5. Bob Dylan (Robert Zimmerman)

Bob Dylan (born Robert Allen Zimmerman in 1941) is a singer/songwriter from Hibbing, a mining town in the Mesabi Iron Range of northern Minnesota. As a schoolboy, Zimmerman was an indifferent student with a keen interest in art and poetry. At nights he would often listen to the radio, where he heard the sounds of blues and country music from Louisiana and other far-flung places. He discovered rock and roll in the mid-fifties, and organized local bands as a teenager. After graduating from high school, he spent one year enrolled at the University of Minnesota. He rarely attended class, but he managed to discover the beautiful storytelling within folk music.

“Folk music was a reality of a more brilliant dimension. It exceeded all human understanding, and if it called out to you, you could disappear and be sucked into it. I felt right at home in this mythical realm made up not with individuals so much as archetypes, vividly drawn archetypes of humanity, metaphysical in shape, each rugged soul filled with natural knowing and inner wisdom. Each demanding a degree of respect. I could believe in the full spectrum of it and sing about it. It was so real, so more true to life than life itself. It was life magnified. Folk music was all I needed to exist. Trouble was, there wasn’t enough of it. It was out of date, had no proper connection to the actualities, the trends of the time. It was a huge story but hard to come across. Once I slipped in beyond the fringes it was like my six-string guitar became a crystal magic wand and I could move things like never before. I had no other cares or interests besides folk music. I scheduled my life around it. I had little in common with anyone not like-minded.”

— Bob Dylan “Chronicles, Volume 1”

Bob Dylan (b. 1941), singer, songwriter, guitar, harmonica, piano

Bob Dylan Records His First Album For Columbia

In early 1961, Dylan traveled to New York City, where he hoped to both perform and meet his musical idol, Woody Guthrie, who was hospitalized there. Indeed, he spent significant time with the ailing folk singer, and established himself as a regular act in the burgeoning Greenwich Village folk scene. Dylan was not considered a premier performer at first; he was renowned for his encyclopedic knowledge of old folk songs, but artists such as Dave Van Ronk, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Fred Neil were more popular.

By late 1961, his talent began to attract attention. A positive review in the New York Times, followed by session work playing harmonica for Carolyn Hester caught the attention of producer John Hammond, who signed Dylan to a record contract. This was a surprise to both the folk music community and Columbia Records management. Hammond was a legend in the business, having discovered and promoted the talents of jazz greats Benny Goodman, Count Basie and Billie Holiday, among others, but few could see the potential in the young folk singer with the unusual voice. Bob Dylan’s first album, recorded in just six hours in November 1961, sold poorly, prompting fellow Columbia record executives to label the singer “Hammond’s Folly”. But Dylan responded with a brilliant second album (The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan in 1963), which included several songs now considered folk standards, especially “Blowin’ In The Wind”, an instant classic and a popular hit for folk trio Peter, Paul & Mary. Over the next two years, Dylan revolutionized the art of folk songwriting, crafting songs of great lyrical sophistication, songs of love and protest and hypocrisy, that sent musicologists and sociologists scrambling for their notepads and record players, eager to decipher what the great young philosopher meant. Suddenly, Bob Dylan was the country’s preeminent songwriter, and thrust into an uncomfortable, unwanted role as “spokesman for a generation”.

Dylan Goes Electric

From his arrival in New York City in 1961, until the release of Bringing It All Back Home in May, 1965, Bob Dylan performed as a solo act, though his songs were sometimes recorded with spare, acoustic accompaniment. But he always had an interest in rock and roll music. Bringing It All Back Home marks the first major transition in Dylan’s career, with one full side of music recorded with an amplified band. In July, 1965, he stunned the audience at the Newport Folk Festival by plugging in and playing raucous and distorted music, offending folk purists who considered the switch to electric music as “going commercial”, and destroying myths that this man was beholden to any group or generation. During this busy period of his career, Dylan also recorded the classic Highway 61 Revisited in the summer of 1965, perhaps his greatest achievement, which cemented his intention to employ electric instruments. Dylan adopted the practice of performing one acoustic set and one electric set at concerts, to mixed reviews. He received a nasty reception in England, documented in D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary Don’t Look Back. The press hounded him, peppering him with irrelevant and condescending questions. In July 1966, an exhausted Dylan crashed his motorcycle near his home in Woodstock, New York. It nearly killed him.

