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The singers Dylan wants you to hear

Scorsese’s documentary got you on a Dylan binge? Then you’ve got to hear these 10 singers whose music made him a fan

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Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan: Jerry Schatzberg/Corbis

The singers Dylan wants you to hear

When a songwriting career is as rich and varied as Bob Dylan’s, a small sample is never enough. So after you’ve watched Martin Scorsese’s excellent documentary No Direction Home (released on DVD Sept. 20 and airing on PBS Sept. 26-27), and after you’ve sampled the dozens of recommended albums in the Sept. 23 issue of Entertainment Weekly, there’s still further to go.

To really understand Dylan, you need to learn about the music he loved. Luckily, his 2004 autobiography Chronicles: Volume One is more about his favorite performers than the music he made or the life he lived. Using his words as a guide, we searched the Web for interviews, free downloads, and fresh info about Woody Guthrie, Dave Van Ronk, and other musicians who influenced, or at least entertained, Dylan. Read on to sample what he’d like you to hear.

Woody Guthrie
Image credit: Woody Guthrie: Redfern/Retna

Woody Guthrie

(1912-1967)

Why Dylan’s a fan of Woody Guthrie

In Dylan’s Words ”Woody made each word count. He painted with words. That along with his stylized type singing, the way he phrased, the dusty cowpoke deadpan but amazingly serious and melodic sense of delivery, was like a buzzsaw in my brain and I tried to emulate it in any way I could. A lot of folks might have thought of Woody’s songs as backdated, but not me. I felt they were totally in the moment, current and even forecasted things to come.”

Let Us Explain If someone compiled a Great American Folk Songbook for the first half of the 20th century, Woody Guthrie’s name would be stamped smack-dab across the cover. Many of his songs remain genre standards to do this day, including ”Hard Travelin’,” ”Pretty Boy Floyd,” and the timeless, more-relevant-by-the-day ”This Land Is Your Land.”

Suggested Spin Dust Bowl Ballads (Buddha, 1964), his striking first-hand account of Southwestern migrant workers struggling in the Dust Bowl

On the Web
Official Site
Best Unofficial Site
Read This Bob Dylan’s extended epitaph to Woody Guthrie
Learn That A science, social studies, music, and math curriculum based around Guthrie’s life
Download This A treasure trove of Real Audio recordings, including Library of Congress tapings by Alan Lomax and remembrances from Guthrie’s closest friends and fellow musicians

Roy Orbison
Image credit: Roy Orbison: David Redferns/Redferns/Retna

Roy Orbison

(1936-1988)

Why Dylan’s a fan of Roy Orbison

In Dylan’s Words ”He could sound mean and nasty on one line and then sing in a falsetto voice like Frankie Valli in the next. With Roy, you didn’t know if you were listening to mariachi or opera. He kept you on your toes. With him, it was all about fat and blood. He sounded like he was singing from an Olympian mountaintop and he meant business.”

Let Us Explain Though there are those who know him only for ”Pretty Woman,” Orbison went the rockabilly route before establishing his influential role as a resonant balladeer. ”Crying” is still a moving tear-jerker, while ”Only the Lonely” is a reminder that it’s okay to be a hopeless romantic. He could rock too, as evidenced by John Lennon’s admission that he based the Beatles first hit, ”Please Please Me,” on Orbison’s singular style.

Suggested Spin Mystery Girl (Virgin, 1989), Orbison’s ”comeback record,” a rare example of an aging artist able to modernize his trademark sound without cheapening it. Sadly, Orbison couldn’t celebrate his best-selling album (featuring the hit ”You Got It”), which was released months after his death.

On the Web
Official Site
Best Unofficial Site
Vote For Roy Sign a petition to the USPS for a Roy Orbison commemorative stamp
Read About Him Learn why more than half of Orbison’s recorded output remains unreleased
Look At These Flip through photo galleries that reveal Orbison’s yearbook portraits (apparently, he was an art editor), flyers, studio sessions, many shots of those signature glasses, and more

Bob Dylan, Joan Baez
Image credit: Joan Baez: AP

Joan Baez

(1941-)

Why Dylan’s a fan of Joan Baez

In Dylan’s Words ”’The Queen of the Folksingers,’ that would have to be Joan Baez… The sight of her made me high. All that and then there was her voice. A voice that drove out bad spirits. It was like she’d come down from another planet.”

Let Us Explain Blessed with the ability to shake the earth with her rich vibrato and broad range, Baez (above left, with Dylan in 1963) is still recording first-rate pop and folk music. Meanwhile, she has always raised political awareness through protest songs (her one-time husband antiwar leader David Harris was incarcerated as a draft dodger).

