Songs about Dylan: Part 7 – the blues about Bob.

Research by Aaron Galbraith; comments by Tony Attwood

Syd Barrett was one of the most amazing talents of the 1960s, but circumstances stripped him of the longevity he should have had as a composer, and so we are left with a handful of wonderful songs and bits and pieces he would have written and developed had life turned out differently.

By 1963 Syd Barrett was already writing songs of a unique flavour (“Effervescing Elephant” dates from this time), and was also friends with David Gilmour with whom he occasionally played at local clubs.

Syd went to see Dylan perform in 1964 and Bob Dylan Blues was written as a result.  The following year he joined the Tea Set, the band whose name he suggested changing (as there was already a band called the Tea Set), to The Pink Floyd Sound.   That band started recording in 1965, and of course the rest of it is very well known.

Syd Barrett continued writing and some of his songs such as “Bike” were recorded by Pink Floyd while he was with the band – and indeed at the start he was the main writer for the band.  However by 1967 Syd was becoming unreliable and erractic due to excessive drug use, and indeed by that time when they toured with Hendrix he was already failing to appear at several gigs.   I was fortunate enough as a teenager to catch one of the shows where he did turn up, and the memory of that wonderful night of seeing both acts has stayed with me through the many years since.

“Bob Dylan Blues” is thus a very early piece, and hardly representative of what he achieved later on “Piper at the Gates of Dawn” but it is worth noting as a part of Syd’s legacy.   Here’s “Bike” – a song which like so much of Syd’s later work doesn’t just tear up every rule, it tears up every rulebook as well.

This version sadly cuts the ending section, but you get the idea.  Or if you don’t, well, sorry, it meant (and still means) a huge amount to those of us who were there and who survived.

Moving on and back on planet Earth we have Ralph McTell with “Zimmerman Blues”

If you know anything of Ralph McTell you will know “Streets of London” – at least I think you will.  Certainly in the world I inhabit in the UK everyone knows Streets of London.  It won the 1974 Ivor Novello Award for Best Song and opened McTell’s 1972 album “Not till Tomorrow” – an album which includes Tony Visconti as a multi-instrumentalist and indeed Mary Hopkin.

I get a little sadness now, just now and then
It comes to remind me, what it was like when
I was out on the road
Happy, hungry and cold
First you win and then you lose
Oh, Lord, I've got the Zimmerman blues

Don't give me money now, 'cause it's bad for my head
You can keep the honey now, put something else on that bread
To lose all them old time friends
Who missed how they were making it end
And we all wound up confused
That's what you call the Zimmerman blues

Do a concert for Angela, build a building or two
It gets harder for me, but easier for you
As sure as the stars turn above
All we ever asked for was love
And I think that we've all been used
Ending up with the Zimmerman blues

I get a little sadness now, just now and then
It comes to remind me, when I called you a friend
So where do we go from here?
For me it won't ever get that near
And if it did, I know what I would choose
Anything but the Zimmerman blues

Take two lines from that

All we ever asked for was love
And I think that we've all been used

and you have the whole era wrapped up.

RBHS jukebox commented that the song was “Inspired by the complexities and contradictions that make up the life of a public figure,” which is better than I could express it.

McTell said of the song, “I used Bob’s real name to try to strip away the identity he had assumed so as to reveal his true self not what he had become and I hoped that it would be a reminder to me as well that the changes you go through are not always the best ones.”

The phrase “Zimmerman Blues” itself caught on and was used by a fanzine at one time.

McTell also did a version as part of the one off band The GPs with Richard Thompson, Dave Mattacks and Dave Pegg from Fairport Convention.   Sorry if those names don’t mean too much to you, but believe me for many of us (particularly in the UK) those are the giants.

Elsewhere in the series


  1. Some of us in America are very familiar with the greatness of both Ralph McTell and Richard Thompson. I’ve seen both in concert many times, and was privileged to hear both at last year’s Cambridge Folk Festival. At the festival, McTell played his new song, West Fourth Street and Jones, which is a lovely song about Dylan and Suze Rotolo, based on the famous cover photo on Freewheelin. The song imagines the circumstances of the photo and then the break up between Dylan and Rotolo, which McTell parallels with a break up between the singer and his lover. One of McTell’s best songs.

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