|Geno on stage with Scarlet Rivera, bringing down the house.|
Gene himself has a long affiliation with all things Dylan, having been a friend of Bob Dylan’s high school pal Larry Kegan. Actually, the two of them sang together in a group they called the Merer Mortals. For a number of years Dylan began inviting Kegan, who had become a quadriplegic due to a neck injury, to join him on the road from time to time. Geno would go to assist Larry with his needs and had a rare inside look at the singer/songwriter/icon from Hibbing. Here are some stories from my visit with Geno (by phone) two weekends ago.
EN: What was your first meeting with Bob like?
Gene LaFond: I used to see him at The Scholar in Dinkytown when I was in high school. I didn’t know him then. He was still Bob Zimmerman at that time. Then I met him in 1975 on the Rolling Thunder tour with Larry. It was amazing to meet somebody that I’d idolized all that time and then to realize he’s just a human being. It was a real eye opener. And it gave me a lot of confidence that I could write songs, too. It was the start of my inspiration to write songs. I’d been playing for years but not really doing a lot of original stuff.
At that time, the whole Rolling Thunder tour was amazing. All those wonderful people, and I got to meet a lot of them; Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell, Scarlet and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot.
Over a period of fifteen years Larry and I got to go out and hang around with Bob on tour with him. Two or three times a year we’d go out and go from town to town. I got to meet all the different bands that he had over the years. It was quite incredible for me as a songwriter.
EN: Your first time, who did the introduction? Where were you and how did it happen?
GL: We were in Worcester, Massachusetts. We had just driven all night because Larry said, “Come on, we’re going on this Rolling Thunder tour.” We didn’t know what was going to happen or who it was. I mean, I knew it was Bob, but didn’t know what to expect. We were at the hotel where they were all staying and went down to breakfast and Alan Ginsburg was there. I sat down with him at breakfast. No one knew who we were and he says, “Who the hell are you?” I said, “Oh I’m just a house painter.”
Then Larry introduced me to him.
EN: How many people and rigs did they have for the Rolling Thunder Revue?
GL: I don’t think it was huge because people would come and go all the time. Like Kinky Friedman would show up for a few days and some other incredible musicians would show up for a few days. Ronnie Blakely, Joni Mitchell… He just had his core band and different people would show up. That’s where I met Ramblin’ Jack.
EN: What’s Ramblin’ Jack Elliott like?
GL: He’s just amazing. He’s like a living cartoon. You don’t dare ask him a question because he just goes on and on and on. That’s where he got his name Ramblin’ Jack.
He stayed here in my house last summer or the summer before for seven or eight days. He’d come from Chicago and just won a Grammy for an old blues album. So he took the train in and waited for his gigs to show up. We had a ball, went sailing, went trout fishing. He’s just a marvelous guy. He’s 78 and still performing. Lives in Marin County, California. I talk to him every once in a while.
Bob shows up every once in a while, too. I don’t know if you know Greg French, Nelson’s brother. He owns Bob’s house up in Hibbing. One time he was looking out the window and there was this car outside idling. He realized it was Bob, went out and said, “You’re welcome to come on in.” He gave him (Dylan) a tour of the house and he was very friendly about it. Jack and I got to go through it, too. Greg wasn’t home but said, “The door’s open. Go ahead and go in.” Jack sat down and played his piano.
EN: What was it like performing with Scarlet in Hibbing two years ago?
GL: To perform on that stage at the high school where Bob started… I got to sing all those songs with Scarlet playing violin… that was a thrill. We’ve played together several times since then.
GL: He was always good to me. I didn’t ask him for anything. I was there to help Larry and be support for him. We used to sing together. Larry couldn’t scratch his nose but he’d go out and sing for people. But Bob was always very kind to me. He could always tell when someone was trying to get something from him. He had great eyes for that.
EN: You guys played music together sometimes?
GL: There was one New Year’s Eve… he has a farm out here west of the Cities… and we went out there and he wanted us to bring Tony Glover and Spider John Koerner because he hadn’t seen them since college days, so we rustled those guys up and took them out there. We sat in a circle and talked and talked and talked about old times, and it was really fun. Then I got up the nerve to get my guitar out and we sat and played music till three in the morning. My feet didn’t touch the ground for days.