Sam Shepard, the late American playwright and actor, was also a musician. That explains his long relationship with Patti Smith, as well as his work with Bob Dylan. The two collaborated on one of Dylan’s wildest songs, “Brownsville Girl.”
Shepard died on July 27 at his Kentucky home, following a battle with ALS. His family did not announce his death to Broadway World until July 31. He was survived by his children, Jesse, Hannah and Walker, and his sisters Sandy and Roxanne. “The family requests privacy at this difficult time,” spokesman Chris Boneau told Broadway World.
Here’s a look at Shepard’s relationship with a fellow American legend, Bob Dylan.
1. Shepard Co-Wrote the Lyrics to Dylan’s 11-Minute Epic ‘Brownsville Girl’
Shepard and the 76-year-old Dylan only wrote one song together, but it was a big one. They worked on the mammoth track “Brownsville Girl.” Originally hidden on Dylan’s maligned 1986 album Knocked Out Loaded, the track has gone on to become known as one of Dylan’s most creative epics. It was later included on 1994 and 2007 hits compilations.
In the song, the singer speaks to a lover he longs to see again. During the track, there is a famous reference to a Gregory Peck Western, which is probably Duel in the Sun (1946) or The Gunfighter (1950).
Dylan sings in the chorus:
Brownsville girl with your Brownsville curls
Teeth like pearls shining like the moon above
Brownsville girl, show me all around the world
Brownsville girl, you’re my honey love
The song was originally recorded as “New Danville Girl.” Rolling Stone considered it one of Dylan’s best songs from the 1980s.
2. Shepard Toured With Dylan on the Historic 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue
Although a playwright and actor primarily by the mid 1970s, Shepard joined Dylan on the legendary Rolling Thunder Revue, his famous 1975 tour that also featured Joan Baez, Jack Elliott and Bob Neuwirth. The tour resulted in the 1978 movie Renaldo And Clara, which was part music documentary, part fictional feature. Shepard co-wrote the script with Dylan.
Shepard also wrote a diary during the tour and published it as The Rolling Thunder Logbook in 1978. The book was republished in 2012 with a foreword by producer/musician T-Bone Burnett, who was on the tour, and photographs.
3. Shepard Called the Rolling Thunder Revue ‘Pretty Insane’
In a 2014 interview with The Guardian, Shepard recalled his experiences on the Rolling Thunder Revue Tour.
“It was pretty insane. Now that I look at it, it wasn’t really, but I wasn’t accustomed to transience, every second was all about movement,” Shepard recalled. “And I was glad to get back to a kind of constancy. Writing was the constancy.”
The Rolling Thunder Revue ran 57 shows between October 1975 and May 1976. In between, Dylan released Desire, the album that includes the hit “Hurricane.”
“Myth is a powerful medium because it talks to the emotions and not to the head. It moves us into an area of mystery,” Shepard wrote of Dylan in his diary. “Some myths are poisonous to believe in, but others have the capacity for changing something inside us, even if it’s only for a minute or two. Dylan creates a mythic atmosphere out of the land around us. The land we walk on every day and never see until someone shows it to us.”
In another excerpt from the book, published on Shepard’s site, he writes of Dylan:
Dylan has invented himself. He’s made himself up from scratch. That is, from the things he had around him and inside him. Dylan is an invention of his own mind. The point isn’t to figure him out but to take him in. He gets into you anyway, so why not just take him in? He’s not the first one to have invented himself, but he’s the first one to have invented Dylan.
4. Shepard & Dylan Both Worked With the Late Stage Director Jacques Levy
Dylan and Shepard likely met through Jacques Levy, the late American songwriter and theatre director who also worked with The Byrds’ Roger McQuinn. Levy directed many of Shepard’s early plays, including La Turista and Red Cross.
According to John Winters’ Sam Shepard: A Life, Levy and the playwright met through Shepard’s then-girlfriend Joyce Aaron. The production of Red Cross Levy directed at a theatre in Greenwich Village was instantly acclaimed after it opened in January 1966. LEvy won an Obie Award for his direction.
Levy was best known for directing the 1969 musical Oh! Calcutta!, which Shepard contributed to. He died in September 2004 at age 69 after a battle with cancer.
Levy co-wrote most of the songs on Desire, including “Hurricane.” HE also directed the first leg of the Rolling Thunder tour.
5. Shepard Wrote a One-Act Play Called ‘True Dylan’ in 1987 That Appeared in Esquire
The play is a unique idea, with two characters named “Sam” and “Bob.” In the “interview,” Sam gets Bob to talk about his early days in New York and when he finally met his idol, Woody Guthrie. The characters also discuss James Dean and Dylan’s infamous 1966 motorcycle crash.
Strangely, during the play, the Sam character tries to play back the interview. But instead of the answers, he hears a Jimmy Yancey piano solo.
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