Bob Dylan and Neil Young
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Bob Dylan, Neil Young & Eric Clapton,
Madison Square Garden, New York City - 1992
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"I'm listening to Neil Young, I gotta turn up the sound
Someone's always yellin', 'Turn him down'
Feel like I'm driftin', driftin' from scene to scene
I'm wondering what in the devil could it all possibly mean."
Bob Dylan's "Highlands" lyrics
While Dylan is universally acknowledged as the most influential and important 20th century singer-songwriter performing today, Young is among a very small contingent of contenders for second place. Young's integrity and credibility place him among a distinguished group of artists to be compared to Dylan.
In the authorized biography Shakey , when asked by author Jimmy McDonough about Dylan's musical influence, Neil Young refers to himself as "a 'B student' of Bob Dylan."
In 1977, John Rockwell wrote in a New York Times article Neil Young - As Good As Bob Dylan?:
There is little doubt that Young's place in rock history is secure. So it's interesting to observe how these stellar artists' careers have intersected and diverged.
At Neil Young's Nashville concerts at the Ryman Auditorium on August 18, 2005, he introduced the song "This Old Guitar" by saying:
And Dylan has been known to return the favor to Neil. From an article in The Independent in September 2005, Young said that Bob Dylan recently gave him a copy of "Goodbye Babylon", a box collection of gospel and early country roots music. Young has also read Dylan's recent autobiography, "Chronicles". Young comments on Dylan's "Chronicles" book:
In an extensive interview in TIME Magazine, in September 2005, interviewer JOSH TYRANGIEL asks Young who's the best musician he has ever seen and the standard for what he does?
The perceived rivalry between Dylan and Young fans (similar to the faux angst amongst Lynyrd Skynrd and Neil Young fans), has caused both camps to lash out at one another with often hilarious results.
Interestingly, Neil Young and Bob Dylan grew up relatively close to one another in the early 1960's -- albeit across the U.S.-Canada border in the upper Midwest plains. Young grew up in Winnipeg, Canada where he underwent his formative musical experiences. Just south of Winnipeg, in Hibbing, Minnesota, Bob Dylan grew up and began his musical adventure.
One of the earliest intersections of Bob Dylan and Neil Young's music was at S.N.A.C.K. Benefit Concert at Kezar Stadium, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA, 03/23/75. This was a one-day festival in aid of Bill Graham's S.N.A.C.K. (Students Need Athletics, Culture and Kicks) organization. Neil Young, with the Stray Gators (Ben Keith and Tim Drummond), performed together with Bob Dylan, and the Band's Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Levon Helm.
The show is widely bootlegged from the radio broadcast.
In August 1974, Bob Dylan attended a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young concert in Minneapolis. From a Rolling Stone magazine article by Ben Fong Torres:
Through most of this set, Bob Dylan, in cowboy shirt, jeans and shades, has been standing in the midst of a small group on the floor off to the side, behind backstage barriers. He stands, unnoticed by the audience, next to a woman in a DRUG HELP jacket.
As the acoustic set makes its transition back into electric, Dylan wanders off by himself. He is willing to have a few words. Over Young's rock-star recall, 'Don't Be Denied,' Dylan shouts that he's in town to attend a funeral. What about the talk that he's looking for some property here? He flashes the half-smile: 'I'm always looking.'"
Soon thereafter, Neil Young and Bob Dylan performed at the Band's farewell show called The Last Waltz from Thanksgiving Day 1976 at the Winterland in San Francisco. The concert was filmed by Martin Scorsese (Woodstock film editor and auteur director genius extradoinaire) and released as a soundtrack album.
Young performed "Helpless" with Joni Mitchell as Dylan and the Band watched from backstage. During the finale Neil and Bob shared the stage with the other performers for "I Shall Be Released". Little is known about Bob Dylan and Neil Young's backstage encounter that day but maybe someday more will surface.
Bob Dylan and Neil Young during finale "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" at BobFest
Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, October 16, 1992
Johnny Cash and June Carter on vocal backup among others
Another musical encounter the two had was for the Bob Dylan's 30th Anniversary tribute in 1992. Neil said from the stage: "Thanks Bob for BobFest!". This was another star-studded concert featuring numerous legends including Neil Young. Young performed Dylan's songs "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" and "All Along the Watchtower". Many who witnessed the performance feel that Young's rendition of "All Along the Watchtower" was incendiary. One can only imagine what Dylan thought of Young's performance.
