This week Eli and guest host Steve Strohmeier play a bunch of old recordings of songs Bob Dylan has been strongly inspired by over his long career. These are songs that Dylan has heard and then used the melody, the lyrics or parts of both to create his own songs. In this way he has taken the older forms of music that he was exposed to and changed the feeling to suit himself and his contemporary audience. In this show we take a direct look at how Bob Dylan takes various songs and forms of music and “Bob-Dylanifies” them.
This Stuff Sounds Like Bob Dylan!
One of the main points of today’s show for me was to tryin’ drive a nail into the coffin of “originality.” Musicians, probably artists in general in this country seem to be real hung up on being “original.” That leads to bad art. Steal stuff! Steal it from everywhere constantly. You’re doing it anyway unconsciously, might as well embrace it and do it more consciously. Generally speaking, if you think somebody made something up, its just because you don’t know where they stole it from. Another main point is, don’t just check out Bob Dylan’s music, its well worth it for any music lover to check out the wonderful variety of folk and popular music that Dylan himself has listened to and loved.
These are songs that Dylan has heard and then used the melody, the lyrics or parts of both to create his own songs. In this way he has taken the older forms of music that he was exposed to and changed the feeling to suit himself and his contemporary audience. Bob Dylan takes various songs and forms of music and “Bob-Dylanifies” them.
Bob Dylan is one of the most successful popular assimilators and remakers of American folk/vernacular music from his generation- and his generation was a kind of pioneer generation. The development of music in the last 80-100 years has been very rapid so its hard to say where things begin, but the 60’s was a watershed era and Dylan was there from the very early stages with a fresh and compelling approach. Dylan achieved a powerful mix of forces and an alchemy which is in many ways very hard to dissect. What’s in his sauce?! We hope this show offers some perspective on that and gives people some traction. However, as great as it is to become aware of Bob Dylan’s direct sources, its his talent and ability to combine them, creating a whole greater than the sum of its parts, that is truly inspiring.
**If you know of any tracks that directly relate to a Bob Dylan song and that we missed on these programs, please email me that information at DownHomeRadio@hotmail.com . Thanks.
***We don’t know if the versions of songs we play here are the actual ones that Dylan heard and learned from. They’re just versions we like!
Tracks played on the 1st hour of this show: A= Dylan Song, B=prototype source recording
1. A. Hard Times In New York Town – Bob Dylan, “The Bootleg Series vol. 1-3”
2. B. Down On Penny’s Farm- The Bently Boys, “Anthology of American Folk Music Vol. 1 B”
3. A. Talkin’ New York- Bob Dylan, “Bob Dylan”
4. B. Talkin’ Subway Blues- John Greenway, “Talking Blues”
5. A. Paths of Victory- Bob Dylan, “The Bootleg Series vol. 1-3”
6. B. The Wayworn Traveller/Palms of Victory- The Carter Family, “In the Shadow of Clinch Mountain Disc 7”
7. A. I Shall Be Free- Bob Dylan, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”
8. B. We Shall Be Free- Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Sonny Terry, “Woody Guthrie Sings Folk Songs”
9. CIA Dope Calypso with spoken introduction about Dylan’s advice on using old songs as templates for your own ideas. – Allen Ginsberg, “New York Blues: Rags, Ballads and Harmonium Songs” (Download the liner notes and read- turns out Ginsberg was listening to Henrietta’s stuff on WNYC when he was a kid!)
