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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Bob Dylan & Neil Young: "Helpless", 1975 Radio Broadcast



Here's Bob Dylan & Neil Young on "Helpless" and what has come to be known as "Knockin' on the Dragon's Door" from a 1975 radio broadcast of a benefit concert in San Francisco, CA.

Unfortunately, Dylan is all but inaudible on "Helpless", as the radio announcers comment on after tracks complete.

Bill Graham created the SNACK Benefit concert in 1975 at Kezar Stadium. When Bill learned a budget cut was about to put an end to all extracurricular activities in San Francisco public schools, he persuaded the city to let him put on a benefit he called SNACK -- an acronym for "San Francisco Needs Athletics, Culture, and Kicks."

On March 23rd, 1975, fifty thousand people filled Kezar Stadium to watch The Grateful Dead, Graham Central Station, Bob Dylan and the Band, Jefferson Starship, Tower of Power, the Doobie Brothers, Santana, Mimi Farina, and Neil Young perform. Featured speakers at the event included Marlon Brando, Joan Baez, and Willie Mays. The concert raised enough money to fund after-school programs in San Francisco schools for another year.

Although Bill had been doing benefits ever since he had first opened the Fillmore, SNACK was the first big rock benefit concert in history (*see comment below). By using the drawing power of artists who were willing to contribute their services for a worthy cause, Bill had discovered a way to use rock "to solve a social problem." His willingness to invest his time and energy in projects from which neither he nor his company earned any money would in time make him the go-to guy in rock for anyone with a worthy cause.

From Wolfgang's Vault:
The highlight of the set comes next, when the band plays together on Young's classic ballad "Helpless." On this number the loose circumstances actually work in the song's favor and it sounds quite good with these musicians. As "Helpless" is coming to a close, the group continues playing, and the song flows very naturally into Dylan's "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" - an inspired pairing. It's a unique version lyrically as well, as Dylan improvises lyrics and changes the chorus to "Knockin On The Dragon's Door," a change that's significance is open to speculation.

From The 6149:
This show has "Legend" status for one key reason: the Bob Dylan / Neil Young paring. If those students needed their kicks, they got 'em that day.

Neil and two of the Stray Gators (Ben Keith R.I.P and Tim Drummond) teamed up with Bob and the Band for a ramshackle rumbling through a selections of stellar songs. We get some Band songs, we get a handful of Neil songs, Bob songs, a couple cover songs and then we get a crazy off--the-cuff concoction of classic and combustion: "Knocking on Heaven's Door".

This was no ordinary version of "Knockin'". No, this was a spur of the moment, wing-it, striking sparks sing-a-long. First of all, they don't just start the song, they conjure it up off of the back end of Neil's "Helpless". Yeah...Helpless right into Knocking on Heaven's door. Whew.

These two songs tower above in the respective collections of hits, misfires and experimental musings from these two champions. This is a Haley's Comet union. It is unique that these songs show up in a setlist segue; it is even more impossible that they are performed live, together, by their masters. The playing is not perfect, but would you want it to be? No, you want surprise and shock and awe and a "moment". Well folks, you get that and more.

The craziest thing about this pairing is the version of "Kockin'". Bob goes all William Burroughs on us with a completely new set of obscure and indecipherable lyrics. Well, not all of the new lyrics are indecipherable...we know that they don't knock on heaven's door, rather they are knock, knock, knockin' on the Dragon's Door. WTF? Who/what is the dragon? Where is it's door? Are they singing about Richard Manuel?

Thanks Scott!

neil_bob_eric
Bob Dylan, Neil Young & Eric Clapton
Madison Square Garden, New York City - 1992


More on the story of Bob Dylan and Neil Young.

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6 Comments:

At 8/16/2011 09:26:00 AM, Blogger Matthew Lintzenich said...

This is beautiful!! How come I never heard this before? The version of Helpless is much better than the one on The Last Waltz, and segue into Knockin' is beautiful.

There's some great drama between the instruments in this too - the slide guitar and Neil's harp and the keys are in wonderful communication with each other.

And just as the songs are changing there's a really interesting chord someone keeps throwing in that creates a nice emotive change in the chord structure and sets the stage for the segue. Very cool.

I wonder if any Dylan fanatic has sat down and spent 10 hours painstakingly attempting to decipher these mysterious "new" lyrics to Knockin' on Heaven's Door? It'd be interesting to read 'em.

 
At 8/16/2011 09:34:00 AM, Blogger Thrasher said...

Thanks Matthew! Good to see you again.

It is an interesting broadcast that has been in circulation since '75. But we think a better copy surfaced in Wolfgang's vault a few years ago.

We had never heard the radio broadcast commentary before... just the music.

But too bad Bob's vocals were not captured on Helpless.

And the Dragon's Door thing is apparently still a big mystery for Dylan fans. Lyrics still undeciphered some 30+ years.

 
At 8/16/2011 01:14:00 PM, Anonymous MDB - Just a Loser said...

Fantastic! So THIS is 'The Last Waltz' with Ben Keith on the pedal. He probably should have been there instead of Robbie Robertson in coked-out prima donna mode.

 
At 8/16/2011 02:38:00 PM, Anonymous Gus Mozart said...

Bill Graham helped to produce countless benefits for many worthy
causes in his time, and I still thank him for his efforts.

However, to say that "SNACK was the first big rock benefit in history" is absolutely, undisputably 100% wrong.

Perhaps you've heard of The Concert For Bangladesh? George Harrison's mega-concert at Madison Square Garden in August of 1971 (4 years prior to SNACK) is generally regarded as the first large-scale benefit concert.

Another fact not mentioned is that the day after the concert, the SF School District discovered a major accounting error, and that they actually did have the money to fund the sports and music programs after all. Graham gave them the money anyway.

I was lucky to attend this show, and what a day it was. So many great performances. The show kicked of with the great Tito Puente and his band, a favourite of Graham's (he had flown them in from New York City on his own dime). The Dead playing their first show since their "retirement" the previous fall (the were billed as "Jerry Garcia & friends"). The Jefferson Starship, who were just breaking big nationally. And a gorgeous, sun-drenched day in the Park. It was just about exactly perfect.

 
At 8/16/2011 05:53:00 PM, Blogger terryfunku said...

I have two versions of this concert. I'll have to go check if my sources have commentary. Helluva show. There are a few pictures floating around of them on stage together, looking like two jamming gypsies.

My best theory is that the "Dragon" reference is some kind of heroin reference. Both musicians' bands were affected deeply by heroin abuse at one point. It may also be a tip of the hat to "The Needle and the Damage Done" with it's "knocking on my cellar door" line. It makes sense.

A lot of interesting stuff can develop from a soundcheck. With these two gurus soundchecking, possibly together, anything is possible.

 
At 8/16/2011 06:01:00 PM, Blogger Thrasher said...

Thanks Gus for observation. Bangladesh was definitely a landmark concert. Made a note above.

@terryfunku: Interesting about dragon being slang for heroin. Maybe so?

Let us know what you find out.

 

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