Lord Buckley changed Bob Dylan’s life

lord buckey and bob dylan

Lord Buckley was a Calypso singer/monologist who was popular with the sort of “hip” bohemian crowd within which Dylan found himself in Greenwich Village in t he the very early 60’s.

The young Dylan probably first encountered Lord Buckley through the pop/folk group, “The Kingston Trio,” which recorded, I think, several of his numbers in the late 1950’s — most memorably, “Zombie Jamboree”, though this may not, in fact, have been a Lord Buckley number, it was certainly a product of the same milieu.

Lord Buckley’s style is difficult to categorize: sort of “Carribean Rap” before its time. He was a serious comedian, perhaps a black humorist. He was popular, for example, with the same crowd that liked Lenny Bruce (or was it John Lennon — it’s hard to tell the difference!) Black Cross is not untypical. You would have to hear Lord Buckley deliver it to appreciate how much sardonic humor he was able to inject into the monologue. Bob’s version is a direct rip-off of Lord Buckley’s version, by the way.

Bob Dylan in his book Chronicles, said “Buckley was the hipster bebop preacher who defied all labels”

The jingle-jangle morning” in “Mr. Tambourine Man” is a phrase Bob Dylan claims to have taken from Lord Buckley. It appears in Buckley’s performance of Scrooge.

Early in his career Bob Dylan performed “Black Cross“, one of Lord Buckley’s signature pieces, although originally written in 1948 by Joseph S. Newman. Dylan’s version is one of the tracks on the 1969 bootleg recording known as the Great White Wonder

Black Cross” was published in 1948 by Joseph S. Newman in a collection of poems entitled It Could Be Verse. The poet was Paul Newman’s uncle, not his grandfather. He ran a sporting goods store in Cleveland, and wrote and published as a poet and as a local journalist. His collection included an appreciative introduction by the critic Louis Untermeyer, so it was hardly unrecognized in its time, though it is hard to find today.

Buckley probably met Newman at some time. He recorded two of the other poems in his collection, “Jehova and Finnegan” and “Leviathan” as well as one, “Shah’s Embroidered Pants,” that does not appear in the book. I have included both the published version and the poem as Buckley recorded it, though the differences are minor.

Black Cross” was also performed by Bob Dylan and has been preserved in bootleg recordings.

The Black Cross is a harrowing moral tale of a southern lynching that was later to be performed by Bob Dylan (Hezekiah Jones), singer Dorris Henderson is to be heard singing Cumbaya in the background.

This is the story of Hezekiah Jones…
Hezekiah Jones lived in a place… in Arkansas.
He never had too much, except he had some land,
An’ he had a couple of hogs and things like that.
He never had much money
But he’d spend what he did make as fast as he made it,
So it never really mattered that he had much money.
But in a cupboard there, He kept in the cupboard… he kept in the cupboard books,
He called the books his “rainy season.”

The white folks around the county there talked about Hezekiah…
They… said, “Well… old Hezekiah, he’s harmless enough,
but the way I see it he better put down them goddam books,
Readin’ ain’t no good, for nigger is nigger.”

One day the white man’s preacher came around
Knockin’ on doors, knockin’ on all the doors in the county,
He knocked on Hezekiah’s door.
He says, “Hezekiah, you believe in the Lord?”
Hezekiah says, “Well, I don’t know, I never really SEEN the Lord,
I can’t say, yes, I do…”

He says, “Hezekiah, you believe in the Church?”
Hezekiah says, “Well, the Church is divided, ain’t they,
And… they can’t make up their minds.
I’m just like them, I can’t make up mine either.”

He says, “Hezekiah, you believe that if a man is good Heaven is his last reward?”
Hezekiah says, “I’m good… good as my neighbor.”

“You don’t believe in nothin’,” said the white man’s preacher,
You don’t believe in nothin’!”
“Oh yes, I do,” says Hezekiah,
“I believe that a man should be indebted to his neighbors
Not for the reward of Heaven or fear of hellfire.”

“But you don’t understand,” said the white man’s preacher,
“There’s a lot of good ways for a man to be wicked…”

Then they hung Hezekiah high as a pigeon.
White folks around there said, “Well… he had it comin’
‘Cause the son-of-a-bitch never had no religion!”

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