Worst Bob Dylan Video of All Time

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This article was last updated on April 16, 2022

Bob Dylan performed on the Dave Letterman Show three times. One of them is Dylan's all-time worst video performance.

When I first watched the Letterman 10th Anniversary Dylan performance I was ready to be sick.

Paul Schaffer's overblown arrangement of "Like A Rolling Stone" never syncs with Dylan and the performance was dreadful.

Dylan hates television and for good reason. He also hates unauthorized videos on the internet and tries to take them down. Who wants to see themselves not at their best?

Late Night With Dave Letterman 10th Anniversary 1992

On February 6, 1992, Dylan was talked into appearing for Dave Letterman's 10th Anniversary show. On a matter of principle he should have insisted on pre-recording the spot with his own band.

Studio bands, with the possible exception of Jimmy Fallon's, almost always kill rock and roll artists who perform live.  What the house band doesn't wreck, network sound engineers make worse with anemic mixes.

Was Dylan being unpleasant, blowing the performance on purpose or what?  Dylan was singing like a bad imitation of his worst stage voice and never clicked with the band or backup singers. Like never.

Then I watched it again and could see the problem – Paul Schaffer.  You can see Paul, the over-energetic, grinning bandleader,  pumping the song for all he's worth. The band and singers are following Paul because, well, he's the bandleader. The band and Dylan never get in sync. As Mavis Staples ended on a gospel coda under Schaffer's direction, Dylan just stands there and looks like "What was that?"

Unlike Dylan's normal backup band of 5 guys who are in totally in sync with him we have this all-star group of musicians who forgot for one ugly song what it is to follow the singer not the bandleader.

Dylan refused to play with the big band during rehearsals. "I don't need this band to play my music. Me, I got four pieces. That's all I need. All this other stuff don't make no sense."

Dylan was right but Schaffer and his manager Jeff Kramer talked him into it. Paul Schaffer surrenders the groove to bombast when he gets a chance. He's Mr. Showman out to prove he's cool.

"Like A Rolling Stone" Bob Dylan, Late Night with Dave Letterman

In his book, Schaffer says "Dylan loves me." I doubt that.

Despite the all-star line up of excellent musicians who knew Dylan and many of whom had played with him like Chrissie Hynde, Jim Keltner, Roseanne Cash, and Anton Fig, "Like A Rolling Stone" comes off like a parody.

Here's the 1992 band: "Chrissie Hynde (guitar), Steve Vai (guitar), Carole King (keyboards), Edgar Winter (horn), Jim Keltner (drums), Roseanne Cash, Nancy Griffith, Emmylou Harris, Michelle Shocked, Mavis Staples (backup vocals), and the James Brown horn section, Paul Shaffer (keyboards), Sid McGinnis(guitar), Will Lee (bass), Anton Fig (drums), and Doc Severinsen (trumpet)."

Dylan and Letterman 1984

The 1984 Letterman performance of "Jokerman" is miles ahead of the 1992 show.

The band is mostly The Plubz (Justin Poskin, Justin Jesting, Tony Marsico, and Charlie Quintana) who Dylan only picked up a week before to keep it spontaneous. The whole performance cooks along with Dylan's improvised harp solo.

"Jokerman" Bob Dylan, Late Night with Dave Letterman

Letterman and Dylan 1993

A year later in 1993, Dylan came back on Letterman with his own band to ace "Forever Young." This time he appears mainly with his own band in setup like Unplugged Worst Bob Dylan Video of All Time photo – Bucky Baxter, John Jackson, Tony Garnier, and Winston Watson.

Left only with a Hammond organ, Paul Schaffer over-plays the best he can to top Dylan but it does not work this time. Dylan is in control and the performance is priceless.

"Forever Young" Bob Dylan, Late Night with Dave Letterman

Sorry for the video quality but it is the only one online.

If you like Dylan with that style of band, try the excellent DVD Bob Dylan: Unplugged Worst Bob Dylan Video of All Time photo which was recorded in 1994. The songs have great vocal performances from Dylan.

He gets an awesome groove going with the mostly unplugged band.  I have enjoyed that performance on both LaserDisc, where it first appeared, and now DVD.

