“I said, We’ll learn it, and then he played it differently every time!” Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera on the night Bob Dylan gave him the run around

Bob Dylan performing at Guitar Legends 1991
(Image credit: Michael Putland/Getty Images)

Bob Dylan has long established that he’s not going to play his songs the way that you want to hear them, that he is an artist who likes to keep his crowd on their toes. In an interview with the music Substack publication The New Cue in 2022, though, Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera reveals that Dylan also likes to keep his own band on their toes.

Guitarist Manzanera was tasked with rehearsing Dylan at Guitar Legends, Seville 1991, a mammoth five-night event featuring some of the world’s top guitarists and singers for which he was chosen as one of the night’s musical directors. And it proved to be quite the challenge where Dylan was concerned.

“I had to rehearse him for a week underneath the stage in Seville and it was daunting,” said Manzanera. “I think he thought I was a Mexican guy with a name like Manzanera, so the first thing he said when he came in is, 'Do you know this Tex-Mex song from 1947?' I said, No, but if you show me how it goes, we’ll all learn it.”

“I had Jack Bruce on bass, I had Simon Phillips on drums, I had the Miami Horns, I said, we’ll learn it, and then he played it differently every time. Everybody was going, ‘Oh, erm, I’ve got to make a phone call’, until everyone had left and it was just me and him and he said, 'Let’s forget all these other people, let’s play acoustics.' Noooo! In my head, I was saying, ‘He’s Bob Dylan, I love Bob Dylan, he can do whatever he wants’.”

The event was being broadcast live on TV, but even as their set began Manzanera was unsure if Dylan would show.

“The manager said that if he does come on, make sure you announce him, because I speak Spanish,” recounted Manzanera. “It was live to the whole of America and BBC Two and so I looked around and saw the spotty shirt coming out and said, “Señoras y señores, Bob Dylan!” and then we all looked at each other to see what he was going to play and which chords. If you look on YouTube, you will see Richard Thompson trying to work out what song it is because he changes the way he sings the song, so till the chorus comes in, you don’t really know.”

Check out footage from Guitar Legends 1991 below. 

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.