Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 232
Tues. Oct. 08, 2013

“Romance in Durango [Rolling Thunder Revue live 1975]”
Bob Dylan featuring Scarlet Rivera


“♫ Was
that the
that I

Not many music fans know the mythical story of how violinist Scarlet Rivera came to join Bob Dylan in the studio to record his 1976 album Desire. In 1975, Dylan was in New York City driving by in an unassuming car when he spotted Rivera with her violin case and according to an article in People Magazine, Scarlet said, “Then this car comes up and cuts me off. Some ugly green car. The guy driving asked me if I really knew how to play the violin.” And then Rivera heard the immortal words that changed her life forever when Dylan himself asked her to— “Come downtown and rehearse with me.” And the rest was music history.

When asked by Rob Trucks in the Village Voice, if Scarlet had arrived five minutes earlier or crossed that same street five minutes later if her life would be different, Rivera responded, “Absolutely. And things would definitely not have been the same. I mean, this intersection, it had to have been touched by destiny in some ways to even happen. Definitely it has colored everything in my life after that, and opened doors that would have never happened as a result, and given me, you know, credibility that I would not have had.

According to Eric Clapton, it wasn’t that odd that Dylan picked up violist Scarlet Rivera in the middle of New York City as he explained to Rolling Stone Magazine, “[Dylan] was trying to find a situation where he could make music with new people. He was just driving around, picking musicians up and bringing them back to the sessions. It ended up with something like twenty-four musicians in the studio, all playing these incredibly incongruous instruments.

When asked by Trucks from the Village Voice, if Dylan gave any directions to all these musicians, as Clapton described to Rolling Stone, in the studio? Rivera responded, “Absolutely none. No direction. No direction home [laughs]. As in, sink or swim. And I swam. I have perfect pitch, and I know exactly how to follow keys even with nobody telling me where it’s going. That’s just something I know. I will say in the recording studio he gave me a couple of takes, but literally only a couple. At one point he said, “Play under,” play more under him, meaning the lower end, and then at one point he was going to do his harmonica solo and I stopped and didn’t play, and he actually said, “No, go ahead and play with me.” And I was just stunned that he asked me to play with his harmonica, and, you know, just went into complimentary mode, and fortunately I didn’t have too much time to think about it.”

One other musical memory that Rivera shared with Something Else was this moment while Scarlet was in the studio with Dylan, when the violist said, “I distinctly remember being in the studio and having listened to him prior to this meeting, and really loving his music. I knew the role his harmonica played. When we came to the harmonica solo, I’d put my violin down. He looked at me and said: ‘Keep playing.’ So, I kept playing, and evidently he muted the harmonica later in some cases — or he put them together. So it was a huge revelation to me.”

Unbeknownst to this gifted violinist, Scarlet Rivera was the one who turned out to be and remains the huge revelation on Desire’s songs like “Hurricane,” “One More Cup of Coffee” and “Isis.” Scarlet Rivera’s violin gave Bob Dylan’s songs enough wings to lift up his enigmatic lyrics with an aura of desire by adding a layer of romantic radiance in her exotic stringed peaks. The best example of Rivera’s beautiful violin sound is on Desire’s “Romance in Durango.” The best version is from The Bootleg Series Vol. 5: Bob Dylan Live 1975, The Rolling Thunder Revue. One of the best live official bootlegs because it features the enchanting violin styling’s of Scarlet Rivera. The performance from this CD was recorded live at Harvard Square Theatre, Cambridge, MA on November 20th, 1975.

Just like the moment Dylan stopped Rivera on the street in New York City, Scarlet will also probably never forget that November day at Harvard Square because on the CD, Dylan introduces the violinist to the crowd and this classic introduction of Scarlet Rivera was captured on tape and is immortalized forever along with her beautiful strings on this timeless performance from the Rolling Thunder Revue circa 1975.

In Howard Sounes’ book, Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan, after witnessing the audience’s responses to Dylan’s band performing Desire’s songs months before the album’s release, Scarlet was quoted as saying, “There wasn’t a moment of question mark on the audience’s face.” I would imagine it would be more like smiles in exclamation after witnessing the amazing string work of one Scarlet… Now’s you’re chance to discover the genius of Dylan’s all time favorite violinist’s Scarlet Rivera. Although she doesn’t sing one word on any of Bob’s song, I guarantee you will fall in love with Rivera’s exotic violin genius. Get ready to be seduced by the Scarlet’s string serenade in this brilliant live rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Romance in Durango.”