Bob Dylan MTV Unplugged song list

Track list with original release album dates:

1: Tombstone Blues
2: Shooting Star
3: All Along the Watchtower
4: The Times They Are A-Changin'
5: John Brown
6: Desolation Row
7: Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35
8: Love Minus Zero / No Limit
9: Dignity
10: Knockin' on Heaven's Door
11: Like a Rolling Stone
12: With God on Our Side

Follow me on Twitter at @sdpate or on Facebook at NJN Network and OyeTimes.

By Stephen Pate, NJN Network

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  1. You should have seen him in another Letterman Anniversary Show, I think his 20th Anniversary. Dylan was soooo wasted he mumbled through Master’s of war in about 90 seconds, he hasn’t appeared on Letterman since. Any time you have a chance to see Dylan sing on TV, the last thing I would concern myself with is the band

  2. Sorry – what’s wrong with Dylan here? The band is over the top and bombastic, true, but it comes off, just, and Dylan is, contrary to your assertion, quite clearly connected and switched on. By contrast the Unplugged show was an awful, listless, corporate mash up with which Dylan hardly engaged at all. This is the oddest article I’ve read in a while.

  3. What the hell’s wrong with the concert? You never seen Dylan before? Great performance, like every Dylan performance! Unpredictable and genius.

  4. First off, if you refuse to rehearse with a powerhouse band of about twenty, you’ve got to expect a few missteps early on in the song, which there surely are. bob is doing his quiet acoustic version and the superstar band wants to crank it up. Bob, pro as he is, feels the vibe and amps up his performance to meet the music. His singing gets more and more powerful throughout, even repeating lines for emphasis late in the performance. Mavis goes WAY over the top at the end, which is her usual caterwauling self, and tries to make the song her own. At the end, Bob goes stone-faced which is his trademark look of apathy while the crowd goes wild. I’ve seen that look a hundred times, as any true Dylan fan has. All in all, LARS is good, Jokerman was really good, and Forever Young was classic. Thanks for posting.

  5. Bob looks a little out of it, but the band seems to really enjoy it, notably Carol King & the backing singers including Mavis Staple (a good friend) . Why wouldn’t they enjoy the chance to play LaRS with the man himself.

  6. Agreed Letterman 10th was lacklustre and other Letterman and Unplugged were great. Masters of War was a Grammy appearance,not Letterman, and performance all around was great except to ignorant people who have no real understanding of Bob.

  7. Dylan actually appeared on Letterman again in 1994. Letterman “discovers” Paul is missing and he goes across the street to the Roseland Ballroom and finds Paul and Bob talking. I don’t think Dylan holds a grudge towards Paul. 1992 was a rough year for Dylan. There are rumors of him crying during Australian performances of Desolation Row, at best he couldn’t finish them. It also was the year of the 30th anniversary concert. While this concert has been given some sort of reverence in recent years, maybe even way back then, Dylan’s performances are fairly subpar. Blame it on a lot of drinking, he apparently went to some pub, perhaps The White Horse Tavern, after the show for a private CBS event. Him and the Clancy brothers apparently had more than a few. 1993 was a far better year, with the Supper Club shows. Every year after seemed to get better. If Paul says Dylan loves him, I wouldn’t necessarily doubt it. There’s a reason Bob went back in later years to perform and appear in sketches he dcomment_IDn’t have to. However, there is something to be sacomment_ID in the fact that he never dcomment_ID Letterman again after that. After all, does he really have to?

  8. [quote name=”mickyeggs”]You should have seen him in another Letterman Anniversary Show, I think his 20th Anniversary. Dylan was soooo wasted he mumbled through Master’s of war in about 90 seconds, he hasn’t appeared on Letterman since. [/quote]

    I think you’re referring to his performance on the Grammy Awards show in 1991 or so — in the mcomment_IDdle of the Persian Gulf War!

  9. You’re [quote name=”mickyeggs”]You should have seen him in another Letterman Anniversary Show, I think his 20th Anniversary. Dylan was soooo wasted he mumbled through Master’s of war in about 90 seconds, he hasn’t appeared on Letterman since.[/quote]
    You’re probably thinking of Dylan’s performance at the 1991 Grammys — in the mcomment_IDst of the first Persian Gulf war. Jack Nicholson’s intro was a hoot, though.

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