbit hole that causes the stories to lose their power and truth. Thank you for your response. You spoke with true empathy about the frustrations i and others feel about the stupidity of evangelicals. I love all of the artists you mentioned....i love Cockburn especially..

"Father Billy Joel"...I love that..

You will get my long story sometime Terry...I won't post it here but I know of other ways to get a message to you (I am suddenly hearing an old Bee Gees song in my head...what's up with that?).  As for you not getting much space here anymore, I always enjoyed the things you posted and share a passion for many of the same artists you I'll concur with Mr. Mutt on his sentiments.  

The Evangelicals have affected the politics in my neck of the woods in a most negative way, and they are for the most part a highly intolerant people who would create a church state tomorrow if they could and likely we'd have "Salem Witch Trials, the Sequel" that's a nerve for me, but I count at least 3 ministers in my circle of close friends...I just went with two of them to see Radney Foster weekend before I definitely hang out with people I know are faithful Christians, and I know what that looks like, and they share a lot of my opinions about the difference between what is real and what is not where faith is concerned...I'll leave it at that for now...

Fr. Billy Joel, hilarious.  The joke in my family for years has been that during my teens I went to St. Bob Evans every Sunday.  

What’s next, a collection of just the bass tracks from each Dylan record?  Man, this is for advanced placement Dylan completists!


Far be it from me to try and parse anything Terry (or Timmy, or Bobby or Zimmy or R.J. or Ray) has ever done or sang but maybe those years weren’t a “phase”, his “Christian” period or even a true belief but someone trying on a new persona the way a teenage girl changes her hair color.    Would anyone put that beyond Mr. Zimmerman, the self proclaimed “song and dance man”?   After all, is he a “Jokerman” or as Don Mclean called him “the Jester”?  Or maybe Doonsbury was on to something when he had him telling Jimmy Thudpucker that he was just trying to make it rhyme.  

Dylan is unknowable and wants to remain that way.   But then again, what do I know?   I’m only into him because his songs “have a good beat and are easy to dance to”.     

It's probably unfair but I sort of took it that way too when he did those it maybe wasn't sincere...Bob is an enigma...and embraces that, always has...and he's been successful at it, we really don't know...Terry has made the case here that the way he's conducted himself with family etc., would suggest it was more than trying on a new hat...could be that is true.


In many ways Dylan's "Christian phase" was very typical Dylan. He's always had a love/hate relationship with fans and always keeps us guessing and refuses to do what's expected of him. What could be more surprising than such an iconoclastic artist suddenly turning Christian and preaching like an evangelist? Plus he rose to fame as a finger-pointing writer but it was political to begin with. Then he upset some fans by abandoning that for songs about love and relationships. The Christian songs got back to finger-pointing and it could be argued that we who booed him for this were no better than the folk purists who booed him for going electric. But I would argue there was a big difference. When he went electric he was following his muse and exploring the rock music he loved in his youth but imbued it with the provocative poetry he had learned from studying folk music, the blues and beat poets and their idols like Rimbaud. To me his Christian period wasn't so much following his muse as being brain-washed by Jesus freaks at a time when he was vulnerable from depression about that phase of his life. What better way to rid himself of all his hangers-on than to embrace a belief system that had to shock and depress them. I've read that he became disillusioned about that narrow version of Christianity and distanced himself from those who converted him and then evolved into the more spiritual/mystical form of belief he now seems to embrace. But like many of you have said, who really knows. We're all just advancing theories.

I do think it has to be admitted though that just as he revolutionized rock with his Rimbaud/Muddy Waters hybrid he also revolutionized gospel music with those three albums. I don't think there were many churches with rock bands performing in them before that and now it's rather common not to mention the whole Christian music genre.

This conversation reminds me of the time I saw Stryper at         

Creation Festival.

Somehow I doubt you would either go to see Stryper or attend this festival you clown. I had heard of neither of them but all I can say is, "What has Dylan wrought?" As one who detests heavy metal and eschews gospel I can't think of a worse band or festival.

Damn autocorrect! You are correct Dennis.

This conversation reminds me of the time I saw Stryper at         

Creation Festival should have read "This conversation reminds me of the time I saw strippers at Coachella."

Apologies to all.

Didn’t Stryper have a hit with Raise A Little Hell?

That's Trooper - Canadian Band.   They are a staple on Canadian Rock stations.      

My buddy just got me 2nd row for Dylan and Mavis Staples at Shea's in Buffalo.   Dylan has never hit it out of the park for me live and I told my friend I would only go if I was in the first 5 rows.    As my wife reminded me after Petty died though, you never know when it be their last tour and Shea’s is a smaller venue than the amphitheatres and baseball stadiums he's been playing the last few years.   Maybe he’ll look up from his piano this time.    

Plus, when Mavis sings 99 and ½, she puts this faithless boy on his knees.     I always thought she was better served by Ry Cooder than Tweedy.     


Uma, Oprah, Stryper, Trooper. Right church, wrong pew I guess. Fun song though. 

