Bob Dylan: The Gospel Years, Part 10: Grammy Awards 1980

Dylan receives the Grammy for Best Vocal Performance 1979 (for his “Gotta Serve Somebody” single) at the 22nd Grammy Award at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. In his acceptance speech he thanks “The Lord, Jerry Wexler and Barry Beckett who believed”.

…a mere eight days after the final Saved session, Dylan and the band delivered a definitive rendering of another song they had been nightly regurgitating in concert over the past three months. The song was ‘Gotta Serve Somebody.’ The occasion was the annual Grammy awards ceremony. Nominated for best male rock vocal performance, Dylan and the band proceeded to show what a week of rest, at home in LA, might have done for all parties concerned, even if the award was already in the bag (it was his first Grammy) and the next album in the can.
-Clinton Heylin (Behind The Shades)

Dylan won a Grammy award (his first) for “Gotta Serve Somebody,” which was judged “Best Vocal Performance of 1979.” He and his band attended the televised award ceremony (February 27, 1980) and delivered a very hot, seven-minute version of the song, complete with new lyrics and even some harmonica playing. Dylan wore formal dinner wear (white tie) and thanked the Lord and his record producers.
~Paul Williams (Bob Dylan: Performing Artist, Vol 2: The Middle Years 1974-1986)

..he performs the song dressed in full evening attire, to a very appreciative audience. It is a great performance, ironically far surpassing his vocal on the actual record. He even plays some demon harmonica. With typical perversity, he also changes the words, and the entire performance clocks in at over six minutes. Not surprisingly, Dylan wins his first Grammy Award, thanking in his acceptance speech “The Lord, Jerry Wexler, and Barry Beckett … who believed.” The award ceremony takes place at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles and receives the usual extensive television coverage.
~Clinton Heylin (Bob Dylan: A Life in Stolen Moments Day by Day 1941-1995)

Shrine Auditorium
Los Angeles, California
27 February 1980
22nd Annual Grammy Award Ceremony

  • Bob Dylan (vocal & guitar)
  • Fred Tackett (guitar)
  • Spooner Oldham (keyboards)
  • Terry Young (keyboards)
  • Tim Drummond (bass)
  • Jim Keltner (drums)
  • Clydie King, Regina Havis, Mona Lisa Young (background vocals)


changed words in [bold]

You may be an ambassador to England or France,
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance,
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world,
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you have to serve somebody.

You might be a rock ‘n’ roll addict prancing on the stage,
You might have drugs in your pocket, women in a cage,
You may be a business man or some high degree thief,
They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief

You may be a construction worker working on a home,
You may be living in a mansion or you may be live in a dome,
You might own guns and you might even own tanks,
You might be somebody’s landlord, may be even own banks

You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride,
You may be working as a dishwasher, you may be in your prime,
You may be workin’ in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair,
You may be somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir

You may like to drink whiskey, might like to blow smoke,
You may have money-power or you may be broke,
You may think you’re living, you may think you’re dead,
Maybe sleeping on the floor, or sleeping in a feather bed

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2 thoughts on “Bob Dylan: The Gospel Years, Part 10: Grammy Awards 1980”

  1. What was so amazing to me watching this on television was that the audience was so completely into this song which challenges the listener to consider whom they are serving, The Devil or the Lord. This is the same song, and prime exhibit of a group of songs that critic Joel Selvin, in the San Francisco Chronicle for Saturday, November 3rd, 1979 — so about 4 months earlier — had headlined his review with: “Dylan’s God-Awful Gospel.” In the article he says, “Anesthetized by his new found beliefs, Dylan has written some of the most banal, uninspired and inventionless songs of his career for his Jesus phase. ….The lyrics ride on ridiculous rhymes and images — far below even journeyman Dylan, let alone the man’s finest work.”

    Selvin reports, “Catcalls and boos, to be sure, echoed throughout the 2,200 seat former vaudeville palace. But mostly, the audience sat in stunned silence for the two-hour show, greeting the close of each of the 17 Songs with modest polite applause.”

    That was also my experience when I visited the sparsely attended Concert on October 18th, 1981 at Dane County Memorial Coliseum in Madison, WI. A venue that would normally sell out on the day the concert was announced just a few years earlier.

    So this period of Bob Dylan’s career is only fairly reported on if the immense hostility that greeted these songs is also reported. How the Hollywood crowd at the Grammy’s was suddenly able to shift gears and bring such a welcoming response to this great song and this amazing performance, was something very unique in this period. I think they understood they were witnessing something historic and remarkable, as Dylan received his first, long-overdue Grammy award. The fact that we was even showing up in this venue was something of a miracle so they want to take the opportunity to pay him his dues with this outstanding reception.

    Doug Fox
    Ellington, CT

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