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Thread: Dylan on bluegrass in the New York Times

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    Registered User Patrick Melly's Avatar
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    Default Dylan on bluegrass in the New York Times

    Bob Dylan, interviewed by Douglas Brinkley, NYT, June 12, 2020:

    "Bluegrass music is mysterious and deep rooted and you almost have to be born playing it. Just because you are a great singer, or a great this or that doesnít mean you can be in a bluegrass band. Itís almost like classical music. Itís harmonic and meditative, but itís out for blood. If you ever heard the Osborne Brothers, then you know what I mean. Itís an unforgiving music and you can only it stretch so far. Beatles songs played in a bluegrass style donít make any sense. Itís the wrong repertoire, and thatís been done. There are elements of bluegrass music for sure in what I play, especially the intensity and similar themes. But I donít have the high tenor voice and we donít have three-part harmony or consistent banjo. I listen to Bill Monroe a lot, but I more or less stick to what I can do best."
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    Default Re: Dylan on bluegrass in the New York Times

    Great quote. Nice to be reminded in these days of "instant access" not to mention instant gratification, that some things remain "mysterious and deep rooted."

    I'm sure his line about the Beatles is going to set some folks off around here. Likely some versions of "Blackbird" or "And Your Bird Can Sing" out there done with appropriate mystery and depth.

    But I understand his larger point.

    Somebody (a microdistillery?) ought to nab "Consistent Banjo" before it gets trademarked.

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    Default Re: Dylan on bluegrass in the New York Times

    yeah, I read that article today - some good stuff, and "I don't have the high tenor voice and we don’t have three-part harmony or consistent banjo" just nails it.
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    Default Re: Dylan on bluegrass in the New York Times

    I remember reading an interview with him a long time ago where he talked about listening to Monroe. For me calling it "an unforgiving music" puts words to what I've been feeling trying to get this mandolin to sound right for a couple decades now.

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    Default Re: Dylan on bluegrass in the New York Times

    Quote Originally Posted by brunello97 View Post
    Great quote. Nice to be reminded in these days of "instant access" not to mention instant gratification, that some things remain "mysterious and deep rooted."

    I'm sure his line about the Beatles is going to set some folks off around here. Likely some versions of "Blackbird" or "And Your Bird Can Sing" out there done with appropriate mystery and depth.


    Mick
    I've Just Seen a Face was almost written and performed as a bluegrass song, and not surprisingly has been covered often by BGers.
    But I get where he's coming from with that comment.
    It's not like Dylan is anti-Beatle or anything, they're part of the same cohort, occasionally mixed socially, and even he has covered Yesterday.
    Bren

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    Default Re: Dylan on bluegrass in the New York Times

    Quote Originally Posted by Bren View Post
    I've Just Seen a Face was almost written and performed as a bluegrass song, and not surprisingly has been covered often by BGers.
    But I get where he's coming from with that comment.
    It's not like Dylan is anti-Beatle or anything, they're part of the same cohort, occasionally mixed socially, and even he has covered Yesterday.
    Made me think of New Grass Revival's first LP and "Great Balls of Fire" and how odd and inappropriate that seemed to me at the time -- keeping in mind, they were "new grass" and making a statement at the time......OTOH, "Ginseng Sullivan" still holds up and seems timeless, IMHO.

    Dylan's music and perspective on music have always meant a lot to me. I am glad he is still so quotable and edgy at 79 years of age....

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    Default Re: Dylan on bluegrass in the New York Times

    What I discerned from that was - Bob Dylan hasn't really listened to a lot of Blue Grass.
    "Mean Old Timer, He's got grey hair, Mean Old Timer he just don't care
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    Default Re: Dylan on bluegrass in the New York Times

    My old bluegrass band did I've Just Seen a Face, and it went over well. Also did a few Monkeys' tunes, perhaps our favorite being I'm a Believer. But I do agree that it really helps doing bluegrass to have been raised on it. On the other hand, when raised on bluegrass it's difficult to get into some of the folk stuff. And then there's Red on Blonde, and Youtube videos of O'Brien and Sutton and Duncan.

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    Default Re: Dylan on bluegrass in the New York Times

    Well, like much of what Mr. Dylan says, perhaps more is obscured than clarified in this quote. Kindly tell me, Mr. Zimmerman, how David Grisman (from Passaic, NJ) or Noam Pikelny (Skokie, IL) or Bela Fleck (NYC) or Pete Rowan (Boston) who were certainly not "born playing" bluegrass came to be among the the most revered bluegrass pickers of their (respective generations?) The current lead singer for the Steeldrivers says his first time playing bluegrass was joining the Steeldrivers!!