Bob Dylan and Tom Petty & Neil Young
"My Back Pages" at BobFest
YouTube Video of "My Back Pages" at BobFest - TO PLAY DIRECTLY: Click Icon in Center Above
In 1994, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Neil Young joined on stage at the Roseland in New York City to perform. Performing "Rainy Day Woman" and "Highway 61 Revisited", Young used the mic stand as bottleneck for his guitar.
Young has covered a number of Dylan songs over the years. Songs include:
"Forever Young" (11/2/91 w / Nicolette Larson; Bridge School Benefit 5, Mountain View, California)
Here's a list of other Bob Dylan songs that Neil Young has covered in concert.
And Bob Dylan has covered Neil Young songs in concert, as well. During the Fall of 2002, Dylan covered Young's classic song "Old Man" on a number of tour shows. Dylan gave the cover his inimitable stamp with Bob playing the keyboard and a full band treatment.
The comparisons of Dylan and Young's songwriting, style, personalities, erraticisms and genius have been written about virtually endlessly over the years in the rock press.
From Ink Blot Magazine review of After The Gold Rush by Dave Rosen:
Coming on the heels of his breakthrough solo record "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere," After The Gold Rush upped the ante even further, showing that Neil had moved far beyond his origins in Buffalo Springfield and the comparisons to Bob Dylan. Although Neil's songs echoed Dylan's poeticism, his imagery was uniquely his own, combining the seemingly disparate elements of mysterious psychedelia and razor sharp observations on culture, politics, and love into a cohesive and hummable whole."
From critic Dave Marsh writing in The Rolling Stone Rock History chapter on Neil (1980):
Neil Young is Dylan's greatest disciple, not only because of a shared sound -- a wracked voice, an inability to stay in one stylistic space for long -- but also because of a shared cunning: Young has mastered Dylan's greatest trick, the art of self-mythology.
There is one difference. While Dylan shaped his legend through indirection and enigma, Neil Young has scripted his own myth boldly, in the song selection and liner notes to a succession of retrospective albums. The most important of these, the three record anthology called Decade, represents nothing less than his claim to be considered the preeminent American rock performer of his generation.
That this claim is called into question by scrutiny of his work is part of the point: by emphasizing certain highlights and disregarding the rest, Young has managed to avoid close analysis, leaving most critics gaping in awe of an image greater than the work that supports it--the ultimate Dylanesque trick. "
Comments by "The Dean of American Rock Critics" Robert Christgau in Playboy, Sept. 1990:
But for Dylan the road from folk to rock led to that vast kingdom called pop music. Once Young learned to play electric guitar, on the other hand, other mortal pursuits moved to the back of the bus. "
I needed to lay back for awhile, forget about things, myself included, and I'd get so far away and turn on the radio and there I am. But it's not me. It seemed to me somebody else had taken my thing and had run away with it and, you know, I never got over it."
In a 1969 interview on KSAN radio with Neil Young, he is asked about Dylan's music and admits that he didn't even own a Bob Dylan album for fear of being influenced by it. Young then goes on to site Phil Ochs as a major influence. Young adds that he considered Ochs and Dylan on the same level. (Source: "Eight Miles High: Folk-Rock's Flight from Haight-Ashbury to Woodstock" by Richie Unterberger)
In a 1974 Rolling Stone album review of On The Beach by Stephen Holden:
On The Beach is Neil Young's best album since After the Gold Rush. Though a studio album, its sound is raw and spare, as bracing as Dylan's Planet Waves."
