Thursday, June 16, 2016

Throwback Thursday: Gene LaFond Shares Memories of Dylan

The Basement Tapes -- Great White Wonder Concert in May
This year's Duluth Dylan Fest produced many great memories for all who were involved. Friends and fans came from all over to be here. But there was also an awareness that some are now missing. This past year we lost Billy Hallquist, a good friend of the Minnesota music scene. Along with Magic Marc Percansky, Billy was at the heart of the Guitars for Vets free concerts in the Twin Cities these past many years. He was also the "conductor" who orchestrated the Armory fund-and-awareness raising concerts that have been a staple of Duluth Dylan Fest.

For 2016 Gene LaFond was tapped for these duties, to manage the selection of musicians, organize concert details and maintain communications to produce a great event. With Amy Grillo at his side, they not only pulled off a concert, they produced a truly great concert in the Sacred Heart, one that sent electricity through the crowd and at times brought them to their feet.

Getting to know Gene and Amy these past four years has been rewarding. He has a lot of stories, and a great love of music. What follows is my first interview with Gene in the weeks leading up to Duluth Dylan Fest when the concert on behalf of the Historic Armory kicked off the week rather than serving as its exclamation point.

LaFond and Grillo have now taken up residence on Lake Superior's North Shore and have been performing more extensively here in the Northland. You can Like them on Facebook and catch wind of their next scheduled "tour"....

Thanks, Gene, for bringing it all back home...

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On May 18 (2012) the Armory Arts & Music Center is hosting a benefit concert to raise money and awareness for the renovation of the Duluth Armory. Scarlet Rivera, who recorded with Dylan in 1975 and traversed the land with the Rolling Thunder Revue, will be on stage with Gene LaFond and the Wild Unknown.

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.

Read more...  

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This summer, Scarlet Rivera is returning once more to the Northland for a special concert with Eric Anderson called Rolling Thunder Reunion. Tickets available here. Tickets also available at Electric Fetus in Duluth and Minneapolis.

Happy 81st birthday to artist Jim Dine. The secret to long life is... keep having more birthdays!

Don't forget tonight's events at the DAI. (Duluth Art Institute)  There is a cool exhibit winding up at the Dayton Art Institute (DAI) this month, too. Check it out.

Meantime, art goes on all around you. And some great music, too. 

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