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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Friday, June 29, 2007


If any reader of this blog can make it to one of these events, please do come and say hello. I'll be selling and/or signing copies of The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, Song & Dance Man III: The Art of Bob Dylan and the brand-new UK hardback of Hand Me My Travelin' Shoes: In Search of Blind Willie McTell, so I'll be around at the end of each gig. These three all take place in the next eight days:

tomorrow: Sat June 30, 4pm, as part of Ireland’s 1st DylanFest
Bob Dylan & the Poetry of the Blues
The Bar-A-Cuda, Aqua Bar
Lower Main Street, Moville, Co. Donegal, Ireland
admission on the door £10/€15

Monday July 2, 11am, as part of the 1st Kirkbymoorside Literary Festival
Hand Me My Travelin’ Shoes: In Search of Blind Willie McTell
Summit Books, 2 Market Place, Kirkbymoorside, North Yorkshire
admission free with prior reservation by phone (01751 430033)

Saturday July 7, 7.30pm, Bristol Arnolfini
Bob Dylan & the Poetry of the Blues
Arnolfini Arts Centre, 16 Narrow Quay, Bristol BS1 4QA
Box Office: 0117 917 2300
tickets £6 (concessions £4.50)


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Twenty-six years ago today - 1981 - was publication day for the simultaneous hardback and paperback of the UK edition of The Art of Bob Dylan: Song & Dance Man. It was published by Hamlyns, and was, nine years after the first version, the updated 2nd edition of my study of Bob Dylan's work. At the time I had come in from the cold of freelancing, had worked for United Artists Records for two years and then been asked to become Gerry Rafferty's manager. He'd been burned by heavy American management when he was in Stealer's Wheel, and wanted someone unheavy and unAmerican (though being very Scottish, he wasn't overly impressed by my Englishness), to fend off a music biz over-excited by the sudden success of 'Baker Street'.

My job was essentially to say no to things on his behalf. This made management of a rock star who'd just sold four and a half million albums somewhat less glamorous than it might have been. Gerry was especially keen not to tour the USA.

This meant that I was in London when Bob Dylan came over for his 1981 stint at Earl's Court, and this coincided with publication of my book. And walking towards the hall one night I saw that a whole window of the local branch of mega-bookshop W.H.Smith's was filled with a display for the book. I don't think my royalties ever reflected a commensurate surge in sales - but since the Rafferty job meant that this was the only point in my life when I was lavishly paid, it didn't matter at the time. When Gerry and I parted company that same year and I went back to the freelance writer's life, it started to matter more. Certainly the demanding monster that was my ailing 1971 Cadillac Eldorado convertible - white with red upholstery - had to go. (Actually, it's basic problem was that so very often it didn't...)

In the US, St.Martin's Press published the simultaneous hardback and paperback of The Art of Bob Dylan: Song & Dance Man in 1982.

Monday, June 25, 2007


We were at the Band Room, Farndale, on Saturday night to see a triple bill. Two of the three were pretty good, starting with American singer-songwriter Jacob Golden, who clearly knew what he was doing, and had an excellent voice. Some of his songs were much better than others, but his emotional intensity was tremendous, and when matched by a song as strong as his mid-set 'Bluebird', powerful and thrilling. I found myself wanting him to sing Roy Orbison's 'Cryin''; and both Sarah and I were independently reminded of the Don Everly solo album Don Everly: tracks like 'Omaha'. I wondered if he knew the album.

Then on came ex-Snow Patrol person Iain Archer, from Northern Ireland, who kept alternating electric and acoustic guitar and played both beautifully. He had a touch of the Freddy Koellas about him. If I could make a CD (ha ha), he'd be my ideal lead guitarist: confidently imaginative, loud and resourceful, and strongly individual without showing off.

