In the fall of 1975, Bob Dylan embarked on his "Rolling Thunder Revue" tour. It began modestly in New England, with Dylan, Joan Baez, Bob Neuwirth, Ramblin' Jack Elliot and their band hitting small halls in the northeast with only a day or two notice given to the public. Along the way it gathered outstanding critical acclaim and picked up the likes of Joni Mitchell and Roger McGuinn to fill out the bill.
By the time it reached Toronto, for shows December 1st and 2nd, the revue had gathered tremendous momentum and now was filling large arenas on a nightly basis. In Toronto they were booked into Maple Leaf Gardens. The shows were running between 4 and 5 hours. And make no mistake, despite the impressive roster of performers, this was Bob Dylan's show and his 3 sets were the bedrock of the program.
When they blew into Toronto, Dylan naturally wanted his good friend and Toronto resident, Gordon Lightfoot to appear in the two shows there. As Lightfoot related, "They gave me a buzz when they got to town, to come down and do a few tunes and that's just what we're gonna do." Lightfoot said he felt honored to be included and later said it gave him a tremendous energy boost going into the recording of "Summertime Dream."
The shows were structured like this:
Ramblin' Jack Elliot
T-Bone Burnett; Steve Soles
As you can see, Dylan showed his admiration for Lightfoot by giving him an excellent slot in the show, just before Dylan's climatic closing set. During Dylan's early set on the first night, Dylan dedicated his rendition of "Dark As A Dungeon" to Lightfoot. Dylan introduced the song by saying, "I want to do this one for Gordon, tonight. Gordon Lightfoot, is he still here? I thought I saw him walking towards a door a minute ago. Stop him!" Dylan then gave a beautiful reading of the song, a song which harkened all the way back to Lightfoot's earliest days as part of the folk duo, the Two Tones.
Lightfoot was introduced both nights by Joan Baez and his reception by the hometown crowd was, as you might guess, overwhelming. On the first night he started right in with "Race Among The Ruins." Now remember, this was December 1975 and Race was brand new, not yet recorded. Lightfoot was still working on the lyrics. Both nights in the chorus, he sang, "When you wake up to the promise of your dream 'love' coming true," instead of the final wording, "dream 'world' coming true." He also was singing different lyrics in the second verse. On night one he sang, "Who by the 'courage' of the moment were mysteriously undone," and on the second night he sang, "Who by the magic of 'misfortune' were mysteriously undone." Intertestingly, the final wording of this phrase would be a combination of both these nights' deliveries.
The song was delivered in a much different arrangement also, as in early December '75, the Lightfoot band consisted of Terry Clements on acoustic lead guitar (still no electric guitar in the band), Rick Haynes on bass and Pee Wee Charles on steel. Barry Keane would not join the band until a month later, in January of 1976. The song has a much different texture without electric guitar and drums, but was riveting neverthelesss, as the crowd clapped enthusiastically along to this new song and Terry still hadn't come up with his trademark guitar intro and between verse licks for this song.
Next on the first night came a down and dirty, "The Watchman's Gone." The band and Lightfoot were pumped by this show and really reached deep for this song. He closed his first night set with another scorching tune, "Sundown." Terry plays some note-bending, soulful lead on this song and the crowd is going nuts!
After the first night's show, Lightfoot invites the entire revue back to his house for a party. Dylan who was filmimg his movie "Renaldo And Clara" during the tour, gets Lightfoot alone with the camera crew upstairs and Lightfoot does Dylan's "Ballad In Plain D" in an upstairs room, which is documented in the film. Lightfoot and Dylan eventually smell something burning from downstairs and come down to discover Neuwirth had thrown his leather coat into the fireplace. Lightfoot said he knew by this time things were getting out of hand. At any rate, everyone survived to play another concert the next night and that party has gone down in the annals of infamous rock'n'roll bashes!
The set lineup for night #2 was the same, with Lightfoot in the envious spot late in the show just before Dylan's closing set. Again Baez introduces him. He once again opens with "Race Among The Ruins." Another nice job with it and it seems obvious that Lightfoot and the guys are playing very strongly (even better than night #1 perhaps, but it's too close to call) again. The second song this night is "Cherokee Bend." A very impassioned performance, which sits very well with the socially conscious tone that the Rolling Thunder Revue had been generating. (The centerpiece of Dylan's shows was his new song, "Hurricane" which was written to help free wrongly convicted Rubin "Hurricane" Carter from murder charges).
Then Lightfoot apparently closes his set with an upbeat "High And Dry," but at the end of the song the audience is screamimg "MORE!!!" and Bob Neuwirth takes the mike and yells to Lightfoot to do one more. The guys stay out and close with another burning rendition of "Sundown." I love the way they did this song live when Terry was doing it with acoustic guitar. Pee Wee's steel really wails along in the just the right places.
So these two magical nights are over. Dylan and his troupe leave town, with the Revue not winding to a stop until almost a year later. Lightfoot, motivated by the experience, goes into the studio with electric guitar and drums added permanently to the band and records one of his all-time great albums, "Summertime Dream!" As a footnote, Lightfoot originally intended to call the album "Race Among The Ruins," but changed it to "I'm Not Supposed To Care," before settling on "Summertime Dream" at the apparent request of the record company.