In high school, a friend and I drove two hours to a blues festival in rural Maine one Saturday. When we got to the gate we found tickets to be well outside of our meager budget, but there was only one artist we’d wanted to see anyway: Johnny Winter. So we found a low fence we could peer over, and sat, and waited.
Dylan Covers A-Z presents covers of every single Bob Dylan song. View the full series here.
We began our celebrations yesterday, but today, in fact, is the big day. On May 24th, 1941, Bob Dylan was born at St. Mary’s Hospital in Duluth, Minnesota. Twenty-one years later he released his first album and ever since…well, you know.
We continue our week-long series presenting covers of every single Dylan song with “Father of Night,” one of several Dylan songs that Manfred Mann rescued from obscurity. From there we hit songs by Jeff Buckley, The White Stripes, George Harrison, and, oh, about 54 more. Hours of music, and we’re not even halfway done!
Song of the Day posts one cool cover every morning. Catch up on past installments here.
Music blogs and magazines frequently post lists of underrated guitarists. Some of these lists put Johnny Winter on them, which is silly. Everyone who has heard Winter play recognizes his talent. He’s not underrated; he’s underknown. The Texas bluesman gave one of Woodstock’s finest performances (buy it), but gets little recognition outside of blues circles. Ain’t that a shame.
One of his finest moments is an oft-performed slide guitar explosion through Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited.” Live it can go on for up to fifteen minutes, but we’ve got a nine-minute version (gotta fit on YouTube) from 1984’s Roskilde Festival below. The anorexic (not really) albino (really) axeman plays slide like you’ve never heard, the whole time looking like he’s hardly trying. He’s scary skinny from years of heroin addiction, but his playing has all the muscle you need.
The first post of the month always features a look at songs covering every track on a famous album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
The King of the Delta Blues Singers compilation didn’t come out until 23 years after Robert Johnson’s untimely death, but was such a force in the burgeoning folk movement of the early sixties that it quickly brought his music to the masses, inspiring young singers like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Rolling Stone called it the 27th greatest album of all time, and if that doesn’t qualify it for inclusion here I don’t know what does.
Tom Hanway – Cross Road Blues
Peter Green – Terraplane Blues
He of Fleetwood Mac fame, Green ditched the grandiose pop sounds for his Robert Johnson Songbook. He can play slide guitar with the best of them though. If the Mac hadn’t worked out, he could have a good career in a bloozey bar band. [Buy]
Patti Smith – Come On In My Kitchen
Here it is, the pièce de résistance. Our Twitter followers will know I mentioned a cover I searched for for two years. Smith only released it on her rare Summer Cannibals single in 1996 and it is nowhere on the internet. Until now. Enjoy. [Buy]
Susan Tedeschi and the Derek Trucks Band – Walkin’ Blues
The Hellhound on My Trail tribute album features such heavy-hitters as Taj Mahal and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, but nothing tops Trucks leading wife Tedeschi through a soulful wail of a number. [Buy]
Beck – Last Fair Deal Gone Down
We recently posted a live version of Beck doing this one with one Mr. Jack White (scroll down for more of that young man), but here’s a studio version for the Harry Smith Project covers set. [Buy]
Bob Dylan – 32-20 Blues
Bob Dylan’s covered half these songs in his career. This is the most recent, released last year on his Tell-Tale Signs outtakes set. Stay glued to Twitter though; I’ll tweet out more Dylan Does Johnson later this week. [Buy]
Bob Margolin and Pinetop Perkins – Kind Hearted Woman Blues
Margolin’s got blues chops galore: he used to be in Muddy Waters’ band. The real star here is the boogie-woogie piano of Mr. Perkins, currently in his 96th year and still kicking. [Buy]
The White Stripes – If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day
The Stripes covered Johnson’s “Stop Breaking Down” on their first album, but this live recording comes from six years later, at a stop on their 2005 Get Behind Me Satan tour. Anyone who’s ever seen a live “Death Letter” (like this one) knows what Jack White is a blues-guitar badass. [Buy]
The Gun Club – Preachin’ Blues
The Gun Club actually changed the name here to “Preaching the Blues.” Oh, and they made it a wee bit louder. [Buy]