Suggested Spin Any Day Now (Vanguard, 1968), a double LP of songs penned by Dylan and backed by an airtight country band.

On the Web
Official Site
Best Unofficial Site
Quote the Queen The place to look for sage advice the next time you’re wondering, ”What would Joan do?”
Check These Out Just when you thought you’d heard and seen every Joan Baez record, this thorough discography reveals a mile-long list of singles, imports, and rare vinyl

Dave Van Ronk
Image credit: Dave Van Ronk: John Byrne Cooke/www.cookephoto.com

Dave Van Ronk

(1936-2002)

Why Dylan’s a fan of Dave Van Ronk

In Dylan’s Words ”I’d heard Van Ronk back in the Midwest on records and thought he was pretty great, copied some of his recordings phrase for phrase. He was passionate and stinging, sang like a soldier of fortune and sounded like he paid the price. Van Ronk could howl and whisper, turn blues into ballads and ballads into blues. I loved his style.”

Let Us Explain The ”grand uncle of Greenwich Village” (see his memoir The Mayor of MacDougal Street) met Dylan soon after he moved to New York City and helped him graduate from smalltime clubs to respected Greenwich venues like Gaslight. As for Van Ronk’s own music, he was a finger picking guitar virtuoso as well as a master at bringing a contemporary feel to classic acoustic blues songs.

Suggested Spin Going Back to Brooklyn (Gazell, 1994), a rare instance of original Van Ronk recordings — which took decades to write.

On the Web
Best Unofficial Site
Listen and Learn Hear rare Real Audio recordings of numerous Van Ronk interviews, including one from the year before his death.
Van Ronk on Dylan Von Ronk’s writings, with photos of the pair
His Inspiration Read about Van Ronk’s array of influences from across all genres

Ice-T, The Arsenio Hall Show
Image credit: Ice-T: Reed Saxon/AP

Ice-T

(1958- )

Why Dylan’s a fan of Ice-T

In Dylan’s Words ”Danny [Lanois] asked me who I’d been listening to recently, and I told him Ice-T. He was surprised, but he shouldn’t have been…. These [hip-hop] guys definitely weren’t standing around bulls—ting. They were beating drums, tearing it up, hurling horses over cliffs. They were all poets and knew what was going on.”

Let Us Explain Ice-T may be devoted to acting now (namely a leading role in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit), but his harsh, insightful rhymes about crime-ridden streets are still hard-hitting. Taking on much more than the typical hardcore hip-hop strains of sex, drugs, and violence, he is best known for the unflinching police brutality critique ”Cop Killer” — released in 1992 to the chagrin of censors everywhere. Makes Dylan’s transition from acoustic to electric seem harmless, doesn’t it?

Suggested Spin O.G.: Original Gangster (Sire, 1991), a seminal work of biting social commentary that reeks of venom and freshly spilled blood — contributing to the rise of gangsta rap and the reign of Dr. Dre.

On the Web
Official Site
Best Unofficial Site
Practice That Gangsta Pose Learn to sneer and stare like a weathered street poet with this photo gallery
Listen Up Not sure whether to buy The Pimp Penal Code or that O.G. classic? Sample songs here first

Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash
Image credit: Johnny Cash: Gene Baley/AP

Johnny Cash

(1932-2003)

Why Dylan’s a fan of Johnny Cash

In Dylan’s Words ”Johnny didn’t have a piercing yell, but ten thousand years of culture fell from him. He could have been a cave dweller. He sounds like he’s at the edge of the fire, or in the deep snow, or in a ghostly forest, the coolness of conscious obvious strength, full tilt and vibrant with danger.”

Let Us Explain With a strum of his guitar, flick of his middle finger, or blink of his fiery eyes, The Man in Black (above right, performing with June Carter in 1968) brought an immediate sense of danger to country music — often sympathizing with or actually becoming the American Outlaw in his songs. But his rich baritone also revealed a gentle holy man, at times singing from his mother’s book of psalms.

Suggested Spin At Folsom Prison (Columbia/Legacy, 1968), which captures Cash at his peak of coolness; also one of the all-time greatest live albums

On the Web
Official Site
Best Unofficial Site
See Cash Live Check back every Thursday for a video clip of a Cash performance
His Many Faces A decade-by-decade archive of Cash photos
Download These Listen to clips of Cash classics (”A Boy Named Sue,” ”Ring Of Fire”) and his haunting and dark latter-day period (”Hurt,” ”Delia’s Gone”)

Harold Arlen
Image credit: Harold Arlen: MPTV

Harold Arlen

(1905-1986)

Why Dylan’s a fan of Harold Arlen

In Dylan’s Words ”In Harold’s songs, I could hear rural blues and folk music. There was an emotional kinship there. I couldn’t help but notice it… I could never escape from the bittersweet, lonely world of Harold Arlen.”

