Thursday, May 1, 2014

A Visit with John Bushey, Host of Highway 61 Revisited

I've been a regular listener to John Bushey's Dylan-themed radio show, Highway 61 Revisited, for possibly more than a dozen years. I generally schedule my Saturday around it so I catch the show while painting or working, but if I miss I know I can always pick it up again during drive time on my Monday commute.

What separates his show from the herd is the vast well of material he has collected to draw from. When I visited his home last winter he was doing what must be a never ending task, listening to these recordings and cataloging their contents, rating them for sound quality and identifying especially rich material for his listeners. In other words, he is organizing his personal and ever-expanding "Library of Dylan."

In addition to his passion for Dylan he is also a professional magician who has performed from coast to coast. In the pro ranks he counts Harry Blackstone Jr. among his friends. He is not only a collector of Dylan recordings but also Houdini memorabilia.

Because of his skills as a magician Magic Marc Percansky, the promoter behind our May 17 mega-event A Salute to the Music of Bob Dylan, has tapped John to perform during part of the evening. Magicians often depend on misdirection to accomplish their most inspired feats. So, too, does a multi-performer showcase utilize re-direction between set changes in order to keep the audience engaged. It's an event I've been looking forward to for months.

One of the highlights of Highway 61 Revisited is his tireless efforts to obtain and share rare tracks from obscure sources and rare interviews with Mr. Dylan himself. Here's my interview with John Bushey.

EN: What has been your motivation for producing Highway 61?
John Bushey: Everything I've gotten into in my life I've done with great passion, and a wish to share it with others; the life of Houdini, magic performance, the Beatles, the Monkees, and of course Dylan. When John Ziegler of KUMD asked me to produce a show on Dylan I was hesitant and agreed to provide the material, but didn't want to do the show. John was persistent, and I finally agreed. I never in my wildest dreams thought I'd be doing it 5 years from Oct of 1991 (first show), let alone almost 22 years later. Few performers would warrant and have the body of work to provide material for 22 years of a radio show. Dylan is definitely one of those composers, musicians, poets, and performers. I guess my motivation is simply to share something I personally enjoy with others who care to listen.

EN: How has the show evolved over the years?
JB: The main way the show has evolved over the years would be the quality of outtakes and live performances I play. With the digital age people take rare performances and "clean them up" and improve the listening enjoyment. When you are recorded on a reel to reel tape or cassette tape in 1961 in a hotel room, the quality of the recording, especially a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th generation copy, is not that impressive.

Now those early recordings have been cleaned up and sound great. I still do the show as I did in the beginning; with as little production and editing as possible. I go in, often with a set of songs or albums and no real plan. It's like art, or a painting, as I try to create something that feels good to me. Sometimes, I have a theme or idea and gather material that fits into that theme. Sometimes, I go in with no plan at all. The other way the show has evolved is I started on reel to reel, and then went to DAT.

Finally, I went digital. I used cassettes and albums to start, and now use CD's, with the occasional old scarce album. We no longer even have cassette decks at KUMD.

EN: What have you learned about yourself through doing this program?
Bushey meets Gene LaFond in Hibbing, 2009
JB: That is a great question, and one which I unfortunately have no good answer. I've continued to listen to Dylan music all these years, read books about him and his music, and continue to learn what I can. I guess I've learned I am a lifelong learner.

When it comes to things like lyric analysis, I have learned that Dylan's music means what it means to the listener. I don't necessarily agree with a lot of the lyric analysis out there, but do find it interesting to read. Dylan's music instills feelings and thought in me like a piece of artwork does to those who view it. I guess that, more than anything else, is what I've learned. I used to read about the meaning of Dylan's lyrics as though the writer understood more than I did, but now I no longer really care what they say about his lyrics. I enjoy his music, and lyrics, and they mean what they mean to me. John Lennon once said, "You don't have to hear what Bob says, you just have to hear the way he says it". At least that is the way I remember the quote. I think it's so true.

EN: What have been your 2 or 3 biggest moments?
JB: I will tell you one of them, but the others are private to me and involve people or events I don't wish to talk about. One of the best moments involved John Ziegler, who got me started creating the show. John, who listened to my 4th or 5th show, called me to tell me something I played on the show was one of the best moments he'd heard on KUMD programming; it was the year the Bootleg Series first came out and I was talking about the way Dylan records. Rumors and stories were that Dylan would use the first take he'd get through, and I played the "waltzy" version of Like a Rolling Stone from the Bootleg Series Vol. 1 and faded into the released version. John thought it was a great bit and really enjoyed it. There have been many, many kind and sincere emails, letters, and people I've met that have heard the show. Many of them are special to me as well.

EN: The show is a major commitment. How long will you continue to produce it?
JB: I will do the show as long as I feel I have fresh material, ideas, and the passion to continue. Or, as long as KUMD would like to continue the show. Or, until people stop calling in during the fund drives. It does have to pay for itself to warrant keeping it going, and I thank every listener who has called in.

EN: Do you have a favorite Dylan album?
JB: As I discussed with Marc Percansky of the Twin Cities, who shares a favorite album with you Ed (Street Legal), I cannot name one. It truly depends on the mood I'm in, or what day or hour I decide to listen to music. I can say that I'm fond of Blood on the Tracks, Desire, Modern Times, Tempest, Blonde on Blonde, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, Hard Rain; I think you get the idea--there are a lot of them. Each album captures a moment in time, and I think Dylan's albums are merely a starting point for him as well. He writes them, records them, and then continually plays with them in concert. One of my favorite Dylan quotes is from the film No Direction Home, in which Dylan says, "An artist has to constantly be in the state of becoming," or something to that effect. While I enjoy most of his albums I really enjoy what he does with the songs in live shows. To me, Dylan is one of the best live performers out there.

EdNote: This blog entry and others like it have the aim of raising awareness for the upcoming Salute to the Music of Bob Dylan concert which will kick off the 2014 North Country Dylan Celebration in Duluth and Hibbing. Sacred Heart Music Center, May 17, 2014. For tickets to this great event visit

If you wish to help, visit the Salute Facebook page and share with your friends by clicking the Invite button. 

A Salute to the Music of Bob Dylan is a presentation of the Armory Arts and Music Center and Magic Marc Productions.

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