Cover Story Interview – Bob Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks”, with photography by Paul Till

blood-on-the-tracks.jpg

Copyright ©1975 and 2008 by Paul Till – All rights reserved

Subject: Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks, released in 1975 on Columbia Records, with cover photo by photographer Paul Till.

Back in April, I wrote about the making of the cover image for Bob Dylan’s Slow Train Coming. Shortly afterwards, I received a nice letter from Kevin Odegard, a writer-musician who had written a book titled A Simple Twist of Fate that provided the complete story of the making of another classic Dylan album – 1975’s Blood on the Tracks. It seems that there were a number of stories floating about concerning this recording, and Kevin’s book, which features interviews with many of the people who worked on the production (including Kevin), served to provide the details (and dispel the rumors) that had kept fans of this album guessing for years.

While I won’t spend a lot of time talking about the recording – I’d suggest that you track down Kevin’s book for an in-depth account – I can tell you that it seems that this album was the one where we “got to know” more – as best as we could determine from his songs’ lyrics, which can be a bit allegorical – about Dylan and his state of mind following the breakup of his marriage to his wife Sara.

Backed by an excellent studio band, Dylan’s songs of loneliness, anger and heartbreak all come together in a recording that, according to many critics and fans, represents one of the best in his long career. The double-platinum album reached #1 on Billboard’s pop charts in the U.S. (and #4 in the UK), while the single “Tangled Up in Blue” topped out at #31 on the Pop singles chart.

As it turns out, the making of the cover image also has an intriguing story, so to help create this unique Cover Story, I asked Kevin to provide some additional content (see the section following the main Cover Story interview) while I sought out and then interviewed the creator of the iconic cover image – Ontario, Canada-based photographer Paul Till – to learn his story about “the making of” that fascinating snapshot. The story is particularly interesting in that – in the days before Photoshop – it was the “art” of photography and experimental film processing that produced one-of-a-kind images like the one we’ll talk about today. Read on…and you’ll then know…the REST of the Cover Story…(my apologies to Paul Harvey!)

In the words of the photographer – Paul Till

I was 20 years old at the time, and had been doing photography for about three years and had been using a darkroom for a year and a half or so. I loved the darkroom and learning and using various darkroom techniques. I was also a big Bob Dylan fan, and so when the 1974 tour was announced, there was a mail-in “first-come first-served” process for getting tickets to his show at the Maple Leaf Gardens. I took my letter down to actual post office where their post office box was and ended up with quite good tickets. I was directly stage right a few seats from being obstructed by loudspeakers. I was relatively close to the stage, but not really close. I photographed the 2nd of Bob Dylan’s two concerts in – I think it was – January of 1974. I’d never photographed a concert before.

The camera I was using was a screw-mount Leica III which dated back to the 1930′s. It was my dad’s – he’d bought in London, England in 1945. I had a fast normal lens for it, but not a telephoto, so I borrowed a Canon 135 f3.5 lens from the father of a friend of my sister. Anyhow, I shot about a roll and half of 35mm Tri X – the standard 400 ASA film of the time – and tried to figure out the exposure. I pushed the film to about 1600ASA (ASA is the same as ISO. but that’s what it was called then). I don’t recall if I did the darkroom work to make the cover image in the Fall or Winter of 1974.

At the time, I was doing a lot of darkroom manipulation of photographs as well as hand-colouring them. I was very familiar with Bob Dylan’s music and I felt that the combination of darkroom technique and hand colouring echoed the old/new dichotomy of much of his work, as well as the notion that it echoed the (sometimes slapdash) off-handed power of his words and music.

Here’s how it was actually made – The negative was enlarged in the darkroom onto another piece of film in such a way that just Dylan’s head was on it. This would normally result in a positive image on the film which, if you printed it onto a piece of photo paper, would give you a negative print. However, I solarized this piece of film (that is, re-exposed it to light) as it was being developed. This partially reversed the image and also gave it the distinctive line between what was dark to start with and what has made dark by the solarization. Technically, this technique is actually called “the Sabbatier effect”, and the lines are called “Mackie lines”. This resulted in a quite dark and low-contrast piece of film to make a print from. I had to use the very high-contrast grade 6 Agfa Brovira paper to get a print with enough contrast.

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Copyright ©1975 and 2008 by Paul Till – All rights reserved

I made a bunch of these and hand-coloured them using Marshalls photographic watercolours (they are a dye that sinks right into the emulsion of the photographic paper). I do recall that I was selling 5X7 hand-coloured prints of the cover image and the entire image for $5.00 in the Fall.

In the fall of 1974 I sent Bob Dylan some of the photos. I sent in at least two images- the one that ended up on the cover and a hand coloured version of the entire image. I had gotten his office address out of Who’s Who. I hadn’t done any work for the label or act before, so the artist and management were completely unaware of what I had done. It’s my understanding the Bob Dylan saw the photo and thought that it was great, but I don’t know where that understanding came from. I really didn’t get any feedback about the image. I would have been pleased just to get a letter back!

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Copyright ©1975 and 2008 by Paul Till – All rights reserved

All of this photography was done as a ticket holder. I’ve seen Dylan in concert quite a few times since then but he’s been very restrictive about photography. Cameras are not allowed, and many times press photographers aren’t allowed as well. A year or so later I made a photograph at the Rolling Thunder Revue concert in Niagara Falls, New York that was then used on the cover of the Bob Dylan Songs 1966-1975 songbook (see below).

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Copyright ©1975 and 2008 by Paul Till – All rights reserved

I also photographed Bob Dylan in 1978 (from way, way, way back in the crowd), in 1979 (it was, I think, the “gospel tour”) where I got some good photographs and got as close as I ever got with a camera to Dylan, and then again 1981 (also from pretty far back, but it was a great concert.)

When I finally did hear Blood on the Tracks, I thought it was a great record and that the photo worked great with the music as well as the art direction of the cover. That being said, if I ever get a good seat again, I’ll probably put some tiny digital camera in my pocket and…

About the photographer, Paul Till (with an intro in his own words) –

After the Blood on the Tracks photos, I figured that I’d be a professional photographer. I went to community college and have been a photographer since then. I did a few record jackets in the 80′s – some people may have heard of the Canadian band “FM” as well as the electronic solo artist “Nash the Slash” – and I photographed some of the early Toronto punk scene. Since 1981, I’ve been a freelance photographer for Toronto’s Now magazine (www.nowtoronto.com) and these days shoot for them once a week – almost all live music. I’ve done a wide variety of commercial photographic work as well as having many photo shows with a variety of subjects and using many different techniques. My most recent show is “First 3 Songs (no flash)” which ran beginning in May (and probably through the summer) at Industrial Storm at 1099 Queen St West in Toronto. It features large prints of manipulated concert photographs, most of them combining multiple images, through physical collage or digital techniques.

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Copyright ©1975 and 2008 by Paul Till – All rights reserved

Personal Data

Born: June 17, 1953, London, England and immigrated to Canada in 1957

Education

Paul was educated at the University of Toronto and at Humber College in Toronto, where he received a diploma in Creative Photography in 1977 (he also has teaching credentials, teaching ESL classes and classes in photography/advanced darkroom techniques).

Photographic Specialties

Live concert photography, low light photography, infra red photography, photojournalism, location photography, photograms, panoramic photography, archival processing, black and white and colour printing, pinhole photography, and camera construction.

Selected Exhibitions

1 Person Shows
2008- First 3 Songs(no flash), Industrial Storm, Toronto
2007- Toronto Buildings Gardens and Statues, Industrial Storm, Toronto
2006 – North American Buildings, Gardens and Statues, Industrial Storm, Toronto.
2004 – Buildings, Gardens and Statues. South Hill Home, Toronto.
1999 – Paris Panoramas. See Gallery, Toronto.
1998 – Actual Photographs. Arcadia Gallery, Toronto.
1997 – Some Neat Stuff. Arcadia Gallery, Toronto.
1990 – Some Neat Stuff. Latcham Gallery, Stouffeville.
1985 – The Magic Show. Gallery 44, Toronto.
1983 – The Secret History of Aircraft. Cameravision Gallery, Los Angeles.
1983 – Photographs of Fantasy and Science Fiction. The Mecene Gallery, Toronto.
1983 – One More River to Cross, Boats and Monuments, Gallery 44, Toronto.
1982 – The Secret History of Aircraft. Sacks Gallery, Toronto.
1981 – new/gods/sing. The Print Finishing Gallery, Toronto.