Just as I was thinking his set had been long enough - it had been a much-extended evening with a great deal of waiting around - he surprised the many fans who'd come from far and wide to hear him in this magical venue by giving us Van Morrison's 'Into The Mystic', done with fond panache and a fine blend of passion and great care. And then for the penultimate number, Jacob Golden joined him onstage for another surprise: a duetted version of Dylan's 'I'll Be Your Baby Tonight'.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


One of the photos on the shortlist for the Bob Dylan Encyclopedia
Rob Stoner, Link Wray, Anton Fig and Robert Gordon
[photo c/o Rob Stoner]

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


All hail to Brian Wilson, 65 years old today. Here's the entry on him in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia:

Wilson, Brian [1942 - ]
Brian Wilson, born in Los Angeles on June 20, 1942, became the founder of the Beach Boys, and one of four figures in popular music customarily called a genius. (The others are RAY CHARLES, PHIL SPECTOR and Bob Dylan.) Brian was the oldest of three brothers, the children of Audree and Murray Wilson, the latter a failed songwriter. They grew up in Hawthorne, a Los Angeles suburb, rubbing along with cousin Mike Love and friend Al Jardine. Brian and Dennis were often beaten for tiny transgressions, the worst being to better Murray Wilson. Enraged, he would pluck out his glass eye at the table, ordering his sons to stare into its socket.

This dysfunctional family bequeathed Brian a fundamental insecurity and incapacitating self-doubt that led to a lifelong struggle, involving many lost years and intimacies, between floundering in sloughs of American despond and a rarified level of creative expression and musicality. The Beach Boys’ inception had to happen behind the parental back. When Mr. and Mrs. Wilson took a Mexican holiday in September 1961, the five teenagers rented instruments and started the group in their living-room.

They performed as The Pendletons (a surfer’s shirt-brand), Carl & The Passions and Kenny & The Cadets before seizing on the Beach Boys, a name débuted at the RITCHIE VALENS Memorial Concert at Long Beach on New Year’s Eve, 1961.

Father Murray took the song ‘Surfin’’ (written by Brian and Mike Love) to his music-publisher, who recorded it, issued it on local labels and saw it touch the US Hot 100. In early 1962 Murray took ‘Surfin’ Safari’ to Capitol and the record went Top 20. The follow-up, ‘Ten Little Indians’, flopped but ‘Surfin’ USA’ was a Top 3 smash in summer 1963.

Surf Music was not their invention: Dick Dale (‘King of the Surf Guitar’) had ridden the wave of guitar-instrumental records that were a major hit genre of the era, devising a guitar sound that supposedly simulated the feel of bestriding a surfboard. Nor did the Beach Boys pioneer ‘their’ vocal sound. They stood in a tradition of close-harmony groups and were influenced by its modernisation on Jan & Dean’s 1959 ‘Baby Talk’, which launched a California falsetto style embracing doo-wop nonsense syllables. But because Dennis Wilson was obsessed with surfing, the Beach Boys were first with songs that named and celebrated it, making it a universal metaphor for being young while giving them ownership of a particular Americana, as evocative as THE BAND’s backwoods Civil War dreamscapes at the other end of the 1960s. ‘When you’re talking states of mind,’ wrote Bill Holdship, ‘Brian Wilson invented California’.

For some time Brian Wilson thrived and grew artistically in this land of surf and honey. ‘Surfer Girl’ confirmed his talent for luxuriant harmonies above which his yearning falsetto steered a wistful course. These years gave us ‘Fun Fun Fun’ and the no.1s ‘I Get Around’ and ‘Help Me Rhonda’, the exquisite ‘Don’t Worry Baby’, ‘In My Room’ and more. Terrific hit singles also included ‘When I Grow Up’, ‘Sloop John B.’, ‘Barbara Ann’ and ‘God Only Knows’. Who’d have thought Charles Atlas could receive so sumptuously cool a makeover? (No wonder Dylan gave him a namecheck on ‘She’s Your Lover Now’.)

Brian Wilson and Mike Love wrote most of the early lyrics, and Bruce Johnson, who also contributed songs, joined in 1965. But Brian’s music and input distinguished the group, and his Spector-influenced production was crucial to their increasingly complex recordings, hailed as ‘the perfect blend of teen consciousness and musical innovation.’ Bob Dylan said of Wilson in 1997, ‘That ear! Jesus, he’s got to will that to the Smithsonian.’ He must have meant his right ear, for Brian is deaf in his left.

Wilson’s first crack-up began on a tour of Texas, starting a long slide into stupor and derangement. Wilson quit stage performances in late 1964, though he hung around on the road with the others till 1967. In the studio his admiration for Phil Spector turned into obsessive one-sided rivalry. Bruce Johnston complained, ‘He used to play “Be My Baby” to us over and over and we’re going “Hey, Brian, we heard it already, so what?” Spector should have been bowing down in front of Brian, not the other way around.’

At home Wilson grew ‘very paranoid,’ said Marilyn, the wife who had to swap from student at his feet to grown-up taking care of him, and of business, surrounded by axe-grinding brothers, cousins and hangers-on, while Brian asked for drugs and the house filled with people to supply them.

What was remarkable was that he did so much in these years, rather than that he managed so little later. So strong was his work and its popularity that THE BEATLES’ 1964 conquest of America hardly touched the Beach Boys at the time. Their 1965 LPs Beach Boys Today and Summer Days (And Summer Nights) fired on all their distinctive cylinders, and Wilson triumphed creatively with the seminal Pet Sounds (cut 1965, issued 1966) and the single ‘Good Vibrations’ a massive hit (not least a UK no.1) in summer 1966 (part-written by Mike Love, who went uncredited, creating a resentment that would smoulder for decades and end in court).

Things collapsed suddenly. Pet Sounds was upstaged by Sgt. Pepper and a comparative flop in the US. Brian forced the others into many months of studio-work on Smile, an album that was to outshine the Beatles and the Beach Boys’ own past, but which Brian then abandoned. Ironically, while few could have been ingesting more LSD than Wilson, the West Coast ‘psychedelic revolution’ now made the Beach Boys passé. The ghost of Smile, issued as Smiley Smile, further damaged their reputation. It was the last Beach Boys album Brian Wilson would produce until 1976.

The group continued, and still had hits, survived an unsuccessful college tour with the Maharishi and abandoned short, hit-based sets for Progressive Rock. At home, meanwhile, Brian Wilson’s renewed breakdown, in 1967, left him swallowing drugs and junk-food, hearing lost chords and growing obese, stranded at the grand piano inside a box of sand that was intended to inspire but attracted more dog-mess than muse. His daughter Carnie was born in 1968, and Wendy in 1969, into a family as dysfunctional as the previous generation’s. As Marilyn struggled to cope, Murray Wilson sold his son’s songwriting catalogue for a mere $700,000. (In the 1990s Wilson won it back, plus ten million dollars in recompense.)

In 1976, Marilyn brought in controversial therapist Dr. Eugene Landy, whose intensive ‘24-hour therapy’ rescued Wilson from himself but not from Dr. Landy. First results were positive. Wilson shook off the torpor of his drugs habits and proved capable of work, giving interviews, performing on ‘Saturday Night Live’ and producing the albums 15 Big Ones and Beach Boys Love You, both huge American hits.

He relapsed. Marilyn and the children left in 1979 and the other Beach Boys, who had fired the overbearing Landy, whom they saw as a rival, were driven to recall him in 1980. More lost years of mayhem and madness followed, as brothers and cousins sued over business betrayals, Landy kept Wilson in sinister thrall and Marilyn divorced him. The Beach Boys stumbled on, but their 1980s were awful too, and in 1983, Dennis drowned while drunk.

In 1987, Brian re-emerged quietly on the WOODY GUTHRIE-LEADBELLY tribute album A Vision Shared with an affectionate, witty Black Pop ‘Goodnight Irene’; but when he finally made a solo album, in 1988, five of its mediocre songs were co-written by ‘executive producer’ Landy. 1991’s crassly titled Sweet Insanity, also co-produced by Landy, was refused release by the record company, though most people prefer it.

By the mid-1990s, a more precarious but plausible rehabilitation seemed in place. Dr. Landy had been banned by law from any contact with Wilson, who was trying to build a relationship with his daughters and resumed work with the Beach Boys after regaining his song-publishing and an amicable settlement of the Mike Love court case. Then came ‘I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times’, a brilliant, affecting TV documentary portrait of Wilson the musician and his struggle against his own mental instability, filmed by musician-producer DON WAS.

