By Amy Nankin
Louie Kemp discussed his friendship with Bob Dylan, his book Dylan and Me: 50 Years of Adventure and gave behind-the-scenes insights into the production of the 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue in conversation with Kinky Friedman during Moment’s July 14 Zoominar. Kemp and Friedman traded stories, fond memories and laughs over a life spent with Bob Dylan.
Kemp and Dylan met at 11 and 12 years old, respectively, at the Jewish Camp Herzl. Kemp reminisced on their time as the “trouble makers,” pulling pranks and causing a ruckus among the cabins. When they weren’t causing trouble, Kemp said that Dylan always had his guitar on him and would play songs for everyone whenever he could.
“Bobby came to camp with his guitar and he would tell everyone that he was going to be a rock and roll star and obviously he went way past that,” Kemp said. “After he said it as many times as he did, I could see that this guy had a determination that was off the charts and he could make it happen.”
Many years later, Kemp went on to produce the 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue, a concert tour like no other of its time. Kemp and his team did not spend a single dollar on publicity and the concert tour was sold out purely by word of mouth, he recalled. Dylan thought up the original concept for the tour and decided to have Kemp lead the charge for the revue.
“[Dylan] explained to me, he said ‘I want to play small places. I want it to be like an old fashioned revue…not only the fans will have a great time, but the participants too. Totally unscripted and we can do whatever we want. We shouldn’t do any advertising, we should just hand out handbills ahead of time so a mystery of where we’re going to be is created,’’’ Kemp said. “I heard that and I got into it, I got excited and we started brainstorming back and forth. And he said ‘well seeing that you also appreciate it, you should produce it.’”
Kemp had never produced anything before aside from fish (he was running a successful fish business), but Dylan told him “Louie, if you can sell fish, you can sell tickets.” Friedman eventually joined the tour which included artists like Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell.
Kemp and Friedman went on to discuss religion, both their own connection to Judaism and Dylan’s exploration of Christianity. Kemp explained how both he and Dylan as roommates studied scripture, the Old and the New Testament.
“He’s in one room studying the New Testament, I’m in the other room studying the Torah, it was a very interesting dynamic. Then we’d meet in the kitchen and we’d eat, drink and talk. Those talks would turn into him trying to convince me and me trying to convince him what each one of us was studying and we both had such different outlooks on things,” Kemp said. “I called Rabbi Manis Friedman (no relation to Kinky) and I said ‘Rabbi, my friend is studying the New Testament and I can’t counter his arguments, I don’t have the knowledge. If I fly you out here will you come meet with him and tell him about the Torah?’…We picked a day, I picked him up from the airport, I brought him to the house and Bobby really liked him and that was the beginning. He said they had a great discussion about religion, about Judaism…I introduced him to other cool religious guys that I thought he might like and he did and he started to study Torah with me.”
Kinky Friedman also spoke about his connection to Judaism and summer camp. His parents ran Echo Hill Ranch, a Jewish summer camp in Texas, for nearly 60 years. Now, he and his sister have transformed it into a camp for children of Gold Star families who have lost a parent in the military. The camp was unable to run this summer due to COVID-19, but Friedman said he looks forward to the future.
Kemp decided to compile his stories into a book titled after years of friends telling him to do so. Kemp reached out to Friedman for advice and had him help edit some of the stories. The book was published last August.
Kemp ended the event by reading one of his favorite excerpts from his book, a story of Dylan being called up to close the ark at a synagogue on Yom Kippur and was mistaken for a homeless person.
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