Happy Birthday, Bob Dylan!

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Happy Birthday, Bob!

Bob Dylan turns 72 today (May 24th), so we thought we’d celebrate by looking back at a somewhat bizarre yet truly dazzling performance of his signature song, “Like A Rolling Stone.” The occasion was the 10th anniversary of David Letterman’s NBC late-night show back in 1992, and Dylan was joined by a cast of players that, on paper, seemed like a recipe for an unholy mess.

There was plenty of music royalty on hand (Carole King on piano, Emmylou Harris and among the backing vocalists, Chrissie Hynde on guitar), but there were also several out-of-left-field accompanists (Steve Vai shredding on guitar, Michelle Shocked on backing vocals, and the weird, wild pairing of “Frankenstein” himself Edgar Winter and Johnny Carson sidekick Doc Severinsen in the horn section.)

None of it should have worked, but, as you can see from the clip, from the minute King tears through the piano intro, the whole thing coheres beautifully. Much credit goes to Paul Shaffer, the Letterman bandleader whose experience with all-star, ad hoc performances likely proved invaluable. Plus he plays the heck out of the song’s Hammond organ part originally made famous by Al Kooper.

Watch how Dylan starts off tentatively, as if unsure about all of this fanfare around him, before really tearing into the song with gusto by the final verses. The legendary Mavis Staples delivers her gospel fervor at song’s end to really bring the house down.

Thanks to the Dylan site JohannasVisions.com for unearthing this great clip and providing info on the players. And a birthday thanks to Bob for so many incendiary performances like this one. Here’s to many, many more.

Pick up Jim Beviglia’s new book, Counting Down Bob Dylan: His 100 Finest Songs at Amazon.com.

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