    Not to say that bluegrass is the only thing these guys played, but that's kind of my point: bluegrass can be played on a very high level by anybody who chooses to try to to master it, and it's not that much more mysterious than white people playing jazz or blues- they studied it and learned it.

    As for Beatles songs not working in bluegrass, well, maybe, I dunno, but Jim and Jesse did a whole album of Chuck Berry covers and if J&J did it, it was bluegrass by definition, right?

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    Default Re: Dylan on bluegrass in the New York Times

    Jim and Jesse's Chuck Berry album is fantastic! If you haven't heard it, go online and do it right now! Should be a life-changer for most people, IMHO.....

    Just to clarify my previous post, most of what we consider "bluegrass" today is actually new grass, IMHO. This would include Grisman and even recently offerings by Del McCoury, IMHO. Certainly, Noam and Bela are not traditional bluegrass artists. (but great, all the same!) I'm thinking Dylan was thinking "old school" Monroe, Osbornes, Flatt and Scruggs, Jim and Jesse, Stanley Bros, etc........FWIW.

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    Default Re: Dylan on bluegrass in the New York Times

    I donít think Bobís knocking anybody. Heís simply answering the question asked. ďHave you ever thought of recording a bluegrass album?Ē I think his answer is out of respect to bluegrass, the Beatles and himself.

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    Default Re: Dylan on bluegrass in the New York Times

    Just answering a question, with his own opinion. He is a musical legend, but he was worn out as a very young man by people expecting him to provide some rare, prophetic insight to mundane questions. Just a man, with many years of musical experience, expressing his opinion of the moment.
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    Default Re: Dylan on bluegrass in the New York Times

    Quote Originally Posted by tmsweeney View Post
    What I discerned from that was - Bob Dylan hasn't really listened to a lot of Blue Grass.
    I doubt that. I think he listens to everything. And both Dylan and bluegrass musicians like Monroe and Doc were getting a lot more energy during the folk revival. I bet he saw considerable bluegrass live, maybe even played on some bills with bluegrassers.

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    Default Re: Dylan on bluegrass in the New York Times

    Quote Originally Posted by mingusb1 View Post
    I doubt that. I think he listens to everything. And both Dylan and bluegrass musicians like Monroe and Doc were getting a lot more energy during the folk revival. I bet he saw considerable bluegrass live, maybe even played on some bills with bluegrassers.

    Z
    He certainly did. Neil Rosenberg told me that Bob Dylan opened for Neil's bluegrass band at a festival in Ann Arbor many years ago. Bob Dylan had a hard time getting into the festival, because there was confusion over the names Dylan and Zimmerman. One was on the performers' list and Bob was using the other. Obviously, this was before Dylan was famous. Peter Narvaez, another of my musical professors in the Folklore Department at Memorial University of Newfoundland, had Simon and Garfunkel open for his band, again, before they were famous.
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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    Default Re: Dylan on bluegrass in the New York Times

    Totally concede the point that most of what Grisman, Pikelny, Bela Fleck, etc, did is not old-school Monrovian (or Osbornian) bluegrass. But they're all capable of it! Have you heard Noam Pikelny's album where he reproduces on banjo all of Kenny Baker's licks on Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe? That's a fantastic traditional bluegrass album, made by someone not born into the Southern tradition.


    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Mando View Post
    J...

    Just to clarify my previous post, most of what we consider "bluegrass" today is actually new grass, IMHO. This would include Grisman and even recently offerings by Del McCoury, IMHO. Certainly, Noam and Bela are not traditional bluegrass artists. (but great, all the same!) I'm thinking Dylan was thinking "old school" Monroe, Osbornes, Flatt and Scruggs, Jim and Jesse, Stanley Bros, etc........FWIW.

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    Default Re: Dylan on bluegrass in the New York Times

    Quote Originally Posted by Ranald View Post
    He certainly did. Neil Rosenberg told me that Bob Dylan opened for Neil's bluegrass band at a festival in Ann Arbor many years ago. Bob Dylan had a hard time getting into the festival, because there was confusion over the names Dylan and Zimmerman. One was on the performers' list and Bob was using the other. Obviously, this was before Dylan was famous. Peter Narvaez, another of my musical professors in the Folklore Department at Memorial University of Newfoundland, had Simon and Garfunkel open for his band, again, before they were famous.
    Interesting stories, thanks Ranald. I grew up in MN and went to high school with a Bob Zimmerman. But not That Bob Zimmerman...

