A letter from César Díaz

Some years ago, I got an email which surprised me, to say the least. It bore the title “Dylan with no harp!”, probably in response to something I had written about that, and was from a certain César Díaz. Not something that happens every day, to be sure, that I’m contacted by one of Dylan’s former guitar players.

He wrote:

When I was his tech before I joined the band, I always made sure that there would be plenty of harmonicas for him to use, in minor keys, sharps and flats — you name it I had it.

After I left to have my liver transplant, the new tech never bothered to ask me how I handled Bob. Consequently he began giving Bob the same old harmonicas even though some would already be blown. I had a harmonica tester made by Hohner — a very simple device, but I could then tell if any of them were bad or defective. I heard around ’97 that Bob was throwing the harmonicas at the new tech — no need to wonder why!

I doubt that any back injury would prevent Dylan from ever using the harmonica again, to my knowledge it seems more a ”lack” of trust. Bob’s a creature of habits, and once he falls into a ”groove” he rarely changes, unless of course the same bad thing would happen time after time …

I only allowed a set of 7 harmonicas to remain for only three shows at the most! After that … I would always be concerned and would lay 7 new ones on the platter. He never complained to me about having a bad harmonica… It takes one to know one!

Thank you, César Díaz ®©

I wrote back to him, asking him for permission to publish his mail — given that he had sent it to someone who ran a Dylan website, I assumed that might have been what he had in mind. I also hinted at the rumours that there should be some kind of contract preventing people in Dylan’s vicinity from saying too much in public. He answered:

Thanks Eyolf: As long as it is printed with your very same introduction, I cannot see anything wrong with it.

I don’t have anything against Bob and grew to like him quite a lot, it’s a shame that other musicians and people who, for a period of time, however lengthily, cannot tell when the gleam is gone. We all have jobs and relations that for any number of reasons can end at any moment, heck life’s that way, here today and gone this afternoon…

I for one never signed any contract with Dylan’s management concerning interviews or my own career. Bob of all people knows that the company you keep says a lot about you; he left home and came east to find his hero and quickly associated himself with a legend very much so as I did. I struggled with my pride and ability as a musician and sacrificed precious time for the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Bob and many others. I knew it was my time to leave and that I was dying — I left without any kind of compensation except for clothes and guitars, hats and things that I could use. I was even told by his current manager that I was ‘not what he would call record company material’ — this coming from a person that could not play his way out of a paper bag, let alone be able to humble himself to become ‘the bag carrier’ as Victor Maymudes did.

Many of the people who have worked for Dylan in the past have a notion that they will return someday and that if they don’t say anything about their experience then they will have a better chance because they have kept their lips sealed, ‘loose lips sink ships’ they say… but I am no longer on that ship… I was given a new lease on life which cost $375,000.00. I had to sell many things I truly would have loved to keep, many came from Bob. To me his generosity in both allowing me to play in his Band and the gifts I’ve received throughout the years has been enourmous and I am very sure he appreciates the fact that I didn’t lean on him for any help. He called me right before I was to be operated and offered me his prayers. Things like that mean a lot to me.

We played the song ‘Oxford Town’ for the only time ever, in Oxford Mississippi. I am a man of color and that to me was the greatest honor. I speak the truth to the best of my recollection — some things have become hazy but for the most part I have no ill feelings concerning the way I was treated or what the press may have said, like ‘roadie turned guitarist’, ‘Dylan’s Puerto Rican roadie’ — maybe being Hispanic makes me a better tech — ‘A Ragtag Band that even included a member of the Crew’ … A lot has been said that I don’t much appreciate but people are entitled to have their opinions… I have mine.

More certain than death itself is the fact that I will never go back, not under the same circumstances. That moment was captured and frozen in time. I look ahead and like Dylan… I ‘Don’t look back’.

César Díaz

A short while later, César Díaz died, and I didn’t know what to do with his mails. They do contain some interesting details which may not shatter anyone’s foundations or change the world in any way, but hey, we’re all addicts, aren’t we — any little tidbit is interesting. And despite the slightly self-indulgent tone, I have grown fond of ‘Dylan’s Puerto Rican roadie’.

As I was cleaning up my desk today, I found my old printouts, and I figured it was time to pass them on. Raise a glass to César, and play Oxford Town one more time.

