When you think of Bob Dylan, you probably think of strummy folk protest songs or when he “went electric.” Yet, there’s a whole other side of him that not as many may remember but is equally as important to his overall history: the time he went country.
Bob Dylan got chummy with Johnny Cash in the late 1960s. They even went on to inspire each other’s work. Such was evident in Cash’s covers of songs like “It Ain’t Me Babe” and in Dylan’s emulation of the Tennessee Three on tunes like “All Along the Watchtower.” Ongoing now at the Country Music Hall of Fame is an exhibit (Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats) highlighting folk artists’ contribution to country music and vice-versa.
To this day, many other country artists can say they’ve been influenced by Bob Dylan. As an artist who’s constantly going toe-to-toe with The Beatles as amongst the most revered on best songwriters lists, one could’ve assumed that straightaway.
But Dylan has a more organic connection to country too. It’s no wonder that he’s been honored by so many country singers over the decades. Here are 10 of our favorite country covers of Bob Dylan songs, sorted alphabetically.
Not unlike Bob Dylan himself, Neko Case has been something of a musical chameleon. She’s famously melded her way through folk, rock, country, Americana and “indie” influences throughout her career. Yet, the way she delivers Dylan’s “Buckets of Rain” in this Live From Austin, TX recording is undeniably country.
Many famous country artists have covered Dylan’s timeless breakup song. From Johnny Cash to Waylon Jennings and beyond, there is a veritable pool of legends to choose from for a rousing rendition of “Don’t Think Twice.” Yet, Linda’s nephew Peter performs a beautifully stripped-down take on the song that ought to be just as respected. On this cover, Ronstadt wears his familial roots as a western romantic well.
Speaking of Waylon, his son Shooter has recently announced a sizable tour alongside some label mates. There’s no doubting that Shooter takes after his mom and pops. It’s evident as ever in this cover of a lesser-known Bob Dylan tune that he’d co-written with Jacques Levy in 1975. Jennings takes on the tune with all of the rockin’ outlaw blues that one might expect from the surname.
Before Adele famously covered this classic love song, Garth recorded his own version back in 1998. Nearly 20 years later, his rendition stands strong as a gorgeously sincere take. It’s one of those covers that soars because of its simple, raw honesty. Ever the storyteller, Garth’s moving cover is one that we could listen to over and over again. Heck, it’s probably the best version of the song there is, in this writer’s opinion.
The ol’ Rhinestone Cowboy has a veritable slew of Bob Dylan covers to pick from when it comes to making a list like this. From his own takes of “It Ain’t Me Babe” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” on through even “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, it’s this instrumental cover of “Mr. Tambourine Man” that might stick with listeners the most. It’s a classic country version of easy listening music, and boy do you sink into it easily. Campbell’s arrangement is a memorable one, especially when the composition opens up into a blazing finale.
No, traditional country fans, you’re not mistaken. Those are, in fact, Cash’s original vocals from his 1978 studio take of Dylan’s “One Too Many Mornings.” With the help of today’s technology, The Avett Brothers were able to sing along with Johnny on a 2012 remix. The remix was featured on an Amnesty International benefit LP called Chimes of Freedom. It’s amazing how well Seth and Scott Avetts’ voices blend with the Man in Black’s. Arguably, it’s a nice blend of old and new representing the spirit of Americana.
This list, so far, has had a lot to do with artists influenced by Bob Dylan in some way or another. Of course, Old Crow Medicine Show follow suit, or else they wouldn’t have done up this rollicking, lush version of “One of Us Must Know.”
This story runs a bit deeper, though. Most people know Old Crow Medicine Show for being the original heads behind Darius Rucker’s smash hit, “Wagon Wheel.” As it turns out, Dylan co-wrote the song along with them. The two acts have maintained a mutual respect for one another through OCMS’ tenure, even going on to have another co-written hit with “Sweet Amarillo” years later. Fun facts!
Bob Dylan himself blended musical influences ranging from rock and country to write this epic western tune. It’s one of his lesser known hits, but a slew of artists from Willie Nelson to Jerry Garcia have still covered it. Yet, it’s Dierks Bentley’s take on the song that feels most inventive. Dierks takes on the role of a cowboy traversing a windswept old west amicably with newgrass stars the Punch Brothers to back him up. Lead singer Chris Thile and Dierks exchange verses and croon together on the chorus as the song continuously builds into more and more of a fiery tale.
Dierks takes on the role of a cowboy traversing a windswept old west amicably with newgrass stars the Punch Brothers to back him up. Lead singer Chris Thile and Dierks exchange verses and croon together on the chorus as the song continuously builds into more and more of a fiery tale.
As always, Leon Russell brings the goods. On this grooving 1971 cut, Leon reinvents the song from the ground up to fit the rollicking folk-rock aesthetic of his earlier work. With an infectious, dare we even say poppy backbeat and some seriously catchy piano to back up Russell’s trademark vocal grit, his take on Dylan is one to remember. This one will absolutely get you up and dancing!
Rounding things out is a soulful, gospel-tinged cover courtesy of three of modern country’s best female artists. Mary Chapin Carpenter, Rosanne Cash and Shawn Colvin deliver an opulent rendition of this Dylan classic, plain and simple. “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” was always a song that fit well into its own pocket, and these three’s take feels like a natural continuation of the vibe Dylan first established with it in 1975. Perhaps too fittingly, this was recorded from a live tribute concert for Dylan that went down in 2014.