Let Us Explain Arlen (above right, with Ruth Etting on the set of 1933’s Let’s Fall in Love) only has one genuine solo album (1966’s Harold Sings Arlen, featuring a young, supple Barbara Streisand), and it’s not even available on CD. Yet his legacy lives on through the golden-age tunes he penned for jazz performers, pop vocalists, and Broadway, including ”Over the Rainbow,” ”Get Happy,” ”I’ve Got the World on a String,” and his most recognized contribution to the fabric of American popular culture, songs for The Wizard of Oz.

Suggested Spin If you can find a copy, either in an MP3 or vinyl, Harold Sings Arlen (1966, Vox Cum Laude) is an relic worth recovering.

On the Web
Official Site
Start Searching This searchable Composition Catalogue is a crucial filter for more than 400 Arlen songs, written during five decades
Listen and Learn Read about and hear one of Arlen’s American classics

Daniel Lanois
Image credit: Daniel Lanois: Mike Cassese/CP/AP

Daniel Lanois

(1951- )

Why Dylan’s a fan of Daniel Lanois

In Dylan’s Words ”One thing about Lanois that I liked is that he didn’t want to float on the surface. He didn’t even want to swim. He wanted to jump in and go deep. He wanted to marry a mermaid… He could have done anything to make a song happen — empty the pans, wash dishes, sweep the floors. It didn’t matter. All that mattered to him was getting that certain something and I understood that.”

Let Us Explain As a producer, Lanois has gotten that ”certain something” from Dylan several times, including two spot-on ”comeback” albums (1989’s Oh Mercy and 1997’s Time Out of Mind). He also squeezed some of the best work from such smalltime artists as Brian Eno, U2, and Peter Gabriel, while also turning out some spacious, evocative solo albums.

Suggested Spin For the Beauty of Wynona (1993, Warner Bros.), a slow-burning solo project that’s perfect for brittle, chilly fall months

On the Web
Official Site
Look at This Lanois’ visual art, including abstract psychedelic pieces and a portrait of Dylan in the studio
And This A tidy gallery of Lanois-related photos
His Credits Delve into his discography and sing along to those sad, sad lyrics

Robert Johnson

Robert Johnson

(1911-1938)

Why Dylan’s a fan of Robert Johnson

In Dylan’s Words ”You have to wonder if Johnson was playing for an audience that only he could see, one off in the future. ‘The stuff I got’ll bust your brains out,’ he sings. Johnson is serious, like the scorched earth. There’s nothing clownish about him or his lyrics. I wanted to be like that, too.”

Let Us Explain Johnson is a larger-than-life figure — a legend, both literally (the tall tale about how he sold his soul to the devil at ”the crossroads” in exchange for his blues chops) and figuratively (he has no other equal in the realm of blues music). Move over Elvis: Many have even called Johnson the ”father of modern rock ‘n’ roll.”

Suggested Spin Hellhound On My Trail (1995, Indigo), a collection of essential recordings that conjure the spirit of swampy delta blues

On the Web
Best Unofficial Site
His Legacy A closer look at Johnson’s musical innovations
An Academic Perspective Links to critical papers on Johnson, such as ”Compassionate and Sadistic: Johnson on Women”

''Spider'' John Koerner
Image credit: Spider John: John Byrne Cooke/www.cookephoto.com

‘Spider’ John Koerner

(1938- )

Why Dylan’s a fan of ”Spider” John Koerner

In Dylan’s Words ”Koerner was tall and thin with a look of perpetual amusement on his face. We hit it off right away… When he spoke he was soft spoken, but when he sang he became a field holler shouter.”

Let Us Explain Dubbed ”Spider” because of his long, skinny legs and arms, Koerner (above right, performing with Tony Glover in 1965) performs searing folk tunes and traditional country blues, captured brilliantly on the American classics cover album, Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Been.

Suggested Spin Nobody Knows… (Red House, 1986), for its flawless renditions of ”Cotton Eyed Joe,” ”The Roving Gambler,” and others

On the Web
Official Site
Book Spider John E-mail the arachnid himself and try to convince him to come to your town
Road Diary Koerner shares personal journal entries

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