Was explained: ‘People have heard the phrase “Brian Wilson is a genius” for years. I wanted someone who’s not a musician to walk away with some understanding of why. Everything regarding his personal life in the movie relates to the music. Everyone has some sort of emotional stake in Brian’s music. This is the important thing, not the sordid details and the gossip.’

The film succeeded so well, capturing so intimately Wilson’s extraordinary talent and tragedy, that it stands now as a part of his legacy as valuable as anything from his golden past. Since this return to the heights, Wilson’s resumption of touring has been a remarkable, sustained achievement, as he has gone around with a large set of accompanying musicians, recreating note for note entire studio albums live: something that in theory seems pointless and far less exciting than the spontaneity of free musical interaction, yet which has proved thrilling to huge crowds; and not merely thrilling but very moving too, just to witness so fragile a figure pulling off such triumphs with such sustained musicianship and such command of himself and his masterworks.

His connections with Bob Dylan have been brief but the more recent of the two proved interesting. First, on January 20, 1988, at the thrash for the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame’s third annual round of inductions, Dylan played guitar behind a number of people (safely surrounded by hordes of other musicians), and this included playing behind Brian and Carl Wilson and Mike Love on a performance of ‘Barbara Ann’. Three years later, in a Los Angeles studio, Dylan dropped in on one of Wilson’s sessions for the doomed (unreleased) Sweet Insanity album; Bob shared the vocals with him on Brian’s pastiche song ‘Spirit Of Rock’n’Roll’. Wilson commented afterwards: ‘Now he is crazy. He couldn’t even find the microphone!’

[Brian Wilson (with Bob Dylan): ‘The Spirit Of Rock’n’Roll’: LA, early 1991; unreleased. Bill Holdship: ‘Lost In Music: Brian Wilson’, Mojo, London, Aug 1995.]

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


My event at the 1st Irish Dylan Festival has been switched from St. Eugene's Hall to The Aqua Bar on Lower Main Street. Apparently the technical facilities are better there. All other details remain the same - ie it's still at 4pm Saturday June 30, and the whole festival is still at Moville, County Donegal from Friday June 29 to Sunday 1 July. If you see me, say hello.


The TV film director, music journalist and Dylan fan Mick Gold e-mailed me ten days or so ago, and included this snippet of news:

"My 16 year old did her GCSE English paper this week. The prose extract in 'comprehension', where you had to answer questions about the writer's intentions, was from Chronicles Vol. 1. Something about being misunderstood as the 'voice of a generation'..."

[The BBC 4 series Masterpieces of the East, shown Wednesdays at 8.30pm on British TV, includes two of Gold's films. The first - TIPPOO'S TIGER (A very short history of imperialism) - is tomorrow night, June 20; on July 18 comes THE HAMZANAMA (with Salman Rushdie).]

Sunday, June 17, 2007


This is an update on my live events. Some are on BOB DYLAN & THE POETRY OF THE BLUES and some on HAND ME MY TRAVELIN' SHOES: IN SEARCH OF BLIND WILLIE McTELL.... The first, a Dylan event, is as part of the first Irish Dylan Festival, being held at Moville, County Donegal, over the weekend of Friday 29th June to Sunday 1st July. When news of the festival was given out on John Baldwin's Desolation Row Information Service e-mail newsletter, he headed it STUCK INSIDE OF MOVILLE . . .

