Why Does Bob Dylan Hate Merle Haggard? A MusiCares Speech Explainer
For someone not known for public pronouncements, it turns out Bob Dylan gives pretty good speech. During his acceptance comments as 2015 MusiCares Person of the Year on February 6th, Dylan didn’t simply thank those who played vital roles in his career. In a more than 30-minute talk, Dylan spoke like he never had before about songs and songwriting as well as his inspirations and friends who inspired and championed his work. He also spent a fair amount of time talking about the people who didn’t believe in him. The speech quickly become among the most talked-about acceptance speeches of all time in any genre. Having said that, even the most hardcore Dylanologists had to look up a couple of Dylan’s references. Here’s a helpful explainer of some of the speech’s most important passages.
“I know I should mention John Hammond, the great talent scout, who way back when brought me to Columbia Records. He signed me to that label when I was nobody. . .The last person he discovered before me was Aretha Franklin. . .”
It’s appropriate that, when it came to diving into his career, Dylan first thanked Hammond, the formidable A&R man who worked at Columbia Records, discovered Billie Holliday and Count Basie, and did indeed sign Franklin in 1960, a year before Dylan’s five-year contract was inked. Dylan was initially called “Hammond’s Folly” around the offices of Columbia, but Hammond and Dylan both proved them wrong.
“The Byrds, the Turtles, Sonny & Cher — they made some of my songs Top 10 hits.”
Dylan is, of course, referring to their well-known covers of, respectively, “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “It Ain’t Me, Babe” and “All I Really Want to Do” (the last actually credited to Cher solo but produced by Sonny Bono). (The Byrds went on to record many other Dylan songs, too.) Dylan isn’t always effusive about cover versions of his songs: Last fall, Manfred Mann and the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn both told RS that they never received any feedback from Dylan after they cut songs from The Basement Tapes. So it was revealing when Dylan also lauded Peter, Paul & Mary’s rendition of “Blowin’ in the Wind: “Not the way I would have done it — they straightened it out. But since then, hundreds of people have recorded it and I don’t think that would have happened if it wasn’t for them.” Dylan clearly knows the value, artistic and otherwise, of a good cover.
“Nina Simone. I used to cross paths with her in New York City in the Village Gate nightclub. . .She recorded some of my songs that she learned directly from me, sitting in a dressing room.”