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The musician that made Bob Dylan “want to gasp”

The musician that made Bob Dylan “want to gasp” 

(Credits: Far Out / Alamy / Wikimedia)


With huge commercial and critical success, Bob Dylan is considered one of the greatest songwriters in music history. His influence has been unparalleled – civil rights movements have borrowed from his lyrics, and hundreds of renowned artists have covered his songs, from Sam Cooke to Sonic Youth. But where did Bob Dylan’s own musical inspirations come from?

In Chronicles: Volume One, Bob Dylan shares his love for folk singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie’s records. He said: “I put one on the turntable and when the needle dropped, I was stunned – didn’t know if I was stoned or straight. What I heard was Woody singing a whole lot of his own compositions all by himself… All these songs together, one after another made my head spin.”

Detailing further, Dylan continues to gush, “It made me want to gasp. It was like the land parted.” 

Dylan conveys his admiration, in particular, for Guthrie’s consistency: “The songs themselves, his repertoire, were really beyond category. They had the infinite sweep of humanity in them. Not one mediocre song in the bunch,” he said. “Woody Guthrie tore everything in his path to pieces. For me it was an epiphany, like some heavy anchor had just plunged into the waters of the harbor.”

With similar folk influences and politically charged lyrics, it’s easy to see why Dylan was stunned by Guthrie and went on to write the music he did. Like Guthrie, Dylan would go on to be considered one of the most remarkable songwriters of his time and to have his works adopted by socialist movements.

Dylan continues to share his memory of the moment Guthrie changed his outlook on music. He stated: “That day I listened all afternoon to Guthrie as if in a trance and I felt like I had discovered some essence of self-command, that I was in the internal pocket of the system feeling more like myself than ever before. A voice in my head said, ‘So this is the game.’ I could sing all these songs, every single one of them and they were all that I wanted to sing. It was like I had been in the dark and someone had turned on the main switch of a lightning conductor.” 

Long before charting it in his memoir, Dylan paid tribute to Guthrie’s powerful influence on him musically. In 1972, he recorded a few live Woody Guthrie covers for the compilation album A Tribute To Woody Guthrie, including ‘I Ain’t Got No Home’, ‘Dear Mrs. Roosevelt’, and ‘The Grand Coulee Dam’.

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