Bob Dylan NEVER would have been successful were he not also a GREAT guitar player...discuss..

   One of my pet peeves is that Dylan so rarely receives mention for his guitar playing skills. But if you listen to Freewheelin' and The Times They Are a-Changin' (both solo acoustic albums for those not familiar)  you will hear what I am talking about...his playing absolutely makes those songs listenable. It is percusive, his basslines drive the songs forward, and his timing is superb.

   Later, of course, when he "went electric", it may not be as noticeable, largely because he surrounds himself with a bunch of great musicians. But the early folk movement launched him, and the inherant "listenability" of those songs just draws you in. I mean lets face it it wasn't his voice...

   I kind of think we don't comment on his guitar skills because of his writing; because he is freaking Shakespeare, we have tended to focus in on that.  Does this seem reasonable? How come we don't idolize Bob the guitar player?

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Growing up in the 80's, my mother's early Dylan albums were a huge influence on my guitar playing.  I am still not sure I would call him a "great" guitar player, though.  He suffered partly by comparison to Dave Van Ronk, whom I didn't really learn about until later.  Moreover, he popped up around the same time people started to discover Doc Watson, who could do literally anything on the guitar, from the flatpicking bluegrass style he pioneered to any style of blues.  Around the same time, people were rediscovering Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt, Fred McDowell and a host of others whom Dylan idolized.  Among the Appalachian players, Roscoe Holcomb, Hobart Smith, Dock Boggs, etc were starting to get their due from the Greenwich folk crowd (yes, they played guitar as well as banjo).  Many of these people were discovered by John Fahey, who was busy founding his own genre of acoustic guitar playing.  Amidst all this, I see exactly why people don't give Dylan the respect that he is due as a guitarist.  Was he a virtuoso?  No.  Was he a bad__s player who knew exactly how to accompany himself most effectively?  Absolutely.  Props to his Bobness.

Yes it makes sense then that given his appearance at the same time Mississippi John Hurt, Doc Watson etc were appearing, that he might have been overshadowed. But I stil would be interested in whether or not he would have become what he turned out to be were it not for his guitar playing would his writing alone have carried him if he were just a "strum-strum" guitar player?

Though I am a big admirer of Bob's playing, I still think he'd have had plenty of success given his mastery of the songwriting process. Also, though I agree that his playing is overlooked, my pet peeve is when all Dylan vocals are immediately invalidated. His voice may not be for everyone. His voice on some songs probably isn't for anyone. That said, his voice on some songs is perfect and I wouldn't replace it with anyone.

Hi Jayson I agree that there are certain songs that his vocals seem to work perfectly on...Lay Lady Lay, a number of others...I only ask about his guitar playing because I see so many singer songwriters out there who SUCK at guitar and seem to feel it is something they can overlook. I just wonder if Bob was not the instrumentalist he was, would his songwriting alone - incredible as it is/was - have carried him? I mean I hear so many people say it is not the music, it is the lyrics. But you have to want to listen to the music to hear the lyrics, correct?

Of course I'm only speculating, but I tend to think if you strip away the guitar skills, Bob's songwriting would have garnered the attention of someone who either was a player or would have hooked him up with musicians who could back him effectively. In that scenario, it's unlikely he'd have reached the massive acclaim he did early on in the folk scene, but if he still managed to play clubs I have to think someone who could play would befriend the guy and who knows what could have happened. Either way, it's still refreshing to hear people talk about Bob as a musician instead of just a singer/songwriter. He's been a longtime inspiration to me on many levels.

I agree, Jayson.  Dylan's voice is the perfect instrument for the songs he writes.  His phrasing is great, in my opinion--nobody else like him.  And to answer the original question, I think his songwriting skills would have eventually made him famous.  It just so happened that he was into the folk thing (Woody, etc.) at the beginning of his career, so he needed to be able to accompany himself on guitar...which he did, and did well.

I love his harmonica playing too.

ditto...don't know who his influences were for that...

Everyone knows Jimi learned how to play guitar listening to Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower".....or maybe it was the other way around.

when you figure it out, lemme know!

I remember being very surprised on how good a stand alone bluesman Bob could be when I first got Good as I Been to You.  I'm specifically thinking of the songs Sitting on Top of the World and Step it Up and Go from that album .  At that time, I was more of a "Bob's Greatest Hits" type of  Dylan fan (I'm a bigger fan now), but I was an enthusiastic blues fan.   I thought he nailed those songs with his playing and singing.   I was surprised how moved I was by these straight up blues performances. 

I am with ya all the way. Even on Freewheelin' which I guess was solo album #2 there are a couple of great blues numbers that he absolutely nails. He was I think 21 at the time so he obviously had spent a lot of time listening to these guys coming up..



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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.