The Most Bob Dylan Influencers
1- Woody Guthrie
Dylan arrived in New York City on January 24, 1961, at the age of 19. His first major composition was written on February 14, barely three weeks later. “I just thought about Woody,” he commented a few years ago, looking back on the writing of this song. “I wondered about him, thought harder and wondered harder. I wrote this song in about five minutes.” The tune of “Song to Woody” is identical to Woody Guthrie’s “1913 Massacre” – but this appropriation is clearly intended as a tribute to his hero
2- Robert Johnson
Blues melodies tend to be so formulaic that it’s often difficult to say that one particular song came from another. However, “Pledging My Time” is very similar to “Come On In My Kitchen.” Dylan is known to be a big Robert Johnson fan (Note 9), and the two songs also share one striking similarity in their lyrics, both lines being sung to the same melodic phrase:
Some joker got lucky, stole her back again.
Come On in My Kitchen
Somebody got lucky, but it was an accident.
Pledging My Time
3- Johnny Cash
After making a huge dent in the country charts during the late 1950s, Cash began exploring and infusing his sound with music from the American folk tradition. When The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan was released in 1963, the album captivated Cash (he incessantly played it backstage before his shows). When he wrote Dylan, an impassioned correspondence ensued.
The two eventually met at the 1964 Newport Folk Fest where they both appeared on the bill—Cash the seasoned country legend, Dylan the fresh new star. The two spent the evening picking in Baez’s hotel room at the Viking Motor Inn with June Carter Cash, Joan Baez, Jack Elliot, and others.
Johnny Cash’s “Understand Your Man” is sometimes cited as an influence on “Don’t Think Twice,” but actually that song was also based on “Scarlet Ribbons For Her Hair,” hence the similarities.
4- Pete Seeger
Three Northern folk singers led by Pete Seeger brought a folk-song festival to the Deep South this evening.
They sang in the yard of a Negro farm home on the edge of a cotton patch three miles south of here. The song festival, or hootenanny, was sponsored by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which has been conducting a voter registration drive among Negroes in Mississippi delta towns for more than a year.
The festival was attended by 250 to 300 persons. Most of them were Negroes. There were a score or more of young white people, plus several white newsmen and a television camera crew of four white men from New York.
Three cars with white men in them were parked in a lane across the highway from the scene of the sing. There was also a highway patrol car with two policemen sitting along the road. There were no incidents.
5- Little Richard (Richard Wayne Penniman)
Bob Dylan found early inspiration listening to and imitating Little Richard during his teen years.
Bob Dylan is my brother. I love him same as Bobby Darin [deceased] is my baby. I feel Bob Dylan is my blood brother. I believe if I didn’t have a place to stay, Bob Dylan would buy me a house. He sat by my bed; he didn’t move for hours. I was in pain that medicine couldn’t stop. My tongue was cut out, leg all tore up, bladder punctured. I was supposed to be dead. Six feet under. God resurrected me; that’s the reason I have to tell the world about it.
6- Hank Williams
Dylan can be seen singing Hank Williams’ “Lost Highway” – which begins “I’m a rolling stone” – in the documentary Don’t Look Back on May 3rd or 4th, only weeks before writing “Like a Rolling Stone.” (Although “Lost Highway” is always associated with Hank Williams, it was actually written by Leon Payne.)
Dylan says he based “Like a Rolling Stone” on “La Bamba” and you can feel it in the chorus, though the Richie Valens influence could not really be called profound! (Of course, “La Bamba” is a lot older than Valens, who had a hit with a rocking arrangement of the tune in 1958. It is a traditional Mexican dance tune that has been around for centuries.)
7-Curly, John Ruff
8- Elvis Presley
It is hardly necessary to introduce Elvis Aron Presley (Tupelo, Mississippi, 1935 - Memphis, Tennessee, 1977), but the significance of the musical links between Elvis and Bob Dylan is often underestimated. Even though the King's immortal triumphs were as an interpreter, not a songwriter, there is a good case for the view that Dylan's work has rather more in common with Presley's than the Beatles': it is well known that on his recovery from his 1997 illness Dylan told the world, 'I really thought I'd be seeing Elvis soon.' Dylan mentions Elvis by name in 'TV Talkin' Song' (on 'Under The Red Sky'), in the line 'Sometimes you gotta do like Elvis did and shoot the damn thing out' (this is a reference to a real incident when the King fired into a TV at his Graceland mansion). The country and blues influences that pervade Presley's early work are also crucial for Bob Dylan, and both artists have made major contributions to the gospel genre. The list of standards officially covered by both artists includes 'Blue Moon', 'Can't Help Falling In Love', 'A Fool Such As I' and 'Tomorrow Night'. Elvis' discography includes covers of Dylan's 'Tomorrow Is A Long Time', 'Don't Think Twice, It's All Right', 'Blowin' in the Wind' and 'I Shall Be Released'.
9- Blind Willie McTell
“Dying Crapshooter Blues” and “St. James Infirmary” are related songs, and both important influences on Dylan’s masterpiece, “Blind Willie McTell.” (Note 14) Dylan sings:”I’m staring out the window / Of the old St. James Hotel” and there really is a St. James Hotel – by all accounts a marvellous old building in Minnesota that looks out on Highway 61. The suggestion (by allusion to the song) that the hotel is an infirmary adds another layer to an already many-layered song.
10- Jimmie Rodgers
The most inspiring type of entertainer for me has always been somebody like Jimmie Rodgers, somebody who could do it alone and was totally original. He was combining elements of blues and hillbilly sounds before anyone else had thought of it. He recorded at the same time as Blind Willie McTell but he wasn’t just another white boy singing black. That was his great genius and he was there first… he sang in a plaintive voice and style and he’s outlasted them all.
New York, 1985
11- Frank Sinatra
Dylan reportedly wrote this song hastily in the studio as a suitable closer to his 1964 album, The Times They Are A-Changin’ album and did not perform it again until 1995 when Frank Sinatra requested it as the closing song in his 80th Birthday Concert. Although some of the lines are clumsy (particularly when compared to the graceful original), it still made for a far more touching declaration of independence than “My Way.”
The song opens with a delicate guitar solo, which faithfully recreates the sloshed trumpet paean that introduces the 1939 original Sinatra recorded with the Harry James Orchestra. But rather than a lonesome croon, Dylan delivers a hushed vocal performance that piques at the right moments. The singer delivers both a quick rush of syllables and higher notes that imbue his voice with an extra layer of grit.