Sat Jun 30, 4pm: Ireland’s 1st DylanFest
Bob Dylan & the Poetry of the Blues

NOW SWITCHED TO The Aqua Bar, Lower Main Street, Moville, Co. Donegal, Ireland
admission on the door £10/€15

Mon Jul 2, 11am: Kirkbymoorside Literary Festival
Hand Me My Travelin’ Shoes: In Search of Blind Willie McTell
Summit Books, 2 Mkt Place, Kirkbymoorside, N. Yorks YO62 6BB
Box Office: 01751 430033
admission free with prior reservation

Sat Jul 7, 7.30pm: Bristol Arnolfini
Bob Dylan & the Poetry of the Blues
Arnolfini Arts Centre, 16 Narrow Quay, Bristol BS1 4QA
Box Office: 0117 917 2300
tickets £6 (concessions £4.50)

Thu Sep 13, 8pm: Birmingham: Midlands Arts Centre
Bob Dylan & the Poetry of the Blues
Cannon Hill Park, Edgbaston Rd, Birmingham B12 9QH
Box Office: 0121 440 3838 /

Sat Oct 6, time tba: Wigtown Book Festival
Hand Me My Travelin’ Shoes: In Search of Blind Willie McTell
Wigtown, Newton Stewart, Southwest Scotland, DG8 9BR
details tba

Friday, June 15, 2007


. . . today is a double anniversary for me. Eight years ago today, I finished the manuscript of Song & Dance Man III, and one year ago today, The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia was published.


Larry Eden’s funeral will be held at Mortlake Crematorium next Tuesday, June 19, at 1.30pm British Summertime. All are welcome.

The address is Kew Meadow Path, Townmead Road, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 4EN, UK.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


I pass on this Special Announcement from John Baldwin's Desolation Row Information Service e-mail newsletter:

It is with much sadness that I tell you about the recent death of Larry Eden. He was found dead yesterday in his London flat. The police were alerted after he fell out of touch with his regular friends and they were able to gain entry to his flat. It is not yet known how or when he died but that should become clearer when the results of the inquest are known later today. It will only be then that funeral arrangements can be made.

Larry was one of the most colourful fans who traveled all over the world to see his idol and was always to be seen front row centre at the UK concerts wearing his trademark hat and cheering Bob on. Larry was one of the few fans ever acknowledged by Bob from the stage, who said of Larry “he’s been to more of my shows than I have”. Through his many years of concert going, Larry made countless friends and he will be sadly missed. His memory will still be with us by way of his voice, which you can hear on many bootleg concert recordings.
Our thoughts go out to his family on this sad occasion.

For myself, I found Larry a lovable rogue; he tried to help me once with a difficulty I was having with some shady London crook-publishers (of a certain Frank Zappa book), and though he didn't succeed, it was kind of him to bring some of his specialist talents to the task. When he went off to India a few years ago, and so dropped out of attending Dylan concerts - it was a weird thing to get used to the absence of him and his hat - he sold off his CD collection before he went, and we all took, er, pot luck on which CD we'd get. I ended up not with some rare bootleg but with his copy of the official Before The Flood double-CD release; initial disappointment gave way to the realisation that it was just as well this was what arrived, because having it on vinyl already but rarely wishing to play it, it would probably have been near the bottom of my CDs wishlist.

The last time I saw Larry was at the Bob Dylan Convention in Northampton last October 28th: an event which in itself commemorated another widely-known deceased UK Bobcat, John Green.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


I'm not at all sure how large or otherwise an outfit ForeWord Magazine is but I'm cautiously pleased to discover (last night) that The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia has been made its Music Book Of The Year.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


Today, June 5th, marks the 30th anniversary of the death of that great pre-war blues artist Sleepy John Estes - a man whose distinctive work influenced the Bob Dylan of 1965 so markedly. I hoped to track and trace this influence in the sizeable entry on Estes in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, reproduced here. Since the entry was published a year ago, Dylan's Modern Times has reworked another song I associate with Estes, his 'Someday Baby Blues', though without any credit to Estes. (Dylan's earlier performance of much the same song, at Toad's Place in 1990, is mentioned in the entry.) . . .

Estes, Sleepy John [1904 - 1977]
John Adam Estes was born outside Ripley, Tennessee on January 25, 1904, grew up in Brownsville, lost the sight in his right eye in a baseball accident in adolescence, learnt guitar, joined the great mandolin player Yank Rachell and harp and jug player Hammie Nixon, acquired his distinctive monicker in rather brutal reference to the narcolepsy from which he suffered, went to Memphis with Rachell & Nixon, played on the streets in a jug band and began his prolific recording career in Memphis in 1929. He was recorded there by Victor on eight separate days between his début session that September 17 and May 30, 1930, yielding 15 still-extant sides, of which 12 were issued. Moving to Chicago with Hammie Nixon in 1931, it took him some time to get back into a studio, but he did so in July 1935 (twice), on two consecutive days in August 1937 and once in April 1938 (these three in New York City), once in June 1940 and once in September 1941 (back in Chicago).

