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The five bands Bob Dylan wishes he'd been in


Bob Dylan is the archetypal solitary songwriter. It’s hard to imagine tracks like ‘Hey Mr Tamboruine Man’, ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ and Girl From The North Country’ being made in a band set-up; Dylan’s songs rely on a sense of detachment. It’s the aloofness of his lyrics that allows them to capture the ever-shifting world so precisely.

That’s not to say Dylan never expressed an interest in performing with bands. His music was built on a heritage of New Orleans jazz bands, bluegrass outfits and folk ensembles. Even in classic albums like Blonde On Blonde and Highway 61 Revisited, one gets the sense that Dylan had an itch to scratch, and in the 1970s, he teamed up with Tom Petty, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison to form The Travelling Wilburys.

But even with that hunger satisfied, Dylan had fantasies of joining other groups. He stood very little chance of actually joining these bands mainly because most of them were long-disbanded. In 1986, Scott Cohen from Interview magazine sat down with Dylan to discuss his life and work.

Rather than delivering reels and reels of dialogue, Cohen provided neat shopping lists of the musician’s various influences, ambitions and fantasies. These are the five bands Dylan wished he’d been in.

The bands Bob Dylan wishes he was a part of:

King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band

We owe King Oliver a lot. The American cornetist provided an essential causeway between the little-understood prehistory of jazz and its documented history. However, he is perhaps better known for choosing a young trumpeter called Louis Armstrong as his protégé. As the great Satchmo declared in My Life In New Orleans: “if it had not been for Joe Oliver, Jazz would not be what it is today.”

As well as being a talented composer, King Oliver pioneered the use of mutes, using all manner of items to alter his horn’s sound, including but not limited to toilet plungers, beer bottles and cups. Sadly, the Great Depression of the 1930s bought great hardship on the musician, who lost his life savings when his Chicago band collapsed, forcing him and his band to perform hand-to-mouth gigs until they eventually broke up.

Oliver died in poverty in 1938, unable to play the trumpet due to a gum disease probably caused by his great love: sugar sandwiches.

The Country Gentlemen

Dylan’s folk years may have been superseded by decades of rock ‘n’ rolling, but his love of his homeland’s traditional music endured. One of the greatest bluegrass bands of the 1950s, The Country Gentlemen, formed in Washington D.C and toured in various incarnations until the death of the group’s founder Charlie Waller in 2004.

The 1960-1964 ‘classic’ lineup was composed of Charlie Waller on guitar, John Duffey on mandolin, Eddie Adcock on banjo and Tom Gray on double bass. Best known for tracks such as ‘Matterhorn’, ‘Fox On The Run’ and Roving Gambler’, The Country Gentlemen were inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in 1996.

The Memphis Jug Band

Comprised of Will Shade, Will Weldon, Hattie Hart, Charlie Polk and Walter Holden, The Memphis Jug Band were the definitive jug outfit of the 1920s and early ’30s. The group was an incubator for many talented musicians who went on to have successful solo careers of their own, including Memphis Minnie, Johnny Hodges and Jab Jones.

The unique sound of the Memphis Jug Band was partly the product of its unusual combination of instruments. Harmonica, kazoo, fiddle and mandolin were backed by guitar, piano, washboard, washtub bass and jug. The end result speaks for itself: this is rock ‘n’ roll in the making.

Muddy Waters Chicago Band

It’s hard to overstate the importance of Muddy Waters. Born in Memphis in 1913, the American singer-songwriter is one of the most influential blues musicians of all time. He turned everybody from Mick Jagger to Eric Clapton and more onto blues music, sparking the surge of rock ‘n’ roll music in the 1960s.

Dylan was a huge fan of Waters. The guitarist’s band – made up of Little Walter Jacobs on harmonica, Otis Spann on piano, Jimmy Rogers on guitar and Elga Edmonds on drums – was filled to the brim with virtuosity. Sadly, despite featuring on the same bill at The Last Waltz, the pair never shared the stage.

Crosby, Stills & Nash

If there’s one band from this list that Dylan actually had a shot at joining, it is Crosby, Stills & Nash. When David Crosby was a member of The Byrds, he earned numerous hits with Dylan’s songs, ‘Hey Mr Tambourine Man’ being the most notable. Bob performed live with The Byrds on a couple of occasions, and Crosby Stills & Nash often performed a rendition of ‘Girl From The North Country’ during their concerts.

Formed in 1968, CSN were the first rock supergroup, having come together after discovering their voices were well-matched. Crosby left The Byrds in 1967, and Stills’ band Buffalo Springfield had just broken up. Nash was also looking for a new project, having left The Hollies in the December of that year. By 1968, the trio were signed and working on their debut album, which gave them two Top 40 hits, ‘Marrakesh Express’ and ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’