You've probably heard Rhett Miller with his Texas alt-country band, the Old '97s, even if you didn't know it–the Old '97s rewrote that infectious Chili's song, made an appearance in the Vince Vaugn/Jennifer Aniston movie the Break Up and had a track on the Clay Pigeons soundtrack.
Or, these days, you might know Rhett Miller as the guy who convinced Bob Dylan to let him re-write the words to “Desolation Row,” a track off the 1965 album Highway 61 Revisited.
The song came about because of Miller's penchant for singing Dylan's “Desolation Row” with made-up lyrics on road-trips, just so that he could stay awake on long drives. Once when messing around with the name of a nearby college town, the lyrics stuck, and it was decided that the band should somehow figure out the legal issues and record it.
But Bob Dylan literally gets hundreds of requests like this a year. How did Rhett Miller convince him to say yes?
According to our friends at the Village Voice:
We were able to get to his manager–even though he turns down, he says, a hundred requests like this out of hand every day–and because he's friends with our manager, he passed it onto Dylan. Two weeks later, I heard back that Dylan had listened to it and he'd liked it but he wanted to read the lyrics before he signed off. So then I had to type out the lyrics and let Dylan sit there and read my lyrics. I'd never typed up anything that fast before! And it was on my iPhone, like, thumb typing. The next day I got the call that Dylan likes it, and he likes it enough to give us half the publishing on it, which we didn't even ask for.
The result of the collaboration is a song called “Champaign, Illinois,” an uptempo take on the “Desolation Row” melody with Rhett Miller's lyrics. If you're lucky, he might play it for you live.
Rhett Miller will be performing songs from his brand new, self-titled album–and maybe even “Champaign, Illinois”–at the Autry on Wednesday, May 4 at 7 p.m.