Wikipedia Page for “Electric Dylan Controversy”
Dailymotion Clip: “Dylan Goes Electric”

Dylan recovered, and though some of the insanity with obsessive fandom remained, he was able to begin a mature phase of his musical career which continues today. He is popular music’s “most interesting man” — hundreds of books have been written about his life and work. He has received dozens of awards and honors, including the Presidential Medal of freedom in 2012. I read two books while studying his music, “Bob Dylan In America” by Sean Wilentz and “Chronicles, Volume 1” by Bob Dylan. Both are recommended. He is intensely private, and rarely makes himself available for interviews. After touring sporadically for years, Dylan embarked on a Never Ending Tour in 1988, and has played about a hundred concerts per year through 2013. He is arguably the most influential artist from the second half of the 20th century. There is a wealth of information available about Bob Dylan; here are a few links to get started.

Offical Bob Dylan Website
Johanna’s Visions: Fine Music Site Featuring Dylan and Others
Boblinks: An Extensive List of Websites Dedicated to Bob Dylan

Amazon.com Link to “Bob Dylan In America” by Sean Wilentz
Amazon.com Link to “Chronicles, Volume 1” by Bob Dylan

A Short List of Contributing Musicians

Bruce Langhorne (b. 1938), guitar
Mike Bloomfield (1943-1981), lead guitar
Al Kooper (b. 1944), Hammond organ, guitar
Charlie McCoy (b. 1941), guitar
Bill Lee (b. 1928), bass
Hargus “Pig” Robbins (b. 1938), piano, keyboards
Tony Garnier (b. 1956), bass
David Hidalgo (b. 1954), guitar, violin, accordion
Augie Meyers (b. 1940), organ, accordion

The Band
Rick Danko (1942-1999), bass
Levon Helm (1940-2012), drums
Garth Hudson (b. 1937), organ
Richard Manuel (1943-1986), piano
Robbie Robertson (b. 1943), guitar

bob-dylan-manchester-2002

A Very Brief Recap of His Career, 1967-Present

As he recovered from his motorcycle accident, Bob Dylan recorded a series of informal sessions (The Basement Tapes) with The Band, who would soon achieve widespread popularity of their own. From 1967 to 1969, he recorded three strong albums using country session musicians in Nashville, Tennessee. Nashville Skyline is my favorite of the three, featuring short, sentimental songs and Dylan as a deep-voiced country crooner. One of the great curiosities of Dylan’s career is how his voice changed, from the nasal sounding delivery of his youth, to the thing, gravelly voice in recent years.

The Delete Bin Blog: The Eight Voices of Bob Dylan

I have limited interest in Dylan’s work of the seventies and eighties. There are fewer compelling songs. And many major record companies lost their way in terms of understanding what makes good sounding records. Synthesizers often replaced traditional musical instruments, and the performances often sound as if every wrong note is eliminated from the finished product. This studio perfection sucks the life out of popular music, a practice that continues today in many genres. The consensus choice for best album during these two decades is Blood On The Tracks.

