‘Well, pinch yourself’: Remembering life with Bob Dylan and the Rolling Thunder Revue

Ronee Blakley had a whirlwind introduction to Bob Dylan, one that led to her recording with him and joining his legendary Rolling Thunder Revue almost overnight. She says she had to work not to be in utter awe of it all.

Blakley had, of course, released a well-received self-titled album in 1972, and played the Oscar-nominated part of Barbara Jean in the 1975 Robert Altman film Nashville prior to working with Dylan. She’d hung out with Joni Mitchell — a close friend who’d taken Blakley on a memorable sailing trip with Graham Nash and David Crosby.

She’d learned, Blakley tells The Dissolve, to play it cool.

But then came Dylan.

Blakley was all set for a tour with her own band, when his invite arrived to join the Rolling Thunder Revue, an all-star collective that played some 57 dates in 1975-76. In fact, she was in rehearsals — but the rest of Blakley’s group insisted she take Dylan up on the offer.

After accepting, on that very same night, she says they recorded “Hurricane,” a rumination on the fate of boxer Rubin Carter which later found a home on 1976′s Desire. They had only just met some 24 hours earlier at Greenwich Village’s Other End.

Despite her impressive resume, Blakley admits to struggling with being starstuck.

“It’s difficult,” she tells Will Harris. “So you may be an admirer of these great artists — and who isn’t? — but when you’re friends with them, or you’re working with them, you have to put that aside. I think the hardest person for me to do that with was Dylan. And I did do it, because I did want the friendship, and I did want to work with him. You just have to put that aside a little bit. I’m sure they do know it. I know Kinky Friedman tells a story about Dylan where a woman was on an airplane with him and says, ‘I just can’t believe I’m sitting next to Bob Dylan!’ And he said, ‘Well, pinch yourself.’ (Laughs.) So to answer your question, I was respectful, but I didn’t behave in awe. I had to work with them.”

Blakley later appeared in Dylan’s film Renaldo and Clara, as well as The Private Files Of J. Edgar Hoover, The Driver and A Nightmare On Elm Street, among others.

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