Monday, January 2, 2017

Inside the KUMD Studios with John Bushey Producing the Last Highway 61 Revisited Show of 2016

Saturday I had an opportunity to be in the studio as John Bushey recorded his Bob Dylan-themed show Highway 61 Revisited. I had briefly been a guest on the show a couple times in the past, but this was my first time being present for a full production.

As many of you know John has now been producing this show for more than 25 years. For many people the hour-long program is a highlight of the week. Because of streaming media, the show has a following all around the world. Some of these long-distance-listeners have even made the trek to the Northland for Duluth Dylan Fest and previously Dylan Days in Hibbing.

KUMD's studios are downstairs in the Humanities Building at UMD. This being December 31, we nearly had the parking lot to ourselves as we entered the building from the rear. John carried with him a plastic bag of CDs to draw upon for this night's show. Not only did he bring the new 36 CD box set of all live performances from 1966, he also had the full set of outtakes from studio recordings of 1965 and 1966 released as The Cutting Edge bootleg, the defining period in Dylan's career.

Regular listeners to the show know that the host usually open with a song selection followed by his reassuring, "Good evening and welcome to Highway 61 Revisited." When we as listeners hear this opening we know all is well with the world. "Tonight we opened the show with 'Temporary Like Achilles'..." which was recorded for Blonde On Blonde.

John used to record the show on 'dis DAT machine.
After a few remarks John plays a trio of songs beginning with a pair from a May 20, 1966 concert, "4th Time Around" and "Baby Let Me Follow You Down", then "Tell Me, Mama" from Sydney Australia.

While the songs are playing we talk about the show, the technology that is second nature to him, and most frequently, the common interest that brought us together, Dylan. He's brought The Cutting Edge set in order to mix things up a little, performing Dylan contrasted with studio Dylan. He chooses to spin Take 6 of "She's Your Lover Now" from The Cutting Edge.

Halfway through the show John looks for a finds a cut from the Paris, France performance of May '66 in which Dylan spends more than four minutes tuning his guitar. John's uncertain whether this bit would be going too far for his listeners. You  may recall that this entire year was pock-marked with heated displeasure being hurled at the band due to Dylan's transformation from folk to electric. The concerts featured an acoustic set followed by an electric set, split by an intermission.

Clint Heylin wrote the liner notes for this latest box set which features many of the negative headlines from the newspapers of that time. "Bob Dylan: Is He A Smashed Idol?" and "Uproar at Dylan Concert" and "Dylan View on the Big Boo." John thought it interesting how most albums and books feature the positive reviews. Naturally, this period was historic in part because of Dylan's near enthusiasm for getting blistered with boos.

I myself was most eager to hear the cut from France, and prodded a bit in case John was reticent. He proceeded with the track which stretched to an eight minute version of "Most Likely You Go Your Way" with Bob holding interest throughout his struggle to get that tuning right. "My guitar is broken. Anyone have a guitar I can borrow?" Twang twang twang twang.... strum, toing, twang, wong wong, twang...

Making notes helps keep the tracks and facts accurate.
John next selected "Like A Rolling Stone" from the May 5 Dublin concert and concluded the program with one of our other faves, "Desolation Row" for an outro. As the songs roll, we chat a bit about the lyrics and about how no one ever wrote songs like this before.

Upon completing the recording, he still needs to give attention to the length. What he's got is nearly two minutes over the limit so he looks for the places where lingering applause can be cut here and there, or a small space of dead air. Finally, he equalizes all the sound across the hour and locks it in place for his five o'clock time slot. With everything set, we check out and head on our way.

The show airs at 5:00 p.m. on Saturdays, and re-airs Mondays in the same time slot. I'd often thought it would be fun being a fly on the wall during the production of Highway 61 Revisited since I'm usually listening at the other end.

Meantime, life goes on all around you.... Tune in when you can.

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