From Pittsburgh, PA Post-Gazette Shakey review "Portrait reveals Neil Young as a brilliant musician who holds fast to his antisocial ways" on June 04, 2002 by Scott Mervis:
From All Music Guide's Neil Young entry by Stephen Thomas Erlewine:
In a 2003 article titled Geezers That Matter: Dylan & Young in Bad News Beat from Chicago Sun-Times article by Jim Derogatis:
Neil Young: The crotchety old Canadian (he turns 58 in November) angered some fans on his last tour with Crazy Horse by playing his new concept album in its entirety [ Greendale's], offering only a handful of his standards during the encores. But Young was obviously passionate and excited about his new music, and anyone who bothered to listen wouldn't have been disappointed at all that he skipped playing 'Cinnamon Girl.' "
On Greendale's "Bandit", Neil sings:
The name check lyrics for "Bandit" may be Neil's way of acknowledging the lyrical tip of the hat that Bob Dylan wrote of Young in "Highlands" (see lyrics at page top, play and listen to MP3 sample of Dylan's "Highlands" from 1997's Time Out of Mind).
A reader comments below that Young's "Bandit" is a nod to Dylan's "Talkin' World War III Blues":
From the article "An Analysis of Music and Lyrics in Relation to American Culture in the 1960s" on Epinions by Andrew Lasho there is a comparison of Neil Young's "Ohio" and Bob Dylan's "Blowin’ in the Wind":
Young prominently featured Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" on the 1991 Arc/Weld tour. The song became a standard during the 1991 tour with Crazy Horse which began as the Persian Gulf war began. At the end of "Rockin' In the Free World" (listen to San Francisco, CA. 1991-04-06) Neil Young and Crazy Horse segue into a homage to Bob Dylan's "Blowing in the Wind" for a most majestic feedback drenched finale. From Pulse! article titled 'The Godfather Of Grunge Rock' by Steve Martin:
That fact is perhaps most evident on Arc/Weld's version of "Blowin' in the Wind." With due respect to Dylan's halcyon days, Young dusts off the old protest standard and gives it new relevance as a pastiche of single-note feedback and vocal anguish.
"Yeah, well, I had planned to do something along those lines," he says. "I was gonna do something off Ragged Glory that's almost the same, 'Mother Earth.' But I didn't really want to do 'Mother Earth.' I didn't think it was gonna make it to the concert. We were rehearsing 'Blowin' in the Wind' before the war and the tour started. Basically, the songs took on the ambience of the times. That's all we do--we just reflect what's going on. It just seems like we go out and it all comes from the audience; we just pick it up and send it back. So whatever's happening, there's no reason to just go out and entertain. Entertainment, all by itself, is great; it's a great thing to do. But when something like [the war] is happening, certain songs just seem trite. Why bother doing 'em? It's just natural that the songs reflect what was happening in the country. You'd see it in people's faces as they came in and out of the concert--the slogans they had on the signs they were holding.
But there's room for everybody," Young adds, after a moment's reflection. "Some people might want to forget about the war. Some people might not."
Young performed Dylan's anti-war epic, 'Blowin' in the Wind.' shortly after the 9-11 terror attacks at the 2001 Bridge School Benefit Concert. And not just once but twice (once acoustic unplugged and again electric Crazy Horse style). Here's a MP3 clip of "Blowing In The Wind" from 1991's Weld.
In 1992, Neil Young performed six sold-out shows at the Beacon Theater in New York City. According to the biography Shakey by Jimmy McDonough, Dylan attended all six of the Beacon shows, hanging out in Young's tour bus between performances.
Elliot Roberts has managed both Dylan and Young. "They're both very flighty. They have the exact same road habits, they prep the same way. They're very, very similar in what satisfies them -- good shows, bad shows. There's some huge dissimilarities. Bob likes to have his families in place and go to them. He's on the move, doesn't like to stay in one place long. Neil will stay in one place forever, given the opportunity."
"Neil's eccentric with a purpose -- Bob's eccentric with a purpose, but I'm not quite sure what that purpose is, and the only person who knows what that purpose is may be Bob," said tour manager Richard Fernandez, who's worked for both of them. "Everybody else is speculating."
The difference in their art? Neil's longtime friend Sandy Mazzeo saw it this way: "Dylan's songs are what's happening all around him. Neil writes about inside."
The quintessential Dylan/Young interaction occurred in June 1988. Dylan was on tour in California when Neil decided to sit in for a couple of shows. "Neil drove up in his Cadillac convertible, his Silvertone amp in the back," recalls Fernandez. Was Young ever intimidated to be joining one of his heroes onstage? "I've never seen him be intimidated by anyone musically," said David Briggs. "If Willie is playin' with Neil, Willie follows Neil. If Neil is playin' with Waylon, Waylon follows Neil. When he's got his ax in hand, his aura becomes solid. He's the gun."
