By Luke Rife
September 16th, 2023
A review of Blood in the Tracks: The Minnesota Musicians Behind Dylan’s Masterpiece, by Paul Metsa & Rick Shefchik.
On December 27th, 1974, at Sound 80 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Bob Dylan begins rerecording songs for his upcoming album, Blood on the Tracks. Dylan is accompanied in the studio sessions by six Minnesotan musicians. Blood in the Tracks: The Minnesota Musicians Behind Dylan’s Masterpiece, by Paul Metsa and Rick Shefchik, chronicles the life of those musicians through their histories – both personal and professional.
The story begins with Bob Dylan, but his presence fades as the players emerge. After a dissatisfying initial recording in New York City, Dylan returns to his home state of Minnesota looking for answers. His brother, David, organizes a fresh recording session, pulling from the local scene. The Minnesota music scene is a rich ecosystem that the book explores through each recruited musician. The lives of Peter Ostroushko, Bill Berg, Billy Peterson, Gregg Inhofer, Chris Weber, and Kevin Odegard comprise the heart of the narrative. Their work on the album, “reflected hard-earned musical savvy strained through the experience of hundreds of gigs in far north bars, dance clubs, coffeehouses, and juke joints.”
The book sings when the authors weave through personal perspectives and anecdotes of these musicians. Ostroushko comes to the recording with a terrible fever and wakes up the next day wondering if it had all been a dream. Berg had been heading out of Minnesota, seeking new musical opportunities in California when a last-minute call comes in requesting his talent for Dylan’s recording. He delays his move for the music. An inquiry regarding a Martin guitar draws
Chris Weber, a local music shop owner and musician, into the studio. He demos a Martin 00-42G by playing his own song in front of Dylan.
A multitude of vivid images abound in the book: a child Odegard playing his first instrument, a ukulele, at boys’ sleepaway camp for his fellow campers; a seasoned Inhofer touring the country as part of Olivia Newton-John’s backing band; a teenage Peterson playing with the Righteous Brothers while still in high school. Music is made in collaboration, each artist’s individual experiences contributing to unique melodies, rhythms, and harmonies.
Crafted by authors Paul Metsa and Rick Shefchik, Blood in the Tracks is a tribute to the unsung musicians. The musicians that provide a tapestry of talent for the lead star. Paul Metsa is an accomplished Minnesotan musician in his own right, and his interviews with the studio band serve as the vibrant foundation upon which the book finds its electric energy. Rick Shefik’s background as a journalist and author allows him to spin numerous anecdotes into a collective chain of reflective moments.
Published by University of Minnesota press, Blood in the Tracks takes dips into the past as it moves through the monumental recording, providing historical intricacies that enrich the book’s structure. There are triumphs, tragedies, and career changes. But music is the blood that drives each musician’s hearts. “You got five minutes left. That’s what I’m gravitating to right now,” Billy Peterson says on his future. “That’s how I’m going down, swinging.” They never stop playing the music.
Blood in the Tracks: The Minnesota Musicians Behind Dylan’s Masterpiece
University of Minnesota Press
by Paul Metsa & Rick Shefchik