The Top 10 Most Blatant Bob Dylan Imitations

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Dylan with Ron Wood

(The following article was co-written by Gene Sculatti*.)

Ever since Bob Dylan came to prominence, musical word-slingers have bellyached about being tagged the “next Dylan” by publicists or press. But although that premature coronation imposed a crush of expectations, it frequently didn’t turn out so badly. Bruce Springsteen survived pretty well, and the likes of John Prine, Loudon Wainwright III and Elliott Murphy, on through Conor Oberst, generated long careers and dedicated followings.

Still, most artists so labeled resented the doubt cast on their cherished originality. Certain other artists, however, couldn’t have cared less about that—the more blatant the imitation, the better. Some eventually found their own voices, some never recovered from the Zimmermanic digression, but the best of the bunch, listed below, and their fellow travelers galore, still provide endless fascination and amusement following the leader.

10. Highway 61 Re-Revisited: “Persecution Smith” by Bob Seger; “Maid of Sugar, Maid of Spice” by Mouse and the Traps

Dylan’s distinctive (but not unreplicatible) sneering vocals and electrifying sonic landscapes (particularly 1965-66’s wild mercury sound) chimed with countless garage rockers. Aping tracks along the lines of “Tombstone Blues,” “Persecution Smith” came close, but no Seger. Still, the guitars howl like few of Bob S.’s records before or after. Mouse (Texan Ronnie Weiss) followed up “A Public Execution”—another classic Dylan cop, represented on Lenny Kaye’s pioneering Nuggets comp—with a record that nearly outgunned Highway 61 at its own game, especially those Mike Bloomfield-style guitar heroics.

9. “Laugh at Me” by Mott the Hoople

Sonny Bono’s 1965 protest riposte to a restaurant heckler is transformed from silly to near-sublime in this sprawling faux-Dylan epic from Mott’s debut LP, thanks to Ian Hunter’s grandiloquent phrasing and Verden Allen’s Kooper-setic organ. Over-the-top would be an understatement.

8. “Worry No More” by Ron Wood

Whether by intent or range limitation, Wood was among the first to ape Dylan’s late-period vocal style, nailing its jagged richness in this 1979 Gimme Some Neck cut that’s a close cousin to Dylan’s Leon Russell-produced 1971 single “Watching the River Flow.”

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7. “Eulogy” by Kreag Caffey

Kreag was a latecomer to the fake-Dylan party, recording his only album in 1972, but he sounds pure 1965 here, right at the Bringing It All Back Home cusp of folk transitioning into full-band rock, with a whine aged to perfection. He’s even got impressionistic liner notes nearly as poetic as the Man himself: “she was sitting alone with the moon/writing words of no meaning to her aging body … I liked her defractive style.”

6. “The Pied Piper” by the Changin’ Times

Crispian St. Peters’ 1965 hit sanded down the raw edges of the original version of the song, performed here by its writers, Steve Duboff and Artie Kornfeld. Theirs is a noisy run down Highway 61: intentionally off-key vocals, burbling circus organ and more “babes” than a spring sorority pledge.

Related: Expecting Rain, a meeting place for Dylan fans

5. “Dimestore Debutante” by Terry Knight & the Pack

Many a musician was inspired by Dylan’s breakthrough hit, “Like a Rolling Stone,” but none so crassly as Terry. The Michigan DJ and wannabe teen idol combines lines lifted nearly intact from the bard’s opus (“you never learned how to live out on your own”) with Knight’s own putdowns, the most obtuse of which is this rhyming-dictionary classic: “I hate to take your head off with my sickle/But you’re a 10-cent dimestore ring that I bought for a nickel.” In a few years, Knight would prudently back-burner the performing angle and concentrate on turning the Pack into Grand Funk Railroad.

Related: When Dylan almost wiped out for good

4. “The Same Lines” by the Trashmen

Two years after “Surfin’ Bird,” the Trashmen hopped on a new wave, in the wake of the Top 40 success of their fellow Minnesotan. This one’s unadulterated garage-rock, with a vinegar-y Zim vocal poured over fuzzed-up riffing reminiscent of the Stones’ “Empty Heart.”

3. “What Seems to Be the Trouble, Officer” by Michael Blessing

A pre-fame Michael Nesmith swipes the melody, laconic phrasing and spoken intro of Dylan’s “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down” for the satiric saga of a hard-travelin’ folkie who, asked by a cop to “see some papers,” replies, “I said, ‘What you want, man, Bambus or Zig-Zags?’”

2. “If Your Monkey Can’t Get It” by David Blue

Virtually any track off David Blue’s self-titled debut album would qualify for the faux-Dylan hall of fame, but we’ll settle on this pure second-hand distillation of Highway 61 raunch. A sometime crony/acolyte of Bob’s on the Greenwich Village folk scene, Blue did a sterling job of cloning the lyrical sass and snarling, wheezing vocals and instrumentals.

1. “You’ve Got to Be Kidding” by Dick Campbell

As slavishly devoted to Dylan as the above entrants were, nobody took it as far as Dick Campbell, a Chicago-area chancer who not only adopted Dyl’s style wholesale but hired his musicians: Mike Bloomfield, Sam Lay, plus most of the rest of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, not to mention a Buckingham and future Chicago stalwart Peter Cetera. This track is “directed to the conservatives … who feel that without a job in the corner drugstore for fifty years … you might as well forget it,” according to Campbell’s liner notes. The band plants itself at the corner of “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Positively 4th Street” while Dick confronts the Establishment head-on: “You say that I won’t ever make it on my own/And what I know could fill an ice cream cone/That I’ll never be more than a bum.” Not a chance, Dick—you’ll always be No. 1 in our only slightly mocking, Dylan-digging hearts.

(*More about this article’s co-author: Gene Sculatti was one of the first rock critics, having written in Crawdaddy, the Mojo Navigator Rock & Roll NewsRolling StoneCreem and other publications. He’s the author/editor of San Francisco Nights: The Psychedelic Music TripThe Catalog of CoolToo Cool, and, most recently, Tryin’ to Tell a Stranger’ bout Rock and Roll: Selected Writings 1966-2016. As DJ Vic Tripp, he hosts the weekly Atomic Cocktail  radio show at www.luxuriamusic.com.)

Ken Barnes

Ken Barnes

Ken Barnes started writing about music for publications such as Fusion and Phonograph Record, also editing, typesetting and fetching snacks at the latter. He was also co-editor of pioneering rock fanzine Who Put the Bomp after it had already done its pioneering, and wrote for another pioneering zine, The Rock Marketplace. Later he wrote for Rolling Stone and Playboy and had singles columns in New York Rocker, CREEM and Rock & Roll Confidential while maintaining a parallel existence as an editor at music biz trade publication Radio & Records, semi-pioneering Microsoft music website Music Central, and once-prominent newspaper USA Today. He is currently trying to catch up on everything he missed while engaged in those activities.
Ken Barnes
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  1. CRDerriers
    #1 CRDerriers 19 July, 2017, 10:04

    Surely Norwegian Wood belongs on this list!!!

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  2. TG
    #2 TG 19 July, 2017, 12:01

    I like the Mott the Hoople shoutout, but a better choice, but the song Backsliding Fearlessly is an even better choice. Best Dylan impression ever.

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  3. Bryan Harwell
    #3 Bryan Harwell 19 July, 2017, 15:14

    I appreciate the shout out to Michael Nesmith. That track was hilarious! #inductthemonkees

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