He’d come in with a rolled-up bundle of paper, lyrics he was working on. Always making changes and additions and subtractions.He’d go over to where we had the coffee machine, start scribbling, fixing up lines, and then he’d say, ‘Okay, let’s go.’” Mason Ruffner, guitarist: “Bob was doodling a lot with the lyrics. An elephant could’ve walked in and he wouldn’t have seen it.
I only wanna hear stuff done at night.’ He had this night rule.” Daniel Lanois, producer: “Bob had a rule, we only recorded at night.
I think he’s right about that: the body is ready to accommodate a certain tempo at nighttime.
Malcolm Burn, engineer: “In the weeks before recording, I kept asking Dan [Lanois], ‘Have you heard from Bob? ’ Then, a week before we were due to start, we received a cassette from Bob. Bob said several times that phrasing was everything. Those are the guys.’” Mark Howard, engineer: “When we started, because Dylan and Lanois didn’t have a working relationship, there was about two weeks of finding the ground. Dylan was being a bit snotty, and Dan has this ability to be over-excited.
I thought, ‘Great, we’re going hear some songs.’ There was this little note: ‘This’ll give you a good idea.’ Dan and Mark Howard and I sat down to listen – and this Al Jolson music started. And he said, ‘My two favourite singers are Frank Sinatra and Al Jolson.’ And I thought, wow, now I get it. That’s how Dan likes to work at times: he hypes people on their performances, and that makes them excited, too. Bob was just strumming, sloppily playing, and Dan was politely putting up with it. He’d say, ‘We did this mix this afternoon…’ Dylan would cut in, ‘I don’t even wanna hear it.
I think it’s something to do with the pushing and pulling of the moon. From then on, Dylan was just really pleasant to work with.” Lanois: “I operate with Bob the same way I always operate.
At nighttime we’re ready to be more mysterious and dark. I’m totally committed and I try and look out for the best expression, the best performance.
Oh Mercy’s about that.” Howard: “Those first weeks, everything we did, he wouldn’t accept it. I’m completely honest and clear about what I think is the best.
But there came this one point when Dan finally had a freakout. And if anything gets in the way of that, then they’re gonna have to deal with The Lanois.” Burn: “Bob would show up every night about nine, and we’d work into the early hours.
“Have I ever played any song twice exactly the same? I don’t do that.” In this week’s very special archive feature (from November 2008, Take 138), Uncut talks to the musicians, producers and crew who have worked with him from 1989 to 2006, where an unprecedented glimpse of the real Dylan emerges – a genius who works at night, makes producers smash guitars in frustration, obsesses over Al Jolson, and never, ever repeats himself.
Then, Allan Jones reviews the lost songs and radical revisions of 2008’s Tell Tale Signs, the astonishing 3CD collection of unreleased Dylan material taken from the past 20 years – a vital part of the Dylan canon…
His concentration is unbelievable.” Howard: “He would always be working on his lyrics.