Bob Dylan Plays Letterman With Unknown Punk Band The Plugz: “Bob told us to tell the cops we were playing with Waylon Jennings.”

On this day in 1984 Bob Dylan appeared on the David Letterman TV show backed by unknown new wave trio The Plugz. Bassist Tony Marsico tells MOJO the full story.

Bob Dylan David Letterman 1984

by Danny Eccleston |
Updated on

On March 22 1984, Bob appeared on David Letterman with an unknown New Wave trio The Plugz, playing a punky three-song set. Cue an incandescent Jokerman and some harmonica confusion. If viewers were surprised, so were the band, recalls bassist Tony Marsico...

“In 1981 I was living in a one-room, roach-infested apartment on Cherokee in Hollywood, California. Our band the Plugz were local favorites. Gigs were plentiful, but the pay wasn’t. In the summer of ‘82 our band headed east to NYC. We billed ourselves as the Plugz, but our new name (The Cruzados) and our new direction were just around the corner. We didn’t hang around the Apple long and I landed back in LA - this time with five bucks in my pocket, my Fender bass, and an old sleeping bag. Just as things seemed to be getting grimmer, our band received a phone call that would change our lives.

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I guess we’ll never really know for sure how Dylan found our little band. Some insist Bob sat next to them at a club one summer evening checking us out. Others say Dylan’s son Jakob turned him on. What I do know is our drummer Chalo received a call requesting he bring some musicians up to Dylan’s home in Point Dume (Malibu) for a little jamming. After trying out many different combinations of musicians, Dylan finally asked Chalo to bring me up to the house one day. We brought with us our old pal J.J. Holiday, who would play guitar and make a great pot of coffee that Bob seemed to enjoy a lot. J.J. knew and understood the blues, something we knew Bob would appreciate. Whatever happened that first day of rehearsal is a mystery. Things just clicked with Bob. Maybe it was the fact that we were young, dumb, or really just didn’t give a fuck, that won him over.

We dove head first into rehearsing – if you would call it that – a couple days a week, off and on, for the next year. Bob would jam on extended grooves for 20, 30 minutes at a time with vocalist Clydie King close by his side. We rarely hit the same song twice, playing old covers and talking about what was happening in the world. The Plugz had been used to rehearsing in sweaty old rooms, but now we found ourselves side by side with Bob staring out over the blue Pacific. It was loud, and raw, and Bob seemed to like it that way, so much so that the cops came by one day. Bob hightailed it out the back door and instructed us to tell the cops we were playing with Waylon Jennings.”

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He never told us once what to play. He just let us do our thing. One day Bob came in and asked us if we had ever heard of David Letterman and would we want to perform on his show. It didn't take long to answer that question. Of course, I thought it was odd that he would choose a couple of young unknown punks to join him on such a high profile gig – after all, it would be our first time ever performing on national TV. Just prior to show time I ran into the other guest on the show that evening, Liberace, my mom’s favourite. We pressed Bob’s manager, Bill Graham, hard, asking what songs we would play on live TV, but Bob liked to keep us hanging until the last second, not even telling us what keys we’d be playing them in. I felt our show was loose, but I never minded that.

Those who watched us on that night so long ago either loved it or hated it, and that always gave J.J., Chalo and myself a good laugh. About a year later Bob joined my band the Cruzados in the studio and blew some harmonica on one of our tunes Rising Sun before mysteriously disappearing into the night. That would be the last time I’d ever see him, no warm fuzzy goodbye, just what I’d want and expect from Bob Dylan.

Tony Marsico is the author of I’m Just Here For The Gig (

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