Bob Dylan’s Impact on Country Music and Vice Versa

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Bob Dylan recently won the Nobel Prize for Literature, further solidifying him as one of the greatest songwriters and musicians of all time.

Many country artists have covered Dylan’s song, including Emmylou Harris and Johnny & June Cash. 

“Country music,” Cash says, “is slow to jump on any trend, but we’ve been affected greatly by the sound of the Beatles and the lyric of Bob Dylan.”

Dylan’s impact on country music is one that can’t be replaced. And country music’s effect on Dylan is crucial to the songwriter he became. 

When Hank Williams, Sr., died in 1953 at the age of 29, Dylan mourned.

“Even at a young age, I identified with Hank Williams,” he said. “I’d never seen a robin weep but could imagine it and it made me sad. When he sang: ‘The news is out, all over town,’ I knew what that was, even though I didn’t know. When he died it was like a great tree had fallen. Hearing about Hank’s death caught me squarely at the shoulder. The silence of outer space never seemed so loud.”

But it’s not just Hank Williams, Sr., who played a part in molding Dylan into the Nobel Prize winner he is. Many other country artists have influenced him.

He said that Guy Clark, Grammy-winning country artist, “is one of my favorite songwriters.”

Dylan said he liked Elvis Presley; Presley recorded Dylan’s “Tomorrow Is a Long Time.” 

“That’s the one recording I treasure the most,” he said. “I wrote it but never recorded it.”

Of the country star John Prine, winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award, Dylan said, “Prine’s stuff is pure Proustian existentialism. Midwestern mindtrips to the nth degree. And he writes beautiful songs. I remember when Kris Kristofferson first brought him on the scene. All that stuff about Sam Stone the soldier junky daddy and Donald and Lydia, where people make love from ten miles away. Nobody but Prine could write like that. If I had to pick one song of his, it might be Lake Marie.”

In 1969, Dylan released his ninth record, “Nashville Skyline,” a mainstream country album featuring Charlie Daniels on bass and guitar, as well as Cash singing on the song “Girl From The North Country.” Dylan performed this song with Cash on the first episode of Cash’s TV show, where the two also played “I Threw It All Away” and “Living the Blues.”

Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash — “One Too Many Mornings”

“I keep a close watch on this heart of mine,” Dylan recites as he remembers Cash. “I must have recited those lines to myself a million times. Johnny’s voice was so big it made the world grow small.”

So it’s clear, no matter what way you look it, Dylan and country music have been integral to each other, each influencing the other in powerful ways.

“The country music station plays soft,” Dylan said. “And there’s nothing, really nothing, to turn off.”

Bob Dylan
Dylan (photo from The Gospel Herald)

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