Bob Neuwirth can be a bit unsubtle. On the one hand, he emphasizes that he doesn’t want to be known on the basis of his past association with luminaries of the music world. Yet he will talk about Ramblin’ Jack Elliott as “an old friend of mine from Paris, back in the street-singing days.” He will tell you that “Gordon Lightfoot taught me that ‘Bobby McGee’ song, I talked to Janis, she sang it in Nashville and things just happened very fast after that.” Of his biggest claim to fame, a job as Dylan’s road manager in the mid-’60s, Neuwirth will speak with an apparent reluctance that can lead one to forget that he himself brought up the subject.
In a similar fashion, Neuwirth’s deprecation of his musical ability is undercut by evidence of his ambition. He notes modestly that he sees himself as a “guitar hustler” rather than a songwriter, singer or picker because “I really don’t do any of those things as well as a lot of people I know.” And he says he undertook his recent concert tour, on which he shared the bill with Kris Kristofferson, only after the other singer had strongly urged him to come along.
Describing the tour, however, Neuwirth exudes both confidence in his ability and pleasure in the reaction of audiences. He says he was “helping out” Krlstofferson, and that his own brand of rock and roll, contrasting with his friend’s quieter material, gave the fans a chance to “wiggle their asses. By the time I played they’d already heard 10 or 12 of Krlstofferson’s songs. They’re already warmed up for me almost.”
While admitting that he likes the spotlight, Neuwirth insists he uses his guitar only “to eat with. I mean, that’s just about it. I can’t be any more honest about it than that. I really can’t be any more unpretentious about it than that. I’ve always just turned to the guitar when I was broke.”
Neuwirth’s financial situation may improve with the release, this summer, of his first album. Clearly, though, he hopes the LP will accomplish more than that. “I think it’s gonna surprise a lot of people,” he says. “I’ve tried to avoid all the obvious moves. I’rn trying to make a 1975 record. I mean, I tried recording a few times before, but when I was done, it just seemed like it was behind. Like the songs weren’t anything that hadn’t been covered.”
Besides recording albums that were never issued, what else has Neuwirth been involved with? “I’ve done a whole bunch of stuff,” he says. “You know, I’ve done all the jobs that look stupid when you write ’em down. I don’t want to go through a whole bunch of how old are you and what’s your favorite color, ’cause that’s just so 1964 that it’s out of the question. I don’t know how you feel about it. but I try to stay away from making shit sound romantic, man.
“And there’s a lot of stuff that you can probably tell I’m trying to avoid talking about. Like I got nothing to say about Bob or Janis or any of those people. I don’t want to take a ride on Dylan’s back, for one thing. And you know, certain people seem to be laking care of themselves quite well these days. At least, that’s what I’ve been reading.
“Also, see, like when I was with Dylan, first it was just me and him, you know. And that was so long ago, man, that you can’t even conceive of what it was like, really.
“It was like you and your best friend. right? You decide to hitchhike to Colorado, you know. Except instead of hitchhiking. you take a plane. And when you get there, instead of silting around somebody’s living room, you go to some place that seats maybe a thousand people and you play guitar there. I mean, it was so different from what’s going on now that there’s just no comparison.”
Neuwirth pauses, then adds: “I know this has all got to be mentioned, all the people that used to hang out and stuff. I’m hip to that. But it’s like always a favor if it’s just briefly mentioned. You know what I mean; try to put it as a ‘by the way,’ try to put it at the end.”