Even with Dylan, Young was the gun, and as much as Bob loves Neil, he quickly found himself in the line of fire. "Neil took over the whole show," said Elliot Roberts, who was listening to Dylan's postshow apprehension over Young playing the next night when Neil bounded over. "Great show! See ya tomorrow night, Bob?" "Yeah, Neil," said Bob wearily. Even Dylan can't say no.
At the Beacon, an extra guitar was set up at the end of the final show, and the buzz was that Dylan was going to step out for a number or two. He never showed."
From the New York Times article "Will Neil Young Join Dylan in Rock's Pantheon?" by John Rockwell on 11/27/1977 upon the release of Decade:
That claim is well worth staking. Along with Bob Dylan, Neil Young is probably the most important rock composer and performer North America has produced."
Piero Scaruffi writes in The History of Rock Music - The Sixties:
Neil Young constitutes with Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen the great triad of 'moral' voices of American popular music. As is the case with the other two, Young's art is, first and foremost, a fusion of music and words that identifies with his era's zeitgeist. Unlike the others, though, Young is unique in targeting the inner chaos of the individual that followed the outer chaos of society. While Dylan 'transfers' his era's events into a metaphysical universe, and Springsteen relates the epic sense of ordinary life, Young carries out a more complex psychological operation that, basically, bridges the idealism of the hippy communes and the neuroses of the urban population. His voice, his lyrics, his melodies and his guitar style compose a message of suffering and redemption that, at its best, transcends in hallucination, mystical vision, philosophical enlightenment, while still grounded in a context that is fundamentally a hell on earth.
Young did to the lyrical song what Dylan did to the protest song: just like Dylan wed the emphasis of Whitman's poetry and the optimism of Kennedy's era with the themes of public life, Young wed Emerson's humanism and the pessimism of the post-Kennedy era with the themes of private life."
Neil Young's 1973 "Time Fades Away" concerts impacted fans much as Bob Dylan's going electric and hearing cries of "Judas!" at the legendary 1966 Royal Albert Hall performance:
"The concert has since taken on historical overtones similar to that of the 1913 Paris premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Like Stravinsky’s, Dylan’s avant-garde experiment was met with outright hostility on the part of the audience. But in the long run, both innovators were hailed as singular geniuses, dragging their respective audiences and genres kicking and screaming into theretofore new and unexplored territories which would prove artistically rich and fertile for themselves and others. Each in their own way were signposts that spoke eloquently of and to their times."
Similarly to Dylan's 1966 Royal Albert Hall becoming a coveted live concert recording avidly sought and widely bootlegged, Young's Time Fades Away unreleased concert recordings are regarded to be the "Holy Grail" among Neil fans.
And Neil Young has experienced his own "Judas" moments with his fans similar to Dylan. During the 2003 Greendale Tour, fans heckled and shouted angry comments. But Young has continously challenged his audience by not giving them what they expected.
From Newsweek magazine article "How to Stay Young" by Tony Schwartz, 11/13/1978, on the Rust Never Sleeps tour:
From a Time Magazine article "Dylan & Young on the Road - The Master gets drubbed with a disciple's reputation", 11/6/1978, by Jay Cocks:
Dylan both mocked and gloried in his informal ordination as a generation's prophet. Young, fully as ambitious in his music, kept closer to the ground than Dylan and sneaked into rock's pantheon like a highwayman."
Allegedly, Young's comment regarding "Subterranean Homesick Blues" from Highway 61 Revisited* was: "Bob Dylan is early rap!". (*Dark Panda writes a correction: SHB was first released on the album Bringing It All Back Home, not on Highway 61 Revisited. In many European markets, the album itself was actually retitled Subterranean Homesick Blues for some reason or another, likely to capitalize on the popularity of the song at the time.)
