This Wheel Shall Explode!
It didn’t matter what the words were. It was the feel that was all important and the sound of Dylan’s voice, a voice issuing a stern reminder in the wilderness, in a combination of barely restrained
Most American Bob Dylan fans probably first heard the song “This Wheel’s On Fire” on The Band’s debut album Music From Big Pink released early in the summer of 1968. The Band had previously been known as Levon & The Hawks and were Dylan’s backup band during the tumultuous 1965 tour of the United State and even more famously the 1966 world tour. The group had been formed by Ronnie Hawkins, a rockabilly singer transplanted to Canada, and consisted of four Canadians and another Arkansas exile, Levon Helm. Under Hawkins, they had become perhaps the tightest group in Canada, and when they split from him, since they were known as The Hawks, they kept the name. The more or less official story of how they met Dylan is that Mary Martin, an assistant to Dylan’s manager Albert Grossman recommended them. However, just as likely they were recommended to Dylan by his friend, the blues singer John Hammond Jr., the song of the man who signed Dylan to Columbia Records and was his initial producer, John Hammond. Three members of the Hawks, guitarist Robbie Robertson, drummer Levon Helm and organist Garth Hudson had backed Hammond on his album, So Many Roads recorded in 1964, but released in 1965. When Dylan went into seclusion following his motorcycle accident in July of 1966, so did the Hawks. They did not perform and as far as anyone knew at the time, they did no session work. When Dylan reemerged, following the release of this first post-crash album, John Wesley Harding to perform at the Woody Guthrie Memorial Concert at Carnegie Hall in January 1968, the Hawks temporarily known as The Crackers (according to some reports) were with him.