BY JONATHAN HOULON FOLK MUSIC EDITOR Bruce Springsteen is certainly the most famous artist to have been saddled with the “New Dylan” tag at the beginning of his career and, indeed, in a stamp-sized photo on the back cover of his first LP, the Boss looks like he coulda been Bob’s greaser cousin from Joisey. His blue work shirt, in particular, calls to mind Bob’s working stiff appearance on the front cover of his own Times They Are A-Changing release from 1963, a good decade before Springsteen’s emergence on Greetings From Asbury Park in ’73. But, musically, Bruce never quite sounded like Bob. His stuff was largely R&B and pop-based vs. Dylan’s roots in folk, country, and blues. I suppose early Springsteen lyrics such as “your barroom eyes shine vacancy” (from “For You”) bear a resemblance to some of Bob’s more florid formulations as in “your sheet metal visions of Cannery Row” (from “Sad-Eyed Lady”). But by Bruce’s 4th LP, 1978’s Darkness On The Edge of Town, he had left any Dylanisms behind and began to sound more like Bob’s own heroes — particularly, Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie. Bruce has stayed in that simpler musical and lyrical lane ever since. God bless him!
The recently late and incredibly great John Prine is probably the second most famous artist to have been called the “New Dylan.” Prine certainly sounded more like Bob than Bruce and possessed some of the same rudimentary yet compelling musical skills. But Prine also had his own deal. As I wrote about at the time of his death, Prine had a more generous and forgiving approach than Bob. Bob tries to come off as a regular guy; Prine actually was one!
There have been many other New Dylans who have achieved lesser degrees of fame than Springsteen or Prine and who, at times, seemed to have gotten bogged down with the moniker. Steve Forbert (who I love) and Louden Wainwright (who I generally find annoying) come to mind. In keeping with our didactic stance, however, the subjects of this Wire are two New Dylans — David Blue and Sammy Walker — who appear to have completely fallen off the radar if they were ever on it.
The real question — to paraphrase something Springsteen once said — is why would we ever need a “new” Dylan? The “old” one never went away and, in fact, has repeatedly re-invented himself or, put differently, is the ultimate “New Dylan” himself. Here’s a brief summary of Bob’s reinventions for those of you (shame!) who haven’t been paying attention all along: Folk Bob (first 4 albums), Electric Genius Bob (Bringing It All Back Home to Blonde On Blonde), Country Squire Bob (The Nashville Skyline period and beyond), 70s Singer-Songwriter Bob (arguably consists of masterwork Blood On The Tracks alone); Las Vegas Bob (Live At Budokan anyone?); Jesus Bob (even after the box set treatment a few years back, the Gospel Years remain undervalued and, I am convinced, represent Bob’s last stand as a great singer. He’s gotten by on phrasing since 1981’s Shot Of Love, the last of the Jesus trilogy); Lost Bob (the 80’s); Folk Bob Pt. 2 (early 90’s releases where Bob went trad again); Modern Bob (1997’s Grammy Award-winning Time Out Of Mind which marks the beginning of a late career resurgence that continues to this day); Frank Bob (three records of Sinatra covers) and … drum roll! … with this summer’s release of Rough And Rowdy Ways: Name Droppin’ Bob!
I — like many Dylan freaks — would have loved this new record even if Bob, say, had gone steam punk. The Sinatra stuff was brutal. I never got Frank and I thought one of Bob’s greatest achievements was putting pay to the quite inaccurately titled “Great American Songbook.” I mean, they didn’t give the fucking Nobel to Cole Porter, did they? So, yea, after three albums of that Wee Small Hours of Whatever the Fuck It Was, I woulda taken anything.
Is Rough And Rowdy Ways a comeback? As great as people say it is? Proof of Bob’s eternal genius? Probably not. I, for one, have had enough of Bob using blues ready mades and his claim in “False Prophet” to not be one is, in and of itself, untrue: all prophets are false, Bob. Jesus Bob coulda told you that! And what’s with the song “Key West”? C’mon, man, that’s Jimmy’s Jam!
But so much ink has already been spilled on this thing that I won’t bore you with my song by song analysis. Rather — and, hold tight, we will eventually get to New Dylans David Blue and Sammy Walker as promised — I’ll take (as we are wont to do around here at Phawker) the Christian Scientist approach. We’ll collect data and then cast judgment upon it.
