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Bob Dylan's Country Connections

Country music and Bob Dylan are longtime friends.

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Nashville Skyline Album Cover

Bob Dylan - 'Nashville Skyline' (1969)

Image courtesy of Columbia Records

Bob Dylan and country music go way back. His country-rock classic Nashville Skyline convinced many of his contemporaries that country music was more than Hee Haw. Over his career, Dylan's path has crossed many times over with country music.

Blonde on Blonde, Made in Nashville

In 1966, producer Bob Johnston convinced Dylan to head to Nashville to record his seminal double album. Johnston sang the praises of the town's hard-working set musicians, among them Joe South, who played bass on the album and became better known as the songwriter of "Down in the Boondocks." He and the rest of the musicians were able to play anything Dylan threw at them. The stellar results convinced other rock artists to record in Nashville.

Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan's most famous country collaborator was Johnny Cash. In the liner notes to Nashville Skyline, Cash called Dylan "a hell of a poet, and lots of other things." The icons sing together on the album's rendition of "Girl From the North Country." During the sessions for Nashville Skyline, the pair reportedly recorded enough tracks to fill a duet record. Dylan later appeared on Cash's TV show to promote the album. In 2001, Dylan paid tribute to the country legend on a TV tribute, playing a stirring version of "Train of Love" and thanking Cash for "standing up for me, way back when."

Country Covers of Bob Dylan Songs

Dylan's increasing messiah status convinced even reluctant country artists to record versions of his songs (some, like Buck Owens, changed his more hermetic lyrics to fit their tastes). The best of these early collaborations were collected in the 2004 compilation Dylan Country. Here is a partial list that runs the gamut from Johnny Cash's "It Ain't Me, Babe" to Garth Brooks's hit version of "To Make You Feel My Love."

  • Bellamy Brothers - "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight"
  • Dierks Bentley - "Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)" (Live)
  • Glen Campbell - "If Not For You"
  • Johnny Cash - "It Ain't Me, Babe"
  • Country Gentlemen - "Girl From The North Country"
  • Steve Earle & Lucia Micarelli - "One More Cup of Coffee (Valley Below)"
  • The Flying Burrito Brothers - "To Ramona" and "Wallflower"
  • Emmylou Harris - "Every Grain of Sand"
  • Waylon Jennings - "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right"
  • Kris Kristofferson - "Quinn The Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)"
  • Buck Owens - "Love Minus Zero/No Limit"
  • Earl Scruggs - "Nashville Skyline Rag"
  • Jerry Jeff Walker - "One Too Many Mornings"
  • Doc and Merle Watson - "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright"
  • Kitty Wells - "Forever Young"
  • Hank Williams, Jr. - "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight"

Dylan Covers Country Songs

The love and respect went both ways: Dylan was a huge country music fan. In the D.A. Pennebaker documentary Don't Look Back, he sings off-the-cuff renditions of Hank Williams's "Lost Highway" and "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" in a London hotel room. Folk musician Donovan watches, astonished.

Later, Dylan sung "My Blue Eyed Jane" on a 1997 tribute to Jimmie Rodgers and frequently played George Jones on his radio program Theme Time Hour with Bob Dylan. On his album World Gone Wrong he played a version of Doc Watson's "Lone Pilgrim."

Bob Dylan Quotes on Country Musicians

On Jimmie Rodgers: "The most inspiring type of entertainer for me has always been somebody like Jimmie Rodgers, somebody who could do it alone and was totally original. He was combining elements of blues and hillbilly sounds before anyone else had thought of it. He recorded at the same time as Blind Willie McTell but he wasn't just another white boy singing black. That was his great genius and he was there first... he sang in a plaintive voice and style and he's outlasted them all." (via: bobdylanroots.com)

Early Country Music Influences: "The songs of Woody Guthrie ruled my universe, but before that, Hank Williams has been my favorite songwriter, though I thought of him has a singer. Hank Snow was a close second." (source: Chronicles: Volume One by Bob Dylan)

The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams

When unreleased songs from Hank Williams surfaced, the lyrics found their way to Bob Dylan who was urged to record them. Understandably reticent about tackling the project alone, Dylan enlisted the help of Levon Helm, Merle Haggard, and Holly Williams to set the tunes to music in The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams, released in 2011.

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