The Modern Guitar Band

Dylan evolved as a songwriter in a fascinating way. Over the last quarter century he relied more on his vast knowledge of folk music, both recasting traditional songs or using snippets of previously used phrases to create new songs. The practice of using phrases from older folk songs is an ancient tradition, though few employ it today. His skill at assembling soulful musicians continued to grow, and he recorded them in a live informal manner, with minimal production interference. The best post-1990 Dylan recordings sound like live music. A great example is this take on “Cold Irons Bound”, from Time Out Of Mind:

A great example of what is essentially a small jazz combo, with three guitarists (including bass guitarist Tony Garnier) loosely improvising around a highly syncopated rhythm, with Dylan singing and adding the occasional fill. Five and six piece bands with two lead guitars dominate the top of my list of favorite bands. Fleetwood Mac, The Rolling Stones and The Allman Brothers Band are among the early practitioners, with Bob Dylan’s modern work, along with Los Lobos and late-nineties era Lucinda Williams more recently examples. The modern improvising guitar band is not that far removed from dixieland and swing jazz bands of the past.

Bob Dylan has had a great career as a bandleader, with three distinct great bands — the Highway 61 Revisited sessions, with the tinny, upright piano and bright organ lending a carnival atmosphere, the subtle Nashville sessions of Blonde On Blonde and John Wesley Harding, and the contemporary twin guitar sound featured on recent records like Modern Times and Love And Theft.

With A Little Help

By the time I study each musician, I usually have most of the songs I want. Elvis Costello, Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong were examples of artists where I was able to find a number of new songs I liked. Bob Dylan is similar, and the last artist in the countdown with a substantial body of unexplored music. Although not yet featured, Billie Holiday is another artist I’m compelled to explore in significant detail; her supporting bands featured many great jazz musicians.

To expedite the process of learning more Bob Dylan songs, I first studied on my own, then showed my initial list to three friends, asking for suggestions. As a result, I added perhaps twenty more songs, for a total of about one hundred and forty recordings. I’ve enjoyed my three month excursion into Bob Dylan’s music. i learned a lot, and my opinion of his music has grown. Thanks to my friends Kelly, Corry and John for their help.

My Concert Experience

I’ve seen Bob Dylan in concert once. He performed as the headliner with Lucinda Williams and Van Morrison, at the Rose Garden, a large modern basketball arena in Portland, Oregon, in September, 1998. On that tour, Dylan and Morrison took turns playing last. Lucinda opened, and though she was riding a crest of popularity after the release of her most famous album, was given only a half-hour to perform. Van took the stage after a very brief intermission, and proceeded to tear the house down with an upbeat, swinging no-nonsense set, one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen. Dylan came next and was a major disappointment, though it would be hard to follow Morrison’s passionate performance. The music was uninspiring, and Dylan’s singing was hard to understand. Everything sounded fuzzy and distorted. It was hard to even tell which songs were being played. He played “Mr. Tambourine Man”, but different than the way I knew it. We left about halfway through the set. Part of the problem was not knowing all the songs beforehand, but it’s hard to appreciate the music when it can’t be understood. Surely there are great live performances in Bob Dylan’s career, but he seems best suited to the recording studio, where his expressive but weak voice can be properly heard.

Van Morrison is the musician most similar to Bob Dylan. I see Morrison as highly influenced by Dylan, and not the other way around. Among songwriters of the past half century, Dylan is the top of the influence pyramid. If I had to choose one quality of Dylan’s music I like best, it would be the way he punctuates his lyrics, syncopates the sounds, emphasizes the syllables in such a pleasing manner. I rock my head gently back and forth, feeling the rhythm of the words and listening to the sound of the lyrics that roll along with the music so gently. He doesn’t wail. He sings to the music. His ability to make the lyrics swing within the music is beautiful.

Listen To That Duquesne Whistle Blowing!

“Duquesne Whistle” is the opening song on Bob Dylan’s newest album, Tempest. Co-written by Bob Dylan and Robert Hunter, “Duquesne Whistle” is one of my favorite songs of the past few years. It shares a recent distinction of being the greatest song ever by a seventy year old man, along with Paul Simon’s “The Afterlife”, in the last blog entry.

“Can’t you hear that Duquesne whistle blowing,
Blowing like the sky is gonna blow apart.
You’re the only thing alive that keeps me going,
You’re like a time bomb in my heart.
I can hear a sweet voice gently calling,
Must be the mother of our Lord.
Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowing,
Blowing like my woman’s on board.”