Bob has certainly dropped names before. Off the top of my 42 years of listening head: Sonny Terry, Cisco Houston, Woody Guthrie, Barry Goldwater, Brigitte Bardot, William Zantzinger, Hattie Carroll, T.S. Eliot, Bette Davis, Shakespeare, George Jackson, Rubin Hurricane Carter, Joey Gallo, Jesus, Neil Young, Billy Joe Shaver, and Alicia Keys (just to name a few!). But with Rough and Rowdy Ways, Bob has taken the name-drop to a new level, one worth cataloguing.
Note on Methodology: I have purposely excluded any fictional figures such as St. John the Apostle or Lady Macbeth. My background is in Philosophy, not Literary Criticism, tho I do have a real soft spot for its continental incarnation during the 80s. In short, I don’t have the lit-crit chops to get into inter-text theory here. I’ve also left out anyone I couldn’t identify such as “Jerome”. Garcia? Kern? And who are the “Montgomery and Scott” that Bob refers to? Sounds like the name of a brokerage firm in Philly to me but I’m certainly not being paid enough to do the detective work. You figure it out!
Anyway, here’s what I’ve got from opening track “I Contain Multitudes” to closing track (if it’s actually part of the record) “Murder Most Foul” (which Bob released as a teaser of sorts at the beginning of COVID)>>>
1. Edgar Allan Poe 2. Anne Frank 3. William Blake 4. Ludwig van Beethoven 5. Frederic Chopin 6. Al Pacino 7. Marlon Brando 8. Julius Ceasar 9. Leon Russell 10. Liberace 11. Sigmond Freud 12. Karl Marx 13. Jimmy Reed 14. William Tecumseh Sherman 15. Georgy Zhukov 16. George Patton 17. Elvis Presley 18. Martin Luther King 19. Allen Ginsberg 20. Gregory Corso 21. Jack Kerouac 22. Louis Armstrong 23. Jimmy Buffett 24. Buddy Holly 25. Harry S. Truman 26. John F. Kennedy 27. Wolfman Jack 28. Lee Harvey Oswald 29. Jack Ruby 30. Patsy Cline 31. Abraham Zapruder 32. Lyndon B. Johnson 33. Tom Dooley (sic) 34. Etta James 35. John Lee Hooker 36. Guitar Slim 37. Marilyn Monroe 38. Don Henley 39. Glenn Frey 40. Carl Wilson 42. Oscar Peterson 48. Stan Getz 49. Dickie Betts 50. Art Pepper 51. Thelonious Monk 52. Charlie Parker 53. Buster Keaton 54. Harold Lloyd 55. Bugsy Siegal 56. Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd 57. Lindsey Buckingham 58. Stevie Nicks 59. Nat King Cole 60. Harry Houdini 61. Jelly Roll Morton 62. Bud Powell
Rough And Rowdy Ways By The Numbers:
Males: 45 (72.6%)
White Males: 37 (59.7%)
Dead White Males: 32 (51.6%)
Females: 5 (.08%)
Black or Brown: 23 (37.1%)
LGBTQ+: 1 (.02%)
Born in 21st Century: 0 (0%)
Born in 20th Century: 28 (45.2%)
Born in 19th Century: 12 (19.4%)
Born in 18th Century: 2 (.03%)
Born Before Christ: 0 (0%)
Mentions of Christ himself: 0 (0%)
Americans: 34 (54.8%)
Europeans: 9 (14.5%)
Africans: 0 (0%)
Australians: 0 (0%)
Asians: 0 (0%)
Members of the Eagles: 2 (.03%)
Members of Fleetwood Mac: 2 (.03%)
Members of Mumford & Sons: 0 (0%)
Cast of Sanford & Sons: 0 (0%)
Look, I’m not trying to do a number on Bob (*ugh* – Editor). My late father first took me to see him in 1978 (Vegas Bob period) and things have never been the same. I consider Bob a spiritual father of sorts who, if truth be told, replaced the person who introduced me to him a long time ago. Sick, I know. But the data is what it is. From what I can tell, folks, Name Droppin’ Bob ain’t WOKE and, at this late stage in the game (he turns 80 next year), we’re probably past the point of enlightenment: Bob knows what he knows.
So there’s the newest Dylan (Bob himself). Shall we turn to two of the oldest New Dylans?
