At Bobdylan.com Sean Wilentz wrote in "The Roving Gambler at Scenic Newport":
In 1957, Andy Griffith starred in the Budd Schulberg-Elia Kazan film A Face in the Crowd
, playing Lonesome Rhodes, a convicted hobo and country singer who, thanks to a shrewd producer (played by Patricia Neal) becomes a nationwide T.V. celebrity and reactionary demagogue -- a forerunner of Rush Limbaugh and Bob Roberts.
Bob Dylan saw A Face In The Crowd
, and, reportedly, was more shaken by it than by any film he'd seen since Rebel Without a Cause
. At a crucial moment in the film, Griffith's character realizes he's going to make a fortune and starts singing an exuberant and menacing version of "The Roving Gambler."
On August 24, 1997, Bob Dylan -- who had cheated death weeks earlier and was now on the verge of releasing an album, Time Out Of Mind
, that would reclaim his career -- played a concert in Vienna, Virginia. The songs included "The Roving Gambler," which Dylan and his new band had added to their set list a few months earlier. (They would eventually alternate it with "Duncan and Brady.") Three songs later, after "Blind Willie McTell," Dylan introduced his band and acknowledged the presence in the audience of one of the men "who unlocked the secrets of this kind of music," Alan Lomax. (At Newport, in 1965, Lomax along with Pete Seeger led the old guard that objected to the blasts of white-boy electricity, including Dylan's. Now all seemed forgiven.) Then, with a mischievous audible chuckle, Dylan and the band kicked into a roaring "Highway 61 Revisited," a consummate Dylan rocker of the kind that had so enraged Lomax in 1965. "This kind of music," indeed - except that "Highway 61" includes the following verse, with ominous undertones of both ancient folk music and "A Face in the Crowd":
Now the rovin' gambler he was very bored
He was tryin' to create a next world war
He found a promoter who nearly fell off the floor
He said I never engaged in this kind of thing before
But yes I think it can be very easily done
We'll just put some bleachers out in the sun
And have it on Highway 61.
On July 19, 2002, two weeks before what the New York Times would soon be hyping as Bob Dylan's triumphant return to Newport, Alan Lomax died. But something of his spirit, and that of the recently dead Dave Van Ronk, and also those of Tennessee Ernie Ford, Don and Phil Everly, Robert Mitchum, Lonesome Rhodes, and Tony Glover, hit the stage running when Dylan, in a cowboy hat, a fake beard, and a wig that made it seem, from five rows back, as if he'd sprouted enormous flowing orthodox Jewish ear locks, opened his set with the Brothers Four's arrangement of "The Roving Gambler."
If you've never seen Kazan's film it's dropped-jaw startling, as if someone had made a documentary about the reinvention of George Bush the First back in 1957. Griffith is incredible as a genuinely evil Will Rogers sort of character.