Dylan, The Byrds, and John Coltrane

January 7th, 2018



Bob Dylan and Robbie Robertson, 1965





In Robbie Robertson’s entertaining biography Testimony, the rock guitarist tells a short story about a conversation he overheard Bob Dylan having with The Byrd’s Jim (a.k.a. “Roger”) McGuinn concerning John Coltrane’s influence on McGuinn when he wrote “Eight Miles High.”

The setting was Los Angeles, 1966, during a Dylan tour that employed Robertson and, among others, bandmates Rick Danko and Richard Manuel, who are referred to in the excerpt.  The “Levon” in the story was the drummer Levon Helm, who left the tour after a month out of frustration of playing with Dylan during his initial “electric” period, when folk music purists routinely heckled Dylan and the band.  Helm spent much of the time away working on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, and it was rumored that they may have all been in Los Angeles at the same time.

The group (before Dylan) originally played as the backing ensemble for the Canadian rock singer Ronnie Hawkins, and eventually became known simply as “The Band.”

The excerpt follows…







     During our next trip to California for a run of shows, Bob and I stayed at a house called the Castle in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles.  It was a big, classic, Spanish-style house with a huge window that offered a view for miles, smog permitting.  One fascinating thing about this place was that it sat right across the street from Ennis House, the classic Frank Lloyd Wright building that had been home to Bela Lugosi, the original Dracula in movies.  He had a reputation for being a morphine addict, and you could imagine him holed up in this spooky fortress of a house for weeks at a time, peeking out the long, narrow windows to scan for police or intruders.

     After getting settled in a downstairs bedroom that opened onto the garden, I went over to the Hyatt Hotel on Sunset, where the other guys were staying.  We’d had word that Levon might be out in L.A, and Richard asked me if I’d heard from him.  I’d tried calling him the day before and again that morning, but no answer.

     “If he wants to see us, he’ll get in touch,” Rick interjected.  “Otherwise, I say leave it alone.  Maybe he’s not in a very social place right now.”

     Jim McGuinn of the Byrds came by to visit Bob and play a new track his group had just recorded called “Eight Miles High,” which would be released as a single next week.  You could tell he was excited about it, and he certainly stirred up my curiosity with his space-age description of the song.  He took off his little rectangle-frame shades, wiped them on his shirt, and put the disc on the record player.  He was right – it was spacy, quite a departure from their earlier folk-rock sound.  Bob didn’t seem overly impressed.

     “How’d you come up with that?” he asked Jim.

     “Been listening to a lot of Coltrane.  Trying to interpret that in my own way on the twelve-string guitar.”


     “I don’t know,” Jim answered.  “Probably because I like it.  Don’t you like John Coltrane?”

     Bob laughed.  “Sure, but I don’t try to copy his stuff.”

     Jim smiled.  “Well, maybe you should.  It’s pretty good.”








Excerpted from Testimony, by Robbie Robertson





Roger McGuinn and Bob Dylan, 1975


A 1967 film of The Byrds playing “Eight Miles High”


John Coltrane in 1966…”Naima,” from Live At the Village Vanguard Again!




Share this:

Comment on this article:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In This Issue

Michael Cuscuna, Mosaic Records co-founder, is interviewed about his successful career as a jazz producer, discographer, and entrepreneur...Also in this issue, in celebration of Blue Note’s 80th year, we asked prominent writers and musicians the following question: “What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums; a new collection of jazz poetry; “On the Turntable,” is a new playlist of 18 recently released jazz recordings from six artists – Joshua Redman, Joe Lovano, Matt Brewer, Tom Harrell, Zela Margossian and Aaron Burnett; two new podcasts by Bob Hecht; a new “Jazz History Quiz”; a new feature called “Pressed for All Time,”; a new photo-narrative by Charles Ingham; and…lots more.

On the Turntable

This month, a playlist of 18 recently released jazz recordings by six artists -- Joshua Redman, Joe Lovano. Matt Brewer, Tom Harrell, Zela Margossian, and Aaron Burnett


In this month’s collection, with great jazz artists at the core of their work, 16 poets remember, revere, ponder, laugh, dream, and listen

The Joys of Jazz

In this new volume of his podcasts, Bob presents two stories, one on Clifford Brown (featuring the trumpeter Charlie Porter) and the other is part two of his program on stride piano, including a conversation with Mike Lipskin

Short Fiction

We had many excellent entrants in our recently concluded 50th Short Fiction Contest. In addition to publishing the winning story on March 11, with the consent of the authors, we have published several of the short-listed stories...

“What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums?”

Dianne Reeves, Nate Chinen, Gary Giddins, Michael Cuscuna, Eliane Elias and Ashley Kahn are among the 12 writers, musicians, and music executives who list and write about their favorite Blue Note albums

Pressed for All Time

In an excerpt from his book Pressed for All Time, Michael Jarrett interviews producer Creed Taylor about how he came to use tape overdubs during the 1957 Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross Sing a Song of Basie recording session


"Thinking About Charlie Parker" -- a photo narrative by Charles Ingham

Jazz History Quiz #128

Although he was famous for modernizing the sound of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra -- “On the Sunny Side of the Street” was his biggest hit while working for Dorsey (pictured) -- this arranger will forever be best-known for his work with the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra. Who is he?

Great Encounters

In this edition, Bob Dylan recalls what Thelonious Monk told him about music at New York’s Blue Note club in c. 1961.


Jerry Jazz Musician regularly publishes a series of posts featuring excerpts of the photography and stories/captions found in Jazz in Available Light by Veryl Oakland. In this edition, Mr. Oakland's photographs and stories feature Stan Getz, Sun Ra, and Carla Bley.


Maxine Gordon, author of Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon, discusses her late husband’s complex, fascinating life.

Cover Stories with Paul Morris

In this edition, Paul writes about jazz album covers that offer glimpses into intriguing corners of the culture of the 1950’s

Coming Soon

"The Photography Issue" will feature an interview with jazz photographer Carol Friedman (her photo of Wynton Marsalis is pictured), as well as with Michael Cuscuna on unreleased photos by Blue Note's Francis Wolff.

In the previous issue

Jeffrey Stewart, National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke, is interviewed about Locke (pictured), the father of the Harlem Renaissance. Also in this issue…A new collection of jazz poetry; "On the Turntable," a new playlist of 19 recommended recordings by five jazz artists; three new podcasts by Bob Hecht; a new “Great Encounters”; several short stories; the photography of Veryl Oakland and Charles Ingham; a new Jazz History Quiz; and lots more…

Contributing writers

Site Archive