Bob Dylan has never been shy about his adoration for Elvis Presley, a figure who indirectly gave him the confidence to chase his dream and confirm the idea that anything was possible. When The King passed away dramatically in 1977, it hit Dylan harder than most and, even though he had met his idol on plentiful occasions before his passing, there was this sense of sadness that loomed over Dylan as he descended into a state of grief which left him unable to speak for an entire week.
Elvis was one of Dylan’s earliest influences, hearing ‘Hound Dog’ for the first time on the radio as a child would prove to be a pivotal moment which would introduce him to the world of rock ‘n’ roll. From that day, he knew that he wanted to emulate Presley. He would later recall that life-changing moment, “When I first heard Elvis Presley’s voice I just knew that I wasn’t going to work for anybody and nobody was going to be my boss. Hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail,” Dylan poignantly stated.
Not only did that kid who heard ‘Hound Dog’ on the radio become a star in his own right, but The King even recorded a cover of Dylan’s ‘Tomorrow Is A Long Time’ and the gravitas of this effort wasn’t lost on singer. Elvis was reportedly inspired by Odetta’s version of the song which was recorded before Dylan had even got round to release his own version but it speaks volumes about his songwriting skills nonetheless.
Dylan adored Elvis’ recording and later described it as “the one recording I treasure the most” as well as revealing that it was one of his favourite covers of his own tracks by other artists. Elvis would also create a home recording of ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ later in 1966 which would eventually see the light of day on the posthumously released box set Platinum – A Life In Music in 1997.
The New Morning album track ‘Went to See the Gypsy’ is even alleged to be about a meeting he had with his childhood hero and it is also rumoured that he attempted to record an Elvis tribute album which, upon second thinking, he decided to abandon after recording just the three tracks which were ‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy’, ‘Money Honey’ and ‘Anyway You Want Me’.
The two great minds almost collaborated once upon a time which, sadly for us, never occurred after Dylan and George Harrison no-showed after they met him following a performance at Madison Square Garden in 1972. It was upon that meeting that Elvis had convinced them to go to the studio with him which, inexplicably, they decided against for reasons that remain unknown.
This was a source of regret for Dylan who undoubtedly regretted letting Elvis down and, on reflection, made him take a look at his own actions when Presley died which arrived at a time of personal turmoil for the singer-songwriter whose marriage had ended in divorce just two months prior. The death of The King was a moment which made him reflect even further, looking at himself and this period would end up in Dylan turning to Christianity in an attempt to heal himself.
He was at his Minnesota farm with his children and their art teacher, Faridi McFree, who told him the news that rocked him to his core. Dylan later recalled his initial mindset when he discovered that Elvis had passed, “I went over my whole life. I went over my whole childhood. I didn’t talk to anyone for a week after Elvis died. If it wasn’t for Elvis and Hank Williams, I couldn’t be doing what I do today.”
The next few years were a dark period in Dylan’s life as he spent time on the road to pay off debts which he had somehow managed to amass, thanks to his glamourous lifestyle and expensive Californian divorce. Elvis’ death perhaps was a reminder of his own mortality and the realisation that life is fleeting which can be snatched away in a heartbeat which is likely the reason why his death hit home with Dylan so severely.