The song starts gently, a delicate but complete introduction to the song structure, before the drums and bass kick and take us on our journey. The recording quality has a primitive feel; it sounds like it was recorded at Chess Studios. This one hits all the right buttons for me, with a train as a metaphor for life. The song makes references to his woman, his Lord, and hints that the end of the line is within sight. Elvis Presley was the big train from Memphis, and Bob Dylan is the Duquesne Whistle.

“Duquesne Whistle” is a medium-fast shuffle, a dance song. The band subtly pushes the throttle down as the song moves through the five verses, but never so fast that the train derails. There is a short pause after the fourth verse, a little stop, before kicking into gear for the final verse:

“Can’t you hear that Duquesne whistle blowing,
Blowing through another no good town.
The lights of my native land are glowing,
I wonder if they’ll know me next time around.
I wondered if that old oak tree’s still standing,
That old oak tree, the one we used to climb.
Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowing,
Blowing like she’s blowing right on time.”

— Dylan/Hunter

A little riff for tension, and off they go, over the horizon and into the sunset, with David Hidalgo (I think that’s right. I’m researching it.) leading the way on guitar. If I were to summarize Dylan’s career as a musician, I see a man who began his career determined to bring attention to the injustices of life, who matured into an elder statesman who wants to have fun and enjoy his life and his music. My father would’ve loved “Duquesne Whistle”. I’ve thought so many times about it. He’s the only one I know that would understand. I just wish I could have played it for him before he was gone.

Bob Dylan Songs:

Although my collection draws upon some greatest hits compilations, I will try to present the collection chronologically, as the songs were first made commercially available:

Bob Dylan

Song To Woody, Bob Dylan ★★
The House Of The Rising Sun, Bob Dylan
Talkin’ New York, Bob Dylan
Baby, Let Me Follow You Down, Bob Dylan

The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

Blowin’ In The Wind, Bob Dylan ★★★★
Girl From The North Country, Bob Dylan ★★
Masters Of War, Bob Dylan ★★
A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall, Bob Dylan ★★★
Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright, Bob Dylan ★★★★
Corrina, Corrina, Bob Dylan ★★★
I Shall Be Free, Bob Dylan

The Times They Are A-Changin’mr.

The Times They Are A Changin’, Bob Dylan ★★
Ballad Of Hollis Brown, Bob Dylan
With God On Our Side, Bob Dylan
Only A Pawn In Their Game, Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll, Bob Dylan ★★

Another Side Of Bob Dylan

All I Really Want To Do, Bob Dylan
Chimes Of Freedom, Bob Dylan ★★
My Back Pages, Bob Dylan
It Ain’t Me Babe, Bob Dylan ★★

Bringing It All Back Home

Subterranean Homesick Blues, Bob Dylan ★★★
She Belongs To Me, Bob Dylan ★★★
Love Minus Zero/No Limit, Bob Dylan
Maggie’s Farm, Bob Dylan
Mr. Tambourine Man, Bob Dylan ★★★★★
It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding, Bob Dylan
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue, Bob Dylan ★★★★

Highway 61 Revisited (Deluxe Version)

Like A Rolling Stone, Bob Dylan ★★★★★
Tombstone Blues, Bob Dylan ★★★
It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry, Bob Dylan ★★
Ballad Of A Thin Man, Bob Dylan ★★
Queen Jane Approximately, Bob Dylan
Highway 61 Revisited, Bob Dylan
Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues, Bob Dylan
Desolation Row, Bob Dylan ★★
Tombstone Blues (Alt), Bob Dylan ★★

Blonde On Blonde

Rainy Day Women 12 & 35, Bob Dylan ★★★
I Want You, Bob Dylan
Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again, Bob Dylan ★★
Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat, Bob Dylan
Absolutely Sweet Marie, Bob Dylan
Fourth Time Around, Bob Dylan ★★
Just Like A Woman, Bob Dylan ★★★★★
Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands, Bob Dylan

