Bob Dylan and Jack White: a songwriting duo?

by Aaron Galbraith

It’s hard to believe but it was 20 years ago last month that the first White Stripes album was released! By way of celebrating the anniversary, and as promised, here is a look at the Dylan interactions in the career of Jack White III.

A Bob Dylan show was the first concert White ever saw — he says he had seat No. 666.

“I know that the first concert I went to when I was ten years old was Bob Dylan, and I really wanted him to play ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ – but he didn’t play it. I wasn’t upset. I kind of thought it was cool he didn’t when I was ten years old.”

That first album included The White Stripes take on Dylan’s “One More Cup Of Coffee.”

The album also included covers of Son House’s “Cannon” as well as the classic “St James Infirmary Blues”, which Dylan adapted for “Blind Willie McTell”.

Talking of Blind Willie McTell, the Stripes second album “De Stijl” was dedicated to the man, as well as including a wonderful version of McTell’s “Your Southern Can Is Mine”

A non-album single immediately followed this of McTell’s “Lord, Send Me An Angel”

The White Stripes really exploded into the world’s consciousness with the release of third album “White Blood Cells”. The second single “Fell In Love With A Girl” included a live version of “Love Sick” on the b-side.

In concert the White Stripes would continue to cover Dylan songs, including “The Ballad Of Hollis Brown”, “Blind Willie McTell”, “It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding” and “Isis”.

Jack White told The Observer about Dylan’s need for privacy in 2004: “I guess I like that about him. It seems like everybody today is so available – ready, willing and available for anything, and will go on and be part of a reality show at the drop of a hat. It seems like nobody has any sort of dignity any more. Dylan was trying to maintain his dignity, and a lot of people from an era earlier than maybe 40 or 50 years, it was easier to maintain that dignity.”

In 2006 Bob included The White Stripes “Seven Nation Army” on the “Countdown” episode of “Theme Time Radio Hour”.

And then Dylan and White struck up a friendship in 2007.

“That was just by accident. I went and saw him play in Detroit and he said to me, ‘We’ve been playing one of your songs lately at sound checks.’ I thought, Wow. I was afraid to ask which one. I didn’t even ask. It was just such an honor to hear that.

“Later on, I remember I went home and I called back. I said, “Can I talk to the bass player?” I called the theatre. I was like, “Did Bob mean that he wanted me to play tonight? ‘Cause he said some things that I thought maybe – maybe I misconstrued. Was he meaning that he wanted me to play with him tonight? I don’t want to be rude and pretend that I didn’t hear or something like that.” So turned out yeah, we played together that night. He said yeah, come on, let’s play something, and we played “Ball and Biscuit,” one of my songs. It’s not lost on me that he played one of my songs, not the other way around.”

That night Bob and Jack played “Ball and Biscuit together. You can read about that here as well as listen to their take of the song (including the White Stripes versions of “Isis” and “Black Jack Davey”): Why does Dylan like Jack White’s “Ball and Biscuit”?

They also performed “One More Cup Of Coffee”, “Outlaw Blues” and “Meet Me In The Morning”. This might be the only time Dylan has performed “Meet Me In The Morning” live. Could someone confirm or deny this in the comments section below?

[Note from Tony: BobDylan.com has the total number of performances of “Meet me in the Morning” as “1” -September 19, 2007.  So it looks like it was the only one!]

Jacks “other” band, The Raconteurs also opened for Dylan on a leg of the Never-Ending Tour.

In 2009 Jack formed another new band, The Dead Weather, this time he mainly sticks to drums and writing, but pops up on guitar and vocals now and then. The first album “Horehound” contains a cover of “New Pony” with the wonderful Alison Mosshart on lead vocals.

 

In 2011 Jack contributed to Bob’s Hank Williams Tribute album “The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams”. You can read about Bob’s own contribution “The Love That Faded” here. The Love that Faded” by Hank Williams and Bob Dylan.

Jack contributed a great track called “You Know That I Know”.

“I did a project with Bob Dylan: he put together twenty or twenty-five people to finish writing Hank Williams songs that only had lyrics and didn’t have music – it was the opposite of this project. I did this a year beforehand – I had to write music for Hank Williams’ lyrics”

 

Also in 2011 Jack collaborated on a new album by Wanda Jackson, producing and playing on her album “The Party Ain’t Over”. Bob is quoted on the hype cover sticker, “An atomic bomb in lipstick…the queen of rockabilly”. He goes on to say “…could have a smash hit with just about anything”.

The album includes Wanda and Jack’s amazing version of “Thunder On The Mountain”. Here is the stunning official video.

 

In 2012 Jack was interviewed by the New York Times and discussed his friendship with Bob and Bob’s love of welding!

“This is my workshop,” he said. There were brown burlap sacks draped over some chairs, and sewing and woodworking equipment scattered on the floor. There were also some tools for welding, which White said he was getting into through his friend Bob Dylan. “I’d never done it before, and he’d been doing it for a while, so he kind of gave me the lowdown,” he said. One day the two of them were sitting on White’s front porch, just enjoying the view, when Dylan turned to him and said, “You know, Jack — I could do something about that gate.” “That would be pretty cool,” White said, laughing. “I don’t know what kind of discount I’m going to get.”

Just recently he was featured in Rolling Stone, again discussing his friendship with Bob.

He’s been an incredible mentor to me, and a good friend, too. I’m lucky to even have one conversation with him. Everything else has been icing on the cake.

“He’s very complicated. A lot of people who go through fame, even a small taste of it, are going through experiences that probably no human being should ever go through. I’ve walked into a room and felt like I’m intimidating people. You don’t know what you’re supposed to do. I think people like Dylan end up trying to avoid that stuff”.

When asked if the two had written a song together, he offered the intriguing reply:

“I cannot tell you that. I wish I could tell you, but I cannot”.

Now wouldn’t that be amazing?

 

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2 Responses to Bob Dylan and Jack White: a songwriting duo?

  1. Jochen Markhorst says:

    Just two more fun facts: the lady is on the back cover of Shadows In The Night is the other Stripe, Meg White, ex-wife and musical ex-partner of Jack. And their “As Ugly As I Seem” (from the album Get Behind Me Satan, 2005) is a carbon copy of Dylan’s “I Believe In You”:

    here

    A collaboration album Dylan/White would really be something to look forward to.

  2. Aaron G says:

    Here’s the Thunder On The Mountain video

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=3DTKrjplzp8

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