The Influence of the Blues on Dylan's Songs
The following quotes come from the site called "Dylan influences" written by Matthew Zuckerman. Zuckerman states, "Bob Dylan is one of those musicians who absorbed the old traditions, kept them alive, and extended them. What follows is an admittedly incomplete list of songs written by Dylan for which he took inspiration from other songs, traditional or otherwise. The amount of "inspiration" varies from song to song - it might be a tune, barely altered, or just a fragment from a tune; it might be a verse or a couplet, or just a distinctive turn of phrase."

Bob and Allen Ginsberg '75-'76

Original song: Nine Below Zero (Sonny Boy Williamson)
Dylan song: Outlaw Blues (January 1965)
The only direct connection here is the phrase "nine below zero," but Dylan almost certainly got this from Williamson. Why? Listen to what else he got from him. Although the tune to "Pledging My Time" is related (as noted below) to Robert Johnson's "Come On In My Kitchen," the feel of it (and of many of Dylan's electric blues songs) definitely comes from "Nine Below Zero," and other songs recorded by Williamson from the early 1950s to 1963.

Original song: Milk Cow Blues (Sleepy John Estes) 
Dylan song: From A Buick 6 (June 1965) 
"From A Buick 6" takes its tune and rhythmic feel from "Milk Cow Blues," recorded by Sleepy John Estes in 1930. The first verse contains the phrase "keep it hid," which also appears in the Dylan song. Estes recorded an impressive version of "Broken-Hearted, Ragged and Dirty Too"- which Dylan recorded as "Ragged and Dirty" on World Gone Wrong - back in 1929. 

Original song: Poor Me (Charlie Patton), Milkcow Blues (Kokomo Arnold)
Dylan song: It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry (July 1965)
Interestingly, another Highway 61 Revisited song could have been influenced by another bovine blues - "It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry," from one of Kokomo Arnold's many versions of "Milkcow Blues," though the couplet in question first appeared on Charlie Patton's "Poor Me" in 1934: "Don't the moon look pretty shinin' down through the tree." 

Dylan is undoubtedly familiar with both singers. In 1985, an interviewer asked Dylan if his comparatively modern-sounding Empire Burlesque was an attempt to keep up with the times, and he answered: "What do I know about keeping up with the times? I still listen to Charlie Patton."

Original song: Automobile Blues (Lightnin' Hopkins)
Dylan song: Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat (February 1966)
I saw you riding 'round in your brand new automobile Yes I saw
you ridin' around, babe, in your brand new automobile You was
sitting there happy With your handsome driver at the wheel In
your brand new automobile 
Automobile Blues 
Well, I see you got your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat Yes, I
see you got your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat Well, you
must tell me, baby How your head feels under somethin' like that
Under your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat 
Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat 

The connection between the two songs is clear and probably intended. The sly humour that Dylan employs is a distinctive feature of many of Hopkins' songs. 

Original song: Come on in My Kitchen (Robert Johnson)
Dylan song: Pledging My Time (March 1966)
Blues melodies tend to be so formulaic that it's often difficult to say that one particular song came from another. However, "Pledging My Time" is very similar to "Come On In My Kitchen." Dylan is known to be a big Robert Johnson fan (Note 9), and the two songs also share one striking similarity in their lyrics, both lines being sung to the same melodic phrase:
Some joker got lucky, stole her back again.
Come On in My Kitchen 
Somebody got lucky, but it was an accident.
Pledging My Time

Original song: James Alley Blues (Richard "Rabbit" Brown) 
Dylan song: Down in the Flood (between April and October 1967) 
I been giving sugar for sugar, let you get salt for salt And if you
can't get along with me, well, it's your own fault.
James Alley Blues Well, 
it's sugar for sugar, and salt for salt, If you go down in the flood,
it's gonna be your own fault. 
Down in the Flood 

Just the "sugar for sugar, salt for salt" fragment, but it's distinctive enough to be a match. This was recorded by Richard "Rabbit" Brown in the late 1920s. Brown was born in New Orleans in 1880 and died there in 1937. In his early years, he used to sing on the streets of Storyville (Note 10), and he frequently worked as a singing boatman on Lake Pontchartrain. There don't seem to be any CDs solely devoted to Brown (he might not have recorded enough to fill one), but he can be found (usually represented by this song) on various anthologies.

As for "James Alley Blues," there are a number of other lines that seem to have interested Dylan: "Sometimes I think that you're too sweet to die / Then other times I think you oughta be buried alive" by Brown has a close relative in Dylan's "Black Crow Blues," and "I done seen better days, but I'm puttin' up with these" (Brown) could be the origin of "I see better days and I do better things" from Dylan's "I Shall Be Free."

Original song: Pony Blues (Charlie Patton)
Dylan song: New Pony (April 1978) 
Both Charlie Patton (1892-36) and Son House (1902-89) were famous for "Pony Blues," and both of them were also blues singers who were convinced that blues was the "Devil's music." At certain times during their lives, they both gave up blues singing to become lay preachers - though they also both backslid and returned to the blues (among other unpreacherly activities). In his later performances, Son House was always careful to include at least one gospel number amid the blues songs to "sanctify" proceedings. 

"New Pony" explores this ambiguous relationship, contrasting the deep blues of the song with the gospel chant of "How much longer?" Dylan's song is based on House's version, not Patton's. 

However, the House version sprung from Patton's, which is certainly one of the finest country blues performances ever recorded. Dylan himself was "born again" in November of this year, and the tension between the attractions of the flesh and the spirit is made tangibly real.
You know, the horse that I'm riding, he can fox-trot, lope and
pace Hmm, he can fox-trot and lope and pace Y'know, a horse
with that many gaits, y'know, booked to win that race. 
Pony Blues 
I got a new pony, she knows how to fox-trot, lope and pace Well, I
got a new pony, she knows how to fox-trot, lope and pace She got
great big hind legs and long black shaggy hair hanging in her face 
New Pony

Original song: St. James Infirmary (trad), and Dying Crapshooter (trad) 
Dylan song: Blind Willie McTell (April 1983) 
"Dying Crapshooter Blues" and "St. James Infirmary" are related songs, and both important influences on Dylan's masterpiece, "Blind Willie McTell." (Note 14) Dylan sings: "I'm staring out the window / Of the old St. James Hotel" and there really is a St. James Hotel - by all accounts a marvellous old building in Minnesota that looks out on Highway 61. The suggestion (by allusion to the song) that the hotel is an infirmary adds another layer to an already many-layered song. 

Armstrong recorded "St. James Infirmary" a number of times, first and most notably with Earl Hines on piano in 1928. Armstrong's 1928 recordings are among the greatest in all recorded music, and are strongly recommended to anyone of whatever musical persuasion. Blind Willie McTell's "Dying Crapshooter Blues" was taped by Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress in 1940 ("Delia" - one of two McTell-related songs Dylan featured on his 1993 collection of traditional songs, World Gone Wrong - was also recorded at this session) and has been released on LP and CD.


See also the site "Roots of Bob" at Seth Kulick's site. 

Also, see "Roots, Routes, and Ramblings, the Bob Dylan Musical Roots and Influences Pages of Manfred Helfert," including the page devoted to blues influences, at This Folk Music Web Ring site.

Jack Kerouacks grave with Ginsberg

**The photos above are from Bob Dylan: Inner Vision.