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    Default Re: Dylan on bluegrass in the New York Times

    Very interesting, thanks.
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    Default Re: Dylan on bluegrass in the New York Times

    Quote Originally Posted by Patrick Melly View Post
    ...Beatles songs played in a bluegrass style donít make any sense. Itís the wrong repertoire, and thatís been done...
    Sure has "been done":

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    Default Re: Dylan on bluegrass in the New York Times

    Quote Originally Posted by tmsweeney View Post
    What I discerned from that was - Bob Dylan hasn't really listened to a lot of Blue Grass.
    Bob Dylan heard plenty of Bluegrass back in the day. At the 1963 Newport Festival also on the bill were Jim & Jesse, Bill Monroe, & Doc Watson. Here's a clip of Bob D playing with Earl Scruggs. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5C9pPngVtLI. My take is that in the '60s during the Folk boom there was lots of cross-pollination going on. In 1964 on the Newport bill were the Stanley Brother, The Osbornes & The Kentucky Colonels. I think Bob Dylan is being quite correct in saying he doesn't play bluegrass. Nowadays everyone who plays "Wagon Wheel" gets billed as bluegrass band.

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    Default Re: Dylan on bluegrass in the New York Times



    Hereís a little bit of Bob Clinch Mountain Style.

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    Default Re: Dylan on bluegrass in the New York Times

    Mr. Dylan lives up the street. Yes, Iím a lucky duck. But I can say from my experience walking my dog, he listens to everything!! Thank the lord for Bob.

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    Default Re: Dylan on bluegrass in the New York Times

    Quote Originally Posted by doc holiday View Post
    Bob Dylan heard plenty of Bluegrass back in the day. At the 1963 Newport Festival also on the bill were Jim & Jesse, Bill Monroe, & Doc Watson. Here's a clip of Bob D playing with Earl Scruggs. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5C9pPngVtLI. My take is that in the '60s during the Folk boom there was lots of cross-pollination going on. In 1964 on the Newport bill were the Stanley Brother, The Osbornes & The Kentucky Colonels. I think Bob Dylan is being quite correct in saying he doesn't play bluegrass. Nowadays everyone who plays "Wagon Wheel" gets billed as bluegrass band.
    Cool, thanks Doc. I wonder if Earl was thinking during the session "son if you could just get that guitar tuned up ya might sound pretty good"?!

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    Default Re: Dylan on bluegrass in the New York Times

    I recently learned that Dylan wrote the original version of “Wagon Wheel”.

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    Default Re: Dylan on bluegrass in the New York Times

    Quote Originally Posted by Patrick Melly View Post
    Bob Dylan, interviewed by Douglas Brinkley, NYT, June 12, 2020:

    "Bluegrass music is mysterious and deep rooted and you almost have to be born playing it. Just because you are a great singer, or a great this or that doesn’t mean you can be in a bluegrass band. It’s almost like classical music. It’s harmonic and meditative, but it’s out for blood. If you ever heard the Osborne Brothers, then you know what I mean. It’s an unforgiving music and you can only it stretch so far. Beatles songs played in a bluegrass style don’t make any sense. It’s the wrong repertoire, and that’s been done. There are elements of bluegrass music for sure in what I play, especially the intensity and similar themes. But I don’t have the high tenor voice and we don’t have three-part harmony or consistent banjo. I listen to Bill Monroe a lot, but I more or less stick to what I can do best."
    That's a great statement of why I never feel right calling what I play "bluegrass" even if that's the closest I can come to describing it to people who aren't steeped in it. Fiddle tunes, acoustic music, appalchian folk -- all that fits. But I don't do banjos, can't sing like that, and can't play mandolin in a Monroe style. There's a missing part of my DNA that would make it bluegrass in the same way that I'm not a blues or rock player.

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    Default Re: Dylan on bluegrass in the New York Times

    He didn’t say grassers couldn’t play other stuff. He just said that to play grass it needs to be in your blood.
    I think if you can play grass you can play other stuff. Good grass demands a definite ability to project a metronomic timing, on the front and back beat, playing in the groove with drive, usually with a banjo...unless you’re part of the Tony Rice Unit on Unit of Measure. The harmony and strong tenor gives it that high lonesome recognition that makes the hair on your back stand up!
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