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Michael Gray

Michael Gray

Michael Gray is a critic, writer & broadcaster recognised as a world authority on the work of Bob Dylan, and is an expert on rock’n’roll history and the blues, with a special interest in pre-war blues.


He grew up on Merseyside, went to The Cavern, studied History & English Literature at York University, including under the controversial, brilliant critic F. R. Leavis, and as a student journalist interviewed A. J. P. Taylor and Jimi Hendrix.

His pioneering study Song & Dance Man, published in the 1972, was the first full-length critical study of Dylan’s work. A second, updated edition was published in 1981. The massive third edition Song & Dance Man III: The Art of Bob Dylan - 994 pages, including a 112-page study of Dylan’s use of the blues - was published a fortnight before the end of the 20th Century (and in 2000 in the US). Still selling, a seventh reprint was issued in February 2008.

In 1985 he published Mother! The Story of Frank Zappa, updated editions of which came out 1986, 1992, 1993, 1994, 2003 and 2007; a selection of pieces on Dylan, All Across The Telegraph: A Bob Dylan Handbook, was co-edited by Gray in 1987, and in 1996 he co-authored The Elvis Atlas: A Journey Through Elvis Presley’s America, published in hardback in New York by Henry Holt’s Reference Books Division.

He has given talks for the Institute for Folklore Studies in Great Britain & Canada, the Northern Ireland Arts Council, at York, Exeter & Liverpool Universities and Goldsmiths College, London, and at conventions in Austria, Manchester & Leicester. In Spring 2005 he was the Mary Amelia Cummins Harvey Visiting Fellow Commoner at Girton College, Cambridge, and was the closing speaker at the University of Minnesota’s Bob Dylan Symposium in 2007. Since 2000 he has given over 60 talks at arts festivals, literary festivals and arts centres on the topics ‘Bob Dylan & the History of Rock’n’Roll’ and ‘Bob Dylan & the Poetry of the Blues’ - talks that are more like one-man shows than lectures - including at the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame.

His work has been published in Melody Maker, Let It Rock, Creem, Rolling Stone, The Times, Literary Review, Independent, Guardian, Observer, Sunday Times, Weekend Telegraph, Independent on Sunday, Sunday Telegraph, Canadian Folklore Canadien and many other journals. He is a Guardian obituarist for tennis players and major figures in rock’n’roll.

His vast book The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, published by Continuum in New York in 2006 (paperback 2008) won the International Association of Music Libraries’ C.B. Oldman Prize for an outstanding work of reference and research. The first investigative biography of pre-war bluesman Blind Willie McTell, Hand Me My Travelin’ Shoes: In Seach of Blind Willie McTell, which is also part travelogue, was published by Bloomsbury in 2007 (paperback 2008) and was shortlisted for the 2008 James Tait Black Prize for Biography. Hand Me My Travelin’ Shoes will be published in the US by Chicago Review Press on September 1 (2009).

Michael lives in South-West France with food-writer Sarah Beattie.

List of articles in the library by artist

Brian Auger: Straight Ahead Again

Interview by Michael Gray, Melody Maker, July 1974

BRIAN AUGER has been stomping round the commercial radio stations as part of his duty in promoting his latest album Straight Ahead by the Brian ...

Maggie Bell: Queen Of The Night

Review by Michael Gray, Let It Rock, April 1974

THIS REVIEW WAS planned as a joint one, intended to incorporate new albums from Carole King, Buffy St. Marie and other notable women artists. However, ...

Tony Bennett: Hi-De-Hi-Me To The Moon: Tony Bennett At Butlins

Report by Michael Gray, Daily Telegraph, December 1990

IT WAS AN ADVERT in a tabloid that caught my eye. "Lose Your Heart To Tony Bennett... Butlin's Super Weekend Break." Mesmerised, I read on: ...

The Buzzcocks: The Other One Speaks!

Interview by Michael Gray, ZigZag, May 1979

WHEN YOU GO and see Buzzcocks, there are four of them. Up at the back, as high on his rostrum as an Old Bailey judge, ...

The Byrds, Roger McGuinn: Roger McGuinn and Country Rock: Older Than Yesterday

Retrospective and Interview by Michael Gray, Let It Rock, January 1975

IT'S FRIDAY 30TH AUGUST, in Birmingham England, and it's afternoon. Roger McGuinn is listening to a track off his second solo album, Peace On You. ...

Eric Clapton: Eric Suits Himself: Clapton At Birmingham NEC Arena

Live Review by Michael Gray, Times, The, 1990

ERIC CLAPTON IS a complex man – or, expressed in the terms his image encourages, he's an odd bloke, old Eric. ...

