Among the passionate group of music aficionados known as the Dylanologists, consensus is that the Bard of Hibbing’s 1975 effort Blood on the Tracks is among his best, if not the best. And the general world tends to agree.
The disc that produced such high-profile canon tracks like “Tangled Up in Blue,” “Simple Twist of Fate,” “Shelter from the Storm,” “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” and “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts” lands at #9 on the list of Rolling Stone’s best albums ever.
Now, imagine you were part of a group of studio musicians who appear on half of the album’s ten tracks, but your name appeared on no official credit or your contribution not even publicly acknowledged until 43 years later.
That’s what befell six Minneapolis-based musicians: Bill Berg, Billy Peterson, Greg Inhofer, Kevin Odegard, Chris Weber, and Peter Ostroushko.
Their story—and that of Dylan and the album—is finally told in Paul Metsa and Rick Shefchik’s Blood in the Tracks: The Minnesota Musicians Behind Dylan’s Masterpiece (200 pp., $24.95, University of Minnesota Press).
Blood on the Tracks has long been touted by fans (but never the artist) as “The Divorce Album.” Dylan was going through the process with his wife Sara, mother of their four children, including future Wallflower Jakob (Dylan also adopted Sara's daughter from a previous relationship).
The record’s initial recording sessions took place in New York in September 1974 with a crack team of experienced studio musicians (Eric Weissberg, Tom McFaul, Tony Brown, Charles Brown III, Richard Crooks, Buddy Cage, and Paul Griffin).
But Dylan just…wasn’t feeling it 100%. His brother, David Zimmerman, suggested that he recut some or all of the record in their home state of Minnesota, and he would find the band. Dylan agreed and showed up in one of the Twin Cities in December for two days of recording and reworking. All seemed happy with the new work on some of the material.
However, it was a bit late in the game to acknowledge their contributions. Columbia Records had planned the disc for a January 1975 release and had already printed up the album cover, the back of which featured credits with the names of the New York musicians (itself not always a common practice at the time).
The Minnesota crew were assured by David Zimmerman theirs would appear on the second printing, but it never happened. Soon, back cover credits for all the musicians disappeared completely. Neither Columbia nor Dylan himself ever bothered to remedy the situation over the ensuing decades.
One of the great services this book does is Metsa and Shefchik’s meticulous and expansive research on the lives and careers of the Minnesota musicians who gathered in Herb Pilhofer’s Sound 80 studio in Minneapolis.
Far from the ad hoc, inferior, or thrown-together band they’ve sometimes been described as, each had a deep musical resume, and many came from families in which one or both of their parents played an instrument or sang, some professionally.
Inhofer was even in a psychedelic band called (in step with the times) Pepper Fog that gained some local renown, though never recorded. Another of his bands, the Oneness, backed Olivia Newton-John on stage and one TV appearance in her early country phase.
Save for Weber—who was just delivering a guitar and then drafted into playing—everyone else had been hired by Zimmerman. Of course, he kept it under heavy wraps they were being called into a session for his world-famous brother (whose birth surname was indeed Zimmerman). Most of them were thus shocked to see Bob Dylan, in the flesh, waltz into the studio.
After proffering his trademark limp handshake, Dylan seemed surprisingly open to collaboration and inquisitive of the band. And the players posit he seemed mostly relaxed.
After two sessions though, it was over. Less than a month later Blood on the Tracks was in the stores to great acclaim, restored his reputation, and remains Bob Dylan’s best-selling non-compilation studio record.
It was not until the 2018 release of More Blood, More Tracks—the latest in Dylan’s self-released “Bootleg Series,” that the official full story and details of both sessions was told (though Dylanologists already knew all about it).
The full six-disc and smaller two-disc set featured mostly the New York sessions, of which there were more recordings to plumb. But there in the box set booklet, credit was finally given to the six Minnesota players. It did not translate into any sort of royalties.
Metsa and Shefchik chronicle the post-Dylan journeys of the band—in and out of music. Careers for the men included competitive speedskater, realtor, railroad brakeman, Disney animator, and A Prairie Home Companion cast member.
In more recent decades, there have been full and semi-reunion performances of the six Minneapolis musicians, often at Dylan or Blood-themed concerts and events. And not all are living in 2023. But with Blood in the Tracks, they finally get their long overdue due for helping to craft one of Classic Rock’s greatest records.
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.