After World War II he made just two more Chicago sides, for the tiny Ora-Nelle label in 1948 but soon afterwards returned to Brownsville, Tennessee and took labouring work, though occasionally performing on the streets of Memphis as he had done nearly 30 years earlier. In April 1952 the great Sam Phillips recorded him at the Sun Studios in Memphis. HOWLIN’ WOLF’s career was beginning there; Sleepy John’s appeared to be ending. He made three sides at his first Sun session, all of them unissued; later that month he made four sides; none were issued until years afterwards.

He was back in Brownsville, almost 60 years old and close to penury when he was ‘rediscovered’ in 1962, made new records and worked the Folk Revival circuit of clubs, festivals (including NEWPORT 1964) and an American Folk Blues Festival tour of Europe. As Dylan said, ‘there was a bunch of us…who got to see all these people close up - people like SON HOUSE, REVEREND GARY DAVIS or Sleepy John Estes. Just to sit there and be up close and watch them play, you could study what they were doing, plus a bit of their lives rubbed off on you. Those vibes will carry into you forever, really, so it’s like those people, they’re still here to me. They’re not ghosts of the past or anything, they’re continually here.’

There’s nothing peripheral about what Dylan has taken and remodelled from Sleepy John Estes. Who does this sound like? An artist of great originality, whose work combines traditional and self-penned material, who went through a ‘protest’ phase, is ‘...not a particularly accomplished guitarist’ and whose ‘broken, fragmented song’ is ‘held in tension by the contrast between the tendency to disintegration and the rhythmic impetus of his strumming.’ Well, yes, it is Sleepy John Estes but it might so easily be Touring Bob Dylan. (The quotes are from Paul Oliver’s 1969 book The Story Of The Blues.)

To listen to a sweep of Estes’ pre-war recordings is to have confirmed what Dylan himself hints at by his own prominent naming of Estes in his Bringing It All Back Home sleevenotes: namely that Estes is a seminal figure in Bob Dylan’s blues education. (Dylan mentions him again in the mid-60s: to JOHN LENNON in the limo-ride filmed for, but not used in, Eat The Document.) As so often, Dylan tells us something true but says it in so flip and casual a way that we tend to disregard it. In this case, his notes to his first ‘rock’ album begin by declaring (quietly): ‘i’m standing there watching the parade / feeling combination of sleepy john estes. jayne mansfield. humphrey bogart’ - and sure enough, it transpires that those distinctively ‘Dylanesque’ clunking blues from 1965 owe much to Sleepy John Estes’ pioneering work and very individual style, while the clear resemblance between Paul Oliver’s description of Estes and our own picture of the older Bob Dylan’s artistry suggests aspects of Sleepy John’s influence beyond those Dylan displayed back in 1965 that have remained and grown within him.

The evidence is everywhere. The very title of Estes’ first hit, ‘The Girl I Love, She Got Long Curly Hair’ (1929), indicates by its distinctive jerky rhythmic strut, an Estes trademark, just how songs like ‘California’, ‘Outlaw Blues’, ‘From A Buick 6’ and ‘Sitting On A Barbed-Wire Fence’ are built to the Estes blueprint. You can hear it straight away in the special way the delivery of the line is chopped up to incorporate those odd, crucial pauses. Estes: ‘Now the, girl I love she got, long curly hair’; Dylan: ‘Well this, woman I got she’s, killin’ me alive.’ The half-correspondence of the words that begin those two lines merely adds to the certainty already felt that the one song has inspired the other.