John Wesley Harding

I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine, Bob Dylan
I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight, Bob Dylan
The Ballad Of Frankie Lee And Judas Priest, Bob Dylan

Nashville Skyline

Girl From The North Country, Bob Dylan (with Johnny Cash) ★★★★
To Be Alone With You, Bob Dylan
Tell Me That It Isn’t True, Bob Dylan
I Threw It All Away, Bob Dylan ★★
Lay Lady Lay, Bob Dylan ★★★
Country Pie, Bob Dylan
Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You, Bob Dylan ★★★

New Morning

If Not For You, Bob Dylan ★★★
Day Of The Locusts, Bob Dylan

Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid (Soundtrack)

Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door, Bob Dylan ★★

Planet Waves

On A Night Like This, Bob Dylan
Forever Young, Bob Dylan

Blood On The Tracks

Tangled Up In Blue, Bob Dylan ★★
Simple Twist Of Fate, Bob Dylan ★★
Shelter From The Storm, Bob Dylan ★★
Buckets Of Rain, Bob Dylan

The Basement Tapes

Million Dollar Bash, Bob Dylan & The Band
Lo And Behold!, Bob Dylan & The Band

Desire

Hurricane, Bob Dylan

Hard Rain (Live)

Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again (Live), Bob Dylan ★★

Shot Of Love

Every Grain Of Sand, Bob Dylan

Infidels

Sweetheart Like You, Bob Dylan

Real Live

Tangled Up In Blue (Live), Bob Dylan

Knocked Out Loaded

Brownsville Girl, Bob Dylan

Oh Mercy

Man In The Long Black Coat, Bob Dylan
Most Of The Time, Bob Dylan

World Gone Wrong

Delia, Bob Dylan
Lone Pilgrim, Bob Dylan

Time Out Of Mind

Love Sick, Bob Dylan ★★
Dirt Road Blues, Bob Dylan
Cold Irons Bound, Bob Dylan ★★

Love And Theft

Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum, Bob Dylan
Mississippi, Bob Dylan
Summer Days, Bob Dylan ★★★
High Water, Bob Dylan ★★

Modern Times

Thunder On The Mountain, Bob Dylan ★★★
Spirit On The Water, Bob Dylan
Rollin’ And Tumblin’, Bob Dylan ★★
When The Deal Goes Down, Bob Dylan
Someday Baby, Bob Dylan ★★★
Workingman’s Blues #2, Bob Dylan
The Levee’s Gonna Break, Bob Dylan ★★★

Together Through Life

Beyond Here Lies Nothin’, Bob Dylan ★★

Tempest

Duquesne Whistle, Bob Dylan ★★★★
Soon After Midnight, Bob Dylan ★★
Narrow Way, Bob Dylan
Early Roman Kings, Bob Dylan
Long And Wasted Years, Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Vol. 2

The Mighty Quinn (Quinn, The Eskimo), Bob Dylan
I Shall Be Released, Bob Dylan ★★

Biograph

You’re A Big Girl Now (Alt), Bob Dylan ★★
Lay Down Your Weary Tune, Bob Dylan

The Bootleg Series, Vol. 1-3 (Rare And Unreleased Recordings) 1961-1991

He Was A Friend Of Mine, Bob Dylan
Let Me Die In My Footsteps, Bob Dylan
Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues (Live), Bob Dylan
Mama, You Been On My Mind, Bob Dylan
She’s Your Lover Now, Bob Dylan
I’ll Keep It With Mine, Bob Dylan ?
If Not For You (Alt), Bob Dylan
Tangled Up In Blue (Alt), Bob Dylan ★★★
Call Letter Blues, Bob Dylan
Idiot Wind (Alt), Bob Dylan ★★
If You See Her, Say Hello (Alt), Bob Dylan
Blind Willie McTell, Bob Dylan ★★

Jerry Macguire (Soundtrack)

Shelter From The Storm (Alt), Bob Dylan ★★

Masked And Anonymous (Soundtrack)

