I saw Rivera play during Rolling Thunder and was always intrigued by the huge contribution she made to Dylan’s music during that period. However, after Hard Rain, Live 1975 and Biograph, she disappeared, at least to me.
Years passed and I moved to New York City. By then, Rivera was out of sight and out of mind. Then, one night in April, 2006, I saw a notice that Rivera was playing in a tiny club in Greenwich Village. I went there, finding it mostly empty. While waiting for Rivera to appear, I spoke with a lady sitting alone at the table next to me.
I told her why I was there. Then she asked, would you like to meet Scarlet? It turns out they were close friends. After Scarlet performed several great Dylan songs that night, she came over to our table and we talked for a long time. She was a charming, friendly lady with some extraordinary experiences.
What I found most amazing was how Dylan found her. No auditions, just blind luck. It was on the afternoon of June 30, 1975. Rivera was walking from her Lower East Side apartment carrying her violin case. She was headed to a rehearsal with a Latin band that paid her $100 a week.
I’ll pick up the story from an account in People magazine: "This car comes up and cuts me off," recalled Rivera. "Some ugly green car." A woman inside asked her if she really knew how to play the violin.
The driver, who didn’t speak, didn’t show his face, but Rivera knew him instantly by his iconic profile. It was Bob Dylan.
"He asked the woman to ask me for my phone number, but I told her to tell him that I didn't give out my number to somebody stopping me on the street." No, not even to Bob Dylan.
"Come downtown and rehearse with me," Dylan then said, speaking to Rivera for the first time. Dylan offered her a ride, but instead of taking Rivera to her scheduled rehearsal, he took her to his own rehearsal studio.
At the studio, Rivera accompanied Dylan on new songs that would end up on Desire. Dylan played guitar while Rivera tried to follow on violin. The songs were One More Cup Of Coffee, Mozambique and Isis. Dylan then switched to the piano, and they tried more songs in different keys. Rivera’s violin gave Dylan's material a hypnotic, Middle-Eastern sound.
After the rehearsal, Dylan took Rivera to see a "friend" playing in a club. He was Muddy Waters. Dylan ended up joining Waters on stage that evening. Afterward, Dylan, Rivera, Waters, and his band all went to Victoria Spivey's home is Brooklyn, where Rivera and Dylan kept jamming, talking, and listening to old records.
When Dylan began recording Desire on July 14, Rivera was present at all six sessions. On less than 24 hours notice, she appeared with him when he recorded the PBS special, The World Of John Hammond, on September 10. They rehearsed Simple Twist Of Fate in a dressing room before the show.
Rivera toured with Dylan in the Rolling Thunder Revue during 1975 and 1976. She was in Dylan's movie, Renaldo and Clara, and in Hard Rain, his TV special. Rivera’s work with Dylan got her a contract with Warner Brothers Records. Today, she still tours with a Dylan tribute band, as well as playing New Age, Celtic and World music.
As with so many musicians on the “never ending tour,” Rivera never worked with Dylan again. However, in my mind at least, she is a musician who made an indelible impression on some of Dylan’s best music. And it all began with a random encounter on the street. Talk about luck!Thanks to People Magazine, Bob Dylan Examiner and Clinton Heylin for information used in this article.