Johnny Winter – When You Got a Good Friend
Winter is known for his fiery electric guitar solos, but in this recording from Woodstock he shows he’s just as adept on acoustic. Give this man a slide and get the fuck out of his way. [Buy]
L?k?o – Ramblin’ On My Mind
It’s one of the unsolved riddles of the world why all music that comes out of Japan seems really bizarre, like made by A.D.D. children after a 24-hour Dragonball Z marathon. This comes off an all-Japanese tribute album Up Jumped the Devil: A Tribute to Robert Johnson and very few of the songs are recognizable. The re-re-remix sounds on this come off nicely though. [Buy]
John Mellencamp – Stones In My Passway
Mellencamp released blues/folk cover album Trouble No More to fulfill his contract with Columbia in 2003, proving that this “just a littly ditty ‘bout Jack and Diane” heartland rocker can sing the twelve-bar like no one’s business. [Buy]
Led Zeppelin – Traveling Riverside Blues
The Zep can come off a little pompous on some of their Lord of the Rings-aping originals, but there is no disputing their blues-rock prowess. [Buy]
Rory Block – Milkcow’s Calf Blues
Cowboy Junkies – Me and the Devil Blues
This smokey late-night live recording brings folk, country, and Beelzebub himself to the table with creaky violin and Margo Timmins’ spooky vocal delivery. Satan may be in for a shock when this lass shows up. [Buy]
The Mountain Goats – Hellhound on My Trail
A nice indie-folk ending, where the same band who so memorably took on Ace of Base’s “I Saw the Sign” brings the same quiet magic to our man R.J. John Darnielle sings like a man tired of running, just about ready to let the hellhound have him. [Buy]
Plenty has already been said about Highway 61 Revisited. Rolling Stone named the album the fourth best of all time, while Mojo was a little more stingy, giving it fifth. The leadoff track is frequently given the purely objective label the “Best Song Ever,” though some would argue for the closer. It’s an album whose songs cannot be bettered, so I went looking for versions that didn’t try, artists not trying to improve the songs but letting the songs improve them. And where better to witness acts playing around with these classic tracks than straight from the stage. So this set of covers has a special hitch: they’re all live, many unreleased.
Jimi Hendrix – Like a Rolling Stone
Bruce Springsteen has described the opening to this tune as the “snare shot that sounded like somebody had kicked open the door to your mind.” Hendrix continues, explaining “It made me feel that I wasn’t the only one who’d ever felt so low.” It’s a song that resonates with many, so perfect in the original in lends itself to lame copycat cover versions. Hendrix hinted at the glory that would be his “All Along the Watchtower” in this live take from the legendary Monterey Festival (this performance presumably coming before he lit his guitar on fire). In Jimi’s voice it sounds like both diss and come-on, seductive in a way that belies that snarl. [Buy]
The Walkabouts – Tombstone Blues
Richie Havens country soul version was a highlight of I’m Not There (watch it here), but the Walkabouts go all cowboy country on this take, sneering and sashaying and the drums trample along. Then guitar solo’s a little low in the mix, but the outlaw rhythm is enjoyable enough you’ll forgive the sound guy. [Buy]
Levon Helm Band – It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry
I’ve never heard a compelling explanation for what the hell this title means, but Levon rocks so hard it doesn’t matter. Figures that one of Bob’s first drummer from The Hawks (later The Band) should take on this one last year, with full horn section and New Orleans boppin’ piano. [Buy]
Chuck Prophet – From a Buick 6
“All right Mr. Soundman, faders up.” A drum machine is all the background Prophet needs for his drawled baritone and funky blues guitar. He sings that his woman walks like Bo Diddley, but it sounds like Chuck’s mastered that strut himself. [Buy]
Elliott Smith – Ballad of a Thin Man
The original’s got one of the best organ parts of all time, so what does Smith do? Gets rid of it completely. It’s more of a slow-grunge sound, Smith smoothly running through the lyrics like they’re second-nature. His understated delivery emphasizes the tumbling cascade of images, perhaps lost on the perpetually screaming crowd. [Buy]
Mojave 3 – Queen Jane Approximately
The addition of a female voice adds a sensitivity to the pleading-boy aesthetic. Accompanied by softly tinkling piano, it evokes a pastoral feel for an actual queen. [Buy]
Johnny Winter – Highway 61 Revisited
