Why does Dylan like Jack White’s “Ball and Biscuit”?

By Tony Attwood

There is something about the 12 bar blues.  And there is something about White Stripes – I utterly loved that duo.   And indeed so did Bob.   Certainly Jack White is one of the greatest guitarists of them all.

Dylan has always been a fan of the 12 bar format – that straightforward three chord song where the first line is repeated and then answered.  Probably because of the number of possibilities it adds.  You’ll find 12 bar songs on Dylan albums from the earliest days onwards.  “Down the Highway” on Freewheelin” to “Highway 61 Revisited”.  From “New Pony” to “Til I fell in love with you.”

So what of Ball and Biscuit?

It came from the album “Elephant” by the Stripes, and became a big fan favourite, despite not ever being released a single.   The reason for that was probably it’s length.  Record company executives like to keep their singles short.  And of course radio stations wouldn’t like to play it.

The whole song is about a man/woman relationship which could also be about drugs – it depends how you want to interpret the lyrics; most people go with the drugs link, as it is fairly obvious all the way through.

There is also the whole seventh son thing, relating to the special talents a seventh son is supposed to have.  The seventh son of a seventh son reaches god like powers in the myth – but it appears that Jack White is the seventh son – or at least that is what is said in some of the publicity.

Here’s the White Stripes doing it their way

It is considered by many to be the best Jack White song ever.   The Washington post said of the song in its review that it was the Stripes “definitive statement.”

Now let’s hear the album version, which is of course what introduced most people to the piece…

This is, I guess, what Bob heard and what knocked him and out.

Here are the lyrics – and we can see here the mysticism that Bob has liked in many parts of his career – in this case the mystique of being a seventh son.

It’s quite possible that I’m your third man, girl
But it’s a fact that I’m the seventh son

It’s quite possible that I’m your third man, girl
But it’s a fact that I’m the seventh son
And right now you could care less about me
But soon enough you will care, by the time I’m done

Let’s have a ball and a biscuit, sugar
And take our sweet little time about it
Let’s have a ball, girl
And take our sweet little time about it
Tell everybody in the place to just get out
And we’ll get clean together
And I’ll find me a soapbox where I can shout it

You read it in the newspaper
Ask your girlfriends and see if they know
You read it in the newspaper
Ask your girlfriends and see if they know
That my strength is ten-fold, girl
I’ll let you see it if you want to before you go

Let’s have a ball and a biscuit, sugar
And take our sweet little time about it
Let’s have a ball
And take our sweet little time about it
Tell everybody in the place to just get out
We’ll get clean together
And I’ll find me a soapbox where I can shout it

Yeah, I can think of one or two things to say about it, now listen

It’s quite possible that I’m your third man
But it’s a fact that I’m the seventh son
It was the other two which made me your third
But it was my mother who made me the seventh son
And right now you could care less about me
But soon enough you will care, by the time I’m done

Yeah, you just wait
So stick around, we’ll figure it out

And since we are talking about Bob doing a White Stripes song we can reverse the compliment.  Here are the Stripes doing Isis

And (again) since we are doing Dylan / White Stripes links there is Black Jack Davey which Bob played 18 times in 1993.

Of course the trouble with this sort of connection following is that it can go on forever.  For example the Incredible String Band also recorded Black Jack Davy, and Dylan went out of his way to praise the ISB when asked about the Beatles – Dylan famously citing “October Song” by ISB as a song he particularly liked.

The fact is the Stripes, Dylan and indeed the Incredible String Band have this same thing in common – they all love to explore, to twist, to turn and to seek out new meanings within the music, as well as seeking out new ways of making the music do something new.  It is all about exploration.

Of course quite often the meanings that emerge are not overt and clear, but they are part of the music, even if they cannot be turned into straight explanations.

And because you don’t have to play any of these videos unless you want to, and you can also stop them if you don’t like them I thought I would indulge myself and offer the ISB singing Black Jack Davey.

How did we get here?  Well, much the same way that Bob travels with his musical interests.  You simply start from any point you like and keep listening as you find more and more connections.   If you want more ISB you can take a look at the article, “Why does Dylan like October Song”

Here, to stop this little meander is “Black Jack Davey”

I’ve stopped.  But we can always start again.

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1 Response to Why does Dylan like Jack White’s “Ball and Biscuit”?

  1. andrew schroeder says:

    I was there that night in Detroit when White joined Bob Dylan on stage, I’ve never experienced a more electrifying moment in concert when White walked out of the shadows towards center stage in his hometown. Listening later to the bootleg of the concert, they dropped a musical hint of what was to come in between songs when they played a few chords of “Ball & a Biscuit”. It’s a moment I’m proud to have witnessed, two giants of music in obvious reverence for each other sharing a song. The fact that they played a stripes song rather than a Dylan song speaks volumes for how Bob feels about Jack.

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