10. A. Farewell, Angelina- – Bob Dylan, “The Bootleg Series vol. 1-3”
11. B. Farewell to Tarwathie- A.L. Lloyd, “Leviathan”
12. B. The Bonny Ship the Diamond- A.L. Lloyd, “Leviathan”
13. A. The Bonny Ship the Diamond- Bob Dylan & The Band, “Genuine Basement Tapes Vol. 1”
14. A. A Hard Rain’s A-gonna Fall- Bob Dylan, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”
15. B. Lord Randall- Frank Proffitt, “Traditional Songs and Ballads of Appalachia
16. B. Pastures of Plenty- Woody Guthrie, “Classic Folk Music from Smithsonian Folkways”
17. B. The Ballad of Hollis Brown- Mike Seeger and Bob Dylan, “3rd Annual Farewell Reunion”
18. A. Pretty Polly- Doug and Jack Wallin, “Family Songs and Stories from the North Carolina Mountains”
– Then at the end I played a mix up of Dylan’s own Maggie’s Farm and Mike Seeger playing a Dock Boggsesque banjo version of it on the album “Retrograss.” After that I play a bit of Muddy Waters’ version of “Rolling and Tumbling” and then the beginning and end of Bob Dylan’s version of “Rolling and Tumbling “from his new album “Modern Times.”
All the spoken interjections by Bob Dylan are taken from a recording of Dylan appearing on Cynthia Gooding’s radio show “Folk Singer’s Choice” on WBAI in New York in 1962.
Bob Dylan claims authorship of the old song “Rolling and Tumbling” on his new album “Modern Times.” However it should be noted that apart from the first verse as far as I know all the lyrics are his own. You can’t copyright a title and people have been claiming authorship of slightly changed old folk songs for years, forever, so why not Bob Dylan now? I think its perfectly fine, and no one suffers for it in any case. Plus our whole system of intellectually property rights, authorship, royalties, etc. is completely screwed up anyway. But I won’t even get started on that. Read Mat Callahan’s book “The Trouble with Music” for a discussion of that. On the other hand, it seems like Dylan’s flagrantly claiming authorship of “Rolling and Tumbling” is a somewhat deliberate attempt to stir up the pot on this issue.
Tracks played on the 2nd hour of this show: A= Dylan Song, B=prototype source recording
1. A. With God On Our Side- Bob Dylan, Time’s They Are A-Changin’
2. B. Patriot Game- Liam Clancy, Irish Troubador
3. Baby How Long- Howlin’ Wolf, Moanin’ In The Moonlight (This track has a very similar sound to Dylan’s own mid 60’s electric sound. I’m sure that is due to Dylan and his sidemen at the time being inspired by and emulating Howlin’ Wolf and other Chicago blues musicians.)
4. A. Ain’t No More Cane (Go Down Old Hannah) – Bob Dylan, The Gaslight Tapes 1962
5. A. Ain’t No More Cane- The Band, The Basement Tapes
6. B. Ain’t No More Cane- Ernest Williams and Group, Afro-American Spirituals, Work Songs and Ballads
7. B. Old Hannah- Leadbelly, “Live” New York 1947 & Austin, Texas 1949
8. A. Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest- Bob Dylan, John Wesley
9. B. I’ve Been Down That Road Before- Hank Williams/Luke The Drifter, The Complete Hank Williams Disc 3
10. A. I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine- Bob Dylan, John Wesley Harding
11. B. Joe Hill- Earl Robinson, Songs for Political Action12. A. Two Soldiers- Bob Dylan, World Gone Wrong
13. B. Two Soldiers- Monroe Gevedon, The Music of Kentucky Vol. 2
14. A. Sugar Baby- Bob Dylan, Love and Theft
15. B. The Lonesome Road- Gene Austin, Voice of the Southland
16. The Lonesome Road- Snooks Eaglin, I Blueskvarter 1964 Vol. 3
17. Pirate Jenny- Nina Simone, Best Of
According to Dylan’s autobiography, put in simple terms he was most inspired by the combination of “[Robert] Johnson’s dark night of the soul and Woody [Guthrie]’s hopped-up union meeting sermons and the ‘Pirate Jenny’ framework.” P. 288, “Chronicles, vol.1” by Bob Dylan . Clearly as demonstrated by this show he was inspired often times directly by many other sources. But I think that that is an interesting and concise way to state the influences at the core of his development.
