Taking musical inspiration from Bob Dylan

I don’t know about you, but I’ll take inspiration form anywhere I can get it. And one musician I’ve been increasingly turning to for inspiration in recent years is Bob Dylan.

I didn’t like Dylan when I first heard him. I was too young in the 1960s to be aware of him, and I didn’t have any older siblings to turn me on to his music when I was a teenager, in the 70s. So I relied on the first record of his I bought, which was called Before The Flood. I’m not sure who recommended it to me, but while this 1974 live album might now be considered a classic, it didn’t give me a good first impression of either the man or his music. And listening to it now, I can hear that he’s not in particularly good voice on the album (I know – you might be thinking that Bob Dylan is never in good voice! Lol)

So I didn’t listen to Dylan for decades, until about 15 years ago when I went to see him at Madison Square Garden. The sound system was playing some American classical music that sounded like Aaron Copland to me. Clip-clop, clip-clop Americana for perhaps the 1930s, when Dylan’s band slowly made their way towards the stage. I was totally surprised to hear them begin playing the exact same music we had been listening to, which seamlessly blended into their opening song.


It was at that moment when I realized that Dylan went deep into musical history, with absolutely no stylistic boundaries. He speaks about this at length in his autobiography, Chronicles: Volume One. Jazz, rock, hymns, folk, Sinatra, musical theater, Civil War songs, pop, and classical music are all one to him. And oh, here’s one unforgettable quote from this Midwestern boy: “Polkas get my blood boiling.”

Since I’ve read all the Bob Dylan interviews online, I went on to his bandmates today. Here’s an interview with his longtime bass player, Tony Garnier. Tony, as it turns out, has a musical pedigree almost as varied as Mr. Dylan’s:

Tony Garnier: The Song Whisperer (great title!)

I urge you to read (and watch) as many interviews as you can with the musicians you want to play like. or starters, you’ll gain a more thorough understanding of their music which can help you with your own playing. Additionally, you’ll often see how well-rounded many of the great musicians are, even those that might not appear to be. The reason they’re so “unique” is often because they draw from a wide variety of influences.

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