Nine months after cutting ‘The Girl I Love’, which was to prove Estes’ most popular disc, he recorded a song he called ‘Milk Cow Blues’. It bears no resemblance to anyone else’s song of that name (and doesn’t mention milkcows): but it bears a very striking resemblance to ‘The Girl I Love, She Got Long Curly Hair’. It has the same knowing clunkiness, that hip manipulation of chunky pauses on the backbeat - a sort of sure-footed clog-dancing: and it is the clear model for ‘From A Buick 6’. The special rhythm is the same. The tune is the same. Dylan’s lyric even starts out in tribute to the Estes prototype. Where Dylan’s 1965 song begins ‘I got this, graveyard woman you know she, keeps my kid / But my soulful mama you know she, keeps me hid’, Estes opens this way: ‘Now, asked sweet mama let me, be her kid / She says I, might get ’bove you like to, keep it hid.’ And the first vinyl release of this Estes recording was in 1964.

The same Estes song, as it happens, offers some commonstock blues lines which have Dylan connections from elsewhere in his repertoire. The line after the opening couplet just quoted is one we find Dylan singing in ‘Blood In My Eyes’: ‘Well she looked at me, she begin to smile’, and the line that ends the Estes ‘Milk Cow Blues’ is ‘Now it’s a, slow consumption an’ it’s, killin’ you by degrees’. Dylan’s matching line, with matching pauses, tune and strut, is ‘Well if I, go down dyin’ you know she, bound to put a blanket on my bed.’

The very first track Estes recorded was his own version of BLIND LEMON JEFFERSON’s ‘Broke And Hungry’, which he either misheard or re-wrote, as ‘broken-hearted’, and which was given a characteristically lengthy Estes title, ‘Broken-Hearted, Ragged And Dirty Too’. This was the début recording that went unissued; he had another go just nine days later, and this time achieved release. The version Dylan performs on World Gone Wrong is far more similar to the Sleepy John Estes than to the 1940s Willie Brown version cited in Dylan’s sleevenotes.

‘Someday Baby Blues’ is Sleepy John Estes’ particularly heartfelt and individual variant of ‘Sittin’ On Top Of The World’, which has in turn been revised and revisited in several guises. CHUCK BERRY’s ‘Worried Life Blues’ uses the Estes chorus but thoroughly different verses; the Allman Brothers’ version of the MUDDY WATERS version, ‘Trouble No More’, does the opposite, reinstating an approximation of Estes’ verses while abandoning his chorus. When Bob Dylan sang it live at Toads Place, New Haven, Connecticut in 1990, it was recognised as the same song as Muddy Waters’, and duly appears in the various listings of his performances as ‘Trouble No More’ - yet really Dylan brings it all home to Sleepy John, reinstating his chorus and imbuing it with the customary Estesian pauses (‘Someday baby, you ain’t gonna worry, my mind, anymore’). The only vocal moment worth speaking of in Dylan’s befogged performance is the fair imitation of Estes’ voice he achieves on the penultimate delivery of that line.

The Estes voice, on his slower numbers, also possesses a painful, crawling quality, always threatening to break down, always wavering between esoteric possibilities. He pulls himself along his vocal line like a snail over pebbles. On the slow songs, even the awkward lengthiness of his titles enacts this tortuous slow motion, matching the delivery, a fine example being ‘Who’s Been Tellin’ You Buddy Brown Blues’. This is the very attentuation Dylan uses so effectively in the unreleased Basement Tapes song ‘I’m Not There (1956)’.

Estes’ ‘Drop Down Mama’, another ‘From A Buick 6’ prototype, has one of those ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’ openings: ‘Go, ’way from my window quit scratchin’, on my screen’ and a refrain which you have only to hear Eastes deliver to connect with Dylan’s jerky 1965 blues again. ‘Now I may look like I’m crazy, poor John do know right from wrong’ is clearly the eccentric piece of scaffolding on which Dylan builds ‘Well I might, look like Robert Ford but I, feel just like a Jesse James.’

It could be added that the mild, unobtrusive element of social commentary implicit in Dylan’s early blues ‘Down The Highway’ is less in the spirit of his own ‘protest songs’ than of Estes’. At any rate these are wholly Estesian lines: ‘And your streets are gettin’ empty / And your highway’s gettin’ filled’ - and you have only to listen to four or five consecutive pre-war Estes recordings to hear how these apparently undistinguished phrases prove distinctively to belong to him.