Group Shows
2005- The Official Bob Dylan Exhibition, Proud Gallery, London, U.K.
2004 – Now and the 80s. Thomas Fisher Library, University of Toronto Archives, Toronto.
2003 – Toronto Grid Works. York Quay Gallery, Harbourfront, Toronto.
1996 – Now Photo Show, Ryerson Gallery, Toronto.
1994 – Toronto After Dark. The Market Gallery, Toronto.
1991 – Black and White and Still Blue. Community Gallery Habourfront, Toronto.
1990 – 10th Anniversary Exhibition, Gallery 44, Toronto.
1989 – 4 Canadian Photographers, Canon Gallery, Amsterdam
1985 – Living with Lead. Gallery 44, Toronto.

Collections
Paul’s works are featured in the collections of the Canada Council Art Bank, City of Toronto Archives, Forum Research Inc., the University of Toronto Archives, and in many private collections in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K.

To see more of Paul’s work, please visit his website at www.PaulTill.com

To see more Bob Dylan-related works in the RockPoP Gallery collection, please follow this link –

http://rockpopgallery.com/items/bob-dylan/list.htm

Extra bonus content from Kevin Odegard (from his book, A Simple Twist of Fate) -

In 1974 Bob Dylan wrote, recorded, reconsidered, and then re-recorded the best-selling studio album of his career. Blood on the Tracks was composed as Dylan’s twelve-year marriage began to unravel, and songs like “Tangled Up in Blue” and “Shelter from the Storm” have become templates for multidimensional, adult songs of love and loss. Yet the story behind the creation of this album has never been fully told; even the credits on the present-day album sleeve are inaccurate. Dylan recorded the album twice-once in New York City and again in Minneapolis, with a rag-tag gang of local musicians, quickly rewriting many of the songs in the process. For A Simple Twist of Fate, the authors have interviewed the musicians and producers, industry insiders, and others, creating an engaging chronicle of how one musician channeled his pain and confusion into great art.

The book has, since its publication in 2004, held up factually, and nothing has been challenged or singled out as inaccurate. Critically, it has been received as a book primarily for hardcore Dylan fans and musicians. My emphasis on technical aspects of the studio experience (microphone makes and placement, guitar types etc.) has been singled out as overly obsessive by pop and literary writers, and praised by trade and music journals. However, this information is exclusive to our book, and I am happy to accept that kind of hit. Andy’s analysis can be florid in places, overwrought in others, so that can be judged as “subjective”. The opinions and quotes by the musicians in the book have been praised by all involved; everyone in the book was quite happy to have been portrayed accurately. There have been inquiries about a theatrical adaptation for this reason.

Following the book’s publication, Bob made comments relating to the book – and Blood On The Tracks in particular – which hint that he may refute or rebut the autobiographical, ‘divorce’ theory we have put forth and supported in the book. Bob says ‘one album I made back then’ has been interpreted by others to be autobiographical, when it was actually inspired by and based on a series of Chekov plays. According to family sources, we will hear more about this when Chronicles II is published.

All of the members of the original Minneapolis studio band (Chris Weber, Bill Berg, Billy Peterson, Peter Ostroushko, Gregg Inhofer and myself), along with Eric Weissberg from the New York sessions, gathered on March 3, 2004 to play a sold-out concert at Minneapolis’ Pantages Theatre, “Blood On The Tracks Live.” This triggered a series of college and auditorium shows over the next two years, including induction of the Minneapolis band in the Minnesota Rock and Country Hall of Fame on May 23, 2005. We played “Dylan Days” in Bob’s hometown of Hibbing in July of 2006, and may reunite again in the future.

— Kevin

Copyright ©2004 and 2008 by Kevin Odegard – All rights reserved.

Kevin can be reached by email at kevinkodegard@gmail.com

His book can be purchased at http://www.hemingwaybookstore.com/index.html

Text copyright 2004 and 2008 Kevin Odegard – All rights reserved.

About Cover Stories – Our series of interviews will give you, the music and art fan, a look at “the making of” the illustrations, photographs and designs of many of the most-recognized and influential images that have served to package and promote your all-time-favorite recordings.

In each Cover Story, we’ll meet the artists, designers and photographers who produced these works of art and learn what motivated them, what processes they used, how they collaborated (or fought) with the musical acts, their management, their labels, etc. – all of the things that influenced the final product you saw then and still see today.

We hope that you enjoy these looks behind the scenes of the music-related art business and that you’ll share your stories with us and fellow fans about what role these works of art – and the music they covered – played in your lives.

All images featured in this Cover Story are Copyright 1974 and 2008, Paul Till – All rights reserved. Except as noted, all other text Copyright 2008 – Mike Goldstein & RockPoP Gallery (www.rockpopgallery.com) – All rights reserved.

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