And here's the last word on Neil Young versus Bob Dylan on the BowLie Forum asking the question "Who is better - Neil Young or Bob Dylan?" One intrepid poster named Warwickjo framed it this way:
Peaks and trough the whole way, but on points as follows:
Debuts - 'Neil Young' vs. 'Bob Dylan':
Neil gets it just for The Old Laughing Lady
Backing bands - Crazy Horse vs The Band:
The Band all the way
Superstar conglomerations - CSNY vs Travelling Wilburys:
CSNY by a country mile
Rock N Roll - Subterranean Homesick Blues vs. Like A Hurricane:
All Bob here.
Early Career highs - After the Goldrush vs Bringing It All Back Home:
Bob gets it here.
Vastly Overrated 'masterwork' - Harvest vs Blonde On Blonde:
Get that double album out of my sight. Neil wins again.
70's masterworks - On The Beach vs. Blood On The Tracks:
Tricky. Very close, but Bob gets it
Long song 1 - Down by The River vs. Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands:
Down By The River is actually good. Sad Eyed Lady isn't.
Long Song 2 - Ambulance Blues vs Desolation Row:
Difficult. Very difficult. Probably Ambulance Blues
Crude but affecting guitar technique - Neil's one note solo vs. Bob's two fingered solo:
Neil here I'd say
Soundtrack - Journey Through The Past vs Pat Garrett:
Zimmerman gets it again!
Harmonica playing - Neil's hoedown vs Bob's earsplitting whine:
All Bob, no question
Voice - Neil's whine vs. Bob's drawl:
Tricky. A draw here as I can't decide.
Career Nadir - Everybody's Rockin' vs. Knocked Out Loaded:
Neil wins on the grounds that it's so short, it's over quicker.
'Comeback' records - Freedom vs. Oh Mercy:
Last three 'proper' albums - Greendale/ Are You Passionate/Silver And Gold vs.
Love And Theft/ Time Out Of Mind/ Under The Red Sky:
Unreleased material compilation - The Bootleg Series 1-3 vs. Archives:
Where is Mr. Young's 32 CD box set of outtakes promised to us for the last decade?
Bob wins hands down.
Live albums - Time Fades Away vs. Albert Hall:
Absolutely no contest. Albert Hall gig is the best live album on Earth. Ever.
Definitive Greatest Hits set - Decade vs. Biograph:
Biograph. But close.
Unplugged albums - Bob Dylan Unlugged vs Neil Young Unplugged:
Bob loses becasue of that bloody awful polka dot shirt he's wearing and because the music's terrible.
Facial Hair - Mutton chops vs. pencil moustache:
Neil's sideys win here.
Cover versions - Mr Tambourine Man by The Byrds vs Mr Soul by The Bluetones:
Ha ha ha ha!
Worldwide influence - Neil vs. Bob:
It has to be Bob doesn't it?
It's 14-10 in Bob's favour with one draw. You've gotta love em both, doncha?
Warwickjo: listen harder.
In response to the Bob vs Neil poll, Junio adds five more questions:
1) Drug song : mr tambourine man vs the needle and the damage done (Neil Wins)
2) nightmare song: i dreamed i saw st.augustine vs the last trip to tulsa ( neil of course)
3) lp cover: freewheelin' vs on the beach ( neil again)
4) greatest love song: it's all over now baby blue vs the bridge ( neil once more)
5) Political song : Blowin' in the wind vs Ohio ( a draw )
Finally, it's 14- 14 ...I guess it must be the final result
Not enough of Bob vs Neil? (Actually Thrasher finds this rather tedious but folks seem to enjoy dreaming up rivalries). For more of the faux battle, see Top 10 Reasons Why Neil Young is Better Than Bob Dylan.
Please comment and add your thoughts on Bob Dylan's musical influence on Neil Young and vice-versa.
Comments on Neil Young and Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan Visits Neil Young's Winnipeg Home
Play and listen to MP3 sample of Young's name check of Dylan on "Bandit" from 2003's Greendale and Dylan's name check of Young on "Highlands" from 1997's Time Out of Mind)
Also, see report on Bob Dylan on 60 Minutes on December 5, 2004.
Also, see more on Bob Dylan's music.
More Bob Dylan and Neil Young articles on Bad News Beat and Bob Dylan on Wikipedia.
Jammin' with Neil Young
Friends of Neil Young
Music Blog - Neil Young Influences