It seems like Dylan has been real into Gene Austin lately (and many other things as well I’m sure). In fact he’s getting to be rather like Gene Austin in a Bob Dylanified way. He’s taking his music into the same sort of folkloric country jazz territory that Austin did back in the 1920’s. When I was a clerk at a record store, Down Home Music, in El Cerrito, CA in 2005, Greil Marcus stopped in and he was the one who told me about Austin and the Lonesome Road song. Thanks Greil. Also thanks to my co-host Steve Strohmeier who discovered the connections between a bunch of these songs. And also thanks go to Nathan Salsburg for sending me the Luke the Drifter track.
The chorus of the Dylan song “Mississippi” from Love & Theft is taken directly from a Mississippi prison song collected by Alan Lomax at the Parchman State Penitentary in Mississippi.
“It ain’t but the one thing I done wrong,
I stayed in Miss’ippi just a day too long.”
(The Land Where The Blues Began, by Alan Lomax, ch. 6, p. 256)
Some other songs that didn’t make it onto the show (look out for these and more on an upcoming 3rd episode!):
“Blowin’ in The Wind” – The melody is derived from the old song “No More Auction Block,” which Dylan adapted for guitar and voice and you can hear on the bootleg, The Gaslight Tapes 1962.
“Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” – Derived from Dylan’s friend Paul Clayton’s “Who’s Goin’ to Buy You Ribbons When I’m Gone?” which he recorded on several albums around 1960.
Lord Franklin – Another ballad which is clearly the basis for “Bob Dyan’s Dream”
It Makes A Long Time Man Feel Bad- Kelly Pace, Alan Lomax, Field Recordings – Vol 2 – NC, SC, Georgia, Tenn, Arkansas (1926-43)
-This is another unaccompanied work-song field receording that Dylan adapted for guitar and voice.
“Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance” from Free Wheelin’ is based on the Henry Thomas song of the same name.
Meet Me By The Moonlight Alone- The Carter Family, In The Shadow Of Clinch Mountain, Disc 7
– Related to the chorus of the Dylan song “Moonlight” on Love & Theft
I Cried For You- Gene Austin, Voice Of The Southland
-Related to the chorus of the song “Cry A While” on Love & Theft
Also, Bob Malenky suggested to me that the song “Betty and Dupree” particularly Brownie McGhee’s version, might be the template for “She Belongs to Me.” They have the same chords and structure and a similar kind of melody.
Also, the old fiddle/banjo tune “Cumberland Gap” seems like a possible source for “Oxford Town.”
“Obviously 5 Believers” from Blonde on Blonde is done to the form of the blues”Good Mornin’ Little School Girl.”
Links for this episode:
Harry Smith Archives – Website for the artist, recordist and record collector who compiled the Folkways Anthology of American Folk Music back in 1952
Smithsonian Global Sound – You can here a lot of great music at this site, and buy it right there if you wanna hear the whole track. If you want to know more about the music we played today on the show that Dylan was inspired by this is a great place to start.
The Formative Dylan – Todd Harvey’s excellent book about Dyan’s early sources and influences. Todd Harvey is a collections specialist in Reference at the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress and curator of the Alan Lomax Collection.
BobDylanRoots.com – Great, site lots of good information. Some links do not work, but I am told it will be updated soon.
MoreRootsofBob.com – Another site with good information on Dylan’s roots and sources
Henry Timrod– “The Poet Laureate of the Confederacy.” In September 2006 an article for The New York Times noted similarities between Bob Dylan’s lyrics in the album, “Modern Times” and the poetry of Timrod. A wider debate developed in The Times as to the nature of “borrowing” within the folk tradition and in literature. Read the NY Time article.
Love & Theft: Black Face Minstrelsy and the American Working Class- Book by Eric Lott with the same title as Dylan’s record.
Annotated Love & Theft website – This is a really cool website telling all about Dylan’s sources on L & T.
Dylan Blog– This links to an interesting exchange on a Dylan blog
The Annotated Bob Dylan – This site has a lot of material, maybe more than one wants to know, but there’s some good stuff in here.
Arthur Rimbaud – French poet that Dylan liked.
List of Bob Dylan Related Internet Sites – Fan sites, other stuff, etc.
“Plagiarism is the basis of all culture.” – Charles Seeger