Mahoning Valley musicians and music-industry insiders – each a major fan of Bob Dylan – share their concert memories and their thoughts on the iconic artist’s career and his influence on culture.
Demos Papadimas, musician, songwriter, band leader
I can’t think of any artist who has influenced me more than Bob Dylan. And his broader influence on popular music is almost immeasurable.
It’s become almost a cliche at this point, but as a songwriter he redefined the rules and boundaries of what an artist could do. He brought a depth not only in terms of topical songwriting, but also with the detail of his romantic songs and the literary and cultural references that he weaves into his work.
But people shouldn’t just listen to him for the words. He’s not just a singer-songwriter or a rocker, he’s a champion of American roots music – folk, blues, country, bluegrass, gospel... People underestimate just how many people worldwide have been exposed to this kind of music through Dylan. He’s practically an ambassador of Americana.
Concerning the upcoming concert, people should know that it’s not a greatest hits show. Since 2015, he has released three albums of classic American songbook standards, but it appears that on his latest tour, he has (thankfully) stopped performing them. About half of the songs he has been doing are post-1997, the year in which he released the celebrated comeback album, “Time Out Of Mind.”
I’ve grown up attending Dylan concerts, and I’ve always enjoyed them. I’m always intrigued by the way he reinterprets his songs even if the arrangements are frustrating.
He hardly ever does songs the same way for very long. His band is excellent and stylistically they shift from blues to Americana and honky-tonk to jump swing and other styles. Although Dylan’s voice isn’t in the best shape these days, he remains an engaged performer – provided you aren’t expecting him to replicate his ’60s and ’70s persona or music.
Jeff Burke, owner of the Record Connection store in Niles
I’ve seen Dylan about 20 times. As best as I recall, the first time was in 1988 at Blossom Music Center. I saw him perhaps a couple more times between 1988 and mid-90s, but my interest peaked in 1997, once again at Blossom, where I went with with Cornel Bogdan. [Dylan] was singing great, and his band was real good. I tried to see him as much as I could after that.
The last time I saw him was in Cleveland a couple years back, after which I said ‘isn’t it odd that we haven’t seen a single person we know here?” and as soon as I said it, here comes Cornel walking out of the theater.
As far as his influence, it’s hard not to see it everywhere in music whether it’s a local artist or Springsteen.
Valley radio host has been a Bob Dylan superfan for decades
Dylan has so many great records, it’s hard to say what period appeals to me the most. I really like the later stuff, “Time Out Of Mind,” “Love And Theft” and “Tempest.”
While his stage presence has changed a bit over the past couple of tours – no longer playing guitar – he still does his thing singing, playing harp and piano and strutting around the stage and checking out his great band. He can still deliver a solid record and live show.
JD Eicher, musician, songwriter, band leader
For me, Bob Dylan has always been an example of how, at the end of the day, people want artists to be and sound genuine. Like so many of the greats, Dylan wasn’t ever the perfect, polished product. He is unapologetically himself, and the inherent humanity in his music is a magnet. As an artist, I try to remember that the greatest music isn’t perfect – it’s true.
Steve Vuich, musician, songwriter, band leader
I have included a fair bit of Dylan’s music in my repertoire over the years. The first song I ever played at a solo acoustic gig 45 years ago was “All Along the Watchtower,” and my band, The River Saints, was the house band for Cornel Bogdan’s “Bob Dylan’s 60 Birthday Bash” in 2001 at the former Cellar in Struthers, It was billed as “An Evening of Bob Dylan Songs as Interpreted by the Youngstown Area’s Finest Musicians.”
There’s nothing I can say about Dylan that has not been said by many people before but I will say that when I was a pre-teen youngster and I first heard Dylan, I was more impressed by the syntax of his lyrics than I was by the content. I didn’t know, intellectually, what syntax in poetry or song was but I instinctively was drawn to the vocal rhythms with which he sang his songs. I don’t know if people have said this in the past, but I feel that Dylan’s style of singing may have had more of a subliminal impact on hip hop and rap music than people give him credit for.
It wasn’t until I was a bit older that I came to appreciate the depth of the lyrical content in his songs.
A lot of people – myself included – have overlooked Dylan’s ability as a guitarist, because of the focus on his songwriting, but I have since come to realize that he is an accomplished acoustic finger-stylist and a competent electric guitar player.
Chris Rutushin, musician, songwriter, band leader
I’ve seen Dylan about 13 to 15 times. The first time was in 1996 in Charleston, W.Va., with my friend and Ohio University roommate, Rick Blair. Toward the end of the show, we managed to meander our way up to the front of the stage and, Dylan started shaking hands with fans. We were all huddled close and in the blink of an eye, Rick high-fives Dylan! I was a fraction of an inch away from doing so but missed so I turned to Rick and high-fived the hand that high-fived Dylan. I was excited to have been that close and to have witnessed the master at his craft. It was an incredible show and experience.
Dylan influenced so many musicians. Who better to pick up where Woody Guthrie left off? Yet at the same time, think about was guts it took to go electric at the Newport Folk Festival. And look at the impact he made on The Beatles. The tunes got deeper, far more poetic and introspective. “Rubber Soul” wouldn’t exist without Dylan.
I really like the fact that he always changed things up and experimented with different genres/sounds throughout his entire career and still does. You never know what tune he is going into next because he always changes the arrangements. It keeps you on your toes and the tunes fresh.
My band Radio Lark hasn’t really covered Dylan but on occasion, when we perform “Caroline,” I’ll throw in some lines from “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” on the chorus. Dylan has definitely inspired me to search for creative ways to express ideas lyrically, to delve deeper, perhaps code a message at times or giving praise poetically to the beauty of a moment.
How can you not have love and respect for such an incredible poet/songwriter and true American legend? I can’t imagine being a songwriter, in a band or even a fan of music as well as poetry and not holding Dylan in the highest regards.
Rick Blair, musician
This will be my 30th Bob Dylan concert. As great artists can, Dylan captured a moment in time yet remains timeless. With each release and tour, he makes another hatch in the timeline: before and after. Music retailers (record stores, if they still exist) could simplify sorting by tagging everything in three categories: Music that Inspired Bob Dylan, Bob Dylan, and Music Inspired by Bob Dylan. Simply and not always consciously, his work has influenced everyone (including me) who has come after him. He has taken what has come before, filtered it through his understanding of humanity, and passed it down the line to subsequent songwriters and performers. Hopefully a handful are picking up on the lineage of Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie, Robert Johnson, Buddy Holly, etc.