To honor Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday next week (May 24) in an especially entertaining way, popular online radio show Atomic Cocktail’s host Vic Tripp is gifting listeners with his second annual It Ain’t Him, Babe Too Dylan Birthday Special.
The one-hour show, featuring four decades’ worth of Dylan clones and sound-alikes, plays Thursday night from 5 to 6 p.m. PDT on the L.A.-based Luxuria Music independent online radio station. Like many of its DJs, Tripp, whose show offers an eclectic exploration of pop and proto-punk, r&b, etc. presented in a high energy 1960s Top 40 format, is a knowledgeable pop music expert, a.k.a. author and pop culture observer Gene Sculatti.
Last year’s inaugural It Ain’t Him, Babe Too special was so well received, says Sculatti, that coming up with a fresh batch of clones and sound-alikes was no problem at all.
“There are so many acts who’ve copped Dylan’s style,” says Sculatti, a former Billboard editor and author of books including The Catalog of Cool, Too Cool and San Francisco Nights: The Psychedelic Music Trip. “In an hour you’ll get a pretty good idea of how pervasive Dylan’s impact has been and the often weird lengths others have gone to to try and recreate his magic.”
Among the artists being featured Thursday are the 4 Seasons, Mott the Hoople (featuring Ian Hunter’s Dylan imitation, Sculatti notes), Ron Wood, Barry McGuire, Tommy Boyce, the Changin’ Times and Amy Rigby, whose “20 Questions” starts the show and “is a conscious sendup of ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues,” Sculatti adds, also singling out “absolutely the best fake Dylan of all time,” Dick Campbell.
The late Campbell, notes Sculatti, was “just out and out plagiarism,” and sure enough, his 1965 album Where It’s At was intentionally Dylan-esque and recorded with musicians who backed Dylan at his landmark Newport Folk Fesitval electric set. Sculatti cited Campbell, too, at the top of Gene Sculatti’s Top 10 “Next Dylans”–a piece he wrote for a 2004 issue of SCRAM–A Journal Of Unpopular Culture.
“I’ve always loved these things,” he continues, noting that he one made a mix-tape of Dylan clone/sound-alikes and even staged a radio “Battle of the Bob Dylans” contest in the 1980s when he co-hosted The Cool & The Crazy radio show on Santa Monica’s KCRW.
“The fact that people imitate suggests how much love they have for the object of imitation,” he says. “I was fresh in college when Dylan went electric, and there’s a picture of me with glasses and my hair combed up like him. He was so great and when he first came on he changed the world and everybody had to go with it: Some people got on the train and ripped him off at the end of the line, and others were inspired.”
As for the origins of the Dylan clone/sound-alike phenomenon, Sculatti points to Michael Nesmith as an early instance. Before becoming a Monkee in 1966, Nesmith recorded a pre-electric Dylan-sounding song under the name Michael Blessing.
“But the real tide came in when Dylan went electric,” says Sculatti. “I first became aware of P.F. Sloan [the singer-songwriter sometimes called ‘the poor man’s Bob Dylan’] because ‘Eve Of Destruction’ and his first albums borrowed a lot of Dylan’s ideas and was so heavily imagistic. And then Barry McGuire recorded some of his songs [including a hit version of ‘Eve Of Destruction’].”
At the same time, of course, The Byrds and The Turtles were scoring with Dylan covers. Sounding much like The Byrds, the Changin’ Times–whose name even played on Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin'”–had a minor hit in 1965 with “The Pied Piper” (a big hit the following year for Crispian St. Peters).
“They wore the same [Dylan] turtlenecks and Hans Brinker caps–and harmonica holders,” says Sculatti, noting that Sloan and fellow singer-songwriter Eric Andersen likewise affected the Dylan look as well as sound.
Every Atomic Cocktail has a “Top Tune,” and It Ain’t Him, Babe Too‘s will be English Family Affair sitcom actor Sebastian Cabot’s dramatic reading of “It Ain’t Me, Babe,” to music.
“It’s great!” guarantees Sculatti.
All Atomic Cocktail programs are available as podcasts at luxuriamusic.com.
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