Just like Tom Thumb’s Blues: the sampler version

By Tony Attwood and Aaron Galbraith

We recently presented, for the first time, an article on “The Sampler Sessions” – musicians who have taken elements of Dylan songs and then represented them in new forms.

We’re not sure too many people have actually considered the work of Dylan alongside the concept of sampling, so we thought we’d investigate and see where it took us.  And encouraged by the fact that a) we enjoyed putting the article together and b) no one else seems to have written much about Dylan and sampling, we thought we’d go further.

If you just think that sampling is not for you, but haven’t listened to any of these works, we’d urge you to try a few (especially as Dylan himself has professed some admiration for sampling, and of course because it can well be said that in taking quotes from other people’s works Dylan himself has been a literary and musical sampler for years and years).

And, just in case sampling really isn’t something you’ve ever got to (what with being a Dylan fan and Dylan and sampling not normally overlapping) we thought we’d give a bit of background, as well as another track to listen to.

First a bit of background (the Dylan track, if you don’t want background, is near the end, but what we have put here is awfully interesting, and you really should read it).

Sampling is not new, and nor was it invented by hip hop artists, but actually goes back to “musique concrète”, in 1940s France, which involved speeding up or slowing down music on tape, and splicing recordings of anything and everything together to make new sounds and forms.   The big names of the era were John Cage, Edgar Varèse, and Karlheinz Stockhausen.  The most famous piece ever however, at least in Britain, was the theme music for the (still running) BBC TV series “Doctor Who” [with which Tony had a little bit to do, as he will endlessly tell anyone who is silly enough to talk to him for more than two minutes.]

The word “sample” started being used around 1978 at the same time as the synthesizer started to be considered a musical instrument.  From there the approach moved into jazz, dub reggae, hip hop and rock as a whole variety of artists took up the approach – Brian Eno, Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel, Thomas Dolby, Stevie Wonder were all pioneers.  Everyone can argue their own idea of the key “turning point” that brough rock and sampling together, but Ton would argue that, “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” by David Byrne and Brian Eno, did more than any other album to show rock musicians that rock and sampling could work together.  From then on sampling became part of the repertoire.  Some songs have been used as “samples” in over 1000 other tracks.

As with quotes in articles and books from other articles or books, it is accepted that the morally correct and legal process is to acknowledge the original material, and if quoting more than a few lines, seek permission and possibly pay a fee.  But in the world of rock music, such niceties are not always observed.

However courts in most countries have now ruled that sampling without permission is a breach of copyright.  Court findings have clearly laid down that if the creator of the music does not give permission he/she can either seek huge levels of damages, or require the recording to be removed from circulation.  Last year (2019) the European Court of Justice ruled that samples that when heard in a recording, were recognisable, needed the permission of the copyright owner before being used.

So, that’s the background.  And now some music.  Tom Thumb’s Blues is listed as a J. Period Dylan Remix, and is one of a set of bonus tracks on J.Period* And K’NAAN ‎– The Messengers (Deluxe Edition).

The album contains a number of  “Dylan Tribute” tracks such as “Don’t Think Twice”, “4th time around”, “Relationships Lay”, “Hard Rain,” and “It’s alright, ma”.  Here is the sampling of “Just like Tom Thumb’s Blues”…

In the previous article in this series, we made the point that “Lay Lady Lay” was essentially working on the highly distinctive chord sequence that is at the very heart of the song.   In this case we have an approach which takes both the instantly recognisable guitar solo, and one verse of the song.

We’re going to carry on looking at this use of Dylan’s music in at least one more, and possibly lots more articles, now that we’ve started to think about the subject.  Hopefully you might find it interesting, even if you are not deeply into this approach to Dylan’s work.

What else is on the site?

We have a very lively discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook with over 3330 active members.  (Try imagining a place where it is always safe and warm).  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

You’ll find some notes about our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page of this site.  You can also see details of our main sections on this site at the top of this page under the picture.

The index to all the 597 Dylan compositions and co-compositions that we have found on the A to Z page.

If you are interested in Dylan’s work from a particular year or era, your best place to start is Bob Dylan year by year.

On the other hand if you would like to write for this website, or indeed have an idea for a series of articles that the regular writers might want to have a go at, please do drop a line with details of your idea, or if you prefer, a whole article to Tony@schools.co.uk

And please do note our friends at  The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, plus links back to our reviews (which we do appreciate).


One comment

  1. I’m totally uneducated in the issue of sampling from musical and legal point of view. Thank you, Tony and Aaron, for your explanatory introduction and original bonus track!

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