Gene LaFond Warms Us Up For Dylan Days

On May 17, the Armory Arts & Music Center is hosting a benefit concert to raise money and awareness for the renovation of the Duluth Armory. Scarlet Rivera, who recorded with Dylan in 1975 and travelled the land with the Rolling Thunder Revue, will again be on stage with Gene LaFond and the Wild Unknown.

LaFond himself has a long affiliation with all things Dylan, having been a friend of Bob Dylan’s high school pal Larry Kegan. For ten years or more, Dylan invited Kegan, who at sixteen had become a quadriplegic due to a neck injury, to join him on the road from time to time. LaFond, whom friends call Geno, would go to assist Larry with his needs, giving him a rare inside look at the singer/songwriter/icon from Hibbing.

Last year’s concert featured Communist Daughter as the warm-up act. This year Scarlet and Geno will be preceded by Courtney Yasmineh, a Chicago-born, Minneapolis-based singer-songwriter and guitarist who plays alternative rock and indie pop. The Weber Hall concert is called Hard Rain In Duluth: After the Flood.  
 

EN:  What can you tell us about Courtney, and how did you come to select her for this event?
Gene LaFond: I heard Courtney play live with her band one night and asked her to sing Dylan’s “Shot of Love” with me at the annual Guitars for Vets benefit. She knocked me out and sang her harmonies perfectly. I was struck by her intelligent, well-crafted songwriting and thought she would be perfect for vocals and harmony with Scarlet & The Wild Unknown at the Weber concert to save the Armory. She just rocks. When you see her solo performance at the Weber on May 17, you will understand. Strong woman, strong singer, vibrant personality, and excellent songwriter.
EN: In what ways will this concert be especially significant?
GL: This is the sixth time my band and I have performed with Scarlet. Each time has been different. We have been rehearsing some new songs I wrote over the long winter and some new Dylan songs that people rarely hear. It’s such a thrill to sing these songs with Scarlet standing next to me playing her wonderful violin! She just brings it to a whole other level. Also, to be contributing to the effort to save the Armory is important for all of us. So many of the world’s best performers played there over the years. It’s an honor to be a part of saving it.
EN: What was your first meeting with Bob like?
LaFond: I used to see him at The Scholar in Dinkytown when I was in high school. I didn’t know him then. He was still Bob Zimmerman at that time. Then I met him in 1975 on the Rolling Thunder tour with Larry. It was amazing to meet somebody I’d idolized all that time and then to realize he’s just a human being. It was a real eye-opener. And it gave me a lot of confidence that I could write songs, too. It was the start of my inspiration to write songs. I’d been playing for years but not really doing a lot of original stuff.

At that time, the whole Rolling Thunder tour was amazing. All those wonderful people, and I got to meet a lot of them: Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell, Scarlet and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot.

Over a period of fifteen years, Larry and I got to go out and hang around with Bob on tour with him. Two or three times a year we’d go out and go from town to town.  I got to meet all the different bands he had over the years. It was quite incredible for me as a songwriter.

EN: Your first time, who did the introduction? Where were you and how did it happen?
GL: We were in Worcester, Massachusetts.  We had just driven all night, because Larry said, “Come on, we’re going on this Rolling Thunder tour.” We didn’t know what was going to happen or who it was. I mean, I knew it was Bob, but didn’t know what to expect. At the hotel where they were all staying, we went down to breakfast and Alan Ginsburg was there. I sat down with him at breakfast. No one knew who we were, and he says, “Who the hell are you?” “Oh, I’m just a house painter.”

Then Larry introduced me to him.

EN: How many people and rigs did they have for the Rolling Thunder Revue?
GL: I don’t think it was huge because people would come and go all the time. Like Kinky Friedman would show up for a few days and some other incredible musicians would show up for a few days. Ronnie Blakely, Joni Mitchell… He just had his core band and different people would show up. That’s where I met Ramblin’ Jack.

EN: What is Ramblin’ Jack Elliott like?
GL: He’s just amazing. He’s like a living cartoon. You don’t dare ask him a question because he just goes on and on and on. That’s where he got his name.

He stayed here in my house last summer or the summer before for seven or eight days. He’d come from Chicago and just won a Grammy for an old blues album. So he took the train in and waited for his gigs to show up. We had a ball—went sailing, went trout fishing. He’s just a marvelous guy. He’s 78 and still performing. Lives in Marin County, California. I talk to him every once in a while.

Bob shows up every once in a while, too. I don’t know if you know Greg French, Nelson’s brother. He owns Bob’s house up in Hibbing. One time he was looking out the window and there was this car outside idling. He realized it was Bob, went out and said, “You’re welcome to come on in.” He gave him (Dylan) a tour of the house and he was very friendly about it. Jack and I got to go through it, too. Greg wasn’t home but said, “The door’s open. Go ahead and go in.” Jack sat down and played his piano.

EN: Where can people buy tickets for the concert?
GL: Go to TicketWorks.com and then select Hard Rain In Duluth.

Credits

Ed Newman

Director of advertising at AMSOIL, Inc. in Superior. Newman is also an artist, a musician and author of four books. He has been interviewing interesting people for over 25 years.

View more of Ed Newman's work »