Highway 61 Revisited John Bushey KUMD

Legend in his own time. Local hero. Bard of the Bayfront. Wizard. Shape-shifter. Survivor. Jack of all trades and master of many. You’re thinking this will be about Bob Dylan, right?
Dylan is all that and more, but I am referring to the man who brings Dylan into our living rooms, iPods, kitchens, cars, and consciousness twice a week, John Bushey.


A lifelong Duluth resident, Bushey is most familiar as the weekly emcee of Highway 61 Revisited, which airs Saturdays and Mondays at 5 p.m. on KUMD. This is his twenty-fifth year as the show’s host, though the official celebration is not until October.


Selections are usually organized around a theme: The Basement Tapes, album covers, guest listener picks, Rolling Thunder Tour. The choice of theme depends entirely on what inspires Bushey, and sometimes inspiration takes its sweet time arriving. “I’m more like an abstract artist; I just do what feels right at the time.”

 

Photo by Phil Fitzpatrick

Radio host John Bushey kicks off his Dylan-themed show with a reassuring, “Good evening, and welcome to Highway 61 Revisited.”


Bushey is known, in the Twin Ports and across the country, as a master in the art of assembling an hour-long show made up of, derived from, and influenced by Dylan’s music. His most popular show was “Dylan and the Beatles,” where he played songs that illustrated the cross-pollination between the two.
For the February 20 show, he pulled tunes around two themes (time passes and love fades) identified by IBM’s super-computer, Watson, as central to Dylan’s music. The playlist included “Not Dark Yet,” “Girl from the North Country,” “One Too Many Mornings,” and the rarely-played road ballad, “I Was Young When I Left Home.”


Once, early in his career at KUMD, he jury-rigged an interview with Dylan by splicing clips from recorded interviews with his own questions. Innocently enough, he ran the faux interview, but when he left the studio, “there were 15 or 20 people outside with albums in their hands, waiting to ask Dylan for his autograph. I realized that, while I could master the technology easily enough, I had to be careful with the use of Dylan’s voice.”


In the last decade, since being diagnosed with follicular lymphoma, he has been through continuous treatments leading up to stem cell replacement therapy in Rochester last fall, yet he has missed remarkably few shows. A friend took over for a while in 2004-5, and KUMD has a bank of old shows to use. Most of the time, Bushey delivers Dylan’s music to us whether he feels up to it or not.


There is much reverence for Bushey far beyond Duluth. While visiting New York City, he wandered into a record store that carried bootlegged Dylan music. Incredulous at the selection, he asked the owner if there were more disks that were not already on display. The proprietor proudly replied, “No, what you see is what I’ve got. But I have plenty of bootlegs of your show hidden away!”


After doing graduate work in geology in the ’80s at UMD, he earned his elementary school teaching license and works at Piedmont Elementary, where he never passes up a chance to use some aspect of Dylan’s music.


He is also a professional magician. In one spellbinding session during the Duluth Dylan Fest, he wowed the audience with rope tricks that drew a connection between his two lifelong heroes, Dylan and Harry Houdini.


Telling stories comes naturally to Bushey, and he takes great delight weaving a story about both Dylan and magic. Recently, he wanted to get into an exhibit of rock-and-roll memorabilia in Clear Lake, Iowa, site of Buddy Holly’s final concert in 1959. “I just wanted to see if they had any Dylan stuff, but she said they weren’t open yet...So I just did a couple of magic tricks, and she let us right in.”


Bushey is a key figure in Duluth’s annual Dylan birthday celebration, bringing in Dylan experts like Rolling Thunder Tour violinist Scarlet Rivera, Twin Cities magician Marc Percansky, Dylan’s high school English teacher, the late B.J. Rolfzen, author Toby Thompson, and this year, Southwest Minnesota State University English professor and Dylan expert Dr. David Pichaske.


This year would be Dylan’s 75th, and Bushey’s connections and skill promise to make the May 22-29 festival as memorable and authentic as his one-of-a-kind radio show.

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