11 thoughts on “A letter from César Díaz

  1. Yeah a great insight into ‘behind the scenes with Bob’ although actually he said more or less the same, actually alot more, when he was guest of honour at a Manchester Dylan Convention a few years back and I was priviledged enough to spend a bit of time chatting to Cesar who then went on stage and produced a great rendition of ‘All Along the Watchtower’ – to be unfortuntley his final swansong before passing away not many months after. I treasure his guitar pick he gave me, as he did to a few others and a nice tribute song from Bob woulda been his ‘I Remember You’!

  2. I knew Cesar, he was a great guy. He used to get me into the shows, including the now famous four hour show at Toad’s Place in New Haven in 1990. I spoke with him numerous times and I have to say, his private comments about Bob were much less positive than what is written in this letter. At first he was very positive but after a couple of years he had grown cynical and bitter about Bob, and was not afraid to say so.. Just wanted to set the record straight.

  3. Hi eyolf – thank you for printing Cesar’s emails. It was good to hear his voice …

    I met Cesar and got to know him during the Hammersmith shows in the ’90s. As a visitor to the UK, there were a lot of places Cesar wanted to visit whilst in London, and as I was one of the only people working on the shows who had a car there, we got to hang out a bit, picking up cuban heels in the Kings Road etc. …

    I would just like to say, I knew Cesar over a period of several years, and I never once heard him say anything bitter about Bob. It may be that in time Cesar may have had some reason to feel that he was not appreciated – certainly the comment by the manager sounds like one that he resented. The comment from Cesar in his own words, was that he appreciated the generosity that Bob had shown him, and it was good to read that he felt that way and that Bob felt close enough to him to want him to have things of Bob’s. Good to read from his own lips, that Cesar’s last word on his time with Bob was one of good memories and a good road.

    Over time, I met Cesar in many different situations – and countries. Whether Cesar felt ‘close’ to Bob or not, is something only they know. But in the time that I knew Cesar, what was absolutely certain, and very clear if you looked closely, was that Cesar never was less than 100% respectful of Bob, and worked harder than anyone on that stage or behind it, to try to make sure that Bob had what he needed to do his job.

    Cesar did his own job as a tech, with generosity and love. He was as professional a tech as I have ever seen, and had huge enthusiam and great knowledge – and he was a great natural teacher. A man who knew probably more about his craft than anyone he ever met, Cesar Diaz would draw you into his world if he possibly could! A great enthusiast, who would willingly share his knowledge with anyone who would even try to keep up!

    More than anything though, Cesar was a great Dylan afficionado. Everything he did, from the time he got to work until the time he got back on the bus, was oriented around Bob’s needs. Irrespective of what Cesar says about needing to deal with his pride, the truth was he was 100% the tech when that was the job. He was a very loyal man and very respectful of Bob, so if there was any bitterness later, as Scott mentioned above, then it must have been something specific. Certainly through the years that I knew Cesar, he was proud to be the best guitar tech out there, and was 100% on the case when Bob was due to play. There was a lot of respect there that doesn’t come for money.

  4. Hello Eyolf
    As a friend of Cesar’s for over 20 years and being there at the Twist ‘n Shout when he met Bob,reading these coments does my heart good. It was almost like hearing him talk again.
    Linwood Taylor

  5. Thanks Eyolf for posting this and thanks to you who have left memories of Cesar.

    I didn’t know Cesar but I guess we all know that it takes a whole lot of people to bring together what we have enjoyed of Bob over the years and that they are the unsung guys behind the scenes.

    Oxford Town was always one of my favorites and the next time I listen to it and play it, it will be with a thought for Ceser and the many others who have contributed to my delight in Bob’s stuff over the years.


  6. Well then, maybe Mr D will read this and think differently about the harmonica.

    One thing. Dylan didn’t enjoy being labled and some showed him that respect. Need I say more?

  7. This is maybe the wrong place to write this but I was unable to email you. Anyways, I miss tabs for the 65 tour on dylanchords. The brilliant versions of “it’s alright ma” and “love minus zero” (e.g. performance in front of donovan). I think that you’ll find them on Don’t look back, they’re also on youtube. Thanks for a great website! / Viktor

  8. Eylof!

    It’s time to call for bands and artists for the third anual Dylan Fesival threis summer in Sweden. Information – so far only in Swedish – will be posted regularly – with a link to the chords site – here: http://www.rampfever.se

    Any and all musical styles are accepted – of course!!

    Regards, Gerrie

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