‘Special Agent (Railroad Police Blues)’ is another jerky blues, the vocal delivery an object lesson in the inspired eccentricity that sets the few aside from the many: the sort of vocal eccentricity that we may have found first in FATS DOMINO or BUDDY HOLLY or HOWLIN’ WOLF, in rock’n’roll or R&B, and which pulls us into this music when we’re very young because it speaks to us from a strange, magic kingdom alluringly unlike school. Anyone who ever felt that way can recognise the authentic pull of Sleepy John Estes, as Bob Dylan must have done. He probably heard this Estes record before any other: it was included on Sam Charters’ crucial The Country Blues LP issued back in 1959.

This track also offers a salutary reminder that there’s nothing exclusively postmodern about the self-reflexive text. More than 50 years before Dylan played with ‘I’ll be back in a minute... You can tell me, I’m back’ and ‘now I’m back on the track’ on his fine Oh Mercy recording ‘What Was It You Wanted?’, Estes was ending ‘Special Agent (Railroad Police Blues)’ with this devilishly clever pay-off line: ‘Now special agent, special agent, put me off close to some town / Special agent, special agent, put me off close to some town / Now I got to do some recording: an’ I oughta be recordin’ right now!’

John Estes went to his final sleep back home in Brownsville, Tennessee on June 5, 1977.

[Sleepy John Estes: ‘The Girl I Love, She Got Long Curly Hair’, Memphis, 24 Sep 1929 & ‘Milk Cow Blues’, Memphis, 13 May 1930, both vinyl-issued on Sleepy John Estes 1929-1940, RBF RF-8, NY, 1964: the latter also on Sam Charters’ 2-LP box-set The Rural Blues, RBF RF-202, NY, 1964; ‘Broken-Hearted, Ragged And Dirty Too’, Memphis, 17 Sep 1929, unissued; ‘Broken-Hearted, Ragged And Dirty Too’, Memphis, 26 Sep 1929, RBF RF-8; ‘Someday Baby Blues’ & ‘Who’s Been Tellin’ You Buddy Brown Blues’, Chicago, 9 Jul 1935, The Blues Of Sleepy John Estes: Vol. 1, Swaggie S-1219, Australia, 1967. ‘Drop Down Mama’, Chicago, 17 Jul 1935, issued ditto & on The Blues In Memphis, 1927-39, Origin Jazz Library OJL-21, Berkeley, c.1969; ‘Special Agent (Railroad Police Blues)’, NY, 22 Apr 1938, The Country Blues, RBF RF-1, NY, 1959; ‘Little Laura Blues’, Chicago, 24 Sep 1941, Treasury Of Jazz No. 30 (EP), RCA Victor 75.752, Paris, 1963. A terrific selection of pre-war Estes material, including all the above, is Sleepy John Estes: I Ain’t Gonna Be Worried No More: 1929-1941, Yazoo 2004, US, 1992.
Blind Lemon Jefferson: ‘Broke And Hungry’, Chicago, c.Nov 1926, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Volume Two, Milestone LP 2007, NY, 1968. Chuck Berry: ‘Worried Life Blues’, Chicago, 12 Feb 1960 (B-side of ‘Bye Bye Johnny’, same session), Chess 1754, Chicago, 1960. Allman Brothers: ‘Trouble No More’, NY, Sep 1969; The Allman Brothers Band, Capricorn ATCO SD-33-308, NY, 1969. Muddy Waters: ‘Trouble No More’, Chicago, Oct 1955, Chess 1612, Chicago, 1955. Bob Dylan: ‘Trouble No More / Someday Baby Blues’, live New Haven, Connecticut, 12 Jan 1990.
Dylan quote re Estes & others ‘continually present’, interview San Diego, c.3 Oct 1993 by Gary Hill, Reuters, wired to US newspapers 13 Oct 1993; his Eat The Document outtake Estes mention transcribed by John Bauldie in Mojo no.1, London, 1993.]