David Blue — born Stuart David Cohen — was a contemporary of Bob’s in the fertile Greenwich Village folk scene of the early 60s. Another denizen of that scene — Eric Anderson — apparently came up with the name, upon which hearing, Dylan quipped: “It’s all over now, David Blue.” Blue, according to legend, was present when Bob wrote “Blowin’ In The Wind” and actually helped by strumming the chords as Dylan refined the lyrics. Heavy, man! Blue also bore a remarkable resemblance to Bob especially during his Electric Genius period (’65-’66) which you can see in this clip from Renaldo And Clara, filmed during the Rolling Thunder Revue of 1975. Blue oozes charisma as he recounts those early days in the Village, whilst banging the pleasure machine next to a hotel swimming pool. You can see why Bob would have wanted to hang out with Blue: he was super-cool! Unfortunately, Blue started his recording career as a rank imitator of Bob (particularly of the thin wild mercury sound achieved on Blonde On Blonde) whose songs and voice were not at all up to the task. Blue, however, developed considerably and would go on to release several albums that I would actually put up there with Leonard Cohen’s best. Blue started as a Bob clone but he sorta ended as a likeness of Leonard and at times transcended comparison to anyone. Blue died of a heart attack while jogging around Washington Square Park in 1982. He had no ID and it took several days for his corpse to be identified. He was as obscure in death as he was in life.
Sammy Walker — who as far as I know is still kicking around — appeared on the Village scene over ten years after Dylan and Blue but was actually discovered by another major player of that early 60s scene: one Phil Ochs who by the mid-Seventies was spiraling out of control, calling himself “John Train”, and eventually surrendering to the deep despair that would lead to his suicide in 1976. Not exactly your standard A&R guy! Sammy, like Blue, also resembled Bob but more so in that man-of-the-people way that Bruce emulated early on. Sammy also sounded almost exactly like Folk Bob and, unlike Blue, did actually have the musical and songwriting chops right off the bat. Unfortunately, he was never able to overcome the New Dylan tag it seems and later in life — long after he had retired from the biz — speculated whether he would have achieved greater success had he consciously tried to sound less like Bob. In any case, both of these old New Dylans deserve a listen. So let’s spin some sides by Sam’n’Dave!
“Song For Patty”: Sammy came up from Georgia and quickly scored a contract with the venerable Folkways label based on Ochs’ recommendation. This song is the title track of his 1975 debut. Check out Walker’s pristine picking and sweet harp work. Sammy, apparently, thought Hearst was a legitimate revolutionary; Ochs considered Tania a KGB spy. One thing most of us can agree on is that you could easily mistake “Song For Patty” for an early Dylan composition. It’s that good! I’ve always been confounded by the peculiar and incredibly poetic line contained in the chorus: “Please meet me at the Holocaust Valley and you can tell us about it some day.” Hmmmm.
“Catcher In The Rye”: Another one from Sammy’s Folkways debut. See what I mean about Walker’s physical resemblance to Dylan (I’m so sorry to impose but you’ll have to actually click the link)? The astute folkie, however, may notice that Sammy’s voice is actually closer in timbre to Woody than Bob. No matter. One thing’s for sure: Holden Caufield (and Alexander Supertramp for that matter) despised “phonies.” Sammy’s the real deal!
“Brown Eyed Georgia Darlin'”: By ’76, again with Ochs’ help, Sammy scored a contract with Warner Bros and on his eponymous release for that label was produced by the legendary Nik Venet, producer of Glen Campbell, King Curtis, Fred Neil, Lou Rawls, Linda Rondstadt and many more. But even Venet’s cache could not propel Walker to fame despite the undeniable beauty of track’s like this one where Walker — by then living in New York — yearns for the simplicity of the peach state.
“Looking For Friend”: While Blue started as a New Dylan, by 1971, he found himself on David Geffen’s Asylum label and sounded a lot more like Lenny than Bobby. “Looking For Friend” from the Stories LP (perhaps Blue’s best overall collection) will surely appeal to fans of David Berman who famously sang that all his “favorite singers couldn’t sing.”
“Cupid’s Arrow”: To bring things full circle, this clip from 1976 shows Blue (in one of only two clips of him — there are NONE of Sammy Walker in the 70s) performing at a memorial concert for Phil Ochs shortly after Walker’s mentor hung himself at his sister’s house on Long Island. Blue says at the beginning of the clip that he wrote the song for Phil but, to these ears, it always sounded like a love song to Bobby: “You moved me but I didn’t know why // Cupid’s arrow was aimed too high”.
Sure it was, Dave, but is there any other way? Keep your aim true, friends, if not high and I’ll see you in week.