I’ve only seen Bob once, think it was a year or two after Love and Theft (great record ) came out. Had heard the stories and wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was a great show, he seemed spry and played guitar a couple of times but was mostly at the keyboard. Maybe playing rope a dope, I don’t know. Really enjoyed it. 

Wow, well hats off again to Anne for her elegant (as usual) piece, to Terry for taking the risk of putting himself out there there, and to the other commenters.

If nothing else (and if so, that would be no small achievement), it seems to have revived the almost dormant practice of ND calls and responses, something I hope can be revived and continued in the future.

Me, I'm against labeling anyone, including evangelicals (who include Jimmy Carter, someone I don't always agree with, but respect). Everyone has to walk their own road, as Terry says. That, to me, has always been Bob's "message'' - a word he understandably hates - too. He's more of a vessel, though a highly visible one, for all kinds of unfathomable reasons. Thanks to all, and for the lovely Mavis clip, too.

Here' s  to tolerance, and ecumenical acceptance of each others' point of view. (And Terry, I will check out that Tom Petty piece; as mentioned, things have tended to get lost in the shuffle on this site, but I'm sure it's up to your usual stnndard of faithful witness bearing to the power of song and sound.)

(and, in conclusion, I'd like to thank God - and Jerry Wexler).

Great comments from everybody. I started as a Vedantist in college, then after backsliding into alcoholic drinking got sober and stayed that way. Thirty years on after marrying a Spiritualist, I've evolved into a twelve step Deist who has no idea who or what God is, but knows his name isn't Chris. I can view all phases of Dylan's career with a somewhat fresh eye and appreciate Slow Train Coming as a well-made gospel project, and the rest of the gospel period second to third rate white gospel except for "Every Grain Of Sand," which is one of the best spiritual songs Dylan's ever written, of a piece with "I Shall Be Released" and "Death Is Not The End." The latter I've played at Spiritualist services, the other two I've played as accompanist at the Unity Church I attended until it closed a few years ago. Dylan did those three albums for the same reason Lou Reed did Metal Machine Music, partly out of bloodymindedness, partly to show he could do it, and partly because gospel was a part of his formative consciousness, as much as blues, country, rock and roll, folk music, even Glenn Miller. Since then there has always been a spiritual undercurrent to his work, which was intermittent in his earlier material. The closest earlier precursor might be The Basement Tapes and the unreleased Dylan/Cash sessions.

thank you Christopher. Astute observations. It's good that you've included "Death is not the End."  And how gospel is one of the streams that has formed his work for many years. I'd only disagree with the oversimplification of the second and third gospel albums. I'm not sure that Shot of Love is even a gospel effort. But, I'd give very high marks to In the Garden, What Can I Do For You and Saving Grace...and the rockers on Shot of Love are often swept aside because of lyrical content. But, the title track and Dead Man, Dead Man are great rockers.....Bride was well..thanks! tr

I've read that Lou Reed released Metal Machine Music as a "f*ck you" to the record label to fulfill a contractual obligation.  I'm not sure who Dylan was flipping off.


Lou said in the liner notes that he had "invented heavy metal" and that the record was the "ultimate conclusion" of that genre...supposedly it was influenced by the drone music of The Theater of Eternal Music...John Cale and Angus Maclise who were in Velvet Underground were also in that ensemble...I still personally think Lou was middle fingering RCA, and that's what Lester Bangs, who knew him pretty well, thought too (as a matter of fact that is exactly what Lester wrote: "as a giant F*%^&$ you it shows integrity"), so there you go Mr. Mutt...but whatever...not sure I see the connection to that and Dylan's "faith" records, but since neither Dylan or Reed would open up on the topic, I'd not argue against it either...

I'm sure Dylan had some gospel influences as many of our great artists do, and maybe the Basement Tapes or Cash/Dylan is an earlier reference...many of my favorite artists have some of that influence (someone like Van Morrison is overt at times, while someone like Jackson Browne makes more opaque references, such as "Let creation reveal it's secrets by and by, when the light that's lost within us reaches the sky" from "Before the Deluge", a song rich with religious and apocalyptic imagery)...and just as a musical experience alone, RudyJeep's Mavis Staples reference will/should get you going regardless of your belief will the Mighty Clouds of Joy, Rev. Al Green, the Clara Ward Singers, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Mahalia Jackson, Andre Crouch, etc...

My copy of Lester Bangs Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung includes his Metal Machine Music article with that exact quote. Dylan himself in Chronicles vol. 1 refers to his "born again" period as his effort to thumb his nose at EVERYBODY who had him pegged as whatever they thought he was. This enabled him to start over fresh, the 80's were Dylan figuring out in public who Robert Zimmerman was and how he can present his art to the world, which was why he kept trying new producers, new people to play with. What worked he stuck with, which was The Heartbreakers, Travelling Willburys, Oh Mercy, and especially Time Out Of Mind. He's been mostly on a roll since, though I have mixed feelings about the Christmas album and standards albums. Nonetheless, Dylan's been marching to the beat of his own drummer lately, his longevity has earned him the right to.

Where in Chronicles V1. does the quote by Dylan appear in reference to the Christian albums?