The Rolling Thunder Revue originally wasn't even going to be a tour! Dylan was selecting musicians that sometimes he was just pick up off the streets, but at the time they were just to be featured on his nearly-finished album, Desire (Which I have also written an album about.) Many of the people present at those first rehearsals describe it as one big jam session really, and nobody actually knew what was going on. Then, Dylan informed them that they were going on tour! For the most part the shows were exclusively in the Northeast, but some shows even stretched into canada!
(Ramblin') Jack Elliott
Howie Wyeth and
Allen Ginsberg (Poet) among others.
Other people were invited to come on the tour, such as Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith, but could not come for various reasons. Bruce's reason was that he could not be accompanied by his loyal E Street Band.
The First Leg (Fall of '75)
The first leg of the tour was by far the most praised and famous. It featured not only the gigantic backing band doing hyped-up versions of Dylan classics, but it also featured the former folk King and Queen, side by side again at last! That is, Dylan and Joan Baez would do a solo acoustic duet together during the concert, the first time they had performed together in years! Though this leg of the tour was small (only around thirty shows) it gained extensive media coverage because of all the stars involved. The tour also premiered many of the new songs from Dylans upcoming album Desire, so fans got a taste of songs that they had never even heard before! Usually shows would end with everyone (Sometimes even Bob's own mother!) onstage singing an acid-rock inspired rendition of Woody Guthrie's classic tune, "This Land is Your Land."
The Second Leg (Spring of '76)
This was the last leg of the tour and, to say the least, it sounded...drained. The shows did not have any of the media coverage that the first shows had and the band itself seemed like they weren't having as much "fun with it". Many people attribute this to the fact that the band had gotten used to the shows, and had gotten into a kind of routine. This removed the spontaneity of the first shows, so the shows were just flat-out not as exciting. Ticket sales began to plummet so eventually some shows were even cancelled, many times the venue would barely be even half full. A correspondent from Rolling Stone was quoted as saying that "The Rolling Thunder Revue, so joyful and electrifying in its first performances, had just plain run out of steam." In a sentence, she was right-on.
Renaldo and Clara
Ah, Renaldo and Clara...it was, in a word, strange. Very strange. It was created as being a film that showcased concert footage, fictional drama made up by members of the Revue, and people actually playing roles of other real people. For example, Ronnie Hawkins played "Bob Dylan," while Bob himself plays Renaldo. Clara is played by his then-wife Sara Dylan and Joan Baez played the aloof "Woman in White." Originally, the movie was nearly 4 hours long! This version was released in a few theaters around the U.S. Later on, there would be a two hour-long edited version that would be distributed. Reviews were terrible to say the most.
Eventually, in 2002, twenty-two songs from the '75 leg of the tour would be released in the form of an official Dylan "Bootleg Series" Vol. (Vol. 5 to be exact.) This two-disc live compilation had wonderful reviews from all critics, saying that the recordings really captured the energy that were in thoose first shows. I own the recordings myself and I advise any and all Bob Dylan fans to go out and make the buy!
~A Rolling Stone