Joe Cocker: I Can Stand A Little Rain

Review by Michael Gray, Let It Rock, November 1974

ONE APPROACHES a new Joe Cocker album in the same way one peers back at a road accident – to see if what's there is ...

Bob Dylan: Dylan

Review by Michael Gray, Let It Rock, April 1974

ME, I LIKE IT. I don't accept the much-aired view that if it had been up to Dylan, he would never have issued an album ...

Bob Dylan: Dylan Opens New European Tour

Report by Michael Gray, Daily Telegraph, April 2002

THE OMENS ARE bad from the start. Take the Stockholm subway to Globen, the stop for the stadium, and you alight in a postmodern mega-estate, ...

Bob Dylan: From Rock to Acid Rock

Essay by Michael Gray, International Times, October 1968

FROM ROCK to Acid Rock is first a ride to freedom, second an illusion. Rock, the kind of music for which Rosko still does extravagant ...

Bob Dylan: Is It Rolling Bob?: A Reggae Tribute to Bob Dylan

Review by Michael Gray, Observer Music Monthly, August 2004

THE SUBTITLE CONFESSES that all we have here is a concept album – that despite the liner notes claiming that "Jamaica was into Bob Dylan", ...

Bob Dylan: On the trail of the Bobcat: Bob Dylan

Live Review by Michael Gray, Daily Telegraph, April 2002

THE OMENS are bad from the start. Take the Stockholm subway to Globen, the stop for the arena, and you alight in a postmodern estate, ...

Bob Dylan: The Art of the Ageless Bob Dylan

Retrospective by Michael Gray, Daily Telegraph, April 2001

Bob Dylan is approaching his 60th birthday on a tide of adulation. Michael Gray, a long-time Dylan chronicler, considers his lasting appeal. ...

Bob Dylan: Blood On The Tracks

Review by Michael Gray, Let It Rock, April 1975

I DON'T KNOW HOW, but some adjustment in our consciousness must now follow from the fact that it is Bob Dylan who has produced, in ...

Emerson Lake And Palmer: Emerson, Lake & Palmer Ascending

Profile and Interview by Michael Gray, Crawdaddy!, August 1971

Their first album rides high in the bestseller lists. Their first tour, from the Fillmore East to Carnegie Hall, has been a real and resounding ...

The Everly Brothers: Creators Of Country Pop

Retrospective by Michael Gray, Melody Maker, November 1973

THE EVERLY BROTHERS – Don and Phil – first emerged in the rock 'n' roll market in 1957, with a unique harmony-vocal sound, a modern ...

Jimi Hendrix: How Rock Society Blew Another Mind

Essay by Michael Gray, Let It Rock, February 1974

WHEN JIMI HENDRIX flew into England for the first time, with Chas Chandler, they went straight from the airport to Zoot Money's house for an ...

Curtis Knight, Jimi Hendrix: Knight Life: Curtis Knight

Report by Michael Gray, Let It Rock, June 1974

JIMI HENDRIX FANS will be familiar with Curtis Knight’s name: he’s the man who found Hendrix down and out in New York in 1965, gave ...

The Incredible String Band: Incredible String Band: York University, York

Live Review by Michael Gray, Rolling Stone, August 1969

YORK IS A WALLED medieval city that belongs to Rowntrees Chocolate. You step off the train on some evenings and the scent of After Eight ...

John Lennon: Dead Aid/Instant Bad Karma By The Mersey: The John Lennon Memorial Concert, Pier Head, Liverpool

Report by Michael Gray, Times, The, May 1990

IT HAS TAKEN the music industry five years to transform the rock-stars-for-charity mega-event from Bob Geldof's coherent effort to ameliorate a real tragedy to this ...

Jerry Lee Lewis - The Session

Review by Michael Gray, Let It Rock, July 1973

WHEN YOU HEAR of an album a fortnight or so before getting hold of it, and pepper the intermediate couple of weeks with anticipation, you ...

Man, Manfred Mann: Manfred Mann's Earth Band: Glorified Magnified/Man: Live At The Padget Rooms, Penarth

Review by Michael Gray, Let It Rock, December 1972

GLORIFIED MAGNIFIED is a new album from a famous star and his relatively new much-publicised band, and comes in a glossy, snazzy package – fold-out ...

Don McLean: Don McLean

Review by Michael Gray, Let It Rock, March 1973

THERE ARE TIMES when rock music seems about as relevant as O-level Geography, and listening to Don McLean's new album is one of them. ...

Joni Mitchell: For The Roses

Review by Michael Gray, Let It Rock, March 1973

THIS IS ONE of those albums which makes me feel I should apologise to the artist concerned for previously undervaluing her work. Even as late ...

