‘It was a huge revelation': Scarlet Rivera recalls being plucked from obscurity by Bob Dylan

Scarlet Rivera was an American violinist, plying her trade in relative obscurity, when Bob Dylan tabbed her to take part in the sessions for what would become his 1976 album Desire.

Dylan originally spotted her, as the legend goes, walking down the street in the Village, violin case in hand. She arrived unsure what role she would play, never dreaming of the collaborative surprises in store.

“I did not know what he was expecting, or looking for, or wanted,” Scarlet Rivera tells Prism Films, in this newly posted video. “He started with a huge band. There were tons of people in the studio, and it was quite intimidating. I really didn’t know what role I was going to play or to what extent I was going to play it. I mean, I knew I would be on the album, but to the huge extent that I ended up being on it, I had no idea.”

Later, back in the studio, Rivera returned to find that the always-mercurial Dylan had sent this hulking musical amalgam away. “It turned into being the quartet then,” Rivera adds. “We didn’t know if he was going to try this too, and end up putting them both together. There was no way for us to know the final result. But surprisingly, and kind of shockingly, we were it.”

From these sessions, Dylan would emerge with memorable tracks like “Hurricane,” “Isis,” “Sara,” “Joey” and “Rita Mae,” a single-only release. And Rivera’s role became more central than she could have imagined.

“I distinctly remember being in the studio,” she says, “and having listened to him prior to this meeting, and really loving his music. I knew the role his harmonica played. When we came to the harmonica solo, I’d put my violin down. He looked at me and said: ‘Keep playing.’ So, I kept playing, and evidently he muted the harmonica later in some cases — or he put them together. So it was a huge revelation to me.”

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