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Music

The night Bob Dylan first met Warren Zevon

The late Warren Zevon was an artist whom Bob Dylan had nothing but admiration for, and the feeling was mutual. The first time the two now-iconic artists crossed paths, Dylan let affection known to his contemporary in the most complimentary manner imaginable, and his gratitude stuck with Zevon.

“He invented my job so I had that relationship with him,” Zevon once said of Dylan during an appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman in 1987. “He was great, he was very co-operative. When he first came to visit, I was trying to make conversation with him because he’s Bob Dylan y’know,” Zevon explained about their first meeting.

When their worlds collided, the singer-songwriter was in the middle of recording his album, Sentimental Hygiene, which also featured R.E.M, Neil Young and Dylan himself. In an interview with the BBC in 2000, Zevon revealed the collaboration wasn’t planned and stemmed from Dylan surprising him in the studio. 

Rather than sit around shooting the breeze, the two songwriters instead messed around on ‘The Factory’ with Zevon’s new friend offering a helping hand on the harmonica.

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Zevon quickly understood Dylan wasn’t interested in small talk when he asked him about his recent activities, which was met with the singer bluntly stating: “Travelling”. Fortunately for Zevon, he wasn’t much of a fan of small talk either. They also discussed music and exchanged compliments about one another’s work.

Zevon also revealed that Dylan didn’t initially agree to play the harmonica and, originally, wanted to play the lead guitar, but as Zevon rightly puts it: “We all want to play the lead guitar”. A week after their first meeting, Dylan returned to the studio and recorded his contribution to the track.

Although they never worked with one another again, Dylan once said of Zevon: “There might be three separate songs within a Zevon song, but they’re all effortlessly connected. Zevon was a musician’s musician, a tortured one. ‘Desperado Under the Eaves’. It’s all in there.”

He added: “‘Lawyers, Guns and Money’, ‘Boom Boom Mancini’, ‘Down Hard Stuff’, ‘Join me in L.A’ sort of straddles the line between heartfelt and primaeval. His musical patterns are all over the place, probably because he’s classically trained.” Furthermore, during a show in Kansas City in 2002, Dylan covered ‘Mutineer’ and ‘Accidentally Like A Martyr’ by Zevon, which is the ultimate compliment. 

Any artist with an acoustic guitar that emerged after Dylan was immediately heralded as the heir to his throne, and Zevon never took this as a plight on his own originality. Instead, he was flattered to be mentioned in the same breath as his hero. Zevon had enough self-awareness to know he was following in Dylan’s footsteps, and although they didn’t become best of friends, it meant the world to him to be able to call him a fan.

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