Happy birthday Bob
On this day in 1941 Robert Zimmerman was born in Duluth, Minnesota. He went on to become one of the most influential songwriters of the twentieth century.
We asked a few of the musicians who participated in the Celtic Connections Bob Dylan tribute concert (Roddy Hart, Rab Noakes, Eddi Reader and James Grant) about their favourite Dylan songs and how he has influenced them. You can hear highlights from the concert during Mary Ann Kennedy's Global Gathering tonight (24 May).
I remember a family friend who came to our house and raved about " Bobby " much to my displeasure because I then regarded his vocal skills with some serious doubt . And I also thought that he had leant a little heavily on Scottish sources without attribution !
However , in my more mature years , I have come to recognise his consummate writing skills as being truly exceptional . He is a poet for the 21st century.
I don't really remember where I was when I first heard Bob Dylan, but I do know that he has always been a part of my life. For those people who are not fans of his voice (the usual dividing factor) this may simply be accredited to bad parenting, but for me the omnipresence with which he seemed to occupy my childhood home was the best kind of upbringing a boy could ask for. Whether hearing snippets of magnificent songs blasting through an old family hi-fi, gazing at his ever-changing image on any number of iconic album covers, or stumbling upon used ticket stubbs in drawers, Dylan had a mysterious effect on me that still remains to this day. Enigmatic and undeniably cool, his mercurial talent laid the blueprint for everyone who has followed and has produced some of the best songs ever written: lyrically he is without rival, displaying a towering grasp of language that is often playful and always powerful; melodically (for which he doesn't often get the credit) he is effortless. And yet despite being in possession of such a God-like gift, he never talks down to his listener. He has always written from the heart. For all Dylan is characterised as the changin-man, he has been true to himself, and to the path he follows. And that should be a lesson to us all. Happy birthday, Bob.
I first became aware of Bob Dylan through the pages of Melody Maker and New Musical Express sometime late 1963/early '64. The name was cropping up in interviews with the likes of John Lennon and Alan Price. He sounded interesting somehow. I was all set to buy Freewheelin' when the Rolling Stones second album came out. I was diverted to this I'm afraid and it was early 1965 when I bought Another Side of Bob Dylan and pretty soon I was a completist and had all the albums.
More than being a direct influence Bob Dylan was a gatekeeper and enabler who unlocked things that were already there. He looked great and the sparse sound he made resonated with me, at 18, looking for something real and free of artifice. In the same way as the Beatles got me inquisitive about Tamla Motown and Arthur Alexander and the Rolling Stones introduced a clutch of blues performers, Bob Dylan encouraged me to visit folksong clubs. In the mid-'60s these were interesting places. The older singers were still around then and it's true to say that Bob Dylan helped a lot of people like me to get in touch with their own native culture.
I don't really have permanent favourite records or songs but certain ones can float to the top at a particular time. I was invited to introduce Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid at the GFT this month so I've been listening to the soundtrack album. Billy 4 has been making its presence felt. I have a programme on BBC Radio 2 on 24th May looking at the British and Irish folksong roots of much of his writing. There are songs in there from 1961 to recently and Man in a Long Black Coat and Po' Boy are two that are in there that I thoroughly enjoyed hearing again.
It's great that he's reached 70, still doing what he set out on a path to do when he was 16.
When I was 17, everyone in my local folk club, (Irvine, Eglington Arms, Wednesday night, a pound to get in, but you got that pound back if you did a floor spot...), used to quote Dylan at me and I had no idea who he was. This was around the time of Street Legal. I learned songs that he wrote because of those Ayrshire folk club musicians in the late 70's.
A load of Glasgow guys knew Dylan back to front. One of those friends got me ticket to see Dylan at Earls Court in london. All seven of us travelled down to London from Glasgow for that momentous concert. I was still unaware of Dylan and his story.
My seat was six rows from the front in the centre aisle. It was the first proper gig I had ever been to. Dylan came on wearing a hat I think. He blew me away with Baby Please Stop Crying. I fell in love with his curly haired violinist who seemed about my age. I remember how sore my palms were from applauding.
When I got back to Scotland I bought Blood on The Tracks and began to REALLY discover what music making was all about. Happy birthday Maestro, Its been 30 odd years, You dont know me and I dont know you but your music helped me know myself.
I Love You, eddi
I love Visions Of Johanna..
Poet laureate Andrew Motion said that these are the greatest song lyrics ever written; they certainly work as poetry, as so very few songs do. You feel like you can taste the words.
What do they taste of... bourbon, cigarettes, lipstick, quaaludes, Benzedrine, unspeakable sadness, immeasurable beauty, shadows and ashes in a room that you can't seem to leave?
They meet with an innate sense of grace and poise.
But it's not just the words.. it's his world weary delivery, the groove of the band and the harmonica wail underpinning his stream of consciousness.
'The ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face..'
I mean, Christ, how good is that?
It's Dylan at the height of his powers, playful, disdainful, yet with such mighty erudition it's breathtaking.
Ironically, I was given a cassette of Blonde On Blonde by a major disciple when I was 17.
It didn't make any sense to me at all, I wasn't ready, felt bewildered by it.
But in my mid 20's I was at a party and Visions Of Johanna ghosted it's way across to me...familiar, but strange. And this time I was ready, I was seduced, it opened the door back into that room..
BBC Radio Scotland is celebrating Bob Dylan's birthday all week, you can find full details on this blog entry.