“Friend of the Devil”



Bob Dylan’s long and involved connection with the Grateful Dead continued in late 1999, when Dylan did a tour supported by Dead bassist Phil Lesh as the opening act in November and December. Lesh would frequently join Dylan onstage late in the show or during the encore, and they would frequently perform a Dead song as part of Dylan’s sets, like “West L.A. Fadeaway” or “Alabama Getaway”. The Dead song that Dylan most commonly covered was “Friend of the Devil”.

Dylan began covering “Friend of the Devil”, as near as I can tell, in 1995 (he may have done it before that – I stopped looking), and he made it a regular part of his rotation in 1996 (when he played it live 21 times). It continued to be a part of the repertoire for several years after this. I first noticed it a couple of weeks ago, when it started to show up frequently on fan made anthologies of the highlights of his tours. I’m not sure that the song was always a highlight, but given the huge overlap between Dylan and Dead fandoms, it’s not surprising to find it popping up frequently.

In 2000, Grateful Dead Records released a tribute album, Stolen Roses, and it included a live version of “Friend of the Devil” by Dylan. For the life of me I cannot figure out where and when it was recorded – even Bjorner doesn’t seem to have that information. I suppose you could listen to all of the hundreds of Dylan versions to try to figure it out, but I can’t say that it matters that much to me. Part of me wonders if they used a version with Lesh on bass, but the sites I looked at don’t even seem to know that. Could be, I guess. You can hear that version here.

A number of sites do agree that the song is one of the weak points on Stolen Roses, largely because it is clearly taken from a bootleg recording, and not a very good quality one – the audience is really loud. So, it’s a nice gesture to include the song, but if he wasn’t going to record it in the studio I think I probably would have left it off. On the other hand, it may be a fitting tribute to the always semi-disfunctional relationship between Dylan and the Dead, one that only makes sense in theory and almost never in practice.

I couldn’t find a good video of Dylan doing the song at the moment, so here’s Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt doing it. I saw Lovett perform last Monday, and he was great. His drummer was Russ Kunkel, and when he introduced him the immediate thought that went through my head was “he drummed on New Morning!”. Yes, I am that far gone.