Van Morrison: TB Sheets

Review by Michael Gray, Let It Rock, June 1974

I FOUND VAN MORRISON by a most tortuous, circumlocutory route: first (after the mediocrity of 'Here Comes The Night') there was, of course, 'Gloria', which ...

Odetta: 1930 — 2008

Profile by Michael Gray, Rock's Backpages, December 2010

N.B. This profile is an updated version based on Odetta's entry in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia ...

Roy Orbison: 1960's Man Of Integrity

Profile by Michael Gray, Melody Maker, March 1974

ROY ORBISON seems fated to be Mr. 1960. That's when he began a cascade of hit singles. That's when he became a star in Britain. ...

Elvis Presley: 25% Of The King: Col. Tom Parker

Obituary by Michael Gray, Guardian, The, January 1997

COLONEL TOM PARKER, the flamboyant tent-show hustler who was Elvis Presley's Svengalian manager, has died in Las Vegas at the age of almost 90. He ...

Elvis Presley: He Made Old Men's Blues Sound Young: Remembering Elvis

Comment by Michael Gray, Daily Telegraph, August 2002

WE REMEMBER his ignominious end, and the cavalcade of white Cadillacs driving through Memphis for his funeral 25 years ago this month, but mostly the ...

Elvis Presley: Memphis Still Sings The Blues

Report by Michael Gray, Daily Telegraph, August 2002

MEMPHIS IS ONLY technically in Tennessee. In psychic reality, it's the capital of Mississippi. Everyone who lives there knows it. What this 50 per cent ...

Elvis Presley: Revolt Into Style

Essay by Michael Gray, Melody Maker, March 1974

ELVIS PRESLEY. The giant among giants, and yet also that strange kind of comic-book hero, Mr Reverso Man. ...

Elvis Presley: The King and I: A Visit to Graceland

Report by Michael Gray, Daily Telegraph, August 2001

KREATURE COMFORTS – "the Lowlife Guide to Memphis" – claims that Memphis can offer visitors "the best or worst of vacations: you could hit a ...

John Prine: Sweet Revenge

Review by Michael Gray, Let It Rock, January 1973

A NEW ALBUM by John Prine is an event. Let it be said at once that Prine is immeasurably the best singer-songwriter to come out ...

Doug Sahm: Groovers Paradise

Review by Michael Gray, Let It Rock, December 1974

DOUG SAHM'S LAST album, Doug Sahm And Band on Atlantic Records, was one of the very finest bits of squashed vinyl of 1973. Sahm's band ...

Buffy Sainte-Marie: Buffy St Marie: The Best Of Buffy Sainte-Marie Volume 2 (Vanguard)/Buffy (MCA)

Review by Michael Gray, Let It Rock, June 1974

WHEN BUFFY ST. MARIE is good she is very, very good, and when she is bad she is horrid. It is her misfortune that her ...

Slade: Sladest

Review by Michael Gray, Let It Rock, December 1973

SLADE REMINDS ME of 1963 – not because their music is that regressive, but because the pattern is the same: Lennon-McCartney/Jagger-Richard (or Nanker-Phlenge, as they ...

Frank Zappa 1940-1993

Obituary by Michael Gray, Daily Mail, December 1993

FRANK ZAPPA, who has died of cancer in Los Angeles at the age of 52, might well be seen as the last wild man of ...

Frank Zappa: Outrage And Invention

Profile by Michael Gray, Melody Maker, July 1974

FRANK ZAPPA is the only West Coast musician who emerged in the 1960s without giving free promotion to the California Tourist Board. ...

Frank Zappa: The Double Life Of Frank Zappa,

Profile and Interview by Michael Gray, Daily Telegraph, September 1992

SINCE CONTRACTING prostate cancer in 1989 Frank Zappa, now 51, has cancelled many public appearances and new projects. Tonight he re-emerges at the Frankfurt Music ...

List of genre pieces

East Coast Lives: The Rockin' Chiropodist

Profile by Michael Gray, LiveWire, October 1994

IT'S IMPOSSIBLE to interview Charles White if you walk alongside him around the streets of his adopted hometown, Scarborough: too many people are greeting him ...

Rail Good Lesson in the Blues

Report by Michael Gray, Daily Telegraph, October 2004

Michael Gray follows the trail of some great American musicians who moved from the rural South in the early 1900s. ...

Robert Palmer

Obituary by Michael Gray, Guardian, The, December 1997

ROBERT PALMER, THE distinguished American music journalist and blues expert, has died in New York aged 52. ...

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