Cold Irons Bound (Live), Bob Dylan ★★★

The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4: The “Royal Albert Hall” Concert

Fourth Time Around (Live), Bob Dylan ★★
Visions Of Johanna (Live), Bob Dylan ★★★★
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue (Live), Bob Dylan ★★
Just Like A Woman (Live), Bob Dylan ★★★
Mr. Tambourine Man (Live), Bob Dylan ★★
Baby, Let Me Follow You Down (Live), Bob Dylan
Ballad Of A Thin Man (Live), Bob Dylan ?
Like A Rolling Stone (Live), Bob Dylan ★★★

The Bootleg Series, Vol. 7: No Direction Home — The Soundtrack

Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright (Alt), Bob Dylan ★★★
Blowin’ In The Wind (Alt), Bob Dylan ★★★
Masters Of War (Live), Bob Dylan ★★★
A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall (Live), Bob Dylan ★★★
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue (Take 1), Bob Dylan ★★★
She Belongs To Me (Alt), Bob Dylan ★★★★
Maggie’s Farm (Live), Bob Dylan ★★★
It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry (Alt), Bob Dylan ★★
Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues (Alt), Bob Dylan ★★
Desolation Row (Alt), Bob Dylan
Highway 61 Revisited (Alt), Bob Dylan ★★

The Bootleg Series, Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signals

Mississippi (Alt), Bob Dylan ★★★
Red River Shore, Bob Dylan
‘Cross The Green Mountain, Bob Dylan ★★

The Bootleg Series, Vol. 9: The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964

Tomorrow Is A Long Time, Bob Dylan

The Bootleg Series, Vol. 10: Another Self-Portrait

I Threw It All Away (Alt), Bob Dylan ★★

Related Songs:

House Of The Rising Sun, The Animals ★★★★
House Of The Rising Sun, Josh White ★★

Blowin’ In The Wind, Peter, Paul & Mary ★★
Blowin’ In The Wind, Stevie Wonder

Corrine Corrina, Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys ★★

All I Really Want To Do, Sonny & Cher

My Back Pages, The Byrds ★★★★
My Back Pages (Live), The Byrds

It Ain’t Me Babe, The Turtles ★★

Mr. Tambourine Man, The Byrds ★★★

It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue, Them ★★★

Like A Rolling Stone (Live), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★

Just Like A Woman (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
Just Like A Woman (Live), Van Morrison ★★

If Not For You, George Harrison
If Not For You, Olivia Newton-John ? (on wish list…maybe her best song)

On A Night Like This, Buckwheat Zydeco ★★

Rollin’ And Tumblin’, Muddy Waters ★★★
Rollin’ And Tumblin’, The Seldom Scene ★★★
Rollin’ And Tumblin’ (Live), Cream ★★

Trouble No More, Muddy Waters ★★★★
Trouble No More, The Allman Brothers Band ★★★
Trouble No More (Live), The Allman Brothers Band ★★★

Someday Baby, Ray Charles

Worried Life Blues, Big Maceo Merriweather ★★

When The Levee Breaks, Led Zeppelin ★★★

The Mighty Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo), Manfred Mann ★★

I Shall Be Released, The Band ★★

He Was A Friend Of Mine, The Byrds ★★

Down On Penny’s Farm, The Bently Boys

Tomorrow Is A Long Time, Rod Stewart ★★

Delia’s Gone, Johnny Cash ★★

Wallflower (Live), David Bromberg

The Ballad Of Frankie Lee And Judas Priest, David Grisman & Jerry Garcia

3 thoughts on “5. Bob Dylan (Robert Zimmerman)

  1. Scheele Mitch April 4, 2014 / 10:10 PM

    I like Harry Nilson’s version of Subterranean Homesick Blues better than the Dylan version.

    • theperfectipodcollection April 5, 2014 / 9:37 PM

      Hi Mitch,

      Thanks. I added it. Thanks for checking in.

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