USA Today

By Edna Gundersen, USA TODAY
Oct.16-18, 1998

Jones was Dylan's different drummer.....

He plays Peter Bilker on Home Improvement. He won parts in Sling Blade, Tin Cup and Total Recall. And he became a household face as the burly biker in a long-running Breath Savers commercial.

But Mickey Jones' most valued role is one that brought boos and catcalls.

The musician-turned-actor was Bob Dylan's drummer during the historic and controversial 1966 tour, when Dylan brought his newly electrified sound to often-hostile folk fans. That volatile era is resurrected by this week's official release of a long-treasured bootleg, Live 1966: The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert.

"We did get booed off the stage in so many places," Jones, 57, says from his home in Simi Valley, Calif. "Every night, we'd go back to the hotel and listen to the tape of the concert. When the stomping and boos started, we laughed it off. "People said, 'Didn't it hurt your feelings?' No. We knew we were making good music. The audience just didn't get it."

Jones was 24 when he and the Hawks backed Dylan on May 17, 1966, in Manchester, England, the night immortalized on Live 1966. He didn't hear a fan yelling "Judas!" until the post-show replay.

"It didn't stand out. The jeers and foot-stomping, people shouting 'Traitor!' and 'Sell-out!' — it was so commonplace. But when I look back, I'm thrilled to have been a part of musical history. The music was tight and right on target. Bob's singing style was so different, and his phrasing was perfect. There was nothing subpar about those shows."

Jones owns a tape from their Liverpool show but had never heard the Manchester bootleg until last year, when invited to speak at a Dylan convention in the U.K. Billed as a "legend and enigma," Jones was stunned to find that fans there "knew more about me than I can remember."

The music industry frowns on bootleggers because they deprive it of royalties and artistic control, but Jones says the bootleggers "kept that concert alive and are responsible for hounding Columbia into finally making it public."

The native Texan started his career with Trini Lopez, then played with Johnny Rivers. In early 1965, Dylan watched a Rivers show at Los Angeles' Whisky A Go Go and sent a waitress to fetch Jones during a break.

"You're the best rock drummer I've ever heard," Dylan told Jones. The drummer was playing in Detroit months later when Albert Grossman, Dylan's manager, left frantic messages at his hotel urging Jones to join Dylan's new electric band.

"When Bob called, I had a speech ready to say no," Jones recalls. "I was getting $500 a week and all expenses paid with Johnny Rivers. That was serious dough. But Bob offered me $750 a week, and it took my breath away."

He accepted until Dylan mentioned that Jones would have to pay for hotels and meals. Jones declined. Dylan's counter-offer: He'd cover travel and lodging but not food.

"I said OK," Jones says. "Bob tells me, 'Keep this quiet because the other guys are paying their bills.' I got the best deal."

The Hawks were Robbie Robertson on guitar, Rick Danko on bass, Garth Hudson on organ and Richard Manuel on piano. Jones was their fourth drummer. Weary of the road, original member Levon Helm had returned to Arkansas and was replaced by Bobby Gregg and Sandy Konikoff before Jones stepped in.
The six jelled during all-night rehearsals at Columbia's Hollywood studio. One night during a break, Jones took Dylan to the Whisky to see Otis Redding's midnight show and introduced the two singers afterward in a dressing room.

"I've got a great song for you," Dylan told Redding as he picked up a guitar and began singing Just Like a Woman. "I'd record that in a minute," Redding replied enthusiastically. The soul legend was killed in a plane crash before he had the chance, but he warmly recalls the encounter with Dylan in the liner notes of a 1968 live album recorded at the Whisky.

The tour launched April 9 in Honolulu. Jones says, "We kicked a - -." It ended on May 26-27 with two legendary shows at London's Royal Albert Hall, attended by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Prince Charles.

Jones decided not to follow Dylan and the Hawks to Woodstock, N.Y. "I knew what would happen," he says. "Every day, it would be, 'Let's get loaded.' I was never into drugs and alcohol. It's a crutch I didn't need."

So Jones headed to Hollywood and found work as a movie extra. He agreed to rejoin Dylan in August to rehearse for upcoming shows at Shea Stadium and in Moscow. "But then Bob called me from the hospital," Jones says. "He had flipped his motorcycle and broken his neck. He was in traction and couldn't move. Everything was canceled."

Except Jones' paychecks. Dylan kept him on salary for another year. "I had a two-year deal, and Bob never tried to renege," Jones says. "He's a man of his word."

Jones teamed with Kenny Rogers & the First Edition until 1976, then turned his sights on Hollywood, playing mostly "bikers, killers and bad guys." Seven years ago, he joined Home Improvement.

He occasionally bumps into Dylan; they sat together at a recent kick-boxing match. He seldom drums but is thrilled about Live 1966's release. "It validates what we did," he says. "And I'm proud that my name's on it."

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