Clearly Bob Dylan said some things during his MusicCares speech last Friday night (February 6, 2014) that bothered some people. At one point during the speech, Dylan goes off on Merle Haggard.
A transcript of the speech was posted on the L.A. Times website and this is what the Times has Dylan saying:
Merle Haggard didn’t even think much of my songs. I know he didn’t. He didn’t say that to me, but I know way back when he didn’t. Buck Owens did, and he recorded some of my early songs. Merle Haggard — “Mama Tried,” “The Bottle Let Me Down,” “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive.” I can’t imagine Waylon Jennings singing “The Bottle Let Me Down.”
“Together Again”? That’s Buck Owens, and that trumps anything coming out of Bakersfield. Buck Owens and Merle Haggard? If you have to have somebody’s blessing — you figure it out.
A day or so after the Times published their transcript, Rolling Stone published what they said was “a transcript of the singer’s speech, taken from Dylan’s own notes.” You’ll notice that this is a big different than what the Times ran. Since I haven’t heard a tape of the speech, I don’t know if this is what Dylan actually said, or if it’s what he intended to say.
Merle Haggard didn’t think much of my songs, but Buck Owens did, and Buck even recorded some of my early songs. Now I admire Merle – “Mama Tried,” “Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down,” “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive.” I understand all that but I can’t imagine Waylon Jennings singing “The Bottle Let Me Down.” I love Merle but he’s not Buck. Buck Owens wrote “Together Again” and that song trumps anything that ever came out of Bakersfield. Buck Owens and Merle Haggard? If you have to have somebody’s blessing – you figure it out. What I’m saying here is that my songs seem to divide people. Even people in the music community.
Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle, for example, posted this on Facebook in response to me posting the transcript of Dylan’s speech”
Here’s Haggard’s reponse:
Bob Dylan I've admired your songs since 1964. "Don't Think Twice" Bob, Willie and I just recorded it on our new album.
— Merle Haggard (@merlehaggard) February 7, 2015
In any case, Dylan has followed up the speech with a fascinating interview with music journalist Bill Flanagan that is posted at Bob Dylan’s own website.
Here’s the exchange between Dylan and Flanagan regarding Merle Haggard:
WHAT WAS THAT THING ABOUT MERLE, SOUNDS LIKE YOU WERE DISSING HIM, WHAT WAS THAT ABOUT?
No, not at all, I wasn’t dissing Merle, not the Merle I know. What I was talking about happened a long time ago, maybe in the late sixties. Merle had that song out called “Fighting Side of Me” and I’d seen an interview with him where he was going on about hippies and Dylan and the counter culture, and it kind of stuck in my mind and hurt, lumping me in with everything he didn’t like. But of course times have changed and he’s changed too. If hippies were around today, he’d be on their side and he himself is part of the counter culture … so yeah, things change. I’ve toured with him and have the highest regard for him, his songs, his talent – I even wanted him to play fiddle on one of my records and his Jimmie Rodgers tribute album is one of my favorites that I never get tired of listening to. He’s also a bit of a philosopher. He’s serious and he’s funny. He’s a complete man and we’re friends these days. We have a lot in common. Back then, though, Buck and Merle were closely associated; two of a kind. They defined the Bakersfield sound. Buck reached out to me in those days, and lifted up my spirits when I was down, I mean really down – oppressed on all sides and down and that meant a lot, that Buck did that. I wasn’t dissing Merle at all, we were different people back then. Those were difficult times. It was more intense back then and things hit harder and hurt more.
It seems to me that whatever Dylan thought in the past, he know values Haggard as a musician, songwriter and friend.
One of the surprises in the interview, at least for me, was Dylan’s praise of an artist I have dug since I first heard him: Willy DeVille.
DeVille fronted a terrific band, Mink DeVille, got their break during the New York punk moment of the mid-’70s. They recorded two terrific albums, before breaking up.
Here’s what Dylan has to say about Willy DeVille:
Bill Flanagan: ARE THERE ANY OTHER PERFORMERS BESIDES BILLY LEE RILEY THAT YOU CAN RECOMMEND FOR THE HALL OF FAME?
Dylan: Yeah sure, Willy DeVille for one, he stood out, his voice and presentation ought to have gotten him in there by now.
Flanagan: I AGREE WITH YOU, MAYBE HE’S BEEN OVERLOOKED. HE CARRIED A LOT OF HISTORY. THE DRIFTERS, BEN E. KING, SOLOMON BURKE, STREET CORNER DOO WOP AND JOHN LEE HOOKER WERE ALL THERE IN WHAT HE DID AND HOW HE PERFORMED.
Dylan: I think so too.
Flanagan: YOU SUGGESTED THAT SOME OF THE ACTS IN THE HALL OF FAME MIGHT NOT BE TRUE ROCK & ROLL. YOU MENTIONED THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS, ABBA, ALICE COOPER. I HAVE TO STICK UP FOR STEELY DAN. NOT EVERYTHING THEY DID WAS ROCK & ROLL BUT “BODHISATTVA,” “SHOW BIZ KIDS,” “MY OLD SCHOOL” – THOSE SONGS ROCKED LIKE A BASTARD.
Dylan: Yeah they might have rocked like a bastard, and I’m not saying that they didn’t, but put on any one of those records and then put on “In The Heat of the Moment” by Willy or “Steady Driving Man” or even “Cadillac Walk.” I’m not going to belittle Steely Dan but there is a difference.
Read the whole interview here.
Mink DeVille, “Cadillac Walk”:
Mink DeVille, “Steady Driving Man”:
Willy DeVille, “Heat Of The Moment”:
-– A Days of the Crazy-Wild blog post: sounds, visuals and/or news –-
[I published my novel, True Love Scars, in August of 2014.” Rolling Stone has a great review of my book. Read it here. And Doom & Gloom From The Tomb ran this review which I dig. There’s info about True Love Scars here.]