Playlist: Bob Dylan sings about real persons


Playlist: Bob Dylan sings about real persons

Bob Dylan has written many songs about real historic persons. This must have been a natural progression for him, coming from the folk tradition where murder ballads and songs about true events are very common. The “problem” is that sometimes Dylan invents his persons and it is really hard to tell reality from fiction.

Other playlists:
Bob Dylan – Murder ballads
Bob Dylan Shadows in the night track listing and Sinatra Spotify playlist

Hurricane – Bob Dylan, one of his most famous songs about a historic person:
Bob Dylan sang about the wrongfully jailed middleweight boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, and the memorable protest song has endured as one of Dylan’s classics. The Hurricane’s conviction was overturned nearly 20 years into his sentence (1985). Carter died in 2014.

George Jackson – Bob Dylan:

Vincent Van Gogh – Bob Dylan (1976):
Vincent Van Gogh by Bob Dylan on Grooveshark

Dylan have been inspired by people in the news, in songs or in history books. He has also surrounded himself with people who became his muses, so to speak. All this did resulted in some of the best songs committed to tape.

My favourite is Blind Willie McTell, maybe not so much a song about the person as a greatly inspired song from the same themes that the blues-man wrote/sang about.

“One of Dylan’s greatest songs almost never saw the light of day. “I don’t think I recorded it right,” he told Rolling Stone in 1984, a few months after discarding the tune during the Infidels sessions. But “Blind Willie McTell” was widely bootlegged, and fans loved it – so Dylan eventually gave in and released it with the first volumes of the Bootleg Series in 1991. He’s played it fairly often in concert since then, using an arrangement that seems to draw on the Band’s 1993 cover version.”
– Rolling Stone Magazine

Her is my list, please add to it in the comment section. I’m sure I’ve missed some.

– Hallgeir

18 thoughts on “Playlist: Bob Dylan sings about real persons”

  1. “Persons” Sounds like a police report. Can’t you just say “people” like real persons do!

  2. I have been Bob’s next-door neighbor in Malibu since 1980. License to Kill is about my antiwar activism. Released in 1983 inspired me to continue on. I have over 50 arrests for nonviolent civil disobedience protesting nuclear weapons, power plants, war and environmental destruction.

  3. If mention in a song is enough: Ezra Pound & T. S. Elliot from Desolation Row; Ma Rainey & Beethoven, Jack the Ripper, Paul Revere’s horse (ok maybe just Paul Revere) from Tombstone Blues; JFK, Anita Eccburg(sp?), Brigett Bardot, Abe Lincoln from Talking’ World War III Blues … There are plenty more … Maybe later. Really enjoy the site, Thanks!

    1. Some of the songs I did chose are “inspierd by” and with a drop of a name or two, but I tried to find songs that was about a person or a persons life or work.

      I will make a playlist sometime where Dylan namedrops, that would be fun, but a very long list 🙂

      …so thanks for the comment and the tips!

  4. I would also suggest the seldom heard George Jackson, which Dylan released as a 45 single sometime in the 70s. One side, labeled “Acoustic Version” was Bob solo on guitar and harmonica, the other was a “Big Band Version”. I don’t think this has been released on cd, but if I’m mistaken please let me know where to find it.

  5. Lenny Bruce is dead but his ghost lives on and on…

    and Billy

    and Delia Green, Bill Robinson/Mr.Bojangles, Railroad Bill,
    and maybe even Arthur McBride lived 😉
    (to name some arr. traditionals…)

    1. Lenny Bruce and Billy are on the list. Mr. Bojangels is uncertain, the song does not refer to the famous stage and movie personality Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, but an un-named street performer according to the writer J.J.Walker.

      I agree about Delia, but Arthur McBride’s origins are too uncertain

      Thanks for the feedback, this is really interesting!

  6. Medgar Evers (Only A Pawn In Their Game.) Sara. One could make a case for John Wesley Hardin. Saint Augustine. Mrs. Roosevelt.

    1. Sara and John Wesley Hardin(g) are on the list.

      I agree on Medgar Evers., St. Augustine and Mrs. Roosevelt they will be included on the list asap. Thank you 🙂

  7. Rita May.
    Talking John Birch Paranoid Blues

    And if you include cover versions (like Ira Hayes and Stack-A-Lee) there is a lot. Pretty Boy Floyd for instance

    1. Rita May is not conclusive, it may be about Rita Mae Brown, but it is hard to see the connection.

      John Birch Paranoid Blues is not strictly about John Birch but about joining the John Birch Society, a song about communist paranoia. So maybe it should have been included…
      from Expecting rain (Bob Dylan Who’s who):
      John Birch was a Baptist missionary in
      China before World War II. He barely escaped capture by the Japanese
      when the War began, and while hiding out, stumbled across Captain James
      Doolittle and some of his men (the “Flying Tigers”). He led them to
      safety, and then signed up with Claire Chennault, US commander of the
      American Volunteer Forces in China, to provide intelligence against the
      Japanese. This he did quite effectively for the next few years. On a
      mission to free American prisoners in August 1945, he ran across
      Communist Chinese guerillas. He refused to surrender his gun and got
      into an argument with the guerilla leader, who had him shot and
      bayoneted to death. Because Birch died a few days after V-J Day (the
      official end of World War II), Robert Welch, founder of the John Birch
      Society, viewed him as the first casualty of the Cold War.

      Pretty Boy Floyd should have been in there.
      You say there is a lot, I need help to find them, please 🙂

      Thanks for the comments!

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