Take your favorite guitar performance of all time. Now imagine how you would feel if it was bumped down to number two. Once you’ve mentally prepared yourself for that possibility, come back and listen to this. [Buy]
Neil Young – Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues
Bob described his experience at his high-profile 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration as like attending your own funeral. Hell of a funeral if Uncle Neil makes the scene though, stomping his way through a characteristically ragged performance backed by Booker T. and the MG’s. Neil just soloed all over Booker’s recent Potato Hole incidentally, so you should check that cover-fest out too. [Buy]
The Grateful Dead – Desolation Row
Though “Desolation Row” is one of Bob’s most well-known songs, artists seem to think it too sacred to even try (or maybe they can’t learn all the words). Ignoring of My Chemical Romance’s embarrassing take from a few months back (youtube if you dare), the Dead’s version is the one to keep, bumping along pleasantly in this take from 1990 released on their Dylan covers comp Postcards of the Hanging. [Buy]
Regular readers will notice the appearance of ads in the past few days. I had hoped to avoid shilling out our space here, but though my expenses are small, they do add up. As you navigate the new look, I’d love some feedback in the comments. Are these ads a necessary evil, or are they annoying enough that you will visit the blog less? If you find them annoying though, you’ll note in the sidebar that if you sponsor the blog for a month, the ads go bye-bye.
The business out of the way, it’s time for December’s album! I’ll admit I was somewhat disappointed to see in the recent poll that this was the least popular feature we do here, but in my mind it is also what gives this blog a unique character among the litany of cover blogs you see on your right. So it’s not going anywhere. Who knows, it may just introduce you to a new favorite. This month’s is the Stones’ Beggars Banquet. A blues-rock classic, with several well-known songs and a classic album cover.
Gail Swanson – Sympathy for the Devil
The hellfire apocalypse of this Stones classic is stripped down to an acoustic grove, with plenty of Swanson’s soulful riffing. And is that a Jethro Tull-esq flute solo? Sweet. [Buy]
Odetta – No Expectations
A lot of good covers of this one, but we’ll feature a blues legend who just passed away last week. An inspiration from everyone from Bob Dylan to Rosa Parks, she found her voice in songs of hope and freedom during the 50’s and 60’s and kept growing strong through the 90’s, when she received a National Medal of the Arts from President Clinton. Listening to this song, you can see why. [Buy]
Dr. Sin – Dear Doctor
This South American metal group released a whole album of songs about doctors, yelling about everyone from Dr. Robert to Dr. Feelgood. They show a surprising adeptness at a bluesy folk sound here though, even (gasp) harmonizing. [Buy]
Barry Goldberg – Parachute Woman
Straight up electric blues that sounds straight outta Chicago, the crunchy guitar chugs along with some nice organ solos. Who needs words when you can say it all in the music? [Buy]
Gerald Collier – Jigsaw Puzzle
Slide guitar doesn’t just need to be for sappy country. It whirls and wails behind every line here, embellishing the driving rhythm. [Buy]
Rage Against the Machine – Street Fighting Man
Hard distortion and aggressive drumming, it’s all one would expect from the Rage. [Buy]
Rude Dog – Prodigal Son (Rev. Robert Wilkins)
It’s not a Stones original, but Mr. Dog gives it as good a treatment as Mick and Keith did, hopping along while making heavy use of that little scraper instrument everyone used in kindergarten. I miss that thing. [Buy]
Johnny Winter – Stray Cat Blues
Guitar god Johnny Winter never leaves anything out when he’s rocking, and he goes all out here in this cut from his ’74 classic Saints & Sinners full of pedophilia goodness. Blues rock at its most badass. [Buy]
The Radiators – Factory Girl
Some New Orleans funk here from a classic bayou jam band. True to jam tradition, it’s a live one, and go here to hear it in the context of a longer medley that includes “Quinn the Eskimo,” “Lonesome Whistle Blow” and “Mountain Jam.” [Buy]
Dandy Livingstone – Salt of the Earth
Reggae straight out of Kingston, Dandy’s not afraid to let the strings and steel drum shine, serving the vocals (both his and the chorus’) instead of distracting from them. I’m surprised McCain didn’t use this one to introduce Joe the Plumber. One of the best of the bunch. [Buy]