Heroes, Villains and Bob Dylan


Bob Dylan has written many songs about real people – some good, most bad.  We take a second look at some of the real-life characters who’ve populated Dylan songs over the years; this is kind of a sequel to an earlier post which addressed the same subject.  Thanks to writer and fellow blogger Ken Shane for encouraging this further exploration.

Emmett Till was a 14-year-old black kid from Chicago who went to stay with his uncle in Mississippi in 1955.  He supposedly made some lascivious remarks to a white woman.  Her husband and his half-brother beat the boy, gouged out an eye and shot him.  They dumped the body in the Tallahatchie River, but authorities captured the murderers.  Of course, they were acquitted by an all-white jury even though they admitted they killed Till.

MP3: “The Death Of Emmett Till”

They called Davey Moore “The Little Giant” because he was just over five feet tall and was the world featherweight boxing champ.  After holding the title for four years, he lost it in 1963 to Sugar Ramos.  After the fight Moore passed out and was taken to the hospital, where he never regained consciousness and died four days later.  Dylan’s song pointed an angry finger at promoters and the boxing crowd for allowing this to happen.

MP3: “Who Killed Davey Moore?”

Civil rights campaigner Medgar Evers pressed for the conviction of Emmett Till’s murderers.  Evers was killed in 1963 apparently by a member of the Ku Klux Klan.  You know the rest: two all-white juries did not convict the murderer, but there’s a twist.  He bragged to his fellow Klan members about killing Evers and in 1994 he was re-tried and sent to prison.  Dylan didn’t foresee this when he wrote “Only A Pawn In Their Game” in 1964.

MP3: “Only A Pawn In Their Game”

The song “Oxford Town” from 1963 is about James Meredith, one of the most famous figures of the civil rights movement.  When he tried to attend the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Miss., an angry mob started a riot in which two people died and 375 injured. 

MP3: “Oxford Town”

On his 1976 classic Desire, Dylan had two songs about real people.  The first, about gangster Joey Gallo, presented the mobster as sort of a hero with morals that kept him from killing people.  The truth was, of course, a lot different and Dylan’s song created controversy at the time.  The other real subject of a song on Desire was Sara Lownds, Dylan’s wife, who was the subject of “Sara.”  Dylan’s marriage was on the rocks when he wrote this uncharacteristically naked song but it didn’t help: the two divorced in 1977.

MP3: “Joey”

MP3: “Sara”

Other real people who pop up in Dylan songs include Mahatma Gandhi and Jesus Christ, Iwo Jima hero Ira Hayes, baseball pitcher Catfish Hunter, blues singer Blind Willie McTell, Wild West outlaws Billy The Kid and  John Wesley Hardin (Dylan added the extra “g” to the end of his name) and, of course, Woody Guthrie and St. Augustine.  “They Killed Him” was written by Kris Kristofferson and “The Ballad Of Ira Hayes” was written by folksinger Peter LaFarge.

MP3: “They Killed Him”

MP3: “The Ballad Of Ira Hayes”

MP3: “Catfish” (performed by Kinky Friedman)

MP3: “Blind Willie McTell”

MP3: “Billy 1”

MP3: “John Wesley Harding”

MP3: “Song To Woody”

MP3: “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine”

Bob Dylan official website

5 Responses to “Heroes, Villains and Bob Dylan”

  1. george jackson – 2 versions

  2. 30daysout Says:

    Check out our “Good Guys, Bad Guys and Bob Dylan” post (link in first paragraph above) for the acoustic version of “George Jackson.” Dylan released it as a single in 1971. The B-side was a “big band” version of the same song. He cut the song while doing extra tracks for his Greatest Hits, Vol. 2.

  3. Bob Dylan Retains Same Illuminati Law Firm as George W. Bush in Fifteen Year Plagiarism Law Suit. Also suppresses Plaintiff’s First Amendment Rights acquiring a protective order designating all video taped depositions that are incriminating to Dylan confidential

    Bob Dylan & his law firm acquired a confidentiality order in a fifteen year plagiarism law suit designating all discovery materials including fifty hours of incriminating video taped depositions as confidential suppressing Plaintiff James Damiano’s first amendment rights to warn the public of Judicial favoritism and corruption.

    Camden NJ June 2, 2009 -Few artists can lay claim to the controversy that has surrounded the career of songwriter James Damiano. Twenty-two years ago James Damiano began an odyssey that led him into a legal maelstrom with Bob Dylan that, to this day, fascinates the greatest of intellectual minds.

    As the curtain rises on the stage of deceit we learn that CBS used songs and
    lyrics for international recording artist, Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan’s name is credited to the songs. One of those songs is nominated for a Grammy as best rock song of the year. Ironically the title of that song is Dignity.

    Since auditioning for the legendary CBS Record producer John Hammond, Sr., who influenced the careers of music industry icons Billy Holiday, Bob Dylan, Pete Seger, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Ray Vaughan, James has engaged in a multimillion dollar copyright infringement law suit with Bob Dylan.

    As per court papers it is judicially uncontested by Bob Dylan and or Bob Dylan’s law firms Manatt, Phelps & Phillips , Parcher Hayes & Snyder, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, Heck Brown and Sherry and Sony House Counsel that Bob Dylan and people in Bob Dylan’s entourage have solicited James Damiano’s songs and music for over ten years and eleven months.

    Interestingly enough Judge Jerome B. Simandle decided “This court will accept as true Plaintiff’s allegations that Sony represented to him that he would be credited and compensated for his work if Dylan used it. Judge Simandle also stated in his decision “Plaintiff has demonstrated a genuine issue of material fact as to whether defendants had access to his work.


    Richard Clark


  4. Bob Dylan for ever!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Billy the kid was a notorious outlaw that often worked both sides of the law! There just arent many songs about Billy the Kid. Meybe this soon will be one of the first!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: